Disclaimer:  Both Janeways, as well as other characters, are Paramount’s.

Rating:  G

Notes:   The pivotal point in the episode ’11:59’ occurred when Shannon O’Donnell turned her car around and went back to Portage Creek to find Henry Janeway.  When he asked why she’d returned, she replied that it was because of the cookies she’d bought to nibble on while driving - they didn’t taste right.    Whether that was the real reason, of course, we don’t know but if so, it was a classic example of one small event having enormous ramifications.   And it made me wonder what would have happened if the cookies had tasted fine.
This is an a/u story in which Chakotay is thrown through a spatial rift on to a different version of Voyager where he meets Captain Nicole Janeway.
My heartfelt thanks to Gilly, who created this wonderful picture for me, and as always, to Shayenne for her willingness to beta.
For anyone who is wondering why I picked the name Nicole, it is documented in Stephen Edward Poe’s book about the making of Star Trek Voyager, ‘A Vision of the Future’, that in fact, at the personal request of Geneviève Bujold, the first name of the character was changed from Elizabeth to Nicole.   Obviously, once she left, it was changed again to Kathryn.
 
 

A Horseshoe Nail




By Mary S.
 


 

                                       For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
                                       For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
                                       For want of a horse the rider was lost.
                                       For want of a rider the battle was lost.
                                       For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
                                       And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prologue:

Indiana, December 31, 2000
 

           The old station wagon sped swiftly through the dark winter night, every minute steadily marking off another mile.     At the wheel, a woman sat relaxed, eyes focused on the road lit by the twin beams of headlights.   One hand gripped the steering wheel while the other fished blindly in a bag of cookies lying on the seat beside her.    Although she appeared to be concentrating on the highway, in fact her mind was twenty miles away, replaying her final argument with the man she’d left behind in Portage Creek.

           “Damn you anyway, Henry Janeway!” she muttered to herself.   “Damn you for upsetting my plans, for intruding into my life.  Even if,” she was forced to add in a fit of honesty, “it hasn’t been much of a life lately.”   Her hand found another cookie.   “But things are looking up.  If I can just make a success of this job in Canton, it could lead to all sorts of possibilities.”   She sighed, then suddenly peered out the window as she passed a large billboard declaiming Portage Creek, Indiana, future home of the Millennium Gate.   That bold statement caused the woman to laugh aloud.

           “Only if someone can persuade Henry Janeway to follow the rest of the human race into the twenty-first century!   Although, I wouldn’t bet on it!   I don’t think I ever met such a stubborn man!”

           Momentarily, her foot lifted off the pedal as she contemplated the enigma that was Henry Janeway, sometime seller of books as well as lover of all things in the past, the further back the better.  And yet – he had gotten to her, gotten under her skin in a way she wouldn’t have believed possible only a few short days ago.    “It would never work, he and I,” she went back to muttering.   “We’re too different.   He has no use for progress, for anything invented after the Dark Ages, for heaven’s sake!   Face it, my dear, you couldn’t have found anyone more contradictory if you’d tried.    So keep your foot on the gas and put all those ideas about turning around out of your head right this minute!    You have a decent job lined up in Canton, working on a project that is full of promise for the future.   For heaven’s sake, be practical!”

           Determinedly, she pressed down on the accelerator, increasing speed until she was almost flying down the road.   Only when she reached the interchange for the freeway to Canton did she finally slow down to a reasonable pace.   She had made her decision and she would stick to it.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           That same night in Portage Creek, a sad and lonely man sat by himself in his bookstore, wondering if he’d just become the biggest fool alive by letting go of the best chance for happiness he’d ever have.    ‘But we were so different,’ ran the constant refrain through his head, ‘too different!  It wouldn’t have worked and yet….’

           Restlessly, he got to his feet and wandered to the front door where a silent crowd stood vigil in the street.   For a moment, he tried to hold fast to his determination not to give in to the almighty god of progress, but he was tired and fed-up and his resolve was weakening.   With a sudden snort of disgust, he snatched up his coat, threw it on and walked out the door.   Spreading his arms wide, he roared at the mob before him.   “Fine!   If you want your damn Millennium Gate so much, you can have it!   Either way, I’m finished with the lot of you!   I’m shaking the dust of Portage Creek from my feet forever!”

           From among the throng, a teenage boy ran forward.   “Dad!  Wait!  Where are you going?!”

           The man yelled over his shoulder angrily.   “Anywhere, as long as it’s far away from here!”

           “Wait for me!” cried the boy.  “I’m coming with you!”

           For a moment, the man paused, then turned around to face his son.   Silently, he gazed into anxious eyes.   “Are you sure, Jason?  Because I mean it.  I’m not coming back here, not ever.”

           Without a second’s hesitation, the youngster answered proudly, “Wherever you go, Dad, I’ll be right there beside you.”

           For a second, the man’s eyes closed in profound relief.   “Then come with me, son.   Let’s go find a better place to live.”

           Together, they strode down the street into the darkness, away from the lights and the silent, watchful crowd.

           That was the last time Portage Creek, Indiana, would ever see the Janeways.
 

                             ***********************************
 

Delta Quadrant:  2377
 

           A small vessel sailed alone through the vastness of space, its lone occupant busy at the controls.   Wanting to spend some time by himself without the constant distractions of the ship and her crew, Commander Chakotay had been quick to volunteer for a three-day mission to survey the system he was now approaching.    Long-range scans had indicated possible deposits of several rare ores on two planets within a system four light years away but the sensor readouts had been inconclusive.   Even boosting all available power to the sensor array had failed to improve the readings enough to determine whether, in fact, there were any deposits.

           Seven of Nine had actually appeared uncomfortable while making her report to the senior staff at the daily briefing two days earlier, concluding almost angrily,   “I regret I am unable to state for certain that the ores are there.”

           Captain Janeway had merely nodded and asked for suggestions.   Such results were part of life in the Delta Quadrant, where nothing ever came easily.   But her eyebrows had shot up in surprise when Chakotay had instantly announced he would take out a shuttle on a survey mission, although she made no comment then.    Later that day, however, she found an opportunity to ask him if there was anything amiss in his life, her eyes searching his face anxiously.

           He had been quick to reassure her, explaining that he merely wanted some time to himself.   “I know it’s not your habit to send out an away team of one,” he added to forestall the objection he knew she was about to make.  “But I would be grateful if, this time, you would permit me to go alone.”

           Reassured and a little distracted as well by his warm smile, Kathryn had merely nodded and allowed the subject to drop.

           In fact, Chakotay was feeling that he was at something of a crossroads in his life.   Professionally, his place on Voyager was secure, but personally was quite a different matter.    For years, he had longed for a closer relationship with his captain, not physical intimacy so much as an acknowledgement from her that she reciprocated his feelings.   He understood very well why a romantic relationship between them was out of the question at the present time.  What he wanted was more nebulous – an understanding, even an agreement, that she would be willing to explore all the possibilities of a life with him once they reached the Alpha Quadrant.     Although he had been certain on New Earth that eventually their lives would be joined together in every way, once they returned to the ship, that certainty was gone.   In the four years since their ‘rescue’, not once had Kathryn Janeway ever openly stated that she loved him or wanted him in her life other than as a good friend.

           Her recent adventure on the holodeck with Michael Sullivan in the Fair Haven simulation had pretty well convinced him that he must have been mistaken all these years, that he’d been building his hopes on a pipe dream.   And if that were the case, then it was past time that he moved on with his life.

           Chakotay was naturally a warm, affectionate person, a man who was most content when he could love and be loved in equal measure.    But each time he had tried to further their relationship beyond friendship, Kathryn had withdrawn into herself.   Even he could see the obvious – she didn’t want him as a lover, perhaps she never had.

           On several occasions, he had tried to analyze their relationship dispassionately and objectively, hoping to find the answers he needed, but each time, he was interrupted by one crisis or another.    The chance to be alone on a shuttle with no one to disturb him for three days was a heaven-sent opportunity to sort out his feelings once and for all, and he seized it gratefully.

           Now, as he approached the unnamed system, he worked to adjust the sensors for the best possible readings.    Hopefully, he would find some answers about the ores as well.

           Suddenly, directly in front of him, a rupture appeared in the fabric of space.   Frantically, he tried to reverse the engines to escape but it was too late.    In a desperate attempt to leave some trace of his passage, he ejected an emergency beacon even as the shuttle sailed directly into the rift and disappeared.   As he lost consciousness, his last thought was to hope that the beacon hadn’t been pulled in as well, but there was no way to know.

           A moment later, the rift was gone as if it had never been.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Chakotay gradually awoke to the sound of voices murmuring nearby.   Unsure where he was, he forced his eyes open just enough to identify the familiar environs of sickbay, then with a soft sigh of relief, allowed them to close again.   Somehow, his crewmates had found him; for now, that was all that mattered.   Relaxing in the certain knowledge that he was safe once more on his ship, he drifted into sleep.

           The next time he woke up, however, he was startled into instant wakefulness by the sight of a strange man, dressed in a Starfleet science uniform, staring down at him.   Before he could open his mouth to ask a question, the man turned away and tapped his combadge.

           “Sickbay to bridge.  Captain, I think he’s regaining consciousness.”

           A female voice echoed through the combadge.  “Acknowledged.  I’m on my way.”

           Cold fear gripped Chakotay’s stomach.   He had no idea who the woman was, but her voice certainly hadn’t held the distinctive husky tones of Kathryn Janeway.   And yet, this man had called her captain.   What was going on?  Where was he?   Pushing his hands against the surface of the biobed, Chakotay tried to sit up, but his ordeal had left him weak and helpless.  However, his effort caught the attention of the man, who moved back to his side.

           “Who are you?” gasped out Chakotay.

           The man placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, forcing him to lie still.   “I think we better wait for the captain.   She’ll be better able to answer your questions.”

           A minute later, the door hissed open to admit an older woman of slim build, her short dark hair liberally streaked with gray, her face thin and her eyes lined with care.   Like the man, she wore a standard Starfleet uniform, the only difference being her red-shouldered jacket, which covered the usual gray turtleneck on which were pinned four rank pips.   However, even without the pips, Chakotay would have had no trouble identifying this woman as the captain.   Although she carried it easily, her professional demeanor as well as her carriage proclaimed her authority.   ‘Just like Kathryn’, ran the thought through his head as she approached the biobed.

           “What have you got for me, Doctor?” she demanded without preamble, her brisk tone at odds with her voice, which was surprisingly soft with a slight accent that Chakotay couldn’t identify.

           The man gestured to Chakotay.  “Our patient is awake and has some questions.”

           The woman nodded and moved to stand beside the biobed, gazing intently at Chakotay.  “As do we,” she replied softly, her eyes examining his features intently.

           Staring up at her, his face twisted in a puzzled scowl, he whispered, “Who are you, and where am I?”

           “My name is Captain Nicole Janeway and you are on my ship, the Federation starship Voyager.”

           “What?!  But…I’m sorry, could you say that again?!”

           The captain’s lips tightened fractionally but she repeated her words evenly.  However as she finished speaking, her eyes narrowed in sudden recognition.  Abruptly she backed away, slapping her combadge.   “Janeway to Security!   Send a team to sickbay immediately!”

           By now completely confused, Chakotay could only shake his head.  “I don’t understand!  This isn’t right!”

           Janeway continued to stare at him but remained silent until the door opened to admit two security officers, their phasers drawn.   Then she pointed at Chakotay and ordered, “Watch him!  He’s an escaped prisoner!”

           Reacting instinctively, he started to get off the biobed but was halted by the phasers aimed at him.

           “Stay right where you are!” snarled one of the officers.

           “But I don’t know what you’re talking about!” protested Chakotay, trying to gather his wits.  “I am….”  He paused and took a deep breath to steady his voice.  “I am Commander Chakotay, first officer of the Federation starship Voyager, currently lost in the Delta Quadrant.”

           Now it was the captain’s turn to look puzzled.  “Well, you’re certainly not my first officer!” were the first words out of her mouth.  “Who is your captain?”

           “Kathryn Janeway.”

           “Kathryn Janeway?” she repeated slowly, rolling the syllables carefully around her tongue.

           “Yes,” he answered more confidently.  “And I am not an escaped prisoner!  Now please tell me what’s going on!”

           For a moment, Janeway continued to stare at him, her face creased in puzzlement, before demanding abruptly, “Answer me this!   Are you a member of the Maquis?”

           He took his time replying.  “I was a member of the Maquis before my ship was thrown into the Delta Quadrant.   Now I’m a provisional member of Starfleet holding a field commission of commander.”

           Shaking her head, she glanced at the doctor, who had been standing silently at the foot of the biobed.   “It would seem we have a mystery on our hands, wouldn’t it?”   As she spoke, she moved to stand beside him and peer at the tricorder in his hand.   “How serious are his injuries, Doctor?”

           “For the most part, they are minor, Captain,” replied the doctor, “except for the head injury.  I would like to run some deep-level scans on a cellular level, both to check for anything I might have missed and perhaps to find some answers.”

           Her face creased in a slight smile.  “But I haven’t asked the questions yet.”

           He grinned at her with the ease of a colleague who has shared many years of service.  “You will.”

           Her smile widened as she tapped his arm lightly.  “You know me too well, I think.”   Turning away, she headed for the door.  “I want a report as soon as possible, Doctor,” she called over her shoulder, before ordering the security officers to stand down weapons but remain where they were.

           “Understood, Captain,” echoed through the room as the door slid closed behind her.

           The doctor moved to stand beside Chakotay.  “Well, Commander, let’s get to work, shall we?”

           But Chakotay held up one hand, forestalling him.  “Fine, but first, could you tell me two things?   The stardate and your name?”

           The doctor stared at him, puzzled.  “Don’t you know?  I’m Doctor Fitzgerald, Voyager’s CMO, and the stardate is 53428.”

           The stardate matched, but….   Chakotay frowned as a nasty suspicion settled in his gut.

           “So tell me then,” continued the doctor, “if I’m not the chief medical officer on your Voyager, who is?”

           Despite the bizarre nature of his predicament, Chakotay nearly burst out laughing.   “I’m not sure you want to know.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Several hours later, Captain Janeway convened an emergency meeting of her senior staff.  Only one item was on the agenda.

           “Doctor Fitzgerald,” began the captain, “we’ll start with you.  What have you learned about our visitor?”

           “A cellular scan of Commander Chakotay reveals signs of spatial displacement,” replied the doctor, handing over a PADD.   “I have also discovered that there are certain ‘differences’ between his version of Voyager and ours.”

           Janeway nodded thoughtfully, before glancing at the ops officer beside him.

           “Sensor readings confirm that a spatial rift did appear in the area for nearly a minute,” reported Ensign Joseph Kim, also placing a PADD in front of the captain.

           She gripped them both tightly, as if to force out some answers, then turned to her first officer.   “And you, Mr. Cavit, what do you think?”

           But Cavit, ever cautious, only shook his head.   “As yet, Captain, there isn’t enough information to make even an educated guess.”

           Janeway pursed her lips tightly in evident frustration but made no further comment, instead looking towards her chief of security, Lieutenant Tuvok.

           Correctly interpreting her silent question, Tuvok replied dispassionately.  “Based on the evidence presented so far, flimsy as it may be, I believe we may reasonably assume that Commander Chakotay has come from an alternate universe, where Voyager is captained by a woman named Kathryn Janeway.”  He paused briefly before adding, “I have taken the liberty of sending a priority message to Starfleet Command requesting information on the status of the Chakotay we know, the person we captured six years ago.”

           “And?” asked Janeway.

           Tuvok’s brow furrowed very slightly.  “As yet, there has been no reply, although given our distance from Earth, that is not surprising.”

           “How long, do you think?”

           “At least a day, probably longer.”

           The captain frowned – clearly, this was not welcome news.   “Mr. Tuvok,” she directed, “until we get a reply from Starfleet, maintain a guard on our ‘guest’ at all times.”

           The Vulcan nodded his understanding.  “Yes, Captain.”

           For a moment longer, she stared blankly at the table before getting to her feet.  “Dismissed,” she told her staff, adding to Cavit, “You have the bridge, Mr. Cavit.  I’ll be in sickbay.”

           “Aye, Captain.”

           Overhearing her as he walked out the door, Tuvok turned back into the briefing room.   “I should like to accompany you, Captain,” he declared.

           “Very well.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           The two officers arrived in sickbay to find Chakotay ensconced in Doctor Fitzgerald’s office, reading the ship’s logs.

           Instantly, Tuvok’s eyebrow shot up in disapproval.  “Why have you permitted him access to the ship’s database?” he demanded in a tone as close to anger as a Vulcan could get.

           Fitzgerald stared at him in consternation.   “I didn’t think letting him learn about the history of our Voyager would cause a problem,” he replied slowly, his eyes swiveling to Janeway.  “Captain, I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong….”

           She nodded, acknowledging his apology, although her eyes remained fixed on their visitor.   “I don’t think there’s any harm done, Doctor, but Mr. Tuvok is correct.  You should have checked with one of us first.”  She continued to gaze at Chakotay for a moment longer before turning away.  “How is he?”

           “Mostly recovered,” the doctor replied, suitably chastened.  “He may suffer occasional headaches but other than that, he’s fine.”

           “You mentioned in the briefing that you had discovered certain differences?”

           “Yes, Captain.  Apparently, in his universe, I am not the CMO of Voyager.”

           “Hmm.”  Janeway pondered that bit of information for a moment before stepping into the office.  “Mr. Chakotay,” she spoke softly.

           Hearing his name, Chakotay glanced up, then got to his feet when he saw who had called him.  “Captain.”

           “Doctor Fitzgerald tells me you’re feeling better,” she began.  “Despite your reading,” she indicated the monitor, “I’m sure you still have many questions.”

           “Indeed I do,” he replied, his eyes flicking to Tuvok in obvious recognition.

           Intercepting his glance, she asked, “You know Lieutenant Tuvok?”

           “Yes,” he answered, then fell silent, obviously unsure how much information he should volunteer.

           The captain easily interpreted his hesitation.   She began to speak, then halted, thinking this wasn’t the best place for the sort of discussion she had in mind.    Walking quickly out of the office, she accosted Fitzgerald.   “Doctor, can you release Mr. Chakotay from sickbay?”

           Immediately, Tuvok stepped forward.   “Shall I take him to the brig, Captain?”

           “N-no, Lieutenant, not just yet.  In fact….” She broke off and turned around to face Chakotay, who had followed her out of the doctor’s office.   “Mr. Chakotay, will you give me your parole?”

           His eyes fixed on her face, he answered without hesitation, “Yes, Captain.”

           “Very good.  Then come with me.  Tuvok, please accompany us.  We will conduct this conversation in my ready room.”

           Tuvok merely nodded, but his steady, unwavering gaze fixed on Chakotay warned the latter to keep his word or suffer the consequences.

           The trio headed for deck one, remaining silent until they entered the ready room by way of the corridor.

           Gesturing toward the couch, Janeway moved to the replicator and ordered tea for herself and Tuvok.   Getting a quick nod from Chakotay when she glanced at him, she requested one for him as well.

           In the few minutes it took to bring the cups to the coffee table and get herself settled, it didn’t escape her notice that he seemed quite at ease in his surroundings.  Not surprising, she reminded herself, if he were in fact first officer on a starship.

           Sipping her tea, she remained silent for a moment longer, gathering her thoughts before looking up at him.   “You will understand I’m a little skeptical and I want some answers.  Truthful ones,” she added.  “What are you doing in the Delta Quadrant?  Why don’t you recognize my chief medical officer?  And how is it that a Maquis is serving as first officer on a Starfleet vessel?”

           He hesitated before responding, obviously wondering how much he should say.  “To be honest, Captain, I don’t know whether I should tell you anything beyond the fact that I want to return to my own ship.”

           Her mouth grimaced.  “I’m sure you do, but as yet, we don’t know if that’s possible.”   Leaning forward, her gaze became intense.  “If we’re going to help you, we have to know more.  So I will ask again.  Please tell us everything you know.”

           Shrugging, Chakotay gave in to the inevitable.  “Very well.  Ask away but remember I have questions, too.”

           “Fair enough,” she acknowledged.  “Now, no doubt you’ve studied the crew complement of this vessel, so tell me.  Who else do you know on my ship?”

           “Tuvok and Ensign Kim from the senior staff, about half of engineering, no one in sickbay, others scattered through various departments. Overall, I would estimate about two thirds of the crew, although there are some discrepancies.   For example, our operations officer is named Harry Kim; here he is called Joseph Kim.”

           Janeway sat back, obviously puzzled.  “I don’t understand.”

           “I would imagine that all those people whose names I don’t recognize were killed when Voyager was thrown into the Delta Quadrant.  For example, I know the medical staff died as well as the first officer and pilot.  As for the ‘anomalies’, I guess that’s a factor of being in a different timeline.”

           Pursing her lips, Janeway mulled over his assumption but remained silent.

           “Were you able to retrieve my shuttle?” asked Chakotay hopefully.

           It was Tuvok who replied.  “Unfortunately, no.   When we located it, the containment field was already failing.   We beamed you out just before it collapsed entirely.”

           Chakotay’s face fell but he made no comment, instead switching to a different topic.   “May I ask where we are?”

           “Near the Beta Quadrant,” replied the captain, deciding it couldn’t hurt for him to know that much.   “Not far from Klingon space.   Voyager has been assigned to patrol this sector and keep an eye on the empire.”

           He nodded.  “Are we at war with them?”

           “We were.   Right now, there’s a truce but it’s not very stable.”

           “I gather there are Maquis in this universe,” he continued.  “Can you tell me about them?”

           Again, Tuvok answered.  “There were Maquis, but two years ago, nearly all of them were massacred in an attack by Cardassian warships.”

           Chakotay closed his eyes in pain.   “I was hoping that might not have happened here,” he muttered after a moment before moving on to the most important question.  “Given the situation, do you believe me now when I say I’m not a prisoner on the run?   That I come from a different universe?  A different timeline?”

           Gripping her hands together tightly, Janeway sighed and sat back on the couch.  “Quite frankly, Mr. Chakotay, at this point, I don’t know what to believe.”

           His eyes fell to the floor.  “I wish there was some way to prove to you that I am trustworthy.”

           The three remained silent for several minutes before Tuvok sat forward to make a suggestion.  “Perhaps if you start from the beginning and tell us your story, when and why you became a Maquis, how you arrived in the Delta Quadrant and what has happened since….”

           Janeway was nodding.   “Yes, I would like to hear about that.”

           Shrugging his shoulders, Chakotay leaned back against the cushions.  “All right, but be prepared, it’s a long story.”  Closing his eyes for a moment, he searched for the best place to start.   “It was in late February of 2368,” he began, “when, without provocation, the Cardassians attacked my home world of Dorvan Five, destroying my village as well as many others and killing all the inhabitants.   I lost nearly all my family that day as well as numerous relatives and every childhood friend I’d grown up with.   Only my father survived, although he would die two years later in battle.  I wasn’t there because I was serving in Starfleet.”

           “What ship were you on?” interrupted the captain. “And what rank did you hold?”

           “I wasn’t posted on a ship at that time.  I was teaching at the Academy – Advanced Tactics.  And my rank was lieutenant commander.”  Pausing, he waited to see if she had another question but she merely nodded for him to continue.

           “When it became evident that the Federation would make no attempt at reprisal or even register an official complaint, I resigned my commission in disgust and left Earth.   By then, the Maquis had formed a resistance group, although they were a small force compared to what they would become later.   I had no trouble finding a cell to join and within two months, I was given my own ship and crew.    For the next three years, my life was focused solely on the destruction of as many Cardassian ships and matériel as I could find.”  His voice hardened. “And although I didn’t attack civilians, if Cardassians died as well, that was fine.  I make no apology for that.”

           His listeners had no comment beyond nodding their understanding.  Clearly, this was a viewpoint they had heard before.

           “In April, 2371, I was fighting a running battle with a Galor-class warship in the Badlands when a coherent tetryon beam scanned my ship.  It was followed immediately by a massive displacement wave, which was impossible to avoid.   That was the last thing we saw until we woke up several days later, seventy-five thousand light years away in the Delta Quadrant.

           “It was then we learned that a Federation starship, Voyager, had been dispatched to find us and was caught by the same wave a day after us.   I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a spy on my ship – two spies, in fact! – although I didn’t find the second one until some months later.”  His eyes came to rest on the Vulcan.   “But the first one was your counterpart, Mr. Tuvok.”

           Tuvok’s eyebrow shot up.  “Indeed!”

           The captain stared at him, bemused, before she smiled almost ruefully, “You’ll be interested to know that Mr. Tuvok carried out a similar mission on Chakotay’s ship in this timeline.   Only here, when Voyager found the Maquis, they were arrested.”

           Chakotay stiffened, understanding what she wasn’t saying.   “That’s why you said I had escaped!   You thought I was him!”

           “Yes,” she answered softly.

           His eyes filled with understanding.  “No wonder you were so suspicious of me!” he muttered half to himself, before asking, “What are you going to do?”

           “We have sent a query to Starfleet Command, but with the distance involved, it could well be a day or more before we receive a reply.   Until then,” her voice paused briefly before resuming more firmly.   “Until then, you will be permitted a certain amount of freedom.   However, you may not enter the bridge, engineering or any other secured area nor may you have access to a replicator, and a guard will accompany you at all times.  If those conditions are not acceptable, then you may warm a cell in my brig.”

           “I have no problem with your conditions, Captain.”

           “Good.  Please continue.”

           “Very soon after Captain Janeway first contacted me to suggest we join forces to search for two missing crewmembers, we were both attacked by hostile aliens, a people whom we subsequently learned were from a violent race called the Kazon.   The battle was fierce and we were outnumbered.  Eventually, the only way to escape was for me to sacrifice my ship by ramming the largest Kazon warship.   Afterwards, the captain suggested that since she needed replacement crew, and I and my people needed a ship, we should join together.   Although it hasn’t always been easy sailing, for the most part our two crews have blended very well.”

           “And you have been together now, how long?” asked the captain.

           “Six years.”

           “How far have you progressed towards home?”

           For a moment, there was silence as Chakotay calculated distances.  “We have traveled approximately forty-three thousand light years.”

           Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “That far!  You have done well!”

           “On two or three occasions, we’ve been able to make large jumps.  At other times, smaller ones, whenever we’ve had the opportunity to knock even a few months off our journey.”  He shrugged.  “Over the years, the bits and pieces have added up but we still have a long way to go.”

           “But you will succeed.”  Janeway’s voice made it a certainty.

           “With my captain, yes, ma’am, indeed we will.  She is a remarkably determined individual, one who won’t rest until we see the Alpha Quadrant again.”

           Janeway smiled in response before rising to her feet.  “Rest assured, Mr. Chakotay, we’ll get to the bottom of this.  If your story proves to be true, then we will do whatever we can to return you to your own timeline.” She glanced at Tuvok, then added.   “In the meantime, Mr. Tuvok will arrange quarters for you.”

           “Thank you,” replied Chakotay, also standing.  “I am grateful for your hospitality, Captain.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Hours later, Chakotay sat in a comfortable chair in guest quarters, reading a PADD containing a brief history of the Alpha Quadrant in this universe.   From what he had learned so far, it was remarkably similar to that of his own.   The Federation had evolved in much the same fashion, albeit with a few different species thrown into the mix.    And, as he’d already discovered, there were Klingons, Cardassians and Romulans here as well.   Likewise, events had unfolded much as they had where he’d come from.   The Cardassians had attacked various Federation colony planets, including Dorvan Five.  The Federation had responded in exactly the same way, which in turn had led to the birth of the Maquis.  So far, the main difference he’d found was that neither his ship nor Voyager had been thrown into the Delta Quadrant.   That was the only point where the two universes diverged, besides the variations in some of the crew.   ‘It’s not so much a different universe as a different timeline,’ he concluded, laying down the PADD and closing his eyes.  Wearily, he rubbed his face, pondering his options.

           Hopefully, somehow they would find the spatial rift and figure out a way to send him back.   And then he had to hope his Voyager would be waiting on the other side to retrieve him.   It occurred to him that was a lot to hope for.

           His sardonic chuckle caught the attention of the guard perched on a stool next to the door.  “Sir?” inquired the man politely but Chakotay merely shook his head to indicate he didn’t want anything.

           Glancing out the viewport, his attention was caught by the sight of several constellations nearby.   During his service in Starfleet, he’d never had occasion to spend any time in this part of space so these stars were as unfamiliar to him as those in the Delta Quadrant.   Unconsciously, he sighed before snorting softly.   It didn’t seem to matter what universe he was in, he still had no home.   However, even as that thought took hold, another overlaid it.   An image of Voyager, his Voyager, rose in his mind.  There – that was home, that ship, just as the people on her were his family.   A sharp pang of longing stabbed through his chest, and he had all he could do to hold back a gasp of pain.    How he missed them all, especially Kathryn!   He had to get back to them, he simply had to!

           In an effort to distract his mind from what he couldn’t have, he forced his thoughts in another direction.   This captain was an interesting woman.    Obviously, in her youth she had been extremely beautiful although age as well as the weight of her responsibilities had dimmed that beauty.   There were fine lines etched around her mouth and eyes, and she was very thin.  Still, she retained an inner grace, a clarity, as if hardship had refined all the extraneous out of her character, leaving only the essence.   Her eyes held an element of sorrow in their dark depths, making him wonder what had happened to her.  In some ways, mostly in her bearing, she bore an almost uncanny resemblance to Kathryn, but in others, she was quite different.   In particular, the timbre of her voice was much softer and higher-pitched than the very distinctive, husky tones of his captain.  And then there was the slight accent he’d detected earlier.   Although she spoke it very fluently, apparently Federation Standard was not her native language.  And yet he’d gotten the impression that she was human.  It was all very puzzling.

           His ruminations were interrupted by a chirp issuing from the guard’s combadge, which proved to be a request from the captain to bring Mr. Chakotay to her quarters.   She wished to speak to him.

           Chakotay rose to his feet, wondering if, despite her appearance of humanity, this Captain Janeway was actually a Betazoid in disguise.

           The guard activated the door, then stepped aside to let him through before moving to walk behind him down the corridor.

           A few minutes later, they stood in front of the captain’s door, waiting to be admitted.

           “Come in, Mr. Chakotay,” she greeted him, more warmly than he would have expected.   Her eyes flicked to the guard.  “Thank you, Mr. Byrd, that will be all.”

           “Yes, Captain,” and the guard retreated out of her quarters.

           His eyebrows raised in surprise, Chakotay remained standing where he was.

           Janeway indicated the couch.  “Come and sit down.”  Her face creased in a faint smile.  “I assure you it’s quite safe.”

           Her friendly tone made him smile as well.  “You surprised me,” he explained, seating himself.  “Dismissing the guard.   Does that mean you believe my story?”

           Tilting her head in a very Gallic shrug, she replied, “Let’s just say I have a gut feeling I can trust you and I’ve found it often pays to follow my instincts.”  She frowned slightly.  “I hope that trust will not be misplaced.”

           “No, Captain, it will not.”  He chuckled softly.  “You sound like another Captain Janeway I know.”

           His remark made her smile more naturally and the slight tension in the room dissipated.   Abruptly changing the subject, she asked, “Have you had any dinner?” When he replied he had not, she suggested, “Would you like to join me?”

           “Thank you, I would be delighted.  My captain and I have shared many a meal together.”

           “I thought that might be the case.  And,” she added tactfully, “it seemed to me you would be more comfortable dining here with me rather than in the mess hall where you would be the subject of much discussion, or alone in your quarters.”

           Chakotay could only reiterate his gratitude for her consideration of his feelings.   The thought occurred to him that here was another difference, albeit a subtle one, between the two Janeways.   Although at one time, Kathryn might have been as courteous, the years in the Delta Quadrant had hardened her.   Despite the fact it was obvious Nicole Janeway had not led an easy life, there was a kindness and sense of caring about her which he had not seen in Kathryn for a long time.   Since before their first encounter with the Borg, he realized, now that he thought about it.   His heart saddened a little as he understood how much the Delta Quadrant had changed her and he couldn’t help but wonder how well this captain would have stood up under the same pressure.

           “…Mr. Chakotay?”

           His head jerked up and he smiled in embarrassment.  “Sorry, I was woolgathering,” he apologized, realizing she had placed food on the dining table.

           “I asked what you would like for dinner.”

           “Something without meat, please.”

           For a moment, Janeway paused, thinking, then voiced an order to the replicator.  “I hope you will enjoy this,” she told him as she retrieved the plate.   “It is an old family recipe for tourtière but with the meat ingredient eliminated.”

           “Thank you, I’m sure I will.”  He followed her to the table and held out her chair.

           Although she said nothing, her nod of approval told him she appreciated his gallantry.

           Once seated, and realizing now that he was very hungry, Chakotay waited only until she had begun to eat before digging into his own meal.   The first bite told him that this was no ordinary dish.   “This is absolutely delicious,” he pronounced.

           The captain smiled broadly in response to his evident appreciation.  “I’m glad you like it.”

           Neither spoke again until they had finished.

           Sitting back in his chair, Chakotay slowly sipped from a glass of water, his eyes focused on the woman opposite.   He was becoming increasingly curious about her, about her family and about her history.

           As if feeling his gaze, her head came up.   “You look like a man with questions, Mr. Chakotay,” she remarked.

           His lips quirked slightly as he nodded.   “I’ll admit to a certain curiosity, Captain.”

           “About…?”

           “You,” he replied bluntly.

           “Me?!  I thought you would want to know about the ship, the crew, the…the Federation…!    Why me?”

           A frown crossed his features as he looked away momentarily before his gaze returned to her.   “You intrigue me.   Although you share the same surname, you are quite different from my captain, and yet…now and then, I see similarities.”  He shrugged.  “And I can’t help wondering how your personal history compares to hers.”

           Janeway’s fingers curled delicately around her water glass as she contemplated his words.    “Tell me about her,” she demanded.  “I imagine over the last six years, you must have come to know each other very well.”

           “Oh yes, very well indeed!”

           “What was it like, starting out as adversaries and then out of necessity, having to work together?  You said tonight that I reminded you of her when I acted on instinct.  Is that what she did at the beginning of your adventure?  Is that what you did?”

           Snorting softly, Chakotay cast his mind back to their first days in the Delta Quadrant.  “I suppose you could call our initial alliance ‘acting on instinct’, if that’s how you’d characterize fighting for your very existence.  What was it like?  At the beginning, utterly overwhelming.  The distance alone – seventy-five thousand light years – was terrifying, never mind the fact that we were totally cut off from every support.  Very quickly, we had to learn to be completely self-sufficient if we were to have any hope at all of survival.”  He gave a sardonic chuckle. “That kind of situation, where all you have is each other, engenders trust very quickly, even in the most intractable enemies.”

           Janeway chuckled in turn.  “I can imagine it would.”

           “It wasn’t easy, though.   We had our share of misunderstandings and even outright arguments.   In particular, the Maquis were not always inclined to follow protocols and do things the Starfleet way.  But, over the years, circumstance and a common goal have melded us together into one crew, Voyager’s crew.   We’ve become very close, like a family.  We have to be, since we can only rely on each other.”

           “And was Kathryn Janeway accepted by everyone as your leader right away?”

           “Yes, I believe so,” replied Chakotay.  “I certainly accepted her and my crew followed me.   The only real problems came from someone who I thought was a Maquis but who was actually a Cardassian spy.   She caused a lot of trouble, even joining up with our enemies, the Kazon, but in the end, she died.   Since then, we’ve been in battle many times and fought numerous hostile species, but never again have we had a traitor in our midst.

           “Now, it seems almost funny,” he went on, “to look back and remember how desperate we were at first, constantly running out of supplies, energy, food, terrified that death was lurking in every star system.”  He gestured with his hands.  “These days, we’re so used to making do, to surviving, that it’s become a way of life.  I guess you could say ‘needs must’ is our catchphrase.   It’s certainly the captain’s.”  His voice trailed off as he thought again of how much the Delta Quadrant had changed Kathryn Janeway and not always for the better.

           Some of his feelings must have shown in his face because Janeway leaned forward slightly to place a hand on his arm.   “I get the impression that she is not the same captain now as when you first knew her.”  Her tone was an invitation to continue.

           Chakotay shook his head.   “No, she isn’t.    These years have been hard on her, very hard.   Try to imagine what it would be like to never be off duty, never have a break, to always have to be the captain around the clock, day after day.   Only once, in our second year, did she get a reprieve of sorts, and then it was to live under a different kind of pressure.”

           “What happened?”

           Gathering his memories, he settled in to relate the tale of his sojourn with Kathryn Janeway on a green planet they’d called New Earth.   “In the end, it was quite ironic.  She fought so hard to find a cure which would let us leave the planet, but when Voyager came back with one, neither of us wanted to go.  We were happy there….”

           Silence fell as he contemplated what might have been while the captain wondered what she would have done if she’d been in Kathryn Janeway’s position.

           “May I ask a personal question?” she ventured finally.

           His eyes came back to her and he nodded, suspecting what she would say.

           “You told me you know her very well indeed.   Is it only a professional relationship that you have with her?”

           “No, it’s more than professional.  She is my best friend as I am hers.”

           “Just friends?”  Her voice had become very soft, the accent more pronounced.

           “Yes.”

           “But you would like it to be something more?” she probed delicately.

           He sighed heavily.  “Yes. But in our situation, anything else is out of the question.  We have to get our crew home.  That is the primary goal and nothing must be allowed to interfere with it.”

           “And you have agreed to sacrifice your personal happiness to this goal?”

           Chakotay shrugged.   “I don’t look on it as a sacrifice exactly.   A long time ago, I promised Kathryn that her needs would come first.  I am doing the best I can to fulfill that promise.”

           “And if you succeed in finding your way back to Earth?  What then?” persisted Janeway.

           “To be honest, I don’t know, Captain.  It’s not something we’ve ever discussed.”

           “Perhaps you should,” she suggested, still in the same soft voice.

           Again, he shrugged.  “There isn’t usually much time for personal conversations, and in any event, my captain prefers to keep her mind focused solely on her job.  I won’t interfere with that.”

           After a moment, Janeway sat back.  “You are truly an honourable man, Mr. Chakotay.  Your captain is fortunate to have you at her side.”

           Not sure how to respond, Chakotay elected to remain silent.

           After a moment, she spoke again.  “You said you wanted to learn more about me.  What exactly would you like to know?”

           Relieved for the change of topic, he replied eagerly.  “It appears that there are certain parallels in our timelines.  And since you share the same surname, I’m wondering how much of your family history matches Kathryn’s.”

           Several minutes passed as Nicole Janeway mentally sorted through what she knew.  Finally, she leaned back and began.   “The Janeways first appear in my family tree at the time of the millennium, nearly four hundred years ago, although my roots in Quebec go back much further, to the seventeenth century.   The name came from a man called Henry Janeway, who, at the end of 2000, left his home in Indiana and with his son, Jason, worked his way north into Canada.”

           At the mention of Henry Janeway, Chakotay leaned forward intently.

           Noting his reaction, she paused in her narration.  “You recognize this name, Mr. Chakotay?”

           “Indeed I do.   Kathryn can trace her ancestry back to a Henry Janeway who lived in a small town in Indiana, around the same time, as I recall.   I wonder if it’s the same person.”

           “It is possible, I suppose.”

           “Please continue,” he requested, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

           “Eventually, Henry and Jason found themselves in the Gaspé area of the province of Quebec and decided to make their home there.   A year after their arrival, he married a local widow, Geneviève Morin, who had two children.   In years to come, he and Geneviève would have two sons together.  Family history says that Henry settled very comfortably into small town life in the Gaspé, that he learned to speak French fluently, and in later years, even served on the town council.  He lived a long and fulfilling life but never traveled, stating that he’d seen more than enough of the world and knew he had everything he could possibly want right there in his home.  No one ever knew much about his previous life in Indiana, not why he left or if he had any family there.

           “Jason, his son who came with him, remained in the town as well until he was grown up.  Eventually, he moved to Montreal to further his education, married a local girl and made his life there.    But he stayed close to his father and maintained the ties with him; he and his family spent nearly every summer in the Gaspé.   In fact, it became a family tradition, one that is still carried on to this day.    Every ten years, the Janeway clan reunites in the town where Henry and Geneviève lived.  Of course, there are several thousand of us now.”  Her voice trailed off for a moment before she recalled where she was.  “It’s quite a gathering,” she added with a wistful smile.

           “By the sound of it, you are part of a very large, extended family,” Chakotay remarked, adding to himself, “Quebec….  That would explain the manner of speaking.” At her raised eyebrow, he continued, “If it’s not impertinent of me to say so, I think Standard is not your first language.”  He watched her carefully in case she took offense but her response was a shrug.

           “That is very observant of you,” she answered, her smile broadening.  “French is my native language although to my regret, I haven’t had much occasion to use it since I left home.”

           “I can certainly sympathize.   It’s been over thirty years since I’ve spoken more than a few words of my tribe’s language.  Sometimes I wonder if I can even remember it anymore.”

           Silence fell as they both lost themselves in old memories and regrets.

           Chakotay was the first to sit up.  “What branch of the Janeways do you come from?” he asked, wanting to hear the rest of her story.

           “I’m a twelfth-generation descendant of Jason Janeway,” she answered, with a hint of pride.

           He nodded thoughtfully as he tried to remember what Kathryn had said about the results of her searches through the records of early twenty-first century Indiana. But, as he explained now, all he could recall was that Henry Janeway had married a woman named Shannon O’Donnell, and they had spent the rest of their lives in Portage Creek.  “From what I understand, Janeways have remained in that part of Indiana ever since.   Kathryn grew up not far away, near Bloomington.”

           Nicole Janeway pondered his words.  “It would seem,” she stated finally, “that our family histories diverge with Henry Janeway.   In my timeline, he left Portage Creek; in yours, he remained there.   But otherwise, they sound fairly  similar.  Interesting.  Perhaps your captain and I are not so different after all.”

           Her remark made Chakotay smile as an image of Kathryn Janeway standing defiantly on her bridge, hands on hips, leapt into his head.   “You don’t resemble her,” he answered, “nor do you sound like her.  Although you are about the same height, her hair is auburn, her eyes blue.”  Tactfully, he didn’t mention the obvious difference in age, instead adding, “Her voice is low and husky, with more than a hint of steel in it when she’s tense or upset.   And if she’s really angry, it drops right down into a growl.”  His smile broadened.  “Somehow, I don’t think you growl.”

           Janeway burst into laughter.   “No, Mr. Chakotay, I do not.  Although I have been told that in certain situations, I snap very well.”

           “I’m sure you do, and that you have no trouble at all asserting your authority.  That characteristic you do share with Kathryn as well as one other – you both have beautiful smiles which I suspect your crew, like hers, sees far too rarely.”

           Blinking in surprise, it took her a moment to retort.   “In the last few years, there hasn’t been a lot to smile about.   The Federation barely survived a terrible war with our enemies, what I believe the classicists call a Pyrrhic victory.  We are gradually rebuilding the infrastructure that was destroyed on literally hundreds of worlds but it is a long, slow job which will not be completed in my lifetime.    Destruction is quick, but construction takes a long time, particularly when there is so much to be done.”

           Chakotay smiled in understanding.  “Very true, but even so, a smile shared with those around you can lighten the load.  You might try it now and then.”

           For a moment, she stared at him, not sure whether to be offended or amused, but his gentle demeanor and the obvious twinkle in his eyes won her over.  Gradually, she allowed herself to be coaxed into returning his smile, which promptly caused him to grin more broadly.

           Laughing at his boldness, she acknowledged almost reluctantly that she did feel better.  “You are an unusual man, sir,” she commented, “and I think far more dangerous than most people realize.”

           “Not to you,” he was quick to reassure her.

           She nodded, then glanced at her desk which was covered with PADDs.

           Taking his cue, Chakotay got to his feet.  “It’s late and I should let you get some rest.  Thank you for a wonderful dinner and a delightful evening.”

           “You are most welcome,” she replied, also rising.  “I don’t wish to chase you away, but,” she gestured at the desk, “I have work to do yet.”

           “With all due respect, Captain, may I suggest that you might work better after a good night’s sleep?”

           “I sleep very little, Mr. Chakotay,” she replied softly.

           At that, he frowned, then turned to face her replicator before remembering he was locked out.    “May I borrow one of your PADDs?” he asked.

           Handing him one, Janeway watched, mystified, as he quickly made several notes on it, then handed it back.  “Input those ingredients into your replicator.  It makes a very soothing tea which helps my captain when she suffers from insomnia.”  He moved to the door.  “Goodnight, Captain.”

           “Goodnight,” she replied softly, “and thank you.”  It was several minutes before she remembered that she had let him go out her door alone and unaccompanied.   “Oh dear,” she muttered, “Tuvok won’t be at all pleased with me.”  Raising her voice, she asked the computer for Chakotay’s whereabouts and was relieved when it answered that he was in his quarters.    She moved to stand in front of the replicator and carefully programmed it from the instructions on the PADD.  The cup that appeared held a fragrant brew which immediately made her think of a meadow filled with sunlight.   Sipping slowly from the cup, she felt the hot liquid calm and relax her body.

           As she walked slowly across the room, her eyes fell on the stack of PADDs.  Perhaps he was right – she would be able to think better in the morning.   Moving into her bedroom, she quickly prepared for bed, then finished the tea and settled under the covers.   Very shortly after, she was sound asleep.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           In the guest quarters, Chakotay paced restlessly across the room.   He should take his own advice, he thought, and go to bed but his mind was too unsettled, his emotions a chaotic jumble.   Much to his own surprise, he found that he’d really enjoyed the evening tonight.   Once she loosened up, Nicole Janeway had proved to be almost as charming a companion as her counterpart in his timeline.  And that accent!  He found her way of speaking most attractive, almost…seductive.  ‘I could be stuck in worse places,’ he thought, ‘far worse.  Isn’t it ironic? The whole point of going on the mission alone was so I could have some time to myself to sort out my feelings and decide what I want to do.   Now, I’m more confused than ever.  I like this Janeway, I like her very much.  And yet….’   His eyes focused on the stars visible out the viewport.   ‘This isn’t home, this ship is not my Voyager.   And she isn’t my captain.’

           Turning around, he walked back to the couch and sat down, burying his face in his hands.   ‘But,’ whispered his traitorous brain, ‘if I have to stay here…  Maybe….  No!  I mustn’t think that!  I have to go home, to Kathryn.   That’s where I belong!  Besides, if I do have to remain in this universe, no doubt the authorities will want to lock me away somewhere in isolation so I don’t contaminate the timeline.   That’s not much of a future.’

           Deciding he was getting nowhere in a hurry, he got to his feet and headed for bed.   But it was a long time before he fell asleep and his rest was filled with disturbing dreams.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           The following morning, just as Chakotay had finished dressing, his door chimed.  When he opened it, he found Tuvok standing there.

           “The captain wishes to see you in her ready room,” announced Tuvok.

           “Has there been a message from Headquarters?” asked Chakotay hopefully, but the Vulcan refused to answer.

           “The captain will explain,” was his only reply.

           Silently, they rode the turbolift to deck one, then entered the ready room from the corridor.

           Janeway was sitting at her desk when they arrived.  “Ah, Commander, good morning,” she greeted him with a smile.

           Her use of his title didn’t escape his notice but beyond returning her greeting, he said nothing.

           She didn’t keep him in suspense.  “We have received a communication from Starfleet Command,” she told him.   “They confirm that the Chakotay of this universe is safely ensconced in his cell, precisely where he is supposed to be.   To avoid any more contamination of our timeline than has already occurred, I am ordered to facilitate your return to your own universe as quickly as possible.”

           “I am most relieved to hear that, Captain,” he replied, then paused for a moment before adding, “Did they also issue orders for my ‘disposition’ if my return proves to be impossible?”

           But she wouldn’t answer him directly.  “One bridge at a time, Commander.  With any luck, we’ll be able to get you home.”

           However, Chakotay had no trouble hearing what she wasn’t saying and knew his fears were justified.   Her eyes held a sympathetic expression at odds with her words, telling him she knew he understood the truth.

           Moving close to him, she took his hand, squeezing it tightly as she murmured, “Don’t worry, we’ll find a way.”  A moment later, she turned towards the door leading to the bridge, then paused briefly to look back at him.  “Join me?” she asked.

           Inclining his head in silent thanks, Chakotay followed her.  Although not a word had been said, the implication was obvious – she had decided to trust him.   And he discovered that, whatever the eventual outcome for him might be, right now his heart was a little lighter.

           Behind him, Tuvok’s eyes were narrowed in obvious disapproval but he said nothing as he trailed them through the door.

           “Lieutenant Stadi,” rang out the captain’s voice.   “Set a course for the spot where we discovered Commander Chakotay’s shuttle.”

           “Aye, Captain.  Course laid in.”

           As she gave the order, Janeway’s eyes slid to where Chakotay was standing on the upper deck.  “Warp nine.  Engage.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           It was many hours before Voyager finally reached the point in space where the rift had been located.    Janeway wasted no time in ordering extensive scans of the area.   At first, they all came back negative – this area of space appeared to be completely, almost boringly, normal.

           Unwilling to admit defeat, Ensign Kim ran one sensor sweep after another, over and over, even after his shift had officially ended.    When even the captain suggested he should at least take a meal break, he flatly refused.   “I know this is the right place, Captain, which means there has to be evidence of some kind.  I just haven’t found it yet.”

           His dedication made her smile but she acquiesced to his determination.  “Very well, Mr. Kim, keep looking.   But if, in another hour, you haven’t found anything, then I will expect you to go off-shift.   You will function much better with the proper amount of rest and food.”

           “Yes, ma’am,” he replied obediently, although his eyes never left the sensor readings before him.

           With one eyebrow raised, Janeway glanced at Chakotay, then indicated the turbolift.

           Smiling his thanks, he shook his head and leaned more firmly against the wall at the back of the bridge.   He would stay where he was as well.

           Another half hour passed before Kim’s persistence finally paid off.   “Captain!” he called out excitedly.   “I’m detecting very faint signs of chronoton radiation.”

           “Excellent!” Janeway commended him, then ordered.   “Focus a resonant graviton beam on the centre of the area where the radiation is most concentrated.”

           A powerful beam shot out from the area of the deflector dish, cutting through an invisible wall.   Seconds passed, then suddenly every eye on the bridge could see a slight tear appearing in the fabric of space.

           “It’s working!” exclaimed Kim triumphantly.  “There’s a small spatial rift forming directly in front of us.”

           Springing to her feet, Janeway ordered quickly.  “Transfer the coordinates to transporter room one.”

           “Done,” he replied in less than a second before adding a warning.   “We must hurry.  It won’t last long.”

           The captain spun around and moved to where Chakotay was standing, gazing intently at the rift.   “You must go right now,” she told him.  “You know the way to the transporter room.”

           “Yes,” he answered, staring at her intently, as if to memorize her features.   Reaching to take her hands, he lifted them to his mouth and gently kissed each one in turn.  “Goodbye, Captain,” he murmured, “I wish I’d had more time to get to know you.”

           Smiling tremulously, she whispered.  “So do I.”

           Dropping her hands, he nodded abruptly and turned to hurry to the turbolift.

           A few minutes later, the transporter operator reported that for a moment, she had been able to detect a ship on the other side of the rift and beam Commander Chakotay onto it.

           “Was it Voyager?” asked the captain anxiously.

           “I don’t know, ma’am,” she heard the reply.  “The readings were distorted and all I could be sure of was that it had a Federation signature.”

           “I guess we’ll never know,” muttered Janeway, as she seated herself once more before ordering, “Helm, resume our patrol route.”   Watching the stars flash by on the viewscreen, she took a deep breath, then allowed herself a slight smile as a stray thought flashed through her head.  ‘I wonder if my counterpart has any idea how lucky she is!’
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Kathryn Janeway sat on the couch in her quarters, reading Chakotay’s report of his experiences in the other universe.    Since it was an official account, he had very properly followed protocol and used standard Starfleet language and phrasing.  By the end, although she knew the course of events, Kathryn found many of her questions about that other captain were still unanswered.   How old was she?  What did she look like?   What sort of person was she?

           After a moment, she let the PADD fall into her lap as she contemplated how one little action hundreds of years earlier had changed the course of Janeway lives for generations.   If Shannon O’Donnell hadn’t turned around that New Year’s Eve of 2000 and gone back to knock some sense into Henry Janeway, why…she wouldn’t exist!   There was a daunting thought.    She remembered as a child of ten or eleven hearing Aunt Martha talk about Shannon, how family legend had it that the only reason she went back was because the cookies she was nibbling on while she drove tasted funny.   Of all the reasons…!   ‘My existence, as well as those of countless other Janeways, have all hinged on a bag of cookies!   It doesn’t seem possible, but if Aunt Martha is right, I suppose it must be true!’

           Shaking her head in disbelief, she picked up the PADD again, trying to learn a little more about the other Captain Janeway.   However, Chakotay had kept his description of her to a minimum.  ‘He probably doesn’t want to pollute the timeline here by including more detail than necessary in an official report,’ she thought to herself.   ‘But I want to know!’  She reached up to tap her combadge.  “Janeway to Chakotay.”

           His reply was prompt.  “Chakotay here, Captain.”

           “If you’re not busy, Commander, I’d like to discuss this report with you.   Can you join me in my quarters?”

           “Certainly, Captain.  I’ll be there directly.  Chakotay out.”

           Sure enough, within a minute, her door chimed.

           “Come in, Chakotay,” she invited as soon as it opened.

           He ambled in and made his way over to sit down beside her on the couch, his smile as warm as always.   “What would you like to know, Captain?”

           Waving the PADD, she turned to face him.  “My counterpart, this other Captain Janeway….   Tell me, what was she like?”

           Grinning, he relaxed against the cushions, unable to resist teasing her a little.   “What about contaminating the timeline?  Isn’t there a Starfleet protocol about that sort of thing?”

           His grin widened as she responded with a scowl.

           “Very well then,” he acquiesced to her unspoken demand.  “Make yourself comfortable.  It’s a long story….”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           An hour after Chakotay had finally left her quarters, Kathryn continued to sit on the couch, turning over his words again and again.   What an interesting woman her counterpart sounded like – if only she’d been able to meet her herself!

           Her mind wandered, randomly recalling recent events.  During the time Chakotay had been missing, her energy had been focused entirely on finding him.   All too vividly, she recalled her terror when they had detected the emergency beacon but no sign of the shuttle.   Frantic with fear, which she’d had to keep hidden from the crew, she’d hardly slept the entire four days he’d been gone.    With no other lead, Voyager had remained at the spot where they’d discovered the beacon, sensors extended to maximum range.  When Chakotay had magically reappeared on the ship, apparently none the worse for wear, Kathryn had been too relieved at his return to ask many questions.

           But now, as she recalled different parts of his story, a thought that had been niggling at the back of her mind for several days finally worked its way forward,  making her sit up in sudden shock.   It had just occurred to her that he’d never actually told her why he had been so eager to go on the away mission by himself.  ‘He knows it’s not my custom to send an away mission of only one person.  But when I started to question him, he was so reassuring that I didn’t follow it up.   What was I thinking?  I should have done that!’

           Abruptly, she spoke.  “Computer, what is the location of Commander Chakotay?”

           “Commander Chakotay is in the mess hall.”

           Okay.  Well, he wasn’t asleep, anyway, so she wouldn’t be disturbing him.   “Janeway to Chakotay.”

           His voice sounded slightly puzzled as he replied, “Chakotay here, Captain.”

           “Commander, there is a small matter that I forgot to ask about in our earlier discussion.    Could you stop in at my quarters when you’re finished in the mess hall?”

           “Certainly, Captain.   I’ll come now.  Chakotay out.”

           In less than five minutes, her door chimed.

           Calling for him to enter, at the same time she moved to the replicator and ordered tea for both of them.

           “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

           Even in the privacy of her quarters, he maintained an air of formality and she realized he had assumed she wished to speak to him regarding ship’s business.

           With a mug in each hand, she turned to face him, smiling warmly.   “Yes.”  She gestured with one hand.  “Here, I think this is the blend you like.   Come and sit.”

           His posture relaxed as he followed her to the couch and seated himself.   “I gather the matter in question has nothing to do with ship operations?”

           “No.”  Kathryn also sat, taking a cautious sip from her mug as she pondered how to phrase her question.  Probably best to just spit it out rather than pussyfooting around – they did far too much of that, anyway.  “I was sitting here thinking about all you’d told me when I realized something odd.    You never said why you wanted to go alone on the away mission.   I remember asking if you were all right – ”

           “ –  and I replied that I was,” he interrupted ruthlessly, as he realized where she was going with her question.   Not sure whether he wanted to discuss his feelings at present, he tried to deflect her but this time Kathryn would have none of it.

           Her face creased in a scowl and her lips tightened, sure signs that she was digging in her heels.

           Chakotay sighed resignedly.  “Very well.   The truth.  But don’t get angry when you hear what I have to say,” he warned, “and please, please! Don’t hide behind your captain’s mask.”

           Kathryn blinked in surprise but nodded, even as her heart rate suddenly sped up and her stomach knotted in sudden apprehension.   She had a feeling that whatever he had to say, she wasn’t going to like it.     “Are you planning to leave the ship?” she demanded abruptly, voicing her greatest fear.

           Now it was Chakotay’s turn to blink.  “No,” he replied, obviously nonplused at her question.  “Why would you think that?”

           “I, uh, you said I shouldn’t get angry and I knew then I wouldn’t like it, and that’s the worst thing I could think of….”  She knew she was babbling and made herself stop, dropping her eyes to the floor in embarrassment.   After a moment, his silence made her look up.   “Chakotay?   You won’t leave?”

           A gentle smile graced his features and he reached forward to grasp her hands.  “Kathryn, no, I’ll never leave you.   A long time ago, I made you a promise and while I haven’t always kept it as well as I might, I will stay by your side until we get home.”  He sighed but didn’t let go of her fingers.  “And that’s why I wanted to be by myself on the shuttle.    Lately, I’ve been feeling that I’m at something of a crossroads in my personal life and I needed some time alone to figure out where I want to go from here.”

           “And did you?”

           “I think so.”  He leaned forward slightly as if to emphasize his words.  “You and I have a wonderful, warm friendship, Kathryn.  Once, I’d hoped it might be more, but recent events have shown me that’s unlikely to happen.   And that’s all right.  I treasure our relationship deeply and I don’t want to lose it.”   Now, he did release her hands to sit back in his seat.  “But I’m a man who needs more than just friendship.  I need to love and be loved, and if you are not to be that person in my life, then I need to put aside those feelings I have for you and move on.”  His eyes bored into hers intently.  “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

           Kathryn sat very still, her face expressionless, but inside, her mind was in turmoil.   Well, here it was – crunch time.   For years, she had tried to push aside her feelings for him with varying degrees of success.   Always, she had been caught in a dichotomy – her heart loving him while her brain listed all the perfectly good reasons why a romantic relationship between them wouldn’t work.   She had pinned her hopes on a vague belief that he’d wait for her until they got home and could sort out their future.   But from what he was saying, he wasn’t willing to do that.   Or was he?   He hadn’t said he wouldn’t wait.  What he’d said was that he wanted more than friendship from her, and if she couldn’t give him that, then he would look elsewhere.   But maybe, he might be willing to compromise, to settle for a promise.    At this point, she had nothing to lose by asking, and possibly a lot to gain.  His recent disappearance had made her realize how very badly she needed him at her side.   It was only fair to both of them that she acknowledge her feelings.

           Swiveling slightly to face him directly, she leaned closer and stretched out her hands to cup his face.  “I understand exactly what you’re saying,” she began, her eyes boring into his.   “And I want to be just as clear.   Chakotay, I love you.  I have loved you for years.   But in our present situation, I can’t do more than acknowledge how I feel.  I can’t hug you and kiss you, and certainly I can’t be intimate with you, much as I might want to.  And it’s not only because of protocol.   Since we received Admiral Hayes’ communiqué questioning the status of the Maquis, I have been much more aware of the fact that once we reach home, your situation may be more precarious than I’d thought.”  Her voice dropped to an intense growl, emphasizing her words.  “I have to be able to fight on your behalf with every weapon at my disposal, which means that if the board of inquiry asks me if I ever had a personal relationship with you, I must be able to answer truthfully ‘not beyond friendship’.  I have to be seen to be objective,” she chuckled ruefully, “even if I’m not.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

           As she spoke, Chakotay remained focused on every word, but his eyes filled with joy when she admitted she loved him and a smile like a brilliant sunrise blossomed across his face.  “Thank you, Kathryn, you have given me the reassurance I needed.   I will wait gladly, knowing that  one day we’ll be together in every way.”  Covering her hands with his own, he pulled them down to his lap, gripping them tightly before lifting each one in turn to his mouth, his eyes, holding the promise of someday, still focused on hers.

           The soft brush of his lips across her skin sent shivers down Kathryn’s spine and she sighed softly, almost regretfully, for making them both wait.   But it couldn’t be helped and at least they both knew where they stood.  Together, as they had been for six years.

           For now, it would be enough.
 

                             *********************************
 

Epilogue:

Indiana, Spring, 2001
 

              Some months after the momentous events of New Year’s Eve in Portage Creek, a stranger appeared in town and spent several days inquiring about Henry Janeway and his son, Jason. The local postmaster was able to put the woman in touch with Henry’s sister-in-law, Pat, but that forthright lady had no idea what had happened to either Henry or Jason.   “I haven’t heard a word from them, Miss….”  She peered at the woman through thick glasses.  “What did you say your name was?”

           “Shannon O’Donnell,” replied her visitor.

           Pat squinted in thought.   “How did you come to know Henry and Jason?”

           “It’s rather a long story.   My car broke down here while I was passing through last December.  Henry gave me shelter and a job until I could earn enough money to pay for repairs.  I hit it off with him and Jason right away, and I thought I might stay for a while but then….   We had an argument, you see, and I walked out.”  Her voice shimmered with remorse.  “Something I’ve been regretting ever since.  I was hoping I could find him to tell him so.”

           Pat was no fool and could easily read between the lines.   “I see,” she answered slowly when Shannon O’Donnell stopped speaking.   “Well, that might explain why he was so upset the night he left.  I thought there was more to it than this damn fool Millennium Gate business.”  She straightened in her chair.  “However, that’s neither here nor there.   The plain truth is I don’t know where they’ve gone.”  Shrugging resignedly, she added, “I’m sorry, but…there it is.”

           Shannon’s face fell and she looked away, biting her lip.   “Well, I guess that’s that.”   Getting to her feet, she extended her hand.  “Thank you for your time.”

           “You’re welcome.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

           Forcing down an absurd need to burst into tears, Shannon left the woman’s home as quickly as she could before she embarrassed herself completely.    As she wheeled her car onto the freeway for Canton, she reflected that she had only herself to blame for losing the finest man she was ever likely to meet.

THE END
 

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