Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager, including Kathryn Janeway, Chakotay, and Chell, are the property of Paramount pictures. No infringement intended. Lulu, however, is all mine.

Summary: Once Voyager returns to the Alpha Quadrant, Luann Powell (retired chief of Starfleet counseling) is convinced that she is the counselor Janeway needs to help her reclaim her life after seven years as captain.

"Lulu to the Rescue"

by mizvoy

This story was an entry in the Koffee Klub's 2005 Picnic Prose Contest, using the "Kathryn's mask" picture as inspiration.

A reference from the "Starfleet Counselor's Handbook":

"The Captain's 'Mask' and Alter Ego:

"The existence of a 'captain's mask,' the façade of command assumed by the commander, has long been documented. However, captains who serve long periods of uninterrupted time in deep space eventually assume the captain's 'alter ego' as their primary personality. When this happens, the counselor will notice that the well-known 'captain's mask' once worn by the officer only during duty hours becomes his/her primary identity and is subtly replaced by an 'off-duty' mask fashioned around the officer's non-Starfleet civilian personality. In other words, their off-duty persona becomes secondary to the official one in almost every phase of their shipboard life.

"The use of the 'captain's mask' is not remarkable when it is occurs during brief missions or periods of high stress, as the captain is usually conscious of the change and can easily set it aside. While the 'alter ego' is a more drastic coping mechanism, counselors should not be overly concerned about it during the mission itself. Captains who spend years living with the pressure and responsibility of command gradually become so comfortable in this alter ego that they are no longer aware of it and feel more at home in uniform than out of it. This serves the captain well while on duty, but regrettably complicates the smooth resumption of their civilian identity once the mission ends.

"Counselors should anticipate that these captains will face a great personal adjustment once the mission is completed and the alter ego needs to be put aside. A frank and open discussion about the 'alter ego' coping mechanism is an essential part of the recovery period, but the captain's personal confidante and friend during the mission, ideally the ship's counselor or a senior staff member, will be crucial in helping them re-establish the civilian identity and ease the transition back to 'real life.'

"Therefore, the counselor should determine whether this identity shift has occurred. If it has, the counselor/confidante should be prepared to work with the captain for an extended period as he or she attempts to re-establish the pre-command civilian personality that has been subordinated in the line of duty."

Taken from The Captain's Mask: Life as the Alter Ego by Dr. Luann Powell

Part One

When Admiral Birdcage failed to recall me from retirement to debrief Captain Janeway following her seven-year ordeal as Voyager's commander, I knew that it was time for Luann Powell to take matters into her own hands. I didn't serve forty-five years as the so-called "Captains' Counselor" to see some young upstart ignore me like last week's garbage when I knew quite well that Kathryn Janeway needed my years of experience and insight in order to recover from her nightmare command. In fact, I felt as if I'd worked my whole life just to be ready for her when the time arrived.

Birdcage, whose real name is Bertrand Emmett Cage, is the second admiral to serve as Starfleet's Chief of Counseling since I retired from the position ten years ago, and he's still resentful of the fact that I refused to endorse his appointment to the position. It wasn't that I disliked Birdcage (although I do) as much as that he was simply unprepared for the varied responsibilities the job entails.

"The chief Starfleet counselor should have served a minimum of five years as a shipboard counselor in deep space," I wrote headquarters when they asked for my input, a courtesy afforded all retired admirals when their previous positions are being filled. "Captain Cage has never served one minute onboard a ship and needs to do so before assuming such a powerful leadership position."

Admiral Hayes, the chief of staff, was sympathetic with my concerns, but refused to drop Cage from the list of candidates on my recommendation alone. "I know how you feel about the stresses of space service, Lulu," he told me over a subspace message. "After all, you were one of the first counselors Starfleet assigned to deep space duty all those years ago. But much of the counseling done now has nothing to do with starship duty, and Cage has a great deal of hands-on experience in those fields as well as glowing recommendations from his recent commanders."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm willing to concede that he's good at what he's done, but much of the counseling is about starship duty, George, and the chief needs to know what these officers and crew are experiencing if they hope to help subordinate counselors handle the job."

"Lulu, I'm going to send your comments about Captain Cage in with the nomination, but I'm not removing him from consideration. That's the best I can do under the circumstances."

I'd done all I could. The nominations went in, and Birdcage got the job, in spite of my better judgment. Ever since he took the job five years ago, I've been a persona non grata at Starfleet counseling, labeled an "old fashioned counselor" who has fallen behind the most recent theories and practice of my craft. No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.

I'd hoped Birdcage would make an exception to my banishment when it came to Voyager's crew in general and her captain in particular. In fact, I spoke to him when Starfleet first made contact with Voyager because it seemed to be a situation tailor made for my experience.

"Bertie," I said (because no one dares to call him Birdcage to his face), "when Voyager gets home from the Delta Quadrant, I want to help debrief the crew, especially the captain."

"Not 'when,' Lulu. 'If.' And that's a big 'if.'" He paused to give me an indulgent smile, as if I didn't really understand just how far away seventy thousand light years was. "I'll consider using you, if either of us is still alive when the ship returns."

I narrowed my eyes at his cynicism. "They'll get back, Bertie, and sooner than you think."

He shrugged off my admonishment, but I still get angry when I think of his laid-back attitude. If he knew half of what I do about the determination and tenacity of Starfleet captains, he would have started making debriefing plans as soon as he heard that Voyager had survived the first three years of their exile. Instead, my contacts have informed me, their sudden arrival last December caught him completely unprepared.

However spectacular Voyager's return might have been, it was highly classified. None of my usual informants thought to notify me about it until several weeks after the dust had settled. The ship returned, after all, at a down time on Earth, between semesters at the academy and just before the New Year, when most headquarters offices are emptied for vacations and parties. The crew had the typical brief reunion with family and friends during this down-time, and by the time everyone returned to work, the crew had been neatly ensconced at the debriefing center.

As a result, the ship had been home for almost two months before Starfleet made it public, and I became aware of it when everyone else did. That suited Birdcage just fine, as I soon discovered.

"We thought about contacting you, Lulu, but we didn't want to interrupt the important work you're doing with hundreds of survivors from the Dominion War," he explained when I finally confronted him about his oversight. I was perfectly aware that the "royal we" he was using masked the fact that he had decided to ignore me on his own. "We decided that you could be more help with them than you could with the crew of a single ship returning from a lengthy but routine deep space assignment."

"Routine assignment?" I'm afraid that comment made me blow my top. "Voyager left here for a three-week mission, for her maiden voyage, only to be marooned without help in hostile and uncharted space for seven years! Not only that, the captain and crew have served day in and day out without a moment's relief or support for entire time! There's nothing remotely routine about a seven-year ordeal like that, Bertie, and you know it!"

"Now, Lulu, you're exaggerating. Starfleet has been in regular contact with Voyager for the last few years, and we've had time to review their official logs in great detail. Don't worry," he comforted me, and I'm sure I detected a gleam of satisfaction in his eye because everything was already a done deal. "I supervised their debriefings myself, and I even did the captain's debriefing personally. Everything's fine and dandy. No unusual problems."

Fine and dandy? No unusual problems? Horse feathers.

I cut off the comm link before I was tempted to call him Birdcage to his face. I was afraid I might slip and call him Birdbrain, instead, and I've learned that no matter how appalling admirals might be, they still won't stand being ridiculed in person. I also didn't want to have a "come to Jesus" discussion with Admiral Hayes, nor did I want to tip my hand about what I was about to do. I certainly wasn't going to give up without a fight.

I arrived on Earth in mid-March, nearly three months after Voyager's return and three weeks after the last debriefing ended. While most of Voyager's records had been classified and were, at any event, restricted and personal, I still have some pull in the admiralty. I'm always doing research into long-term deep space missions, so it wasn't too hard to get a "sanitized" version of Birdcage's final report—all six pages of it—even if I couldn't get what I really wanted: permission to contact the crew and do some interviews of my own.

The official word was that the Voyager debriefing was over and no further action was deemed necessary for any member of the crew. Counseling would continue in a routine manner as people were gradually assigned to new positions, released from duty, or retired, but continuing follow-up on their return was both inappropriate and unnecessary. Birdcage ended the report by saying that continued contactwith the crew over their ordeal could actually be detrimental to their well-being and their proper adjustment to normal life.

End of story. He did everything but put at the top of each page, "This means you, Lulu!"

So, of course, I did what any decent, respectful, retired Starfleet admiral would do in the face of such a clearly stated prohibition.

I interviewed people anyway.

Start with a non-Starfleet individual, that's the first rule of these covert operations. The second rule is to look closely at the highest ranking officer, in this case, Captain Janeway.

Family is the easiest source for information that would otherwise be classified. The captain's mother, Gretchen Janeway, would probably have been the ideal person for me to talk to, but she was an interesting case, herself. Not only was she the mother of a Starfleet captain (soon to be admiral), she was the widow of an admiral, the daughter of an admiral, and the granddaughter of two admirals, on both the maternal and paternal side. I didn't even bother to find out how many of her aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews were in Starfleet because it probably would've depressed me. The first thing she'd do when contacted about anything Starfleet would be to ask one of her many contacts at headquarters why this Lulu Powell person was bothering her. My cover would be blown before I even started.

Janeway's sister, Phoebe, wasn't much better. All the same Starfleet connections that existed for her mother were there for her, and I could see her immediately asking Mrs. Janeway to find out about this retired counselor who was snooping around in her sister's business. Cover blown again.

Those two comprise the entirety of Janeway's immediate family. Since that option was obviously not a good one, the next best source is friends.

I quickly realized that Janeway's seven-year absence had resulted in the loss of most of her intimate friends from outside Starfleet itself. Her fiancé, who was now married, hadn't corresponded with her in years, and most of their mutual acquaintances had also lost contact with her. Her friends from inside Starfleet, including many of her classmates from the Academy, had been decimated by the Dominion War. Her class, of all of them, suffered the highest casualty rate in the conflict.

If I wanted to find out who her current friends were, I would have to pry into her comm habits and maybe even hire a private detective to do some covert observation of her, and I knew that such tactics could result in an invasion of privacy charge and alienate everyone else from cooperating with me. I was left with the last possible source and the people who knew her best right now: her crew.

Many members of the crew were only marginally connected to Starfleet thanks to their Maquis background. I figured that I could approach one or two of them in a friendly manner and figure out which person on the senior staff had been her closest confidante and friend during the mission.

Tuvok, the security chief, had known her for years and would have been my first choice, but it was said that he suffered from a serious neurological disorder that might have created some distance between them. Her attitude toward him had been friendly and solicitous, from what I'd seen in the press, but there had been none of the signs of a special connection in their behavior. Of course, his Vulcan nature might have also shrouded their intimacy, but, even if I were wrong, he was totally unavailable to me because of the on-going treatment

Chakotay, the handsome Maquis first officer, had been the second person I thought might have befriended the captain. He had excellent Starfleet training and experience, had served in command for almost two years prior to his resignation, and had provided the much needed link between the two divergent crews that served under her. However, those brief videos of the returning senior staff actually revealed that she deliberately avoided standing near him and evaded making visual contact with him. Sometimes, I reminded myself, people hide an intimate connection by ignoring the other person, and contacting someone that close to the subject was too dangerous.

No one else on the senior staff stood out, either. Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres had been too wrapped up in their marriage and impending parenthood to offer Janeway much support. Harry Kim was too young and inexperienced; his rank alone was an impediment to his serving as her confidante. She treated Seven of Nine like an adolescent daughter. Neelix, the Talaxian cook, had left the crew months earlier.

I would have to start with someone from the lower ranks to find out the real personal dynamics that existed around Captain Janeway in deep space.

I was lucky that I picked the easily accessible Bolian cook, Chell, as my starting point. Chell was not only a former Maquis with no contacts at Starfleet command, he had just opened his Delta Quadrant Café in nearby Oakland, California, only to be petitioned by his neighbors to stop preparing leola root dishes because of the stench they produced.

It would be safe to say that his first month in the cafe business had been a complete disaster because of the unfortunate leola root problem, and so he was more than willing to sit down with an enthusiastic and interested diner like me. I got his full attention, since the café was nearly empty, and I was delighted to discover that Chell was what we call a "motor mouth" in the counseling business.

After a few preliminary niceties of polite conversation, during which I conveniently revealed the fact that I recently retired from Starfleet, Chell began a data dump on Captain Janeway's personal life and habits that rivaled that of a professional private eye. I only wish I'd had a tricorder there to make a verbatim record of his comments. Most of the following I jotted down right after my talk with him ended.

"The crew must have become close, working together for all those years," I said, leading him toward the issue of interest. "I bet even the captain became like one of the crew."

"Well, not really, Admiral. I'd say she was the one person on the crew whoremained a little aloof. Not unfriendly, mind you, she was always interested in us and aware of what was going on. She just seemed to be separate and alone."

"It's pretty normal for the captain to be aloof, I think. I just thought it might have been different on such a long trek."

"Well, there were times when she was friendlier, but I'd say that was in the first few years. I remember she did a dance at one talent night in the first year or so. And she used to show up at parties on the holodeck in something other than her uniform."

"But later? After a few years?" This was fitting the pattern I thought might have occurred, the gradual replacement of the captain's mask with the captain's alter ego.

"Later, she was always in uniform." He grew thoughtful. "She changed a lot in the last couple of years. I could tell the pressure was getting to her."

"Luckily, most captains have one or two people on the ship they can relax with." I found leading Chell into the areas I wanted to hear about easier than selling a thriving business to a Ferengi.

"She was actually better friends with the people who weren't really part of the crew."

"You mean the Maquis?" I wondered.

"No, I mean the people we acquired along the way. She was close to Kes, the little Ocampan, and to Neelix, the Talaxian cook and 'ambassador,' she called him." He smiled wistfully. "She was almost maternal with the former Borg drones--Seven, at first, and then the kids."

"That's odd. I'd think she'd be closer to her senior staff. You know, the first officer, the security chief, maybe the engineer."

Chell laughed. "Well, Tuvok, the security chief, was a long-time friend, but they didn't spend much off-duty time together. I'd say the crew member that was with her the most would be Commander Chakotay."

My eyes widened. Perhaps I'd been onto something when I picked up her deliberate avoidance of him. I'd have to tread carefully here, or Chell might stop talking about it. "I remember him. The Maquis captain, right?"

"Yeah. He was my captain when we joined forces with Voyager. I tell you, not many of us wanted to have anything to do with a Starfleet ship, but Chakotay was very convincing." He smiled, obviously remembering those confrontations. "I heard Janeway say more than once that there was no one on the ship she trusted more than she did him, but that was several years into the trip."

"Well, it's good to know she had someone to be herself with out there. Captains need a friend." So it was Chakotay after all, I thought. I made a mental note to find out where he was and what he was doing these days. I imagined that I might need his help somewhere down the line.

"Yeah, they spent a lot of time together, on and off duty, right up to the last few weeks." His face grew thoughtful. "We were all sure there was a romance going on there, and Tom Paris even had a betting pool on it, but I guess we were wrong."

"A romance?" That little rumor worried me, because captains who became romantically involved with their confidante on the ship were often more vulnerable to adjustment problems once the relationship ended, whether they ended on the ship or after the return. "You actually think they were in love with each other?"

"I would've sworn to it," he laughed as he ran his hands along the ridge of his bald blue head. "Then, after we get back, we find out he had started dating Seven of Nine, which was a complete and total surprise, let me tell you. We all thought he'd space her first. I thought the captain was pretty upset about it, but I can't say that I ever saw her treat them differently."

"He was dating the Borg your captain thought of as her daughter?" I blurted, suddenly feeling more than a little worried for the captain. "Maybe she didn't think they were good for each other."

"Maybe." He shrugged, noticing that I'd finished my meal. "How about some coffee? I serve the captain's favorite roast."

We talked awhile longer, but I didn't want to be too obvious by returning to the captain and commander again.

However, I decided that Chakotay would definitely be a significant person on my interview list.

After my lunch with the informative Bolian, I returned to San Francisco to meet a former aide who was loaning me his apartment while he was off planet for a few months. We met at his office, and he was kind enough to give me access to his computer so I could perform a little further research on Voyager. I did nothing that would get him in trouble, of course. I simply looked at information that had been edited for the general public, information that any Starfleet officer would have shared with me, if I'd asked.

For example, I spent a few hours carefully studying the unedited videos of Voyager's welcome home celebrations, award ceremonies, and brief public interviews, focusing my attention on the three individuals Chell had mentioned--Janeway, Chakotay, and Seven of Nine. Their behavior led me to believe that Chell was right, that the connection between Chakotay and Seven was a new state of affairs that was still being dealt with in their personal interactions.

Janeway avoided both Chakotay and Seven, whether they were together or not. Chakotay, on the other hand, only avoided Janeway when he was with Seven. Strangely, he seemed more at ease when he was alone with the captain than when he was alone with his new love interest. Seven of Nine also seemed much more comfortable in Janeway's company than in Chakotay's, and she even seemed to avoid standing beside the first officer on several occasions.

I shook my head in confusion and felt sorry for all three of them.

And then I sat back to think it through. If what Chell had indicated was true, that Chakotay was the captain's confidante and friend in the later years of their voyage, what complications would arise if they also fell in love with each other? The protocols that discouraged a relationship between a captain and a member of the crew were not absolute, but all officers headed for command ranks were warned of the complications such involvement inevitably created. Of the many such relationships I've been aware of over the years, few survived without one or both of the officers transferring off the ship, an option unavailable to Voyager's command team.

And Janeway was a Starfleet brat with admiral's blood back three generations. If she'd fallen in love with Chakotay, she would neveradmit it, much less act upon it. She would have carefully defined the parameters of their friendship and discouraged anything more. And yet, she would have needed his friendship desperately, and his liaison with Seven of Nine would have been a severe blow to her equilibrium.

Perhaps they were still in love? If so, how would she feel if he'd moved on because of the hopelessness of their situation? Now that I was aware of these extenuating circumstances, I was even more determined to talk to her. And soon.

Finding out the current location of Voyager's former command team was a little more of a challenge, since personal information is protected by privacy regulations. The best I could do was pick up on few hints from interviews they'd given a few weeks earlier. Chakotay mentioned visiting a sister in Arizona, while Janeway talked about spending a few more weeks in San Francisco before returning to her mother's home in Indiana. I would have to use my informal sources to get more specific information.

It was the middle of the afternoon when I finally left headquarters, and I was feeling a little discouraged about my lack of progress. As a treat, I decided to have a cup of coffee and something sweet to hold me over to dinner. My former aide suggested that I go to a nearby coffee shop called The Night Owl.

That's when I finally caught a break. The Night Owl was packed with Starfleet officers, so I placed my order for a latte at the counter and turned to look for a vacant seat while the server prepared it. Who should I see sitting alone at a table for four but a woman who looked exactly like Phoebe Janeway. A quick scan showed there were no other tables available. What choice did I have?

"Would you mind sharing your table?" I asked her as I pulled out a chair and glanced around at the crowd. "I'm thinking this is the place to be if you're in Starfleet."

"Have a seat," she replied with a sigh, putting down her PADD and gently rubbing her temples. "I was supposed to meet my sister here, but I'm guessing she was caught in a meeting. Again."

"Let me guess. Your sister is in Starfleet?"

"Is it that obvious?" she laughed.

"I used to be in Starfleet myself," I admitted. "I'm Luann Powell, but everyone calls me Lulu."

"Lulu?" I received the usual smile at the mention of my nickname. "I'm Phoebe Janeway."

I feigned surprise, hoping to put her at ease and encourage a friendly chat. "Not Edward Janeway's daughter?"

"Yeah," she smiled, obviously touched that I remembered him after nearly twenty years, "although these days people usually associate me with my errant sister."

"Oh, yes, of course. You've been stood up by your sister, the famous Kathryn Janeway."

"Again." She was obviously upset. "This is the second day in a row."

"If she's like most Starfleet captains, she naturally puts her work first," I consoled her. "I was a Starfleet counselor for nearly forty-five years, and I studied captains in great detail. It's not unusual for the job to take over their personalities."

"She used to be great at keeping a balance between her personal and professional life. But this long-term tour on Voyager seems to have affected her differently. I get the feeling she's more captain than she is Kathryn."

I resisted the urge to hug the poor woman, for she'd just confirmed what I'd suspected from the first—that Captain Janeway had resorted to assuming the alter ego of her position. Now I had to tread lightly, and so I said, "I'm sure the counselors will help her readjust to a more 'normal' balance."

"You'd think so, but she tells me her counseling is over already." She leaned forward, lowering her voice to a conspirator's level. "You said you were a counselor in Starfleet, so let me ask you a question. Kath was a captain 24/7 for nearly seven years! Shouldn't she receive more than two weeks of counseling?"

I frowned, but was unwilling to criticize Birdcage in public. "I would think so, but I would have to talk to her personally to know for sure. Is she having problems adjusting?" I hoped she wasn't aware of my glee at her sharing these issues with me.

"You mean besides working sixteen and eighteen hour days?" Phoebe shook her head. "While she spends a Sunday with our Mom now and then, she seems reluctant to take any significant time off for a real vacation. After seven years without one. And, I think she still has bad dreams."

I frowned. "Then I'd say she might still have some issues to work through. It takes time to change a seven-year habit."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

I studied the inside of my cup as if thinking about the issue. Then I asked the question I truly needed to have answered. "Captains like your sister often have a confidante on the crew with whom they are personally comfortable, and that person is of vital importance in helping them readjust."

"Oh, that would be Chakotay, her first officer," Phoebe nodded, a look of resignation on her face. "But Kath never sees him, and she refuses to talk about him. I'm guessing they had a falling out right as Voyager returned."

I didn't like the sound of what I was hearing. "That's too bad. Maybe you could call him and see if he'd be willing to check on her?"

"I would, but he took two months' leave. Last I heard, he was visiting his sister, Rianna, in Arizona and planning to take a vacation somewhere with Seven of Nine. Bringing up that situation just depresses her. In fact, she refuses to talk about either one of them."

Before I could answer, a shadow fell across the table. "Sorry I'm late, Phebes," came a familiar-sounding voice. I looked up into the blue eyes of Kathryn Janeway herself. "I was in the middle of something."

"It's about time you got here," Phoebe said, indicating a chair and giving me a look of warning. Obviously, she didn't want me to reveal that her sister had been the topic of our conversation. "Kath, this is Luann Powell. Luann, my sister, Kathryn. She needed a table, and since I was here alone . . . ."

"But you aren't alone now," I said, pushing my chair away, "and I've finished my latte. I'll let you two have some privacy."

"Nice to meet you," Kathryn said as she settled into the seat, obviously exhausted. She took a long pull on a huge mug of coffee and sighed with satisfaction.

"My pleasure, I'm sure." I beat a hasty retreat, pausing at the door to look back at the two of them. My next job, I decided, was to locate the address of a Native American woman with the first name of Rianna and an address in Phoenix, Arizona.

I dislike deserts. I know people say that it is a dry heat, but to me, heat is heat, and Arizona is Earth's private preview of hell. However, I consoled myself with the fact that I was visiting Arizona in March and not July and made my way slowly from the transport station into the residential area where Rianna Buck lived, trying not to pass out from heat exhaustion in the process.

To my dismay, I found the house empty and sat down on the top step of the porch to think. It was possible that Chakotay and his sister had gone to visit relatives, or that Chakotay had already left with Seven of Nine for a vacation, but in either case, I would have to resort to plan B. It occurred to me that some of their neighbors might know where they were. I was considering a canvass the neighborhood when a shadow fell across me.

"Are you lost?" I looked up into a man's face, only to be mesmerized by his warm brown eyes and dimpled grin.

In fact, I was so overwhelmed by his sudden appearance that I found myself staring at him in open appreciation. He was tall; even though I was sitting on the front porch, I had to look up to see his face. Drenched in sweat from his late-morning run, he was wearing skimpy running shorts and had pulled off his tee-shirt, revealing an expanse of caramel skin that stretched endlessly across his wide shoulders and tapered over a flat stomach to narrow hips. He used the shirt to dry his face and then smiled at me again, his eyes twinkling with amusement for a moment before they darkened with concern.

"Are you all right?" he asked, leaning toward me for a closer look. I guess he finally realized that he might be saddled with an eighty-year-old woman who'd collapsed from a sun stroke on his sister's front porch.

"I've been better," I admitted, hoping my pulse would slow to normal. "It's been awhile since I've wished I were forty years younger."

"I'm Chakotay," he said with a chuckle, offering me a hand up. "You look hot and tired. Why don't you come inside and I'll fix you something cold to drink."

As I followed him into the house, taking the opportunity to study his wonderfully muscled back, I couldn't help but wonder how Kathryn Janeway could have resisted the urge to jump this hunk's bones for seven long years. I made a silent promise to myself that I would ask that question when and if I ever got the chance.

I took the chair Chakotay offered me. "I'm Luann Powell," I told him belatedly as I sank into the seat cushion. "But everyone calls me Lulu."

He gave me a long look before turning to the stove and putting on some water. "I hope you don't mind if I take the time to brew the tea, Lulu." He gave me another smile. "I'm taking an indefinite vacation from replicators in favor of the real thing."

"No problem," I assured him, taking a deep breath of the cool air. "I can't believe you were out running in this heat."

"This is cool compared to later in the day." He put two tea bags in the pot and wiped his face again with the shirt. "While this is brewing, I'll go clean up."

I tried not to think about my embarrassing reaction to him on the porch. He seemed to take my drooling in stride, but I wished that I hadn't been quite so obvious in my appreciation of his appearance. My one hope was that I'd managed to disguise my real reason for being there, at least until I'd had a chance to get to know him a little better.

"Let's sit on the back porch," he said as he reentered the room. He was wearing a cotton shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tennis shorts, and sandals. I stood up as he handed me a mug of tea and followed him onto the cool, shady porch.

"This is lovely," I said as I sat on the sofa. Chakotay sat in the chair that was on the other side of the low table and angled toward me. I looked into the back yard at the native plantings. "I like the desert best when seen from inside."

He laughed and put his mug on the table, giving me a careful appraisal through half-closed eyes. "So, should I call you Lulu? Or Dr. Powell? Or maybe Admiral?"

"You recognize me?" I tried to hide my dismay. There would be no "sneaking up" to the subject at hand.

"You seemed familiar to me, and then I recognized your name. I served as Voyager's de facto counselor for most of the seven years we were out there. I read the counselor's handbook a few times. I even read a few of your other books."

"Call me Lulu," I insisted. "I've been retired for ten years, and I'm here on an informal basis."

"All right, Lulu." He sat back and studied me again. "You realize that most of what happened out there is either classified or personal."

"Oh, yes. In fact, I imagine that you usually escort the media right off the property when they have the audacity to interrupt your private life."

"True." He smiled, and I admired the way his tattoo crinkled near his temple. "If I recall correctly, you specialized in captains. They called you 'the captains' counselor,' right?" When I nodded, he continued, "So you're looking into the captain? Wondering how she handled being in command for all those years?"

I blinked, realizing that I'd better just admit what I was there for. "Yes, that's right."

"Writing a book?" He took a sip of his tea, and I realized that he resented being studied like a new alien species. "If so, I recommend that you start with her personally."

"I'm not writing a book," I bristled. "I want to help her."

He smiled slightly and shook his head. "She doesn't want help, Lulu. She doesn't think she needs it, and apparently her Starfleet counselor agrees."

I rolled my eyes. "Birdcage is a buffoon."

This time, Chakotay laughed out loud. "Well, yes, he is, but I'm surprised to hear you admit it." He balanced the mug on the arm of the chair and rubbed his face with his left hand, shrewdly appraising me. I realized, then, that this man was much more than a physical specimen, for his eyes seemed to peel away my pretensions and I sensed a powerful intellect at work. I experienced the same feeling under his scrutiny that I did whenever I dealt with a Starfleet captain, and I knew he should be one. Starfleet would be unwise to let him go. He finally took a sip of his tea. "Have you talked to the captain?"

I knew, instinctively, not to tell this man a lie. Best to put all pretenses aside or he'd escort me politely off the property as quickly as he would a cub reporter looking for a candid snapshot. "No, I haven't been able to talk to her. I wanted to do her psychological debriefing. I contacted Admiral Cage years ago and volunteered to come back when the ship returned."

"And Cage said no?"

"Cage ignored me." I shrugged and then smoothed the material of my skirt over my knees with my hands. "I've been retired for ten years, Chakotay, and many of my contacts in the admiralty are gone. I'm afraid I don't have the political pull I used to."

"And Cage doesn't agree with your belief that the captain bears the greatest burden in deep space."

"Birdcage has never served one minute on a ship, much less seven years," I fumed. "So what does he know?"

He glanced away, hiding a tiny smile. After a moment, he said, "What makes you think that Kathryn still needs help?"

"I could say forty-five years of experience, but that seems too much like a cop-out, don't you think?" I locked eyes with him. "Maybe you could convince me that she doesn't need help."

I could tell he was holding his breath, and the tension in the room seemed to jump. He narrowed his eyes. "You wrote the book on the captain's mask, right?" At my nod, he continued, "And you're thinking that I am the one to help her readjust. What did you call it in your book? The captain's confidante?"

"Exactly. She's stated publicly that there was no one on the ship she trusted more than you. Plus, you were good friends."

He frowned, unable to look at me. "I think Tuvok would be a better choice."

"Tuvok is on Vulcan. And he's not nearly as good a choice."

I could tell Chakotay was uneasy. He shifted in his seat and rubbed his head with his hands before he finally admitted the truth. "Since Voyager's return, in all the debriefings we went through together, I've seen the captain, but never Kathryn. I'm afraid we aren't the friends we once were."

"Because of your involvement with Seven of Nine?" I asked, deciding to throw caution to the wind and confront him with the budding romance that had obviously complicated his relationship with the captain.

He blushed, and I found him even more appealing in his embarrassment. "You found out about that?"

"There's nothing more informative than a lonely Bolian."

"Chell." He smiled. "Has his Delta Quadrant café finally caught on?"

"Not yet. Therefore, when a customer comes in who is willing to listen, he talks non-stop about whatever interests them."

Chakotay chuckled. "Well, you certainly knew where to start your research. Chell was always 'gossip central' on the ship."

"He's not my first Bolian." We both laughed, and the tension eased considerably. I gave him an indulgent smile. "For what it's worth, I understand perfectly why you turned to Seven of Nine. If the captain's job is impossible, the first officer's is only slightly less so. It must have been difficult to have only so much of Kathryn, and no more." I paused, waiting a moment before I pushed on. "Especially if you were also in love with her."

He raised his left hand to shield his face from me, and yet I could see the pain in his eyes. "Is it that easy to spot?"

"I'm sorry," I apologized. "I watched the two of you in a few of the videos and took a wild guess."

"You're very good at this," he whispered, burying his face in his hands to hide the tortured emotions in his eyes. "The counselor at my debriefing didn't have a clue."

"Chakotay, lots of first officers fall in love with the captain. You'd be surprised how many. You have nothing to be ashamed of."

"Haven't I?" He looked at me, his eyes tortured. "I was on the rebound when I turned to Seven of Nine, the one person on Voyager who was the most fragile emotionally. And I hid it from Kathryn. She learned about it from . . . ," he paused, and I suspected that he'd come close to revealing some detail about their precipitous return that was highly classified. "She learned about it from someone else, someone who wanted to hurt her with the information."

"That's hardly your fault." I'd heard the rumors, of course, of a mysterious time-traveler from future, and I had a good idea just who that person might have been, for I knew that a captain who commanded a crew for decades would bear wounds that time couldn't heal.

"You're wrong." He shook his head in disagreement. "It is my fault. I should've talked to her about Seven before I ever agreed to the first date. Kathryn knew her better than I did and she would have warned me about her emotional fragility." He took a ragged breath. "I didn't tell Kathryn for one reason. I loved her too much, and I couldn't bear to hurt her. As a result, I hurt both Kathryn and Seven of Nine."

I leaned over, forcing him to look at me, my heart breaking because of the guilt that burdened him. "All of this happened because she was the captain. Do you see that? And the only way it can be resolved is for her to become Kathryn again. You can help her do that, Chakotay."

"She won't even talk to me unless it's about some work issue." He sat back and gazed at me in despair. "I never even knew for sure if she loved me."

"She loved you," I assured him. "The feelings were mutual, you can trust me on that. And I'm sure that Kathryn still loves you, even if the captain doesn't."

"You act as if she's two different people."

"She is two different people. And she isn't." I laughed at his scowl. "She's been the captain so long that her real self has become the mask she puts on and takes off as needed. We need to help her reverse that, so that she's using the captain 'mask' again."

"Why?" He studied my face. "Why do you care? You aren't in Starfleet any more. You've been retired for years. Why go to all this trouble?"

"Why?" I smiled at him, knowing I could never really explain the empathy I felt for starship commanders. "I care because the captains care so much. They sacrifice without asking what it will cost them. They're idealists in a universe that punishes idealists brutally and without mercy, yet they refuse to give up or give in." I sighed in resignation. "Captain Janeway put aside her life and her dreams for the ship and crew, Chakotay. Is it wrong for me to want to help her regain her life and dreams now that the mission is over?"

"I guess not." He studied his hands. "Kathryn deserves to have her life back, and so much more."

"Tell me about her," I said, sitting back and relaxing as I looked him over again. Would it be wrong of me to admit that I enjoyed the view in the process? "Tell me everything you remember. And then we'll figure out what we have to do."

His face lit up as he warmed to the subject. "Well, to start, she's the best damned captain I've ever met, and she's beautiful, too, in case you didn't notice."

"I noticed," I laughed, sipping my tea as he launched into a detailed discussion of Kathryn Janeway's strengths and weaknesses both on and off duty. He needed to talk about her as much as I needed to listen, which is a wonderful way for both of us to benefit from counseling session, don't you think?

Things were falling into place quite nicely.

All that remained was to talk to Captain Janeway herself.

Continued in Part Two