Disclaimer:   Characters, plots and dialogue from “Human Error” and “Endgame” belong to Paramount; what I’ve done with them is mine.

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:  A big thank-you to Brianna Thomas who, without a moment’s hesitation, agreed to beta this story, since Shayenne was heavily involved in Real Life.   Her input is much appreciated.

By Mary S.
 
 

           “Sickbay to the Captain,” came the doctor’s voice.

           “Janeway here,” replied Kathryn, sitting at her desk.   “How is Seven?”

           “I have stabilized her cortical node, but she is still unconscious.    I would prefer to let her wake naturally rather than use a stimulant right now.”

           “Agreed.”  Kathryn paused, then added, “Do you know what happened to her?”

           There was a long silence before he answered.   “Yes, Captain, I do.   But,” he added quickly before she could question him further, “I’m afraid I’ll have to cite doctor-patient confidentiality.”

           She sighed but didn’t bother to argue further.   “Very well, Doctor.  Let me know when she’s awake.”

           “Yes, Captain.  Sickbay out.”

           She sat for a moment longer, then got to her feet.  She would just have to go find out for herself.
 

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

           Kathryn Janeway stood in the middle of the holodeck, gazing at her surroundings in considerable puzzlement.    The program labeled as Seven of Nine Alpha Three was supposed to simulate a gravimetric array – or part of one anyway – not crew quarters.   What was going on here?

           She ended the program, then moved to the control panel beside the door, thinking she must have made an error when entering the information.   But no – the display showed quite clearly the program just terminated was Seven of Nine Alpha Three.

           Muttering to herself, she checked the data on the PADD in her hand.   The mistake must have occurred when she downloaded the information from the holodeck database.

           “Computer!   List all programs entered by Seven of Nine.  Command override Janeway Pi Alpha.”

           A few seconds later, a list appeared on the console.   Kathryn mumbled to herself as she checked them off.     “Seven Pi One, Seven Beta Nine, Seven Alpha Three, Seven Alpha Four.   Well, let’s see what they are.   Computer!  Run program Seven of Nine Pi One.”

           The holodeck walls shimmered slightly, then reformed as she found herself in a bare room, furnished only with a grand piano.   On one side, sunlight shone in dust-laden bars through a long row of windows.    Kathryn walked slowly around the piano and its accompanying bench, but there was nothing else there.

           “Computer, end program.”

           The holodeck walls reappeared.   “Computer, run Seven of Nine Beta Nine.”

           This time, the room altered to show Voyager’s mess hall, filled with laughing crewmembers crowded around Tom and B’Elanna, who were opening gifts.   She spotted herself standing at one side, a fond expression on her face, and scowled as she recalled that Seven had requested permission to simulate ‘social situations’.    Kathryn had agreed, not realizing that Seven  would use simulations of real people.   ‘Have to speak to her about that’, she thought, at the same time noticing that it all looked quite harmless.  ‘Well no gravimetric array here, either’.

           “Computer, end program.”

           ‘I already know what Alpha Three is, so let’s try Alpha Four,’ she thought, and called up the program.

           This time, the room became a dark chamber, lit only by a hearty blaze in a stone fireplace and an elaborate candelabra placed on top of a small piano.   Through rain-streaked windows could be heard the rumble of thunder as the outside world lit up with a brilliant flash of lightning.

           Kathryn shivered slightly in spite of herself.   “Well, it’s certainly different from the others, but it still bears no resemblance to a gravimetric array.  This makes no sense at all.”

           Standing motionless, she tried to discern what Seven might have been doing here.   When a knock came at the door, it startled her, making her jump.   Listening carefully, she waited several seconds before hearing it again.   ‘Might as well see who it is,’ she thought.

           Pulling open the door, she was rooted in astonishment.   Before her, wearing his best smile, stood her first officer.    His face fell slightly as he took in her features and he glanced around hopefully.

           “Hello, Kathryn,” he greeted her politely.   “I didn’t expect you to be here.   Where’s Seven?”

           “She’s in sickbay, Chakotay,” replied Kathryn, adding firmly, “you know that.”

           “She hasn’t recovered?”   His face became worried.   “I’d hoped it was just a minor glitch, perhaps caused by removing all her implants.”

           Kathryn stared at him in disbelief.  “What do you mean?   The doctor hasn’t removed her implants – he can’t!”

           Now it was Chakotay’s turn to stare.   “Well, of course he has!”  His voice rose angrily.   “Come on, Kathryn, is this a joke?   Because if it is, I don’t think it’s very funny!”

           She put her hands on her hips and glared at him, ready to argue until she was struck by a sudden thought.   “Computer, delete all holodeck characters.”

           Chakotay disappeared.

           “Well now!  Isn’t that interesting!  I wonder just what Miss Seven has been up to and whether Chakotay knows about this!”

           She bit her lip, then ordered the computer to end the program and reinitiate program Seven Alpha Three.   “Let’s see who’s in that one.”

           The crew quarters materialized around her once more; this time, she walked forward slowly, examining them more closely.   A small, but complete kitchen area – well, that made sense since Seven was learning to cook, with an interesting mural on the wall that looked like a star chart.

           She moved to the sleeping area and immediately spotted the large dream catcher hung near the bed.    Before she could get close enough to examine it, the door  chime sounded.    Suspicious now, she called at once for it to open.   Sure enough, there was Chakotay, again wearing her favourite smile as he stepped through the door with the ease of one familiar with his surroundings.

           He stopped in surprise when he saw her.   “Hello, Kathryn!   What are you doing here?   Did Seven invite you as well?”

           She decided to play along.   “I just stopped by for a moment.  I wanted to run an idea past her, and she’s gone to the astrometrics lab to test it.   She said to tell you she won’t be long.”

           He smiled happily and settled onto the couch before glancing up at her.   “Actually, I’m glad to catch you alone.   I’ve been wondering how to bring this up….”

           “Bring what up?” she asked.

           He gestured around the room.  “This.  Seven…and me.”  He peered at her closely.   “How do you feel about that?”

           She frowned, then heaved a sigh.   “To be honest, Chakotay, my first reaction is surprise.   Somehow I never pictured you and Seven together.    However,” she shrugged her shoulders,  “if you’re both happy, then I’m fine with it as long as it doesn’t interfere with the ship or crew.”

           He smiled, relaxing.   “I’ll see that it doesn’t.”

           Kathryn paused, wondering whether to ask the next question, then did anyway.   “How, uh, long have you been together?”  And continued in her head – ‘how far have you gone with her?   Are you intimate?  Have you had sex?’

           He grinned knowingly.   “Not long, only a few dates.   And to answer your other, unspoken, question – we’ve just shared a few kisses, nothing more.   Yet.”

           Kathryn began to laugh to herself.  ‘He’s amazing!   I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a perfect replica!’  That thought led her once again to wonder if Chakotay was aware of Seven’s efforts and her face fell.    If he didn’t know, she would have to tell him, and if he did – well, she didn’t want to think about those implications.

           Deciding she’d seen enough, she called out, “Computer, end program,” then turned and strode out the door.   When Seven was sufficiently recovered, she and her ex-Borg were going to have a little talk.
 

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

           Nearly a day later, the doctor contacted the captain to inform her that Seven of Nine was well on the road to recovery.   He had released her from sickbay with strict instructions to go directly to her alcove to regenerate.

           “She has gone without sufficient regeneration for over a week, Captain.   To ensure a full recovery, I have ordered her to remain in her alcove for the next twenty-four hours, and alerted the computer to inform me if she wakes before then.”

           “Very good, Doctor.  Janeway – ”

           “Uh, excuse me, Captain?”   Clearly the doctor wasn’t finished yet.

           Kathryn bit her lip in exasperation, but kept her voice even.  “Yes, Doctor?”

           “May I ask what measures you’re going to take?   Regarding Seven?”

           She glared at him, her patience at an end. “No, you may not!   Janeway out!”

           She sat back in her chair, seething.   Damned interfering hologram!  Obviously, he’d discovered that she’d found out about Seven’s little secret. Probably he had dug into the holodeck’s database just as she had, and discovered who had accessed Seven’s programs.  He was really becoming far too involved in something that was none of his business.   Taking several calming breaths, she forced herself to relax, then placed a message on Seven’s monitor in the cargo bay, ordering her to report to the ready room as soon as she had completed regeneration.
 

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

           Shortly before the end of Alpha shift the following day, Seven of Nine presented herself at the door of the ready room.    Kathryn was deeply immersed in the latest engineering report and only heard the chime on the third ring.

           “Come,” she called impatiently, adding, “this better be good,  Chakotay.   I told you I didn’t want any interruptions.”

           There was no response.

           Her head snapped up to find Seven standing at attention just inside the door.   As Janeway acknowledged her, she moved forward and placed a data chip on the desk.

           “You ordered me to report to you upon completing regeneration, Captain,” began Seven, her voice less arrogant than usual.

           “Yes, I did,” replied Kathryn slowly, her eyes focused on the chip.   After a moment, she picked it up and turned it over in her hand, examining it.   “What’s this?”

           “Holodeck programs Seven of Nine Alpha Three and Alpha Four.    The only copy.   I thought you would wish to have it.”

           “I do, thank you.”   The captain paused, searching for the words that would make clear to Seven precisely how much she had transgressed.    Finally, she just plunged in.

           “Tell me, are you aware of the Starfleet regulation regarding holographic images of actual people?”

           Seven hung her head.   “Yes, Captain,” she replied very softly.

           “Repeat it, please.”

           “No one may create a hologram of any existing person without that person’s consent,” she recited in a flat monotone.

           Janeway moved around her desk.   “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but, I’m assuming Commander Chakotay is not aware of…this.”  She indicated the data chip in her fingers.

           Seven’s eyes dropped briefly to the floor before coming back to meet the captain’s.   “No, Captain, he is not.”

           Janeway sighed, her voice suddenly weary.   “And the rest of the crew, whom I found in the mess hall program?   Since you didn’t ask me for permission, I suppose you didn’t ask them either?”

           “No, Captain.”
           “I didn’t think so.   Seven, I realize you were expanding your knowledge of humanity, but this isn’t the way to do it.   If you don’t feel comfortable enough to ask anyone on the ship to help you, then make up imaginary figures, give them whatever traits you want, but don’t…don’t use real people.    Do you understand the difference?”

           “I believe so.   Humanoids like to believe that each person is unique, an individual.   By creating a copy, the person loses that particular quality.”

           “That’s part of it, yes, but there’s more.”   Janeway sighed again.   “Seven, a lot of people, myself included, would consider what you did to be a violation, both physically and mentally.    You can do whatever you want with a hologram – change its appearance, its personality traits, make it behave in ways quite different from the actual person.   In essence, make it a slave to your every whim.    That is completely contrary to everything human beings believe in.”

           “But I didn’t change the commander or anyone else,” protested Seven.   “I was very careful to take into consideration everyone’s medical files, so that I would have accurate reproductions.    I needed them to be as real as possible.”

           Kathryn stared.   “But why didn’t you just ask us to help you?   It doesn’t make any sense, Seven!   For example, you say you wanted Chakotay’s hologram to be as much like him as possible….     I don’t understand why you didn’t simply ask him!”

           Seven looked away, her face flushing slightly.   “I…I was afraid,” she answered hesitantly.   “I didn’t think he would agree to my request.”

           “Then you had no business whatsoever making a hologram of him!”  Kathryn’s tone was firm.   “That’s exactly what I mean by a violation.   You violated him.    Now do you understand?”

           The elegant features reddened more.   “Yes, Captain.”    She paused, then asked hesitantly.  “Are you going to tell the commander?”

           Kathryn shrugged.   “Probably.  He has the right to know.”

           “Do you think he’ll be very angry?”

           “I don’t know.  But I wouldn’t blame him if he were.   I’m certainly not happy about it.”

           “I was in the process of deleting the character when my cortical node failed,” explained Seven.   “Perhaps he might take that into consideration.”

           “Perhaps,” agreed Janeway.   “Meanwhile, I’ll keep this chip locked away here, where it’ll be safe.”   She indicated the drawer of her desk.

           Seven nodded.   “That would be best.”

           Kathryn moved back to sit in her chair.   “Your holodeck privileges are suspended for the next month.   I think you need to spend more time in the real world, interacting with real people.   It may be harder, initially, but in the long run, you’ll find it much more satisfying.    Dismissed.”

           Without another word, Seven turned on her heel and strode out the door.

           Kathryn sighed and returned her attention to B’Elanna’s report.
 

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

           The following day, after a long night of weighing the pros and cons, Kathryn called Chakotay into her office.   In a way, she felt as if she were betraying Seven, but she honestly believed that he needed to be told what the woman had done.

           Quickly, she explained how she had stumbled on Seven’s programs and what they contained, then pulled the data chip from her drawer, adding that she had confiscated it and rescinded Seven’s holodeck privileges for a month.

           “I debated whether or not to tell you about this, Chakotay, but in the end, I believed you should be aware of what she did.    And it occurs to me,” she added, as a thought struck her, “that she may not be the only one.   I wonder if any other crewmembers have done the same.  Perhaps we should investigate….”

           Kathryn’s voice trailed away as she observed Chakotay’s expression change from annoyance to apprehension, and his entire body stiffen.   As he felt her gaze, he visibly tried to make himself relax, but she could see the agitation in his eyes.

           Surprised at his reaction, she began to backtrack.   “If the idea of prowling through the crew’s personal programs upsets you, Chakotay, perhaps we can find another way….”   Again, she stopped speaking, staring at him, quite puzzled.   His body language was telling her he was very concerned, even nervous, much more so than the discussion warranted.   “Chakotay?” she spoke his name softly.

           Chakotay looked up at her, face pale, his expression almost – fearful.   Abruptly, he slumped into his chair, his gaze falling to the floor as he heaved a great sigh.

           “Chakotay?   What is it?  Talk to me.  Please.”   Kathryn was growing more and more worried.

           Instead of answering her, he rose wearily to his feet and gestured to the door.   “Come with me,” he told her.

           Dropping Seven’s data chip back in her drawer, she moved to follow him out the ready room door, nodding to Tuvok to take command as she crossed the bridge and followed her first officer into the turbolift.

           “Deck six,” he ordered, then fell silent.

           She was itching to know where they were going, but his face was closed and forbidding, discouraging conversation.

           The doors opened and he led the way to holodeck one, commanding the computer to run program Chakotay NE 3.    The doors parted to show a pretty wooded scene.   Kathryn stepped through, then stopped in astonishment and turned to face him.

           “This is New Earth!” she exclaimed, almost accusingly.

           “Yes,” he replied simply.

           Slowly, she began to walk forward, looking about carefully.   “It’s very realistic,” she observed, “you must have spent a lot of time….”

           She paused as a figure moved toward them from beneath the trees, a very familiar figure – herself, as she’d been nearly five years before.

           “Hello, Chakotay,” smiled her hologram warmly, even as the real Kathryn exclaimed in horror.  “Chakotay!   What have you done?!”

           For nearly a minute, all three figures remained still, frozen by astonishment, or, in Chakotay’s case, by abject shame.

           Kathryn moved first, anger boiling through her as she advanced on him in an absolute fury.   She glared, outraged, into sad brown eyes – and felt her wrath melt away, bitter words of recrimination dying unspoken on her tongue.   He looked so miserable; how could she stay angry with him?   She shook her head, then ordered the computer to freeze the program.

           “All right, Chakotay, I’m listening, but you better have a damn good explanation,” she told him, her tone one of barely controlled impatience.

           He sighed heavily, clearly reluctant to explain his reasons.   “It’s a long story,” he began.

           “We have plenty of time,” she retorted.

           He moved toward a log, sitting down on it, then gestured to her to join him.

           “I originally created this program not long after we returned to the ship from New Earth.   I…” he paused, turning to face her head-on, determined to make her understand.    “I was happy there on that planet, Kathryn, truly happy.   When we had to come back, it nearly broke my heart.”

           She uttered a small sound of protest, but he held up his hand, forestalling her.

           “I know what you’re going to say – that we had no choice, and from a command point of view, I agree with you.  But emotionally, Kathryn, I was devastated.   I had allowed myself to believe that my dreams would come true, you see.   And then, they were shattered beyond hope of recovery.”

           He glanced about him at their surroundings.   “It’s a poor substitute, but at the time, I was desperate for something, anything, to hang on to.   It was the only way I could maintain the professional façade of first officer.”

           Kathryn felt her heart constrict with regret and guilt.   “Oh, Chakotay!  I’m sorry!   I had no idea…!”

           “No,” he murmured, “you weren’t meant to know.  I worked very hard to ensure that no one did.   But inside, I was dying.”  He gestured about him.   “This helped to ease the pain a little.”

           Gazing at the ground, Kathryn remembered very clearly how she’d had to fight down her own emotions in order to be the captain.  She understood his conflict only too well, although at the time she’d been envious that he seemed to be able to control his feelings so much more easily than she could.

           She glanced up at him, trying to find the words.  “I guess I didn’t realize how hard it was for you – you seemed to fall back into the role of first officer so easily.   I’m sorry I didn’t make more of an effort to.…”   She paused, unsure of what else to say, then added in a low voice.  “It wasn’t easy for me, either.”   It struck her that this was the first time they had ever discussed New Earth and their life that might have been.

           Chakotay stared at her, his expression one of bitterness and regret.   “Kathryn!  Why didn’t you…?”

           He stopped abruptly, obviously realizing it was much too late now.  What had happened, had happened.   Five years later, they were different people, changed by circumstances and the never-ending pressure of the Delta Quadrant.

           Looking for something to say, Kathryn asked the first question that came to mind.  “Have you used the program much since?”

           He shrugged.  “Off and on.  As we rebuilt our relationship, I found I needed it less and less, although occasionally, I still came here to meditate.  I hadn’t programmed your holocharacter then.   That came later.”

           “How much later?”

           “When we were in the void.    I was so worried about you, about the way you withdrew from everyone, including me.   I couldn’t believe that, after four years of living and working so closely together, of becoming a family, you could pull away like that.

           “I deliberately programmed the character as you had been on New Earth, because that’s where you were just Kathryn.   I wanted to compare that person to who you had become two years later, to see if maybe I had some idealized mental picture of you that was totally unrealistic, if maybe I was the one at fault.”  He shook his head, exasperated.  “I’m sorry.  I’m not explaining this very well.   I just wanted to try to figure out what was wrong, if it was me….”

           Kathryn nodded, knowing she had been guilty of wallowing in self-pity for far too long.   “I understand what you’re saying, Chakotay, and what you’re not saying.   I know I’ve told you this before, but I am sorry for what I put you through.   I had no right to do that to you.”

           He smiled slightly, his voice warm.   “You had every right, Kathryn.  I only wish you had let me help, instead of shutting yourself away.”

           She smiled in answer, grateful that the sad look in his eyes had eased.  Wanting to change the subject, she asked the obvious question.   “Once we were ‘back to normal’, so to speak, why didn’t you delete the hologram?”

           “I tried, more than once, but I just couldn’t do it.”  He waved his hand at the figure frozen near them.   “This is the woman I fell in love with.  Deleting her would have been like killing her.  However, as we rebuilt our relationship – ”

           “Again!” she interjected.

           “Again,” he confirmed, smiling, “I mostly stopped using the program.   Once in a while, I’d run it, but not very often, and usually out of nostalgia.  It wasn’t until the incident with the Equinox….” He paused, as Kathryn visibly cringed, then continued in a low tone.   “I was so appalled at your actions that I fled here the first chance I got.   I couldn’t believe you could do what you nearly had, that you could commit cold-blooded murder!   That act devastated me.  I came to try to reconcile the woman here with what you’d become in reality.”

           His head bowed as his voice dropped even lower.   “It wasn’t easy,” he finally got out, “but eventually, I succeeded.”

           Kathryn’s face was grim, her mouth a thin line, as she realized now why he had seemed to be able to forgive her so easily.  At the time, she’d assumed it was because he no longer cared for her.

           Chakotay’s eyes saddened once more as he added.  “I never stopped loving you, Kathryn, despite all that’s been said and done.   I couldn’t.”

           Her mouth twisted slightly, but she asked only if he’d used the program very much lately.

           “Yes,” he replied, in a slightly unsteady voice.   “Quite a bit in the last year, year and a half.   Our relationship has been so hit-and-miss, I found I needed the stability, the security, that ‘she’”, he indicated the hologram, “gives me.  I always know where I stand with her.”

           Kathryn winced at his direct words, feeling the truth of them hit her hard.  All the assumptions she’d held about their relationship had just been turned upside down.   She had taken a lot of comfort from their friendship, relied on his strength time and again when she’d felt her resolve flagging, and never once wondered how he kept going, how he could support her so unfailingly.   Taken, but never given – not in five, long years.   She could hardly blame him for seeking support wherever he could.  Sighing wearily,  she wondered where to start.

           “Chakotay, first, I want to tell you that I’m sorry we never talked about our time on New Earth.   I realize now it’s been festering for far too long.  I made the mistake of assuming that, because I was able to put our life there behind me, you had done the same.   I…that wasn’t fair.”

           Chakotay peered at her more intently as she faltered.  “Is that really true, Kathryn, that you could push it all aside?”

           She bit her lip, then admitted in a low voice.  “Not entirely.”   Again, she fell silent briefly before taking a deep breath.   “I know you loved me on that planet, and that you continued to do so for some time after we came back to the ship, but I honestly believed that, over the years, your feelings had changed.”

           Chakotay interrupted, trying to read between the lines.   “If we’d stayed there, if Voyager hadn’t rescued us, would you have fallen in love with me?”

           His blunt question hung between them.  Often, she had wondered the same thing herself, but never had she found a definite answer.   She had pushed down her emotions so many times that now she wasn’t sure what she felt for him.   Certainly fondness and affection – but love?   She didn’t know.  For him, any positive answer had to be in the past.

           “Kathryn?” he prodded.

           She sighed and gave him a sad little smile.  “I don’t know for certain, but probably, yes.   However, once back on the ship, I had no choice but to put aside my feelings for you.   And as the years went by, I realized that they’d changed.

           “We have such a wonderful, warm friendship, Chakotay, one I value very highly indeed.   I need it, I depend on it, and without it, I wouldn’t be able to keep going.   But, as far as I’m concerned, what I feel for you is the love one dear friend holds for another, not romantic love.”

           His face fell, and he gripped his hands tightly together, but he said nothing.

           Kathryn felt her heart sink as his expression told her everything he wasn’t allowing himself to say.   She hated to hurt him like this, but better that than unfairly holding out false hope.

           “I’m sorry,” she told him, “that I can’t love you the way you want, but I can’t lie to you either.  The spark just isn’t there.   You have to let go of this…dream, and move on.  You’ve held onto it much too long already, and it’s not going to happen.”

           There, the words had been spoken; she should feel a sense of relief, even freedom – so why was her heart so heavy and full of dread?

           Chakotay sat very still, his head down, obviously trying to accept the finality of her words.  After a minute, he rose slowly to his feet, his body radiating waves of weariness.   “I guess there’s nothing more to say,” he muttered sadly.   “Computer, end program.”

           As the holodeck grid reappeared, Kathryn also got up and moved to the door.  “Goodnight,” she murmured softly.

           He nodded, but made no move to follow as she passed through the door into the corridor.
 

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

           After a restless night, Kathryn began her shift early the next morning, reasoning that if she couldn’t sleep, she might as well make a start on the day’s reports.

           Five minutes before the beginning of alpha shift, her door chime sounded.  Her visitor proved to be Chakotay, who looked even worse than she felt.   Obviously, he hadn’t gotten much sleep either.   In his hand was a data chip, which he held out to her as he approached her desk.

           “This is my program of New Earth,” he began abruptly.   “Under the circumstances, you should probably keep it.”

           Kathryn stared at him in surprise even as her hand automatically took the chip and placed it in her drawer.   She tried to find something to say, some words of comfort, but the only things she could think of sounded falsely sympathetic; she wouldn’t demean his dignity by patronizing him.   Her eyes fell to the contents of the open drawer and rested on the two disks lying side by side.

           Chakotay had turned away, preparing to leave, when suddenly she called him.   “Chakotay, come here and look at this.”

           He hesitated, then obeyed, moving to stand behind her, peering over her shoulder.   “What is it?” he was forced to ask, when she didn’t say anything more.

           “This is your disk,” she replied, indicating the nearer one, “and this is Seven’s – of your holocharacter.   A possibility you might consider, perhaps.”

           He shrugged and again moved towards the door.  “Perhaps,” he replied as he stepped through.
 

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

           Two weeks later, Chakotay brought Kathryn Chell’s latest sample menu.   She chuckled over some of the more outlandish-sounding items on the list, relieved that he could laugh with her.   Apparently, he had regained his equilibrium and put aside his feelings for her.   Although she was glad they had been able to reestablish their comfortable relationship, deep inside, she felt a tiny bit of regret.  ‘If only…’ her heart murmured, even as her head slammed the door on her feelings.  ‘Don’t be silly’ she told herself firmly. Instead, on impulse, she asked Chakotay to join her for lunch.

           To her surprise, he smiled, slightly embarrassed.   “I’d love to, but I’ve already made plans.   Raincheck?”

           “Absolutely,” she declared, telling herself how pleased she should be that he was trying to move on with his life.

           However, as Voyager reached the Alpha Quadrant through the debris of a Borg sphere, and Kathryn actually saw Chakotay and Seven together, she felt a sharp, and unexpected, pang of regret burn through her.   Dazedly, she stared at them for nearly thirty seconds before events around them reclaimed her attention.   Telling herself she was being quite unreasonable, she greeted Admiral Paris’ incredulous face on the viewscreen.
 

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

Ten months later:
 

           Kathryn crouched in her mother’s vegetable garden, carefully checking for bugs among the bright green leaves of her Talaxian tomatoes.   To all appearances, she was enjoying a well-earned leave from Starfleet Command.   In fact, she was trying to decide what to do with the rest of her life.

           The intervening year had seen Voyager welcomed home with festivities and parades, her crew heaped with every imaginable honour, and her captain promptly promoted to admiral and trotted out for an adoring public to admire on every possible occasion.   While outwardly, it would seem all her dreams had been fulfilled, in fact, Kathryn soon discovered her triumph was quite hollow.   Her ship was dry docked indefinitely, her crew – her family – dispersed far and wide, and she herself was a stranger at Headquarters.

           So many of the officers she’d served with were gone, swallowed up in the cataclysm of the Dominion War, a war which the Federation had nearly lost.   Enemies – the Cardassians – were now allies.   Allies – the Klingons – had briefly become enemies, before reestablishing a tenuous accord with the Federation.

           Those who had survived had changed as well, becoming suspicious and defensive.   When Kathryn questioned why, asking what had happened to the questing spirit once so prevalent in Starfleet, inevitably the response was, ‘the war’.    Despite all the hardships and trials they’d undergone in the Delta Quadrant, she began to think she and her crew had had an easier time than if they’d never encountered the Caretaker.

           She tried very hard to fit into the new Starfleet, to do everything asked of her, but after nearly a year, she was beginning to believe she no longer belonged there.  Sometimes, she wondered whether she even belonged in the Federation.

           As well, of course, there was the whole issue of Chakotay.

           Time and again, she found herself turning to speak to him, share a comment, look for reassurance, laugh with him over some minor incident, feel his steady support beside her – only to remember that he wasn’t there, and wouldn’t be ever again.

           The first time this realization had hit her, she nearly burst into tears, right in the middle of a meeting with Admiral Paris.   He had stared at her very hard for several seconds as she fought for control, pretending to have a bit of dust in her eye.

           Later, after retreating to her office, she’d sat at her desk almost in a daze, wondering what on earth she was going to do.   And at the same time, realizing there was nothing she could do.

           Chakotay was gone.   He’d done exactly what she’d told him to – he’d moved on and, by all reports, was very happy with Seven.

           Kathryn had felt regret pour through her in waves.   Damn!  Why had she been so stupid?   Why hadn’t she realized how much he meant to her, how deeply she loved him?   She missed him desperately, and somehow, she was going to have to learn to live without him.   Her heart sank into her boots as she covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking in silent grief and misery.   ‘Too late’, she berated herself, ‘you idiot woman, you’re too late!  And you’ve no one to blame but yourself!’

           Eventually, the sharp pain of loss had dulled to a gnawing ache that never left her, but which she tried to ignore as much as possible.  If she had been given another assignment in space, preferably one as dangerous as possible, she might have succeeded in putting Chakotay aside.  However, cooped up in Headquarters, and feeling more than a little out of place, her unhappiness increased exponentially.    In the end, her doubts multiplied to the point where she found it necessary to retreat to her mother’s house, hoping to reorient herself once more, and determine what course her life should follow.

           Every morning, she worked in the garden.  Afternoons were spent helping her mother run errands, sitting before an easel on the back porch, or just relaxing under her favourite tree by the creek, her dog beside her.

           Several times, her sister Phoebe dropped in unexpectedly, talking a mile a minute about the latest gossip in the art world or all the details of her newest exhibition.  However, while she talked, her eyes examined Kathryn very carefully indeed, and her brow furrowed at what she saw.

           Kathryn was becoming thinner, and her eyes, always full of determination, now held a puzzled, almost defeated look.   Phoebe knew something was wrong, but to all her probing questions, Kathryn invariably replied that she was ‘fine’, if perhaps a little tired.

           Becoming more and more concerned, Phoebe paid a visit to the highest-ranking Starfleet officer she knew – Admiral Paris.    He referred her to his son and daughter-in-law, who, he assured Phoebe, nowadays knew Kathryn much better than he did.   When Phoebe repeated her concerns to Tom and B’Elanna, they exchanged knowing looks and asked if she’d talked to Chakotay.

           Phoebe was beginning to feel like the proverbial rubber ball, bouncing from one person to the next, and said so, but they both promised her that Chakotay was the best authority on all matters pertaining to Kathryn Janeway.   Never one to hold back, B’Elanna contacted him there and then, arranging for him to join them for dinner that evening.

           Phoebe hadn’t known quite what to expect concerning her sister’s former first officer.   After all, he had been a rebel and an outlaw, the terrorist whom Kathryn had been sent to capture so long ago.   What she found, much to her surprise, was a charming, cultivated man, very good-looking with an exotic air about him, and the most devastating smile she had ever seen in her life!

           He was amazingly easy to talk to – within minutes, she found herself telling him of all her worries about Kathryn.   His attention was focused on her every word as she related how unhappy and despondent her sister had become, and how she stubbornly refused to admit anything was wrong.   After he asked several pointed questions, his obvious concern led Phoebe to confide that she feared Kathryn was falling into the same kind of terrible depression, which had overtaken her after the deaths of her father and fiancé nearly twenty years before.

           Chakotay nodded – apparently, he was aware of her sister’s personal history, which confirmed to Phoebe that he could well prove to be the help she needed.    However, when she asked if he would come to visit Kathryn, he hesitated, saying only that he wasn’t sure if she would want to see him.

           Tom and B’Elanna both protested at once, saying that of course she would, regardless of what had happened with Seven.   Besides, added B’Elanna, that was all over now, anyway, and hadn’t he told her just last week how much he missed Kathryn?

           Phoebe looked somewhat mystified at the mention of Seven, but let it go to concentrate on convincing Chakotay that he was the person who could best help her sister.

           Seeing how worried she was, he relented, agreeing to come the following week, but suggesting that Phoebe say nothing.   Kathryn was very good at hiding her feelings – he would get a much better idea of her mental state if he could catch her off guard.

           Much relieved, Phoebe returned to Indiana to report to her anxious mother that she rather thought she had sorted everything out quite nicely.  However, when pressed for details, she refused to say anything more, afraid that Gretchen might let something slip about Chakotay’s impending visit.
 

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

           Now, on a warm summer day, Kathryn contemplated her future as she crouched among her tomatoes, unaware that anyone else was nearby until the dog suddenly leaped to its feet, barking hard.

           She rose, shading her eyes, trying to figure out why the dog was so excited.   Then, as her eyes adjusted to the strong light, she made out a very familiar figure approaching.  She blinked, thinking she must be hallucinating, until she heard him call her name.

           “Kathryn!”

           “Chakotay?!” she exclaimed.  “Good lord!   Is it really you?!”

           Chakotay stepped up to her, reaching to take her hands as he smiled down at her.   “It’s me, Kathryn.   How are you?”

           She was so overjoyed to see him that she was barely able to restrain herself from throwing her arms around him.   Instead, she hung on to his hands tightly, her knees suddenly wobbly as her heart took a great, and quite unexpected, leap of joy.   “I’m fine,” she answered automatically, as her eyes drank in his features.

           His own eyes shadowed as he gazed at her.  “That’s not what your sister says.  I met with her last week and she’s quite concerned about you.   She tells me you’re depressed, but that you refuse to admit it.”   His hands tightened on hers.   “What is it, Kathryn?   Why are you unhappy?”

           Instead of answering right away, Kathryn glanced past him, a question in her eyes.

           Correctly interpreting her expression, he shrugged his shoulders and explained that he was alone now, then asked again why she wasn’t happy.

           Kathryn looked down, trying to get her turbulent emotions under control, but Chakotay lifted her chin, forcing her eyes up to his.

           “Don’t hide from me,” he demanded.  “I need to know what you’re feeling.”

           “Why?” she asked, startled by his suddenly intense stare.

           “Because…I still love you, and apparently that won’t change, no matter what I do.”  His voice softened, taking on a wistful tone.   “I’ve missed you so much, Kathryn.”

           “Have you?” she murmured.  “I’ve missed you, too, more than I would have believed possible.  I guess what I thought was only friendship was actually a lot more.”   She gave a rueful chuckle.   “You’ll never know how many times I’ve kicked myself for pushing you into Seven’s arms.”

           He smiled happily, relieved that his instincts had been right all along.   “I’m not in Seven’s arms now.   Kathryn, I’d like to start again with us, and try to build a life together.  What do you think?”

           She gazed up at him in wonder and joy.   “I think I’d like that very much.”

           They continued to stare into each other’s eyes, before sighing softly together just as Gretchen’s voice sounded.   “Katie!    Lunch is ready!    And who’s that with you?!”

           Kathryn grinned.   “Time for you to meet the rest of my family.”

           Chakotay’s dimples flashed.   “Do you think she’ll like me?”

           “Smile at her like that and she doesn’t stand a chance!”

THE END
 
 

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