This is a one-shot and sequel to Second Chances. It takes place a year after Second Chances, right after the credits roll in the episode "The Voyager Conspiracy". Janeway finally comes clean about what she experienced and did a year prior, and has a revelation which finally gives her clarity.
Now that the conspiracy episode with Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One, was finally over, Janeway sat there, looking at her best friend, someone she secretly fantasized about when she was alone in bed, at night, especially if they had just shared dinner together. It had been two years since she had returned back to her "original" time. She recalled how in the timeline in which she avoided being trapped in the Delta Quadrant, was so much worse ultimately, than being alone on the other side of the galaxy, yet with her crew and family by her side.
When she arrived back to the original timeline a year ago, she contemplated whether to tell her best friend and first officer, Commander Chakotay, about her experience in the past, and especially, about her betrayal of her crew, friends, and family. After all, when she had been sent back to just before her mission to the badlands by Q a year prior, the Voyager crew had become her family, and the ship itself, her home, so there was no excuse good enough that could possibly justify her actions. Yet, she sat there, wondering if a year was enough time to finally be able to reveal the truth of what happened, and of what she did.
It seemed the perfect opportunity, for a lack of a better word. Chakotay was already in her quarters, and the issue with Seven's cortical overload, which led to her malfunctioning, was still fresh in their minds. It had forced both of them to reflect on each other, to wonder if they really were what they appeared to be, or if they had hidden motives and agendas, and had been lying the entire time. Fortunately, as it turned out, Seven was simply unable to deal with the overload of information, and had simply came to the wrong conclusions. However, neither Seven nor Chakotay knew about Janeway's visit to the past, and the actions she committed there.
"You didn't poison the coffee, did you" Chakotay sarcastically asked, with a very very slight hint of pretentious seriousness. "Not any more than I usually do", Janeway quipped back. "This whole experience with seven and her malfunction, its brought up years of suspicions and anxiety between us, hasn't it", Janeway asked calmly. "Maybe", Chakotay replied, "but I think its good that we are now more certain, that we really are a close family, out here, far from the nearest Starfleet ship. They say you can't keep a secret in a ship this small, Seven just helped prove that", Chakotay said, trying to make the mood more positive and reassure her captain. "I'd like to think you're right. But the truth is, there are some secrets, secrets that I have not come forward about, and I think enough time has passed, that I feel I can finally share it. I was too afraid to share it before, but I believe now is a prudent time. After all, you deserve to know the truth" Janeway had to say. Chakotay was taken aback a bit, yet also anxiously excited. He assumed Janeway would finally break the ice between them, and formally announce that she's willing to get closer with him, his best and closest friend on the ship, but he simply asked "what is it captain?".
"A year ago", the captain started, "Q sent me back to before Voyager left dry dock, before our mission which brought us here."
"Oh.", Chakotay curiously said. "Why did he do that?"
"He sent me back, because he pitied me. He knew I was upset deep down, about my decision to stay here. He wanted me to experience a timeline where we did not get stranded, and continued living in the Alpha Quadrant" said Janeway.
"If that happened, then why were you brought back? I take it, either you had no choice but to come back because Q forced you, or, something happened. Something that hurt you, worse than being out here lost over 30,000 light years away"
"I'm sure you can guess, at least, some parts of it", Janeway said, hoping that Chakotay would spare her from having to say it, say something which might upset Chakotay if she heard him say it, and possibly, have difficulty trusting her again.
"I suppose if somehow we could avoid the Coherent Tetryon Beam that brought us here, we most likely would never meet, and be forced to work together. At the very least, if we did meet, it would be with you looking at me through a force field shielding you from a violent me, inside your brig. I assume I was captured and sent to prison, possibly my crew as well?" Chakotay asked.
"Yes", Janeway reluctantly answered. "At the time, I thought it would be better that way. I thought, at least you and your crew didn't have to be stuck so far from your home, and families. I felt it was wrong of me to allow you to be captured and imprisoned, but I hoped, that you'd be freed someday, and at least be able to leave prison, and return to your home and loved ones"
"I see. But I take it, something went wrong. What happened Kathryn? Why did you abandon the chance to be back home?" Chakotay asked anxiously.
"As you know, the Dominion killed all the Maquis. You, B'Ellana, and the rest of your crew, all became casualties. Not only that, Mr. Paris was sentenced to another 10 years in a Federation Penal Colony, and Mr. Kim and Mr. Tuvok, were killed in a battle with the Jem Hadar. And the worst part is, I had forgotten all about Seven. Without us here in the Delta Quadrant, Seven would spend the rest of her life in the Collective." Janeway was forced to say.
"I don't believe in destiny or fate Chakotay, but at that moment, I realized that we were supposed to be here, for whatever reason. And I'm glad to be back here, with you, and our family. I couldn't tell you earlier Chakotay. I'm sorry."
"You were worried it would affect our friendship?" Chakotay asked. "It doesn't have to be. I see it another way. A woman, a friend, and a captain, had suffered unbearably and secretly for a long time because she felt guilty and responsible for affecting the lives of her crew. She felt this way a long time, and could not tell anyone. It affected her so much that she wished she could undo her decision, so she could spare them from potential hurt or suffering. But I see it another way. I see us, out here alone, as more than a crew. We have had the opportunity to explore a part of space starfleet officers only dream of. We have become more than people operating within a chain of command. We are family now. We depend on one another, trust one another. Our bond is closer and tighter than any other starship. What we have made out of our situation here, I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. I don't even think of the Alpha Quadrant anymore. In fact, I dread and fear the day we make it back to Earth. The moment we do, we risk being separated, and breaking up the family. I appreciate that you thought you were doing the right thing by trying to alter history, but I think you were mistaken about us. We have all left loved ones behind back home. We miss the Federation, but what we have here in the now, we should consider ourselves lucky, cherish every moment, because we will never have an opportunity like this. Our journey home, gives us hope. Our far away distance from Starfleet, makes us unique here. We represent the best of humanity here. Back home, we are just another crew, like everyone else. Out here, we are humanity, and we are in control of our fate. I think your only mistake was, not considering how we feel, before you accepted Q's offer to allow you to remain there. I think it was brave what you did. You were willing to sacrifice your own friendship with us, your bond with us which goes deeper than even family, to try and save us from being here, but the truth is, had you asked us, none of us would have agreed to your singular decision that affected all of us. I think the next time you try to make a decision without consulting your crew, just think about how we would feel, and whether or not we would agree with your logic. As for me, nothing has changed for me. I don't remember that timeline. For what it's worth, consider yourself forgiven." said Chakotay. Having heard this, Janeway felt at ease. She had hoped for the best, and expected the worst, but she felt slightly guilty, guilty for believing that Chakotay would try to ostracize her and be upset with her, rather than be the understanding and comforting man that he has always been.
"Thank you. Chakotay. I really appreciate your kindness. I should have expected this. Being kind and caring, that's just who you are. I'm glad to have a friend like you." Janeway happily said.
"Well, I feel pretty tired. I think I will get some sleep now… Goodnight, Kathryn. See you on the bridge.", Chakotay said, as he got up to exit the room.
"goodnight. sweet dreams", Janeway replied.
As Chakotay left the room, Janeway felt as if a huge load and burden had finally been lifted off her shoulder. She could finally sleep tonight with far more peace than she had done in the entire year prior to today. She felt extremely lucky to have such a caring and understanding crew. She felt grateful, and felt like she had to pay Chakotay and the entire crew back, by getting the home as soon as possible to make them happy. But as soon as that thought entered her mind, she realized something for the first time in the past 6 years. She realized, "we are home", and realized that while she's still on the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, she should appreciate what she already has, and cherish every moment. "Thank you, Q, for finally giving me the clarity I needed", and with that, she went to bed, and slept peacefully, excited to spend another day with her family, safe, and happy.