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Lulu to the Rescue
PG-13 R NC-17

 
 
A reference from the “Starfleet Counselor’s Handbook”:

“The Captain’s ‘Mask’ and Alter Ego:

"The existence of a 'captain's mask,' the façade of command assumed by the commander, has long been documented.  However, captains who serve long periods of uninterrupted time in deep space eventually assume the captain’s ‘alter ego’ as their primary personality.  When this happens, the counselor will notice that the well-known ‘captain’s mask’ once worn by the officer only during duty hours becomes his/her primary identity and is subtly replaced by an ‘off-duty’ mask fashioned around the officer’s non-Starfleet civilian personality. In other words, their off-duty persona becomes secondary to the official one in almost every phase of their shipboard life.

“The use of the 'captain's mask’ is not remarkable when it is occurs during brief missions or periods of high stress, as the captain is usually conscious of the change and can easily set it aside.  While the 'alter ego' is a more drastic coping mechanism, counselors should not be overly concerned about it during the mission itself.  Captains who spend years living with the pressure and responsibility of command gradually become so comfortable in this alter ego that they are no longer aware of it and feel more at home in uniform than out of it.  This serves the captain well while on duty, but regrettably complicates the smooth resumption of their civilian identity once the mission ends.

“Counselors should anticipate that these captains will face a great personal adjustment once the mission is completed and the alter ego needs to be put aside.  A frank and open discussion about the 'alter ego' coping mechanism is an essential part of the recovery period, but the captain's personal confidante and friend during the mission, ideally the ship’s counselor or a senior staff member, will be crucial in helping them re-establish the civilian identity and ease the transition back to ‘real life.’

“Therefore, the counselor should determine whether this identity shift has occurred.  If it has, the counselor/confidante should be prepared to work with the captain for an extended period as he or she attempts to re-establish the pre-command civilian personality that has been subordinated in the line of duty.”

Taken from The Captain’s Mask: Life as the Alter Ego by Dr. Luann Powell
 
 
 

When Admiral Birdcage failed to recall me from retirement to debrief Captain Janeway following her seven-year ordeal as Voyager’s commander, I knew that it was time for Luann Powell to take matters into her own hands.  I didn’t serve sixty-five years as the so-called “Captains’ Counselor” to see some young upstart ignore me like last week’s garbage when I knew quite well that Kathryn Janeway needed my years of experience and insight in order to recover from her nightmare command.  In fact, I felt as if I’d worked my whole life just to be ready for her when the time arrived.

Birdcage, whose real name is Bertrand Emmett Cage, is the second admiral to serve as Starfleet’s Chief of Counseling since I retired from the position ten years ago, and he’s still resentful of the fact that I refused to endorse his appointment to the position.  It wasn't that I disliked Birdcage (although I do) as much as that he was simply unprepared for the varied responsibilities the job entails.

“The chief Starfleet counselor should have served a minimum of five years as a shipboard counselor in deep space,” I wrote headquarters when they asked for my input, a courtesy afforded all retired admirals when their previous positions are being filled.  “Captain Cage has never served one minute onboard a ship and needs to do so before assuming such a powerful leadership position.”

Admiral Hayes, the chief of staff, was sympathetic with my concerns, but refused to drop Cage from the list of candidates on my recommendation alone.  “I know how you feel about the stresses of space service, Lulu,” he told me over a subspace message.  “After all, you were one of the first counselors Starfleet assigned to deep space duty all those years ago.  But much of the counseling done now has nothing to do with starship duty, and Cage has a great deal of hands-on experience in those fields.  Not only that, he has great recommendations from his recent commanders.”

I rolled my eyes.  “I'm willing to concede that he’s good at what he’s done, but much of the counseling is about starship duty, George, and the chief needs to know what these officers and crew are experiencing if they hope to help subordinate counselors handle the job.”

“Lulu, I’m going to send your comments about Captain Cage in with the nomination, but I’m not removing him from consideration.  That’s the best I can do under the circumstances.”

I'd done all I could.  The nominations went in, and Birdcage got the job, in spite of my better judgment.  Ever since he took the job five years ago, I’ve been a persona non grata at Starfleet counseling, labeled an “old fashioned counselor” who has fallen behind the most recent theories and practice of my craft.  No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.

I’d hoped Birdcage would make an exception to my banishment when it came to Voyager’s crew in general and her captain in particular.  In fact, I spoke to him when Starfleet first made contact with Voyager because it seemed to be a situation tailor made for my experience.

“Bertie,” I said (because no one dares to call him Birdcage to his face), “when Voyager gets home from the Delta Quadrant, I want to help debrief the crew, especially the captain.”

“Not ‘when,’ Lulu.   ‘If.’  And that’s a big ‘if.’”  He paused to give me an indulgent smile, as if I didn't really understand just how far away seventy thousand light years were.  “I’ll consider using you, if either of us is still alive when the ship returns.”

I narrowed my eyes at his cynicism.  “They’ll get back, Bertie, and sooner than you think.”

He shrugged off my admonishment, but I still get angry when I think of his laid-back attitude.  If he knew half of what I do about the determination and tenacity of Starfleet captains, he would have started making debriefing plans as soon as he heard that Voyager had survived the first three years of their exile.  Instead, my contacts have informed me, their sudden arrival last December caught him completely unprepared.

However spectacular Voyager’s return might have been, it was highly classified.  None of my usual informants thought to notify me about it until several weeks after the dust had settled.  The ship returned, after all, at a down time on Earth, between semesters at the academy and just before the New Year, when most headquarters offices are emptied for vacations and parties.  The crew had the typical brief reunion with family and friends during this down-time, and by the time everyone returned to work, the crew had been neatly ensconced at the debriefing center.

As a result, the ship had been home for almost two months before Starfleet made it public, and I became aware of it when everyone else did.

That suited Birdcage just fine, as I soon discovered.

“We thought about contacting you, Lulu, but we didn’t want to interrupt the important work you’re doing with hundreds of survivors from the Dominion War,” he explained when I finally confronted him about his oversight.  I was perfectly aware that the “royal we” he was using masked the fact that he had decided to ignore me on his own.  “We decided that you could be more help with them than you could with the crew of a single ship returning from a lengthy but routine deep space assignment.”

“Routine assignment?”  I’m afraid that comment made me blow my top.  “Voyager left here for a three-week mission, for her maiden voyage, only to be marooned without help in hostile and uncharted space for seven years!  Not only that, the captain and crew have served day in and day out without a moment’s relief or support for entire time!  There’s nothing remotely routine about a seven-year ordeal like that, Bertie, and you know it!”

“Now, Lulu, you’re exaggerating.  Starfleet has been in regular contact with Voyager for the last few years, and we’ve had time to review their official logs in great detail.  Don’t worry,” he comforted me, and I’m sure I detected a gleam of satisfaction in his eye because everything was already a done deal.  “I supervised their debriefings myself, and I even did the captain’s debriefing personally.  Everything’s fine and dandy.  No unusual problems.”

Fine and dandy?  No unusual problems?  Horse feathers.

I cut off the comm link before I was tempted to call him Birdcage to his face and made a fool of myself.  I stopped myself because I thought I might slip and call him Birdbrain, instead, and I’ve learned that no matter how appalling admirals might be, they are still won’t stand to be ridiculed in person.  I also didn’t want to have a “come to Jesus” discussion with Admiral Hayes, nor did I want to tip my hand about what I was about to do.  I certainly wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

I arrived on Earth in mid-March, nearly three months after Voyager’s return and three weeks after the last debriefing ended.  While most of the Voyager’s records had been classified and were, at any event, restricted and personal, I still have some pull in the admiralty.  I’m always doing research into long-term deep space missions, so it wasn’t too hard to get a “sanitized” version of Birdcage’s final report—all six pages of it—even if  I couldn’t get what I really wanted:  permission to contact the crew and do some interviews of my own.

The official word was that the Voyager debriefing was over and no further action was deemed necessary for any member of the crew.  Counseling would continue in a routine manner as people were gradually assigned to new positions, released from duty, or retired, but continuing follow-up on their return was both inappropriate and unnecessary.  Birdcage ended the report by saying that continued contact regarding with the crew over their ordeal could actually be detrimental to their well-being and their proper adjustment to normal life.

End of story.  He did everything but put at the top of each page, “This means you, Lulu!”

So, of course, I did what any decent, respectful, retired Starfleet admiral would do in the face of such a clearly stated prohibition.

I interviewed people anyway.

<><><><><><>

Start with a non-Starfleet individual, that’s the first rule of these covert operations.  The second rule is to look closely at the highest ranking officer, in this case, Captain Janeway.

Family is the easiest source for information that would otherwise be classified.  The captain’s mother, Gretchen Janeway, would probably have been the ideal person for me to talk to, but she was an interesting case, herself.  Not only was she the mother of a Starfleet captain (soon to be admiral), she was the widow of an admiral, the daughter of an admiral, and the granddaughter of two admirals, on both the maternal and paternal side.  I didn’t even bother to find out how many of her aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews were in Starfleet because it probably would’ve depressed me.  The first thing she’d do when contacted about anything Starfleet would be to ask one of her many contacts at headquarters why this Lulu Powell person was bothering her.  My cover would be blown before I even started.

Janeway’s sister, Phoebe, wasn’t much better.  All the same Starfleet connections that existed for her mother were there for her, and I could see her immediately asking Mrs. Janeway to find out about this retired counselor who was snooping around in her sister’s business.  Cover blown again.

Those two comprise the entirety of Janeway’s immediate family.  Since that option was obviously not a good one, the next best source is friends.

I quickly realized that Janeway’s seven-year absence had resulted in the loss of most of her intimate friends from outside Starfleet itself.  Her fiancé, who was now married, hadn’t corresponded with her in years, and most of their mutual acquaintances had also lost contact with her.  Her friends from inside Starfleet, including many of her classmates from the Academy, had been decimated by the Dominion War.  Her class, of all of them, suffered the highest casualty rate in the conflict.

If I wanted to find out who her current friends were, I would have to pry into her comm habits and maybe even hire a private detective to do some covert observation of her, and I knew that such tactics could result in an invasion of privacy charge and alienate everyone else from cooperating with me.  I was left with the last possible source and the people who knew her best right now:  her crew.

Many members of the crew were only marginally connected to Starfleet thanks to their Maquis background.  I figured that I could approach one or two of them in a friendly manner and figure out which person on the senior staff had been her closest confidante and friend during the mission.

Tuvok, the security chief, had known her for years and would have been my first choice, but it was said that he suffered from a serious neurological disorder that might have created some distance between them.  Her attitude toward him had been friendly and solicitous, from what I’d seen in the press, but there had been none of the signs of a special connection in their behavior.  Of course, his Vulcan nature might have also shrouded their intimacy, but, even if I were wrong, he was totally unavailable to me because of the on-going treatment

Chakotay, the handsome Maquis first officer, had been the second person I thought might have befriended the captain.  He had excellent Starfleet training and experience, had served in command for almost two years prior to his resignation, and had provided the much needed link between the two divergent crews that served under her.  However, those brief videos of the returning senior staff actually revealed that she deliberately avoided standing near him and evaded making visual contact with him.  Sometimes, I reminded myself, people hide an intimate connection by ignoring the other person, and contacting someone that close to the subject was too dangerous.

No one else on the senior staff stood out, either.  Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres had been too wrapped up in their marriage and impending parenthood to offer Janeway much support.  Harry Kim was too young and inexperienced; his rank alone was an impediment to his serving as her confidante.  She treated Seven of Nine like an adolescent daughter.  Neelix, the Talaxian cook, had left the crew months earlier.

I would have to start with someone from the lower ranks to find out the real personal dynamics that existed around Captain Janeway in deep space.

I was lucky that I picked the easily accessible Bolian cook, Chell, as my starting point.  Chell was not only a former Maquis with no contacts at Starfleet command, he had just opened his Delta Quadrant Café in nearby Oakland, California, only to be petitioned by his neighbors to stop preparing leola root dishes because of the stench they produced.

It would be safe to say that his first month in the cafe business had been a complete disaster because of the unfortunate leola root problem, and so he was more than willing to sit down with an enthusiastic and interested diner like me.  I got his full attention, since the café was nearly empty, and I was delighted to discover that Chell was what we call a “motor mouth” in the counseling business.

After a few preliminary niceties of polite conversation, during which I conveniently revealed the fact that I recently retired from Starfleet, Chell began a data dump on Captain Janeway’s personal life and habits that rivaled that of a professional private eye.  I only wish I’d had a tricorder there to make a verbatim record of his comments.  Most of the following I jotted down right after my talk with him ended.

"The crew must have become close, working together for all those years," I said, leading him toward the issue of interest.  "I bet even the captain became like one of the crew."

"Well, not really, Admiral.  I'd say she was the one person on the crew who was remained a little aloof.  Not unfriendly, mind you, she was always interested in us and aware of what was going on.  She just seemed to be separate and alone."

"It's pretty normal for the captain to be a little aloof, I think.  I just thought it might have been different on such a long trek."

"Well, there were times when she was friendlier, but I'd say that was in the first few years.  I remember she did a dance at one talent night in the first year or so.  And she used to show up at parties on the holodeck in something other than her uniform."

"But later?  After a few years?"  This was fitting the pattern I thought might have occurred, the gradual replacement of the captain's mask with the captain's alter ego.

"Later, she was always in uniform."  He grew thoughtful.  "She changed a lot in the last couple of years.  I could tell the pressure was getting to her."

"Luckily, most captains have one or two people on the ship they can relax with."  I found leading Chell into the areas I wanted to hear about easier than selling a thriving business to a Ferengi.

"She was actually better friends with the people who weren't really part of the crew."

"You mean the Maquis?" I wondered.

"No, I mean the people we acquired along the way.  She was close to Kes, the little Ocampan, and to Neelix, the Talaxian cook and 'ambassador,' she called him."  He smiled wistfully.  "She was almost maternal with the former Borg drones--Seven, at first, and then the kids."

"That's odd.  I'd think she'd be closer to her senior staff.  You know, the first officer, the security chief, maybe the engineer."

Chell laughed.  "Well, Tuvok, the security chief, was a long-time friend, but they didn't spend much off-duty time together.  I'd say the crew member that was with her the most would be Commander Chakotay."

My eyes widened.  Perhaps I'd been onto something when I picked up her deliberate avoidance of him.  I'd have to tread carefully here, or Chell might stop talking about it.  "I remember him.  The Maquis captain, right?"

"Yeah.  He was my captain when we joined forces with Voyager.  I tell you, not many of us wanted to have anything to do with a Starfleet ship, but Chakotay was very convincing."  He smiled, obviously remembering those confrontations.  "I heard Janeway say more than once that there was no one on the ship she trusted more than him, but that was several years into the trip."

"Well, it's good to know she had someone to be herself with out there.  Captains need a friend."  So it was Chakotay after all, I thought.  I made a mental note to find out where he was and what he was doing these days.  I imagined that I might need his help somewhere down the line.

"Yeah, they spent a lot of time together, on and off duty, right up to the last few weeks."  His face grew thoughtful.  "We were all sure there was a romance going on there, and Tom Paris even had a betting pool on it, but I guess we were wrong."

"A romance?"  That little rumor worried me, because captains who became romantically involved with their confidante on the ship were often more vulnerable to adjustment problems once the relationship ended, whether they ended on the ship or after the return.  "You actually think they were in love with each other?"

"I would've sworn to it," he laughed as he ran his hands along the ridge of his bald head.  "Then, after we get back, we find out he had started dating Seven of Nine, which was a complete and total surprise, let me tell you.  We all thought he’d space her first.  I thought the captain was pretty upset about it, but I can't say that I ever saw her treat them differently."

"He was dating the Borg your captain thought of as her daughter?" I blurted, suddenly feeling more than a little worried for the captain.  "Maybe she didn't think they were good for each other."

"Maybe."  He shrugged, noticing that I'd finished my meal.  "How about some coffee?  I serve the captain's favorite roast."

We talked awhile longer, but I didn't want to be too obvious by returning to the captain and commander again.

However, I decided that Chakotay would definitely be a significant person on my interview list.

<><><><><>

After my lunch with the informative Bolian, I returned to San Francisco to meet a former aide who was loaning me his apartment while he was off planet for a few months.  We met at his office, and he was kind enough to give me access to his computer so I could perform a little further research on Voyager.  I did nothing that would get him in trouble, of course.  I simply looked at information that had been edited for the general public, information that any Starfleet officer would have shared with me, if I'd asked.

For example, I spent a few hours carefully studying the unedited videos of Voyager's welcome home celebrations, award ceremonies, and brief public interviews, focusing my attention on the three individuals Chell had mentioned--Janeway, Chakotay, and Seven of Nine.  Their behavior led me to believe that Chell was right, that the connection between Chakotay and Seven was a new state of affairs that was still being dealt with in their personal interactions.

Janeway avoided both Chakotay and Seven, whether they were together or not.  Chakotay, on the other hand, only avoided Janeway when he was with Seven.  Strangely, he seemed more at ease when he was alone with the captain than when he was alone with his new love interest.  Seven of Nine also seemed much more comfortable in Janeway's company than in Chakotay's, and she even seemed to avoid standing beside the first officer on several occasions.

I shook my head in confusion and felt sorry for all three of them.

And then I sat back to think it through.  If what Chell had indicated was true, that Chakotay was the captain's confidante and friend in the later years of their voyage, what complications would arise if they also fell in love with each other?  The protocols that discouraged a relationship between a captain and a member of the crew were not absolute, but all officers headed for command ranks were warned of the complications such involvement inevitably created.  Of the many such relationships I've been aware of over the years, few survived without one or both of the officers transferring off the ship, an option unavailable to Voyager's command team.

And Janeway was a Starfleet brat with admiral's blood back three generations.  If she'd fallen in love with Chakotay, she would never have admitted it, much less acted upon it.  She would have carefully defined the parameters of their friendship and discouraged anything more.  And yet, she would have needed his friendship desperately, and his liaison with Seven of Nine would have been a severe blow to her equilibrium.

Perhaps they were still in loved?  If so, how would she feel if he'd moved on because of the hopelessness of their situation?  Now that I was aware of these extenuating circumstances, I was even more determined to talk to her.  And soon.

Finding out the current location of Voyager's former command team was a little more of a challenge, since personal information is protected by privacy regulations.  The best I could do was pick up on few hints from interviews they'd given a few weeks earlier.  Chakotay mentioned visiting a sister in Arizona, while Janeway talked about spending a few more weeks in San Francisco before returning to her mother’s home in Indiana.  I would have to use my informal sources to get more specific information.

It was the middle of the afternoon when I finally left headquarters, and I was feeling a little discouraged about my lack of progress.  As a treat, I decided to have a cup of coffee and something sweet to hold me over to dinner.  My former aide suggested that I go to a nearby coffee shop called The Night Owl.

That's when I finally caught a break.  The Night Owl was packed with Starfleet officers, so I placed my order for a latte at the counter and turned to look for a vacant seat while the server prepared it.  Who should I see sitting alone at a table for four but a woman who looked exactly like Phoebe Janeway.  A quick scan showed there were no other tables available.  What choice did I have?

“Would you mind sharing your table?” I asked her as I pulled out a chair and glanced around at the crowd.  “I’m thinking this is the place to be if you’re in Starfleet.”

“Have a seat,” she replied with a sigh, putting down her PADD and gently rubbing her temples.  “I was supposed to meet my sister here, but I’m guessing she was caught in a meeting.  Again.”

“Let me guess.  Your sister is in Starfleet?”

“Is it that obvious?” she laughed.

“I used to be in Starfleet myself,” I admitted.  “I’m Luann Powell, but everyone calls me Lulu.”

"Lulu?"  I received the usual smile at the mention of my nickname.  “I’m Phoebe Janeway.”

I feigned surprise, hoping to put her at ease and encourage a friendly chat.  “Not Edward Janeway’s daughter?”

“Yeah,” she smiled, obviously touched that I remembered him after nearly twenty years, “although these days people usually associate me with my errant sister.”

“Oh, yes, of course.  You’ve been stood up by your sister, the famous Kathryn Janeway.”

“Again.”  She was obviously upset.  “This is the second day in a row.”

“If she’s like most Starfleet captains, she naturally puts her work first,” I consoled her.  “I was a Starfleet counselor for nearly forty-five years, and I studied captains in great detail.  It’s not unusual for the job to take over their personalities.”

“She used to be great at keeping a balance between her personal and professional life.  But this long-term tour on Voyager seems to have affected her differently.  I get the feeling she’s more captain than she is Kathryn.”

I resisted the urge to hug the poor woman, for she’d just confirmed what I’d suspected from the first—that Captain Janeway had resorted to assuming the alter ego of her position.  Now I had to tread lightly, and so I said, “I’m sure the counselors will help her readjust to a more ‘normal’ balance.”

“You’d think so, but she tells me her counseling is over already.”  She leaned forward, lowering her voice to a conspirator’s level.  “You said you were a counselor in Starfleet, so let me ask you a question.  Kath was a captain 24/7 for nearly seven years!  Shouldn’t she receive more than two weeks of counseling?”

I frowned, but was unwilling to criticize Birdcage in public.  “I would think so, but I would have to talk to her personally to know for sure.  Is she having problems adjusting?” I hoped she wasn’t aware of my glee at her sharing these issues with me.

“You mean besides working sixteen and eighteen hour days?”  Phoebe shook her head.  “While she spends a Sunday with our Mom now and then, she seems reluctant to take any significant time off for a real vacation.  After seven years without one.  And, I think she still has bad dreams.”

I frowned.  “Then I’d say she might still have some issues to work through.  It takes time to change a seven-year habit.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

I studied the inside of my cup as if thinking about the issue.  Then I asked the question I truly needed to have answered.  “Captains like your sister often have a confidante on the crew with whom they are personally comfortable, and that person is of vital importance in helping them readjust.”

“Oh, that would be Chakotay, her first officer,” Phoebe nodded, a look of resignation on her face.  “But Kath never sees him, and she refuses to talk about him.  I’m guessing they had a falling out right as Voyager returned.”

I didn't like the sound of what I was hearing.  “That’s too bad.  Maybe you could call him and see if he’d be willing to check on her?”

“I would, but he took two months’ leave.  Last I heard, he was visiting his sister, Rianna, in Arizona and planning to take a vacation somewhere with Seven of Nine.  Bringing up that situation just depresses her.  In fact, she refuses to talk about either one of them.”

Before I could answer, a shadow fell across the table.  “Sorry I’m late, Phebes,” came a familiar-sounding voice.  I looked up into the blue eyes of Kathryn Janeway herself.  “I was in the middle of something.”

“It’s about time you got here,” Phoebe said, indicating a chair and giving me a look of warning.  Obviously, she didn’t want me to reveal that her sister had been the topic of our conversation.  “Kath, this is Luann Powell.  Luann, my sister, Kathryn.  She needed a table, and since I was here alone . . . .”

“But you aren’t alone now,” I said, pushing my chair away, “and I’ve finished my latte.  I’ll let you two have some privacy.”

“Nice to meet you,” Kathryn said as she settled into the seat, obviously exhausted.  She took a long pull on a huge mug of coffee and sighed with satisfaction.

“My pleasure, I’m sure.”  I beat a hasty retreat, pausing at the door to look back at the two of them.  My next job, I decided, was to locate the address of a Native American woman with the first name of Rianna and an address in Phoenix, Arizona.

<><><><><>

I dislike deserts.  I know people say that it is a dry heat, but to me, heat is heat, and Arizona is Earth's private preview of hell.  However, I consoled myself with the fact that I was visiting Arizona in March and not July and made my way slowly from the transport station into the residential area where Rianna Buck lived, trying not to pass out from heat exhaustion in the process.

To my dismay, I found the house empty and sat down on the top step of the porch to think.  It was possible that Chakotay and his sister had gone to visit relatives, or that Chakotay had already left with Seven of Nine for a vacation, but in either case, I would have to resort to plan B.  It occurred to me that some of their neighbors might know here they were.  I was considering a canvass the neighborhood when a shadow fell across me.

“Are you lost?”  I looked up into a man’s face, only to be mesmerized by his warm brown eyes and dimpled grin.

In fact, I was so overwhelmed by his sudden appearance that I found myself staring at him in open appreciation.  He was tall; even though I was sitting on the front porch, I had to look up to see his face.  Drenched in sweat from his late-morning run, he was wearing skimpy running shorts and had pulled off his tee-shirt, revealing an expanse of caramel skin that stretched endlessly across his wide shoulders and tapered over a flat stomach to narrow hips.  He used the shirt to dry his face and then smiled at me again, his eyes twinkling with amusement for a moment before they darkened with concern.

“Are you all right?” he asked, leaning toward me for a closer look.  I guess he finally realized that he might be saddled with an eighty-year-old woman who'd collapsed from heat exhaustion on his sister’s front porch.

“I’ve been better,” I admitting, hoping my pulse would slow to normal.  “It’s been awhile since I’ve wished I were forty years younger.”

“I’m Chakotay,” he said with a chuckle, offering me a hand up.  “You look hot and tired.  Why don’t you come inside and I’ll fix you something cold to drink.”

As I followed him into the house, taking the opportunity to study his wonderfully muscled back, I couldn’t help but wonder how Kathryn Janeway could have resisted the urge to jump this hunk’s bones for seven long years.  I made a silent promise to myself that I would ask that question when and if I ever got the chance.

I took the chair Chakotay offered me.  “I’m Luann Powell,” I told him belatedly as I sank into the seat cushion.  “But everyone calls me Lulu.”

He gave me a long look before turning to the stove and putting on some water.  “I hope you don’t mind if I take the time to brew the tea, Lulu.”  He gave me another smile.  “I’m taking an indefinite vacation from replicators in favor of the real thing.”

“No problem,” I assured him, taking a deep breath of the cool air.  “I can’t believe you were out running in this heat.”

“This is cool compared to later in the day.”  He put two tea bags in the pot and wiped his face again with the shirt.  “While this is brewing, I’ll go clean up.”

I tried not to think about my embarrassing reaction to him on the porch.  He seemed to take my drooling in stride, but I hated to think that I’d been quite so obvious in my appreciation of his appearance.  My one hope was that I’d managed to disguise my real reason for being there, at least until I’d had a chance to get to know him a little better.

“Let’s sit on the back porch,” he said as he reentered the room.  He was wearing a cotton shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tennis shorts, and sandals.  I stood up as he handed me a mug of tea and followed him onto the cool, shady porch.

“This is lovely,” I said as I sat on the sofa.  Chakotay sat in the chair that was on the other side of the low table and angled toward me.  I looked into the back yard at the native plantings.  “I like the desert best when seen from inside.”

He laughed and put his mug on the table, giving me a careful appraisal through half-closed eyes.  “So, should I call you Lulu?  Or Dr. Powell?  Or maybe Admiral?”

“You recognize me?”  I tried to hide my dismay.  There would be no “sneaking up” to the subject at hand.

“You seemed familiar to me, and then I recognized your name.  I served as Voyager’s de facto counselor for most of the seven years we were out there, Admiral.  I read the counselor’s handbook a few times.  I even read a few of your books.”

“Call me Lulu,” I insisted.  “I’ve been retired for ten years, and I’m here on an informal basis.”

“All right, Lulu.”  He sat back and studied me again.  “You realize that most of what happened out there is either classified or personal.”

“Oh, yes.  In fact, I imagine that you usually escort the media right off the property when they have the audacity to interrupt your life.”

“True.”  He smiled, and I admired the way his tattoo crinkled near his temple.  “If I recall correctly, you specialized in captains.  They called you ‘the captains’ counselor,’ right?”  When I nodded, he continued, “So you’re looking into the captain?  Wondering how she handled being the commander for all those years?”

I blinked, realizing that I’d better just admit what I was there for.  “Yes, that’s right.”

“Writing a book?”  He took a sip of his tea, and I realized that he resented being studied like a new alien species.  “If so, I recommend that you start with her personally.”

“I’m not writing a book,” I bristled.  “I want to help her.”

He smiled slightly and shook his head.  “She doesn’t want help, Lulu.  She doesn’t think she needs it, and apparently her Starfleet counselor agrees.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Birdcage is a buffoon.”

This time, Chakotay laughed out loud.  “Well, yes, he is, but I’m surprised to hear you admit it.”  He balanced the mug on the arm of the chair and rubbed his face with his left hand, shrewdly appraising me.  I realized, then, that this man was much more than a physical specimen, for his eyes seemed to peel away my pretensions and I sensed a powerful intellect at work.  I experienced the same feeling under his scrutiny that I did whenever I dealt with a Starfleet captain, and I knew he should be one.  Starfleet would be unwise to let him go.  He finally took a sip of his tea.  “Have you talked to the captain?”

I knew, instinctively, not to tell this man a lie.  Best to put all pretenses aside or he’d escort me politely off the property as quickly as he would a cub reporter looking for something candid snapshot.  “No, I haven’t been able to talk to her.  I wanted to do her psychological debriefing.  I contacted Admiral Cage years ago and volunteered to come back when the ship returned.”

“And Cage said no?”

“Cage ignored me.”  I shrugged and then smoothed the material of my skirt over my knees with my hands.  “I’ve been retired for ten years, Chakotay, and many of my contacts in the admiralty are gone.  I’m afraid I don’t have the political pull I used to.”

"And Cage doesn't agree with your belief that the captain bears the greatest burden in deep space."

"Birdcage has never served one minute on a ship, much less seven years," I fumed.  "So what does he know?"

He glanced away, hiding a tiny smile.  After a moment, he said, “What makes you think that Kathryn still needs help?”

“I could say forty-five years of experience, but that seems too much like a cop-out, don’t you think?”  I locked eyes with him.  “Maybe you could convince me that she doesn’t need help.”

I could tell he was holding his breath, and the tension in the room seemed to jump.  He narrowed his eyes.  “You wrote the book on the captain’s mask, right?”  At my nod, he continued, "And you're thinking that I am the one to help her readjust.  What did you call it in your book?  The captain's confidante?"

"Exactly.  She's stated publicly that there was no one on the ship she trusted more than you.  Plus, you were good friends."

He frowned, unable to look at me.  "I think Tuvok would be a better choice."

"Tuvok is on Vulcan.  And he's not nearly as good a choice."

I could tell Chakotay was uneasy.  He shifted in his seat and rubbed his head with his hands before he finally admitted the truth.  "Since Voyager's return, in all the debriefings we went through together, I've seen the captain, but never Kathryn.  I'm afraid we aren't the friends we once were."

"Because of your involvement with Seven of Nine?" I asked, deciding to throw caution to the wind and confront him with the budding romance that had obviously complicated his relationship with the captain.

He blushed, and I found him even more appealing in his embarrassment.  "You found out about that?"

"There's nothing more informative than a lonely Bolian."

"Chell."  He smiled.  "Has his Delta Quadrant café finally caught on?"

"Not yet.  Therefore, when a customer comes in who is willing to listen, he talks non-stop about whatever interests them."

Chakotay chuckled.  "Well, you certainly knew where to start your research.  Chell was always 'gossip central' on the ship."

"He's not my first Bolian."  We both laughed, and the tension eased considerably.  I gave him an indulgent smile.  "For what it's worth, I understand perfectly why you turned to Seven of Nine.  If the captain's job is impossible, the first officer's is only slightly less so.  It must have been difficult to have only so much of Kathryn, and no more."  I paused, waiting a moment before I pushed on.  "Especially if you were also in love with her."

He raised his left hand to shield his face from me, and yet I could see the pain in his eyes.  “Is it that easy to spot?”

"I'm sorry," I apologized.  "I watched the two of you in a few of the videos and took a wild guess."

"You're very good at this," he whispered, burying his face in his hands to hide the tortured emotions in his eyes.  "The counselor at my debriefing didn't have a clue."

"Chakotay, lots of first officers fall in love with the captain.  You'd be surprised how many.  You have nothing to be ashamed of."

"Haven't I?"  He looked at me, his eyes tortured.  "I was on the rebound when I turned to Seven of Nine, the one person on Voyager who was the most fragile emotionally.  And I hid it from Kathryn.  She learned about it from . . . ," he paused, and I suspected that he'd come close to revealing some detail about their precipitous return that was highly classified.  "She learned about it from someone else, someone who wanted to hurt her with the information."

"That's hardly your fault."  I'd heard the rumors, of course, of a mysterious time-traveler from future, and I had a good idea just who that person might have been, for I knew that a captain who commanded a crew for decades would bear wounds that time couldn't heal.

"You're wrong."  He shook his head in disagreement.  "It is my fault.  I should've talked to her about Seven before I ever agreed to the first date.  Kathryn knew her better than I did and she would have warned me about her emotional instability."  He took a ragged breath.  "I didn't tell Kathryn for one reason.  I loved her too much, and I couldn't bear to hurt her.  Instead, I hurt both Kathryn and Seven of Nine."

I leaned over, forcing him to look at me, my heart breaking because of the guilt that burdened him.  "All of this happened because she was the captain.  Do you see that?  And the only way it can be resolved is for her to become Kathryn again.  You can help her do that, Chakotay."

"She won't even talk to me unless it's some work issue."  He sat back and gazed at me in despair.  "I never even knew for sure if she loved me."

"She loved you," I assured him.  "The feelings were mutual, you can trust me on that.  And I'm sure that Kathryn still loves you, even if the captain doesn't."

"You act as if she's two different people."

"She is two different people.  And she isn't."  I laughed at his scowl.  "She's been the captain so long that her real self has become the mask she puts on and takes off as needed.  We need to help her reverse that, so that she's using the captain 'mask' again."

"Why?"  He studied my face.  "Why do you care?  You aren't in Starfleet any more.  You've been retired for years.  Why go to all this trouble?"

"Why?"  I smiled at him, knowing I could never really explain the empathy I felt for starship commanders.  "I care because the captains care so much.  They sacrifice without asking what it will cost them.  They're idealists in a universe that punishes idealists brutally and without mercy, yet they refuse to give up or give in."  I sighed in resignation.  "Captain Janeway put aside her life and her dreams for the ship and crew, Chakotay.  Is it wrong for me to want to help her regain her life and dreams?"

"I guess not."  He studied his hands.  "Kathryn deserves to have her life back, and so much more."

"Tell me about her," I said, sitting back and relaxing as I looked him over again.  Would it be wrong of me to admit that I enjoyed the view in the process?  "Tell me everything you remember.  And then we'll figure out what we have to do."

His face lit up as he warmed to the subject.  "Well, to start, she's the best damned captain I've ever met, and she's beautiful, too, in case you didn't notice."

"I noticed," I laughed, sipping my tea as he launched into a detailed discussion of Kathryn Janeway's strengths and weaknesses both on and off duty.  He needed to talk about her as much as I needed to listen, which is a wonderful way for both of us to benefit from counseling session, don't you think?

Things were falling into place quite nicely.

All that remained was to talk to Captain Janeway herself.

<><><><><>

The first thing I had to do was make sure Birdcage was out of the picture.  I knew there was an annual counselor's conference on Betazed that he seldom missed, one of the "perks" of being Starfleet's counselor deluxe, and it didn't take much effort to discover that he was on his way there, available to his patients only if they had a serious issue that couldn't wait for his return.

He might think it worthy an interruption, but Janeway would never bother him for something as seemingly inoffensive as the sudden appearance of Lulu Powell's name on her appointment book.

Secure in the knowledge of Birdcage's absence, I called Janeway's office and talked to her yeoman, asking for an appointment at the earliest convenience.

"What is the subject of this meeting, Admiral Powell?" she asked me, and I could see her eyes focusing elsewhere, waiting to fill in the subject line on Janeway's daily calendar.

"I'm doing some research into the psychological affects of long-term deep space duty," I answered in all honesty.  "I was hoping to get her insight on the issue."

"Well . . .," the yeoman hesitated, no doubt trying to think of some reason to say no.  "The captain has an hour available late Friday afternoon."

"That would be perfect."  And it would.  Janeway would have no later appointments that would cut our meeting short, so we could talk as long as we wanted.

"Friday at 4 p.m.?"

"I'll be there."

I really didn't expect the process to end there, and so I wasn’t surprised when, about an hour later, I received a call from Janeway's administrative aide, Lieutenant Commander Hoover.  Or was it Hooper?  Hooker?

"The captain wanted me to confirm the subject of the appointment," the aide told me, although we both knew perfectly well that she hadn't actually "wanted" him to do any such thing.  She had no idea that her yeoman had set up my appointment a scant fifty-three minutes earlier, nor did she know that her aide was following up on who, exactly, this Admiral Luann Powell was.

I restated the same line on researching deep space duty that I'd used with the yeoman and waited for the other shoe to fall.

"You have research credentials in this field?" he challenged me.

There is something comforting about how predictable Starfleet officers are.  "Did you think I might be an octogenarian news reporter trying to sneak in an interview with her on the Delta Quadrant?"

He frowned at my non-response.  "The captain is a busy woman."

I could tell he was serious about my qualifications, so I pulled out all the stops.  I said I was Admiral (retired) Luann Powell, PhD, former chief of Starfleet counseling and, before that, director of starship counseling at Starfleet medical.  Author of sixteen books, two of which are still required reading at Starfleet Academy, writer of hundreds of articles in dozens of professional journals, and inventor of three innovative hastasi drinks still served at Rudy's Bar on Risa.  Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Academy, ship's counselor extraordinaire with nearly fifteen years of deep space duty, one-time bridge champion of the Beta Quadrant fleet, and generally a fun person to have around.

"They call me the 'Captains' Counselor,'" I concluded, giving Lieutenant Commander Hoo-ever an exaggerated wink, "but you can call me Lulu."

The poor man stared at me for a moment in absolute astonishment and then nodded, all business at last.  "Yes, ma'am.  I'll make a note for the captain."

I laughed when he broke off the link and wondered what that particular note would say.  He would probably warn her that a retired nut of an admiral wanted to swap space stories with her over a mug of coffee.  But, since he was a dutiful aide, I was also sure that he'd follow up to make sure I was who I said I was.  I didn't tell a single lie about that.

I arrived early that Friday afternoon with the intention of watching Janeway's staff at work.  I've found that I can learn a lot about a captain's character by watching the way his or her staff behaves while the boss is away.  I settled into a comfortable overstuffed chair and pulled out a PADD, only to notice that the yeoman was looking at me with concern.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"The captain has been detained at her meeting," she reported.  "Would you like to reschedule your appointment for next week?"

"How late will she be?"

"That's hard to say, Admiral.  However, she said that if you were willing to wait, she'd meet with you no matter how late she is."

"Then I'll wait," I said, holding up my PADD.  "I brought some reading, just in case."

What I had brought were the notes I'd made of my meeting with Chakotay, and I spent the next hour pouring over them again in great detail, trying to get a clear picture of Janeway from his point of view.

I realized, again, that Chakotay thought of the captain in what could only be called a string of contradictions, reflecting his two-faceted perception of her as both his commanding officer and a woman he found nearly irresistible:  feminine and petite, yet powerfully commanding; kind and considerate, yet relentless and demanding; open to suggestions, yet completely sure that she was right; outgoing and friendly, yet aloof; direct and honest, but also discreet and multifaceted; tolerant, yet difficult to please; patient, yet anxious and tenacious.  Janeway, I decided, was going to be a very interesting person.

Then I noticed a pair of legs standing in front of me and looked up into an unfamiliar face.

"Hello, Admiral.  I'm Pete Hoover."  Although he was smiling, his eyes bored into me.

Ah, yes.  Hoover.  The Lieutenant Commander who was Janeway’s aide.  I should have known that the captain's aide would want to make sure I wasn't a few sandwiches short of a picnic.  "Of course.  We spoke earlier in the week."

"The captain is looking forward to meeting to you."  He glanced at the yeoman, who was pretending not to listen.  "I had no idea you were such a renowned counselor, but the captain recognized your name right away."

I inclined my head.  "I'm flattered to know that."

"I wanted to let you know that her meeting has ended.  She'll be here shortly."

"Thanks for the warning."  I watched him disappear into her office and listened for the sounds of Janeway's arrival through the back entrance or "escape hatch," as we called it informally.

A few minutes later, I was escorted into her empty office and took the opportunity to look around.  There were a few tastefully selected mementos lying about and a few stunning paintings on the wall, all of which I would love to study in greater detail.

"Make yourself comfortable, Admiral," came Janeway's voice from the private alcove.  "I'll be right with you."

"No hurry," I replied as I selected an overstuffed chair beside the floor-to-ceiling windows instead of the straight-backed chairs in front of her desk.  I sank into the cushions, but my usual groan of satisfaction was interrupted by the beautiful view of headquarters' renowned rose garden.  "You have a lovely view here."

"Sometimes the view from a lower floor is worth the loss of prestige."  She stood before me with a tray that held a pot of coffee, two cups, and an assortment of cookies.  She set the tray on the table that had been strategically placed in front of the window and sat down in the other chair to my right.  "I thought we might have a snack, if you don't mind?  My mother baked these cookies, and if I don't share them I'll need to replicate a larger size uniform."

"Perfect," I said, meaning her deportment, not her offer of food.  I knew at once that this would be a challenging interview and that Kathryn Janeway was the Captain Personified.  Luckily, Lulu is not easily discouraged.

"Haven't we met before, Admiral?"

I should have expected her to remember our brief encounter at the Night Owl.  "Yes, we did, just last week for a brief moment.  Your sister shared her table with me."

"Starfleet is a small world," she commented, and I could see suspicion in her eyes.

"Like a family.  And, since this is an informal meeting, please call me Lulu."

Janeway, who had been in the process of pouring our coffee, looked up at me in surprise and, for the briefest moment, I saw the more personable "Kathryn mask" slip into place.  “Lulu?” her mouth quirked as she repressed a smile and quickly recovered her composure.  “Short for Luann?”

“I was named for my maiden great-aunt, Luann Bontecou, a woman who was about as warm and inviting as the Breen home world.  No one who knew her wondered why she was an old maid, and I didn’t want to be anything like her, so I took a more enjoyable nickname.  In time, I came to embrace the connotations of the word ‘lulu,’ as well.”

At this, Janeway produced a genuine laugh, and I was thrilled to hear it.  She handed me my cup and saucer and said, “Well, I must say that my aide thinks of you as a ‘lulu’ based on your first conversation with him.”

The coffee was rich and dark, and I knew I’d be awake for hours because of the stiff shot of caffeine it sent into my system.  I rolled my eyes at the mention of the Lieutenant Commander.  “I’m afraid I toyed with the man a bit.  He came across as so . . . .”

“Stuffy?” she suggested with a wicked grin.  She gestured at the cookies as she picked up one for herself.  “The iced oatmeal is especially good with coffee.”

She was right, and I enjoyed the pleasant burst the sweet cinnamon made against the bitter coffee aftertaste.  “Delicious.”

The captain was back, I noticed, as she regarded me with an icy shrewdness.  “I’m familiar with your work, as you could probably guess.  In fact, I read The Captain’s Mask in my pre-command class and found it very instructive.”

“I’m flattered.”

“You specialize in counseling captains.”

“I do.  I’ve spent my whole career fascinated by the people who hold your rank.  I’ve known hundreds of them, and I like them better than almost any other species known to the Federation.”

“Species?” she narrowed her eyes.  “I don’t understand.”

“Well, the dictionary definition calls species a class of individuals grouped according to common attributes.”

She snorted in disgust at my pedantic response.  “I know what a species is, Admiral, I just never applied the term to a rank.”

“Lulu.  Please call me Lulu.”  I was actually pleased to have upset her.  I hoped I could get past the formality she hid behind, and irritation was a good start.  “Starfleet captains have many qualities in common.  They’re extremely independent and self-assured, cool heads in the midst of disaster, able to think clearly when everyone else is frozen in place by fear.  Most of them have internalized the values of the Federation so completely that the ethic is almost a religion to them.  And they work harder than anyone else on the ship, without exception.”  I gently placed my cup on the table before I looked up at her.  “And often, maybe even usually, they are very much solitary and lonely individuals.”

She regarded me coolly.  “The problem with stereotypes is that they can often mislead us in our evaluations of others.”

“True,” I shrugged.  “But these qualities are so common that I find them to be a good starting place.  I admit that I look forward to meeting a captain who has accentuated the positive while avoiding the negative.”  I selected another cookie, chocolate chip this time, and studied its surface a moment. “It’s just that I’ve never met a captain who’s accomplished it without help.  A lot of help.”

She studied me for a few awkward moments, trying to unsettle me with silence, but I am very serene while eating cookies, especially homemade ones, and I am impervious to the infamous “captains’ glare.”  Finally, she sat up and reached for the coffee pot, refilling her cup before sitting back and changing the subject.  “I’d imagined that you would be in on my debriefing, to tell the truth.  You are the ‘captains’ counselor,’ right?”

I smiled.  “Well that’s what some people call me, although Picard prefers to call me the ‘captains’ pest.’”

“Picard?  From Enterprise?”

“I know most of the captains, Kathryn.  I even knew your dad, when he was a captain, and I served briefly with one of your grandparents, Admiral Kiernan, before she retired.  You were named after her, I believe?”

She nodded.  “My maternal grandmother.  I didn’t know her very well.”

“No, I imagine not, because she worked too hard.  She was a nice person, really.  Not nearly as bad a namesake as mine was.”  I leaned forward, forcing her to look at me.  “I wanted very much to be part of your debriefing, Kathryn, but Admiral Birdcage and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.  He didn’t want to share.”

“Birdcage?” she smiled.  “Do you call him that to his face?”

“Not that I recall, although I may have slipped once or twice.”  I grew thoughtful.  “How did your psych debriefing go?”

“He’s cleared me for duty.”  She looked away, but I thought I saw doubt in her eyes.  “That’s what I wanted.”

“That’s what the captain wanted,” I corrected her.  “What did Kathryn want?”

She whispered, “That’s of secondary importance.”

Bingo.  Those words told me all I needed to know.  She was struggling to acknowledge her individual needs after years and years of habit that pushed them aside, ignored them, discounted them as unimportant.  “The truth is, Captain, that Kathryn’s needs are the only ones that do matter right now.”

She looked up at me in surprise, suddenly realizing that this wasn’t an interview that was relevant to my “research” as much as it was a counseling session.  She had revealed a personal demon to me, and she wanted very much to pretend she hadn’t.  “I think you should leave.”

“I probably should.”  I took a deep breath before I plunged on.  “But I care too much about your well-being to lie to you.  Nobody can help you recover from seven years as a captain in a couple of weeks, Kathryn, not Birdcage and not me.  In fact, if you ever recover, it will more likely take months or years.”

“Recover from being a captain?”  I could see her struggle to maintain the captain’s façade.  “What are you talking about?”

“Captains develop bad habits out there, Kathryn. They consciously repress their feelings and their desires in favor of the demands from the ship and crew until they do it without thinking.  They work ungodly hours as a matter of course, without realizing that they’ve lost their personal lives in the process.  They get used to distancing themselves from their staff and crew, and then do the same thing to their friends, and finally their family, because they believe that their feelings cloud their judgment.  Eventually, nothing is left but that species of captain I mentioned earlier, and their individuality, their unique personality, their precious individuality becomes just a fond recollection of the people who knew and loved them.”

“Oh, God!” she said as she collapsed into the cushions.  “You sound like my mother.”

“Your mother wants her daughter back.”

She sighed.  “That’s more or less what she’s said.”

“And Birdcage didn’t address this with you?  He didn’t ask you about how you're adjusting to non-Starfleet life?  How you're getting along with your family and friends?”

"What does that have to do with my work?"

"What, indeed!  The fact that your job affects all parts of your life is one thing Birdcage and I don't see eye-to-eye about."  I took a moment to rein in my temper, not wanting to antagonize the captain at this critical moment.  "Let me ask you a question.  In those first weeks and months on Voyager, were you conscious of 'becoming the captain' when you left your quarters?  Did you worry about gaining the trust of your crew?  Or of masking your emotions from them?  Of playing the role to perfection?"

"Yes, I . . . I remember worrying about that for awhile.  But then being the captain became second nature to me, and I didn't have to worry about it any more."

"Second nature?  Or first nature?"  I let that thought sink in, moving on when I saw her eyes widen in recognition.  "Kathryn, it's perfectly normal for you to consciously become the 'captain.'  In fact, I'd be worried if it didn't.  But, over time, those feelings get reversed.  You begin to feel that your private self is the assumed role.  You stop putting on the captain's mask when you step on the bridge and start putting on Kathryn's mask when you enter your quarters."

Her eyes were troubled.  "During those last years, I did feel that way."

"And there were probably times when you wondered if you would ever be anything other than the captain again."

"Oh, yes.  There were many times I worried about that."

"Wasn't there someone you trusted as your confidante, someone who saw the real you after hours?  That person can be instrumental in helping you reverse this process."

She stood up and walked to the window, keeping her back to me.  "Not at the end, no.  But, before that, for a long time . . . ."  She buried her face in her hands, unwilling, or unable to say his name.  When she finally turned and faced me, she was once again in perfect control of her emotions--except I knew better.  "He's busy elsewhere, Lulu, with someone else.  I let him go.  I practically pushed him out an airlock because I thought he made me weak."

"You felt weak because you fell in love with him.  Right?"  She stared at me, too distressed to speak.  "It's all right. You can tell me.  I won't tell anyone else."

She shook her head.  "Rumor and idle speculation."

"Where there's smoke, there's fire."  I said his name for her.  "Chakotay.  You loved him, but you knew it was a mistake to admit it, even to yourself."

"I fell in love with my first officer," she whispered, crossing her arms and leaning back against the window.  "And I knew it was a recipe for disaster."

"If you felt is was a mistake, then I agree.  You know better than anyone what you could and couldn't handle out there."

She was anxious to move on to a less emotional topic.  "Does this mean that I still need counseling?  That I'm not ready to return to work?"

"I think you're fit for duty, if that's what you mean.  The problem isn't work, it's after work.  You need help if you want to break the habits you've formed over the last seven years.  We need to find a way to bring Kathryn back to the forefront and make the captain take the back seat for awhile."

"Will you help me do that, Lulu?"

Hearing that question made me want to jump out of my seat and give her a gigantic hug, but I restrained myself.  I would find a way to celebrate later when I wouldn't scare her half to death.  "I was hoping you'd ask me to help you, Kathryn, but we'll have to do it unofficially and off-duty.  I don't want Birdcage to think that I'm undermining his position."

She smiled.  "All right.  We can say I'm helping you research the long-term impact of deep space."

"There is one other condition you must agree to.  I will gladly be your counselor as you work through this adjustment, but there is someone else you need help from, as well."

She frowned.  "Someone else?"

I stood up and started for the office door.  "Just a minute."

I wasn't gone long, but by the time I came back, Kathryn had turned to look out the window with her back to the door, and I'm pretty sure I saw her brush tears from her eyes.  "Lulu, I'm just not sure about this . . . ," she began as she turned to face us, stopping in mid-sentence when she saw who was following me.  She was so pale that I actually thought she might faint.

"I believe you've met," I said as I gracefully stepped aside.

"Chakotay!" she whispered, putting a hand against the glass to help her keep her balance.

Have you ever become invisible?  As far as those two were concerned, there was no one else in the room.  I was little more than a fly on the wall, but I was a very observant fly, and what I was about to observe was going to restore my belief in the power of love.

Chakotay, in contrast to the captain, was blushing.  "Hello, Kathryn."

"You're with . . . Lulu?"  I really didn't mind that she smiled at my name.  "I thought you were in Arizona."

"I was."  He gave her a nice view of his dimpled grin.  "Let's just say that she recruited me before she came here."

Kathryn seemed to realize where she was and regained her composure.  I slowly backed into the shadows by the door.  "Won't you sit down?"

He took the seat I had vacated, and she returned to the one next to it.  "This is a nice view of the rose garden, Kathryn."

"One of the perks for being promotable to admiral, I guess."  She reached for her coffee cup and then remembered that the other one was mine, not Chakotay's.  "Let me get you some tea."

"No.  Thanks."  He grabbed her wrist to stop her from rising.  "I just want to talk to you."

She relaxed and smiled at him—and I recognized another appearance of the illusive Kathryn.  "What have you been doing in Arizona besides trying to stay cool?"

He was facing away from me, but I'm sure he smiled.  "I've been catching up on current events, sleeping about twelve hours a day, and visiting with my sister and her family and with my cousin and his family in Ohio.  What about you?"

She blushed and looked down at her uniform.  "Well, that's pretty obvious, isn't it?"

"Haven't you taken some leave?"

"Few days here and there."  She sighed and rubbed her forehead with her fingers.  "There's so much to do."

"And so much time to do it in."  He leaned toward her and took her hand.  "We're home, you know."

"I remember."

"I'm sorry I haven't stayed in touch with you since the debriefings ended.  I intended to, but then Seven and I broke up, and I needed some time to think."

"Don't apologize.  I haven't kept in touch with you either."

"Why haven't we?" he wondered out loud.  "Of all the people on the ship who were close, I thought we were the closest.  I thought we would stay in touch."

"I think I'm out of practice when it comes to friendship."  She laughed at the ridiculousness of the comment.  "Really, I haven't had to think about being a friend for seven years.  I've forgotten how to do it."

But Chakotay, with his natural instinct toward counseling (how we missed recruiting him into the counseling ranks, I'll never know), replied, "That's perfectly understandable.  Most captains don't have friends on board ship, not really."

"Weren't we friends?"

"I'm not sure 'friends' describes our relationship."  He studied her, and she nearly squirmed under his steady regard.  "Do you think we were?"

"You were the closest thing I had to a friend on Voyager.  You and Tuvok."

"Maybe, but the rank and the responsibility kept getting in the way."  He dropped her hand and sat back in the chair with a sigh.

She changed the subject.  "How has it been with your sister?"

"Awkward.  We were pretty close as kids, but . . . I don't know.  I'm having trouble fitting in."

"I know how it is.  My family thinks I should be able to step off of Voyager's bridge and right back into my life without a moment's hesitation.  They have no clue about what I've been through, how hard it was, how lonely and weary and afraid I was out there."

"How could they?  They weren't there."  He paused a moment to let her think.  "But I was."

"Yes," she whispered.  "You were there and you understand.  I should work harder at being your friend."

"Friendship takes time and effort.  You have to be willing to separate from your work and think about the other person."

Her eyes widened slightly, and she got up and walked to the window.  She stood there awhile, her hands clutched behind her back, and then she said, "I'm more than ready to get away from work and think about someone else."

He joined her at the window, placing his hands on her shoulders as he stood behind her.  "You know, it's occurred to me that there's only one time I've actually seen you off duty for any length of time."

She thought a moment, and then leaned back into him, her head on his shoulder.  "New Earth?"

"New Earth.  And it took you nearly five weeks to stop being the captain."

"That was because I still felt responsible for the crew.  I was determined to get off that planet so I could keep my promise to them."

"You'd only been captain two years then, and it took you a long time to put it behind you.  It's only natural that it would take longer now, after seven years."

"I wonder if I can do it."

"Lulu is great at this stuff, Kathryn.  And I'll be here for you, too."

She turned slightly to look into his eyes, and I sensed a sudden increase in tension between them.  "That could be a dangerous, Chakotay.  Do you remember what was about to happen on New Earth when Voyager returned for us?"

"Yes, I remember quite well."  He dropped his hands, but remained at her side, his face near her hair, his voice barely a whisper.  "I've been haunted by what almost happened on New Earth every day since."

She turned her face toward his and whispered, "So have I."

He took a deep breath, and then turned her to face him, his hands on her upper arms.  He smiled down at her, and I could see her relax slightly.  I may be over eighty years old, but I was pretty sure I recognized what was happening between them.  "I'll help you through this.  I miss the Kathryn Janeway I knew on New Earth, and I'm willing to wait as long as it takes to get her back again."

They stood there gazing into each other's eyes, and for a moment, I thought he might kiss her.  It occurred to me that these two needed to continue their chat--or foreplay--in private, so I cleared my throat and moved into the room making as much noise as I could in the process.  "It's getting late, so if you two don't mind, I'll grab my things and get out of here."

Chakotay stepped back as Kathryn turned toward me, both of them looking more than a little embarrassed to be caught.  Janeway said, "I'm sorry, Lulu.  We were so busy talking that we forgot you were there."

"Don't apologize.  Ignoring me is exactly what I'd hoped would happen."  I gave them both a reassuring smile.  "I want the two of you to reconnect with each other this weekend, and I'll be in touch with you Monday, okay?"  I gathered my things and then stopped to look at them fondly.  "We'll be seeing each other on and off over the next few weeks.  Like Chakotay, I'm looking forward to watching Kathryn re-emerge from behind that captain's alter ego."

"Thank you, Lulu," Kathryn said, giving me a hug.  "Thank you for caring about Starfleet captains, even the ones you've never met before."

I hugged her and gave Chakotay a wink over her shoulder.  "Just get me your mom's oatmeal cookie recipe and we'll call it even."

<><><><><>

I began a series of routine "research" sessions with Kathryn, meeting with her after duty hours during the week and on weekends whenever her schedule permitted it.  Once in a while, Chakotay joined us, but most of the time we met alone.

My job was to keep her focused on the bad habits she'd developed on Voyager and help her break them, while Chakotay's job was to help her rediscover the off-duty hobbies and passions that could lure her away from duty.  You wouldn't be surprised to learn that spending time doing anything with Chakotay seemed to be enough of a lure for her, would you?  I know he would've been a sufficient lure for me.

Birdcage was livid when he got wind of my "research" with the captain.  I received a very terse, no-nonsense order to appear in his office "as soon as possible" to discuss my meddling in the treatment of active duty personnel.  I wasn't very worried about it; I’m retired, after all, so what could he do to me?  Kathryn, however, reacted quite differently.

"Let me handle Birdcage," she said when I told her of my command performance.  She attended the meeting in my stead and, I understand, had a very informative and enlightening discussion with the poor man.  Once Birdcage recovered, he modified his stance toward my "holistic" approach to counseling and even let me see other Voyager crew members, including an adorable human/Katarian girl and a couple of former Borg drones.

My greatest pleasure, however, had to do with Captain Janeway herself.  There was no discernable change in her deportment or efficiency in her daily work.  She remained the same controlled, brilliant, and tenacious officer she had always been on the job, and she was soon selected for promotion to admiral.  The change occurred after hours, as the captain's mask gradually disappeared from her personal, private interactions,  and was replaced by the charm and warmth that made her a special and unique individual.  I was privileged to watch this gradual transformation, and the sight was as breathtaking as watching a rare flower blossom from its bud.

However, the most magnificent spectacle was the simultaneous development of a love affair between Kathryn and Chakotay.  No longer inhibited by a command relationship or by Kathryn's adherence to protocol, they quickly explored the depths of their love for each other, expanding what had been a remarkable working partnership into an even more intimate emotional bond.  Of course, most of this happened during their private times together, but I had the privilege of seeing glimpses of it during our joint meetings and at other informal gatherings.

Let me give you a quick example of their relationship.

Kathryn was suffering from a recurring nightmare that was stemmed from a trauma she experienced as a six-year-old child.  Chakotay sensed correctly that this nightmare was an important clue to her recovery and insisted that she share it with us during one of our joint sessions.  She'd refused to tell him the details, and he thought that it might be easier to tell us both at the same time.

Kathryn reluctantly recounted the event with a trembling voice, starting with the real memory.  She had been spending a few weeks of her summer vacation on her grandparents' farm when a terrible thunderstorm hit the region.  A lightening bolt split the huge tree she loved to climb in the back yard, and then a second bolt struck their ancient wooden barn nearby, starting a fire that quickly spread through the old building's dry tinder.  She joined her grandparents as they dashed into the smoky interior to let the two horses into the pasture, to chase the chickens out of the coop, and to grab what they could of the tools and supplies before the entire building went up in smoke.  Once the fire had progressed too far for them to continue their efforts, they stood together and watched the flames leaping a hundred feet into the sky, grateful that it was only the building they were losing.

Then Kathryn noticed a gray blur streak across the barnyard.  She realized at once that it was the mother cat that had disappeared earlier in the week to give birth to her litter of kittens in some secret location.  Moments later, the cat emerged from the barn with a mewling newborn kitten in her mouth, dropped it by the fence, and then dashed back into the inferno.  Kathryn tried to capture the mother cat the next time she returned with a kitten, but the cat, its fur smoldering with fire, refused to be caught.  When Kathryn tried to follow it into the flames, her grandparents held her firmly in their grip.

She watched the valiant mother bring five kittens out of the barn as tears flowed; the sheer courage and love the mother cat had for her beloved kittens was an awe-inspiring sight.  Once the last kitten was rescued, the mother collapsed beside her litter near death from smoke inhalation.  Kathryn had been haunted by dreams of the traumatic incident for the rest of her life, nightmares of fire and rescue that left her drenched in sweat and gasping for breath.

"And you've been having this dream again?" I asked her.  "Your experience in Voyager has triggered this traumatic memory?"

She buried her face in Chakotay's neck and mumbled, "Not exactly."

"Tell us, Kathryn," he insisted as he gently rubbed her back.  "If you get it out in the open, you can begin to put it behind you."

"He's right," I agreed, realizing that this could be the turning point in her recovery.  "Telling the dream reduces the power it has over you."

She looked up at me with tears in her eyes.  "The fire is on Voyager this time, on a lower deck that we've worked hard to make sure has been properly evacuated.  We just barely get out with our lives and are looking back in relief when I realize that I've left something personal and private on the deck, something I can't live without.

"I try to go back, but the others stop me, telling me that everyone is safe, that I shouldn’t risk my life for something that isn’t essential.  I fight and struggle, I plead with them to no avail, until I am so distraught that I collapse in hopelessness and despair.

"Later, I wake up to find the doctor leaning over me.  Although I'm fine, I can tell that he's terribly upset.  I'm suddenly frantic to find out whether the ship has suffered permanent damage from the fire, but he assures me that repairs are already underway.  The problem is that we lost a crewman in the fire.  He glances toward a neighboring biobed, and then he helps me get up and walk over to it."  At this point, she buried her face in her hands, too upset to continue.

"Did you see yourself on the biobed?" I wondered, guessing at the shock she might have experienced.  "Were you the one who perished in the fire?"

"No, Lulu," she sobbed, shaking her head.  "It's Chakotay."  She raised her head and wiped the tears from her eyes with her fingers.  "I look down at his face and am unable to breath or move.  He's wearing civilian clothing, and he looks as if he's sleeping, without a visible mark on his body.

"I turn to the doctor and demand that he explain how this happened.  How could we have missed the first officer's biosigns during our evacuation of the deck?  The doctor explains that the first officer is fine; it's Chakotay who's died.   I'm confused by what he says and ask him to explain, but then . . .

". . . suddenly, I'm back in my grandfather's barnyard holding the half-dead mother cat in my arms.  She looks at me with  loathing in her eyes and says, 'How could you let him die, Kathryn?  If you really loved him, nothing would have stopped you from going back for him.'  I try to explain that my duty to the ship comes first when I realize that my grandmother and grandfather are watching me with obvious disapproval, and then my parents are there, and Phoebe, all of them telling me that I failed him, that I should never have left him to die."  She buried her face in Chakotay's chest as tears streamed from her eyes.

I was so stunned at the details of her nightmare that I hate to admit that I was momentarily at a loss for words.  It occurred to me that Kathryn's dream was an elegant example of the captain's divided loyalty between official duties and personal desires, the tortured split between the obligation to the ship and the love for their family and friends.  By the time I realized that I needed to comfort and reassure her, I was too late.  Chakotay, with his instinctive counseling abilities, had taken matters into his own hands.

"Kathryn," he murmured, holding her close as she cried.  "That's behind us now.  You aren't the captain of Voyager, and you don't have to hide your feelings any more."  He went on talking to her, and I watched in rapt fascination at the way he slowly soothed her tears away and helped her regain her composure.  When she finally calmed down, he gave her an affectionate look and said, "There's a problem with your nightmare, you know."

"There is?" she looked up at him expectantly.

"You would've gone back into the fire for me or for anyone else on the crew.  You would have been as unstoppable as that mother cat."

Her mouth quirked into a tiny grin.  "You're probably right."

He laughed and pulled her into an embrace.  "You know I'm right."

When they "surfaced" a few minutes later and remembered that I was watching them, I said, "You know, Kathryn, your dream wasn't really about leaving a member of the crew behind or saving them from danger.  It was about how you've had to split yourself in half over the last seven years.  You've had to put aside your personal feelings for so long that you feel they're dead and gone forever."

We talked for awhile, and then I told them that our sessions would shortly come to an end.  "You've made great progress in an amazingly short period of time."

"Thanks to you, Lulu," she said.  "You rescued me when I didn't even know I was in trouble."

"'Lulu to the Rescue!'" I cried, waving a fist triumphantly in the air.  We had a good laugh and then spent an hour just talking as friends.  The comfortable chat left me with a good feeling, although I knew I would miss being around these two people when the time came to move on.

"I've been a minor part of this whole process," I told them as I gave Kathryn a wink and nodded toward Chakotay.  "Love still has the greatest healing power in the universe."

<><><><><>

When I left Earth in late July, I was secure in the knowledge that Kathryn Janeway was back on her feet again, happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, and I never thought I'd hear from her again.  Counselors are used to watching our charges spread their wings and fly, never thinking to look back, and, frankly, we move on, as well.  It's the nature of the job.

I underestimated Kathryn.  She called me in September to tell me that she and Chakotay had found a house in Marin County and to offer me a room whenever I had occasion to visit the area.  She called me in November when her name appeared on the admiral's list at the same time that Chakotay's appeared on the captain's list.

And then, one evening in March as I was preparing for bed, I received a priority call from her.  As I settled into the desk chair to activate the computer screen, I noticed that it was very early in the morning on Earth, and I worried that her nightmares had recurred or some other disaster had befallen her.

I was relieved to see a smile on her face.  She was wearing a lovely lace negligee and robe, and I could hear Chakotay's voice in the background, talking to someone else.

"Kathryn!  What a delightful surprise!"

"I can't talk long, because we're getting ready for work, but wanted you to be the first to know." Her eyes were sparkling with barely-restrained joy.  "Chakotay and I have decided to adopt."

"Really!" I replied, unable to hide my surprise.  "So soon?"

She nodded and glanced over her shoulder.  "Chakotay, bring her here."  All at once a wriggling ball of black hair landed in Kathryn's lap and began to lick her neck and face.

"A puppy?"

"A female black lab."  Chakotay knelt behind Kathryn's chair to smile a hello, putting a hand on Kathryn's shoulder for balance as he scratched the puppy's ears.  As she spoke, I took in the whole picture, two wonderful people deeply in love, and I knew that they had always been destined for each other.  "My mother's neighbor runs a kennel, and we made the mistake of going to see the newest litter."

"She's adorable!  When did you get her?"

"Last night.  She's been a real pest, too, howling until well after midnight and then getting us up before dawn."

"Well, I'd say it's time for a little discipline."  I laughed as the puppy crawled over Kathryn's shoulder and leapt into Chakotay's arms.  "She seems to know a quality man when she meets him!"

Kathryn winked and picked up a huge mug of coffee.  "Lulu, I'm also calling because Chakotay and I want to get your opinion on something."

"Well, I have an opinion on just about every issue, so ask away."

"You were instrumental in helping us adjust to home, and we've come to think of you as an integral part of Voyager’s family.  We won't do this if it’s an insult you, but we'd love to name our new addition Lulu, in your honor."

For a moment, I stared at her, thinking that I should be offended to have a dog named after me, but then I thought better of it.  I had come to love these two and should be honored to have the treasured pet of the most famous couple in Starfleet named after me.  Besides, I'd made use of enough dogs in my counseling career to realize that they were much more than just pets.  In time, my namesake would likely become their surrogate child.

What else could I do?

I replied with a chuckle, "Insulted?  Kathryn, I've never felt more flattered."

The end


 
 
 
 


 

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