A Favourable Comparison
As most of my readers will know, I have been writing a mini series of J/C - C/7 - J/C resolution stories explaining the possible reasons for the sudden C/7 relationship. Here's another possibility inspired by a P/T story from Lady Arraya & Riss. Suppose Seven did not limit her study of 'romantic relationships' solely to Tom & B'Elanna...
B'Elanna was tired. Tired? At the limit of her Klingon (which was considerable) endurance was more like it. Yet here she was again, going out on a limb for Seven. She was not privy to what was going on behind closed doors in the corridors of power back at HQ but Seven was conspicuous by her absence. Everyone else had been de-briefed and sent on leave for the next nine months after which they would report for new orders; honorary discharge from the service or possible promotion. Only Seven had been kept behind. Not charged with anything or officially under arrest but restricted to the compound within HQ and not allowed contact with any of her former shipmates.
It was Captain Janeway who had come to her - unofficially of course - on the pretext of a social visit to spend time with baby Miral, and asked that she do this. So here she was at 0300 in Cargo Bay 2 downloading a copy of every encrypted file stored within Seven's alcove. Voyager was still docked at Utopia Planetia about to be dissembled and dissected by Starfleet's top engineers but they had yet to start work. B'Elanna strongly suspected that they had no idea how to de-integrate the Federation/myriad DQ & Borg modifications without destroying the very enhancements they hoped to emulate. Thus, their prevarication had bought the Captain much needed time. Still she was wearing a personal cloaking device, ironically developed by Seven herself, and it only had a limited range and duration. Two hours at most and she had already been here for over an hour. There was nothing for it but to be selective. Although she did not possess Seven's optical implant or the Doc's ability to scroll the file names at lightening speed she would just have to do her best. Anything to do with routine operations could be skimmed over. She needed to look for files with stardates that coincided with classified events during their seven year journey or any that specifically named the senior staff. Although the Captain had not expressly told her why she was to gather this information she could hazard a good guess. Starfleet were concerned that Seven still posed a significant security threat and were looking for evidence to justify denying her her freedom or Federation Citizenship. Naturally as her mentor - hadn't Chakotay told her many years ago that the Captain regarded Seven as her personal reclamation project - Captain Janeway would leave no avenue unexplored in her attempts to exonerate her. Personally, she felt the Captain was wasting her time and Seven was more than capable of looking out for herself : but Kathryn Janeway was more than her commanding officer. Over the course of their long journey home they had become friends and if this would alleviate some of that omnipresent guilt the poor woman still carried around, it was worth it. Just.
Rubbing her eyes to clear her blurring vision a file caught her eye. "Comparative human interpersonal & intimate relationships : Paris/Torres vs. Janeway/Chakotay". What the hell ! So her threat to break Seven's nose had not deterred her studies. She had merely extended them...but spying on the Captain and Commander? Whatever else she downloaded tonight this file and any related ones were now top priority. B'Elanna checked the readout on her cloak. Thirty five minutes left, tops. Better get a move on Torres she rebuked herself. Suddenly she was very much awake.
Torres-Paris apartment two hours later...
"Tom, she'll be here at 0900 and then we'll have to hand the lot over. After that we'll never see them again. You know that. This is our only chance to see just what data Seven has recorded about us and..."
Tom interrupted that thought "Don't say it 'Lanna. There is no way we are reading Seven's observations from spying on the Captain and Chakotay's private interactions. Though goodness knows how she came by such information. Presumably her enhanced visual and auditory acuity have been put to some very morally dubious uses."
B'Elanna gritted her teeth. She had to keep her cool and get Tom on side : and quickly. "Fair enough but at least let's review what she's recorded about us and redact as necessary."
Tom sighed "In that case we will have to redact the entire file and how do you presume to explain that to the Captain once she's had a chance to go through the files? You know what a stickler for detail she is. Especially when on a mission to exonerate Seven."
"Come on flyboy, use your imagination. It works well enough when designing your holo-program novels. So get creative here and re-draft Seven's observations to make them less...efficient."
"No! And that's my final answer. What's it matter how Seven has described our romance? We were both free agents in a monogamous relationship and we are now married with a child of our own. We have nothing to hide. As for Seven's observations of the Captain and Chakotay? Well, I spent seven long years running a betting pool on those two getting together and for all our combined attempts to gather any evidence to that effect...nadda. ...absolutely nothing. So all bets were off and I had to return a fortune in punts before we disembarked. There was no 'evidence' because their relationship remained purely platonic. In action anyway. Even Seven's enhanced senses do not give her mind reading abilities. Thank goodness! So she will have nothing but unsubstantiated gossip and observations of a professional working relationship. Just give the files to the Captain untouched. In the meantime could we PLEASE go to bed for a couple of hours sleep before Miral wakes for her breakfast."
B'Elanna felt the wind leaving her proverbial sails. Tom was right, what did she care for Seven's infantile observations. Besides, she was about to drop where she stood and it was already 0610 hours. If they were really lucky they would get a couple of hours rest before Miral awoke. By the time she reached the bedroom door Tom was already splayed out across the top of the duvet snoring. Less than five minutes later B'Elanna's nocturnal crescendo eclipsed his.
2100 hours. Apartment 106, Pacific Heights, San Francisco ...
Kathryn Janeway didn't know what to think. On the one hand she was relieved that the files B'Elanna had managed to smuggle to her did not contain anything that Starfleet could crucify Seven with but they included a loaded hand grenade aimed squarely at her Captain. And Seven would not have an inkling. If it wasn't so serious she would be wryly laughing! After all, hadn't she been the one to encourage Seven to explore that aspect of her humanity. So she had embarked on a field research project to observe Tom and B'Elanna. Of course, once she had been informed of this she had told Seven in no uncertain terms to shut it down. With the advantage of hindsight, it was obvious that she should have known that Seven would decide to turn her attention elsewhere. Naturally she had decided to observe her mentor and...Chakotay : who also happened to be her First Officer!
Oh, she had discovered nothing concrete. Nothing absolutely compromising. Except for the fact that she had seen a connection between the romantic relationship between Tom and B'Elanna (which had resulted in marriage and a child no less) and her Captain's friendship with Chakotay. And the Admiralty would believe there was 'no smoke without fire'. Worryingly, there was no way to ascertain for sure whether or not this personal log of Seven's had been copied or downloaded onto Voyager's mainframe. Not now at least. If only she had been aware of this before disembarkation, somehow or other she would have found a way to delete it without trace. Now it was too late. Too late : in oh so many ways. ...
How Chakotay felt about Seven at this juncture she had no idea. Ever since they had arrived in Earth orbit, a mere thirteen hours after exiting the transwarp hub, they had been boarded by Starfleet Security and one set of 'officials' after another. The senior staff had been disembarked first and debriefed individually at HQ whilst a temporary command team had been assigned to Voyager to co-ordinate the disembarkation and de-briefings for the remainder of her crew. As far as she knew, Chakotay had not set eyes on Seven since then. Almost two months ago now. She hadn't even been allowed to visit Seven and she had been her commanding officer since the day that the - then fully Borg - drone had been allowed on board. It was ironic that she was sitting here reading Seven's perceptions of her...interactions ...with Chakotay. It was a sobering thought and made for uncomfortable reading. A mirror reflecting darkly.
Meanwhile at the Torres-Paris apartment...
Chakotay sat, tea in one hand and baby in the other. Well actually, attempting to restrain baby with the other, was a more accurate description. At this exact moment Miral had managed to half clamber over his shoulder and was preventing herself from free falling down his back with one very strong chubby arm locked around his neck. She was a mere nine weeks old but had the strength and dexterity of a six month old human infant. Goodness knows what she would be capable of by this time next year!
Tom came through the door just in time to grab hold of her before Chakotay's tea went flying. "I think that's enough playtime with Uncle Chakotay for today little one. 'Lanna I'll put her to bed whilst you two catch up."
B'Elanna looked up and gave a tired smile and brief nod to her husband before turning her attention to their guest. "I'm sorry Chakotay, I'm afraid I didn't get to bed until gone 6am and then had to be up to feed Miral at eight before Kathryn arrived. My attention is not what it should be. Could you repeat that last comment you made?"
Chakotay had only been making small talk about Harry's new romance with Megan Delaney but was much more interested in B'Elanna's throwaway comment. He had not seen Kathryn Janeway since about a week after disembarkation. They had all been debriefed in isolation and were still awaiting the 'verdicts' which, presumably, they would discover once their compulsory leave was up. Although they were supposedly free agents in the interim, they had been expressly forbidden from discussing their debriefings with one another and he had only seen Tom, B'Elanna and Harry amongst the senior staff since then. As far as he knew, no one had seen the Captain socially at all. Yet, apparently she had turned up here, at Tom and B'Elanna's home, only ten hours ago. He was eager for news of her but didn't want to send the rumour mill into overdrive yet again so decided to tread lightly. Turning his attention back to B'Elanna and keeping his voice light and with what he hoped was a casual interest "Oh nothing much, I was just saying that Harry has taken Megan on three dates this month and it looks as though she is finally returning his interest in her. So...how is Kathryn? Did she drop by to spend a bit of time with the newest member of our family?"
B'Elanna wasn't fooled for a second. She picked up on the undercurrents of his interest all too well. He was making a point of looking out of the window with one arm draped over the back of the sofa, trying just a little too hard to appear relaxed and disinterested. That would be the day where the Captain was concerned! Should she tell him the truth or just keep the conversation light? There was no real choice. Seven was still being detained and Kathryn Janeway had sent her on a covert mission to recover the alcove files only to find that potentially compromising one regarding the four of them. It was probably nothing but Chakotay was a better judge of that than she. After all, only he and their former Captain would know whether it was possible for Seven to have recorded anything inappropriate.
"Actually Chakotay, it was Kathryn Janeway and not Miral who kept me up all night."
Now she had his full rapt attention. He just nodded at her to continue. "I was aboard Voyager, covertly recovering files from Seven's alcove. No one detected me, I was wearing that personal cloaking device we developed soon after our encounter with the Srivani. I was running out of time so limited myself to those data blocks recorded around the stardates of classified incidents and also any files specifically naming members of the senior staff. There was one potentially embarrassing one. Tom thinks it's nothing but..."
Chakotay could tell that B'Elanna was worried and he would go with her instincts over those of their cocky jack-the-lad former helmsman any day. "Go on B'El , I'm listening."
"You remember the incident when Seven decided to study humanoid mating behaviours and picked Tom and I as her subjects?"
How could he forget, he had had to adjust crew rosters for several weeks afterwards to keep B'Elanna and Seven on different shift rotations until he was sure that there would be no fallout requiring the Doctor's intervention. He nodded, having no real idea where this was leading.
"Well, apparently, after the Captain and you had had words with her and told her to close her files on us instead of forgetting the whole thing she simply switched her attention to another couple and ran a comparison!"
He suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Surely not?! He already knew the answer deep within but had to ask "So who did Seven switch her attention to?"
B'Elanna put her Rakdagino down and leant forward to emphasise her point. "You. And Captain Janeway. Before you ask, no I did not read the file. I wanted to, at least what she had said about Tom and me anyway. But Tom put his foot down. He was right, we've got nothing to hide. After all our relationship morphed into marriage and kids and as for you and the Captain it was a complete waste of her time...wasn't it?"
Chakotay hesitated. Although he and Kathryn had never 'had intimate relations' as Seven would phrase it, there had been plenty of heated discussions in the Ready Room, his quarters and hers. All supposedly out of sight and earshot of the crew. The sound proofing was adequate even against a Vulcan's keen hearing but were they adequate defences against Borg enhanced senses? Just what could Seven have heard and possibly misconstrued? And what on Earth had she written in those personal logs of hers?
B'Elanna waited as the pregnant pause grew ever longer and she could see the worries flitting across Chakotay's face. Finally he turned and faced her as she placed a reassuring hand on his forearm. "B'El, Kathryn and I, we never had a full physical relationship but I'd be lying if I said there was nothing beyond simple friendship between us. At least, that used to be the case. Our discussions over dinner in her or my quarters spanned the personal as well as professional. If Seven - somehow - managed to eavesdrop on those then it is possible she could have come up with any number of ideas. Do I need remind you of her conspiracy theories after she overloaded her cortical node whilst regenerating? She almost singlehandedly succeeded in starting a Starfleet versus ex-Maquis civil war on board. To my eternal shame. I hate to think what she thinks she has witnessed. I just hope that you got all the offending files downloaded and into Kathryn's hands before Starfleet have begun dissecting Voyager's database."
She was not sure but hoped so. "All those files were contained in a single data block and the research on you and the Captain seems to have followed straight on from the files she had accrued on myself and Tom. I could see nothing downstream of that but if later files were unnamed then..."
"We'll just have to hope for the best. B'El could you give me Kathryn's address? I know, I know. I'm probably not her favourite person right now but those files affect me too so I think she and I really need to discuss them and see where we go from here."
She knew it would be inviting trouble but everything had become such a mess since Admiral Janeway's appearance and the rumours of Chakotay's romance with Seven having reached the Captain's ears. If nothing else, Seven's little research project provided a much needed excuse for the command team to finally talk about their relationship : whatever that actually meant.
B'Elanna got up and reached for the scrap pad she kept next to the vid screen. Scribbling Kathryn Janeway's address and contact details she took a deep breath and looked Chakotay straight in the eye. "Just sort it out old man. Once and for all."
An hour later Chakotay was washed, freshly shaven and changed into tan chinos and a crisp white linen shirt. It was still up in the forties even shortly after dark in San Francisco in late July and the constantly high humidity did not help matters. He was tempted to initiate a site to site transport from his apartment hallway to hers but it was only a ten minute walk across the park and he could do with the time and space to order his thoughts. He had not called ahead so she would not be expecting him and it was already 2230 hours. Although he would not normally make a social call only an hour or so before midnight, Kathryn had always been a night owl and it was doubtful she intended to turn in before the early hours of the morning. Or maybe not at all tonight if his worst fears about the contents of those files were realised.
As he exited his building he debated taking a bottle of something but decided against it. Although a big part of him wanted to celebrate their long awaited reunion this was not the right occasion. Seven still stood between them, and it was only starting to dawn on him that this mess was not solely of his making. No. He would turn up empty handed. No gimmicks; no excuses; no games. He would lay all his cards on the table and hope that she would reciprocate. They had nothing left to lose and perhaps much to gain and if those files accused them of any impropriety then they would face the consequences together.
Chakotay started across the lawn heading for the beech trees to the far right beyond which the lights of the tower housing Starfleet's top brass shone a guiding beacon through the descending fog.
Two hours earlier...
Kathryn sat staring at her screen sightlessly. She had been over every single phrase umpteen times and her conclusions were always the same. Seven's motivation for pursuing Chakotay were there in black and white : and it was all so...logical.
The bitter irony of the situation was not lost on her. Seven had chosen Chakotay because she was impressed by his cool restraint...his ability to form a deep attachment without the least need for vulgar shows of emotion...and his total disinterest in obtaining copulation from his female partner! Seven had chosen Chakotay because she had. Seven had been under the impression that she and Chakotay had mutually agreed to part ways after Quarra and so he would be looking for another female who would not require courting in the traditional sense. A meeting of minds without the need for anything further. To Seven, she Kathryn Janeway, was as devoid of sexual desire as a Borg drone - and that apparently suited Chakotay just fine!
She scrolled back through the text again and re-read Seven's concluding remarks.
"Whilst my study of the romantic pairing between Lieutenants Torres and Paris consumed a great deal of time and resources I was unable to reach any useful conclusions. Captain Janeway was quite correct in suggesting I desist. Of course, I should have focussed my attention on the command team from day one. It is their interaction over the entire course of Voyager's journey that has underwritten all our fates. Having observed them myself over the last four years and having reviewed all pertinent information in the database prior to my arrival on board, I can now draw the following conclusions:-
1 Both Captain Janeway & Commander Chakotay have successfully eliminated all human desire for physical behaviours of a sexual nature yet they have a deep intellectual attachment to one another.
2 Captain Janeway seeks to avoid all unnecessary social interaction when off duty. Commander Chakotay frequently mirrors her social isolation.
3 Both have repeatedly stressed the importance of prioritising Voyager's Collective over personal interests, both in public and when alone together.
4 Captain Janeway has implicitly attempted on multiple occasions to encourage Commander Chakotay to seek a pair bonding elsewhere. In recent times she has also explicitly suggested I also seek such a pair bond.
5 The Commander is the highest ranking male aboard, therefore it would be insufficient to seek a mate of lower authority.
6 Commander Chakotay has explicitly instructed me to seek out opportunities for social interactions with the crew on multiple recent occasions. Both he and the Captain have specifically sought out my company at such events.
In conclusion: I deduce that both Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay would approve of my instigating such a pair bond with him.
There it was in black and white. A damning indictment of her own conduct towards Chakotay, on a personal level and ironically probably an exoneration as far as Starfleet Command and the Board of Inquiry were concerned. Though what Starfleet Security would make of Seven's confession about her fledgling relationship with Voyager's First Officer she had no idea. Regardless, it was doubtful that it would aid Seven's release and could seriously compromise Chakotay's future. And she was partly to blame. After all Seven was her personal reclamation project and as Seven's mentor it was only natural for the young woman to emulate her choices. Follow where she led : whether consciously or not.
So what to do about any of this? Destroy it? It was still possible that she held the only copy of the data and B'Elanna had been successful in her covert mission last night. On the other hand the probability that there were either copies or further data files stored elsewhere were high. After all, this was Seven on Nine. The likelihood that she had been sloppy enough to forget to back up her files was almost zero.
Was it best just to replace the data blocks? She could not send B'Elanna back on board but perhaps she could return herself later tonight. B'Elanna had not had time to fill in the gaps so had scrambled some of the surrounding files within the alcove to mimic power surge damage. It would not fool Utopia Planetia's top engineers for long if anyone suspected foul play and really scrutinised the hard drives. Which they would inevitably do with Seven still being under suspicion.
With a sinking feeling it dawned on Kathryn that she had probably done more harm than good in trying to protect Seven. The files that B'Elanna had recovered were far less damning than the evidence of a botched redaction. Perhaps the only way out of this was to go to the Admiralty in the morning with the data blocks and admit what she had done. Though that would prove that she as Voyager's captain suspected that there were indeed data files containing verification of Seven's ongoing real and present threat to Federation Security : the very thing she had aimed to disprove beyond all reasonable doubt.
Either that or Captain Janeway had been involved in an intimate personal and sexual relationship with the former Maquis Captain Chakotay all along and would go to any lengths to destroy the evidence!
She was getting nowhere fast, going around in circles in her mind. If only she still had access to Chakotay's wise counsel. She had missed him at a far deeper level than she had ever thought possible. She had once told him that she could no longer imagine a day without him : and she had been right. The reality was far worse than her darkest nightmares and worst of all, it was a hell of her own making.
Chakotay leant against the trunk of the old oak and looked up at the seventeenth floor. Most of the lights were already out as the occupants were either out on duty or calling it a night. Kathryn's apartment was conspicuous by the glow emanating from the entire length of the balcony. She was still up and burning the midnight oil as usual. In a way it was comforting, at least some things never changed. He was killing time, prevaricating. Being a coward. Truth be told, he had no idea what to say when Kathryn opened that door. No idea how she would react to his presence and no way of knowing whether he could, or even should, help with whatever plan Kathryn was cooking up to secure Seven's release. After all, that was what this was really about. Those embarrassing files B'Elanna had found were an unlucky complication of the bigger picture.
If he was honest with himself, a large part of him was relieved that Seven had noticed something special between himself and Kathryn. Even if it condemned them in the eyes of the Admiralty at least he had the consolation of some enduring evidence that it was real. Sometimes, lately, in those long lonely nights - and if he was honest with himself for many a night on Voyager too - he had begun to doubt his sanity. Perhaps he was imagining that their bond was anything more than a deep, abiding friendship borne of adversity and the necessity to pool resources in order to survive. In later years he had wondered that more and more. There had been Kathryn's dalliances with passing aliens and her decision to create her holographic lover, Michael Sullivan. Initially she had used the Fairhaven program several times a week and although she spent much less time on the holodeck during their last year in the DQ it was exclusively that program she ran since Quarra and ...
Come on old man, he admonished himself. Get on with it. One foot in front of the other and knock on her door. All you can really offer is your presence. Then the ball is firmly in Kathryn's court...some things do indeed never change.
Just what she didn't need. A late night visitor tonight of all nights. Glancing at the clock Kathryn suddenly felt apprehensive. It was 2355 hours. This could not be a social call, something must be seriously wrong. Whomever it was they would have had to get past 'Fleet's best security officers and the only way someone would be cleared to come up here at this time of night was if a matter needed her urgent attention : hers alone. That could only mean one thing right now. There had been a serious development regarding Seven and it was highly unlikely to be good news. In fear and trepidation Kathryn quickly pulled her hair back into a pony tail and did her best to smooth down her track sit as she half sprinted to the door.
A split second later she was confronted with an apparition. Of all the people she could have imagined turning up here tonight he was the least likely of them all. They stared at each other in silence for what felt like an age before the fog in her brain cleared enough to register that it really was Chakotay, in the flesh, standing less than a foot away from her threshold. Gathering what was left of her wits she stepped to the side "Chakotay. you'd better come in."
Well as welcomes went it was not the most enthusiastic but she hadn't immediately slammed the door in his face either. Doing his best to muster a relaxed and - he fervently hoped - welcoming smile, he nodded and walked past her into the large sitting room. There was a panoramic bay windowed balcony stretching along the far wall, glass fronted from floor to ceiling with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the beach below. The tide was high and there was a full moon. The effect was stunning and the vista quite beautiful. Kathryn had a large sofa that ran along most of the window face and also curved in an approximate 'L' shape along the right hand wall : reminiscent of the layout of her quarters on Voyager. He wondered whether it was more than a coincidence.
Chakotay decided to follow tradition so took his usual seat at one end allowing her proximity to the window and the stars are beyond, back lit by the moonlight playing on the surface of the waves all the way out to the horizon. Without a word Kathryn had crossed to her replicator and ordered their usual nightcaps. Yet another strong black coffee for her and Camomile tea for himself. She placed them on the coffee table in front of them, an exact replica of the one she had on Voyager. And those were their original tankards. He was sure if it, even down to the scratches and dents that paid testament to all they had endured together. So they sat, she looking out at the night sky, perhaps seeking inspiration and he consciously relaxing back into the sofa, tankard in hand as he drank in her familiar profile. The years all seemed to blend into one and suddenly it hardly mattered to him at all why they were here, now. All the mattered was the fact that they were here. Together again.
Kathryn surveyed the starscape in front of her, trying to ground herself. It it were not for their familiar pattern she would believe herself to be back in her quarters, after another long day holding, ship, body and soul together - with Chakotay at her side. It had hit her like a thunderbolt from the blue. That moment of clarity that she had so often heard talked about but never fully understood until now. That one turning point in life when everything suddenly becomes clear and the way ahead is obvious. One second she had been alone, swamped with doubts and confusion about the way ahead. Bracing herself for yet another crisis that this time she had even less control over than she ever had out there. Then the next she opened her apartment door and it all vanished. He was here. They were a team and together they would deal with whatever was to come. As they had always done since the first day they set eyes on each other. Chakotay must have been here for at least fifteen minutes and neither of them had felt the need to say a word. They were content to just be.
Finally Chakotay spoke. "We'll get her out of there Kathryn. After all, she was right. What we have cannot be defined or replicated and I'm happy to formally acknowledge that : come what may."
He was right, on both counts. But when had Chakotay ever been wrong about them? The fault had always lain with her. Not anymore. Tomorrow they would go together to HQ with Seven's data and by the end of their meeting Seven would be a free woman. Struggling and failing to find her voice, she turned to look at him. As the moisture finally brimmed over and she felt a tear fall she laid her left hand on top of his. He just heard her faintly whisper "thank you".
There was no more that needed to be said.