The Choice-Chapter 2

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"A call was all I expected, Kathryn. You didn't have to wait for me," Chakotay said lightly. The familiar voice, so close to her, startled her out of her deep study.

"What? Oh! Chakotay. I'm not waiting for you, I mean, . . . I didn't even know you'd come back here . . . I just seem to have lost track . . ."

"You haven't been sitting her all this time since Mark left, have you?"

"Caught me."

"Kathryn! And no sign of a coffee cup anywhere!"

She laughed outright then, a warm, rich laugh that felt as good as it seemed to make him feel, if the flashing of his dimpled grin was any indication. "Is that an offer? I know where there's a coffee shop, just down the street. Visited it often, during breaks in the hearings."

Still grinning, he extended his arm for her to take, pulling her up to her feet in one smooth motion while tucking her hand inside his elbow. The two walked in thoughtful silence for a minute before she stated, "It's quite a project they've got in mind."

"Yes. I'm sure you'd be perfect for it."

"I appreciate your confidence in me. You're the one who knows my strengths and weaknesses better than anyone."

"You're still perfect for it."

She chuckled a bit, stealing a glance up at his profile. He was still smiling, but it was not such a broad one now. Resolute might describe it better, she decided. Still, now was the time to ask him what she was dying to know. "Chakotay, may I ask you why you decided to leave Starfleet?"

"Certainly."

After a few more steps passed, without his elaborating on his reply, she felt like giving him an elbow to the ribs. She'd had some practice doing that already. Rather than play into his game, however, she asked softly. "So, why did you leave?"

"I got an offer I couldn't refuse."

"It's a good offer, true. Was there more to it than that?"

His grin faded, his joking manner no longer sustainable. "I saw an opportunity for a little honest nepotism. I'm planning on hiring as many Maquis for these positions as I can."

"I can't fault you for that. We had a good crew."

"With any luck, by the time we start out, it won't only be our crew that's available."

She sighed deeply. "Do you think the ones in prison will be free by then? It's taking so long . . . "

"The wheels of justice moving a little too slowly for you, Kathryn?"

She looked up, directly into his eyes. "In this case, yes. Much too slowly. But now that Admiral Paris has gone public in support of full pardons for all the Maquis, I'm hoping things will move a little faster."

"With his wife, Tom, and B'Elanna all ganging up on him, I'm amazed he held out for so long!" Chakotay halted. They had reached the coffee shop.

"Don't forget Tom's sisters. They were on him, too," Kathryn said. "He's such a proud man, Chakotay. He told me as early as the welcome home party he regretted much of what was done during the war . . . but that was clearly a private conversation. The more he reviewed our crew's records, the more he realized he needed to take a stand for all of the Maquis. He said they'd done exactly what the Federation had expected."

"Fighting almost to the last man to save their homes in a hopeless cause."

"Exactly. That's what he said, too, Chakotay."

Chakotay closed his eyes, then opened them again, still staring far away down the street, but with no indication he saw anything. Finally, he said, "Admitting your mistakes isn't easy for a Paris, I guess. All that Starfleet tradition. It must be a burden to live with sometimes."

"Look how Tom has struggled with it."

"And Kathryn Janeway?" he asked shrewdly.

She flashed him a quick smile. "Sometimes," she agreed, "not that I like to admit it."

"An honest answer. Leaving Starfleet would be tough for you."

"Yes, it would. But I promised Mark I would think about it, and I will."

"Over a cup of coffee?"

"I guess I could be persuaded. Neelix isn't in there making it, is he?" They both peered into the window.

"I don't see him."

"Good," she said, pulling her companion up the steps. "Much as I love Neelix, I can't say I ever got used to any of his 'special blends.' And he tried so hard, too!"

=/\=

Bright sunshine spilled into the shuttle as its doors opened to allow Kathryn and Chakotay the chance to exit. Outside, pandemonium reigned. Piles of boxed equipment and prefab housing panels made mountains for a small boy to run around. The tall Bajoran woman following him yelled in exasperation, "Tommy! I told you NOT - TO - RUN! Don't even THINK it!"

"Too late, right, sport?" The brown-haired male with twinkling blue eyes stopped the running by a more efficient method, scooping up the child into his arms and tickling him mercilessly until his mother could retrieve him. The family waved hello to Kathryn as she passed by, nodding her own greeting back to them.

Leaning close to the man who was helping her carry several pieces of luggage, she whispered, "Not quite as well organized as building a Starfleet base, Chakotay."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I can remember a couple of times when things weren't that well organized, even at a Starfleet camp. Add children and a bunch of ex-Maquis to the mix, and it's about what I'd expect."

She shrugged as they searched through piles of components until she found the one bearing the code she was looking for. "Here they are. Brings back memories . . . "

"Captain? Commander?"

Kathryn turned to see a woman approach them. She thought she recognized the voice, but the only reason the face was at all familiar was because, a long time ago, the Doctor had done an excellent job of guessing what a certain woman might look like under her scars and facial transplants. "Denara Pel?" Kathryn asked, uncertainly.

"Yes, Captain. Oh, I mean, 'Madame Ambassador," the Vidiian answered.

"Please! That's the last thing I am! My diplomatic skills were tested in the Delta Quadrant and found to be lacking all too often, I'm afraid. They've sent a much better diplomat to be our ambassador, I assure you."

"Then what should I call you?"

"Just call me Kathryn. I've put the captain behind me, too. I'm the head of the Questor Group's astrophysics team here in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay is leading the anthropology and archeology team."

"She's going to be visiting all those tantalizing nebulas she didn't get a chance to study when Voyager was out here the first time," Chakotay said.

"There are plenty of them out here for you. And you will be studying the peoples here, Comman . . . I mean, Chakotay?"

His smile broadened, brightening his face. "I will. As many as I can find. Even the Kazon."

"They've been a bit more subdued lately. Since we finally brought the Phage under control, they've had to contend with us, as well as with other races who no longer have to defend themselves against us anymore. They haven't been able to run around bullying people in this sector so freely. We have you to thank for that."

"B'Elanna's DNA? Did it turn out to be the key to finding the cure?"

"Yes. Klingon DNA, along with one-only one, but oh, so important a one-of her human genes. It took us a long time to realize how necessary that human gene was for a complete cure. Once we did, it all fell into place. B'Elanna Torres is a heroine to my people. We owe her our lives. She didn't by any chance come along with your group, did she?"

Kathryn and Chakotay exchanged telling looks. /No mention of the Think Tank that claimed to have helped the Vidiians cure the Phage. How interesting,/ Kathryn thought. Rather than bring up that tangent, which might better be discussed at length at a less stressful time, however, she answered Denara's question. "Yes, B'Elanna and her husband are here."

"I'd like to express my appreciation to her personally."

"I'm sure you'll be able to do that. She's going to be very busy working on setting up the power system for our Embassy and the settlement here, but I'm sure she'll make time to see you, especially under the circumstances. We're very grateful to your government for offering us this planet for our 'embassy,' by the way. It's very generous."

"This isn't a question of our being generous, Kathryn. Giving the Federation this planet falls under the heading of 'reparations of war.' We were literally forced to make war on our neighbors to obtain the organs for our very survival. Now that we have our health, we must pay back our victims the best way we can. Usually, that's by sharing our medical knowledge to help them deal with their own debilitating illnesses, but when it's appropriate, we help out in other ways, as well."

"Like controlling the Kazon-Nistrim?" Chakotay asked.

Denara laughed. "Yes, especially that way! But in your case, this was a better way. In our travels to find a cure for the Phage, the Vidiian Sodality discovered and claimed many uninhabited planets. Our planners say it will be centuries before we can fully exploit all of them. It will take decades just to fully repopulate the planets we had settled before the Phage devastated us! Giving this one to the Federation for an outpost makes so much sense. With you as our ally, we hope we will be able to bring peace to the region."

"That is our hope, as well."

"Your coming could not come at a better time, you know. We've approached some of the other races in this sector about forming something like your Federation, for the good of all. Many have been wary of our true motives-and not without reason, I must admit. Perhaps, with your assistance, we can make that union a reality."

"That's why our ambassador was chosen. He has experience in forging bonds even in the most delicate of situations."

"I saw him earlier, I think. Your Ambassador-is he a Vulcan, like your Lieutenant Tuvok? His ears are very similar . . ."

"Half-Vulcan, half human. The Ambassador's family has been involved in Federation diplomacy for almost two centuries. He himself is a former Starfleet officer. There is no one better to help you solve the difficult challenges that lie ahead."

"I'm happy to hear that. Now, you've all had your inoculations, haven't you?"

"Yes, we have, Dr. Pel," Chakotay answered, like a student to his teacher, teasing Denara for her rather pedantic admonition and earning a jab in the ribs from Kathryn.

Denara took Chakotay's impudence in good humor. "I'm glad to hear it. I was sure your medical staff would take the proper precautions. Um, is . . . is Schmullis along with you, by any chance?"

"I believe that's him over there, talking with B'Elanna and Tom, as a matter of fact." Chakotay pointed to the left, where a very pregnant woman was wildly gesticulating at a bald-headed man while her husband stood by, holding his hands up and over her as if he were trying to contain his wife's volatility. "You wanted to speak with B'Elanna? It looks like changing the subject might be a good idea. Who knows what she's upset about now!"

Shading her eyes from the sun's rays with her hands, Denara peered in the direction which Chakotay was pointing to her and said, in surprise, "Ah, I see them. But how is it that Schmullis is outside? Have you found a way for your holodeck technology to work out of doors?"

"Out of doors, or anywhere. I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you all about it, as long as you can get B'Elanna to stop yelling at him."

"I'll get right over there to save him, then," she chuckled. Turning back to Kathryn and Chakotay, she stretched out her hands, one to each of them, and said, "I don't have the words to say just how good it is to see you again."

"And it's good to see you, too, Denara-especially seeing you looking so well." Kathryn's voice had become even huskier than usual.

"The luckiest day in my life-and in the lives of all Vidiians-was the day that Voyager rescued me from death. Thank you." After giving another quick squeeze to the hands of her rescuers, she hurried towards the Doctor.

As she left, Kathryn leaned into Chakotay's side, prompting him to place his arm around her back. "I made so many mistakes in those early days, Chakotay. It's a relief to know that some of what we did worked out even better than we could have anticipated."

"For amateur diplomats without any back-up closer than a seventy years long journey away, I don't think we did so badly."

She patted his stomach lightly before turning back to the pile of modular living components. "That and a couple of replicator rations will get me a cup of coffee. Which I'd like to have under a roof-before night fall, if possible."

"Are you sure it wouldn't be easier just to move back into our old lodgings?"

"I don't think we can do that, Chakotay. We gave them away, remember?"

"Not in the mood to share with monkeys?"

She gave him a look that, had it been at full phaser power, would have toasted him well, but a quirky smile blunted its power. "I'd prefer a little more privacy, thank you."

"There was that other location we were considering the last time, closer to the river. We could put in a claim to build there before anyone else finds out what a nice spot it is."

"Near the path where . . ."

"Yes. Right near there."

"I remember. That was a beautiful spot. Let's do it. We'll need antigrav units to move the modules over there, and a crew to level the ground before we can set anything up."

"I'll see if I can get Tom and Miguel to help with the leveling . . . Is anything the matter, Kathryn?" He reached out to steady her as an unexpected swell of memory momentarily disoriented her.

She didn't trust herself to speak for a moment. Catching her lower lip in her teeth, she looked up at the clear sky, then down again into his face. Carefully, Kathryn touched his full, chiseled lips with the first two fingers of her right hand, the most intimate touch she had ever been willing to give him out in the open, when others could see them together.

"Having second thoughts? You've given up a lot to come here. You're career, your family, your home . . ."

"No, Chakotay. No second thoughts. I think I've got as many of my family here now as I could have hoped for . . . more than I would have been able to keep with me if I'd taken another starship command. All of our Maquis crew, and the Starfleet crew who were ready to settle down . . . and we've got 'Fleet ships in orbit now, too, so we can stay in touch with home. We never dreamed of that when we first came here. And you know, when it comes to my career, I think I knew what I wanted better when I was eighteen than I did at twenty-six. I always wanted to be a scientist. I can do that just as well here than constantly traveling in a starship. That one trip was a 'doozy,' as Tom would say."

"Then why these tears?" he asked, grazing her cheek with his hand to wipe away some of the moisture.

"We've come full circle. We came out here, and now we're back. I could have always been home, if I'd been willing to stop and listen to you about staying. So many people died on our way, Chakotay. How many could have been saved if we had just stayed here then? Hogan, Kaplan, Ballard, Jetal . . ."

"How many lives did we touch after we left here, Kathryn? If we hadn't continued our journey homeward, some would have been lost or changed irrevocably. When we went back to 20th century Earth, Captain Braxton insisted we return to the Delta Quadrant, not home to Earth. We had to be here to complete our journey. If we hadn't, we would never have discovered the drive that will allow us to travel back to Earth if we need to. I was wrong to say we should settle down. We had to come home, Kathryn, even if only to bring the surviving Maquis back here with us, to a place where they could start over. What would have happened to them if we hadn't gone back?"

"You're right, of course. It's just that I see their faces, sometimes, the ones we lost along the way . . ."

"I know. So do I, some nights."

"I thought as much." She leaned into his embrace, oblivious to who might be watching. After gathering herself together, she stood erect, eyes dry but with a bit of a mischievous glint in them, "So, Chakotay, is that angry warrior you told me about still ready to follow the woman warrior and support her in whatever she might need?"

"He's not quite so angry now, and he's not following behind her any more, either. They're partners, going side by side through life. He's learned he has to, the hard way. When she's the leader, she strikes out so far ahead and so alone she gets rigid about 'protocols.' He needs to take her firmly in hand to show her the error of her ways every now and then."

"I see," she said primly.

"Remind her of what she needs."

"And you know what she needs?"

"Yes, I do," he said confidently.

"Uh, hmm. Well, do you agree then, that what we need now is to get this shelter built so we can get settled in? We can't start on the scientific explorations we were sent out here to do until we've got a home base."

"Yes, ma'am," he responded, with a twinkle in his eye and a Tom Paris inflection in his voice.

After that, what else could she do? She swatted him on the backside, just before grabbing him and kissing him on the lips. She no longer cared who was watching.

The End, Which Was Also a Beginning

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1001 Challenge "Finale" on ASC: show a scene you'd like to see in the final Star Trek Voyager episode. Originally published in April 2000. All characters belong to Paramount. I just give them something to do.

Two other stories, P/T responses to this challenge, "The Man of Honor" and "Free Exchange," are companion pieces, but they do not need to be read to understand this one; "The Choice" stands alone. This story also alludes to "Fostering."

Note: I am one of the group of writers who created the Voyager Virtual Season 7.5 stories. Some elements of this story are similar to their storylines. That's because I offered those ideas to the writing group for use in creating the return to the Delta Quadrant story line.