In The End
by Eydie Munroe
Disclaimer: They're not mine, they never were. Now ask me how much I care.
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Admiral Janeway, the second of the name, was a living legend in Starfleet - just as her father before her. She worked with great importance, not only with the eager and young behind her, but the few remaining men and women that had worked along with Edward in his day. Her rank had been instantly elevated upon her return to the alpha quadrant, and though she accepted it, she had hardly felt worthy of it. But the work was plenty, and the distraction welcome after what had been an arduous twenty-six year journey.
Years came and went, and she watched helplessly as the crew, which she had so often called family, flourished and succeeded without her. As their careers soared and their families grew, she spiraled down into a consuming depression. It turned her into the ghost that she had almost become so many years before. But she buried her loneliness as deeply as she could, instead concentrating on the career that had robbed her of the life she was supposed to have. It was all she had left.
Life drudged from one day to the next, and despite her always busy schedule the admiral tried to keep close watch over a lot of people. Harry Kim was now a starship captain with a family on Earth, while Tom Paris resigned his commission as a commander in order to pursue a career as a writer. His wife was the Federation attaché to the Klingon High Council, and their daughter entered Starfleet at the earliest possible moment. Everyone was alive, and doing very well. But it was those long dead who haunted Janeway's every thought.
It was when she was sixty-six that an idea struck her, one that she first dismissed as impossible and against every rule she ever lived by. But for some reason the idea stuck, and started to invade every minute of her life. It was common knowledge that scientists had long been racing toward developing a reliable means to travel through time. What was not common knowledge was that a particular Klingon scientist was very close to the breakthrough her idea required. So she started to make discreet inquiries, eventually finding the location and progress of Korath. The plan was set into motion, and she took the now Ensign Miral Paris under her wing for her own personal use.
Miral was a wise woman, possessive of her mother's fiery temper and father's sense of humor. She also proved that she was young and quite impressionable. Janeway took full advantage of this, turning her into both an excellent envoy and a personal minion of sorts. None of which boded particularly well with her mother. B'Elanna voiced her opinion on the subject as always, pointing out how jaded and hardened Janeway had become with age. Janeway lied and said that she and Miral were working directly under orders from the Federation Council - orders that even the admiral did not know the reason for. She managed to convince them it was for the common good.
But no one had any idea of whose common good the admiral was really working for - except Reg Barclay.
The reunion came and went, and Janeway said her goodbyes - as much as one could when concealing the fact that they may never be coming back. Tuvok was the hardest. Though she had long since resigned herself to the fact of his illness, she still longed for the friend and confidant she was so close to when she was younger. None of her closest friends were left now. What was most difficult for the admiral to face was that Tuvok was still there in body. He would only recognize her for a brief moment before returning to the dementia that was his daily life. She kissed his head, looked at him for one last time, and then fought back her tears as she fled the hospital.
She was due to leave the next morning, on a shuttle provided with Barclay's help. There was one task left before departure, and it took her out into a windy, ashen morning back in Indiana. She came here very rarely now, only when she felt lowest. The small cemetery rested at the edge of a river valley, open to the wind that whipped the hair around her face and the autumn leaves across the land. She stepped past the graves of her family and made her way to the crest of the hill, where the final marker rested.
She stood before the battered grave, hands clasped in front of her, with a smile on her face that had been reserved only for him. Mischievous and playful she asked him, "Any final words of advice for your old captain?" All that answered her was the wind, blowing yet another few drops of rain across the eroded stone base of his marker. "Wait, don't tell me," she contravened, "I'm being impulsive, I haven't considered all the consequences – it's too risky." Her smile softened as she knelt down, brushing aside the curled, dried leaves that had scattered over his name. "I wish you knew how hard it's been living all these years without you. I've never really been the same. But when I'm through, things will be better for all of us. You just have to trust me." She caressed the carved letters of Chakotay's name one last time, then got up and left the cemetery to head for the shipyard where her shuttle waited.
Captain Janeway couldn't help but laugh as she looked over Chell's sample menu, and she wondered whether it would be an improvement from Neexlix's cuisine or not. Not one to put off the inevitable, she cheerily offered, "Care to join me for lunch?"
"I'd love to, but I promised Seven I would check her progress on the astrometrics upgrade." Chakotay grinned at her. "Meet you there in twenty minutes?"
She returned the grin. "Absolutely."
He left the ready room after that, humming to himself as he made his way through the decks. It had been a while since he had seen Kathryn in as good a mood as she was today, and he had learned long ago to take her good moods in stride. Things between them had improved since they destroyed Unimatrix Zero, even more so since the temporal fracture incident - which he still hadn't told her about. But they were nowhere near where they had been four years before.
It seemed that everyone's disposition had improved lately. He vaguely wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that B'Elanna was due to deliver her daughter at any minute. She had already gone into false labor three times, and those who had already lost out on the pool were eager to reestablish their positions. Even Kathryn had taken a spot. In a way, he kind of hoped that Miral would arrive on Friday night.
He found Seven in Astrometrics as planned, working intently at her station. "How's it coming?" he asked, moving in beside her to take a look at her work.
"I believe that the upgrade shall be complete three point six hours ahead of schedule," she replied without looking at him.
Not looking at him was nothing new, but there was a difference in her attitude toward him. There had been for weeks now. He had noticed it, but dismissed it as just another one of her Seven's learning curves. She was often moody then, and spent all her free time contemplating her latest experience. He shrugged it off and questioned, "When will your report be ready?"
She continued to punch buttons, almost faster than was really necessary. "I must regenerate once the upgrade is complete. Then I will require six hours to analyze my findings and complete my report."
Chakotay couldn't put his finger on it, but he decided to let whatever it was go. "Take your time," he instructed. "There's no rush. Just bring it to me when you're ready." He gave her a small smile and left, not noticing her eyes following him all the way out. She caught herself staring at the closed doors long after he had gone, and then chastised herself as she hurriedly returned to her work.
With sufficient distance and Korath behind her, Admiral Janeway settled back into her seat and allowed herself a smile. Not everything had gone as planned, but the end result was still there, installed on the outer hull. She only hoped that Miral had made it safely back to Federation territory. Pushing her concerns aside, she started to enter tactical information into the computer.
The proximity alert sounded, immediately followed by Harry Kim. "Rhode Island to Admiral Janeway. Please respond."
Janeway heaved a small sigh, then activated the comm. "Harry, stay out of this."
"Power down your engines Admiral, and prepare to be brought aboard."
The shuttle was slammed into full power, darting out of the Rhode Island's tractor range. The starship stayed in close pursuit, firing a series of low-power shots designed to collapse her shields. As soon as they were knocked out, Harry appeared behind her with his phaser drawn. She whirled the second she heard the transporter, and by the time he materialized the admiral was holding her phaser to his throat. His eyes were wide, both because of her phaser and the fact that his weapon had materialized directly against her heart. "You'd better be prepared to use that, Harry," she warned. "I'm not stopping. Not for you … not for anybody."
Kim scowled at her. "Admiral, please…"
"Harry, listen to me. I have to do this. I've lost too many people not to."
"You're talking about changing the past!" he countered angrily. "What gives you the right?"
"They give me the right!" she snapped. "Chakotay, Tuvok, Samantha – all of them." Janeway took the briefest of moments to compose herself again, then slowly said, "Captain Kim, if you've ever listened to one of my orders in your life, this is it. Go back to the Rhode Island. Leave me alone."
Harry didn't move. "What's happened to you?" He stared at her, full of disbelief. "This is crazy. You never would have allowed me to go back and keep us from the delta quadrant. Why do you get to destroy my life just so you can take another shot at yours?" Seeing that he could easily be killed anyway he told her, "Even if you do it, bringing Chakotay back to life is no guarantee that he'll love you."
Janeway made a difficult effort to school her features and not show just how much his words affected her. If there was one person that she knew she was going to hurt by this, it was Harry Kim. He was happy, with a wife he adored and kids he loved more than anything. It hadn't taken him a long time to acclimatize to being back in the alpha quadrant, and she had been thrilled to see him regain a life outside of duty shifts. His personal life had taken such a beating in the delta quadrant. And as Kathryn looked at him now, she saw somebody who had achieved the happiness that seemed to have eluded her all her life. She knew that he was right, and he had unearthed the truth she had buried and denied for so long. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said, throat tight with reigned emotion, "but I have to do this. And I can't take you with me."
In the split-second before she shot him, she could see the understanding that registered in his eyes. Not agreement, but the knowledge that he was about to lose everything. He slumped forward against her shoulder, which helped her drag him to an escape pod.
On the Rhode Island, first officer Tomas Keyes called for an immediate stop when they saw they saw the pod drop out of warp. "Bridge to Sickbay," he called out. "Prepare to receive the captain."
The helmsman turned from her console. "What about the admiral?"
"Track her. We'll continue pursuit as soon as Captain Kim is on board."
The shuttle jolted slightly when the pod launched, and then Janeway jumped back into warp. It took half an hour to reach the coordinates, and the area was clear when she dropped to impulse power. Knowing that circumstances could change at any moment, she didn't waste any time. "Computer, activate chrono-deflector."
No sooner than she had given the order, fire opened up from behind. "Oh for…" The rear display showed a pair of Klingon warbirds chasing her, hot on her tail.
The Rhode Island dropped out of warp a minute after them, a medicated but awake Harry Kim back in command. His head ached from the stimulants that filled his bloodstream, but he had insisted on being on his bridge. It was an eerie similarity to the woman he was chasing.
The Klingon ships were closing on her fast. Shot after shot rained down on the shuttle, causing a massive power fluctuation in all systems. "Come on!" she hollered at the flashing panel before her, striking it with the heel of her hand. "Not now!"
The display screen on her right flashed and Harry Kim appeared. "Prepare to transport, Admiral."
"Good to see you on your feet, Harry," she replied, eyes focused on her panel. "But I'm not going anywhere."
"This isn't an option, Admiral. I'm going to stop you if it's the last thing I do."
Janeway looked up at him for a second. A sad, yet wry grin formed her lips, and she told him, "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Harry." If he hadn't known better, he'd have sworn he saw tears in her tired eyes when she added, "I'm sorry, Harry."
The screen flicked off, again displaying the shuttle and the birds of prey that raced after her. A dark, cloudy fissure opened in subspace in front of them. "It's a temporal rift," Keyes announced. "Heavy graviton shear, extreme gamma radiation." The first officer stared at the screen in horror. "She's crazy."
Harry Kim settled uneasily into his command chair, sullen chin resting on his knuckles. "Keep your distance," he ordered. And his bridge crew watched helplessly through the last minutes of their known existences.
"There's a vessel coming through the rift," Captain Janeway heard Tuvok announce from over her shoulder.
"Klingon?" Chakotay questioned.
"We're being hailed," Harry added.
Feeling a troubled vibe pass through her body, Kathryn pushed herself to her feet and said the magic word. "Onscreen."
What she saw next nearly stopped her heart.
"You know, I was having a perfectly pleasant day," Captain Janeway muttered as she made her way down to the transporter room. "Good sleep last night, excellent coffee this morning. Then all of a sudden, a hole in space appears and I meet a woman who claims to be me a few centuries from now."
At her right Chakotay suggested, "Fates of the delta quadrant?"
On her left side, Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I am surprised that you would take stock in something as variable as fate, Commander."
Kathryn looked at him from the corner of her eye. "Then how do you explain it?"
"I cannot explain anything until we interview Admiral Janeway."
Chakotay couldn't help but smirk, but Kathryn was not at all happy. "The last time anyone used the term Admiral Janeway was the day my father died." Her frustration was clear, and her boots hit the deck a bit harder as her gait grew faster. "That woman is not me."
By this time they had reached the transporter room, and Chakotay put a hand on her shoulder to stop her before she could go in. "You're right," he told her quietly, leaning close so that no one passing could hear. "She's not you."
Her uncertain nod told him that the little bit of comfort was welcome. "Let's go."
The woman that appeared on the transporter pad was no less of a shock than she had been on the viewscreen. But this time the captain had steeled herself against the visitor. For her part, Admiral Janeway was momentarily stunned by the sight of Chakotay and Tuvok standing together, alive and healthy.
"Welcome aboard," the captain greeted wryly.
The admiral quickly regained her adopted attitude, cultivated for so many years that it had become natural. "It's good to be back."
Disguising his emotions was something that the Doctor had never excelled at – especially where Seven of Nine was concerned. His lack of self-control resulted in his public profession of love when he thought his life was at an end. After enough time had passed to cure his embarrassment, he started to hope that the confession would act as a springboard for a relationship. So when Seven asked him to remove her emotional failsafe, he couldn't have been happier.
He was crushed when she icily explained that he was not the object of her desire. It didn't make sense – she had never shown an interest in anyone. The Chakotay hologram was as far as she had gone. The Doctor tried to subtly make inquiries, but was shut down cold.
So though he hated it, the Doctor removed the failsafe and entered it in the medical logs as just another day at the office. And all the while, he wondered who she could have wanted more than him.
Though she was exhausted, Seven was beside herself with anticipation - which was a new sensation within itself. There was no sudden flood of emotional capacity like she had expected, only her excitement was growing by leaps and bounds. She was finally free, defying the remaining implants in her body. She would be able to pursue him undeterred, to enjoy the experience and hopefully fulfill what had become her ambition.
But first things came first, and for Seven that meant a solid six hours of regeneration. She darkened the lights of the cargo bay, then slowly climbed up onto the step of the alcove. "Computer, begin regeneration cycle." The computer chirped an affirmative answer, and Seven stepped back in order to connect to the circuitry.
As soon as she closed her eyes, a dream-like voice filled her ears. "Seven of Nine – tertiary adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One." Her eyes flew open, and with a small smile the queen said, "It's been too long."
"What do you want?"
The queen smiled again. "Do I need a reason to visit a friend?"
Seven bristled. "We are not friends."
"No, we are more than that." The other slowly moved toward her wayward drone. "We're family. While we're on the subject of old friends, I see that Voyager has just gotten a visitor – and she's come from the future. Tell me why."
"You may be able to communicate with me while I'm regenerating," Seven growled, "but I'm no longer a drone. I don't answer to you."
All the queen could do was smile, somewhat amused by Seven's feeble attempt at a stubborn position. A small viewing image opened up between them, showing an image of Voyager traveling through space. "I've extrapolated Voyager's trajectory," she continued. "I know that you're returning to the nebula. I suggest you alter course."
"Why should we comply?"
It was then that the queen rushed her, her knuckles instantly at the human's throat. The tubules shot into the front of her neck, partially cutting off Seven's air supply as one of them pierced her windpipe. "You've always been my favorite," the queen told her, stroking the young woman's cheek with her free hand, "and I know how much you care for the Voyager crew."
Seven could feel the burn of new nanoprobes as they rushed into her bloodstream, her obstructed windpipe giving her no other option but to choke and listen as the other spoke. Her eyes shut tightly against it, and she had a peculiar recollection of her last assimilation. "You know that the best thing for them would be to join the Collective they are trying to destroy." Try as she might, Seven could not fight the onslaught.
The queen violently removed her tubules from Seven's neck, and took a step back before she said, "It is time for restitution."
In an instant the queen was gone, leaving Seven to collapse to the deck alone.
Admiral Janeway was disgusted beyond description. No matter what she said, she seemed to just being going in circles with her younger self. Time was getting desperate, and she was completely out of patience. As they argued in Astrometrics, she pointed out, "Voyager would be crushed like a bug."
Chakotay offered, "What about taking the conduit back to the alpha quadrant and then destroying the structure from the other side?" With everyone focused on him, nobody noticed Seven's nervous fidgeting at her terminal.
"This hub is here. There's nothing in the alpha quadrant but exit apertures," she snapped. "While you're all standing around dreaming up fantasy tactical scenarios, the queen is studying her scans of our armor and weapons. And she's probably got the entire collective working on a way to counter them. So take the ship back into that nebula and go home before it's too late!"
Kathryn had taken about all she was going to take. "Find a way to destroy that hub," she told the others. Then she looked her counterpart square in the eye and rumbled, "Let's take a walk." The admiral gave the rest an indignant look before heading out into the corridor.
The three of them watched the pair leave, hesitating for a moment before turning back to the astrometric display. In the course of their research Tuvok was required to check scans from his station on the bridge, leaving Seven and Chakotay alone.
He was working at one of the side stations, and she drew a deep breath before saying, "Commander, there's something I wish to discuss with you."
Chakotay didn't stop his work. "What is it?"
She hesitated, but finally managed to say, "It is of a … personal nature."
As it was his nature to give his full attention to important matters, the first officer suspended his work and turned to face her. "How can I help?"
"I …" She stopped and tried to collect her thoughts. One of the side-effects of having her emotional freedom handed to her was the new and debilitating discovery of seizing in total fear. After a hard swallow to clear her throat, she finally told him, "I have been observing you very closely for the past fifteen weeks, and I have …"
Chakotay waited patiently for her, even though he knew what she was about to say. It was the missing piece, explaining why she had been acting strangely around him. His eyebrows lifted when she decided that words were not going to work for her, and instead started to slink toward him - as much as an inexperienced and clumsy seductress could. He tried desperately not to even smile, knowing that it would hurt her deeply.
As she got closer to him, Seven's bravado and momentum started to pick up speed. She quickly closed the distance between them, grabbed the back of his head and pulled him over into a passion-filled kiss. Chakotay was stunned for a moment, so much that he couldn't react. By the time he finally did, she already had her arms wrapped around his neck. He reached up behind him to grasp her hands and pull them off. But just as he lifted them off his shoulders, he felt a blinding pain in the palm of his hand.
He jerked back, and both of them looked down to the hands that were now between them. His right hand held her left, his palm against the back of her hand. Or more to the point, they were connected that way. He spread his fingers, but the connection stayed. In a moment of panic he wrenched himself from her, spilling blood across the deck. His wrist was then instinctively held in his other hand as he stared at the wound in disbelief. Then his eyes wandered over to her hand, which she still held in mid-air. A new, starburst-shaped implant had exploded through the back of her hand, and directly into his before it dug in. The implant was in full view now, stained with his blood.
Things were faring no better down the corridor. "I want to know why you didn't tell me about this," Kathryn demanded.
"Because I remember how stubborn and self-righteous I used to be," the admiral told her, as if she was stating undisputed fact. "I figured you might try to do something stupid."
Kathryn's eyes rolled back into her head. "I think maybe we should go back to Sickbay."
"Why?" the admiral snorted. "So you can have me sedated?"
"To reconfirm your identity." Kathryn turned to face her, squaring her shoulders and feeling as if she was a teenager facing off with her mother. "I find it impossible to believe that I will ever become as cynical and arrogant as you have."
"You'd be surprised what another nineteen years in hell will do to you," the other spat back. "That sanctimonious attitude of yours is going to cause a lot of pain and grief through those years."
The captain could already feel herself losing this battle. "You got Voyager home – that means I will too. If it takes a few more years –"
The admiral played her final card. "Chakotay is going to die."
Kathryn stopped instantly, the color draining from her face. "What do you mean die?"
Satisfied that she now had the younger woman's full attention, Admiral Janeway reluctantly returned to the moment in history that had drastically changed her life. "He will die three weeks from now, in an explosion on the bridge that also takes Sam Wildman and Ellie Parsons."
"Explosion?" Kathryn echoed, a haunted look in her eyes.
"You'll be battling a race called the Krae - a typical territorial dispute that you've managed to sidestep several times before. But this time, Seven of Nine decides that they are a threat, and fires without permission."
Now the captain was in pure shock. "Seven?"
The admiral stared hard at her younger self. "Yes, Seven," she repeated slowly. "Seven is responsible for all their deaths. For leaving Naomi without a mother, leaving Max Geller without a wife, and for leaving you without your best friend." She faltered a bit, reliving the experience more than she had planned to. "You'll be crippled by grief, so much so that you keep his body in stasis all the way back to Earth in order to bury him there because you can't let him go. After enough years, the crew will think you're crazier than Tuvok."
Kathryn didn't need to ask the question, as the explanation of Tuvok's condition quickly followed. She shook her head, taking a few angry strides away. "I can't sacrifice this chance to hurt the Borg just for four lives."
"You keep doing things to help everyone else, never for yourself."
The captain spun around. "That's supposed to be my job."
"What are you, the universal savior?" Kathryn started to protest, but she was cut off. "If you insist on ignoring my warnings," the older woman lectured, "then at least believe what I'm telling you. Chakotay, and Sam and Ellie are all going to die. If you know what's good for you, you'll listen to me and take this ship back into that nebula. At the very least you'll confine Seven for the next couple of months." The tirade stopped abruptly, and the admiral's expression softened. "I'm giving you a second chance," she whispered, the barest hint of tears in her eyes. "A chance to get home before he dies. To … to …" The older woman clamped down on the threatening outburst, and simply said, "You deserve the chance to find out, Kathryn. Talk to him."
"And do what? Tell him that he'd better live his next days to the fullest because he's only got twenty-one of them left?"
At that moment, an angry Chakotay flew through the space between them, not even noticing that they were there. Kathryn watched him go with concern, while the admiral folded her arms across her chest and reminded her, "He deserves better than this."
Kathryn shot her one last glare before heading off after her first officer, who was in the middle of a comm conversation. "I want her taken to Sickbay immediately."
"Aye Commander,"Tuvok's voice replied through the communicator.
"Chakotay, what's going on?" Kathryn demanded as she caught up to him. He gave her a passing glance, and that's when she saw the torn flesh of his hand. "What the hell happened?"
"Seven," he muttered, stepping into the turbolift that immediately showed up. As they rode to deck five he quickly explained what happened, as well as informing her that he had sealed her in Astrometrics until Tuvok and a security team could collect her and bring her to Sickbay.
The Doctor ran his tricorder over his patient's hand. With a relieved smile he reported, "I see no evidence of nanoprobes, Commander. You'll be just fine."
"That's good to know." His jaw set, Chakotay waited as the Doctor healed his palm.
Janeway leaned against the biobed beside him, arms folded and voice low. "Do you think she had any ulterior motive?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I really don't think that she's interested in Klingon rituals."
"What kind of rituals?" the Doctor asked as he worked.
The captain and commander exchanged glances, then Chakotay begrudgingly said, "Mating."
The dermal regenerator stopped and hovered over Chakotay's hand, and the hologram stared at him with a look of dread on his face. "Mating?"
"What?" Janeway questioned.
The Doctor hesitated for a moment, but then said, "She came to me a few days ago, asking that I disable her emotional failsafe. When I asked her why, she told me that she had rethought my offer, and that she was now ready to pursue a more complex relationship. But she wouldn't reveal who the … lucky man … was."
They all stared at one another, but it was the captain that said, "That still doesn't explain a new implant."
The Doctor completed his work. "There you go. Good as new." He then rushed through his office and into the lab in order to retrieve what he would need to examine Seven.
Chakotay tentatively flexed his hand. Kathryn could see that he was still visibly upset. "You alright?" she asked.
He shook his head, eyes sliding closed for a moment. He was thinking about being backhanded in a prison camp. "Of all the experiences in my life I've wanted to relive, receiving a Borg implant was not one of them." He looked up and saw the peculiar look she wore, knowing that she was one of the few people who could honestly understand that statement. He offered his newly healed hand, which she took. "Are we going to get out of this one?" he asked quietly.
Kathryn's expression was stone serious. "There's got to be a way, Chakotay."
The main doors to Sickbay opened to admit Tuvok and Parsons, who were armed and escorting a very different Seven of Nine. Her skin was paler, and two new implants had broken out on her forehead and neck. The Doctor stopped short as he came through the door of the office, then almost immediately grabbed his tricorder and directed her over into the surgical bay.
After a few moments of watching the examination, the captain couldn't wait any longer. "Doctor?"
The hologram frowned deeply. "She's being re-assimilated," he announced, continuing to scan her.
Janeway stared at him, jaw hanging. It was Chakotay who said, "What do you mean re-assimilated?"
"It seems to be a gradual take-over," he said as he continued to circle the semi-drone. Then he stopped in front of her, taking a very close scan of the front of her neck. He examined the reading, then looked up to see Seven's dismissive and uninterested expression. She looked right through him as if he didn't exist, and instead was transfixed on the object of her desire standing on the other side of the ward. The Doctor quickly strode away from the bed, calling out, "Computer, erect level ten forcefield."
The field snapped into place, and Parsons stood watch as the other three followed the Doctor into the office. The hologram turned to face them as soon as they were inside. "There's absolutely no doubt about it – she has been physically assaulted. There are fresh puncture wounds on her neck, and the nanoprobes I have discovered in her system have a totally different signature than the ones we've been working with all these years. The only thing preventing total assimilation seems to be the fact that her emotional failsafe has been removed. For some reason, it is hindering the total dominance of her brain by the new nanoprobes."
"Can you tell why?"
"No Captain, I can't."
They all exchanged glances. Janeway was incensed. "How did a Borg drone get on this ship without us knowing?"
Tuvok was unfazed. "I will review the sensor logs."
"Wait a minute," she stopped him. "First things first. We find a way to destroy the hub, then we worry about our internal security. Make sure that she's guarded at all times."
"Come on," she directed at Chakotay. "We've got work to do." And with that they left Sickbay, and Seven, in the hands of the Doctor.
Despite the Doctor's efforts, more and more of Seven's anatomy was being consumed by assimilation as minutes and hours passed. She had been less than responsive, which was fortunate as the Doctor was almost sure that if she decided to be a problem she would be met with little resistance. For the moment she remained behind the forcefield in the surgical bay, at the business end of Ellie Parson's phaser rifle.
The relative silence of Sickbay was obliterated when the doors opened to admit B'Elanna Torres, who was leaning heavily against one of her engineers. He raced over, taking her other arm. "I've got it from here," he told the young woman, who had obviously had better days than this. She seemed grateful to put some distance between herself and the laboring chief. "How long?" he questioned.
She gasped, "Just a few minutes."
The Doctor tapped his commbadge. "Lieutenant Paris, report to Sickbay immediately." He helped her up onto one of the recovery beds, snatched a tricorder off the nearest table, and checked things out. A smile was his answer, and as he flipped it shut he told her, "This time it's for real, Lieutenant. My goddaughter is on her way."
"It's about time." The contraction was rapidly fleeing, allowing her to straighten up and get her bearings. That was when she spied the altered Seven of Nine. "What the hell's wrong with her?"
"She's being re-assimilated," he said, carrying a set of patient's togs for her to change into. "We're not sure what happened, and she won't tell us. She just keeps growing implants." To prove the Doctor's point, a new implant broke through her left temple, adding to the cluster that was already developing there.
Tom came flying into Sickbay, a mixture of excitement and terror. "Is it…?" he asked breathlessly, rushing to his wife's side.
Through clenched teeth she growled, "Does it look like I'm kidding, Flyboy?"
The Doctor set the clothes in her hands. "I want you to go get changed into these," he ordered. "Then when you come back, we'll do a more thorough check and see how everything's moving along."
With Tom's help, B'Elanna slid down onto her feet. When she started to head through the office, she saw that Seven had actually moved, and was now standing at the perimeter of the forcefield. The next contraction came on quickly, and it crumpled her against the foot of the nearest bed. She clutched at Miral, an instinctive need to protect her child from the threat on the other side of the ward. "I don't want her in here," she snarled.
Tom tried a bit of diplomacy. "B'Elanna…"
"Get her out of here!"
Paris looked to the Doctor, who told him, "It's okay. Go help her get changed." Once they were gone, he asked Parsons, "Can you move her to the brig?"
Ellie was not happy about it, but she definitely sympathized with B'Elanna's wishes. So she cleared it through Tuvok, and then the security team, along with the Doctor, escorted the drone to the brig. The Doctor's next few hours would be spent traveling between Sickbay and the brig, checking on the progress of each of his patients.
On the bridge, Chakotay paced with his hands clasped behind his back. He knew that Kathryn was seeing the admiral off, which was confirmed by the announcement that the future shuttle had disappeared into one of the apertures. For the first time in a long time he was nervous. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to relax. This was going to work – they'd been over it too many times for it not to.
He turned when he heard the aft turbolift open, and immediately noticed how haggard the captain looked. She glanced around her as she stepped out onto the bridge, mentally checking to see if everyone was at their station. He also noticed the sidearm she was now wearing. Her first officer stopped pacing and met her in the command centre. "Everything alright?" he asked her.
"All according to plan," she replied flatly, seeing that he was examining the hilt of her weapon. She reached into the holster on her left hip and produced an unusually designed phaser, which she then handed over for him to inspect. "A gift from the admiral."
Chakotay turned the phaser over in his hands. "Something she said?" Kathryn nodded, taking the weapon back when he offered it. "Can you tell me about it?"
She was tired enough to consider taking the admiral's advice and telling him everything. But she needed to keep her mind clear, now more than ever. Kathryn looked up at him in the darkened light of the bridge, and could appreciate how worried he was.
It would keep.
"I'll tell you later," she said softly. "After we get home." The captain dropped down into the command chair and retrieved the regulation phaser that was already hidden there. They were the same size, the newer one a bit lighter than the other. She looked at each, then took a long look at her first officer as he sat down beside her. The old phaser was placed in her holster, and the new one stowed behind the console. "Are we ready to go?"
Chakotay nodded. "Almost. We're only missing one person."
The queen was falling to pieces, the partially assimilated Admiral Janeway watching with a type of defeated satisfaction. She could feel her life ebbing away, and the urge to just close her eyes and let go was overwhelming. But she wouldn't allow it, not until she was sure it was done.
The deck shook when the queen collapsed to it, fingers desperately clawing for something to grab hold of. "Seven of Nine," she called.
The brig had stayed relatively silent since the drone's arrival, broken only occasionally by the Doctor or Lieutenant Parsons and her three member security team. Seven had remained stock still in the centre of the cell, not responding to anything.
The voice traveled through space and forcefields, ordering her to destroy Voyager at all cost. It took her over, making her function on Collective instinct alone. "We will comply," she murmured.
Parson's head snapped up from the station where she had been monitoring activity on the bridge. "Seven?"
The drone moved to the front of the cell. "Release us."
Ellie stepped in front of the station, rifle lifted. "You know I can't do that."
Seven then attempted to walk through the forcefield, but was stopped because her implants did not give her full protection from the energy field. It caught her halfway through by her shoulder, leaving her stuck. But she was determined, and pulled hard against the force that was holding her. Parsons took a step back and said, "Stop Seven, or I'll fire."
The drone ignored her and attempted to free herself, which gave Parsons no other option. The stun setting mixed badly with the extra energy that was flowing through Seven's body, burning the exposed skin of her face and the hand that was already through the forcefield. But the rifle's energy also amplified her Borg strength, allowing her to tear herself from the forcefield. Parsons and her team opened fire. Borg shielding jumped up to not only protect Seven, but to fell her captors as it actually reflected the beams instead of just absorbing them. All were knocked unconscious before they could even stop firing.
"Where's the nearest exit aperture?"
"Sixteen seconds away," Harry reported. "But it leads back to the delta quadrant."
Kathryn stared at the sphere on the viewscreen, teeth clenched as she made up her mind. "Lets keep to the original plan. We have to keep them moving in this corridor."
"They're closing fast!" Tom called over the din, trying to pour more power into their run.
Chakotay checked his display, then looked to Kathryn. "We're ready."
She nodded and added, "As we'll ever be."
The ship jolted, and Tuvok announced, "The sphere has locked onto us."
"Shut down engines," Janeway ordered, "and divert all power to the armor and shields."
"Armor and shields back at full power," Kim replied.
A shower of sparks and smoke poured down from one of the relays that ran along the top of the science consoles. "Armor integrity at ninety-six percent," Tuvok reported.
"We're now traveling at the sphere's transwarp velocity," Paris said. "We're actually picking up speed."
"They're pulling us in!" Harry shouted.
"Steady…" the captain warned. "Onscreen."
The view switched to the mouth of the sphere's inner area, growing larger and more menacing every second. Kathryn had to consciously loosen her grip on the armrests of her chair, while Chakotay reminded himself to breathe. This was every Starfleet officer's nightmare, and they were living it as they had planned for it. Without looking, both of them reached across to grasp the other's hand in a moment of encouragement.
The ship jolted again, throwing Kathryn to the deck. She was up in a second, and stood her ground in the centre of the bridge. "Where are we?"
"We are holding position in the centre of the sphere," Tuvok said. "For the moment, the Borg are only scanning us."
She steeled herself. This was it. "Alright - standby."
Admiral Paris stared at the screen, his jaw hanging. "What the hell is it?"
"It's a transwarp aperture," Barclay advised. "It's less than a light year from Alpha Centauri."
"How many Borg vessels?" someone else asked.
Reg was in awe, staring at the screen like everyone else. "We can't get a clear reading. The graviton emissions are off the scale."
The admiral's hands clenched behind his back. "I want every ship in range to converge on those coordinates now!"
"Arm the torpedoes, Tuvok."
After a second he confirmed, "Torpedoes armed, Captain."
"They've found a way to drain our shields!" Harry suddenly announced, his voice filled with panic. "Eighty percent and falling fast!"
The command team looked at each other. Losing the shields meant assimilation. "Can you re-establish them?" Janeway questioned.
Ensign Kim was working frantically. "I need another set of hands!" Chakotay was on his feet in a second, racing up to Ops in a few seconds and even fewer steps.
"How far are we from Alpha Centauri?"
"Four minutes, fifty-eight seconds," Paris reported.
"Shields at sixty-one percent," Tuvok added.
"Come on!" Harry cursed at his readouts. The shield levels would rise slightly, then drop three times as far as the Borg adapted. Chakotay was beside him at the edge of the Ops station, working on rerouting every last joule of power while Harry was trying to block the Borg signals. The rest of the bridge crew stayed silent, keeping their eyes on their stations to deal with the stress. Kathryn wanted to ask their status in the worst way – Captain Janeway knew better.
"Got it!" Harry shouted triumphantly, slapping his palm on top of the console.
Paris breathed, "Thank god."
"Standby," Janeway ordered.
Janeway whirled around to find Seven of Nine behind Chakotay, her left arm across his chest and her right fist poised at his throat. Her face was blistered and charred, but no one could miss the smile on her face. Tuvok's phaser was instantly drawn, as well as the captain's. "Disarm the torpedoes, and we will let him go," she stated, her voice shaking.
The captain's voice turned to ice as she stood. "You won't assimilate him."
"He will be assimilated," the newly taken drone confirmed, "and you with him." Tuvok made a small move toward her, and she forcefully turned Chakotay to keep him as a shield. "Lower your weapons," she threatened. Then she looked to Janeway and said, "All of them."
Janeway heaved a small sigh as she dropped her phaser onto the deck at her feet, jaw grinding as she made a decision. "Tuvok, disarm the torpedoes."
"Kathryn, no!" Chakotay protested.
She shot him a look, one that he immediately understood. "Tuvok, carry out my order."
The tactical console chirped a response. "Torpedoes are offline."
The captain nodded, her eyes never leaving Seven and Chakotay. "I did what you asked," she said. "Now let him go."
Confusion filled Seven's face, obviously unsure of what to do next. The voice had stopped, leaving her with no parting instructions. She thought about it for a moment, then finally ordered, "You will transport us to a deck within the sphere."
Janeway's brows lowered and she growled, "Let him go, Seven."
The drone pulled her hostage back hard against her body. "We will not."
"We?" By this time, the captain had made her way to the steps below the tactical station. "Since when do you speak for the Borg?" she taunted as she stepped to the upper deck.
"I – I …" Seven stammered, nearly unable to function now.
The virus that had destroyed the queen was starting to affect her, and it gave them the moment they needed. Chakotay slammed his elbow back against her ribs, sending her staggering back into the Ops console. Harry instantly grabbed her from behind, but suddenly found himself behind hurled down into the door that lead to the conference room. The motion opened Seven up to fire, which Tuvok instantly provided. The phaser's energy reflected back to him, narrowly missing his head when he ducked. Janeway dove for her second phaser, aiming for Seven as she stood back up.
Seven was grappling with Chakotay once again, who was desperately trying to keep out of the way of her injection tubules. They were moving so quickly that Janeway had no way to get a shot off without hitting Chakotay, and she didn't dare as she didn't know the full power of the new weapon. The fight had actually taken them down by the conference room, as Chakotay had rushed over to see if Harry had been injured when Seven attacked him. So now they were on the edge of the medical station, rolling on the deck. Just before they would have hit the wall under Voyager's commission plate, Seven gained the advantage and once again used Chakotay as a shield, her fist poised at his throat.
"Seven!" Janeway shouted, rounding the railing by Tuvok and slowly stepping up into the command centre.
The Borg's head snapped up, revealing the grin that she again wore. "He's mine!" she spat at her mentor. "Not yours."
The tip of the new phaser raised a little. "Let him go, Seven."
The pair stared at one another, waiting for someone to make a move. Everyone else watched with held breath, hoping that Seven would give in. But she didn't, and instead finally decided that the only way she would have him was to assimilate him. Janeway saw the twitch in the drone's hand - and fired. The beam pierced the shielding and hit Seven in the side of the head, where her new implants were concentrated. An electric arc danced between all of them as she was incapacitated, giving Chakotay the chance to break free from her. The entire bridge crew gasped in horror as the drone was sent into a violent convulsion, before the breath left her body and she collapsed to the deck.
They all sat there in stunned silence, wanting to know if she was dead but not willing to touch her. They all stared at her, Kathryn's phaser dropping to the deck with a muffled clatter when it fell from her hand. Chakotay started to slowly move away from Seven, very aware of the tubules that were protruding from her right hand. A proximity alert sounded and was followed by a rough shudder, prompting the stunned captain to turn toward Tuvok. "What is it?"
"We're approaching the exit aperture," he said, an eyebrow lifted in interest. Fifteen seconds."
She nodded, trying to push aside the numbness that wanted to envelop her. "Arm the torpedoes." She returned to the command chair, keeping her mind focused on the task at hand rather than watch Seven as she lay dying on the other side of the bridge. Instead she stared hard at the viewscreen. "Tuvok?"
"Exit in five seconds. Four … three …"
The sphere appeared as if from nowhere, slowing to a halt in front of the hastily assembled fleet that Paris had ordered. The flagship commander, Captain Urlamar, signaled the other ships. "Prepare to open fire," he announced.
Tuvok checked his readouts, then announced, "The sphere has returned to normal space."
Janeway tensed, her grip tightening on the arms of her chair. "Fire."
The torpedoes fired from the rear launchers, spiraling through the open centre of the sphere and exploding instantly on their targets. The force speared Voyager ahead, ripping the ship from the tractors that held it and sending it tumbling toward the hangar doors. It broadsided a series of columns, turning the ship into a clockwise spin. It tossed the crew around inside, sending the captain flying into the middle of the command centre. In Sickbay, the Doctor had sealed B'Elanna into a restraining field in order to keep her from being knocked around as she started delivery. It not only kept her safe, but also deflected the debris that was flying around her. As Sickbay had an independent power system, there was little danger of the field being knocked out.
The viewscreen was careening around, making it difficult to see what was actually going on within the sphere. Tom desperately tried to restore order, managing to slow their momentum some. Then fire engulfed the entire hangar space as they were thrown against the outer wall. It knocked a support beam loose on the bridge, which swung down on the captain's position as she was getting back to her feet. Chakotay shouted a warning a split second before he tackled her, narrowly missing being struck himself.
Kathryn found herself sprawled on the deck behind the conn, face down and eating a mouthful of carpet. Waking up was something she fully did not expect to be doing. She had expected to be dead. The hiss of escaping gas filled her ears, though she knew that it wasn't a hull breach. She was fully aware of the weight on her back, and turned her head so that she could speak. "You okay?"
"I think so," Chakotay said, slowly pulling himself upright and sending debris spilling off his back. "You?"
"More or less," she mumbled. With more volume she questioned, "What happened?"
Tuvok had somehow already made it back to his station, and reported, "Damage reports coming in now. Hull breaches on decks seven and eight – emergency forcefields are in place." He looked up from the console. "All hands present and accounted for. Minor casualties only."
It was taking a few seconds for movement to return to the rest of the bridge crew, and an insistent alarm dragged Harry upright to check it out. He couldn't help but grin when he finally saw who was calling. "We're being hailed …" Then he started laughing. "It's Starfleet!"
Kathryn started to slowly lift herself up, then collapsed back to the deck with a huff. She asked Chakotay, "Do you think they'd find it odd if I just answered from down here?"
He was sitting back on his knees by now, and chuckled a bit. "Yeah, I think they might have a problem with that," he reminded her as he helped her up.
She finally saw the assortment of starships that were on the screen in front of her when she stood up. "Oh my god…"
Another series of beeps sounded. "They're hailing again," Harry announced.
Kathryn gave herself a mental shake. "Onscreen."
Though screen damage made the image fuzzy, there was no doubt that it was Owen Paris and Reg Barclay who were calling. Everyone just stared at one another, unsure of who should speak first.
Before anyone did, a call came through the comm. "Sickbay to bridge."
The sounds of a crying newborn echoed throughout the bridge, and then traveled to the Pathfinder lab back on Earth. The bridge crew on Voyager started to laugh or smile, with the exception of Tom Paris – who was totally absorbed in listening to the sound. On the screen, his father's expression was one of total confusion. "What is that?" he questioned.
Tom slowly turned toward the screen. "That's your granddaughter."
The admiral looked from Tom to Kathryn, who simply nodded. He glanced at his son once more, then turned his attention to official business. "Are you in need of repairs, Captain?"
"We are, sir," she confirmed. "Voyager has taken quite a beating, but with some help we can make it to McKinley Station."
"Very well. Travel back at impulse speed. That should give you and the crews that I'm assigning enough time to conduct repairs sufficient to land you in the Presidio."Paris got emotionally tripped up for a moment, then managed to say, "Take your time, Kathryn. Let everybody have a chance to get ready."
Janeway couldn't erase the smile on her face, even if she had wanted to. "Agreed, Admiral. We'll see you in a day or so."
"We'll see you then."
The screen winked off, and Kathryn let out a breath. Then she looked down to find Paris still in his seat, unmoving. "Tom?" she called quietly. Instinct turned him to face her, and with a soft smile she told him, "Get out of here." The smile disappeared as soon as he passed her, and with a heavy heart she called out, "Doctor, prepare to receive a medical emergency."
The captain turned to Ensign Kim, who transported Seven of Nine's lifeless body off the bridge.
It took nearly half a day to organize the repair crews that beamed over from the other ships, not to mention accommodating several of the captains who wanted to greet Janeway personally. The casualties were taken care of and released, but there was one casualty that was not being counted among all the reports. Being busy with meetings and repairs and reports kept Kathryn's mind off of it until she suddenly found herself with nothing to do. It left her with no choice but to make the trip to Sickbay.
The captain walked tentatively into the ward, and was immediately met by the Doctor at the door. He wore a grim expression, answering her question when he reported, "The network created by the new implants intensified the phaser's energy when it hit her." He then turned and followed the captain's gaze toward the corpse in the surgical bay. "I'm sorry, Captain. There was nothing I could do."
She nodded silently, then slowly pushed past the hologram and made her way to Seven's body. It was the first time that she had really taken a good look at the new drone. Her skin was back to the mottled grey it had originally been, blistered in places where she had been burnt by the brig's forcefield and Parson's phaser. Her hair had started falling out on its own, leaving her partially bald. She looked more like the drone they had severed from the Collective than someone who had been injected with nanoprobes only hours before.
Kathryn tried to see the woman that the drone had become under her careful supervision. Then she thought of something that hadn't occurred to her in a long while. It's incredibly presumptuous to think that you could have changed her. That you and you alone could have made her human again. Aloud she gasped, "Oh Seven…"
A hand gently rested on her shoulder, and instinctively Kathryn knew it wasn't the Doctor. "It's not your fault," Chakotay's voice confirmed.
"It is my fault," she countered, still staring at Seven's body. "I fired the phaser. I killed her."
"She didn't leave you a choice." Kathryn finally looked over to him, and he told her, "She wouldn't have stopped at assimilating me. She would have moved on to you, Harry, Tuvok … even little Miral in order to bring Voyager back to the queen."
Just the mention of the baby was enough to pull her attention over to the other side of the ward. B'Elanna was sitting on the bed, cradling the infant in her arms as Tom held the two of them in his. Chakotay stepped back a bit, then gently guided her away from the dead and over toward the living. She resisted, but only because she was numb.
Tom tried to avert his eyes so the captain wouldn't know that he'd been watching her since she'd entered Sickbay. If she noticed, she was too distracted to say so. She stopped short a couple of steps away, inexplicably hesitant. Chakotay rested his hand against her back, urging her to go ahead and take a look at what had been going on while she had been getting them home. He quietly said, "Kathryn Janeway, meet Miral Elizabeth Paris."
"Elizabeth?" she echoed, looking to each of the people in front of her.
B'Elanna smiled a little. "We hope you don't mind."
"You are the reason she's here now," Tom added.
Kathryn broke into a small grin, still a little dumbfounded. "No, I don't mind," she breathed, now taking the last steps and reaching a shaking hand to pull back the edge of the blanket.
Tom and B'Elanna looked to each other, wordlessly coming to an agreement. "Sit down," he told his captain, surprised to find that she didn't argue. While Chakotay made sure she was securely seated on the empty biobed, Tom took Miral from his wife and gently handed her over.
Kathryn stared at the newborn with an astonishment that she couldn't describe. Without realizing it, she started to silently cry. She didn't notice Chakotay putting an arm around her, tuning him out until he whispered to her, "You're getting the baby wet."
She burst into laughter as her tears increased. It all suddenly hit her like a ton of bricks. Everything at once – killing Seven, keeping the ship together and destroying the sphere, while all the time B'Elanna was safe and protected so that she could deliver the child that they had all been eagerly waiting for. "Oh god," she breathed. "Oh my god…"
B'Elanna climbed off her bed and approached her captain, her own eyes brimming with tears. She tried to think of something to say, but was at a loss for words. So she just reached over and hugged her as tightly as she could. Kathryn latched onto her just as hard, and the two of them started to draw comfort from each other. Tom was soon there too, and the four of them fell into a profound embrace.
Kathryn was called away from Sickbay by Captain Urlamar, who wanted to speak to her before they got underway. She tried to remain focused on the task at hand, as repairs would soon be complete enough for them to travel at warp. Exhaustion was getting the better of her, and she wanted to do nothing more than to just return to her quarters and collapse. But the meeting was unavoidable, and so she welcomed the other captain with a warm smile and enthusiasm.
He had insisted on a tour to check the progress of the repair teams, after which she invited him into her ready room for a cup of coffee. By the time Urlamar was finally ready to return to his own ship, nearly three hours had passed. He offered to show himself back to the transporter room, leaving Janeway on her bridge in order to get underway. She stayed long enough to give the order to move out, and then turned the bridge over to Tuvok before she left.
The doors to her quarters were a welcome site, and the captain had to stifle a yawn as she passed a visiting repair team that was working on a relay panel beside them. She unlocked the doors and stepped inside, allowing the yawn as soon as they were closed behind her. She hadn't been back here since the night before, and was stunned at the disarray that met her. Furniture pieces had been tossed like toys, pictures and personal items strewn about like the fallout from a tornado. Her shoulders dropped, and Kathryn idly wondered how long it was going to take to clean it all up.
The windows were streaked with stars, and showed two of the many other starships that were traveling along with Voyager. The end table under the centre windows had been thrown a few feet away, leaving a bare spot of wall below it. Kathryn found the stars captivating, a force that drew her in until she was standing in front of the windows. After a while she let out a sigh, and dropped her head as she tried to stretch the muscles in her neck.
It was then that she noticed a peach rose that had been laid out on the shelf below the window. It's bloom was full, and scent rich when she lifted it to her nose. She knew that there was only one person who could have left it for her - the only person with audacity enough to enter her quarters while she wasn't there. And she certainly appreciated him for it. "Chakotay…" she breathed as she picked the flower up.
Kathryn debated whether or not she should call him, eventually deciding that she just wanted to savor her moment of peace and quiet. She turned and sat on the ledge, pulling one knee up in order to lean back against the bulkhead that formed the window. The rose turned in her hands, eventually coming to rest against her chin as she continued to watch their flight.
Her door chimed a few minutes later, and she knew exactly who it was. "Come in, Chakotay."
The doors opened to admit him. "How did you know?"
She held the rose up. "Who else would think to leave me this on the hardest day of my life?"
He smiled. "You'd better put that in some water. It's been out for a couple hours."
"Have you been waiting that long to see me?" she asked as she passed him, "or were you guessing just now?" She cleared the way to a cabinet which held a vase that she hoped was not broken.
"I had the computer alert me when you came back to your quarters," he explained. "I wanted to make sure that you were alright."
Kathryn's head appeared above the table between them, her brow knitted. "I should be asking you that," she said, slowly rising to her feet. "You were the one who was nearly assimilated today."
Chakotay was taken aback by how haunted she looked. He could see that she really hadn't considered that it could have happened - at least not until she admitted it. "Hey, I'm okay," he told her as he went over to her. Then he held up his hands to show his palms. "See, no implants." Kathryn chuckled despite herself, but he could see that she was still extremely troubled. "Come here," he whispered, pulling her into his arms.
They held each other as tightly as they could, confirming that the other was there and safe, and not really thinking about anything else. The embrace lasted forever, conveying every possible emotion between them without either being emotional at all. "It's okay," he murmured after a long while.
"I'm so tired," she whispered against his chest.
"What do I do now?" she gasped, fear vibrating in her voice. "How do I just go back to this life after being away so long? I don't know if I can be that kind of normal again…"
"Shhh." He readjusted his hold around her, rocking her in just the slightest way. Seeing her unnerved like this was unnerving to him as well. Even someone as strong-willed as his captain was entitled to feel that kind of self-pitying terror. He felt it too, and not just because they were home. There was no idea of what his future held in store either.
They held each other a little while longer, until Kathryn felt strong enough to pull away. She looked up at him, seeing many questions that were waiting there. But all she could say was, "I'm so glad you're here."
Chakotay was watching her very carefully. Then something in her expression struck him, and so he asked, "What was supposed to happen to me, Kathryn?"
Kathryn was mortified to seem so transparent, and she broke away to go back to the window. Instead of watching the stars, her attention was drawn to his reflection in the window.
He looked like a ghost.
She drew a deep breath, her head falling back to avoid looking at his image. "You were going to die – three weeks from now." Then she turned to face him when she added, "Killed in a firefight started by Seven of Nine."
Chakotay suddenly felt the need to sit down, and was lucky enough to find an upright armchair. He asked, "Why do you think she told you?"
Kathryn froze, but somehow said, "She wanted to make sure we got another chance." The words came out of her mouth without any control, surprising both of them. She too felt the need to sit, and found that the end of the couch nearest to him was open.
They sat in silence for a long time, unsure of what to say. But in this partnership, he had always been the one to broach difficult subjects. So he finally asked, "Do we have a chance?"
"You tell me," she challenged after a beat. "I thought you'd given up on me."
"I did," he said softly.
Kathryn realized that he was about to tell her something she wasn't sure she wanted to know. She moved back on the couch, pulling her feet up onto the cushion beside her. It felt necessary to maintain some distance, to keep her head like she always did and not allow her thinking to be obscured.
As she watched him, she saw a man that loved her after all these years - though he wasn't entirely sure why his feelings for her had returned. In her case the feelings had never really been gone, but had been buried and denied by the hardest years of their journey. In a way Kathryn cursed herself for allowing it to happen, but on the other hand she knew that it had been inevitable, and totally beyond her control.
The sound of his voice snapped her back to reality. Chakotay was watching her, his expression one something like amusement crossed with a bit of apprehension. "Where'd you go?" he asked.
She shook her head. He nodded, knowing she wouldn't tell him unless she wanted to. "We've been through a lot," he said, unwittingly agreeing with her thoughts. "Too much for any two people. Sometimes I think it's a miracle that we haven't killed each other."
She had been resting her head against the window ledge, and sly eyes shot a glance at him as her head lifted. "Seems to me one of us tried."
Chakotay was stunned. "You remember that?"
"Yes I do." She smiled. "It's not every day your friend holds a hypo to your neck and threatens to assassinate you." Her mood changed drastically then, and her eyes fell to the floor when she muttered, "At least you were never successful."
"Kathryn, stop." Chakotay moved across and knelt down in front of her, resting his hands over her knees. "She didn't leave you any choice. Neither of them did." She had forgotten about Kes, vengeful and full of spite when she returned to save her younger self. He could see a protest coming, and cut her off by explaining the obvious. "Seven would have killed me – and Kes would have killed us all. You've done what you had to do. Nothing more."
She finally looked him in the eye, wearing an expression he had never seen. "Good old Chakotay," she murmured, patting the top of his wrist with her hand, "always worrying about me."
He took her hand, his thumb rubbing across her knuckles. "Only when you've let me."
His eternal frustration with her did not go unnoticed. "I've been awful to you," she finally admitted, staring at their joined hands. "Inflexible … a bully when you didn't give in to what I wanted. And after everything that I've done, you're still here with me."
He smiled. "I promised I would, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did." She looked up, a look of genuine fear glistening through her eyes. "So why are you still here?"
He rose to sit on the couch beside her. "Do you really want to know?"
She nodded. "I really do."
"I told you the truth on New Earth," he said, "and I was very much in love with you then. But then we got rescued, and I tried to get over you. There would be days when I'd do really well, and then something would happen to set me back three steps. So when things started getting rough, it was what I needed to finally get past those feelings and move on. And I did."
He stopped, trying to put the truth into words that were less painful for him to say. He had to be honest – to not be would serve no purpose now. "As time went on and we fought more, I started to hate you. You were responsible for everything that was wrong in my life. For me being in the delta quadrant, for being stifled, alone - everything. But when I met the past you, she was the woman I had fallen in love with. Smart, quick, fearless enough to take me on even though she didn't know me." His head dropped, not with shame but with something that he couldn't explain. "That's when the feelings started coming back."
"But that was me before we were put into the delta quadrant," she reminded him.
"I know. I think my change of heart came before that, but it was that event that really set my mind into motion." He stopped to breathe, watching her as she waited for him. "When you were assimilated, you were all I could think about until you came back." There was another pause, while he once again gathered his thoughts. "I knew that I had to stop that line of thinking then and there, because I couldn't go through getting over you again."
Kathryn thought back to her recovery period, and she suddenly realized, "That's why you never came to see me in Sickbay."
He shook his head. "I did visit you - once." She just stared at him, and he sighed a little in frustration. It took a while before he told her, "I went to get the Doctor's report, and he told me that I could stay with you for a while if I liked. And I did. But then it occurred to me that being there when you woke up would only make it seem as if I …" He searched for the right words, his eyes dropping to their hands. Fear made him back off, and so he just said, "It would have been inappropriate."
Her flash of anger and disappointment hit him hard, and unbelieving she whispered, "You couldn't say any of this to me?"
"No, I couldn't." He watched her get up and walk away from him. "I had hoped that you would understand."
Kathryn's travels took her back to the window. "I knew," she breathed. "Somehow I knew. I didn't realize it at the time, but now it makes sense. That's why you've been so distant." A thought struck her. "Why did you still agree to dinners if you didn't want anything to do with me?"
Chakotay got up as well, but stayed where he was. "It wasn't that I didn't want anything to do with you. I was trying to see if you still wanted to be with me." He frowned. "I realized after you were assimilated that I didn't hate you anymore. Or more accurately, I couldn't hate you anymore. It seemed best to try and rebuild our friendship."
There was a long stretch of silence between them, neither so much as flinching. She continued to watch their approach to Earth, trying desperately to find the markers that would tell her that they were really home. But she was constantly being hit with the fact that she had hurt him, that he had been afraid to tell her anything he felt when she had merrily thought that everything between them was back to normal. In a soft voice she questioned, "When were you planning on telling me?"
He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other as he admitted, "I'm not sure if I ever would have." She didn't say anything, and he said, "I would have in a heartbeat, if I hadn't known you'd reject me."
Now she finally turned, and he could see how hurt she was. "What makes you think I would have rejected you?"
"You did before. Told me that it was a luxury that a captain was not allowed to have."
Arms that had been folded across her chest fell to her sides. "That was a long time ago."
"Does that mean you would have said yes?"
She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it just as quickly as she turned back to the window. "I never really thought about it until you rescued me from Quarra." She sighed. "After being with Jaffan, I realized how empty I felt, and how lonely I'd made myself."
Chakotay stepped toward her. "I never thought of you as lonely, Kathryn."
"Not always," she clarified. "Only once in a while, when I'd see Tom and B'Elanna doing something that reminded me of my time with Mark. It never used to really bother me."
The comm interrupted with, "Captain Janeway to the bridge."
"I might have," she said to him in a breath. Then in her full voice she answered, "I'm on my way."
"Can we talk about this later?" he asked, his expression hidden by the dim lighting.
Kathryn approached him slowly, and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. "I'd like that." Then she walked out into the corridor, leaving him alone in her quarters.
When she returned an hour later, everything was exactly as she had left it. Save for the rose, which was nowhere to be found. She was too tired to notice it then, and immediately collapsed into bed. Her sleep was restless, agitated by fragmented dreams that never amounted to anything tangible.
One was rapidly developing into a nightmare about Seven's death when a call across the comm saved her the ordeal of being scared awake. "Bridge to Captain Janeway."
She sat up at once, unconsciously using the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her upper lip. "Janeway here," she automatically answered.
Tuvok's calm voice filtered into the darkened room. "Captain, we're experiencing an inexplicable loss of life support systems."
"Have you dispatched a repair crew," she questioned, already knowing the answer.
"Two of them, in fact."
Her sleep-filled eyes snapped open. "Current status?"
There was a small pause before he replied, "There has been no contact with either team since they arrived on Deck Ten."
"I'm on my way," she told him as she leapt out of bed.
When her feet hit the floor, Kathryn noticed the cold chill that covered the carpet. She dashed for a fresh uniform from the closet, cursing under her breath and mumbling, "Less than a day from home … have crews all over this ship …" Then as she pulled the zipper up the front of her tunic, she looked at the ceiling and warned her ship, "Don't you fall apart on me now."
On the bridge, the senior staff arrived mere moments after they were summoned. Even B'Elanna showed up, leaving Miral in the temporary care of her godfather in order to return to her post for a short time. Janeway blew through the lift doors a few seconds behind everybody else. "Report."
"All power systems are down on decks nine through twelve," Harry reported from his station. "Right now we're only functioning on the air currently circulating through the decks."
She nodded, then turned to Tuvok. "The repair teams?"
He shook his head. "No response."
Janeway thought a moment. She was about to order Tuvok to take a security team down when something struck her. "Where's Chakotay?" Everyone looked around them, now noticing that she was right. "Janeway to Chakotay." Only dead air answered her. "Janeway to Chakotay."
When he still didn't answer, Tuvok called out, "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is on deck ten, section three."
They all exchanged glances. "Harry, you and B'Elanna do what you can to get the environmental systems up and running," the captain ordered. "Tom, drop out of warp and continue on impluse. Tuvok, secure all other decks and signal the fleet that there will be a delay."
The security chief watched as she snatched her phaser from its hiding place once again, and knew exactly what she was planning. Into the air he called, "Security teams three and four report to deck ten." Then he joined the captain in the turbolift for the ride down.
They rode together in silence for the most part, Tuvok watching as the captain paced around the small area of the lift. He finally suggested, "Perhaps you should remain on the bridge."
Janeway's head snapped around, a spike of anger flashing at him. "I am not going to let this ship be torn apart this close to home," she hissed. "Is that understood?"
His eyebrow lifted slightly. "It would be most unfitting for Voyager to make it's return to Earth with it's captain incapacitated."
She backed off a bit, but her resolve was clear. The lift slowed and stopped before anything else was said, the doors opening to reveal the assembled security teams. Ellie Parsons was back on duty, her face still discolored from phaser burns. "All members assembled and ready, Captain."
Kathryn stepped into the centre of the defensive position the security force had established, their backs facing her as they aimed their weapons out into the darkened corridors. She gave her orders, sending Tuvok and his half of the team off to the right, and then heading the rest as they went left. Lieutenant Parsons was at the captain's side, personally responsible for her commander's safety.
Shadows danced through the dim red emergency lighting, playing with their senses. Janeway jumped at one that seemed to grab at her, and took half a second to get her bearings back. "Keep your heads up," she whispered as she drew her tricorder from its holster. Scanning from right to left and finding nothing, she murmured, "Where are you?"
Parsons stalked methodically off to her left, her eyes darting around, looking for something that she didn't expect. Her own breathing resounded in her ears, and she was sure that the captain could hear her pounding heart. For a moment she wondered if she should have stayed in Sickbay to finish dermal regeneration treatment rather than rush back to duty.
"Tuvok to Captain Janeway."
The sudden noise made her jump again, only this time without anyone seeing. "Janeway here."
"Captain, we've discovered the repair teams outside of Environmental Control. They've all been hit with a phaser on heavy stun."
Janeway spun around at the sound of a phaser, immediately followed by the sound of Parsons' body hitting the deck. Three more shots went off, felling the rest of her team. For a split second she saw the attacker in the shadows, who quickly took off down the corridor. She raced after him, phaser leading. "Chakotay!" She could hear his steps pounding on the deck ahead of her, knowing that he was leading them around the perimeter of the ship. "Chakotay stop!"
"Leave me alone!" he shouted back at her without missing a stride.
She slapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Tuvok. He's heading in your direction."
"We are ready, Captain."
The running stopped, making the captain screech to a halt when she realized he wasn't ahead of her anymore. "Chakotay?" she called, silently cursing because she had dropped her tricorder somewhere along the way. She was panting, and held her breath to see if she could hear anything above her thudding heart. When she thought her lungs were going to burst she heard his breathing, and managed to follow the sound to the mouth of the hatch he was hiding in. "Chakotay?" she called again as she peered into the dark tunnel.
A phaser bolt narrowly missed her temple. But before she could return fire or get out of the way she was rammed into the far wall, their weapons sent flying in opposite directions. Janeway landed hard on her back, her skull slamming against the deck. Waves of pain radiated through her head, threatening to send her rocketing into unconsciousness. Her mind shouted at her to get up, that she couldn't quit. Not yet. Her eyes snapped open, and she gasped, "Chakotay!"
He was towering over her, a ghostly, possessed figure of the man that she knew. There was an intrusive, disturbing kind of fire in his eyes, accompanied by a small cluster of Borg implants that had built on his temple and obscured his tattoo. His chest heaved, and he stared at her as if she was someone he'd never seen before. But it was clear that his only purpose was to eliminate the person trying to stop him.
She was frozen in place, her foggy mind trying to figure out what he might do next. There wasn't enough time to anticipate his move. He made it. Janeway's mind slowed down the motion, allowing her to clearly see the detailed lines of the grips on the boot that had risen to crush her already pounding head. She didn't have time to react, and instinct alone now drove her.
His anchor leg was on her left, halfway up her body. With the force of both arms she jammed the hard, sharp point of her elbow against the inside of his knee. He howled in pain, grabbing at her on his way down. She managed to pull herself back out of his path, flinching when she heard the crack of his jaw hitting the deck. She flipped over onto her hands and knees to try and get some distance between them to get on her feet.
The injury had only served to anger him further. He was back up in a second, iron fingers clamping onto her right ankle before she could get away. Her fingernails dug into the carpet to give her some leverage, and she let out a howl of pain when they began to tear apart. A quick glance behind her immediately gave her another option. He had made it back up onto his feet again, and was pulling her just by the one foot. She managed to hook her other foot in behind his ankle, yanking back to pull his feet out from under him. Then she saw the small glow of a green light.
Her phaser had landed up against the wall about three metres away. She clambered onto her knees, then her feet to get to it. A heavy blow between her shoulder blades slammed her into the nearest wall. But this time her leg received his second blow, her knee buckling under her weight and separating into two useless pieces beneath her flesh. He grabbed the front of her uniform before she could fall, his other fist raking across her jaw in an attempt to subdue her. Janeway was sinking down toward the floor, desperately resisting the pain that he was compounding by pressing his weight against her injured leg. Then he clamped his hands around her throat, brutally dropping her through the considerable distance to the deck. It also got her close enough that she could get at his face. Her bloodied, jagged nails dug into his scalp as one hand grabbed the top of his had. With all her strength she pushed her jaw in the other direction.
Chakotay's roar filled the corridor around them, his body snapping straight to get away from her grip. It gave her the opportunity to pull her good leg out from under him and slam her foot into the centre of his chest. He fell back, and she scrambled to get the weapon before he could stop her again. She had slowed him a little, and bought herself a split second. The phaser was close, jut centimetres out of her reach. All her strength was required for her to leap for it. In a single motion she snatched it off the floor, made sure it was set to stun, and rolled onto her back.
He was just getting back up when she fired. His body absorbed the energy, his entire shoulder lighting up as the energy was absorbed. Her eyes were wide with terror, her knuckles white around the handle of her weapon when she fired a long, unbroken burst. For some inexplicable reason she began to count under her breath, watching him lurch toward her. That was when a second beam hit him from behind. Her first officer's steps became more and more labored, his consciousness being stolen. Finally she had reached eleven, and he collapsed beside her.
Tuvok and his team moved in on them, checking to make sure that both of them were alive. "Are you alright, Captain?" he questioned.
Even though the adrenaline was already dissipating from her body, she couldn't help but ask him, "Are you going to tell me I told you so?"
He laid his fingers at her throat to check her pulse. "Undoubtedly." He started to make the call to Sickbay, but she never heard it.
Tom Paris returned from the lab where he had retrieving surgical instruments, and smiled when he saw Ellie Parsons sitting upright on her bed. The Doctor was examining her as her husband Max hovered beside her, stroking her arm and whispering things into her ear that made her laugh. "How are you doing?" the medic asked as he re-entered the ward.
"I'm alright," she laughed. "I'll just be happy if I can make it through the next twenty-four hours without getting shot."
"I think I can arrange that," her husband announced, ducking the arm that swung out to swat him.
"Miss Parsons, I'm not going to stand for this," the hologram interrupted. "You cannot inflict new injuries while I'm still healing yours." He then snapped his tricorder shut and brightly told her, "You're fit to return home, Lieutenant. And I don't want to see you in my sickbay for a while."
She grinned broadly, her cheeks now back to their normal color. "No problem."
The medical team then moved to the bed closest to the office, where one of their other two patients lay. The intrusion of medicine being injected into her neck forced the captain to return to cognizance again. Tom and the Doctor were standing over her, both relieved to see her seeing them. "What's going on?" Janeway asked, the voice garbled from sustained lack of use.
"We've finished repairing the injury to your knee," the Doctor explained, taking a step back as she sat up. "But it will take a few days for it to heal completely, so I want you to stay off it as much as possible." He watched as she lifted and lowered her right leg to test it, trying to judge just how much of a problem it was going to be. "You did suffer a rather serious concussion," he added, "so you may experience a headache for the next day or so."
"How are you feeling?" Tom asked.
The captain blinked, noticing the ache in her head as soon as the Doctor had mentioned it. "I'll be fine," she assured them. She watched intently as Max and Ellie made their way out of Sickbay, his arm wrapped around her waist to support her even though she really didn't need it. Then her gaze was drawn to the patient in the surgical bay. His face was bruised, his body at the moment covered with the medical scanner. She asked, "What about Chakotay?"
The doctor frowned. "I'm afraid Commander Chakotay had much bigger problems."
"He had implants …" The captain rubbed at her temple. "Here…"
Tom switched the display on his tricorder to show Chakotay's latest scans, then handed it over to the captain. "Looks like he was infected when Seven's implant pierced his hand," he explained.
Before she could even ask the hologram added, "It's a different strain of nanoprobes, mostly likely from whoever tried to assimilate Seven. They are identical to the ones that were in her body when she died." He then turned to check Chakotay's readings, oblivious to the pain that flashed through Janeway's expression.
"So what's the next step?" she asked, forcefully pushing the sadness aside for the moment. Paris offered his assistance when she started to turn, helping her swing her legs over the side of the bed.
"He's showing no connection to the Collective – if it even exists anymore," the Doctor told her as he opened the medical scanner. The implants were still there, a stark contrast to his skin. "I don't foresee any problem in simply removing the implants."
"He'll make a full recovery?"
"I believe so." The Doctor normally would have been bright and a bit too confident with that particular diagnosis. But now his tone was sombre. "Captain, I can't explain why I didn't detect these nanoprobes before. I…"
She held her hand up to stop him. "Don't worry about it." She looked to each of them. "Can I have a minute alone with him?"
"Of course." The Doctor immediately headed for his office.
Tom helped her down from the bed and let her lean on him as they made their way over to the surgical bed. He let go when he was sure she was steady on her feet, saying before he left, "Call me if you need anything."
She nodded with a small smile, which immediately faded when she turned her attention to her best friend. He was dressed in the simple green bedclothes that ensured a stay in Sickbay, the scanner now open. Tom had cleaned him up a little, but the scratches were there, the wounds still lined with dried drops of blood – both his and hers. Her fingers throbbed, the heat from them being drawn out by the cold surface of the scanner's frame. She looked down at them, some nails broken down well below the ends of her fingers. There were more abrasions that scarred his face, one of them actually a gash than ran across his eyelid. It made her realize how violent, how mortally threatening their fight had been. It wasn't him that she had done this too – she knew that. But that didn't prevent it from building on her already deepening guilt.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Tom and the Doctor were nearly ready to begin their work. She reached over and touched his face, carefully avoiding the implants. "Don't you leave me."
She left Sickbay as quickly as she was able, instinctively heading up to her ready room. There was a flurry of messages waiting for her, but she lacked any strength to deal with them. Instead she moved up to the couch, sitting down to take the stress off her knee. The Marsitana was so close that she could actually see figures moving inside its windows. "Computer, lights off." In the darkness she sat for the longest time, before curling into a ball on the sofa. Her mind quickly shut down, forcing her to sleep for the first time in two days.
On the bridge, Harry Kim sat in the command chair with some melancholy. It was probably the last time he would be in command of any starship for quite a long time. Even with his experience, he would have to be a full grade lieutenant before even being eligible for such duty. His imagination was running wild with ideas of promotion, and he was having a hard time keeping it in check. "What's our status?" he suddenly asked, needing to give himself a distraction.
"Holding steady at warp five," Ensign Baytart reported.
"All systems showing normal," was the answer from his replacement at Ops.
Harry smiled to himself. Everything was back to normal. Chakotay, Ellie Parsons and the rest of the security team had all recovered, and the captain was getting some much needed and deserved sleep. Tom and B'Elanna were having some uninterrupted quality time with Miral, and everyone seemed to be very happy to be home. The only exception was Icheb, who despite his previous excitement of getting to Earth was having to deal with his mentor's death.
He let out a silent sigh just as a Starfleet perimeter station call came in. Once it was answered, he handed over the bridge and headed for the ready room.
The door chime filtered hazily through Kathryn's dreams, a pleasant sound that seemed to add to the scene unfolding in her mind. It rang again, this time harsh enough to make her realize that it was from another realm. Her eyes slowly opened, seeing very little in the dark. "Computer, lights at twenty percent." The computer chirped a response and the lights lifted slightly as the third call came. "Come in."
Ensign Kim stepped inside, a small grin on his face when he saw her pulling herself up off the couch. "Just thought you might like to know we've entered the Terran system, Captain."
She nodded. "I don't suppose there's time for coffee."
He laughed. "No ma'am."
Kathryn pulled herself up onto her feet, wincing from the knee that had stiffened while she slept. "Status?"
"All systems normal, all hands accounted for."
With a little dread she questioned, "Chakotay?"
"He's doing just fine."
She nodded slowly. "Thank you, Harry." He gave her a quick nod, then returned to the bridge.
Kathryn sat back down again, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Harry's words were ringing in her ears. We've entered the Terran system … we've entered the Terran system… The phrase repeated itself over and over again, as if trying to convince her that it was true. She let out a small groan, her head falling forward to rest in her hands.
"Got a minute?"
Her head lifted again to find her first officer standing just inside the corridor exit, hands tucked behind his back. "Chakotay?" She stared at him, unsure if she should say anything else.
"The Doctor told me about your knee," he continued, taking a few steps over to the railing. "How are you doing?"
"I – I'm okay…" she stammered, now sitting upright. There was an awkward electricity between them now, one that had never really been a stranger. Feeling the need to say something she tossed at him, "What are you doing here? I thought you were still in Sickbay."
"I had to talk to you before we landed." His lips pressed together, and his head hung a little as he rested his hands on the railing. "I'm sorry, Kathryn."
His eyes flicked up to look at her, filled with surprise that she asked. "For trying to kill you again."
"That wasn't your fault." Seeing the worried look on his face she added, "If it's any consolation to you, the Doctor tells me that you caught the worst of it."
He recognized her attempt at humor, but it didn't hit it's mark. Nerves were getting the better of him, and his words came out in a rush. "Kathryn I know we don't have a lot of time, but I need to know something." His words caught her by surprise, but not really off guard. The only indication she gave was a slight raise of her eyebrows. He frowned and asked her, "Am I going to see you again? I mean, after all this is over."
The desperation in the question did surprise her, making her gasp. "What?"
He started to pace, a hand running through his hair as he moved. "I know this seems impulsive, but when I was laying in Sickbay I suddenly realized that I've run out of time." He stopped at the base of the steps, but was unable to face her when he said, "Kathryn, I have to know."
He turned when he felt her hand on his back, finding her standing on the step before him with tears in her eyes. "I've denied you everything," she reminded him. "From the day we met I've stolen from your life, piece by piece. Turned you away when all you wanted was for me to open up to you." A stray tear rolled down her cheek. "How can you still want me after all I've done to you?"
Chakotay was taken aback, and he stared at her with an awed dismay. When he found his voice again he told her, "We've done a lot of things that hurt each other. But what I told you before is true." He reached down to take her hands. "I can't help the way I feel about you. And if you tell me you don't feel the same, I'll respect that."
She broke free from his grasp and laid her fingertips over his mouth to silence him. "I didn't say that," she said softly. Her hand then fell to rest at the base of his neck. "You've done so much to help me. More than I deserve." He started to protest, but she shook her head to cut him off. "No, let me finish." After a breath to steady her trembling voice she managed to whisper, "You're so much more than I deserve. And … I wish I could take back the things I've done. I'd like us to have the chance we never got. But you have to tell me that you're sure, because if you're not…"
Without a word he stepped up and pulled her into a fierce embrace, his kiss deceptively gentle. She could feel some of her tension dissolve immediately, knowing that she had just received an answer to a question that hadn't been necessary to ask until a few hours before. He stroked her cheek with his thumb when he pulled away, looking directly into her eyes when he confirmed, "I'm sure." Then he smiled. "Does this mean we've just called a truce?"
Kathryn couldn't help but laugh. "It better. We've already got enough to explain to Starfleet Command."
"Senior officers please report to the bridge."
Her head fell forward onto his shoulder in resignation, and he let out a groan of mock frustration. "We won't have anything to explain if they keep interrupting us," he pointed out as he gave her another hug.
Kathryn looked up at him. "Promise me that when all this is over, that you and I will sit down and talk."
He nodded and offered his hand to help her down the steps. Her movement stopped when he tugged on her hand, silently asking her to stay a moment longer. She watched with an odd sort of fascination as he lifted her hand to kiss it. Then after exchanging one last look, both straightened their posture and headed out onto the bridge.
The crowd that had gathered at the Presidio was extensive, made up of a variety of races and interests. Family members had been escorted by Starfleet Security to a special area, where they would have the premiere view of Voyager as it landed. The families were mixed with Starfleet brass, many of whom had become friends in the years since Voyager's disappearance.
They let out a cheer as the starship approached, extending its landing struts as it cut its forward momentum. The ground shook when it finally touched down, and an eerie silence descended over all of them as they waited for the next moment.
Voyager's crew assembled at the exit ramp as they secured their stations, making the gathering outside wait nearly another half hour before they were ready to go. They filed out in an orderly manner, getting as many through the exit hatch as would fit at a time. The senior staff were the last to emerge. Tom carried his daughter as B'Elanna walked beside him, immediately spotting his father at the front of the throng. Harry Kim was with Samantha and Naomi, while Tuvok stood stoically on his own as he waited for the captain to appear. The Doctor was keeping a close eye on Icheb, an attempt to lessen the guilt he felt at not being able to pay the young man much attention since Seven's death.
The command team were the last to appear, Kathryn stopping at the top of the ramp. The vantage point not only let her see the people that had come to meet them, but also to see her entire crew assembled at the base of the ramp. The last time she had seen them all together in one place was when the Kazon had stolen her ship and abandoned them. They were there in front of her now, a few less now than there had been before. She sensed the presence of her first officer beside her, and looked to him with a genuine smile. "Ready?"
He returned her grin. "As we'll ever be."
The crew watched as the captain led the way, then closed ranks behind her as she took them across to their families. She stopped a few meters away from the brass, and the crew remained behind as she strode forward to meet the assembled dignitaries. The head of Starfleet Command, Admiral Mayorel, had been joined by the Federation president, a human named Aleeca Otawa. She stood before them at attention, and in her best captain's voice announced, "I present to you the starship Voyager, and all one hundred forty-six of her crew."
Mayorel was failing miserably at hiding a smile. "You're rather late, Captain Janeway."
The captain didn't even bother to try to hide hers. "My apologies, sir. We got a little sidetracked."
Otawa reached forward to offer her hand. "Welcome home, Captain."
The Lometta coffee house was buried deep within San Francisco, far enough away from Headquarters that it was not heavily frequented by fleet members. It was a dark, haphazard room with a style that had evolved over it's two hundred year history. A large stone fireplace was its centrepiece, giving the entire place a pleasing glow.
There were only a few people in that afternoon, a small group of friends seated at one of the rain-streaked windows, and a solitary man on the small sofa in front of the hearth. Starfleet's newest admiral spotted him as soon as she stepped inside, a smile instantly on her lips. She shed her coat and hung it on the rack behind the door, then stopped to exchange a pleasantry with the attendant at the counter. Finally she made her way to the back of the room where he waited.
"I was beginning to think that you weren't going to make it," Chakotay commented as she dropped down on the couch beside him.
"Me too," she agreed. "I sometimes wonder if taking that promotion was such a good idea after all."
"Well it can't be all that bad." He stopped and looked at her. "That dress looks good on you." Kathryn stopped whatever idle motion she had been in and stared at him. He asked, "Did I say something wrong?"
His question made her realize what she was doing. "No," she said with a shake of her head. "I just haven't had anyone say something like that to me in a long time." Then she smiled again. "Thank you."
He couldn't help but grin right back at her. "You're welcome."
It had been nearly five weeks since their return, and this was the first chance for them to sit down and talk like they had promised. They sat together long into the hours of the night, discussing most anything that came to their mind. The first day had been an emotional cyclone for all of them – about three minutes after being welcomed home by the Federation president, the neatly assembled groups had dissolved into a single mass of people searching for other people. The day after that, Starfleet went to the massive and unusual trouble of giving the entire crew a ticker-tape parade through San Francisco, and a gala ball that evening.
The third day was the beginning of the real work, with headquarters personnel conducting crew debriefings and sifting through the terraquads of information stored in Voyager's systems. The non-commissioned officers were the first to be set loose, having been determined as the least important of all the crew. As the interviewees moved up in rank, the intensity of their interviews grew with them. By the time the senior staff were allowed to move back into their lives, all that was left was Captain Janeway. And they took another full week with her before deciding that her behavior had been exemplary under adverse conditions.
There had really been no formal inquiry for the returning Maquis, but it was made very clear that they were going to be under observation for a long time if they decided to remain with Starfleet. B'Elanna decided to return after her maternity leave, while Chakotay opted for the civilian life. He told Kathryn that he didn't mind serving in her Starfleet, but that there was just too much negativity and too many raw nerves and burned bridges for him to deal with back in the alpha quadrant. So he found a position in the archeology field, and immediately discovered a feeling of usefulness that he hadn't had in quite a long time.
After her interviews were complete, Captain Kathryn Janeway became Admiral Janeway, the second in fleet history. A big ceremony had taken place, and she had been shamelessly paraded before the interplanetary press. She had thought about protesting, but soon realized that it was futile. The stigma of being the captain that brought home a lost starship would be tagged to her for the rest of her life, and it wasn't worth fighting it. She would just have to be graceful and patient, and the fervor would die down eventually.
It had been a logistical feat to get the two of them together that afternoon. She was living in San Francisco, but he was already working on a dig in eastern Europe. But they had finally made it to the coffee house, and after a while she found herself comfortably settled beside him, her head leaning back against his shoulder. "So what do we do now?" she asked softly, cradling her drink in her hand.
Chakotay settled a little further into the plush couch, his eyes closed as he basked in the warmth of the fire. They lapsed into a companionable silence for a while, and he sighed just a bit when he felt her nestle in against him a little more. He reflected on how easy this evening had been – how relaxed they had become with each other in the weeks since their return. In his mind, he had always expected their getting together to be something of legend, a fiery joining of passion and want that was melodramatic in proportion.
He was far from disappointed. His relationship with Kathryn was developing from a friendship that had definitely been tested. Things were much more relaxed, and the more they were able to talk the more they were able to trust each other. They were also helped by the fact that they weren't forced into conversation about ship's systems or personnel problems, or the fact that some alien ship was about to blow them to atoms. They were free to discuss things they hadn't before, or subjects they hadn't touched in several years.
Kathryn also let her eyes close, surrounded by warmth for the first time in a long time. She never thought that being planetside would be so conductive for her soul. Giving up command of Voyager hadn't even been a decision to make – she was ready. The adjustment to being home would still take some time, mostly because she no longer had the luxury of isolating herself. But she didn't want to be isolated any longer, and happened to be lucky enough that he was still willing.
The woman behind the counter glanced up from her work, and seeing how still the couple had become she wondered if they had fallen asleep. It was dark outside, and near closing time. During the course of their visit she had noticed how deeply engaged in conversation they were, so she hated to interrupt them. Especially if they had fallen asleep.
The couple were silent a while longer, Chakotay idly stroking Kathryn's hair while she was contented to listen to his breathing. Without moving he said, "Get married?"
Kathryn's eyes opened slightly. "What?"
"You asked what we do next."
"Ah." She thought about it for a while. "Think we should?"
He chuckled. "Why not."
Kathryn leaned forward to put her coffee cup down, which made him sit up. She then turned to face him, her lopsided smile already tugging at his heart. "Sounds like an idea to me."
Chakotay reached for her hands, clutching them tightly in his own when she offered them. He simply said, "Marry me, Kathryn?"
She smiled and softly said, "Yeah." Then she leaned over and kissed him, which then turned into a hug. Over his shoulder she added, "But it has to be soon."
He pushed her back a bit so he could look at her. "Why's that?"
"Because I don't want anything to happen to you before I marry you."
"Kathryn…" He shook his head, knowing exactly why she had said it. "I'm not going anywhere." After another kiss he told her, "I love you."
"I love you too," she breathed. Then she noticed the woman from the counter, who was starting to turn chairs up and set them on top of their tables. Kathryn looked back to Chakotay. "Walk me home?"
With a nod he confirmed he would, and as he stood he offered his hand to her. After getting their coats from behind the door, they said goodnight to the shop's owner and headed out into the rain.
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