Author's note: We saw in "Endgame" that Seven of Nine was beginning to have doubts about becoming involved with Chakotay after the admiral told her that her death would hurt those who cared for her. What if Chakotay's efforts to patch things up failed?
Story inspired by the Elderly Hands and this comment, made by a dear friend: "Never underestimate the advantage gained from experience and treachery." Ruth Haley
"Where the hell is the captain?" Chakotay was so angry when he burst from the turbolift that the bridge crew stared at him with open mouths, too stunned to reply. He stood on the upper level gripping the railing. "She's in the ready room, right?"
"She went in there hours ago," Harry Kim replied from the center seat. "And I haven't seen her leave."
Chakotay nodded and strode to the recessed door where he hit the chime with his right fist and then stood, head down, waiting for permission to enter. Meanwhile, Kim and the others on duty stared fixedly at the image of Earth in the view screen, each of them wondering what had happened to infuriate the first officer on their first evening back in the Alpha Quadrant. Kim wished he could warn the captain about the storm front that was about to disturb her privacy, but there simply wasn't time. Chakotay hit the chime again, muttering something unintelligible under his breath.
"Enter." Janeway's voice sounded groggy over the comm line, as if she'd been asleep.
The ready room was dark, illuminated only by the light reflected from the Earth which lay in half shadow beneath them, the Pacific Ocean in the darkness of night. Chakotay was forced to pause and let his eyes adjust before he could make out the form of his captain sitting on the sofa, staring out the window. He suspected that she'd been sleeping, her head resting on the arm she had stretched along the back cushion.
"Chakotay?" She looked at him in the window's reflection. "Is something wrong?"
"Everything's wrong." His anger bubbled to the surface. "That damned treacherous Admiral Janeway. What was the 'B' plot of her trip back from her terrible future?" he demanded. "To make the rest of us as miserable as she was?"
"'B' plot?" Janeway turned her face toward him, shocked at his anger when the rest of the ship was celebrating their successful return to the Alpha Quadrant. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about why Admiral Janeway came back in time. What exactly did she intend to accomplish besides this early return to the Alpha Quadrant?"
Janeway rubbed her face with her hands in an attempt to wake up, still too muddled by sleep to grasp what he was upset about. "I don't know that she had a second motive."
His anger flared at her bewilderment, and he decided to confront her about it in the full light of day. "Computer, lights to normal illumination."
"Chakotay!" she gasped, clamping her hands over her eyes at the sudden glare. "You could warn a person before you do that."
He ignored her complaint and sat down on the coffee table in front of her so he could look her in the eye. When she looked up at him, he said, "Explain to me why the admiral told people about what happened to them in the future? Was she hoping they would make different choices with their lives?" He paused as he struggled to control his temper. "Was her plan to ruin relationships she disapproved of?"
Janeway, who was surprised by his fury, tried to calm him down by remaining composed and factual. "She certainly tried to manipulate me by revealing tragic things from her future, but she did that because she wanted me to change my plans to destroy the hub. I wasn't aware that she talked to anyone else."
"She told her that she would die."
Her mouth dropped open, "Oh, no." She had a sinking feeling in her stomach as she imagined the admiral trying to influence Seven into resist their plans. She didn't want to believe it, and yet Chakotay wouldn't lie. "Who did she tell? And what did she tell them?"
"She told Seven of Nine that she would die, and that the people who cared for her would be deeply hurt by her death."
Janeway slumped backward, her eyes unfocused as she thought out loud. "She must have found Seven immediately after our argument, when I was talking to Tuvok about his illness." She closed her eyes. "She knew I would talk to him first, and took that opportunity to find Seven and harass her. I should have anticipated that."
"Tuvok's illness?" Chakotay looked confused as his initial anger cooled. "Tuvok is sick?"
"He has a degenerative brain illness that he and the doctor have been hiding from us for the last few months. Right now, it's in the early stages, but soon, very soon, he will begin a slow descent into insanity."
"And there's nothing the doctor can do to help him?"
"Well, there was nothing he could do as long as we were in the Delta Quadrant. Now that we're home, Tuvok will have to go through a series of mind melds with a blood relative in order to cure the illness." She shook her head. "That's why the admiral told me about it--to encourage me to give up on destroying the hub and simply come home."
"Because getting home as soon as possible would save his sanity. What else did she tell you?"
"She also told me how many members of the crew she lost in the remaining years, including Seven of Nine. But I never imagined that she would tell Seven about that, Chakotay, or I would have thrown her in the brig." She leaned forward and put a comforting hand on his arm. "She wasn't thinking clearly."
"She had no right!"
"I agree. She didn't have the right to tell anyone about her timeline, not even me, and I'm terribly sorry that she did." They sat there a moment, regarding each other as they became lost in their thoughts. "I can't believe that I would so blatantly break the Temporal Prime Directive in any timeline. I've been sitting here trying to understand why she did this, because I know Starfleet will demand an answer."
"Well, I suppose she saved lives in the process." He pulled away from her and stood up, walking to the railing and gripping it tightly, his back toward her. "But she also did it to confuse Seven of Nine and to hurt me."
"No, you're wrong. She told Seven those things because she was trying to manipulate me. She was furious when I retreated the first time we approached the hub, and she was willing to do anything to get me to give up my plan to destroy it."
"I needed Seven's help to destroy the hub, and she thought she could frighten her into disobeying my orders and refusing to cooperate in the effort." She studied his back, noticing the tension in his shoulders, and felt a wave of sorrow wash over her. "Why on earth would she want to hurt you?"
"Because I hurt her first." He turned and leaned against the railing, his arms crossed on his chest, his eyes on the floor. "She must have known about . . . that I was . . . ."
Janeway interrupted him. "She knew about your relationship with Seven of Nine, if that's what you're trying to say."
He looked up, panic in his eyes. "She told you about that, too?"
"More or less." Janeway tried to keep the emotion out of her voice, even as she remembered the electric shock that had coursed through her when the admiral told her about the future. "She said that you two were married when Seven died, so I put two and two together."
"Married?" He shook his head in resignation. "So that's what she was working to prevent."
"You think she wanted to prevent you from marrying Seven?" Janeway saw the misery in her friend's face and went to him, guiding him back to the sofa where they sat down side by side. "Wouldn't she want the two people she cares about most on Voyager to be happy?"
"Maybe our being together made her unhappy? Maybe she was jealous because she refused to become involved with anyone herself?" He shrugged and looked away. "How do you feel about the fact that I've been dating Seven?"
"I'm surprised, of course. I didn't think you two got along."
"That's it? Just surprised?" He studied her intently, embarrassed to admit that he wanted her to be jealous and upset. "You aren't hurt?"
"I haven't really thought about it, to be honest." When he stared at her in disbelief, she continued, "All right, I'll admit that I'm hurt, but I also know I have no right to be. I'm used to being the person you turn to first as a friend, and now you have someone else who is taking my place. Out there, it would have been very hard for me to see our friendship change that way, but . . . we're home now."
"And that's it? Because we're home, you don't care?"
"Of course, I care about both of you. But even if I were unhappy, I'd never do anything to deliberately hurt you. And, I don't think the admiral would, either."
His temper flared again, and he glared at her with barely restrained fury. "Whether she meant to hurt us or not, she did. I keep telling myself that you had nothing to do with this, that you weren't the admiral who meddled in our lives. I keep reminding myself that even if she looked like you and shared your memories up to now, she's been changed by the life she lived getting Voyager home." He shuddered and took a deep calming breath. "It's just that the results of her visit have hurt me deeply, and . . . I admit I came here to take it out on you."
Shaken by his sudden outburst, Janeway pleaded, "Please, tell me how you've been hurt?"
He leaned forward and buried his face in his hands, hiding the tears that were burning in his eyes. "Seven has called everything off. She refused to attend the homecoming party, so I went to cargo bay two to check on her. She made it absolutely clear that we're no longer dating. She says that the admiral's comment made her realize that I could be hurt if she continued to see me."
"Oh, Chakotay." Janeway rubbed his back with sympathy. "I had no idea things were already so serious between you."
"They aren't, really. We’ve only had a few dates. A couple of kisses." He gave her a rueful look. "She said that emotions are potentially dangerous and not suitable for 'casual' experimentation."
"'Casual' experimentation?" Janeway shook her head in amazement. "Did she realize how you'd take that?"
"Of course not. It's frustrating to have her suddenly back away, and I guess I wanted to blame the admiral for it instead of Seven."
"Seven knows that the timeline has changed and that she probably won't die in three years?"
"Yes. And I've told her that the risk of being hurt is an unavoidable part of caring about others. I told her that the happiness and companionship more than compensates for the pain. She won't listen."
"There might be more to this situation than you realize, Chakotay. She's always been afraid of our return to Earth, of losing the Voyager 'collective' and facing whole planets full of strangers who have a deep-seated prejudice against the Borg. When we thought Arturis was going to get us home a couple of years ago, she contemplated staying behind instead of coming along for that very reason."
"You'd think she would want to have someone she can trust to comfort her, someone to help her adjust to all the new experiences."
Janeway looked away, wondering how to answer his comment. "She came by here right after she left the party, asking for my help in the next few days. I told her that I'd list her as part of my family, and she seemed much more at ease."
"She came to you?" Chakotay was stunned. "Why not me?"
"She and I have a much longer standing relationship, I guess. And the added complication of a budding romance might have been more than she could handle." She could see how hurt Chakotay was and put a hand on his arm in sympathy. "I don't know why she came to me instead of you. I'm sorry if that just adds insult to injury."
"It's not your fault. She must really be confused by all the new emotions she's feeling. Even more afraid than she was when we thought Arturis would get us back."
"More afraid? Because we're actually here?"
He shook his head. "The doctor removed the emotional dampener just before the admiral arrived. After that she seemed more . . . on edge and erratic when we were together."
Janeway stood up, totally surprised by the news. Seven had collapsed and nearly died during a holodeck scenario involving a sexual encounter with a holo-Chakotay, and Janeway was shocked that the doctor had removed the device without consulting her first. "I thought its removal involved a complicated, multi-step procedure."
"Apparently not, because he did it in a brief visit to sickbay one day after her shift ended. She wanted to 'explore' human emotions with me, I guess, and the dampener interfered with that."
"The dampener didn't exactly inhibit emotions, Chakotay. Seven felt human emotions deeply enough from the beginning. It was sexuality that the chip restrained. It prevented sexual arousal by bringing on a cascade failure in her cerebral cortex."
"Sexual arousal?" He sat back, his face darkened by a blush. "You know about the device?"
Janeway paced as she recounted the former drone's holodeck involvement with a holodeck character based on him, ending the conversation with an apology. "I didn't tell you about this because I was afraid that if you knew what she'd done, you'd be even more alienated from her than before."
His face was dark with anger. "She had no right to 'use' me that way."
"I explained that to her in great detail, and she asked me not to embarrass her by telling anyone else, especially not you. No permanent harm had been done, so I respected her wishes."
"Why would she resort to the holodeck for companionship when there are any number of men on the crew willing to volunteer to be her partner?"
"You've forgotten that her first 'date' under the doctor's guidance was a complete fiasco. She wanted a safe environment so she could see whether her interpersonal technique had improved."
"And so she programmed a hologram based on me as a member of the crew. Why me?"
"Who else does she have to base her ideas of humanity on but us?" She grinned. "In some ways, it's flattering, don't you think? She saw you as someone with patience and a willingness to teach." She gave him a fond look. "And, anyway, it was just an innocent error in judgment. I explained to her that the 'dating' programs young adolescent girls indulge in might be a better way to practice her feminine wiles."
He grimaced. "Those situations are so juvenile and unrealistic."
Janeway sat down beside him again, pulling one knee onto the sofa so she could face him as she stretched her arm along the back cushion. "But, Chakotay, that's where we all start our learning process, isn't it? She has only four years of experience as a human being, and during that time her battle with her true nature was not only absolute but disrespectful as well. In spite of her obvious physical maturity, she's emotionally naïve and romantically inexperienced."
"And hardly someone who's ready for a serious relationship." He groaned as he realized the truth. "Here I am, more than ready for commitment, yet she's barely even figured out the basics." He gave her a long appraising look. "If I'd talked to you about this before my first date with her, I would have approached the situation much differently."
"Maybe so, but I understand your reluctance to tell me about it. And really, out there," she glanced out the window and into the distance, her voice suddenly wistful, "in the tiny world of the 'Voyager collective,' it probably would've worked. Apparently it did in the admiral's timeline."
They grew silent, both of them lost in thought. Janeway gazed at Earth beneath them, still dazed at their accomplishment and scared to death of what might be in store for certain members of her crew. Chakotay closed his eyes, trying to understand why he'd become so insistent on continuing this relationship with Seven when it was so obviously fraught with complications. He wasn't the type to press on when the signs were so negative for a good pairing. He opened his eyes and studied his captain, realizing, for the first time, that she was apprehensive and worried when she should be wildly ecstatic.
"Kathryn, I'm sorry I've burdened you with my personal troubles at a time like this."
She smiled, "I'm glad you came to me to talk this through. We've grown apart these last months, and I've missed you."
"That's my fault. You've seemed different since Quarra, more remote, and I admit that I was desperate for companionship. Seven happened to come along when I was feeling alone and isolated, and I was blind to the differences between us."
"She'd be lucky to find someone like you, Chakotay, anybody would. Besides, anything can happen now that we're home." She put a hand on his shoulder. "With time, Seven might change her mind and come back to you."
"I'm not sure that would be the best thing for either of us, Kathryn. Now that I've had a chance to think it through, our parting ways might be for the best." He covered the hand she'd put on his shoulder with his own. "Talking to you always helps me find peace."
"I'm glad." She smiled at him, but her eyes were still troubled.
"Now, tell me what's bothering you," he suggested, shifting to face her. "Why are you here, alone in the ready room in the middle of the night? You should be dancing on the tables in the mess hall or leading the crew in raucous drinking songs in Sandrine's."
She sighed and looked out the window again. "I know I should be happy to be here after all these years. But I soon realized that all I had done was eliminate one set of worries and replace it with a new set."
"Worries about what happens next?"
She nodded. "In some ways, it's just the usual let-down when a mission is over. Worrying about what assignment each member of the crew will get next. Rethinking a dozen decisions and fretting over Starfleet command's reaction to them." She gave him a knowing look. "But there's more than that going on here. Our 'mission' was a unique one."
"And we were together, isolated and self-contained, for seven years."
"Exactly. We've developed closer ties to each other than is normal on a starship, and we're facing the dissolution of a family here. I feel as if Mom and Dad are getting a divorce and all one hundred forty-seven children are moving in with aunts and uncles."
He laughed at the comparison. "Well, even if we're moving out of the 'house,' Kathryn, we'll stay in touch. I can't imagine not keeping up with these people."
"I'm putting you in charge of that, Chakotay. Set up some system where our crew can post their location and recent information so that that everyone else can access it. And decide on an informal gathering place in San Francisco where we can go to find anyone else who might be in the area. See how often the crew wants to have a reunion. Do whatever it takes to keep the lines of connection open."
"Those are great ideas. I'll get right on it." He looked at the planet, too, and said, "That isn't all, though. What else troubles you?"
"The other things are more personal, I'm afraid. I'm wondering if I'll ever be trusted to command another ship. I'm anxious about what's changed here at home since we left and how far out of touch I am with the political situation in the Federation and Starfleet. The war was huge, Chakotay, and the impact on the Federation was profound and far-reaching. Many of my friends and contacts were killed. Tactics changed dramatically because of the unique challenges in fighting the changelings and the Jem Hadar. I wonder whether I'll ever fit in again." She laughed and shook her head. "No wonder Seven is panicking. This is home for me, and I'm afraid of what I'll find."
"It might take awhile to get caught up, but you'll fit in. I know you too well to doubt that for a minute."
"I hope you're right. And then there are all the people who aren't here, the ones we lost along the way." Tears welled in her eyes and she brushed them away with the back of her hand. "I have dozens of condolence letters to deliver to grieving wives, children, and mothers and dads, and I dread having to face them. We're home, and I'm relieved to be here, but some things never change. I'm still the captain, still just as responsible, still as burdened today as I was yesterday."
"If Starfleet will let me, I'll help you with everything, Kathryn. For as long as you need me, I'll do whatever I can to lighten your load."
She gave him a grateful smile, tears threatening again. “I can’t tell you how much your friendship means to me, Chakotay. I’ve always hoped that we could stay close after our service on Voyager ended, and now, I can't imagine a future that doesn't include you.”
He was so touched by her words that he found it impossible to sit still. He wanted to embrace her, fold her close to him and assure her that they would always be friends, always be close, but he knew she wasn’t ready for such an intimate gesture or for such words of devotion. Instead, he stood up and walked to the replicator where he could keep his back to her as he pretended to contemplate what he wanted to order.
“You know,” he said finally, “I’m amazed that two people like us, who started out as mortal enemies, managed to become such close friends. I don't think any nother Starfleet captain would have looked past my Maquis reputation and trusted the real person I was beneath all that anger. I'm grateful to you for that, Kathryn. The faith you put in me helped me heal.”
She blinked in surprise, and for the first time in several years, Janeway allowed herself to see him as a man, not as her first officer, not as a member of her crew, not as a subordinate with whom an intimate connection was taboo. She admired his powerful physique, the broad, heavily muscled shoulders and legs, the tawny skin, the solid shape of his body that was only slightly visible inside his uniform. But that was only half of the equation. Besides his obvious physical beauty was his incredible character and personality, his scathing sense of humor, his unshakable loyalty, his brilliant mind, and his dedication to those he cared about. He was the whole package.
When he ordered his tea, and turned to ask her what she wanted, she was stunned by the impact his dimpled smile had on her pulse, by her sudden desire to trace the lines of his tattoo, by the undeniable physical ache in her body that the idea of him created.
“I'll have another cup of coffee,” she said, swallowing the lump in her throat and hoping he hadn't seen the fleeting flash of desire in her eyes.
However, he was too attuned to her moods to miss it, and he was also stunned by the way he reacted to her open admiration of him. He turned his attention to the replicator, ordering her coffee as he closed his eyes and regained control of his breathing.
Was it possible, he wondered, that they could so quickly dissolve the barriers that separated them? Could their attraction for each other resurface within hours of their return, as soon as the end of their command relationship was in sight? With blinding clarity, he realized that he should never have started dating Seven of Nine without first resolving the fire that had smoldered between himself and the captain for so many years.
“Coffee, as usual,” he said as he brought her the beverage and sat down beside her, still mindful of the renewed energy sparking between them. They sat quietly for a few moments, focusing on the mugs in their hands, listening to the sounds of the ship, trying to do anything but react to the person sitting next to them. When he noticed that the captain's hands were trembling, Chakotay to her cup and placed it beside his on the table. Then he confronted her. “We should talk about this, Kathryn.”
Janeway laughed and gave him a sideways look. “You mean the elephant in the living room?”
“We’ve done a damned fine job of ignoring it for seven years, don’t you think?” he answered, sliding an arm behind her and cupping her face with his other hand, surprised and thrilled to feel how her pulse jumped at his touch.
“Damned fine,” she agreed. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek into his palm, relishing the warmth of his hand. “You realize that we’re going to have to keep ignoring it a while longer.”
“But the end is in sight,” he whispered, his voice tight with emotion. “If I know that this is real, that I’m not imagining it, I can wait another seven years if I have to.”
“It’s real. You’re not imagining it.” She opened her eyes and let him see the love and devotion she felt for him. “And you won’t wait seven days, if I have my way.”
He chuckled, rubbing his thumb across her lips. “You know, I’m changing my mind about that meddling admiral. Maybe she was wiser than I realized.”
“My Aunt Ruth always warned me not to underestimate the advantage gained from experience and treachery.” She leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Your Aunt Ruth is right,” he sighed, pulling her onto his lap. “And I definitely owe Admiral Janeway an apology.”
“I’ll accept the apology on her behalf,” Janeway laughed, snuggling against him with a sigh of contentment. “And I'll accept anything else you have to offer, as well.”
“You have no idea what you’re asking for, Kathryn.”
“Oh, yes, I do,” she smiled, raising her face to his for a brief, tender kiss. “You'll soon learn that I have a very vivid imagination.”
When his shift ended a few minutes later, Harry Kim made his way from the command deck toward the turbolift on the upper level, pausing briefly at the ready room door. He'd heard nothing from the occupants since the commander's stormy arrival on the bridge and wondered what the captain had done to soothe his volatile mood. He considered ringing the chime to leave an unnecessary "post-shift" report, just to satisfy his curiosity.
In his mind's eye, he could see them sitting at the captain's desk studying Starfleet's new orders, going over the crew's next proposed assignments, or planning a gala party for the upcoming weekend, or arranging for the crew's imminent return to Earth's surface and joyous reunion with their friends and families. Perhaps, he imagined, they were sitting on the sofa looking at promotion recommendations, including a much-deserved one for Harry Kim. With a shrug, he decided to respect their privacy and moved to the turbolift.
If he'd rung the chime, as the more experienced and treacherous Tom Paris surely would have done, Harry would have been surprised to find out what his captain and first officer were doing.
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