Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager belongs to Paramount, the writers, and whoever else can legally claim it. I am writing for fun and not profit.

AN: Written for the VAMB 2013 Secret Drabble exchange, which had a max of 1,500 words. The first line was given by PinkAngel, and my request was for a J/P, J/T, or J/Lower Decks friendship story. (no C/7 was also a request, although there's no way I would have written that anyway, lol.)

Timeline: post-Flashback by a week or two


The Other Shoe

By Lady Callista

=/\=

This wasn't how away missions were supposed to go.

Captain Kathryn Janeway couldn't help the chuckle that passed her lips as that irreverent, and completely incorrect, thought crossed her mind.

They had gotten most of the supplies that they wanted, and all of the ones that they needed. The Kutsu had been friendly, curious, polite, and respectful. They had traded starcharts as well as cultural databases. No one had tried to kidnap them, or steal their ship, or shoot at them.

Negotiations had concluded earlier that day, and she and as many as her senior staff as she wanted had been invited to a celebratory dinner that had only recently ended.

This was exactly how away missions were supposed to go; it just wasn't the way experience had conditioned her to believe that they would go in the Delta Quadrant.

She wasn't sure if she should be relieved, or if she should be anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. She'd had much the same feelings about her personal life for the past several months.

"I am sorry to disturb you, Captain."

Kathryn turned from the railing as Tuvok came through the ballroom doors to join her on the large stone balcony. "It's alright, Tuvok." She motioned for him to join her. "I just needed some air. Whatever that was Ambassador Mayunaka kept pouring for me to drink with his many toasts was a bit strong."

"I had noticed." Tuvok replied. "Paris and Kim have already returned to the ship. I thought it wise, as both were showing some effects from the drink."

She nodded. "Chakotay?"

"He is still inside, speaking with the Ambassador. The other Kutsu officials have left as well." Tuvok replied.

"So it's just the four of us left?' Kathryn sighed as her gaze turned to the beautiful landscape surrounding the Ambassador's home. "I suppose we should head out then, I don't want to overstay our welcome."

"On the contrary, Captain, the Ambassador seems intrigued with the conversation. Apparently many of the Kutsu's spiritual beliefs are similar to the commander's."

She hummed in acknowledgement, her eyes tracking the frolicking of several animals that reminded her of horses. "It's so peaceful here, and so pretty."

Tuvok joined her at the edge of the balcony. "Mr. Paris commented earlier that it reminded him of Earth. It seems to be… beneficial to you."

Kathryn tilted her head curiously.

"It has been a difficult two years, for you more than anyone else." Tuvok commented, his voice neutral. "Peaceful missions that work out exactly as they should, as this one has, have been all too infrequent."

She couldn't help but chuckle. "I was just thinking about that when you came out here. This was as close to a perfect away mission, especially for a first contact, as possible. Yet some part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"Captain?" A single eyebrow rose.

"Sorry, a human idiom." Kathryn tried to figure out how to phrase it. "It means to await a seemingly inevitable, and undesired, event."

Tuvok nodded. "I see. Let us hope that does not happen here."

There were silent for a moment, a comfortable silence as they both stared out over the balcony.

Tuvok sensed her pensive mood, and was about to turn and leave her with her thoughts when she surprised him by speaking quietly.

"They invited us to stay."

"Captain?" He turned to her, a raised eyebrow his only expression.

"When Chakotay and I were negotiating, we told them Voyager's story and they offered us a new home here." Kathryn told him softly.

"That was not in your report." His voice wasn't accusatory, but as soft as her own.

"We had this chance around a year ago, when we found the 37's, and every single crew member turned it down." She replied. "Do you think their answers would be different now?"

"I think the only way the crew would stay is if you did." Tuvok responded honestly.

Kathryn turned her head to look at him. "I could never do that."

Tuvok played devil's advocate for a moment. "You were not tempted? Not even for a moment?"

"No." Her answer was immediate and she felt a half smile rise to her face. "I promised to get you home, my old friend. I promised them all I'd get them home."

No, she had never been tempted to stay here, just as she hadn't been tempted to stay on the planet with the 37's. She couldn't imagine giving up the journey, couldn't imagine being happy if she gave up on Earth. Only once had she thought she might find happiness on a planet other than Earth, and she had not stayed there by choice. Although she did still dream of what might have happened if she hadn't left.

"There's only one planet I've ever wished I could have stayed on." The words were spoken before she realized it. Kathryn felt the heat rise to her cheeks and she dropped her eyes from his quickly, looking back out into the night once again.

Tuvok had known her for a long time, and knew her very well. He was also observant and intuitive; there was no way that he wouldn't know she meant New Earth. She waited for his censure, cursing the alcohol that had loosened her tongue.

"Do you wish Voyager had never come back with a cure?" There was no condemnation in his voice, and no disappointment, only a faint curiosity.

Kathryn took a deep breath; her first instinct was to lie. He would know she was lying, but would pretend that he didn't and she wasn't. But he was asking as her friend, and she had never lied to her oldest friend. "On occasion." Again she waited for the Vulcan version of a surprised reaction, or a disappointed one, but he did not react as she had thought he would.

"You would not be human if you didn't."

Her eyes widened, he hadn't seemed surprised by her words at all.

"A mind meld goes both ways." Tuvok offered quietly as he fixed his gaze on the fields again. "I tried to look into your thoughts as little as possible, but could not help but feel some of what you do, especially things you feel strongly."

She tried to digest that, and his reaction to it. He knew all the things she kept hidden from everyone. He knew about her guilt over stranding them in the Delta Quadrant. He knew how lonely she felt sometimes, and the quiet desperation that sometimes came upon her when she had too long to think and not enough to do. He knew the part of her that wished she could have remained on New Earth, all her burdens gone, alone with the first officer she felt more for than she should.

For the first time in a very long while, she was unsure what to say to him. Once again, she wondered why he was not berating her. She had done so herself often enough times in her mind.

"You are, as you said earlier, waiting for the other shoe to drop." He said softly when she had been silent for a long moment. "Your actions have never betrayed your thoughts, and you are entitled to your thoughts. What is learned in a meld does not belong outside of it. I would not have brought this up if you had not."

She had to chuckle at that. "Your reaction is one I would expect from a friend. But not from a Vulcan, and not from a Starfleet officer."

"You know I am here for you whenever you need a friend."

It was said simply, and with the lack of emotion Vulcans were known for, but she knew down to the marrow of her bones that it was true.

"I could use a friend tonight."

They continued to speak, of everything and nothing, and when Chakotay and the Ambassador finally finished talking and the three of them returned to Voyager safely, she was in a much better mood than when Tuvok had first come out to speak with her.

She called up to the bridge to give the order to leave orbit and resume a course for Earth.

She had a ship full of supplies, both food and raw materials. No one had tried to kill or kidnap them, steal from them, or trick them.

She had had a deep and enlightening conversation with her oldest friend, a conversation that had given her an outlet for some of her most deeply buried feelings.

The other shoe had never dropped.

If only every away mission could go like this.

=/\=