This story was written for VAMB’s Secret 2007 Santa Gift Exchange.

Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager is the property of Paramount/CBS. No infringement intended.

Summary: When she hears rumors that Chakotay has a new love interest, Kathryn Janeway realizes that it’s time to put her heart on the line. J/C


By mizvoy

(Kathryn Janeway’s POV)

When I took command of Voyager over seven years ago, I thought I was ready for whatever life threw my way. I had the benefit of excellent training and had just finished several years of command in a smaller vessel—what more did I need? However, the answer to that question changed when the Caretaker snatched my ship out of the Badlands and deposited it over 70,000 light years away from home. I learned that no amount of training or experience could have prepared me adequately for the challenge I faced.

I did the best I could, using any part of my experience that applied and acting mostly on instinct, only to second guess every decision and agonize over every challenge, every death, every setback along the way. I knew it was overly simplistic to believe that Voyager could be a true Starfleet ship so far from home, but I believed, and still do, that the principles that form the basis for Starfleet protocol are sound. Even so, guilt and regret are heavy burdens to carry, especially when one’s actions affect 150 other lives, not counting the families and loved ones who suffered, too.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was equally as unprepared for Voyager’s sudden return to the Alpha Quadrant as I had been for our exile to the Delta Quadrant seven years earlier. Again, I did the best I could, acting mostly on instinct, only to discover that many of my decisions had been short-sighted, ineffectual, and based on an erroneous assumption—that adjusting to home would be easily accomplished. I knew there was a difference between being a Starfleet captain in the AQ and being Voyager’s captain in the DQ. What I didn’t understand was I had to continue to be that DQ captain even after Voyager returned to the Federation—for as long as necessary, until our lives returned to normal.

Strangely enough, I was taught this lesson by my Captain’s Assistant, Naomi Wildman, the half-human, half-Ktarian child who was born on Voyager. Whoever said “a child shall lead them” was right, because children never forget that good relationships are an essential element for a happy life.

My life lesson began about six months after Voyager returned.

I was hurrying through my end-of-the-week work, trying to finish up a few things before I beamed to Paris for a reception at the Presidential Residence for a newly-appointed Bolian ambassador. I had been complaining to my assistant, Ensign Lauren Clark, about the problems created by having put Starfleet Command in San Francisco and the Federation capital in Paris.

“Didn’t they notice when they picked locations for the two major components of the Federation government that there was a nine-hour time difference between the two cities?” I grumbled as I sorted through PADDs, putting them in three piles—do now, do next week, and take along to do over the weekend. “Either I’m leaving at midnight for a mid-morning meeting or I’m leaving before lunch to have dinner at some diplomatic reception.”

“Tough duty, those fancy dinners,” Ensign Clark replied from the front office.

“I know they sound glamorous, and the food is good, but after the first two dozen or so, it just becomes another job that has to be done. And then the next day I have to catch up on all the work I didn’t finish the day before.” I went back through my PADDs. “Do you have the report on the enhanced warp drive?” When there was no answer, I looked up. “Lauren?”

Ensign Clark stood in the doorway with a strange look on her face. “Captain, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Tell whoever it is to come back next week. I’m late enough as it is.”

“She’s afraid that if she doesn’t see you now, her mother won’t let her come back.”

“Her mother?” I frowned and then detected a small shadow hovering just outside the door. I wondered who my visitor was until I saw her long red hair gleaming in the light as she stole a look around the door jamb and then pulled back in apprehension. I smiled, remembering how Naomi Wildman had peeked around Tuvok’s legs when she’d come to my ready room to suggest ways to retrieve Seven of Nine from the Borg. I gave the ensign a wink and a nod of approval. “That visitor wouldn’t be my Captain’s Assistant, would it?”

“It would,” Naomi answered, stepping into view. “I know you’re busy, Captain, but I really need to talk to you.”

“I think I can make the time,” I replied, reworking my schedule in my head, “on one condition—you let Ensign Clark contact your mom and let her know where you are.”

“Okay.” The child flounced into the room and smiled up at me. “This won’t take long, I promise.”

“Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll be right with you.” I took a moment to tell Lauren how to contact Samantha Wildman and then asked her to modify my transport arrangements for at least an hour delay. She grinned at me and discreetly closed the door behind her as she left the office.

“I need a cup of coffee,” I told Naomi as I headed for the replicator. “Would you like something?”

“Orange juice would be nice.” She looked right at home in the chair that faced my desk, and I marveled at how quickly she’d adapted to living on Earth instead of a starship.

“So you’ve gone AWOL, have you?” I placed the juice in front of her and then sat down at my desk. The crew was still housed together in a pleasant, if remote facility in Oregon, and yet, somehow, Naomi had figured out how to get to San Francisco on her own—something I couldn’t condone, even if I found it to be quite an accomplishment.

“Not exactly. My class is taking a tour of Fisherman’s Wharf, and I just took a quick side trip while my teacher wasn’t looking.”

“Oh, Naomi,” I shook my head in dismay. “Playing hooky will land you in the brig, you know.”

“Yes, ma’am. I told Marianne and Chris where I was going, and they promised to tell the teacher if she notices I’m missing.”

“It’s not just that, Naomi. It isn’t a good idea for a young lady to be traveling alone in an unfamiliar city.”

“Oh, I had it all planned in advance. There’s a non-stop transport from the Wharf straight to the gates of Starfleet Command. Once I was on the bus, I couldn’t get lost.”

I sat back with a sigh, exasperated, yet strangely proud of this young girl’s audacity. “I hope you’ve taken this risk for good reason.”

“Oh, yes, I have.” She sipped the juice and then put the glass down, her eyes troubled. “You’ve always said that I should tell you when I heard scuttlebutt you needed to know about.”

“Scuttlebutt?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re here because you heard a rumor?”

“You told me on Voyager that rumors can be the sign of serious trouble, remember? You said that I should tell you about them when I heard the same things over and over again.”

“Well, yes, I did, but that was on the ship.”

“The compound in Oregon is a lot like being on the ship,” Naomi protested. “We’re all stuck there together and everybody talks about what might be happening next.”

“You’re right, of course.” I stared at her in surprise, amazed that I hadn’t figured that out for myself. “You’ve heard something that disturbs you?”

“Yes.” She hesitated, wringing her hands in her lap with worry.

“It’s all right, Naomi. Just tell me. I won’t shoot the messenger.”

“They keep saying that you’re too busy with your career to care about what happens to us.” She stopped for a moment, probably because she saw how wide my eyes opened at the comment and then continued, “I know that you’re working hard FOR us and that you’d NEVER forget us, but I haven’t argued with them. They wouldn’t listen to a kid, anyway.”

“I appreciate your faith in me, Naomi,” I said, once I found my voice. “And you were right to tell me about the rumor.”

“That’s just the first one,” she answered, brightening at my positive response. “The other one is about Commander Chakotay.”

“Oh?” I was curious about this rumor, but was afraid it would be personal in nature, perhaps something to do with Chakotay’s short-lived romance with Seven of Nine. “It isn’t something private, is it?”

“I’m not sure. It might be in some ways.”

“Well, if it is, I’ll just erase it from my memory.” I smiled to reassure her.

“Well, they say he must like captains, because he has a new one. They say that’s why he isn’t interested in what happens to the crew, either.”

I was so surprised by her words that I simply stared at her in amazement. “He has a new captain?”

“That’s what they say. I thought you and the commander were still working together.”

“We do work together,” I answered, even though I knew it wasn’t exactly the truth, at least not in the way Naomi meant it. Our debriefings were being done separately, so we interacted only when we needed to discuss a particular issue with each other, something that had been happening with less frequency in recent weeks. “And I’m sure he’s still worries about the crew.”

“We hardly ever see either one of you,” Naomi continued. “And if we do see one of you, the other one is never there.”

“I don’t always manage to get back to the compound when I work late or have to go to Paris on business,” I explained. “But I was sure the commander was there most of the time.”

“Not always.” She solemnly shook her head. “And I’m worried that he’s with that new captain.”

“What do you mean, new captain?” I was nonplussed. “I’m still Voyager’s captain, you know.”

“I heard B’Elanna tell Tom she was from the Getsbury.”

“The Gettysburg.” I sat back in my chair, remembering the glowing personnel reports that Chakotay had received from his last Starfleet captain, the one that let him leave for the Maquis without raising a finger to stop him. Madolyn Gordon, captain of the U.S.S. Gettysburg.

Before I could say a word, there was a light tapping at the door, and in walked Samantha Wildman to collect her daughter. I watched as the two of them interacted, not really listening to their conversation because I was preoccupied with the scuttlebutt Naomi had passed on to me. I was thinking that Madolyn Gordon couldn’t still be a captain after all these years. It had been ten years since Chakotay had served on the Gettysburg.

“I’m sorry Naomi interrupted your day, Captain,” Samantha was saying. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t pull another stunt like this.”

“Oh, she was conducting important ship’s business,” I answered, kneeling down in front of the small girl. “But I promise that I’ll be around more, so you don’t have to go AWOL if you want to tell me something.”

Naomi rewarded me with a blinding smile. “Oh, Captain, I would love to see you more often.”

“You will. I promise I’ll be in Oregon so much you’ll get tired of seeing me.” After getting a fierce hug from Naomi, I stood up and walked the two of them to the door, pausing to speak softly to Samantha. “I realize that she needs to be chastised for playing hooky, but keep in mind that her heart was in the right place.”

Once they were gone, Ensign Clark handed me the PADD with the enhanced warp drive report and started to inform me of my modified travel plans. I stopped her with a quick shake of my head.

“Something’s come up,” I explained, staring blindly at the PADD. “Please send my regrets to Paris. I have something I need to look into here.”

I hurried back to my desk and pulled up the Starfleet personnel database, typing in Madolyn Gordon’s name with my heart pounding in my chest. I learned that the Gettysburg had been caught up in the opening rounds of the Dominion War and that she and a handful of her crew had barely survived one of the first attacks by the Jem’Haddar, the brutal warriors from the Gamma Quadrant. Her injuries had been so severe that she’d been retired from Starfleet as a captain and had assumed teaching duties as a civilian professor of tactics at Starfleet Academy.

“So she is still a captain,” I murmured to myself. “And she’s right here in San Francisco, teaching tactics, of all things—Chakotay’s area of expertise.”

Madolyn Gordon had been Chakotay’s most recent captain, and so I’d poured over her evaluations of him before Voyager had gone into the Badlands looking for him and then again when he and the rest of the Maquis joined my crew. Although she’d taken a great deal of heat from higher headquarters for not alerting them of Chakotay’s defection, she defended him at every turn, calling him a fine officer and dangerous foe. I remember thinking that she made him sound too good to be true.

Later in our journey, Chakotay had talked about Captain Gordon, calling her one of the best captains in the Fleet and a great friend. Not only was she funny and witty, but fair, intelligent, and a great conversationalist and a lot of fun to argue with. He went on and on about her until I wondered if there was more to the story than he told me and felt a little jealous about his affection for her, even if she was two quadrants away.

Now, the green monster definitely reared its ugly head. Why, oh why, had I assumed that he wouldn’t move on to someone else after he and Seven parted ways? How stupid of me to assume that there might not be “another captain” out there waiting to spend some quality time with him?

I looked back at the screen and noticed that the Tactics Department was in Taylor Hall—just a short walk across the quadrangle that separated the Headquarters buildings from the Academy. I could feel the chill that had gone down my spine when Naomi had reported that Chakotay had “a new captain.” That sick feeling told me that my feelings for him were just as strong as ever and that I had to do something before I lost him for good. I decided that I would use my free time that afternoon to size up the new competition.

Maddie Gordon’s office was on the second floor of Taylor Hall near the back, a typically modest location for a mere civilian professor, even if she was a hero of the Dominion War. I steamed down the hallway like an ice breaker heading for the North Pole, only to come to a complete stop when I reached her door and the reality of the situation dawned on me.

What, exactly, did I think I would say to the woman? I had heard one rumor from a young girl about my first officer having a “new captain” and a vague reference to a ship called “Getsbury,” yet here I was about to confront her with . . . what? Fraternizing with my first officer? I felt my face turn warm with a blush as I imagined her laughing me right out of the building.

Mortified, I turned around and looked for the closest exit, hoping to disappear before anyone found out I was there. I had just about decided to sneak out the back entrance when I heard the office door open behind me.

“Can I help you? I saw you standing out here through the door light and thought you might be lost.”

My heart in my throat, I did an about face and found myself looking into the smiling face of a woman about ten years older than I. Her curly brown hair was streaked with silver and her brown eyes twinkled with good humor and an obvious intelligence. She was tall and thin, and her upbeat attitude made it clear that the prosthetic right arm had done little to dampen her spirit or lower her self-esteem. She had all the bearing of a Starfleet captain, and I knew by instinct that she wouldn’t be deceived by a half-baked lie. Panicking, I literally fought against the urge to go running down the hall.

“I, ah, I . . .,” I stuttered, floundering for something to say that didn’t make me sound like an idiot.

“Aren’t you Kathryn Janeway?” she asked, extending her left hand for a handshake. “Voyager’s captain?”

“Yes, I am.” I shook her hand and pasted on a brave smile, still searching for some explanation for being caught lurking outside her door.

“I’ve been hoping to meet you,” she continued, stepping back and waving me into her office. “Come in, won’t you? I just fixed a pot of coffee.”

I stepped into her well-organized office and sat down in an easy chair she patted as she walked slowly to a desk in the corner. I picked up the nearly imperceptible sound of servos and realized that she had a prosthetic leg, as well.

“I hope I’m not interrupting something,” I said.

“I was just telling my husband that it’s his turn to fix dinner. I won’t be a minute.”

Her husband! I could see the man’s gray hair and beard as she reminded him that the grandkids were coming over, and I was sure my face was bright red with embarrassment. There was no way that Chakotay would be involved with a married woman. I had no reason, not even a lame one, for lurking around her office.

She shut down the computer and walked to a counter where there was a cabinet, a small sink, and a real old-fashioned silver percolator. I was fascinated.

“I haven’t seen a coffee pot like that in years. Is it a family heirloom?”

“Of sorts.” She smiled at me as she placed two mugs on the counter and then, using her good hand, poured steaming coffee into them. She then put down the pot, picked one mug, and held it out to me. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t deliver.”

I leapt from my seat and took the mug. “Not at all.”

While she picked up her mug and made her way to the other comfortable chair, she said, “The percolator belonged to my great aunt Lucille, who, according to the authorities, ‘borrowed’ it from a museum in Walla Walla, Washington. They wanted it back, but they really didn’t have enough evidence to make me believe them—so I kept it.”

I chuckled. “Hot coffee from a hot coffee pot.”

She glanced up at me in surprise and then shook her head. “I’ve told that story a few hundred times, but you’re only the second person to make that particular joke about it.”

“Let me guess—Chakotay was the other one?”

“Well, that might make a better story in this case, but, actually, it was Admiral Nechayev who said it.” She laughed out loud at the horrified look on my face. “Oh, come on, Captain. Nechayev is a fine officer with a nimble mind, not really deserving of her prickly reputation.”

“Please, call me Kathryn.” I answered, taking a fortifying sip of coffee before I studied her face. “And I’m wondering if you’re related to Nechayev.”

This time she really laughed hard. “No, but I worked for her when I was a lieutenant, and I discovered that beneath that daunting, by-the-book, icy-cold exterior is an amazingly wacky sense of humor and a wonderfully down-to-earth attitude. And please call me Maddie.”

“Okay, Maddie it is, but don’t be offended if I decide to withhold judgment on Nechayev until I see these hidden qualities for myself?”

“No offense taken.” She sat back and gave me a good looking over. “So you’re the famous Kathryn Janeway who brought her crew home from the other side of the galaxy.”

“Well, I didn’t do it all by myself,” I replied, feeling a blush warming my cheeks once again.

“Well, no, but you were the driving force, the one who refused to give up. Or so I hear.”

“Let me guess.” I replied. “Chakotay?”

“From Chakotay, yes, and from everything I’ve seen reported on the Fednews about your journey.” She picked up her mug and took a long swallow before looking me in the eye. “Is that why you’re here? Because I worked with Chakotay before he joined the Maquis?”

“That’s part of it,” I answered, struggling to hide my embarrassment. “When I was given the mission of capturing him, I studied his Starfleet file very closely, including your evaluations of him.”

“He was an excellent officer.”

“He still is,” I answered, lifting my chin. “I wouldn’t be here today without his help. I mean that.”

“He says the same thing about you.”

“You see him often?”

“He comes by once a week, or so. Chakotay contacted me soon after Voyager returned. He wanted to thank me for allowing him to leave Starfleet and join the Maquis without an undue amount of folderol. And he wanted to hear about what happened to us during our battle with the Jem’Haddar. I think he felt guilty for not being there to help us, but, really, we knew so little about what we were up against. It was a miracle any of us survived the experience.”

“The war must have been horrible. From what I’ve read, the Federation survived by the skin of its teeth.”

“It was worse than anything you can imagine, Kathryn.”

“I wish I could’ve been here to help.”

“Oh, well, you were facing your own challenges in the Delta Quadrant to keep you busy.” She frowned slightly. “I’m thrilled to meet you, don’t get me wrong, but . . . .”

“But what was I doing loitering outside your office?”

She smiled. “It does seem rather odd to find you wandering around the Taylor Hall this late on a Friday afternoon.”

I looked into my empty mug. “Let me get us more coffee and I’ll confess.”

“Sounds interesting.” She held out her mug to me with a twinkle in her eye.

I hoped the trip to and from the percolator would give me a chance to screw up enough courage to tell the truth. It isn’t easy for a Starfleet captain to admit to making a tactical error of this magnitude, especially not to a former Starfleet captain. Our first duty, they tell us, is to the truth, and so I told her what had happened.

“I’m here because of scuttlebutt,” I admitted after I’d returned to my chair.

“Scuttlebutt?” Her head bobbed as she thought about my words, her mouth twitching with a grin. “A very dangerous substance, scuttlebutt.”

“Oh, absolutely. In my experience, it’s often based on truth, but twisted just a bit, distorted, imprecise. On a ship, it can be an indication of morale and of issues that have the crew worried.”

“And it can also be completely wrong,” she said, chuckling. “As a captain, I almost always wanted at least one confirmation before I went off half cocked and made a fool of myself.”

I swallowed, thinking that a confirmation of Naomi’s report would have been an excellent idea. “What you have before you is a captain who went off half cocked and has made a fool of herself.”

She laughed. “Oh, really? I’ve done the same thing a few times, if that’s any consolation.”

“It helps a little, I suppose.” I took a deep breath and then plunged on. “The scuttlebutt said that Chakotay was ‘seeing’ another captain. And there was also a vague reference to the Gettysburg.”

Her eyes widened with surprise. “And so you thought he might be seeing me?”

“Well, he is seeing you, right? I mean, he did look you up, and you were the captain of the Gettysburg.”

“Yes, but that’s not the whole truth. It depends very much on the definition of ‘seeing.'” She gave me a wink.

“I figured that out when I saw you talking to your husband!” To my infinite embarrassment, I blushed all the way to my hairline. “I realized then that I had made a serious mistake.”

“To tell you the truth, I’m very flattered that you thought Chakotay might be romantically interested in me. He’s a wonderful person and about the sexiest man I’ve ever met. Well, you know that.”

I wondered if she could hear my heart pounding. “Yes, I do.”

“I really enjoyed serving with him—and arguing with him. I thought he had limitless potential in Starfleet, to tell the truth. He was brilliant, handsome, charming, tenacious, and a born leader—the whole package.”

“He’s also a contrary, to use his own description of himself.”

“Yes, a contrary with very high principles and a strong sense of loyalty.” She looked sad and absently cradled her prosthetic arm in her good one. “He was a hawk when it came to the Cardassian treaty, and I tended to toe the Starfleet line. We had some spectacular arguments about whether we should trust the Cardassians and about a dozen other topics, as well. But you probably know about his penchant for debate.”

“Oh, God, yes.” I laughed. “He helped me think through my options by discussing every possible option and outcome. I depended on him for that, and so much more.”

“He’s very proud of you.”

“Is he?” I answered, my voice soft. “I’ve wondered.”

“Your name comes up time and again whenever we talk. I think you must be on his mind all the time.”

“We worked together for over seven years, Maddie, so it’s only natural that I haunt his thoughts.”

“I don’t think ‘haunt’ is the word for it, Kathryn, although it’s close. I think he’s totally smitten with you.”

Her words hit me so hard that I nearly spilled my coffee. The chill I’d felt earlier when I thought he might have moved on to someone else returned ten times as powerfully. I stared into the inky depths of my mug as if I were looking into a crystal ball, when, really, I was simply struggling to regain control of myself so that I could speak without bursting into tears of relief and joy.

“I thought he cared for me once, a few years ago,” I finally choked out. “But it’s been a long time, a very long time.”

She shook her head slightly. “Something tells me there’s more to the story than either of you is telling me.”

“What exactly has he said?”

“Not much, really. He told me you needed him to be a friend and first officer, and I think it broke his heart not to be able to tell you how deeply he cares for you.”

Her words reminded me of his Angry Warrior story on New Earth and the way he’d found it easier to express his devotion to me indirectly.

“The pressure of Voyager’s situation was relentless, Maddie, and we knew that there were barriers that we couldn’t cross as long as we had all that responsibility on our shoulders.”

“And so, you both repressed your feelings and avoided becoming involved with each other in favor of your jobs.”

“It was really my decision. I pushed him away, time and again, until he gave up and left me alone.” I was amazed to be baring my heart to this stranger, yet, she knew Chakotay well, and she was obviously interested in hearing me out. “To tell the truth, I wasn’t surprised when he finally moved on.”

“He tried to move on, Kathryn, and he failed. His relationship with Seven is long over, as you know, and I actually think he is close to despair.”


“I think he hoped for years that you would eventually change your mind about being with him and when he realized that you weren’t going to do that as long as you were in the Delta Quadrant, his hope died.” She paused and leaned closer. “He also hoped that the limitations would disappear once you got home.”

“Honestly, so did I.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Why is it that Starfleet captains can face down the deadly enemies and stay calm and focused as their ship dissolves around them, yet they are scared to death when their heart is on the line?” She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Tell me the truth, Kathryn. Are you in love with him?”

I sank back into the chair, my heart twisting in my chest. “Of course I love him. He was the one who gave up, not me.”

“He thinks you don’t care.”

“He should know better than that,” I argued, suddenly defensive. “He should know exactly how I feel.”

“How? By reading your mind?”

“My feelings were hurt,” I answered, my temper flaring. “He was seeing someone else—a person I considered my protegee!”

“His feelings were hurt, too.” She shook her head and chuckled. “Look, Kathryn, it’s time for you to take charge of your life. You’re home. It’s time to let Voyager and her crew go. It’s time to make sure that you have what you need. You do need him, don’t you?”

Suddenly my eyes filled with tears and, for a moment, I couldn’t speak. At last I whispered, “Yes, I need him, more than ever.”

“Then it seems to me, Captain, that your mission is clear.” She gave me a wink and then laughed, her eyes twinkling with humor. “Good grief, Kathryn, I’d love to be in your shoes and have a stab at seducing that delicious specimen.”

“No dice,” I replied, my mood improving at the thought. “It’s my job, and I’m just going to have to buckle down and do it!”

“So, when I hear through the grapevine that you two are an item,” she said, giving me a crooked grin, “I’m guessing I should believe it.”

“You bet,” I assured her, finally giving her a rueful grin. “If I have to, I’ll start the rumor myself!”

I spent the next couple of hours getting to know Maddie better, I was late in the afternoon when I left Taylor Hall, so I hurried back to my office, anxious to pick up a few PADDs and return to the compound in Oregon before the cafeteria stopped serving dinner. Imagine my surprise when I ran into Chakotay at the transport station.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” I told him, grinning like an idiot. “I was hoping to catch up with you at dinner.”

“I thought you were going to Paris for the Bolian ambassador’s reception.”

“My plans changed.”

“Afraid you’d have to endure another evaluation of Earth’s poor plumbing?”

I made a face. “I’m immune to complaints like that.”

He glanced around as if telling a secret. “It wouldn’t be because Naomi Wildman’s visit made you late, would it?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “You heard about that?”

“Are you kidding? The scuttlebutt is that her teacher was about to call the police when Samantha notified her that Naomi was with you.”

“Scuttlebutt, hmm?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. “She didn’t really delay me as much as she made me realize that I need to spend more time with Voyager’s crew—and with my first officer.”

“She did?” His smile nearly blinded me. “I’m going to have to reward her for that.”

“After she left, I met Maddie Gordon.”

He looked at me in surprise. “You did? How?”

“I walked over to her office and introduced myself.”

“Just like that.”

“More or less. You’ve told me so much about her over the years that I felt like I already knew her. Imagine my surprise when she said she felt the same way about me.”

“She did?” The shocked look on his face was priceless, and I was secretly glad when the transporter chief interrupted us to say it was our turn to beam out. We arrived in Oregon seconds later, but by then, he’d managed to school his emotions. “What did Maddie tell you?”

“She said that my name comes up quite often whenever the two of you talk.”

He nodded. “She wants to hear about Voyager, so, naturally, I mention you now and then.”

“That’s what she said.” I let him suffer a bit longer, and then I said, “Chakotay, let’s forego dinner in the cafeteria, okay? I miss our weekly dinners together, don’t you?”

“You know I do.” He held out his elbow so I could slide my arm through it and then led me slowly toward my quarters.

Starfleet captains have a hard time being vulnerable, yet Maddie had assured me that being vulnerable with Chakotay would bring me wonderful results. She said that Maquis captains have just as much trouble risking their hearts, and so I knew that the ball was in my court.

“I bet you’re wondering why I decided it was time to meet Maddie Gordon, aren’t you?” We’d just arrived at my quarters. I opened the door and walked in, turning on the lights and tossing the PADDs on the living room table.

“I’m a little surprised you went over there like that,” he admitted. “I mean, you don’t have much reason to consult a tactics professor.”

“I have reason to talk to your former captain and friend, don’t I?” I leaned toward him and added, softly, “Especially after Naomi told me about the scuttlebutt regarding the two of you.”

“What scuttlebutt is that?”

“Naomi seemed to think that you have a ‘new’ captain.”

“Because I’ve been stopping by her office? She’s not even on active duty.”

“Naomi seemed to think that you were seeing her.”

“Seeing her?” He laughed. “Maddie’s been happily married for over thirty years.”

“You knew that,” I answered, pausing before I disappeared into the kitchen, “but I didn’t.”

There was a long period of silence, and then Chakotay appeared at the door.

“You thought I was seeing her? Is that why you went to her office?”

“Yes, it is. The truth is that I’ve been jealous of her for years. Every time you mentioned her, you called her the ‘best captain you ever knew,’ and you extolled her virtues until I was ready to scream. However,” I gave him a measured look, “you never mentioned that she was married.”

“You were jealous of Maddie?”

“I sure was. I was afraid I wasn’t your favorite captain.”

He shook his head slowly. “No way.”

I leaned against the counter and crossed my arms over my chest. “Maddie thinks it’s time for us to be honest with each other and to redraw the parameters of our relationship.”

“She does?”

I nodded and took a step toward him. “She says that you think a lot of me—and God knows I think the world of you.”

“You do?” He met me in the middle of the room and put his hands on my shoulders, looking down at me with his heart in his eyes. “Maddie is a wise woman.”

“And a good friend.” I reached up and cupped his cheek in my hand. “When Naomi told me that you were seeing someone else, I panicked. I went to Maddie’s office without even stopping to think things through.”

“You panicked? That’s not like you.”

“It’s like me when my heart is on the line.” I took a shuddering breath. “I don’t want to lose you, Chakotay. I need you, and I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He cupped my face in his hands and gave me a gentle kiss. “All this happened because of scuttlebutt, hmm?”

I nodded.

“And you gave up foie gras, prime rib, and a lecture on plumbing just so you could offer me your home cooking?”

“I wasn’t thinking about cooking that’s done in the kitchen, exactly,” I said, giving him a wink. “I do my best cooking in the bedroom.”

“Well, let’s get started then,” he replied, scooping me into his arms and carrying me down the hall. As I recall, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in bed about four hours later.

Since that night, we’ve become good friends with Maddie and Jack Gordon, and we’ve rewarded Naomi Wildman for her good work by arranging a special tour of San Francisco to make up for the field trip she missed by playing hooky.

“You’re the best Captain’s Assistant ever,” I told her, “and I’m going to need you even more once I get my promotion.”

“Doesn’t that mean I’ll be an Admiral’s Assistant?” she asked, smiling up at me with an impish look in her eye.

I don’t know why Naomi’s words had such a deep affect on me that day. Maybe I was aware, subconsciously, that my priorities were skewed, or maybe I was finally ready to change the parameters in my relationship with Chakotay. Whatever the reason, she reminded me of the most important truth of all–life is worth living only if you share it with the people you love.

The end

According to Nautical Origins of Common Phrases and Sayings:

Scuttlebutt – A butt was a barrel. Scuttle meant to chop a hole in something. The scuttlebutt was a water barrel with a hole cut into it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. The scuttlebutt was the place where the ship’s gossip was exchanged.