Three Anniversaries by Spiletta42
Disclaimer: You see, Paramount, when you kill off a character for cheap drama someone has to clean up the mess.
Pairings: Samantha Wildman/Joe Carey, Joe Carey/Sarah Carey, Samantha Wildman/Greskrendtregk (J/C implied)
Warning: In Canon Character Death.
A/N: Written for the drama category of Mixed Doubles at Anne's Rose Garden. For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. The name Sarah Carey, while not canon, was the name suggested by Josh Clark, the actor who plays Joe Carey. I also used the names he suggested for his children, Joseph and Hunter. All of these names were previously used in Tying The Threads, the Voyager Season Eight project. Thank you to Shayenne for passing this information on to me.
Spoilers: Friendship One and Endgame. Also mentions of Caretaker, Prototype, Scorpion, The Gift, Nemesis, Day of Honor, Scientific Method, Mortal Coil, Message in a Bottle, Hunters, Prey, Waking Moments, The Killing Game, Vis a Vis, The Omega Directive, Demon, One, Hope and Fear, Night, In the Flesh, Once Upon a Time, Pathfinder, and Lifeline.
Credits: Thank you to Squirrelly for the vicious beta work. Thank you to Chris and to Nameless Ensign for your excellent memories. Thank you to Dakota for research help. Thank you to Kim for services rendered. Thank you to Anne Rose and her giant trout for the rather scary and threatening encouragement.
Dedication: In memory of literary genius Andre Dubus, a master at creating sympathetic characters.
Home. Ensign Samantha Wildman felt as if Earth had crashed directly through her bedroom wall. Seven years of living day by day and now, without warning, they were home.
It was what they all had wanted. Perhaps the situation was a little disorienting, but it was happy news. She smiled and tried to reassure her frightened daughter as they packed. "We can have a home with a yard full of real grass, and you can go to school with other children your age."
"Voyager is my home," Naomi said. "I don't want to leave."
Sam knew that Naomi had said the same thing to Counselor Troi. It wasn't surprising. The sudden, sweeping change had everyone off balance, and the losses of the last few weeks made it all the harder.
Tonight Naomi would meet her father for the first time. Tonight Sam would be reunited with her husband. Joy failed to penetrate her mood, and she was grateful when Ensign Jenkins took Naomi to sickbay to see the Paris' new baby.
She let the stiff, scary smile fall away and sank down onto the floor. If only Voyager had reached Earth a few weeks earlier. Just a few weeks difference, and there wouldn't be a package on the dresser to take to Mrs. Carey.
Four years earlier . . . Stardate 50982.1
Samantha chose a corner booth at Sandrine's. Neelix's offer to baby-sit meant she could spend some time away from her quarters, but she didn't feel up to socializing. She stared down into her glass and twisted the ring on her left hand.
Her wedding, a blend of Ktarian and Earth customs, was as clear in her mind as if it had happened yesterday, and yet it seemed to have happened in another lifetime. She might have believed it happened to someone else, if not for the ache that rose in her chest when she pictured her husband.
She missed him. Each and every day in the Delta Quadrant, she missed him, but today that emptiness seemed ready to swallow her whole.
"This seat taken?"
She looked up at Lieutenant Joe Carey and shook her head. "I'm afraid I won't be very good company."
"Good," he answered. "I'm not looking for conversation."
They sat in silence and nursed their synthehol.
"Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary," he said.
"Hard, isn't it," she said. "Today's my fifth."
"When did you see him last?"
"The day we left Deep Space Nine. He's stationed there."
"Sarah's on Earth. I hadn't seen her for six weeks before we left. I had my choice for leave, before or after the mission into the Badlands."
"You chose after."
He nodded and looked away. Sam reached across the table and laid her hand over his. His hand was warm, and she could feel the play of tendons as he twitched slightly. He did not pull away.
"We were going to take the kids to Mars," he said. "My father took me as a boy, and I loved it. It's part of why I joined Starfleet." He stared down at his drink. "I wonder if Sarah took them."
"I'm sure she did, eventually."
"Probably. Life goes on."
Sandrine brought them another bottle. Joe poured them each another glass.
"Greskrendtregk doesn't even know about Naomi."
"Maybe I'm the lucky one. I knew my children."
"Or maybe I am, to have her here with me. It doesn't always feel lucky, though."
"It's nights like this," Joe said. "The special occasions, the holidays, the anniversaries -- always such long, lonely nights."
"If I could talk to her..." He filled their glasses again. "I just want to know that she's okay. That the kids are okay."
Sam nodded. They drank in silence for a while.
"Thank you," he said.
She looked up. "For what?"
"Thank you for not telling me that Sarah and the kids are fine. I hate platitudes." He smiled a bit. "Vorik cited the statistical probability of them being 'fine'."
"Of course he did. Neelix tried to tell me that if something had happened to Greskrendtregk, I would know it."
They drifted back into a comfortable silence, and when Sam finally went home, several hours later, she didn't quite feel like crying herself to sleep as she had planned. The tears didn't come until later, when she awoke in the pre-dawn hours, between sheets that felt as cold as when she had first slipped between them.
Samantha hoped that dinner with Joe would raise her spirits. The last few weeks had been hard for everyone. Ensign Jetal's death and the Doctor's resulting malfunction had been followed swiftly by conflicts with 8472 and the Borg. The final straw had been the loss of Kes. Sam knew she wasn't the only one feeling down, but she also knew she couldn't afford to sink into depression. Not with a child in need of her care.
At the sound of the door chime, her stomach fluttered. That wasn't right. This wasn't a date. She had a husband. He had a wife. This was a friendly dinner, and shouldn't cause excitement or a case of the nerves.
Joe stood in the doorway, awkwardly shifting a casserole dish from hand to hand. "It's three-bean casserole. A side dish. I thought I should bring something, and Sarah always brought this to family gatherings."
"It sounds delicious." She took it from him and placed it on the table. "Please, have a seat."
"Something smells wonderful," he said. He fidgeted, and she wondered if he had been more comfortable holding the dish of beans.
They both sat down, glancing awkwardly at each other like strangers on a blind date. That was foolish, she knew. They had eaten together many times in the mess hall over the last few years.
Sam folded the napkin in her lap. "How are the repairs coming?"
"B'Elanna's estimate has us done in two days," Joe said. "I'm not inclined to disagree."
"She'd probably take your head off," Sam said.
"Well, there's that." He smiled. "Also, she isn't often wrong. After all, she figured out how to configure that android we found to run on warp plasma without burning out his relays, and I never thought that would work. Then there was the time she blah blah blah. As soon as blah blah blah, I realized what she was doing. Then blah blah blah..."
She smiled at his enthusiasm. It was nice to see him smile, especially after the somber mood of their last evening together.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I must be boring you terribly."
She laughed and shook her head. "You're much more interesting than Professor Chapman."
"High praise," he muttered. "When I was at the academy we called him Professor Napman."
"So did we," she said.
"A few of us attached an anti-grav unit to his podium once. Every time he said the word 'actually' we lifted the podium off the floor. I think that's the only time any of us really listened to what he was saying."
Sam laughed, but Joe sobered and stared at his plate.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I just realized something," he said. "I told that story to Sarah on our first date."
She smiled sadly. "I know how you feel. So many little things remind me of Greskrendtregk every day."
"It's been three years. I wonder if they've declared us officially dead."
"I suppose that depends on what sort of energy signature the Caretaker's array left in the Badlands, and if they found any debris."
"There was a hull breach on deck fourteen," Joe said. "We lost some hull plating, although we have no way of knowing whether any of it was left in the Alpha Quadrant."
They lapsed into silence.
"We gained almost ten thousand light years when Kes left." Joe poured himself a glass of water. "A few more boosts like that and we'll be home."
"But home to what?" she asked. "Home to discover we've been replaced -- that we aren't needed?"
His hand covered hers on the table. She twitched at the contact.
"They may have moved on," Joe said. "But we won't have been replaced."
"I know," she said. "It's just, well, I can't help but worry about it sometimes."
"I worry too," he said.
"This is good, though." She stood up and began to clear the dishes. "It's nice to talk to someone who understands."
"It is." He followed her to the recycler.
She took the remaining dishes from his hand. "I could put on some music."
Joe looked surprised by her suggestion, and she looked away. This was not a date and the traditional responses to awkward moments were just making things worse. She turned back to the recycler and started sorting the dishes she needed to wash from the things she could simply recycle. A glass tumbled down onto the carpet.
They both stooped down to retrieve it, getting in each other's way, their faces only inches apart. He looked adorable when he blushed, she noticed. His lip twitched and she wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
He handed her the fallen glass. "I'd better be going. I have to be in engineering early."
"Yes, of course."
Commander Chakotay returned to Voyager after a long ordeal on the surface of a war-torn planet claimed by both the Vori and the Kradin. As a xenobiologist, Sam provided research to the Doctor as he devised a treatment for the mind control the first officer had suffered.
She often assisted in sickbay as a part-time medic, as did several other members of the crew. Tom Paris had the most formal training, and had stepped into the role of Chief Medic after the departure of Kes, but in a crisis sickbay required more than a staff of two.
Ensign Lyssa Campbell, the transporter officer, was among those who frequently assisted the Doctor, and like Sam she was working to increase her medical knowledge. Sam had worked with Lyssa a number of times since Kes had left.
The two were alone together in sickbay, shortly after the dust had settled on the latest crisis.
"I almost kissed Joe Carey." Sam said.
"When did this happen?" Lyssa asked.
"Right before Commander Chakotay's shuttle disappeared." Sam didn't lift her eyes from the tray of instruments she was cleaning. "We had dinner."
"In the holodeck?"
"In my quarters." She sighed. "I know. That sounds awfully intimate, doesn't it? I wasn't really thinking, and I hadn't asked anyone to sit with Naomi. I was feeling down, and Joe has cheered me up so many times. And the whole engineering staff was working hard, and I thought he might appreciate a meal outside the mess hall."
"It's okay, Sam," Lyssa said. "Lots of people serve friendly dinners in their quarters. We don't have restaurants on board like on the galaxy class ships."
"Usually we meet up in Sandrine's or the mess hall. He'll talk about Sarah and the kids. I'll talk about Greskrendtregk. It's comforting. And this was the same, until the end."
"The near kiss?"
"I dropped a glass, and we both bent to pick it up. I...well, I thought about kissing him. Just for a second. It was an impulse, and I didn't act on it, but I could have. I could have, and with Naomi asleep in the next room."
"But you didn't."
"No, but that's when the dreams started."
"Those kinds of dreams?"
Sam nodded. "Sometimes. And I keep wondering what it would be like to kiss him. I know I shouldn't, I have a husband, we have a daughter, but the more I try not to think about it the more it seems I do."
"That's only natural," Lyssa said. "Trying not to think about something pretty much guarantees that it will be on your mind all day."
"I know that." Sam sighed. "I still feel guilty, though. Maybe it's just that we're both lonely and it's convenient, or maybe it's that I know he's not available, so it's safe to wonder."
"You're only human, Sam," Lyssa said.
"There's that, too. I've never been with anyone but Greskrendtregk."
"I waited until I was married."
"So you've never...with another human?"
Sam shook her head. "My friends warned me that I'd always wonder, but I loved him and I said I didn't care. Maybe I wouldn't have, if we hadn't gotten stranded out here, but now I do."
"It has been more than three years. No one would blame you if you did start moving forward."
"He could have moved on himself. If they found hull plating from Voyager in the Badlands...and even if they didn't, how long can I expect him to wait? We've been apart longer than we've been married."
"I can't tell you what to do, Sam. I don't know what I would do."
"I wasn't planning to 'do' anything."
"Are you sure?"
"No. But I am for now. I'm not ready to give up on getting home."
It took little conscious effort to avoid Joe; at least until a minor illness spread through the engineering department and he came into sickbay. When he finished speaking with the Doctor, he turned to her.
"How have you been, Sam?"
She wondered how many times in the history of intelligent life that question had been answered honestly. "Good, and yourself?"
He chuckled and gestured at the walls of sickbay. "I can't get away with the standard answer, can I?"
"I guess you can't," she said, and felt guilty for her own answer.
"We're short-handed in engineering and B'Elanna had to cancel the fuel cell overhaul. Then a coolant injector ruptured and I thought her head was going to explode."
"If you survive the rest of your shift we could have dinner." Had she really just invited him to her quarters again? "Chicken soup is a specialty of mine."
"If you'll defend me from Neelix's latest old Talaxian remedy then I'd be delighted."
She smiled. "Tonight then."
Sam was almost relieved when a near warp core breach set off a chain of events that prevented dinner of any sort for most of the crew. When they rescheduled she coerced Ensign Campbell into joining them and tried to convince herself it wasn't because she felt they needed a chaperone.
Joe apparently had similar thoughts, and arrived with Freddy Bristow . The two engineers filled them in on the events that had transpired in engineering during the recent crisis.
Freddy Bristow told stories from his career at Starfleet Academy that had them all aching with laughter.
When everyone left for the night, Joe squeezed Sam's hand and thanked her for a lovely evening. "We should do this more often," he said.
"Yes," she said, and meant it.
Sickbay had never been busier. Even the captain had sought medical treatment, this time without any coercion on the part of either Chakotay or the Doctor. Sam wasn't feeling her best, either, but she wasn't sure if it was the extra hours in sickbay or her worry for Naomi, who had been suffering from a stomachache for days.
Sam was on the bridge when Janeway gave the order that sent Voyager through a binary pulsar. Reckless or not, Sam felt like applauding the decision. The Srivani fled like rats, and without their insidious presence the Doctor was able to put an end to the crew's assorted symptoms.
The last two people to recover were Chakotay and Joe. Chakotay had suffered the effects of rapid aging. Joe had been the last to fall ill, suffering imbalances in various neurotransmitters which simulated a condition that had been cured three centuries before.
It hurt to watch him suffer, confused, even disoriented, as they worked to restore his mental capacity. Every time she scanned him, she lingered longer then necessary, watching for awareness to return to his eyes.
She hated to see him abandoned on a biobed with no one to stand by his side. It seemed everyone else had someone. Sam watched the captain with Chakotay, exchanging gentle banter and affectionate touches. Friendship should include such intimacies. That didn't mean any lines would be crossed.
So she went to him and held his hand as his memory returned. He called her Sarah once, and she cringed, explaining hastily that she was watching over him because Sarah couldn't.
When he recovered enough to return to his quarters he promised to watch over her, for Greskrendtregk, as she had watched over him on Sarah's behalf.
Neelix was dead. Numbness spread through Sam's body as she wondered how she was going to tell Naomi that he wouldn't be there to tuck her into bed any more. The child already didn't know her own father, and now she had lost her godfather too. It didn't seem fair.
She heard the door chime, but didn't have the strength to respond. Didn't they know that her child's godfather was dead? Or was that Ensign Jenkins returning with Naomi already? She needed more time.
The door opened, although she hadn't authorized it, and Joe crossed the room without saying a word.
"You heard?" she tried to ask.
Joe sat down beside her on the couch and she let him pull her into his arms.
She cried. She cried for Neelix, who had always been so kind, and who had done so much for Naomi. She cried for her daughter, who would now have to face death for the first time in her young life. She cried for herself, knowing life as a single mother would be even harder without Neelix around to help.
Through all the tears, Joe held her and kept her supplied with tissues. "We'll all miss him," Joe said. "Neelix was a good man, and leola root aside he was an asset to this ship."
"How do I tell Naomi?" she asked.
"When my father died, my son was about Naomi's age. Telling him that his grandfather was gone was the hardest thing I ever had to do."
"How did you do it?"
"I told him the truth. I didn't say he had gone away, or had gone to live with the angels, or any of the other comforting things I wanted to say. I told him his grandfather had died. Then I explained what that meant, and reminded him of what the Bible said about heaven. But I think you have to be direct first, or they get confused."
Sam nodded. "I think you're right."
"Do you believe in God?" he asked.
"I do," she said. She didn't elaborate. It wasn't time for theories on the religious implications of convergent evolution, as much as her mind wanted the distraction. The door chimed, and she tensed.
"You can do this," Joe said. "I'll stay if you like."
She nodded, and stood. "Come."
The door slid open to admit Lyssa Campbell. "Neelix is alive."
"Seven injected him with nanoprobes and they brought him back. He's alive."
Sam almost collapsed on the couch as the relief washed over her. "Thank God."
Joe leaned against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. "That's good news, Lyssa. Very good news."
"You hadn't told Naomi yet, had you?" Lyssa asked.
"No," Sam said. "She's not back yet. How is Neelix?"
"The Doctor says he's fine," Lyssa answered. "I'm sure Neelix would appreciate a visit, though, if you'd like to see for yourself."
A path home, at least for one member of the crew. Finally, those in the Alpha Quadrant would learn they were alive. That is, if the Doctor's program could be altered before the Starfleet vessel in the Alpha Quadrant moved out of range, and if everything went smoothly.
"If only the letters hadn't degraded," Joe said. "There was so much I wanted to say to my sons, and to Sarah."
Sam reached across the mess hall table and took his hand. "They'll be so relieved just to know you're alive."
"I know," he said. "So will Greskrendtregk, and Harry's parents, and all of our families."
"Right now I'm more worried about the Doctor." She toyed with her food. "Are we sure his matrix is more stable than our messages were?"
"The captain wouldn't have sent him if B'Elanna and Seven weren't sure."
"Of course not," she said. "It's just hard not to worry. But I'm sure he'll be fine, and who knows, maybe Starfleet will find a way to get letters back to us."
"They probably will. We've got some clever people on this ship, but there are plenty more back at headquarters."
Naomi came rushing into the mess hall. "He's back! He's back!"
"The Doctor?" Sam asked.
The little girl nodded frantically. "Harry said he met Romulans and had an adventure."
"Romulans?" Sam asked. "Are you sure that's what he said?"
"Yes, and he's going to tell everyone all about it after he talks to the captain."
Joe smiled. "Sounds like Starfleet has sent us some entertainment, at least."
The disorientation caused by the hyper-REM sleep induced by contact with the telepathic dream species was nothing compared to the week of sleepless nights Sam spent trying to document the crew's experiences. Of all the alien species encountered in the Delta Quadrant, she found this one to be the most unique.
Species 8472 hadn't even been from the same galaxy, but they hadn't lived in their dreams. The question of how a species could evolve this way made for a fascinating puzzle.
"You're up late."
She jumped as she realized that once again she was no longer alone in the mess hall. "I left Naomi with Neelix so I could finish this report. What's your excuse?"
"Couldn't sleep," Joe answered. "I'm among the half of the crew that's having a little trouble sleeping right now."
"There's an all-night pool tournament in Sandrine's," she said. "Tom tried to drag me down there about an hour ago."
"Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"Oh no, never," she answered. "Just, if you can't sleep, it might help."
"I'd rather just sit with you for a few minutes, if you don't mind."
"Suit yourself." She ignored the tone of his soft voice and held up her PADD. "I won't be much fun. Unless you enjoy ramblings about neurotransmitters produced during REM sleep and the physical effects of hibernation."
"How often did that species wake up to eat?"
"We don't know. It all seems improbable to me. We'll get back to the Alpha Quadrant and no one will believe this paper, let alone publish it."
"You've got plenty of witnesses," Joe said. "At least you weren't alone."
"True," she said. "I wasn't alone."
Alone. They were both silent for a while.
Joe was the first to speak. "I wonder if Sarah's still alone. The selfish part of me hopes that she is. I tell myself that I've been gone for months at a time before, and that she's strong and capable, but that really doesn't have anything to do with it, does it?"
Sam shook her head. "Being able to scale a cliff or negotiate a treaty doesn't make loneliness any better."
"I'm sure she thinks I'm dead, and when I survey the damage after some of the scrapes we've been in, I'm not entirely convinced she's far from wrong." He sighed. "It's been four years; she could have met someone else and even married him by now.
"Her friends probably set the whole thing up. One of them probably trotted out some forgotten third cousin to take poor Sarah out for a nice dinner."
"That doesn't mean she married the guy," Sam said, but he was lost in his monologue.
"I can see her now, bravely struggling through some tedious conversation with someone like her friend Judy's brother. You know the type: The guy is under the delusion that the inter-office politics at his carpet manufacturing plant make for fascinating dinner conversation.
"After a few evenings like that, she'd be more likely to let a chance encounter lead to coffee, and now this stranger is probably raising my kids."
"Joe -- " she began, but there was nothing she could say that would help. She reached across the table and took his hand.
"Did you get a letter?" Joe asked quietly.
"Yes," she answered, and tried unsuccessfully to hide her teary eyes. "Did you?"
"Yes," he answered. "I did." He sat down across from her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." She hastily wiped her eyes. "No bad news, I don't know why I'm reacting like this."
"I do," he said. "I know, because I feel the same way."
She watched him push the food around on his plate. She had long since given up eating her own lunch. Leola root was questionable on a normal day. "So how are your sons?"
"Growing," he said. "Joseph is playing Parrises Squares now. Sarah says he's quite good. He wants to play on the Academy team, assuming he's accepted."
"He'll be accepted," Sam said. "He has good genes."
"Is it wrong to hope he doesn't?" Joe shook his head. "No, I want him to succeed. Just, Sarah might already have lost me. If something happens to Joseph..."
Sam reached across the table and squeezed his hand.
"Thanks for not saying that nothing will," Joe said.
"I know, you hate platitudes." She picked at her food. "Can I ask? Is Sarah..."
"She isn't remarried," he said. "Some blind dates that she promises will make me laugh when I get home, but nothing serious. Greskrendtregk?"
"Too busy to move on," she said. "He said he mourned me in the Ktarian tradition over a year ago, and that his family urged him to meet a young woman from his own world, but with the Dominion War -- well, Deep Space Nine hasn't exactly been a vacation spot in our time away."
"Did you lose anyone?"
"Greskrendtregk lost a few friends; no one I knew well. You?"
"Sarah mentioned a friend of mine from the Academy. I had forgotten how isolated we were out here; I was so focused on missing Sarah and the kids."
Sam nodded. They were both silent as they ate.
She broke the silence. "Why does it seem even further away today?"
"Because this is all we have of them. Because they are people we read about on a PADD, not people we share our lives with right now, and because Sarah asked me if I'd considered moving on and yet she knows I can't answer her."
Sam swallowed hard and stared at her food.
"I can't move on," he continued. "I can't just stop loving her and find someone else. We might be out here sixty years, but I will always love her."
"You can't just stop loving someone," Sam agreed. "But how can you be with someone else, and tell them they are second?"
"Maybe if they understand," he said. "If they have someone else, too."
She looked up, and he looked away.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean -- "
"No, it's okay. I understand." She fiddled with her dinner. "It's been three years now. We've all had thoughts."
"As long as it's only thoughts," he said. "I want to be able to look Sarah in the eye when we get home. I want to believe we'll get home."
"We'll get there."
Lyndsay Ballard died on an away mission. Sam heard the news from Lyssa Campbell. The usually cheerful ensign appeared at her door pale and shaking.
"I feel like it's my fault somehow," she said.
"You weren't even there," Sam said. "How could it be your fault?"
"Harry led the away team," she explained. "He never leads an away team without including either Lyndsay or myself."
"That doesn't make it your fault," Sam said. "Even if you had asked her to take your place it wouldn't be your fault."
"I know." Lyssa swallowed hard. "I need to see Harry. Will you take my shift in sickbay?"
"Of course," Sam answered. "I'll have Neelix look after Naomi."
Another death, another reminder of the brevity of life. Sam stood and listened as Harry, B'Elanna, Joe and the captain each spoke in memory of their lost shipmate.
Sam looked around at the crew. How many of them would get home in time to resume the lives they had left behind?
Afterwards there was the same somber gathering that always followed memorial services. Harry told stories about Lyndsay from the academy and everyone tried to find the laughter.
As they celebrated the life of Lyndsay Ballard, Sam wondered if it had been a life fully lived, or if Lyndsay had spent the last few years of her life in a holding pattern, waiting for a homecoming that for her would never happen.
Naomi excelled in her studies, quickly absorbing knowledge and moving on to more advanced subjects. The girl's rapid Ktarian development served as just one more reminder of how quickly time passed.
Sam and Joe settled into a comfortable pattern, sharing a weekly dinner and sometimes taking shore leave together. They shared everything, talked about everything, except for the forbidden subject that loomed over them.
Sam could no longer deny, at least to herself, that she had feelings for Joe Carey. Sometimes she caught him looking at her, and believed he felt the same. When she stopped in his quarters, she always made herself look at the picture of Sarah that hung on the bulkhead.
Greskrendtregk would not wait forever, even though now he knew she was alive. He was a practical man, and might assume that Voyager would not return home within their lifetimes. She didn't even know if she wanted to wait for him. She loved him, but with the distance, she wasn't sure it was enough.
Joe, however, with his easy smile and sympathetic ear, was off limits. She did not want to be the other woman. And yet she was attracted to him, and not to anyone else. So she stood in his quarters and studied the picture of his wife, reminding herself that the woman in the picture was real, a flesh and blood woman, waiting on Earth for a husband that she loved.
They survived the ordeal with the Hirogen. Sam remembered little of World War II France or the caves on Qo'noS, but she did remember the overwhelming fear she felt for her daughter every time a scenario ended and her awareness returned. Fortunately, Harry and the Doctor had somehow kept Naomi hidden, so the child hadn't been hunted on the holodeck like most of the crew.
Sam, together with Lyssa, Tom, and the Doctor, spent an exhausting day removing implants and treating injuries from the final battle in the World War II scenario. Then she attended the memorial service for the Hirogen's victims and wondered again if any of them would make it home to reunite with loved ones in the Alpha Quadrant.
That night she had another dinner with Joe, deliberately choosing her quarters, the quarters without the pictures of Sarah Carey and her two children. As they ate, she watched him across the table and let herself pretend they were a couple.
The fantasy tumbled down when he commented on how Sarah's interest in history had resulted in a family vacation to France a year before the mission to the Badlands. "It's a good thing we went that summer. I certainly wouldn't have remembered that much French history from school, and it came in handy when the implants were deactivated."
"Everything happens for a reason," she said, more for something to say than because she believed it.
"Looks like your department has another major paper to write," Joe said as he sat down across from her.
Sam looked up from her PADD. "Life on an Y-class planet! And with such unique properties. Who knows how long that mimetic fluid was waiting for the chance to acquire DNA, a chance to evolve."
Joe treated her to a genuine smile. "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."
"We may have sacrificed a lot to be out here," she said. "But we've seen so much, made so many unique first contacts."
Joe set down a plate of food in front of her. "Eat, Sam."
She ignored the food. "Even in the twenty-third century, in the days of captains like April and Kirk, a single ship didn't get so many chances for new discoveries. Maybe the old Enterprise mission made more discoveries, but since their science officer was really a Romulan spy their full story will never be known."
"Ours will." Joe's voice was full of conviction. "My sons will get the chance to know everything we've seen."
"They will," Sam agreed. "This ship has come too far for us to doubt that now."
When they came out of stasis, Sam rushed to check on Naomi, and it wasn't until the child leapt into Neelix's arms that she realized Joe was standing beside her with his hand on her shoulder.
"We made it," he said.
She turned to him and tried to ignore the emotion in his eyes. Over his left shoulder, she could see Chakotay squeezing the captain's shoulder. The captain's gaze was focused elsewhere, her emotions carefully hidden beneath the mask of command.
Sam pushed away her urge to wrap her arms around Joe and looked for Naomi again. The girl shared happy reunions with Seven of Nine and several others before returning to her mother.
"We should get home," Sam told her. "How do a sonic shower and a nice dinner sound?"
"It sounds good to me," Joe said.
Sam felt the heat of a blush crawling up her face as she turned back to him.
He grinned. "I'll see you later."
"Of course," she said, and tried to convince herself that she hadn't wanted to take his comment the wrong way.
Sam stared out the viewport at the USS Dauntless, the only other Starfleet vessel they had seen in years. This ship could get them home to Federation space. Home to Greskrendtregk. Her stomach fluttered in anticipation. Three months from now, she could be in his arms.
She closed her eyes and pictured his face. What would it be like to introduce him to their daughter at last? And there were others on the ship she wanted him to meet as well. There were so many extraordinary people on this ship, and she felt that she couldn't be truly reunited with Greskrendtregk until he knew them as well.
She hoped she had the chance to meet Joe's sons, and Sarah as well. It was as if she knew them, and had left them behind herself. She pictured Joseph as a cadet at Starfleet Academy, proudly following in his father's footsteps, and Sarah the proud yet worried mother, as she herself would be when Naomi was old enough to apply.
Perhaps they could all go to Mars together. Silly, perhaps. Naomi had been on dozens of planets that no one in the Alpha Quadrant knew anything about. Mars would seem as pedestrian to her as a roadside tourist trap.
"A penny for them," Joe said.
She turned, tears in her eyes. "Home," she said. "We have a way to get home."
"I hope so," he said. "I'm on my way over there to inspect the systems right now."
"Promise me we'll keep in touch," she said.
"Of course, Sam," he answered. "I want you to meet Sarah and the boys."
"I'd like that."
"Good," he said. "We'll consider it a date."
A deception. Unfair, she wanted to scream at the walls, unfair! Hopes of a reunion with Greskrendtregk shattered, she locked herself in the sonic shower and cried. At least Naomi was playing in the holodeck, and she was free to cry.
Later she had dinner with Joe. They were both quiet, lost in thoughts of what had seemed so close such a short time ago.
"It's still a date," he said.
"It's still a date. When we get home, and we will, I want you to meet my family."
Velocity. That pretty much summed up the last few weeks. Blank, empty space outside all the viewports; nothing on sensors; nothing to do on the bridge. Sickbay shifts blended together into an endless parade of sprained ankles and tennis elbows.
Every day, Sam played velocity at least once. Everyone did. There was quite simply nothing else to do. The captain hid in her quarters. Neelix failed to arrange even a single crew gathering.
If not for Naomi, Sam might have hid as well. But every day she forced herself out of her quarters, even if it was to do nothing more than play velocity or hand medical equipment to Tom Paris.
She and Joe met in Sandrine's when their anniversaries rolled around again. They toasted their absent spouses and drank in silence. For Sam, the toast had an eerie quality of finality to it, like the glasses they raised to lost crewmates after their memorial services.
Sam didn't share the thought with Joe. Perhaps she was starting to give up on her marriage, but she would not be the one to destroy his hope.
The crew's third contact with species 8472 had ended peacefully. Sam served a celebratory dinner to Joe and Naomi.
"When we treated the injured 8472 in sickbay last year, we knew they could adapt to our space with surprising efficiency. That's why the Borg were so interested in them."
"This was beyond adaptation," Joe said.
"Tom said they had every detail of Starfleet Headquarters down perfectly. Even the roses."
Joe nodded. "The 8472 have been to Earth."
"It can only mean one thing," Sam said. "Fluidic space has different dimensions than our space."
"I don't think I've ever seen Mortimer Harren quite this unhappy," Joe said. "It's muddied up his perfect mathematical view of the universe."
Sam couldn't hold back a snort. "How in the galaxy can you tell that Harren is unhappy?"
Joe laughed. "Good point."
Naomi, bored by the adult conversation, excused herself and headed off into her room. Together, Sam and Joe cleared the dishes, and Joe made himself comfortable on the sofa while Sam checked on Naomi.
"Sound asleep already," she said.
Joe laughed. "I guess we really are boring."
"To a child anyway," Sam said. "I've been enjoying myself."
"So have I."
"Would you like a glass of wine?" Sam asked. "I've still got replicator rations this week."
"Wine sounds lovely," Joe answered. "But please, let me treat."
As he poured the wine, Sam listed the similarities between the DNA-stealing capabilities of Steth, who had nearly escaped with Janeway's body the year before, and the technology the 8472 had used to impersonate humans and other Alpha Quadrant species.
"The 8472 required treatments to maintain their form," she said. "Steth couldn't maintain a single form either, which is why he needed to switch bodies frequently."
The bottle of wine dwindled as the evening continued, so they replicated another. The chronometer read twenty-three hundred hours when he finally stood to leave. Sam rose as well, swaying a bit as the effects of the wine made themselves known. She stumbled into him, and he caught her arm.
They stood looking at each other, faces inches apart. Her eyes were drawn to his lower lip. She stretched up just a bit, her body pressing into his, and she kissed him. His arms slid around her as he returned the kiss.
He felt warm and solid. She could feel the pounding of his heart just as she could hear her own pulse thundering within her. Her hand slid into his hair.
He pulled away. "Sam, we can't."
She stared up at him, mesmorized by the dark passion in his eyes. "Of course not," she managed. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," he said. "I've wanted to do that for a very long time now."
"So have I," she answered. "But it can't happen again."
"No." He released his hold on her. "It can't."
He left, and she sank back onto the couch. She'd kissed him. It couldn't happen again. It shouldn't have happened. Her daughter was asleep in the next room. What if she had walked in on them? What if Naomi had seen her mother kissing another man?
Sam assumed Greskrendtregk would wait for her, at least for a reasonable period of time, whatever that meant, and now she had been unfaithful.
Just a kiss, nothing more, and yet it felt like something more. She wanted more -- much more. A single kiss from Joe and now she was questioning her ability to obey her vows, and to respect his.
"It happened," Sam told Lyssa as they worked in sickbay.
"You and Joe?" Lyssa asked.
"Last night," Sam said. "After dinner we replicated some wine. As he was leaving, I'm not sure how it happened, but I kissed him."
"And he left." Sam fiddled with the osteogenic stimulator in her hand. "We agreed it could never happen again."
Lyssa put away a tray full of instruments. "Do you want it to happen again?"
"It doesn't matter. It can't." She sighed. "Greskrendtregk didn't exactly promise to wait, but I know he will."
"How can you know that if he didn't say it?"
"He's Ktarian, and they tend not to say what they are feeling. That's probably why they have a reputation for being cold and distant. But they aren't Vulcans, they don't suppress their feelings or deny that they have them. He told me he loves me, that news of my unexpected survival gave him reason for celebration. He'll wait."
"Do you want him to wait?"
"He's Naomi's father," Sam answered. "I haven't stopped loving him," she added when Lyssa remained silent. "What I feel for Joe -- it's different. He's attractive, intelligent, caring, everything I could want in a man. And that kiss...but he has a wife, and I have a husband, and we can't just forget about them."
She was going to die, buried beneath tons of rock. Tom didn't have to say anything when he scanned her. She could tell the news wasn't good. Without the full resources of sickbay, she wasn't going to make it. None of them would, if the rescue took too long. They'd run out of air.
As the oxygen dwindled they took turns recording their final words. Each word was a struggle as she tried to tell her daughter goodbye. She pictured Naomi listening to this message in tears, with poor Neelix trying to comfort her.
Her goodbyes to Greskrendtregk were in her quarters. Neelix could find them easily enough. She wished she could send a proper goodbye back to Joe, but it wasn't appropriate. Besides, what could she say?
Help arrived in the final minutes. Air to breathe, medical attention, and she was reunited with Naomi. She lay on the biobed and listened as Naomi breathlessly recounted the adventure she had shared with Flotter on the holodeck.
Neelix brought her water and tried to bring her soup, which, thankfully, the Doctor waved away. He left with Naomi, threatening that she'd have all the soup she could eat as soon as the Doctor allowed it.
Lyssa came over and checked her vitals. "Joe really needs to see you. Is that okay?"
"Of course," Sam said.
He looked terrible. His face was pale and drawn, and when he took her hand he held it so tightly that it hurt. "I was sure we had lost you."
She gave him a tired smile. "I'm fine."
"If the other night had been the last time I talked to you..." His words trailed off. "I wanted to say I'm sorry."
"You don't -- "
"Don't ask me what I'm sorry for, because I'm not sure. I don't know if I'm sorry for kissing you or sorry for pushing you away."
"You don't need to be sorry for either one," she said. "It was nice, but it can't happen again, and we both know why."
"I should let you rest," he said.
She nodded, and tried not to wish he'd stay.
The next night they had dinner. Another dinner. Neither of them spoke much. There was too much to say.
When she stood to clear the table, he stood as well, taking the plates from her hand and putting them back down. "Sam..."
She looked at him. "Don't say it. You can't."
"Can't I? Sam, I don't want to live my whole life in some sort of limbo, waiting for a future that might never come."
"You're married, Joe." She looked away. "And so am I."
"You still love him. I respect that. And I still love Sarah, and I know you respect that too. But we could be out here the rest of our lives. Do we want to be alone? Would they want us to be alone?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want Greskrendtregk to be alone?"
"That's a hard question, and the part of me that wants to answer yes is the selfish part. If he's met someone -- I don't know."
"Your friendship means a lot to me." His voice was unsteady. "I don't want to lose that."
"Neither do I." She swallowed. "What you're offering...I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I want it too."
"I shouldn't have pushed." He turned to go.
"No," she said. "Don't leave."
"Promise me one thing."
"What's that?" He turned back to her.
She stepped close and looked him in the eye. "Promise me that when we get home, you'll go back to her."
Sam leaned across the mess hall table and kept her voice low. "Joe spent the night."
Lyssa nodded. "So how do things stand?"
"I made him promise he'd go back to Sarah when we got home." Sam shrugged. "I guess I thought it would make it feel less like stealing."
She shrugged again. "Maybe, but it doesn't make it right." She watched as her finger traced the rim of her coffee mug. "If I really feel guilty, why am I so happy right now?"
Lyssa shook her head and smiled. "Was it good?"
"It was," Sam admitted. She couldn't help but grin even as her cheeks grew hot. "Maybe it's just that it's been so long, but, well, the man has skills. I wasn't thinking much about Sarah last night. Or Greskrendtregk either."
"Does Naomi know?"
Sam shook her head. "Joe left for engineering before she woke up."
"Tell her," Lyssa said. "Don't let her find out for herself."
"You sound like you're speaking from experience."
"It's a small ship," Lyssa said. "People will gossip. And gossip can be hurtful."
"We'll be home tomorrow."
Sam turned at the sound of Joe's voice. He had come up behind her, probably when B'Elanna had broken the bottle of champagne against the side of the new slipstream drive.
"How long have you known about this?"
"I've known about the project for a while. It wasn't until this morning that I thought it might work."
"You should know better than to doubt B'Elanna." Sam tried not to be angry. She tried not to think that if she hadn't given up on getting home, she wouldn't have shared his bed. She tried not to assume that he knew that.
"Sam." His hand landed on her shoulder. "I didn't know we'd get it working. I thought the benamite crystals would degrade too fast. As it is, any delay and they won't be any good."
She swallowed. "I hope she waited, Joe."
"So do I," he answered. "I hope they both waited. Will you have dinner with me tonight?"
"I don't think we should."
"Just dinner, Sam. We are still friends."
"Your quarters," she said. His quarters had the picture of Sarah. In his quarters, it would be just dinner.
The slipstream collapsed in the Delta Quadrant. They were closer to home -- ten years closer by conventional travel -- but not close enough.
"Now what?" Sam asked Joe that night.
"I don't know." He met her gaze across the table. "We still aren't home."
"If we were..." Sam moved the food around her plate. "If we were, would you still want me to meet Sarah?"
Joe was silent for long minutes. "I think she'd understand. It wouldn't be an easy conversation to have, but I wouldn't want to keep you apart."
"Do you think we will get home?"
"We've gotten this far." He touched her hand and she tried not to tense. "If we obtain more benamite crystals, we might try the slipstream drive again. We might find a wormhole, or get our hands on other advanced technology."
"Or we might be out here for another twenty years or more," she said.
"I don't think we will," Joe said. "In less than five years we've covered half the distance."
She stared down at the table, where his hand covered hers. Could she give up what they had? Could she live with herself if she didn't?
"Can you keep a secret?" Sam asked.
"Now you ask me?" Lyssa smiled. "You know that I can."
"I...well...when I thought we would be home, that the slipstream drive would work...I was jealous of Sarah."
"Sam, of course you were -- that's human nature. Just because you've both agreed to return to your marriages doesn't mean it won't hurt when you do."
"I promised myself I wouldn't love him. That I'd always love Greskrendtregk more."
"Now you sound like...Sam, you can't regulate your feelings. Of course you love Joe, but that doesn't mean you don't love Greskrendtregk. Even if you decided to give up on your marriage, you'd still love your husband."
"How did you get so wise?"
"I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know."
"But I don't. It's all just a confusing jumbled mess. Love, jealousy, guilt...I don't even know what I'm supposed to be feeling any more."
"You're not supposed to feel anything," Lyssa said. "You just feel. You can't beat yourself up over that."
"I've been having an affair," Sam said. "I've been sleeping with a married man."
"That's a choice you made. Right or wrong, you can't take it back now."
"I don't want to take it back," Sam said. "That's why I feel so guilty. I want to blame it on circumstances, and tell myself that Greskrendtregk will understand. And maybe he will. But that doesn't make it right." Sam watched the chunks of leola root bob up and down in her soup. "And then there's Sarah. Someday I'm going to have to face her."
"It's almost done." Sam peered into the glass bottle at the replica of Voyager Joe had been working on for years.
"All I've got left to do is the nacelles," he said. "I keep thinking that if I finish it, we'll get home."
She smiled sadly. As much as she told herself that she wanted to get home, it still meant losing what she had with Joe.
The Alpha Quadrant returned to their lives with a suddenness that left Sam breathless. Another letter from Greskrendtregk, and this time she could respond. He hadn't given up on her yet, but instead of relief she felt disappointment.
He had waited while she had given up.
"Mommy? You know how you said that Joe is your special friend?"
Sam felt the cold spread out from her gut. This was not something she wanted to explain. "Yes?"
"Does that mean you'll be his partner in the kadis kot tournament?"
Such a simple, innocent question. Yet as the adrenaline soured throughout her body, she knew it could have been the real thing. The question she didn't want to answer, not any more than she wanted to explain her actions to Greskrendtregk.
"What do I say to my husband?" Sam asked Lyssa as the two had lunch. "Joe and I promised we'd end it when we got home, but now...we aren't home, but in some ways it feels like we are."
"I'm sure Henley's grandfather would have something wise to say about cake right now."
"I can't have it both ways," Sam said. "I guess I've always known that."
"It's over," she told him.
"Sam -- "
"I'm the other woman." Sam buried her face in her hands. "I can't be that, I just can't. That's not who I am."
"How do we tell them?"
"Why do we need to tell them?"
"I can't lie to her."
"What she doesn't know won't hurt her. It's not like there's any way she can find out."
"She's not just a name on a PADD, she's my wife, and I need to be honest with her."
"I know that, but why tell her something like this? What good will it do?"
"If Sarah's had indiscretions as well, she needs to know she isn't the only one."
"Is that all I was to you Joe?"
"You know what you were to me; what you are to me. Dammit, Sam, you know what I meant."
She did, but she didn't want to admit it. She wanted to be angry with him.
Maybe she knew as soon as the door slid open to reveal Lyssa Campbell's pale face. She didn't admit it, though. Instead, she asked about an experiment the Doctor had been running in sickbay.
"Sit down, Sam," Lyssa said.
Then she knew, really knew, and she started to shake.
"It's Joe. I'm sorry."
His things needed to be packed. She went to his quarters, where Neelix had already stacked several grey cargo containers for the purpose.
The bedroom first. Get the hardest part out of the way. She recycled the sheets, then removed the clothes from his dresser. She refolded each thing, whether it needed it or not, as she packed them into the cargo container.
She hadn't seen him wear most of these clothes. He rarely wore anything but his uniform. Still, there was the Hawiian shirt Tom Paris had forced him to wear for a party on the holodeck, and some old-fashioned clothes he had worn to Fair Haven.
She found a dress, and knew he had bought it on shore leave as a gift for Sarah. Sarah wore a smaller size than she did, she noticed. She kept that seperate, putting it with the scrap book he had been making for the boys. Those things she would take to Sarah herself, when they got home.
The ship, the tiny perfect Voyager, still lacked a nacelle. He had been so close to finishing it. The captain should have that. Joe would have liked that.
The last thing she did was take down the pictures. First, the family portrait. Then the various pictures of the boys. The last thing she took down was the picture of Sarah that had faced the dinner table for nearly seven years.
She closed her eyes and pictured the reunion that the holonovels always showed. She imagined running across a field of flowers into ther husband's arms. Only a fantasy, and just as well. She didn't deserve a romantic reunion.
Tonight she had to face Greskrendtregk, and Joe had been right, she had to tell him. First, though, she had to introduce him to their daughter. A happy reunion, a family finally united. Joe and Sarah wouldn't have that. No, tonight Sarah was home, mourning her husband while the others celebrated safe returns, and tomorrow her husband's personal effects would be returned home by his mistress.
Naomi's terror at the prospect of meeting her father kept Sam busy in the final hour before they beamed down. She kept reassuring the child, promising her that her father was a kind-hearted man who loved her.
"Ktarians are scary," Naomi said.
"Naomi, you are half-Ktarian." Sam gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Your father is no scarier than you are."
"Are you sure?"
"Remember when you first met Seven? Remember how scared you were?"
"She turned out all right, didn't she?"
She nodded again.
"Well, you see. Your father won't be scary either, once you get to know him." Sam smiled again, and hoped that Greskrendtregk could forgive her. It would be much easier for Naomi to get to know her father if they were all living together.
Sam wondered if the uniform had been a good idea. Over the last seven years, she had rarely worn anything else, but now she wondered at the choice. This wasn't official Starfleet business.
Tom had volunteered to deliver the cargo containers later. Joe had died saving his life, and he wanted to tell Sarah that himself. Sam had only the package with the scrapbook and the dress Joe had picked out on shore leave.
She rang the bell, shifting nervously as she waited for someone to come to the door. Maybe they weren't home.
The door opened. Sarah Carey stood behind it. She looked like her picture. "May I help you?"
"I was a friend of your husband's," Sam said. Her throat burned.
Sarah opened the door wider.
Sam walked in, clutching the package. She tried not to look around.
"You served with my husband on Voyager?" Sarah asked.
Sam nodded as her throat closed over the words.
"Were you lovers?"
So soon? Sam felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. "Yes."
There were tears in Sarah's eyes. "I knew there was someone."
"He never stopped loving you."
"Do you think that matters?" Sarah turned away and stared out the window.
Sam could see several children playing behind the house. One of them was probably Hunter. They seemed to be his age. Joseph was at the Academy. She had learned that the night before.
"My husband cheated with a tall blonde ten years his junior, and now he's dead so I'm not even allowed to be angry at him."
"Five years," Sam said. She wasn't sure why it mattered. "I'm sorry. I didn't come here to defend myself to you."
"Then why did you come?"
"Joe put together a scrap book for the boys," she said. "I wanted to make sure they got it."
Sarah held out her hand for the package.
"There are also some souvenirs, and a few gifts he bought for you on shore leave."
She opened it. The dress was on top.
"He bought that a year ago. For your anniversary." Sam swallowed. "He talked about you all the time. He said you look beautiful in green, even though you prefer blue."
"You know all about me," Sarah said. "I didn't even get your name."
"Samantha. Samantha Wildman."
"I wanted to hate you, Samantha. But it's not your fault he's dead."
Sam swallowed, fighting tears. "I feel like I know you, and that I've betrayed a friend. What I did was wrong, and no matter what I say about loneliness, or the lines we drew, or anything else, that won't change."
"Tell me about Voyager. Will you do that for me?"
"Of course I will."
Sam sat on the couch in Sarah's living room and tried to describe everything that happened in the Delta Quadrant. She explained the souvenirs, and elaborated on the pictures in the scrapbook. By being with Joe, she had taken something that was Sarah's. Only by telling the story could she give any of it back.
"How long were you out there, before..."
"Almost five years." Sam knew the question without hearing it. "I almost died on an away mission. Life felt so brief, so fleeting. Or maybe that was just our excuse."
Sarah nodded. "I really do understand. I was alone, too, and I wasn't always faithful. I didn't let myself get serious about anyone, though. I didn't want it to be a choice, when he came home."
"It isn't much comfort, I'm sure, but Joe and I agreed to end it when we got home. He wouldn't have left you."
"But he was killed instead." Sarah met her eye for the first time. "That must have been horrible for you."
"It was," Sam said. "We had already ended it. When we established contact with the Alpha Quadrant...we couldn't pretend it was right any more. We argued about telling you, about how you wouldn't be hurt if you didn't know."
"I needed to know," Sarah said. "I'm glad you came."
"You loved him," Greskrendtregk said. It wasn't an accusation. It was a statement, and it was true.
"I did," she said. "I always will. But I never stopped loving you and I hope that eventually you can forgive me. That we can rebuild our marriage."
"Dearest Samantha, you've done nothing that breaks our union, and certainly nothing that I cannot forgive in time." He reached for her hand. "I will honor his memory, and be grateful that he could be there for you when I could not."
"Thank you." Her throat closed over the words. His generosity was just one of the reasons she had fallen in love with him. She would do whatever it took to ease the hurt in his eyes, and to deserve his love once again.
"We will heal from this." He kissed her tenderly. "We've got plenty of time. Now let's go home."
The spelling of Ktarian: The spelling is 'Ktarean' in The Voyager Companion and 'Ktarian' in The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Anyone who would like to name additional spellings and sources may do so at their own risk.
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