A/n: A BIG thank you to my beta (and original author of this fic) xXBrightsideBumblebeeXx for being so supportive of this new chapter. :) Also, thanks again to NikkiB1973 for posting her C/7 fic, "Rescuing Chakotay". It's an AU of "Resolutions" involving Seven and a time machine, who wouldn't want to read that? :)
Kathryn Janeway leaned back in her chair, letting her aching back relax into the supple leather. It was strange how she'd managed to push through the pain barrier so often while on Voyager but now that her life was, relatively, calm by comparison these niggling pains irritated the hell out of her. She supposed it was part and parcel with growing older, but as she glanced down at her reflection on the gleaming glass surface of her bespoke desk she was quite satisfied with what she saw. Alright, she wasn't the youngest female Captain in the fleet any longer, but she was one of the more sprightly, self-aware Admirals Starfleet had right now and that could only be called impressive after what she'd lived through. All and all, her ambition was sated and therefore, since that had been her driving force for many more years than she cared to remember, she could be called a contented woman.
She felt a twinge of thirst at the back of her throat and automatically reached to reactivate the state-of-the-art Italian coffee maker she'd received as an office warming present from Harry Kim, the green Ensign she'd help shape into who he was now, First Officer on board the Horizon, sister ship of the ill-fated Skyline. She shivered a little at the thought of that particular vessel and was relieved when her coffee maker gave a cheery beep, hurriedly pouring some of her own black gold into the chipped mug that had served her loyally throughout her days on Voyager and she still used for old times sake. A prolonged, desperate drag at the mug soon returned her to emotional equilibrium. Fresh, non-replicated coffee, now there was true contentment. She surprised herself sometimes, settled as she was into this sumptuous corner office in the heart of Starfleet HQ, exactly like the one she'd promised herself on that first tour round the place as a starry eyed Academy cadet, how much she missed her old Ready Room on Voyager. Considering how many bad memories she had of that room, she wondered often why she didn't shudder to think of it, but she'd come to believe that she missed being so close to the thumping, racing heart of the action that Voyager's Bridge had always been. It wasn't that she didn't have plenty of work here, she was often run off her feet in fact, but being sequestered here, luxurious though it was, left her feel strangely adrift. She was separated by rank and importance from the cut and thrust of Starfleet life that she'd always prided herself on thriving upon…
Her thoughts were rudely interrupted by frantic scuffles outside of her door, quite a ruckus was building out there. She could hear her assistant, Lieutenant Alfred Ellis, capable and handsome but not particularly authoritative, arguing fruitlessly with whoever was outside. "Admiral Janeway is extremely busy right now. Procedure, and politeness, dictates that you make an appointment…"
A familiar, angrily incredulous, snort echoed through the door along with a strident voice, the sound of which almost made Kathryn drop her mug. "Huh! The Janeway I worked with didn't give a targ's ass about procedure, as for politeness, well…"
If it hadn't been for the viciously irate tone to B'Elanna's voice, Kathryn might've chuckled. The half-Klingon woman didn't mince her words, even in the inner sanctum of Starfleet bureaucracy and decorum. As it was, she swiftly ordered the Computer to open the door to admit her former Chief Engineer.
B'Elanna was through the door before it had fully opened. Her slim shoulders, already shaking with pent up rage, had enough strength in them to hold back Lieutenant Ellis, whose youthful, chiselled face, tanned from a childhood in Puerto Rico, gave his Admiral a sincerely apologetic look. "I'm sorry Admiral, she just barged in, refused to take no for an answer…"
"That's quite normal behaviour for her Lieutenant, don't worry. We're old friends." She replied smoothly, trying to ignore B'Elanna's flinch at the word "friends". She set her mug down and stood up, moving her hands outwards in a welcoming gesture. "Come in B'Elanna." She summoned up a smile, trying to thaw out the younger woman's frosty gaze, "How are Miral and Sienna? I'm sure they're still running the two of you off their feet…"
The casual mention of her children by this woman made something inside B'Elanna Torres-Paris snap. Of course, that same nerve had been pulled to breaking point by what she'd discovered about the Skyline but seeing her here just pushed her tempest of emotions over the edge. There was something surreal about looking at Janeway now, knowing what she knew. The slightly superior upward tilt of the chin that had always been present on Voyager but was now more pronounced, the fact that she had reclaimed that convoluted bun style for her hair, as if trying to resemble her celebrated image in the Voyager archives and take back her youth, but which really looked rather ludicrous when the over long stands of once rich auburn hair were tinged with a hint of dirty grey. Seeing her being served by that Lieutenant, who would be a dead-ringer for a young Chakotay if the latter had been a spineless sycophant. It was all so pathetic that if B'Elanna wasn't painfully aware of the power this woman still held tightly grasped in her hands, if she hadn't needed an explanation more than anything, she would've walked straight back out of this office, chortling with mirthless laughter. All of these thoughts propelled her towards the Admiral's desk like a striking cobra. "Do you want to explain this?" she hissed bitterly, her voice poisonously level even as she slammed a PADD down in front of Janeway so hard that the glass of the desk almost cracked.
Janeway didn't answer before cautiously picking up the PADD, although the sinking feeling in her stomach had already warned her as to what would probably be on it. "B'Elanna…" She began after glancing over it, her tone almost pleading. "You don't understand what you've got here, what you've obviously gone a long way to find…"
B'Elanna breathed a dry chuckle, her voice cracking. "What Admiral? Do you think so little of the Maquis that you assured your friends in high places that we'd never be able to find this?" She heaved in a deep gulp of air and began to pace, "It wasn't even that well hidden once I began to suspect…"
"Suspect what B'Elanna?" Janeway asked softly, "Tell me what you believe you've learned from these files."
"I know that the Skyline switched off their transponders, something which, apparently, Starfleet investigators realised almost immediately and failed to include in its own inquiry." B'Elanna said sharply, not giving Janeway a change to interrupt before continuing, "There wasn't a fault, every fragment of Engineering data I have on that ship tells me that, and I know Chakotay wouldn't sanction it, why would he? Why would anyone?"
Janeway's eyes were sad and resigned as she met B'Elanna's. "We'll probably never know the answers to those questions B'Elanna, which is precisely why that part of the truth was withheld from the families. Can you imagine the pain they'd feel knowing that someone abroad that ship wilfully stranded them? Chakotay's reputation would be ruined…"
B'Elanna bristled even further, holding her clenched fists at her sides to suppress the urge to punch the other woman, as she'd done years to Lieutenant Carey for a lot less. "Don't feed me that bullcrap Kathryn! I found out a lot more about the Skyline's mission from hacking certain confidential channels. It never was solely about charting the Beta Quadrant was it?"
She picked up the PADD again and rolled the screen down to a later page before handing it back to Janeway, who couldn't suppress a tiny gasp as she read, sinking back in her chair as she met B'Elanna's gaze, appearing somewhat defeated. "No B'Elanna, it wasn't. But you know all about that now, right?"
B'Elanna wasn't about to fall for that. "I'd still like to hear about it from you." She answered coldly.
"Alright." The Admiral conceded, "I guess I owe you, and Chakotay, that much." She sighed heavily, "The Skyline's maiden mission was planned months in advance, it really was considered a vitally important task just to begin charting the Beta Quadrant, since we now know more about the Gamma Quadrant from the Bajoran Wormhole and have all the data we collected on Voyager. About a month before we started crew selection however, we…discovered that Species 8472 were intensely interested in what we intended for the Beta Quadrant. It was suspected that they'd use their telepathic abilities to shape shift and plant a spy abroad the Skyline…" She gulped hard, "It appears, in hindsight, that we were right. It's almost certain that the Species 8472 plant was the one who stranded the Skyline and cut them off."
B'Elanna stared at her, nauseated. "How could you take that risk? How could you put Chakotay of all people through that?"
Janeway gripped the sides of her chair, speaking through gritted teeth. "It was…decided that we'd never find out what Species 8472 were planning unless we monitored what they were doing on the Skyline, so we decided to let the launch go ahead as planned…"
B'Elanna uttered a strangled, broken laugh. "Well, that backfired didn't it? The spy outwitted you and over a hundred people are stranded, maybe even in the hands of Species 8472, the species you were so proud of making a treaty with!"
Janeway grimaced but otherwise continued as if she hadn't been interrupted. "Chakotay was…singled out for the command because we knew that if Species 8472 created problems, he'd be better able to handle it than anyone else. It was for a similar reason that we so discouraged Seven from going. Species 8472 despises the Borg so much that the spy might've just killed her, or else she, being able to identify them, would've blown the spy's cover too soon."
"That's why you chose him?" B'Elanna spat out, "Because he was experienced yet expendable at the same time? Did you even give him a hint?" A growl left her throat as she answered her own question, "No, of course you didn't, then he never would've gone through with it…"
"He hardly asked any questions…" Janeway murmured thoughtfully, lost in her own musings now, "He was just so overwhelmed to be given Starfleet's forgiveness…"
This time B'Elanna didn't restrain the urge to slap her, getting an odd sort of cathartic pleasure from hearing the crack of skin against skin and seeing the red mark spreading across the ageing cheek. "No, it's you, and all those other bureaucrats that play with people's lives for the "greater good", who need forgiveness. The forgiveness of Chakotay, of Seven, whose lives you've torn apart like they meant nothing, and the entire Voyager crew." As she saw Janeway's eyes waver painfully, she finished, "Personally, I don't think you'll be getting it."
A/n: PLEASE REVIEW! Think of a review as a birthday present to me! lol. :)