Disclaimer: CBS owns all things Trek. No infringement intended.
Author’s Note: Written for the 2009 VAMB Christmas exchange.
Summary: Kathryn Janeway’s life experiences have taught her to give up hope for her personal dreams. That’s when a friend steps in to help her see that the future can be the realm of hope.
The Realm of Hope
“PRESENT, n. That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.” Ambrose Bierce “The Devil’s Dictionary”
May 2347 At the Janeway home in Indiana (Kathryn Janeway is twelve years old)
If ever there was a day that Gretchen Janeway detested being a Starfleet wife, this was the one.
“Darling, wake up,” Gretchen said as she sat down on her daughter’s bed. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, sending rosy shards of sunlight into the room. “I heard from your daddy last night after you went to bed. I’m afraid something has come up at work, and he won’t be able to come to your birthday party this weekend.”
Kathryn, who was turning twelve years old in two days’ time, sat up in bed and blinked back the tears that threatened to well up in her eyes. She knew this news wasn’t her mother’s fault, and she was determined to do everything she could to avoid making her mother feel guilty. Brushing her hair out of her eyes, she gave her mother a brave smile. “It’s okay, Mom. I knew it was a long shot all along.”
Gretchen smiled sadly and put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “If I were you, I’d be terribly upset. This is the third year in a row that he’s broken his promise to be here.”
“We’re a Starfleet family, Mom, and so we can’t be surprised when something like this happens.” She leaned into her mother’s embrace. “Daddy has a new ship he’s trying to finish, and it’s going to be the best one yet.”
“Even so, he promises to be here next year.”
“I know he does, and I really do understand. I hope you told him it would be all right.”
Gretchen bit her lip, remembering how upset she’d been when Edward had called her, how she’d lost her temper and said some hurtful things. With a sigh, she decided to protect her daughter from the stress that her marriage underwent on a daily basis. “He’s very proud of you, Katie, and he loves you dearly.”
“Sure, I know that. I love him, too.” Kathryn shrugged and glanced at the clock.
Gretchen hugged her again. “It’s time to get up for school. Get dressed, and I’ll have your breakfast waiting for you. But, first, I have to wake up your sister.”
Kathryn sat on her bed until she heard her mother rattling pans in the kitchen. Then her face crumpled and she collapsed face down onto her pillow where she could let the tears of frustration fall. She had had a good cry before she got dressed, and by the time she sat down for breakfast, she was once again her normal self, smiling bravely and talking about her day’s schedule. While the tracks of her bitter tears had been washed off of her cheeks, they had burned deeply into her heart, and Gretchen was well aware of the burden her daughter willingly shouldered.
Starfleet brats like Kathryn Janeway learn early about the harsh realities of life. Their lessons come from a series of disappointments and letdowns that gradually create in their lives a tone of despair and resignation. They soon expect to be dismayed and to have to make do with less than the ideal, as if that is a normal part of life.
The unlucky children are those who have both parents as Starfleet officers; they learn early that there is no such thing as nuclear Starfleet family and that grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends step in for their frequently absent parents to provide them with some semblance of stability. They receive birthday greetings by subspace from duty stations that are light years away or exotic gifts that arrive days or weeks after the celebrations have ended. Their artwork and perfect test scores become the wallpaper on their parents’ computer screens instead of the kitchen fridge. Someone else kisses their boo-boos, reads them bedtime stories, and wipes away the tears of a broken heart.
Luckier children have only one parent who is a Starfleet officer. Their nuclear family exists, but always with an absent principle member. They are so seldom together as a family that they never really expect both parents to attend their band concerts or cheer them on in an athletic competition. The absent parent is rarely involved in their day-to-day lives, yet the child fixates on gaining his or her praise and approval. Sadly, these children’s self-esteem has a direct correlation to the amount of time that the absent parent spends with them and by the way their other parent handles the task of rearing them alone.
Kathryn and her sister were fortunate to have only one Starfleet parent, a mother who was a stoic and uncomplaining spouse who never visibly complained about parenting alone. However, she was unlucky that her father’s career was so successful and his expertise in starship design so much in demand that it kept him away from his home in Indiana for many months at a time, much longer than was the average among officers of his rank and position.
The end result was that, by the time Kathryn was twelve, she had learned that there are no happy endings in real life, no fairy godmothers to make sure a young girl’s dreams came true. Her father, now a Starfleet admiral, would miss her birthday for the third year in a row, even though he’d solemnly promised he’d be there every year.
Each year, Gretchen watched Kathryn stoically accept her lot. One year, her husband hadn’t warned them that he wouldn’t arrive in time, and Kathryn had spent the entire celebration with one eye on the door, sure that her beloved father would arrive with his usual fanfare, smiling and laughing, bringing gifts for all of his “girls,” but especially for Kathryn, his Goldenbird, who was the one celebrating her special day. Throughout the elaborate meal, prepared by her mother’s loving hands, throughout the singing of “Happy Birthday” and the cake and ice cream, throughout the opening of a half-dozen brightly-wrapped packages, Kathryn watched the door, and her mother watched her.
Kathryn believed it was wrong, even selfish, to be upset with her father, and yet her heart was breaking. He had missed her mother’s and her sister’s birthdays, too, and countless wedding anniversaries over the years, and so no one treated his absence like a terrible tragedy. Was it wrong to want to tell him in person about passing the fifth form in math when her peers were still studying the third? About joining a calculus class in which she was at least three years younger than anyone else?
This time, when the weekend arrived, Kathryn smiled bravely through the party and then dutifully helped clean up after the party ended. Her mother worked quietly, having apologized repeatedly for Edward’s oversight. They stored the leftover food and took their normal spots at the sink, with Gretchen washing dishes and Kathryn drying them and putting them away. When the last of the pans had been put in the cabinet, Kathryn reached for the wet dish cloth so she could wipe down the dining room table. To her surprise, her mother grabbed her hand.
“I was just going to wipe off the table, Mom.” When her mother didn’t reply, Kathryn looked up to see tears on her cheeks. “What’s wrong?”
“I know how much you wanted your father to be here today, and I know he had every intention of coming. I’m so sorry that he let you down again.”
“He didn’t let me down,” she replied, embarrassed at the tears that burned behind her eyes and at the strangled sound of her voice. She stood, holding her mother’s hand in the soap suds, remembering how hard her mother always worked to compensate for Edward’s absence. “The dinner was great, and I got lots of thoughtful gifts. I’m sure he’ll send me a nice message when he gets the time. Something more important came up, that’s all.”
“No, sweetie, you’re wrong,” her mother snapped, her eyes flashing with anger. “Nothing is ‘more important’ to your father or to me than you and your sister are, and I don’t ever want you to think that isn’t true. Something more urgent happened, something that made it impossible for him to be here or to call you, but nothing more important.”
Kathryn was shocked by her mother’s vehement tone and by the tears that spilled down her own cheeks. She took a deep breath. “Starfleet families have to be brave, Mom. They have to make sacrifices for the greater good.”
Gretchen gave her a wistful smile. “You sound just like your father. I wonder how many times he’s used that excuse with you girls?”
“It’s not an excuse! It’s the truth!” She pulled her hand out of her mother’s grasp and fished in the water for the dishtowel.
“We do what we have to do, even when it isn’t what we want to do, I suppose. What worries me, Katie, is that you accept this kind of disappointment as if it’s what you deserve. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt angry and resentful.”
“But, Mom, what good would that do? It would just upset you, and I wouldn’t enjoy my party. Right?”
Gretchen just sighed and finished cleaning out the sink, unable to think of a proper response.
Her father’s birthday wishes had arrived a week late that year and, looking back on those days of quiet desperation, Kathryn knew that she had, in fact, been conditioned to accept disillusionment as her lot in life and that, at some point, she’d given up on seeing her dreams come true.
She’d lost her father and her fiancé in a terrible accident that had nearly taken her own life, first in the crash itself and then in the depression that followed. She’d fought the odds to become a successful Starship commander, only to find herself 70,000 light years from home without any hope of assistance from Starfleet. She’d lost the second man she loved because of her disappearance, and, although her mother and sister would be there to greet her, there would be no lover to hold her and comfort her if and when she brought her ship and crew home.
She would be touted as the Marco Polo of the twenty-third century, but Captain Kathryn Janeway would always feel bittersweet about her accomplishment. She would remind herself of the many members of her crew who were lost. She would fret over the many poor decisions she’d made along the way. She would rejoice in the happiness of her crew who were met by loved ones, but grieve with those who found that their previous lives had evaporated in their seven-year absence.
But, worst of all, she would believe that she got what she deserved.
* * * * *
December 2377 (Voyager, days after “Endgame”)
Janeway looked up from the PADD she’d been staring at blindly to find Seven of Nine standing before her. Kathryn had been relaxing in Voyager’s nearly-deserted mess hall which was lit by the Earthlight that poured through the windows, and she had been gratified to bask in the seclusion and the view.
“Seven! I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I wanted to let you know that I’ll be leaving the ship in about an hour. I didn’t want to leave without telling you goodbye.”
Kathryn blinked in surprise. “You’re leaving already? I feel like we just arrived home.”
“Because you’ve been so busy. We’ve seen very little of you in the last two weeks.”
“I’m sorry about that.” She sighed as she remembered how many of her crew had beamed away in her absence and how she hoped to reunite them for a proper farewell in three week’s time. “Are you going to Sweden to meet your family?”
“Eventually, yes, but first Chakotay wants to go to Ohio and see his cousin.”
The same, familiar feeling of disappointment washed over Kathryn, the same one she’d experienced so many times in her life, and, for a moment, she struggled to school her features and hide her grief. She didn’t ask herself what the source of that feeling was, whether it was Seven’s departure or whether it was that she was leaving in Chakotay’s company. She didn’t ask, because she didn’t want to know the answer. She simply moved on.
If she had been facing any other member of her senior staff, she probably would have stood up and hugged them, but her relationship with Seven had never been an easy one, and she had never felt comfortable initiating any kind of physical contact with the former drone.
“Well, just remember to keep in touch, okay?”
“Of course, Captain.”
Kathryn glanced past Seven’s shoulder to see Chakotay entering the Mess Hall. A second wave of dismay assaulted her and, for a panicked moment, she thought she might run away rather than witness the two of them together. Then, to her relief, her commbadge chirped.
“Kim to Janeway.”
She tapped her badge and turned away, so that the two lovers were in the very fringes of her peripheral vision. “Janeway here.”
“Admiral Paxon would like to speak to you,” Harry informed her. “Do you want to take it at your location or come to the bridge?”
“I’ll take it here, in the Mess Hall, Harry.” She nodded at Seven and Chakotay as she stood up and moved toward a communications screen. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course,” Seven replied. She offered Chakotay a brief explanation in subdued tones.
Janeway ignored the couple talking quietly behind her and concentrated on Paxon’s instructions for the upcoming transfer of command. She drew out the conversation for as long as possible, hoping that the duo would tire of waiting for her and move on. She would track them down later to say goodbye, when she had time to prepare herself emotionally.
Paxon was a blowhard, like most admirals, and she found it easy to keep him talking about a dozen different topics of concern. When he finally signed off, she called up her personal calendar and made some changes based on the finalized plans. She heard no voices behind her and assumed that her plan had worked, and so, when she turned to leave, she was surprised to find Chakotay sitting at a nearby table.
“Chakotay,” she exclaimed, looking around for Seven.
“I thought you got tired of waiting for me.”
For a moment, they stared at each other as her words seemed to echo between them, multiple meanings to the phrase bringing a blush to the captain’s face.
“Seven left to say goodbye to Naomi Wildman. I assured her that you wouldn’t let her leave the ship without a proper adieu.”
She hesitated a moment and then began to move past him toward the door. “In the meantime, I’ll be on the bridge.”
He snagged her arm, bringing her to a stop. “Not just yet.”
“What do you think you are doing?” She tried to pull her arm away, but he had her wrist caught tightly in the circle of his fingers and thumb. “Let me go.”
“I’m asking you to stay here and talk to me.”
“I have things to do.” He took her hand into his and shifted to look at her more directly.
“You’ve been avoiding me since we got back, Kathryn, and I’m tired of it.”
“I’ve had a lot to do, Chakotay, and most of it took me off of the ship.” She looked down at their hands, relaxing her arm. “I’m being pulled in a dozen directions at once.”
“I know that. I’m the one who’s been keeping the home fires burning, remember?”
“And I appreciate all that you do.” She sat down at the table, absently rubbing her wrist when he released her hand. “I’ve kept you posted on what’s happening—with Voyager and the crew.”
“Officially, yes, in formal meetings or quick messages recorded when you come back in the middle of the night.” He studied her face, his eyes troubled. “The problem is that I’ve missed my friend.”
Kathryn wilted, letting her head fall forward to hide her eyes from him, afraid that he would detect the aching sense of loss that threatened to suffocate her. She reminded herself that her emotional reaction to his words was her own fault, the natural result of her own decisions along the way to limit their relationship. He was offering her the same friendship that she had given him over the last seven years, making the choices in his personal life that were right for him. It would be wrong to do or say anything that made him feel sorry for her despair and sorrow, since she had brought it on herself.
After an agonizing moment, she looked up and focused her mind on his worried face, pushing the feeling of despair away. “All of us have been swamped with work, overwhelmed with unexpected emotions. I’ve neglected you, and for that I apologize. Never doubt that your friend is still here for you—and always will be.”
“I didn’t doubt your friendship, Kathryn. I just missed you.” He relaxed a bit and gave her a wistful smile. “There were times when I thought you might be angry with me.”
“Whatever for?” She detected a slight blush coloring his face and panicked again, certain that he was about to mention his budding romance with Seven of Nine. That particular bit of gossip had raced through the crew like wildfire and had left her feeling morose and abandoned, even though the admiral from the future had given her fair warning. While she knew she would have to discuss Seven with him sooner or later, she was determined later would be much better than sooner. Before he could speak, she said, “You’ve done an exemplary job of ‘holding down the fort’ in my absence, so much so that no one at Starfleet blinks an eye when I describe you as the perfect first officer.”
“You’re saying that my checkered past has been forgotten?”
“I hope so. It will be if I have anything to say about it.”
“I imagine you will.” His smile was warm as he covered her hand with his, but then he frowned. “The ship is practically empty, you know.”
“I do know. Many of the crew left while I was away.” She sighed and looked out the windows at Earth. “I just hope they all return for the celebration.”
“I don’t think they have a choice. They can’t leave Earth until Starfleet releases them, and that won’t happen until after the great welcome home party is over, not to mention a long period of debriefing.”
“Of course. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Besides, the crew wouldn’t think of letting you down, Kathryn. When they left, they all told me how much they wanted to thank you for keeping your promise to get them home. Even Mortimer Herron.”
“I’m glad,” she replied, grinning. “Knowing I can say goodbye properly lets me feel a little less guilty.”
The silence between them stretched. Kathryn gazed out at the planet that filled the mess hall’s windows, and Chakotay watched her, trying to imagine what she was thinking. She’d seemed even more remote since their return and since she’d found out about his budding relationship with Seven of Nine, and he had not been able to bridge the widening gap between them.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked her.
“I’ll be right here.”
“You’re taking the ship out to Jupiter Station?”
She nodded. “The replacement crew is beaming aboard tomorrow morning, and then we’ll leave around midday.”
“I thought you’d stay on Earth, like the rest of us.”
“Actually, I won’t be back for a few days. Dr. Zimmermann has decided to champion the EMH’s right to continue his existence as an individual, and I’m going to meet with him about that while I’m out there.” She gave him a wink. “But I’ll be back soon. Starfleet won’t let me get too far away.”
“I thought you’d want to spend time with your family.”
“Actually, I’ve seen them quite a bit while I’ve been away from the ship. They usually came to San Francisco or Paris to participate in all of the many dinners and receptions I had to attend.” She stood up and stretched a bit, bringing the interlude to an end. “This is nice, Chakotay, but I really do have to go to the bridge. I’ll stop by the Wildman’s quarters on the way to tell Seven goodbye.”
“All right—but I’m only saying ‘see you soon.'” He stood up, as well, and considered giving her a hug, only to stop when he sensed the despair and loneliness that radiated from her. He’d hugged every member of the crew when they’d left the ship, including a rather prickly Mortimer Herron, and yet he hesitated to put his arms around his best friend, the one person from Voyager that he would miss the most. The awkward moment passed, and she gave him a tentative smile as she turned to leave. Once again, he stopped her by catching her wrist. “Kathryn, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m just tired, that’s all.” She didn’t try to pull her arm away, nor did she turn to face him. “And I’m a little unsettled to be losing my first officer.”
“I won’t be far away.”
“Far enough.” She laughed and turned to him, and apologized. “I’m sorry to be so melancholy. I promise I’ll be better after a good night’s sleep.”
He slid his hand down her arm until their fingers laced together, not about to let her get away with a half-truth. “You can tell me.”
For a moment, she seemed ready to protest, but the earnest look in his eyes and the comfort and warmth of his hand in hers forced her to relent. She took a deep breath. “Nothing ever lives up to our hopes, does it? Not even our arrival home.” She looked up at him with a vulnerability he’d seen few times in their years together. “Nothing ever works out the way we hope it will.”
“No, I guess it doesn’t.”
“Story of my life.”
He watched her a moment, picking up on the tone of despair, and then sat back down, pulling her down into the seat beside him, this time on one of the sofas. “Are you thinking about the crew we lost along the way?”
“That’s part of if, of course.” She studied their interlaced fingers. “I grieve for them and for their families, just as I have done since the moment they died. But, it’s more than that.” She looked up at him, shaking her head slightly. “Many of the survivors have come home to find that it’s impossible to resume the lives they left behind. Those lives are simply gone, and there’s not a damned thing that anyone can do about that.”
“That’s happened to some of the crew, yes. And it’s happened to the captain, too. There’s no Mark Johnson waiting to greet you.”
“No, there isn’t.” Kathryn pulled her hand from his and rubbed her temples with her fingers. “But, that’s not important. I didn’t expect him to wait seven years for me to return.”
“Not important? You can’t admit that you’re hurt by his disloyalty? By his marriage?”
She rolled her eyes. “And fatherhood. Don’t forget the darling twins.” She sat back on the sofa. “I can admit that it hurts, I suppose, but I know I shouldn’t resent it.”
“Why not? You’re as much a victim here as any other member of the crew.” He stopped her protest with a wave of his hand. “Don’t tell me that you can’t feel hurt because it’s your fault we were stranded out there. You made the best decision possible when you destroyed the Caretaker’s array—we agreed on that years ago, and Starfleet does, too.”
“You have as much right to grieve as anyone else.”
“I’m alive and well, Chakotay. Why isn’t that enough?”
“Because you’re disappointed? Because, after all these years of hope for the future and sacrifice of the present, you would love to simply walk off the ship and take your life back? Because it is simply unfair to have to start over?” He gave her an understanding smile. “You have every right to feel just as frustrated as anyone else.”
“Sorry to disagree.” She shrugged. “The captain doesn’t have that right.”
“But the captain is a human being, too.”
Inexplicably, his sympathy only made her feel worse. She was flooded with the familiar feelings of dismay and sadness that had tainted so many traumatic milestones in her youth. Overwhelmed, she stood up and walked to the huge window to hide the tears that filled her eyes. “Human or not, as a lifelong Starfleet brat, I know better than to expect things to work out in my favor. I know I have to accept good enough and go on with life.”
Chakotay stared at her back, amazed to hear the hopelessness in her voice. Through the years, she had always been optimistic and able to find humor in most situations. “What’s happened to cause this bad mood?” he wondered aloud.
“Oh, it will pass soon enough,” she assured him, glancing at him over her shoulder, imagining Seven at his side, as she would be from this day forward. “It’s just the letdown of finishing a task that has possessed me body and soul for so long.” She turned and smiled, her old self again. “Once I have another goal to focus on, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re a survivor,” Chakotay agreed, joining her at the window and taking her by the shoulders. He smiled down at her, studying her face closely before he said, “And, if you ever need to talk, you know you can call me.”
She nodded, even though she knew she would never do so, never risk having Seven answer the comm or seeing them together in a homey environment. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He quickly pulled her into an embrace, wrapping his arms around her before she could pull away. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done, Kathryn. You’re the best captain I’ve ever seen, and a great friend.”
Unable to breathe, she simply nodded, embarrassed by the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. She wished that she could quickly brush them away, but her arms were pinned to her sides by Chakotay’s bearlike hug. She was relieved when the intercom interrupted them.
“Bridge to Janeway.”
She pulled away, looking down to hide her wet cheeks from his view. She tapped her commbadge and then hastily brushed the tears away. “Janeway here.”
An unfamiliar voice said, “Captain, we have an incoming message from Admiral Hayes. Do you want me to forward it to you?”
“No, Ensign, ask him to wait. I’m on my way to the bridge, and I’ll take it there.”
Chakotay laughed at Kathryn’s pained reaction when she heard the new crew member use the male pronoun. “Don’t worry, Kathryn. You’ll get the new crew broken in before they know what hit them.”
“I suppose so.” She hesitated and then ducked her head with a shy grin. “If I’m tied up when you and Seven are ready to leave, don’t wait for me. You deserve to have some time off and reconnect with family. I don’t want to make a big deal of a brief absence when we know we’ll be together again in just a few weeks. And, besides, we’ll keep in touch.”
“I hope you mean that,” he answered, suddenly apprehensive about their separation. “I want to keep our friendship alive.”
“Of course.” Janeway nodded and stepped away, anxious to leave. “I have to go.”
He watched her leave the Mess Hall without looking back, and he knew in his gut that, in spite of her reassurances, everything had changed between them.
* * * * *
June 2353 (The Janeway home in Indiana) Kathryn Janeway is seventeen years old
“. . . and so, I close my remarks with a quote from Dante: ‘Remember tonight . . . for it is the beginning of always.’”
Kathryn Janeway put down the PADD she’d been reading from and looked at the lounging form of her younger sister.
“Well, Phoebe, what do you think?”
The thirteen-year-old rolled over on her back on the bed. “Is that the end of it?”
“Of course.” Kathryn had been selected by her classmates to make a few remarks at her high school graduation later in the day and had been struggling with the speech for weeks. “I should have known better than to expect any constructive criticism from you.”
Phoebe sat up and crossed her arms. “I don’t get the last part, and neither will they.”
“What last part? The quote?” She looked down at the PADD and sighed. “The line from Dante? They’ll get it.”
“It’s just so hokey. ‘The beginning of always.’” She rolled her eyes. “What does that mean?”
“I’m not about to explain it to you.”
“You’re only using it because it’s Dante. You think anything Dante wrote is automatically great, but to me, and your classmates, I might add, he’s just a dusty old Italian poet.”
“He’s one of the greatest human poets, Phoebs. Maybe, when you’re my age, you come to appreciate him.”
“You like Dante because Dad quotes him all the time, and whatever Dad likes, you like,” Phoebe countered. She flopped back on the bed. “Why not use something a few centuries less than three thousand years old?”
“Like what? Some of the song lyrics you think are so special?”
“The Galactics’ lyrics are pretty deep, Katie, and the Laughing Vulcans’ new single has plenty of lines that make more sense than ‘the beginning of always.’”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“All I’m saying is that using something modern would help your classmates understand your speech better. Isn’t that the point? They are the ones who asked you to make a speech, after all.”
“I’m not worried about them,” Kathryn sniffed. “It’s the rest of the audience I’m worried about.”
“The rest of the audience? Or Dad?”
Kathryn rolled her eyes.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Phoebe got onto her knees. “You’re using Dante because you want to impress Dad by using his favorite poet.”
“I’m using the quote because I think it ties up everything I’m trying to say in the speech.”
Phoebe wasn’t listening. “Everything you do is aimed at impressing Dad, isn’t it? You want his approval and his attention more than anything. Maybe they should have named you ‘Electra’ instead of Kathryn.”
“Phoebs,” Kathryn sputtered, her eyes flashing with anger. “You’d better take that back.”
“Daddy’s Girl!” Phoebe taunted, delighted at the emotional reaction her words were causing. She stood up on the bed and took a flying leap for the door as her older sister stomped toward her. “Daddy’s Girl! Daddy’s Girl!”
Because Kathryn had to circle the bed to reach the door, Phoebe had time to run out into the hall where she very nearly bowled over their mother. Sidestepping her neatly with a word of apology, Phoebe barreled down the stairs and out the front door with a whoop of victory.
Meanwhile, Kathryn stopped at her door and gave her mother an exasperated look. “Mom, can’t you make Phoebe behave?”
“You know how she is, Katie,” Gretchen replied. “The best thing to do is to ignore her.”
“I try. But one of these days, Mom, I’m going to let her have it.”
“Just don’t get blood on the carpet,” she chuckled as she steered her daughter back into her bedroom. “Are you happy with the speech?”
“I think so.” She looked down at the PADD in her hand with a sigh. “Phoebe thinks I’m quoting Dante just to impress Dad.”
Gretchen gripped her hands behind her back as she watched Kathryn pace back and forth, reading her seven-minute speech for the thousandth time. Her two daughters were as different as night and day, a fact that neither girl perceived or appreciated. Kathryn was her father all over again—serious, studious, hard-working, brilliant. She’d set her sights on Starfleet from the time she’d been able to talk, and she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a corner office at Starfleet Command. Phoebe was more like Gretchen’s side of the family—sensitive, artistic, dreamy, and just as brilliant in a more creative way. It was only natural that Edward, their father, felt more comfortable with Kathryn.
“I think Phoebe is jealous of the closeness she sees between you and your father,” she offered after a long moment. “It’s easier for you to communicate with him because you have so much in common, while Phoebe doesn’t know what to say. If he were here more, spent more time with both of you, I’m sure she would be less hurt.”
“I guess.” Kathryn sighed. “I’ll try to be patient. After all, I’m leaving for the academy in just a couple of months.”
“That’s right. You can put up with her if you know the time is short.” Her mother stood stiffly just inside the door, her hands still gripped behind her back, and soon enough, Kathryn picked up on her uneasiness.
“What is it, Mom?”
“I got a message from Admiral Thompson a few minutes ago.”
“Don’t tell me that Dad’s going to miss my graduation,” Kathryn pleaded. “He has to be there, Mom. He just has to be there.”
“He’s trying his best, but his transport had to divert around a huge ion storm, which is going to delay his arrival by a few hours. Admiral Thompson has arranged for him to beam directly to the graduation, though. It will be close, but he should make it.”
“The graduation is in six hours, Mom. Are you trying to tell me that he’s going to travel from somewhere out in deep space to Bloomington, Indiana, in less than six hours?” Tears burned behind Kathryn’s eyes as she threw the PADD containing her speech onto her desk. “It takes three hours just to get to Earth from Jupiter Station.”
“That’s assuming that the delay just happened. It’s possible that it happened hours ago and he’s already in the Sol system.”
“Then he would have called himself.” Kathryn shook her head in disbelief. “He won’t be here. I might as well not even expect to see him.”
“He’s doing his best, Katie. He knows that your graduation is too important to miss and how much you want him to attend. He’s doing everything in his power to be here.”
As much as Kathryn wanted to burst into tears and rant about the way her father had waited too late to start for home, she repressed those thoughts, reminding herself of the importance of her father’s work. He was on the Federation team that was negotiating with the Cardassians over the end of their conflict, and his presence was essential to the establishment of a working peace. Against the backdrop of galactic war, her high school commencement paled into insignificance.
“We’ll record it for him,” she said at last, giving her mother a wan smile. “That way, if he arrives too late to attend the ceremony, I can play it for him. Or give him my speech in person, if he wants.”
Gretchen was suspicious of her sudden acquiescence. “You’re being very generous about this, Katie.”
“Mom, I know that this isn’t fair, but I can’t blame Dad for it.” She stood tall and took a deep breath. “Starfleet families have to accept that duty takes precedence over everything and anyone else.”
“Do you really believe that, sweetie? Do you really think that your dad is more worried about duty than he is his daughter’s feelings?”
“He has to put duty first.” Kathryn shrugged.
Gretchen, a Starfleet brat herself, was visibly upset by her daughter’s attitude. “This is what I always feared when Edward and I decided to have children. I worried that you would feel that you didn’t deserve our primary attention, because you do deserve it. And your father loves you more than he does duty. You have to believe that.”
“Oh, I believe he loves me, but I know that duty has to come first.” When she saw Gretchen’s eyes fill with tears, she continued, “I’m going to be a Starfleet officer, Mom, and I’m going to expect my husband and kids to understand when duty interferes with what I want to do. How can I expect them to forgive me for that if I can’t forgive Dad for it?”
“All I can say is that you are a better person than I am. I’m furious with him for not being here on time, and I’ll probably rake him over the coals when he finally arrives.”
“Don’t do it, Mom,” Kathryn begged. “I don’t want him to feel any worse than he already does.”
She ignored the plea and returned to the doorway, pausing to look back. “I’ll listen to your speech whenever you’re ready.”
Kathryn looked down at the PADD. “Maybe I’ll look for a different quote after all.”
“Don’t do it because of something Phoebe said. If you like it, stick with it.”
“Okay.” She gave her mom a weak smile. “I have plenty of time to think it over.”
Kathryn collapsed on the bed after Gretchen disappeared down the hallway. She was determined not to cry over her dad’s delay, but found it impossible to keep the tears back. She tried to remember the last time her father had been there in person to see one of her accomplishments—a tennis match, swim meet, science project, student play, or birthday party. She couldn’t remember a single time in the last five or six years, not for herself and not for Phoebe, and the unfairness of it simply broke her heart.
“This isn’t ‘the beginning of always,'” she muttered as she erased Dante’s words from the end of her speech. “This is ‘the continuation of always’ for me, just another of a million disappointments in my life as a Starfleet brat.” She stopped to brush a tear from her eye. “Maybe Phoebe is right. I should use some modern song lyrics, something familiar to my classmates, to close out this speech.”
She delved into the music database on their home computer, eventually finding a line from a popular song that summed up the hope she had for the future—for a career in which she was never so busy with work that she made the people she loved feel like they were second best.
Her father arrived the next morning, sixteen hours after her graduation ceremony had ended. He never found the time to listen to her speech.
* * * * *
March 2379 (15 months after Voyager’s return to the AQ)
Kathryn Janeway’s promotion ceremony took place early on a Thursday morning in a nondescript conference room in Archer Hall. The attendees gathered around an array of sweet rolls, juice, and, of course, plenty of coffee, as early morning sunlight poured into the room. The table’s single decoration was a basket of flowers, a gift from her mother and sister, which added a delightful scent of perfume to the room.
Twenty people witnessed the event, including three members of Kathryn’s staff, four members of her family, her immediate boss and his staff of four, two officers from the Public Affairs office, the adjutant general, Admiral Hayes and his aide, and the caterer. One or two passersby stepped in, as well, but that was the extent of the guest list.
The promotion itself took less than five minutes, including several posed pictures taken for the record and for posting in the inevitable Fed News report. By eleven o’clock, everyone was back to work, the conference room was clean and deserted, and Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway were back home in Indiana.
“That was hardly worth the effort,” Phoebe observed as she began to divest herself of her dress clothes. “A three-day trip to Earth for a five-minute ceremony.”
“Kathryn told you it would be anticlimactic.”
“I didn’t think the promotion would be a big deal, but I did imagine a proper celebration afterward—a party or dinner or reception. Something.”
“She’s never been the type to ‘celebrate’ a promotion. You know that.”
“But this is the biggie, Mom. How many Starfleet officers actually get promoted to admiral?”
Gretchen sighed. “I think she feels guilty, that she didn’t really earn it.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“There is something about the way Voyager got back to the Alpha Quadrant that troubles her, something that she won’t talk about.”
“Rumor has it that the whole incident is highly classified.”
“I’m thinking that she might have broken some rules to accomplish it.”
“I’ve heard there were some irregularities, all right.”
“Maybe someday we’ll learn the truth.” Gretchen sat down on the family room sofa and slipped off her shoes. “In the meantime, we need to do what we can to help her feel better.”
Phoebe flopped into a chair. “I wonder if we can do that without knowing the facts?”
“We’ll have to do the best we can.”
Phoebe paused, deep in thought. “It’s occurred to me that there are people who know what happened, people who might not be as dedicated to Starfleet secrecy.”
“Some of Voyager’s crew?” Gretchen guessed. “I doubt that they’d tell us anything, especially if Kathryn asked them not to. They’re very loyal to her.”
“If they won’t tell us, maybe they can help her adjust to whatever happened.”
“She’d never ask them to help her, Phoebe. In fact, she seldom sees them now that the debriefings are over, and she refused to invite any of them to the ceremony this morning. She said, ‘How can I invite one or two and not all of them?'”
“Yeah.” Phoebe sighed. “Sometimes I think her martyr syndrome is just too much to bear.”
“That’s not it,” her mother disagreed. “She doesn’t really expect much from life. Or maybe I should say that she isn’t surprised when life disappoints her. She’s been that way since she was a tiny girl.”
“Really?” Phoebe frowned. “For example?”
“When your daddy let you down, you kicked and screamed about the unfairness of it all, but Kathryn simply accepted it as her lot in life, as the ‘burden’ of being a Starfleet brat. She didn’t complain and she didn’t blame him at all.”
“Now that you mention it–.” Phoebe’s eyes took on a faraway look as she recalled the many times her father had let one of the other of them down. Her memories were dotted with many such events, most of them still painful to remember. “Well, only Kathryn could find a way to feel guilty about a promotion.”
Gretchen laughed. “Can I convince you to stay for a few more days? Or must you hurry back home?”
“I need to head back first thing tomorrow. I’m sorry, but my boss barely let me get away at all.”
“Oh, I understand.”
Two days later, Phoebe Janeway stepped off of the Earth transport at Starbase 47 only to learn that the next scheduled flight had been cancelled indefinitely because of severe ion storms along the flight path.
“Nothing is ever easy,” she muttered after letting her boss know of the delay. She scanned the crowded transport ring, taking in the hundreds of passengers who filled every seat and most of the available floor, especially those areas that were next to walls that could serve as back rests. She picked her way through the crowd, stepping over sleeping forms, past crying children, around couples who cuddled together for warmth, and between groups that were busy playing cards, working on computer access terminals, or simply chatting to pass the time.
There didn’t seem to be a square meter of free space, and she was about to despair of finding a place to rest, when she spied a man who looked familiar—dark hair, bronze skin, and a tattoo across the left side of his forehead. He had appropriated a remote corner near a window that looked like it might accommodate another small person. Smiling to herself, she set course toward his location.
Meanwhile, Chakotay was struggling to find a position comfortable enough to let him get some sleep. He’d been stuck on the station for two days and had only managed a few short naps because of the noise and slow encroachment on his space by other stranded passengers. He was just ready to shut his eyes when he a shadow fell over him.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Kathryn Janeway’s sister, Phoebe.”
Chakotay raised his head to see a brown-eyed version of Voyager’s captain smiling down at him. “Of course, I remember you.” He pulled his legs back and gestured at the floor space in front of him. “Please, sit down and tell me where you were headed.”
“Just trying to get home.” She sank down with a groan and clutched her bag against her chest.
“You’re heading for Earth, then?”
“Not that home. I live in the Chiega system these days. I’m on my way back there from Earth.”
“You could say that. My sister got promoted, so, of course, I had to come be a witness to history.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Kathryn is an admiral now?”
Phoebe nodded. “And has been for three whole days, already.”
“I thought she’d let some of us know when that happened.”
“She wanted to keep it low key. I bet there weren’t thirty people there, and no one from Voyager.”
“Not even Tuvok?”
“Strangely enough, she didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I wonder if she feels she deserves it, to tell the truth.”
Chakotay frowned. “I would have liked to have been there to tell her she does deserve it.”
“Mom and I think it has something to do with the way Voyager returned. But, she won’t discuss the details of what happened, of course.”
His eyes grew unfocused as he gave her a dismissive shrug. “She has nothing to feel guilty about.”
“Maybe not. Whatever happened out there, she’s been different since Voyager. She isn’t the same person she was before.”
“It changed all of us, Phoebe.”
She laughed and moved so that she could relax against the window. “I don’t mean to be melodramatic or alarming. Kathryn is doing well, as always, and seems to be content flying a desk instead of a starship. There’s just an aura of hopelessness around her that is very out of character. She always met every challenge with her head down and her feet churning.”
“Not always.” He remembered the depression the captain had fought during their journey. “When she’s not being challenged, she tends to think too much and obsess over decisions.”
“The only time I saw her act like that was after the accident.”
“When our father and her fiancé were killed.”
“When she was an ensign.”
“Yeah. We attributed the depression she went through to her serious injuries and some sort of recurring dream she had where she thought she could have saved one of them.”
“It’s hard to imagine a pessimistic Kathryn Janeway. In all the years we were out there, she never seemed to run out of steam. She always had hope for the future.”
“Hope? No, I think it was probably just a simple refusal to accept reality.”
Chakotay chuckled. “I think the goal of getting us home is what kept her from collapsing into a heap.”
“You’re right. But now she’s back, and suddenly she has to find something else to give her life meaning. That’s a tough problem after seven years, don’t you think?”
“It is. But, she’s not the only one struggling with that particular demon. In many ways, all of us from Voyager are in the same boat.”
“Really?” Phoebe’s interest was piqued. “Tell me about it.”
“We shared the same goal and did everything we could to make it happen.” His eyes softened as he remembered. “My secondary goal was to lighten the heavy responsibilities the captain carried.” He swallowed hard, looking out the window at the ships that surrounded the station. “I miss the feeling of family that developed among the crew, and the overriding goal that gave me a purpose in life.” He looked at Phoebe, his dark eyes revealing his own misery. “I miss Kathryn, to tell the truth. We were friends out there, but we’ve drifted apart.”
“What are you doing these days?”
“I’m for hire as a starship pilot. I brought a ship here and am waiting for a ride back to Trebus, which is my home planet.”
“I thought your home planet was destroyed by the Cardassians. Isn’t that why you left Starfleet and joined the Maquis?”
“Not exactly. After I left for Starfleet Academy, my family moved from Trebus to Dorvan V, which was destroyed by the Cardassians, but I’ve always considered Trebus as home.”
“And your family?”
“Most of them were were killed, except for an older sister, who had stayed on Trebus, and a few cousins on Earth.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“We’ve all suffered terrible losses in our lives, Phoebe, especially after the Dominion War.”
“I guess so.” She leaned back against the wall. “But losing most of your family in one blow had to be awful.”
He nodded, too upset to talk any more. They were quiet for awhile until a general announcement blared from the loudspeakers informing them that a fourth food kiosk and overflow waiting room was opening on level three.
“Not a good sign.” Chakotay rubbed his face. “I imagine we’ll be here awhile longer.”
Phoebe pulled out a thermos and a small sealed box. “If you’re hungry, I’ll share.”
“Let me guess. Caramel brownies and coffee.”
“I’m not Kathryn,” she laughed. “Brownies, yes, but lemon tea, not coffee.”
“Are you sure you’re a Janeway?” He accepted a brownie, but waved off the tea. “I have my own thermos, thanks.”
They munched the brownies in companionable silence, careful not to drop a single crumb.
“These were left over from Kathryn’s reception,” she explained as she stored the container in her bag. “Mom always makes them for special occasions, but I have to say that sweets are a little much for party that takes place at 0830.”
“The ceremony was first thing in the morning?”
“Oh, yeah. Kathryn had a meeting at noon that she couldn’t miss.”
He shook his head. “She won’t even slow down for the biggest promotion of all?”
“She’s never slowed down for a promotion, or anything else. It isn’t her style.”
He smiled and sipped his tea, letting that thought hang between them as he worked up the courage to ask the question that was foremost in his mind. Phoebe waited, a tiny smile on her face, determined to force him to ask about what he wanted to know.
“I was wondering,” he said, at last, “who attended the ceremony.”
“A very select few.”
“Was Seven there?” He studied the cup in his hand, avoiding her eyes.
“You mean Annika Hansen?”
His eyes bored into hers. “I mean Seven of Nine.”
Phoebe smirked and gave him a sideways look. “No, Seven wasn’t there. And neither was Annika Hansen.”
“Hmmmph.” He scowled. “I can’t imagine that Seven would miss such a magical moment for her mentor and surrogate mother.”
“Is that derision I’m hearing in your voice?” she teased.
“Not really.” He had the decency to blush. “I don’t want to talk about her.”
“Need I remind you that you brought up the name, not me?”
“No. You don’t need to remind me.”
She studied him as he busied himself with his thermos. “For your information, Seven resides on Vulcan these days. Kathryn says she prefers the emotional serenity of a species that controls their passion rather than submitting to it.”
“That sounds like something she’d say.”
“Rumor has it that she dumped you. I always wondered if that was true.”
He rolled his eyes, even though he found Phoebe’s direct manner refreshing. “I’d call it a simultaneous dumping.”
“Then why so bitter?”
He didn’t answer for a long moment, taking the time to put his thermos away and rearrange his belongings before he crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a level look.
“Getting involved with Seven was not one of my better decisions.”
“Really? How surprising.” She grinned. “Most people would think that getting up close and personal with a former Borg drone would be a trip to the moon on gossamer wings.”
Chakotay laughed and gave her a sideways look. “Are all Janeway women irreverent teases?”
“I’d say so.” She softened her smile, though. “What was so bad about getting involved with Seven?”
“It cost me a lot.”
“It’s hard to say, since I can only speculate about what might have happened differently if I hadn’t started dating her.”
“You can tell me,” Phoebe whispered. “I’m trustworthy.”
He leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering the sudden chasm that had opened up between himself and his captain. The admiral had hurt her deeply when she’d mentioned that he and Seven had married. He knew that she felt betrayed because he’d kept his new relationship a secret from her, and no matter how hard he’d tried to explain or how often he’d apologized, she’d never been the same toward him, never opened up to him as she had before. With a groan, he opened one eye and gazed at Phoebe, who was watching him intently. He decided to tell the truth and see what happened. Maybe Phoebe would have some sage words of advice on how to handle her sister. “It cost me my friendship with Kathryn, for one thing.”
They were silent for a few moments before Phoebe leaned toward him and said, so softly he could barely hear her, “Alternate timelines are disquieting, aren’t they?”
“Huh?” Chakotay’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. The intervention of the admiral from the future was highly classified, and yet that had to be what Phoebe was referring to. Could it be that Kathryn had told her sister about the circumstances of their return? “What are you implying?”
“I know nothing,” she protested, holding up her empty hands. “Kathryn hasn’t said a word, but I have overheard a few discussions, and I can put two and two together.” She leaned toward him again, her voice a whisper, “The thing is that changing the past really changes everything, doesn’t it?” She paused, but her eyes bored into his. “Every. Single. Thing.”
Chakotay was tongue-tied, unable to think of anything to say that wouldn’t compromise his oath to protect the truth from becoming common knowledge, from bringing down criticism on the head of the woman who had given her life to change the past and rescue the people she loved.
Phoebe laughed at the stricken look on his face. “You don’t have to say a thing—your expression answers my question. I don’t think Kathryn has figured out, yet, just how different her future can be from . . . another timeline.” She waited a beat. “Maybe you should teach her.”
Another announcement interrupted them. Flights between the starbase and Chiega had been restored, and passengers were advised to report to docking ring eight for immediate departure.
“That’s my cue,” she said, gathering her things and standing up. She looked down at him with a smile. “I think Kathryn would appreciate hearing from you and from anyone else from Voyager. She has this quaint idea that she has to remain aloof from you all, that ‘once a captain, always a captain,’ and she’s too damned proud to admit that she misses you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he answered. He slumped against the wall, suddenly exhausted by the emotional strain of their chat. “Have a safe trip home.”
“You, too.” She turned and picked her way through the crowd, looking back to observe him as she waited for the next available turbolift. Chakotay sat perfectly still, staring out into the darkness of space. To Phoebe, he looked sad, as if he’d lost his best friend.
“Perhaps, he has,” she thought to herself, and then shook her head. “But I don’t really think so.”
* * * * *
May 2356 (Kathryn Janeway is nineteen and finishing her second year at the academy)
Kathryn Janeway was perhaps the closest thing to a perfect Starfleet cadet that had ever darkened the Academy’s front gate. She was brilliant, setting the curve in every class she took, whether it was history, literature, mathematics, or physics. She was dedicated, attending every class, lab, and study session, acing the tests, turning in perfect homework assignments, and managing to complete all the extra credit assignments, too. She was a well-rounded cadet who did more than just focus on academics, however. She was captain of the velocity team, a tour-guide for prospective cadets, and an up-and-coming officer in her squadron.
While Kathryn was the darling of the faculty and administration, she wasn’t quite as popular with the student body. They resented the fact that she made them look bad by comparison, even though she was friendly, down-to-earth, and fun to be around, thanks to a scathing wit and an infectious laugh. She earned the nickname of “Admiral Cadet,” because everyone knew that was her ultimate goal—to be the first member of the class to make admiral.
She knew that the other cadets had mixed feelings about her, but she didn’t let that get in her way. She’d listened to her father discuss the loneliness and isolation of command enough to know that this alienation was something she would have to get used to feeling. She also knew that those who knew her well, the team members and study partners, appreciated her quirky sense of humor and dedication to their group effort. She had many friends, good friends, and didn’t let her public reputation (good or bad) influence her behavior.
One of the best things that happened to her at the academy had happened purely by accident. She had been assigned a perfect friend as a roommate her freshman year.
Anna Clarence was a fellow Starfleet brat who had been through most of the same experiences that Kathryn had. However, Anna had grown up in space, dividing her time between school on a star base and vacations on a starship where her father was a transporter chief. Her life experience made her much more sympathetic with Kathryn’s background, because she knew, first hand, that it wasn’t easy to have a parent in Starfleet. Anna soon learned, though, that having a father who was an admiral multiplied the problem tenfold.
On graduation day at the end of their sophomore year and the two of them were preparing for the ceremony.
“You know that no sophomore has ever won the Daystrom Science Medal, don’t you?” Anna lay on her bunk watching Kathryn as she brushed her hair and then fastened her tunic. “In fact, only one junior has ever won it, and he was a Vulcan.”
“That’s what Admiral Paris told me.” Kathryn tugged at the collar of the tunic and then smoothed her hands down the front.
“To think that my roomie just made history!” Anna laughed at the face Kathryn made in the mirror. “I knew you when. Someday they’ll interview me to find out if you were ever really human.”
“Just don’t tell any of my secrets, or I’ll tell some of yours!”
“Deal.” Anna stood up and frowned at the wrinkles in her own uniform. “What did Admiral Janeway say when you told him about the Daystrom medal?”
Kathryn turned away, toying with the items on her dresser that had yet to be boxed up for the summer and trying to hide the dismay that the question created within. “He said he was proud of me, of course.”
“But,” Anna continued, “he isn’t coming.”
There was a long period of silence before Kathryn finally answered, “They’re at a critical point in the negotiations.”
“Is there a point during negations that isn’t critical?” When Kathryn slumped against the desk in obvious distress, Anna regretted her sarcastic tone. “Oh, hey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I can’t remember the last time Dad came to something like this.”
“My dad, either. Still, we hope the future will be better, don’t we? We keep thinking that eventually our luck will change, that maybe, one time, we won’t be disappointed.”
“I guess so.” Kathryn studied her hands and then stood up straight, pulling her tunic down and lifting her chin in defiance. “Well, I shouldn’t be doing these things to impress him. I should do them for myself.”
“Exactly. You’ll have your pick of assignments when we graduate, and all the rest of us will be green with envy.”
Kathryn’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “I’m going to ask Admiral Paris to be my sponsor.”
“Oh, brother.” Anna was well aware of Paris’s crotchety reputation. “You are a glutton for punishment.”
As they left their rooms and headed for the commencement ceremony, many of her classmates gave Janeway a sympathetic look. They knew that she worked hard because she didn’t want to let her family down. She came from a long line of successful Starfleet officers, none more successful than her father, and it was obvious that she worshiped him and wanted very much to gain his attention and approval. No one blamed her for it, for many Starfleet brats were driven by the same need. The service occupied the attention of most officers to the detriment of their families; as a result, the children either rejected Starfleet completely or joined it with the determination to win their absent parent’s approval.
Anna was not surprised to see that Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway were in the crowd that afternoon, cheering Kathryn on. Nor was she surprised at the way Kathryn’s eyes kept shifting to the edges of the crowd, looking for her father, even though she knew he was light years away.
When the ceremony was over and the two cadets returned to their rooms to finish packing, Anna grew quiet as she felt sorry for her roommate.
“Remember that discussion we had in ancient Earth history about hope?”
Kathryn nodded. “The Greeks said that ‘hope’ was one of the evils that Pandora released onto the world. We really had Carrie Newsome going in circles about that one.” She took a stance and did a decent imitation of their classmate’s Southern drawl, “’But hope is a good thing. Right?’”
“So you told her that hope was a thing with feathers, which almost brought her to tears.”
“Yeah, that was fun.”
“Have you decided whether hope is a bad or good thing?”
“I think we have to hope for a better future, don’t we?” Kathryn replied. “Otherwise, how do we keep going?”
“I suppose so, but getting your hopes up just increases your chances for disappointment. Don’t you think so?”
Kathryn was so surprised by Anna’s comment, she dropped a small mirror to the floor, its fragments spraying around her feet.
“Don’t move. I’ll get a broom.” Anna headed for the door, pausing long enough to give Kathryn an impish grin. “Try not to think about having seven years of bad luck because of this.”
When the glass was cleaned up and their last of their belongings were packed away, Kathryn sat down on the bed for one last conversation.
“You asked me if I didn’t agree that hope increases the chances for disappointment. I think it probably does, but I also know that I can’t live without hope. I’ve learned this trick: when I’m disappointed, I just keep focusing on the future, keep moving forward like a shark. That way, soon enough, the disappointment becomes part of the past, and hope lives on in what tomorrow might bring.”
Anna raised a brow. “And that works for you?”
“Not really, but it sounds good.”
“My technique is to just stop hoping for anything good. That way, if it happens, I’m not just happy, I’m surprised.”
Kathryn grinned. “Maybe I should adopt that plan, instead.”
* * * * *
June 2379 (18 months after Voyager’s return)
“You can’t complain, Kathryn. You gave up the chance for another ship. You didn’t want to be disappointed when they didn’t offer you the best one in the fleet—or the one you thought you deserved—so you just took yourself out of the running.”
Kathryn gave her sister a confused look. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m saying that you should have held out for another ship instead of giving up and taking the promotion.”
“Phoebe, I would hardly call accepting a promotion to admiral ‘giving up’’”
“I know better.” Phoebe smiled inwardly at the scowl on Kathryn’s face. “Why did you do it? Were you afraid you’d be assigned a bucket of bolts after having captained a state-of-art ship like Voyager?”
Kathryn ignored her.
“Were you afraid you’d have problems finding a crew that would put up with you?”
“Phoebe, you don’t know what you’re talking about, so shut up.”
“Don’t I?” She shifted so that she was facing her sister who was seated at the opposite end of the sofa. “Aren’t you the one who always says that setting one’s expectations too high just leads to disappointment?”
“That’s hardly an earth-shattering observation.”
“It seems to me that the corollary to that thought is the motto of your life—lower your expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.”
“Who are you kidding? I’ve never lowered my expectations about my career.” Kathryn looked up and narrowed her eyes. “As soon as you explain how being promoted to admiral is lowering my expectations, I’ll start listening.”
Gretchen, who had been reading the Fednews at a nearby communications unit, looked up and laughed softly. “She has you there, Phoebe, but nice try.”
The three Janeway women were relaxing in Kathryn’s apartment in San Francisco where Gretchen had come to recover following an emergency medical procedure to repair injuries she suffered in a hover car accident.
“Katie’s an overachiever when it comes to her career,” Phoebe agreed. “And she seems to think that success at work will make up for what she doesn’t have in her personal life.”
“Meaning what?” Kathryn demanded.
Phoebe gestured at the apartment. “Living alone like a nun, for one thing.”
“I have an active social life,” she disagreed, struggling to keep her temper.
“I’m talking personal life, not social life.” Phoebe shook her head sadly. “Not since you lost Justin have you really let yourself have high hopes about your personal life.”
“Your memory fails you. I was engaged to Mark Johnson.”
“True. But Mark didn’t exactly light your fire, did he? He was a safe choice.”
“I think that’s enough, Phoebe.” Gretchen struggled to stand up, accepting help from Kathryn with gratitude. “Who are you to judge your sister?”
“Someone who loves and cares about her enough to tell her the truth, that’s who I am.”
“Just because you think something is true doesn’t mean that it is,” Gretchen replied. “I’m telling you to back off. Now.”
“Oh, okay.” Phoebe checked the clock. “It’s time for me to call home anyway.”
Kathryn helped her mother settle into a recliner and tucked a blanket around her legs.
“Can I get you anything, Mom? A cup of tea? Some toast?”
“Nothing right now, darling. I’m fine.”
Kathryn returned to her seat on the sofa and stared blindly out the window, lost in thought. “You know, Phoebe probably has a point, to a certain degree. Maybe I do lower my expectations for my personal life to avoid being let down when things don’t work out.”
“In what way?”
“It’s true that my relationship with Mark was not as passionate as what Justin and I shared.”
“Every relationship is different, Katie. And who’s to say that you and Justin wouldn’t have become less passionate over the years.”
Kathryn’s face grew thoughtful. “There are so many elements that are beyond one’s control when one is dating a person.”
“What elements are you thinking of?”
“They might decide they don’t want to stay involved with you. Or they may decide to put their career first. Or they could disappear for seven years while piloting a ship.” She took a deep breath. “Or they could move on with someone else in your rightful place.”
“Mark thought you were dead, Katie.”
“I know, and I’ve forgiven him long ago. But losing Justin and Mark may have made me decide not to take that risk again.”
“I think that you just haven’t met the right man. When you do, you’ll risk everything to be with him.”
Before Kathryn could answer, Phoebe dashed into the room and plopped down at the communications panel, pulling up her link with her family a moment later. “Mom. Katie. You have to hear Elliot’s tuba solo. David says it sounds like a moose in heat, but I think it’s wonderful.”
While Kathryn listened to her nephew play, she did some self-study. It was true that before she was trapped in the Delta Quadrant, she had dreamed of having a husband and children by this time in her life. However, fate had intervened and forced her to let those hopes go. She hadn’t thought of it as “settling for less” until Phoebe had made such a big deal out of it, and she wondered if maybe Phoebe had a point.
She had lowered her expectations after she realized that Voyager would be stuck in the Delta Quadrant for an extended period of time. She did so because she was being practical, realistic, and sensible about her prospects. What good would it do to continue to daydream about a husband, house, and children when the chances of getting them grew slimmer every year? She would just be setting herself up for a big disappointment. That was surviving, not giving up. Wasn’t it?
Later that night, after Gretchen was asleep in Kathryn’s room, Phoebe crept out of the study, where she had been tossing and turning on the sofa, and joined her sister in the living room. Kathryn, of course, was working into the wee hours of the morning before she curled up on her recliner for a few hours of sleep.
“I thought you would still be awake,” Phoebe said as she sat down on the sofa. “I can’t believe how late you stay up.”
“A bad habit I picked up on Voyager. Why aren’t you asleep? Is something wrong?”
“I just thought I should apologize for some of the things I said earlier.”
“About my promotion?” Kathryn smiled. “You made some good points, as you often do. And I am used to your teasing ways. In fact, I missed them in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to imply that becoming an admiral isn’t a great achievement, because it is.” She pulled a blanket around her shoulders. “I just thought that you must have had something in mind for yourself when you thought of home—something more than a promotion.”
“I didn’t let myself hope anything except to get the crew home and see them happy, at last. I thought that would be enough.”
“You’ve always done that–settled for less. You always think of ways to excuse others instead of taking care of yourself.”
Kathryn stared at her sister in amazement. “What are you talking about?”
“When Dad let us down time and again by missing birthdays, recitals, award ceremonies, everything, did you ever once get mad and throw a fit?”
“What good would that do? Daddy wasn’t there to see it, and Mom was already upset enough.”
“I think you got too used to repressing your disappointment, Katie. It seems to me that you thought it was your lot in life to be let down, time and again, by those you loved.”
Kathryn looked down at the PADD she’d been reading, hoping that her sister couldn’t see the distress her words caused. When a tear splashed on her hand, she hastened to brush it away as surreptitiously as possible before Phoebe caught on. Clearing her throat, she said, “I always tried to do what I thought was right and best for everyone involved. I didn’t think Dad ever let me down unless it was for something important, and I didn’t want Mom to feel worse than she already did.”
“You did what a proper Starfleet officer should do, regardless of your feelings.”
“Yes, I did.” Kathryn took a deep breath and looked her sister in the eye. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing if you’re a Starfleet officer. But what if you’re six years old? What if you refuse to deal with your own feelings about being disappointed?”
“I cried many a tear about those times, Phoebe. I just didn’t make a spectacle of myself.”
“So you are a great Starfleet officer. Obviously. But, I wonder about the person inside the uniform. Why not have some hopes for her happiness once Voyager was home?”
“I suppose I just thought my personal life would fall into place without much effort.”
“And has it fallen into place to your satisfaction?”
Kathryn grimaced. “I probably should put a little more effort into that.”
“Good answer. You went all out for what you wanted from your Starfleet career, pulled out all the stops, and here you are, an admiral. When did you stop doing the same thing in your personal life?”
For a long moment, the two sisters stared at each other, and then, before Kathryn could blame the Caretaker again, they heard their mother’s voice from the other room asking for help to the bathroom.
Phoebe stood up. “It’s my turn, I think. I just don’t want you to be unhappy, Katie, and I think we both know that a career is not enough for you. I’ve never known you to be without male companionship, not until Voyager returned, and I hope you start looking for a compatible partner again.”
“I will, Phoebs. Promise.”
“I hope so.” She started down the hallway. “I’m on my way, Mom.”
Kathryn watched her leave and grinned, muttering, “I needed my sister’s common sense on Voyager.” She picked up the PADD again, accessed her mail account, and accepted an invitation to a former classmate’s retirement party. “There. The next time Phoebe hassles me, I can tell her I’m back out there.”
* * * * *
U.S.S. Voyager, Delta Quadrant (about year five)
“I’ll take the bridge, Captain, so you can spend our last few hours on the planet.”
Kathryn Janeway looked up from the PADD she had been reviewing and shook her head. “That’s all right, Commander. The engineers are still in the process of integrating the new injectors, and I want to stick around to monitor the process.”
Chakotay frowned. “I’m sure B’Elanna is capable of doing that without you.”
“Oh, she is. I’m just double checking her work.”
“It could be awhile before we find another planet so close to Earth’s environment.”
“Too bad for me.” She activated the console between their bridge seats and watched the telemetry from engineering scroll across the screen. “In this case, the ship takes precedence.”
He narrowed his eyes, trying to decide how hard to push her while on the bridge. The captain was notorious for putting duty before pleasure, but he truly believed that some time away from the ship on an earth-like planet might be just what she needed to keep from . . . well, to help her keep her sanity.
He leaned toward her and said, softly, “It would do you a lot of good to get some fresh air and sunshine. You’re the only person from the crew not to take a few hours off.”
Kathryn stiffened slightly and gave him a warning look. However, before she could reply, B”Elanna spoke up from the bridge’s engineering station. “I appreciate your help, Captain, but you really should visit the planet. I was on the coast, and the white sand beaches were wonderful. They also had a coffee-type drink that you would love.”
“Mr. Kim brought me an ample supply,” she replied. “I’m sure that will be adequate.”
Tom Paris swiveled to face her from his seat at the helm. “They also have a nut pie that you’d like. It’s so close to pecan pie, you can close your eyes and imagine you’re in Georgia.”
“I’m sure it’s memorable, Mr. Paris, but we’ve been here long enough. I’ll just do without.”
“It wouldn’t hurt if we spent a few extra hours running diagnostics on the injectors,” B’Elanna chimed in. “Better to do it here than a few hundred lights years away, and you could spend an afternoon relaxing somewhere nice.”
Kathryn stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I appreciate the thought, people, but I am not going to delay our departure just to walk on a beach and sample pecan pie. Continue the work with the injectors, Lieutenant, and I will monitor your progress from the peace and quiet of my ready room.” She turned and gave Chakotay a level look. “Commander, you have the bridge.”
Once she disappeared into her inner sanctum, the bridge crew sighed in relief.
“We’ve been here nearly a week,” Harry commented, “and she hasn’t taken some time off to visit the planet?”
“She was on the planet for the initial negotiations for supplies and shore leave,” Chakotay answered. “I’m sure she even toured some of their facilities when looking for compatible equipment.”
“That’s work, not pleasure.” Tom turned to face the first officer. “Every single crew member got a few hours, even a day or two, away from the ship. It’s done us all a lot of good.”
“And Janeway could use the time away,” Torres finished. “Her temper has been shorter than a dwarf Ferengi.”
“I tried to convince her to go down there, you heard me,” Chakotay argued. “Tuvok tried, too. She wouldn’t go then, and she isn’t going now. Accept that and move on.”
The bridge crew returned to work in silence, leaving Chakotay with his thoughts.
Day six at Tzarus, and Chakotay was busy monitoring the crew’s shore leave and also making sure that enough people were on board to receive, catalog, and store the supplies they’d purchased. He checked the transport log and frowned.
“Tuvok, did the captain cancel her shore leave again?” He turned in his bridge seat to look at the Vulcan. “Or did someone in transporter control just forget to register her departure.”
“I believe the captain is in engineering.”
Chakotay wilted. He put aside the PADD and slowly wound his way to the upper deck and Tuvok’s security station where they could talk without being overheard by the rest of the crew. “This is the third time she’s missed her shore leave.”
“I will be surprised if she returns to the surface for anything other than official duties.”
“Why do I believe that?”
“Why won’t she take her shore leave? She’s done more to earn a vacation than any other member of the crew.”
“She would disagree with that assessment.”
“She works non-stop. There are days when I am sure she doesn’t even go to bed.”
Tuvok nodded. “I concur.”
“I should talk to her about it.”
“I already have, Commander, with no success.”
Chakotay crossed his arms and leaned against the security console. “Why is she like this? What happened to ‘rank has its privileges’?”
“Captain Janeway has never been the type of captain to take advantage of her position. She sets the example for others and is uncomfortable asking members of her crew to do more than she does.”
“But her example should include taking care of herself, shouldn’t it?”
Tuvok’s response was to arch an eyebrow.
“We have a day or two left. Maybe she’ll change her mind.”
“I wouldn’t hope for that, Commander.”
“The future is the realm of hope, Lieutenant.”
Here he was, two days later, and the captain had not changed her mind. Chakotay was still contemplating his options when Neelix burst onto the bridge dressed in the typical festive wear of the Tzari. The feathers in his headdress were purple, gold, pink, and orange, and were only slightly less colorful than the caftan that flowed around his rotund body. He carried a large platter over his head that contained a covered dish and a smoking carafe of some sort of liquid. Worse, he was singing the Tzari tune that had been blaring in every market, hotel, and restaurant on the planet.
“Mr. Neelix!” Chakotay exclaimed. “Please follow bridge protocol!”
“We’re in orbit,” the Talaxian replied, trying to mask his disappointment. He lowered the tray and nodded toward the ready room. “I brought a few delicacies for the captain’s enjoyment.”
Chakotay’s eyes wandered from the tray to Tuvok’s face. “Well, if we can’t get her to enjoy Tzarus, I suppose we can bring some of Tzarus to her. Go ahead, Neelix. The captain is in the ready room.”
His face bright with anticipation, Neelix resumed his trip across the bridge, this time merely humming the festive tune, and was quickly admitted to the captain’s private office.
“Good luck,” Chakotay muttered under his breath as he, and everyone else on the bridge, waited for the morale officer to reappear with his caftan tucked between his legs.
Long moments passed with no reaction, and soon the work on the bridge took priority. After thirty minutes had passed, Chakotay realized that the Talaxian must have left the ready room via the alternate doorway.
“Commander Chakotay, please report to the ready room.”
“On my way.” Every eye was on the first officer as he stood up and handed the conn to Tuvok.
“Come in, Commander,” the captain ordered. She was seated on the sofa in the upper level, Neelix’s tray on the table in front of her. “Were you in on this?”
“No, Captain.” The tray contained an assortment of canapés that Chakotay had tasted on his shore leave and a delicate flute of green wine that had been much too expensive for him to sample. “It looks delicious.”
“Oh, it is.” She leaned forward and picked up a delicate chain with a sparkling pendant. “And this looks to be a flawless diamond. Neelix swears it is not manufactured.”
Chakotay whistled. “Nice necklace.”
“It seems it is their custom to bid farewell to visiting ships by inviting the captain and her escort for a formal meal on some remote island. They would be grievously insulted if I refuse.”
Chakotay repressed a smile. “That will give B’Elanna time to run a few test on the injectors.”
Kathryn scowled and leaned back to study his face. “I don’t want to go. I thought maybe you could stand in for me.”
“Afraid not. They know you’re the captain.” He waited a beat. “Besides, you can use the break.”
“I’ll be working.”
“And that makes a difference to you, for some reason?” He shook his head. “You can’t just go to the surface to enjoy yourself?”
She blinked in surprise. “I guess it does, and, before you ask, I don’t know why.”
He joined her on the sofa, picking up one of the canapés and studying it. “You think you don’t deserve it.”
“Is that it?”
“I do.” He popped the treat into his mouth. “You never let us throw you a birthday party, and you don’t even want a nominal gift.”
“Maybe I don’t like to be reminded of my advancing age?”
He grinned, but disagreed. “No, you just think that the kinds of enjoyable events the rest of us take for granted are in some way too much for you personally.”
“Those events are over-emphasized. Making a big deal of things is one way that children get spoiled.”
“How can a small birthday party spoil a child?”
“It just makes them think they are the center of the universe, that’s all.” To his surprise, Kathryn stood up abruptly and started for the door, as if something he’d said had upset her. “I don’t have time to discuss this at the moment, Commander. My escort, Mr. Neelix, is bringing my ceremonial robes to my quarters, and we are expected to arrive on the planet within the hour.”
“Be sure to get a picture, okay?”
Kathryn laughed, “Not on your life, Mister.” They walked onto the bridge. “This will take about four hours, Commander. I want to be leaving orbit the moment Neelix and I beam back aboard.”
After she left the bridge, Tom turned and, with a grin, said, “So Neelix’s ploy worked?”
“Ploy?” Chakotay laughed. “Well, he is the morale officer.”
“Yeah, and the captain taking a few hours off will help everyone’s morale.”
“Everyone’s morale but hers,” Chakotay thought to himself.
* * * * *
December 2379 (two years after Voyager’s return)
“How goes the manhunt?” Phoebe asked.
Kathryn sighed. “All the good ones have been taken.”
The sisters were relaxing in a hotel room near Sandrine’s in France. Some of Voyager’s crew showed up there each year on the anniversary of the ship’s return, and this year Phoebe had come along for the festivities.
“Kathryn, you’ve just started looking.”
“I started six months ago, and in that time, I’ve had two dozen first dates.”
“Two dozen?” Phoebe chuckled. “You have been busy.”
“Half of them wanted to write an article about my Delta Quadrant experiences. The other half wanted to join my staff—with benefits, of course.”
“And the third half?” Phoebe joked.
“Wanted in my bed, of course.” She winked. “Actually, all of them wanted that.”
“Of course.” Phoebe stretched out on the bed and yawned. She’d arrived on Earth the day before and was tired. “What’s the real problem?”
Kathryn pulled a mug of coffee from the replicator and took a long sip. “It starts with my advanced age. Most men my age are more interested in younger women, and the number of men older than I am is dwindling on a daily basis.”
“You’re only 47.”
“Exactly.” Kathryn sat down in the overstuffed chair and put her feet up on the side of the bed. “And there is the Delta Quadrant factor. I quickly discover that the man is more interested in hearing about my adventures in space than in getting to know the real me.”
“The price of fame.”
“And then there is the whole problem with being an admiral. Most men’s egos are damaged when their partner outranks them. And the ones who aren’t in Starfleet are intimidated by the rank and the folderol of the service.”
Phoebe nodded. “The aides that swarm around you and screen your calls and visitors.”
“The press that follows me around, and the meetings with powerful people from all over the Federation.”
“Yeah. I can here it now. ‘She’s with the chief of Starfleet operations this afternoon. Can you call back after five o’clock.’”
“You’d think, after all these years, that men would have gotten over the need to be ‘the big cheese’ in a relationship.”
“Travel. They all want to go places, and I’ve spent all the time I want to spend on a starship for the near future. They are bored with the prospect of a weekend on Earth, while I wonder if I’ll ever want to leave again.”
“That will change in time, don’t you think?”
“Probably. Finally, most of them are interested in just a casual affair, while I am just not the type. I want a long-term, lasting relationship.”
“Poor Kathryn.” Phoebe pulled back the covers and snuggled into the pillows. “Well, don’t give up. There has to be someone out there who can put up with you.”
“Yeah. If you found someone, I certainly should be able to.”
Phoebe stuck out her tongue at her sister and then closed her eyes. “Just be careful not to overlook the obvious. Ted and I were friends for years before I realized we’d make a good match.” She yawned loudly. “I think I’ll take a nap before dinner.”
“Good idea.” Kathryn picked up her book. “I’ll just do a little reading.”
The hotel was quiet, a small, family-owned inn that Kathryn had discovered soon after Voyager’s return. Although Sandrine’s was located in a hotel with available rooms, Kathryn preferred to stay here, where it was less likely that her privacy would be invaded by celebrating members of her former crew.
She’d arrived the day before and had spent the previous evening with several other early arrivals. It was an informal gathering, no invitation, and so Kathryn was always surprised and pleased to see so many show up. Last night, there were about fifteen present, including Tom and B’Elanna, Harry and his fiancé, Libby, and, much to her surprise, Chakotay, who had traveled all the way from Trebus, where he’d moved after he’d broken up with Seven of Nine. Two dozen more, including her sister, had arrived that morning in time for a boisterous luncheon.
She had spent much of the prior evening talking to Chakotay in one of the secluded booths. Kathryn put down her book with a smile, remembering how good it had been to see him again in an unofficial capacity. They’d talked without pause for nearly four hours, often laughing until tears ran down their faces, sometimes feeling sad enough to cry tears of grief. Others from the crew joined them, occasionally, for a few minutes of conversation, filling them in on their lives, but most of the time they were alone, talking and watching the others playing pool or chatting.
“It’s good to see them together again, isn’t it?” Kathryn said, scanning the room.
“It is,” Chakotay agreed. “I didn’t realize how much I missed them.”
“They were our family for seven years.”
“More like children. And we were the stern, all-business parents.”
She grinned. “It did seem that way, didn’t it? I’m relieved to be able to relax and be myself again.”
“I bet you are.” He took a sip of his cider. “You seemed to think that you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, relax and be yourself on Voyager.”
“You know the Starfleet way: Duty first.”
“Not to mention that you were under tremendous pressure. But I wish you would—“ he stopped and shook his head. “Oh, never mind.”
“No, please, tell me.” She covered his hand with hers. “Admirals have a hard time finding people who will be honest with them.”
“Okay, you asked for it.” He took a deep breath. “You have a hard time accepting the accolades you deserve or being the center of attention, and I have a hard time figuring out why.”
“My accolades, as you call them, are really the result of the work of my crew. I don’t want to get the glory when they should be getting the credit, not me.”
“But they do get the credit—through you. The crew follows your lead, and when their loyalty results in your promotion, they should be allowed to bask in your successes.”
“I never thought of it that way.” She frowned. “In that case, I should have had a big blow-out for my promotion.”
“Yes, you should have. I was very disappointed that you didn’t even tell me about it.”
He nodded. “I would have been there, with bells on. And I’m sure that others feel the same way.”
“I’m sorry, then. I should have invited everyone, because all of you contributed to my success.”
“You don’t like that, though.” He studied her. “You really don’t like being the center of attention for birthdays or promotions, do you?”
“I guess not. I don’t have happy memories about birthdays because,” she stopped in surprise. “Well, I just don’t.”
“Because you were always disappointed with your gifts? Or embarrassed by the attention?”
“Because my dad usually failed to show up,” she was shocked when tears filled her eyes. “And, for some reason, his absence spoiled everything.”
“Strange, isn’t it? How the hurts and sorrows of childhood can actually influence us for the rest of our lives?”
She blushed. “It seems silly, doesn’t it?”
He grinned. “In some ways. We all do it, but isn’t it a shame when we let those childhood disappointments rob us of the joy that comes along during the rest of our lives?”
“It is a shame,” she agreed, wishing that she could rewrite her past and determined to change her future. “From this day forward, I have no intention of missing any more joy.”
“Attagirl.” He winked at her. “Start today. Enjoy the hell out of this reunion weekend.”
“I will. And I’ll start by kicking Tom Paris’s butt at pool.”
In the late afternoon shadows, Kathryn found herself chucking. Tom Paris didn’t know what hit him as she cleared the table twice before he got a single shot. The crew had cheered and trash talked, and Kathryn had thought her face might split in two from smiling.
All because of Chakotay’s wise advice. He always helped her find her balance, always made her feel better about herself. He was her best friend, and she’d missed his presence in her life more than she realized.
She sat up straight in her chair, the book sliding, forgotten, to the floor.
“Chakotay,” she murmured, glancing at Phoebe, still fast asleep. “Have I been overlooking the obvious?”
* * * * *
Near Trebus (six months later—June 2380)
Kathryn Janeway had forgotten how difficult space travel could be in civilian transports, especially in the farthest reaches of the Federation. She had managed to secure a semi-private compartment, which meant that she had a single roommate, an important upgrade from the larger rooms that accommodated a minimum of four. She was also fortunate that her roommate spent most of her time on the observation deck, leaving Kathryn with the privacy she desired.
She sat in front of the cabin’s communication unit, waiting for a subspace connection to begin. Not only was live messaging expensive, it was an exceedingly poor monochrome display with enough “snow” to make the video nearly impossible to see.
“Katie?” Gretchen peered at her. “Is that you?”
“It’s me, Mom. We just left Deep Space Nine, so I thought I’d better call you before I get to Trebus.”
“There’s no subspace from there?”
“It’s extremely limited since the war. The Federation is rebuilding the subspace network, but the fringes of the Federation are the last on the list.”
“I hope you find a way to keep in touch.”
“I’m only here for a couple of weeks, Mom.”
“So you say.” Gretchen smiled. “I agree with Phoebe on that—play this by ear.”
Kathryn nodded, glad her mother couldn’t see the blush that crawled up her neck. “Oh, I will.”
“It’s rather a clichéd, isn’t it? Captain and Commander.”
“Well, it didn’t happen on the ship, and I’m hanging onto that fact.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of, Katie. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your happiness.”
“Not to worry.”
Gretchen couldn’t mask her relief. “For so long, you seemed to be hopeless about your future. Well, not in Starfleet, but in your personal life.”
“Yeah, I think I was. After Dad and Justin were killed, I didn’t expect much from the future.”
“Mark was a nice man, and good to you, but I could tell that there really wasn’t much ‘music’ there.”
“Music?” Kathryn grinned.
“You know what I mean—that special thrill you feel when you are with someone you truly love.”
“Music. I know what you mean. It fits.”
“Keep in touch, sweetie, and, more importantly, be happy. Just decide to be happy.”
“I have decided that, Mom.”
They said their goodbyes, and then Kathryn sat back to survey her surroundings—a small area carefully designed to use every inch of space. In the civilian transport system, the catchword was “atmosphere is money,” and so the only areas that were routinely pressurized were the living areas.
To the unpracticed eye, the ship would seem to be adequately maintained, if a little bit worn. To Kathryn’s eye, it was a disaster waiting to happen. She could tell that the anti-matter injectors needed to be aligned and that some of the atmospheric seals were leaking. A barely perceptible hum filled the air in the passageways, and some floorboards sent a palpable vibration into her feet and lower legs. However, she was traveling alone, as a civilian, and didn’t want to draw attention to herself by complaining. When she got home, she’d look into a closer inspection of these transports before a disaster happened.
She just hoped this ship wasn’t the disaster waiting to happen and had a moment of self-doubt. What was she doing here, traveling to the fringes of space on questionable space ships? Had she lost her mind?
She realized that she was cold and tired, and decided to crawl into her bunk for a few minutes of sleep. The bed was comfortable and the blankets soon helped her thaw out and relax.
As usual, in recent months, her mind immediately returned to the events surrounding the Voyager reunion at the turn of the year. Specifically, her memories focused on Chakotay.
He had helped her resolve a near-lifetime habit of self-denial with a single conversation. When she’d pointed out that fact to him later, he’d simply smiled and said, quoting Hamlet, “’The readiness is all.’”
She chuckled with delight at his sense of humor. “A soldier and a philosopher.”
The entire weekend had been a delight, as if she were meeting him for the first time and all of their Delta Quadrant experiences were far behind them.
“Let’s start over,” he suggested as the gathering ended. “Let’s pretend we were never enemies, never worked together on Voyager.” They were seated at a remote table in Sandrine’s, having just finished a darts tournament. “If we had just met this weekend by chance, what would happen next?”
She gave him a long look, taking in his handsome face, mysterious tattoo, and luscious, full, kissable lips. His hair was a bit longer than he’d worn iy on Voyager, and a hank of it fell across his forehead in a way that made her want to reach out and brush it back. There was also his muscular body, which he’d toned nicely since moving to Trebus, but his eyes were his best feature. He had what Phoebe called “bedroom eyes,” warm, inviting, promising. Her heart raced as she imagined the possibilities.
“Well, I would want to see you again. Soon.”
He took her hand, raised it to his mouth, and kissed her palm, his warm breath sending chills down her spine.
Her voice lowered to a bare whisper. “Very soon.”
She rolled over on the bunk, pretending to be asleep as her roommate, a civil engineer also headed to Trebus, returned to the cabin. She had told Callie to call her Kathryn, but she was sure that the woman knew her true identity. So far, she had respected Kathryn’s desire for privacy, but she also knew the Callie was curious about her reason for traveling alone to such a remote location. At this point, Kathryn had no intention of sharing her motives with anyone.
Chakotay looked up at her with a grin. “I’d probably invite you to my room, but not with this crew looking on, and not with Phoebe sharing your hotel room.”
Suddenly aware of her surroundings, Kathryn withdrew her hand and glanced around. “We should be discrete. It’s enough that we’ve spent so much time together this weekend without giving them something more to talk about.”
“Agreed.” He heaved a sigh. “However, I plan to be around for a few more weeks. Maybe we could arrange to meet somewhere soon.”
“I’d invite you to the Janeway Christmas in Indiana, but I’m not sure either of us is ready for that sort of scrutiny.”
He winced. “True. I am supposed to spend the next week or so with my cousin in Ohio.”
“Ohio happens to be right next to Indiana.”
She smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”
Her roommate was a whistler, and Kathryn could hear her off-tune attempt at a popular Christmas song through the door to their cabin’s private bathroom. She had heard the tune everywhere she’d gone during the holidays, as if it were the only carol available, and she had begun to find it tiresome when a gift arrived anonymously on Christmas day—a darling snow globe that played the song as a couple ice skated arm-in-arm around a glassy frozen lake. Her sister tried, in vain, to find out who Kathryn knew from who lived in Ohio, but Kathryn wasn’t about to give her hints. She wasn’t sure that she and Chakotay would be able to overcome their history and didn’t want to hear “I told you so” from her bossy sibling.
“Welcome to San Francisco,” she said as Chakotay stepped down from the transporter platform. “Sorry that we can’t go somewhere more exotic.”
“I’m not interested in the surroundings,” he replied, wrapping her in a hug. “I just want to get to know you better.”
She laughed, remembering that they were playing a game of having just met. “I hope you don’t mind if I have to check in at work now and then.”
“Just so you don’t always put duty first.”
“Not anymore. I used to be that way, but I have a New Year’s resolution to find more balance between my professional and personal life.”
“I’ll help you find that balance.”
They had walked out of the transporter station into a fine mist. Kathryn opened an umbrella that they snuggled beneath.
“If we were in Ohio, this would be snow,” Chakotay commented as he slipped his arm around her waist. “In fact, it was snowing when I beamed out.”
“I bet it was. Winters can be vicious in that region.”
They talked about the weather, their holidays, and other inanities until they arrived at Kathryn’s apartment. When the door closed and locked behind them, Chakotay turned and looked down into her eyes, the umbrella clattering to the floor. He pushed the hood of her jacket back and cradled her head in his hand, pulling her against her body when her knees gave way. She could feel the warmth of his breath against her face as he whispered, “I’ve dreamed of this moment for so many years.”
Callie emerged from the bathroom and asked if Kathryn wanted to use the bathroom or if she was already in bed for the night.
Kathryn sat up in her bunk, hoping that the dim light of the cabin would mask her arousal. “I’ll take a quick shower and turn in.”
“I’ll leave the night light on so you can find your way back to bed.”
The bathroom was warm and steamy from Callie’s hot water shower. Kathryn, aware of the demands such showers made on the ship’s systems, almost always opted for a sonic shower, instead, but tonight she was not so sure. She stripped off her clothes and stepped into the small chamber, pausing as she reached for the control panel. Her body was humming with desire brought on by her recollection of Chakotay’s seduction, and she knew that she could find no release in the other room where Callie was already sleeping. She was sure that the water would recycle and make enough noise to mask her moans of pleasure, and so she opted for warm water and shivered in pleasure as it sluiced over her sensitive skin.
Kathryn had always balked at surrendering complete control to her lovers, but with Chakotay, her trust was complete. His kiss burned away every shred of restraint, and she found it natural to give herself to him without reservation. She melted into him, boneless with desire, and Chakotay, immediately aware of her submission, promised her with soft murmurs that she would never regret trusting him.
The first kiss had led to many more as they slowly shed their coats, and then their clothing, in a lazy trail across the apartment and into her bedroom. When, at last, they lay down together, his warm naked body against her own, she was nearly overwhelmed with waves of pleasure.
He smiled at her, his eyes brimming with tears, and said, “I love you, Kathryn. I can’t remember when I didn’t love you, even in those early days on Voyager.”
“I couldn’t let myself think about you as anything other than my first officer,” she answered, “no matter how much I wanted to hold you like this.” She rolled herself under him and looped her arms around his neck. “Can you forgive me?”
“As long as you hold me close like this, I can forgive you anything.”
The next moments were a blur of pleasure, a steady build toward a heavenly bliss that they promised to visit time and again during his remaining weeks on Earth.
One evening, as they lay on the sofa watching the news, Kathryn was struck with a thought that had eluded her. “We could have had this on New Earth, couldn’t we?”
Chakotay chuckled. “I don’t think so. You were still in complete denial of what we could mean to each other at that point.”
“I couldn’t let myself hope for us to be a couple. It would have been a mortal blow to have hoped for us to be together and never have it happen.”
“You didn’t hope?”
“No, and a good thing, too, since you took up with Seven at the last minute.”
“You can’t blame a desperate, lonely man for settling for a poor, pitiable substitute for the woman he truly loved.”
She melted into him, pulling his head down for a kiss. “I’m so glad you think so.”
They missed the rest of the news.
Kathryn sagged against the side of the shower and then began to slowly soap and rinse her tingling body. She felt better, but missed the warmth and comfort of Chakotay’s body, not to mention the cuddling and affection that accompanied their lovemaking. As she toweled off and finished getting ready for bed, she reminded herself that he was just hours away, as long as this bucket stayed in one piece, and that soon she would be crawling into bed next to him.
When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed of Chakotay.
Two days later, Chakotay arrived at the space dock a couple of hours before the transport’s shuttle was due to arrive.
“Meeting someone?” his friend, Lasky, asked with a grin. Everyone in the community was aware of who was coming and what she meant to their friend.
“Kathryn is arriving today,” he replied with a huge smile, “but I suspect you knew that.”
“I’d have to be deaf and blind not to.” He laughed and dodged Chakotay’s playful punch.
“Don’t give anything away!”
“Not to worry, my friend. I’m almost excited as you are.”
“I doubt that,” Chakotay answered, blushing.
The shuttle that slowly approached on a low vector was not only old, but poorly maintained. Even from this distance, Chakotay could tell that the impulse engine’s driver coil assembly was on its last legs and could just imagine how Kathryn felt about riding on such terrible ship. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Even though Kathryn was anxious to see Chakotay, she was the last passenger to leave the shuttle. Chakotay was on the verge of asking the desk clerk to check the manifest when he saw her in the doorway, still talking to the pilot, who was nodding and agreeing with her every word.
“. . . and replace that coil before you take off again. I’m staying here until it’s done,” she said in her command voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” the pilot agreed, signaling for Lasky and asking him to contact their maintenance chief on the planet.
In the meantime, Kathryn turned and looked for Chakotay, walking toward him with a big smile on her face.
He grabbed her around the waist, lifted her up, and twirled her around and around, finally letting her slide down into his embrace for a passionate kiss. They reluctantly parted, aware of Lasky’s close observation, letting their foreheads touch as they talked quietly.
“Did I hear you giving that pilot orders, Admiral?” Chakotay grinned.
“It’s criminal to put passengers on a shuttle that has a plasma coil in such terrible condition,” she replied, giving the ship a dirty look. “I almost had him turn around and go back, but decided I’d take a chance and get here first. I had something I was looking forward to.”
“And? Did you find it?”
“I sure did.” She rubbed noses and then turned to Lasky. “How long will it take to replace that coil?”
“Not soon enough, I’ll wager,” Lasky answered, giving Chakotay a wink. “Why don’t you two grab a bite to eat while you wait? Looks like you might need your energy.”
“Great idea, Laz,” Chakotay said, propelling Kathryn toward the nearby café. “We can watch from the window.”
Kathryn reluctantly left the space dock, slipping her hand into Chakotay’s. “I had no idea that the civilian transports were in such bad shape. The ship I took from DS9 was held together with scotch tape and baling wire.”
“Welcome to life on the fringes of the Federation. The Dominion War took a toll on the independent transports.”
“Understandable, but they can be maintained with a little effort.”
“You’re just used to B’Elanna the miracle worker.”
“Maybe so.” She pulled his arm through hers and snuggled into his side. “The important thing is that I’m here. I can’t tell you how much I missed you.”
“I’ve been counting the days until your arrival.”
They arrived at the café and opened the door to a dark and deserted room. “Oh, Chakotay, they’re closed.”
“In the middle of the day?” He flipped on the light.
“SURPRISE!” shouted at least two dozen people as they leapt up from their hiding places behind the tables and booths.
“What’s this?” Kathryn wondered, turning to him. “Surprise for whom?”
“Welcome to Trebus, Kathryn,” he said with a grin.
Before Kathryn could complain, a young woman approached, wearing smile that seemed very familiar. “I’m Sekaya,” she said, giving Kathryn a hug, “Chakotay’s sister. I’m so glad to meet you!”
One after another, the whole group introduced themselves, and then Kathryn found herself seated in front of an amazing array of local delicacies. As the initial excitement waned and the party settled down, she turned to Chakotay for an explanation. “You set up this party, even though you know I dislike being the focus of attention.”
“I figured they could meet you all at once or we could spend the next week having them drop by one at a time, at various times of the day . . . and night.”
“And the bad plasma coil? I didn’t pull rank on that man for no reason, did I?”
“That was just a chance event that played into my hands,” he said, with a grin. “In an hour or so, after you’ve paid your respects and the coil is replaced, we can sneak away and have the rest of your visit to ourselves.”
“That sounds wonderful.” She leaned against him. “I hope two weeks is enough time.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m hoping to convince you to return to Earth with me and make sure I keep that New Year’s resolution to have more balance in my life.”
“Make me an offer I can’t refuse.”
“Will do.” She took his hand in hers and gave him a wicked grin. “In fact, it will be my pleasure.”
* * * * *
Earth (two weeks later—July 2380)
“I heard from Kathryn today,” Gretchen informed Phoebe during their weekly subspace chat. “She said she’s delaying her return from Trebus for another month or so.”
“Kathryn the admiral is taking a leave of absence? Have we moved into a new plane of existence?”
“I think we have,” her mother chuckled. “I’ve never seen her happier. Her hair was down, she has gained some weight, and her smile never quit.”
“That’s what love does for a person.” Phoebe gave her mom a wink. “I always wondered about that hunky first officer of hers.”
“There did seem to be a current of electricity there.”
“More like lightning in a bottle. Do you think they’ll get married?”
“Who knows, at their age.” Gretchen paused, growing serious. “I’ve always worried more about Kathryn than about you. She accepted disappointment as if it were her lot in life, never seemed to hope for the best as if she didn’t deserve to have her dreams come true.”
“I can see that,” Phoebe agreed. “And that’s why she dedicated herself to Starfleet, because hard work and dedication inevitably led to expected rewards.”
“For the first time in a long time, I think Katie is going to have a happy future.”
“Who wouldn’t, with that dreamboat around to keep her happy?”
“Be careful, Phoebs. You might be talking about your future brother-in-law.”
“I hope so, Mom. I really do.”