Disclaimer:   Still Paramount’s, more’s the pity

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:   This is yet another post-Delta Quadrant story, but with a bit of a twist.   What would it take to make Kathryn Janeway leave Starfleet?  This is one possible scenario.   As always, many thanks to Shayenne for her invaluable beta.
 
 

By Mary S.
 
 

           It started innocently enough.

           Admiral Kathryn Janeway was seated at the conference table in the C-in-C’s boardroom, listening to Admiral Soqas expound at interminable length on the latest enhancements to sensor grids, which would increase the ability to ‘see’ through various stellar phenomena, in particular nebulas.    With her scientific background, ordinarily Janeway would be quite fascinated by such a topic, but today, she was finding it increasingly difficult to focus her thoughts on the subject at hand.

           Her attention drifting as her eyes gazed blankly at the PADDs before her, she was brought up short by Admiral Nechayev, repeating her name in a sharp tone of voice.    ‘Madam Admiral’, as Nechayev was called, although never to her face, was staring down her nose at Kathryn as if she were some foolish schoolgirl.

           Quickly snapping to attention, Kathryn tried to sound calm as she responded levelly.  “I’m sorry, Admiral, I didn’t hear you.”

           “Is there a problem, Admiral Janeway?” inquired Nechayev, in her most patronizing tone, which clearly indicated she did not approve of any officer daydreaming during briefings.

           Kathryn called on every scrap of command training to hide her embarrassment at being caught out.    “No, Admiral, no problem.   I was…briefly distracted.”

           Nechayev’s piercing eyes bored into her as Kathryn met her stare evenly.     Although she acknowledged the admiral’s authority, unlike many Starfleet officers, Kathryn wasn’t afraid of her.

           Admiral Ross cleared his throat.   “Can we get on with it, Alynna?” he inquired.    “I have another meeting in half an hour.”

           Glancing at the Vulcan, Nechayev nodded for him to continue, although from time to time, she continued to subject Janeway to intense scrutiny.

           Feeling as if she were under a microscope, Kathryn was careful to concentrate her attention on what Admiral Soqas was explaining.     However, even with all her considerable willpower, she still found it difficult to make sense of what he was saying.    Several times, she rubbed her forehead, as if she could actually force her brain to wrap itself around the words.

           Finally, after what seemed like hours, the admiral was finished.

           Sighing with relief, Kathryn quickly gathered up her PADDs and prepared to leave, only to hear Nechayev call her back.

           “Admiral Janeway,” came the C-in-C’s imperious tones.   “A word, if you please.”

           Kathryn stiffened.   Tired from trying to concentrate and with a headache threatening, she most definitely did not need to be reamed out by Nechayev.   However, she had no choice.    Turning back, she faced the admiral as the others left quickly, one or two casting her sympathetic glances as they exited.

           “Admiral,” began Starfleet’s senior officer, “I realize you may have gotten a little slack during your time in the Delta Quadrant, but here at Headquarters, we have standards, which I expect you to maintain.    Do I make myself clear?”

           “Yes, Admiral,” Kathryn replied obediently, her mouth tight with a mixture of anger and pain, as the incipient headache made its presence known.

           “Very well.   See it doesn’t happen again.”  Nechayev waved her hand in dismissal, before turning to enter her inner office.

           Rotating smartly on her heel, Kathryn strode out of the conference room and down the corridor to the bank of turbolifts, her head high, determined not to show any sign of weakness. Once in the confines of the lift, however, she relaxed against the wall, breathing deeply to control the pain.

           She hadn’t had a really bad headache for several years, not since before Voyager returned to Earth.   The doctor had told her confidently that if she would reduce her caffeine intake, eat regular meals, and go to bed at a decent hour most nights, he could almost guarantee her headaches would become a thing of the past.    While his promise hadn’t proved completely accurate, by following his regimen, she had certainly cut down on both the number and severity.     Remembering the agony she’d frequently endured in the Delta Quadrant, she told herself she shouldn’t be complaining now.

           The lift stopped at her floor and she hurried down the hall to her office, trying to ignore the steady pounding at her temples.   If she were lucky, she’d be able to manage for another hour until she could leave.
 

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           Over an hour later, Kathryn plodded wearily through the front door of her beachfront home, activating the lights as she dropped her briefcase full of PADDs.    Not only her head hurt, but now her eyes and ears ached as well.   Her brain felt fried, short circuited like the bridge consoles used to do sometimes, when Voyager was under attack.  Right now, she could empathize completely with the control panels – sparks were shooting out of every nerve ending in her head.

           The ‘incoming’ light was flashing on her comm unit.   Activating it, she toed off her boots as the first message played back.    Her mother, reminding her of her nephew’s birthday party this weekend….   How old was he? – seven, eight?  She couldn’t remember.

           The next two were from the Wildmans – just passing through, sorry to have missed her – and Tal Celes, en route to a new posting on Deep Space Nine.    Seeing their cheerful faces, Kathryn felt an old, familiar ache start to surface from deep inside.   Even after all this time, she still suffered the sharp pain of separation and loss.    Voyager’s crew had become a family during their years in the Delta Quadrant, and she had grown to love them all dearly.    Well, hopefully, she’d be able to see them at the next reunion in three months’ time.

           The fourth message was from Chakotay.

           Kathryn’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of his familiar features.   There were new lines on his face and he looked quite tired, but his gentle smile was the same, as he explained that he had returned unexpectedly to Earth and was hoping to see her that evening at the reception for the Archaeological Division’s annual meeting.

           Oh lord!    In her exhaustion, she’d completely forgotten about the reception!

           Tugging off her uniform jacket, she tossed it on the bed on her way through to the shower.    If she hurried, she might only be fashionably late.
 

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           Forty-five minutes later, Kathryn was striding across the main concourse of Headquarters, on her way to the smaller banquet hall, located nearby.     Even gowned in an elegant dark blue cocktail dress, she radiated authority and a command presence, the very epitome of Starfleet.    Entering the reception, she glanced around quickly, relieved to discover that apparently, she wasn’t late at all.

           From across the room, Chakotay sensed her presence and turned around, drinking in the sight of her.    At first glance, she appeared not to have changed a bit, but as she approached Admiral McNaughton, head of Archaeology and the evening’s host, he could see her auburn hair had a silvery sheen to it, and her face some new lines.    Her figure, though, appeared as slim as ever, and her walk lithe.     Staring more intently, he also realized that she had a headache, although she was hiding it well, her husky voice drifting across the room as she replied politely to the admiral’s greeting.
 
           Chakotay felt his heart thump hard, then settle into a faster beat as adrenaline pulsed through his veins.    Excusing himself to his companions, he stepped forward to intercept his former captain.

           “Kathryn”, he called in a low voice, not wanting to draw undue attention to them.    If he feared she hadn’t heard him, she immediately proved him wrong.

           Her head snapped up, and at once, she walked directly across the room to stand in front of him.    “Chakotay,” she breathed, her eyes shining with delight as her mouth curved in the lopsided smile he remembered so well.

           His heart thumped again and he could barely restrain himself from sweeping her into his arms and hugging her tightly.    Instead, he gripped her hands fiercely, smiling down at her in joy.  “I’m so glad to see you, Kathryn,” he told her.   “I didn’t know if you’d be here….”

           She grinned ruefully.   “I’d forgotten all about it, actually, until I got home and found your message.   It was a good thing you sent it.     Now, tell me what you’ve been doing and why you’re here.    The last I heard you and Seven were going to Dorvan for good.”  Kathryn glanced around, careful to keep her tone casual.   “I don’t see her – is she here?”

           Swallowing hard, Chakotay shook his head.   “No.   I, uh, it’s a long story, Kathryn, and this isn’t the place to tell it.”    His eyes roamed around the room.    “Look, I don’t know how long you have to be here, but I’ve seen everyone I want to….    Have you had dinner yet?  How about we go see if the Quantum Café is still in business?”

           Smiling, she shook her head at him.   “I don’t need to stay particularly – really, the only reason I came was because of you….    However, I’m afraid the Quantum Café has changed hands since you last saw it – it specializes in existentialist philosophy and very long poetry readings nowadays, and is presently known as the…Retrospective Reading Room, I think it’s called.     Anyway, it’s a far cry from what it was.

           “However, there is a very nice, old-fashioned restaurant not too far from here.    Nothing terribly fancy, but they provide a good meal and it has walled booths as well as a separate room for privacy.   I eat there fairly often.”

           Chakotay’s grin widened.   “Sounds perfect.   Let’s say our goodbyes and be on our way.”

           In minutes, they were hurrying out the door and across the big plaza to the nearest street, which led them down towards the old part of the city.    However, before they reached it, Kathryn turned off onto a quiet side street and a moment later, led Chakotay down a few steps to a lower level doorway.

           Inside he found a warm, cosy room, dominated in the center by a long bar, while along the sides were tables, each separated from the next by ceiling-high partitions.    Wonderful odors were wafting from the rear, reminding him he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch.

           As he paused to look around, an older, attractive woman stepped forward, greeting Kathryn effusively.

           “Ms. Janeway, how nice to see you.   Come in, I have your regular table free.”

           “Carolina, thank you.   Let me introduce an old friend of mine, Chakotay.   We served together on Voyager.”

           “It is a pleasure to meet you, sir, and welcome to our little restaurant.  I hope you will find everything satisfactory.”   As she spoke, she led them towards the back, then through a narrow doorway into a small room with only one table.

           The walls were painted in warm, earthen tones, and decorated with several paintings of pleasant-looking landscapes.    Sitting down in one of the comfortable chairs, Kathryn indicated Chakotay should take the other.   As he settled himself opposite her, he smiled warmly.

           “This is very cosy, isn’t it?   And this is your regular table?”

           Shrugging her shoulders, she replied in an off-hand tone of voice.   “Sometimes, I have a lot of work to do, so I bring it here.  That way, I can eat and still get it done without disturbing anyone else.    Carolina has been very supportive that way.   Occasionally, I’ve wondered if maybe she’s in league with our doctor.”

           Chakotay burst out laughing.   “Knowing him, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

           Still grinning as the waitress appeared, she placed their order, telling him to trust her judgment.

           Smiling, Chakotay stretched his hand across the table to cover hers.   “Always,” he replied softly.

           At once, they were both assailed by memories of long ago, when he’d said the same words to her in the fourth year of their journey through the Delta Quadrant, just before they’d tried to use the slipstream drive.

           Words were unnecessary as they stared at each other, each knowing exactly what the other was thinking.    Finally, Kathryn sighed heavily and looked down, although she didn’t withdraw her hand.

           “It’s funny, you know, I fought so hard to get us home, and so many times since, I’ve wished we were still out there.    Does that sound foolish, Chakotay?   Am I becoming sentimental in my old age?”

           “Kathryn,” he was quick to reassure her, “it’s not foolish at all.   The bonds we formed on Voyager were very special, I think they always will be.     We became a family; families have strong ties, and when they’re separated, it hurts.   I think that’s why you wish we were still in the Delta Quadrant.   You miss the crew.”

           “And the ship,” she was quick to add.

           He nodded.   “And the ship.   And as far as old age is concerned, please remember I’m older than you are – and I don’t consider myself over the hill yet.”    He squeezed her hand, releasing it as the waitress reappeared with a bottle of wine.

           They remained silent as she poured, but once alone again, Kathryn smiled a bit ruefully.   “I suppose you’re right.    It’s just…lately, I’ve been much more tired, and I can’t seem to concentrate the way I used to….   I miss things that people say….”    She sighed wistfully, not sure how to explain her feelings of malaise to him.

           Chakotay nodded thoughtfully.   “Is your headache still bothering you?”

           Looking up at him, she smiled and shook her head.    “No, funnily enough, it seems to have disappeared.    Must be the magic of your presence.  I’ll have to keep you around.”

           For the third time, he felt his heart lurch.    “I wish you would,” he replied impulsively.

           Staring at him with a gaze that had suddenly intensified, Kathryn felt an old, old dream resurface to tease her.    However, as yet she was unwilling to give it much credence.    In an effort to get the focus of the conversation away from her, she asked again about Seven.

           Chakotay looked down at the table, his face saddening as he absently played with his glass.    “In the end, it didn’t work.    She’s young, ready for adventure, her life’s journey barely begun.   She wants to explore and learn everything she can.    I…”  He shrugged as he raised his head to find her eyes watching him.   “I’ve had enough adventure to last a lifetime.    All I want is to settle down in one place and make a quiet life for myself.     We were going in opposite directions,” he finished, not sure how else to explain the disaster that his romance with Seven had become.

           Kathryn reached for his hand.   “I’m sorry, Chakotay, truly I am.   I’d hoped this time….”

           “I know,” he sighed.   “So did I.    But…it wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

           Unable to resist, she asked the obvious question.   “So, is there anyone new in your life, or are you playing the field?”

           His voice was resigned.   “No, there’s no one at all.   I guess I’m a little gun-shy right now.”

           “I can’t say I blame you.”

           “What about you?” he asked, after several silent minutes.

           “Me? In a relationship, you mean?”  She chuckled ruefully.   “No, not really.  I dated casually for a while after we came back, but it didn’t go anywhere and I think he lost interest.   Anyway, there’s been no one for some time now, and frankly, I think it’s better that way.    So many hours of every day have to be devoted to my work – by the time I get home, I don’t have any energy left.”

           Puzzled, Chakotay’s eyes narrowed slightly.  “That doesn’t sound like you, Kathryn.   You always had lots of energy.   You used to run rings around the rest of us, even Seven, despite her youth and Borg enhancements.    When was the last time you saw a doctor?”

           She was saved from answering by the arrival of their food – steaming vegetable curry with naan bread.

           They both dug into their meal, remaining silent until the first pangs of hunger were assuaged.    Kathryn hoped that, with his attention diverted from their conversation, Chakotay would forget his question.   She should have known better.

           Putting down his fork, he sat back, regarding her carefully before stating abruptly,  “You didn’t answer me.”

           Grimacing, she placed her own cutlery on her plate, as she searched for the words that would successfully deflect him off this sensitive subject.   However, he saw right through her and leaned forward, demanding,   “Answer me.”

           She bristled at his tone, but kept a rein on her temper.   Much as she resented his sudden autocratic manner, she didn’t want to drive him away from her again.   “I, uh, let’s see,” she stammered, trying to stall.

           “Kathryn,” came his growl,  “tell me.”

           Slumping in her seat, she eyed him tentatively.   “Last year.”

           “Last year?  You mean at least ten months ago?!”   Chakotay’s voice rose in outrage.   “Dammit, Kathryn, there could be something wrong.   You have to get yourself checked out so you can eliminate possibilities.    You’re a scientist, surely you can understand that!”

           Kathryn’s eyes began to glaze over as she stared at him vacuously.    Becoming frightened, Chakotay waved his hand in front of her face, but got no reaction.    For a few seconds more, she remained quite motionless, then jumped, blinking rapidly as his movement startled her.
 
           “Wh…what are you doing?” she asked in a puzzled voice.

           He peered at her, worry filling his eyes.   “For nearly a minute, you blanked out on me.    Kathryn, let’s finish up here and get you home.   Once we’re there, I think we should call a doctor.   Do you still see the EMH?”

           Shaking her head vehemently, she began to protest.   “Yes, but for heaven’s sake, Chakotay, you’re overreacting!   I’m fine, just a bit tired, that’s all.    There’s nothing wrong with me!”

           “Then you shouldn’t have any problem allowing him to examine you, should you?”

           “Oh, all right!” she conceded ungraciously.   “Since you’re not going to let it go, I’ll let him have a quick look.   But it better be fast, Mister!   I’m not sitting around for hours on end while he lectures me on all my bad habits!”

           “Fair enough.”  Chakotay was willing to compromise now that he’d won the argument.    He rose from the table and disappeared into the main room, returning a moment later with a worried-looking Carolina in tow.

           “Ms. Janeway!” she exclaimed, as soon as she spotted Kathryn.  “I’m so sorry to hear you’re not feeling well.   I hope it’s nothing serious and you’ll be able to come back soon.”

           “Thank you,” replied Kathryn graciously.   “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”   She leveled a glare at Chakotay but he lifted his head and stared right back at her, clearly not intimidated at all.    ‘Oh dear!’ thought Kathryn, ‘I must be ill if he can withstand that!’

           A moment later, she felt his hand on her back as he ushered her out the door and up into the street.

           Pausing, he glanced down at her.   “Which way?”

           “Down the hill.   There’s a public transporter at the next corner.”

           At once, he grasped her hand, tucking it securely into his arm as they started along the sidewalk.

           Kathryn wasn’t sure what to make of this new, more authoritarian Chakotay.   Although she didn’t appreciate him ordering her about, part of her was secretly glad to see him take charge.   She liked an aggressive man, someone she could butt heads with now and then.    It was that characteristic more than any other which had drawn her to Kashyk, the Devore inspector.    Much as she’d valued Chakotay’s steady support and calm temperament during their years in the Delta Quadrant, occasionally she’d wished he’d stood up to her more often.

           She wasn’t being fair, she knew.   After all, as her subordinate, he’d had to obey her orders, even when he didn’t agree with them.    And when he had objected, she’d ridden roughshod over his disapproval without a second thought.

           Sighing at her own intransigence, she let him lead her inside the small structure housing the public transporter.    Entering the coordinates for the station nearest her seaside home, she watched as Chakotay slid his debit card through the slot.    The transporter blinked on as a disembodied voice informed them it was ready for use.

           As they dematerialized, she realized with a start that she hadn’t raised even the slightest quibble about him paying for both their meals and transport.   ‘I must be slipping,’ she told herself.   ‘Really, Kathryn, get a grip!’

           Moments later, they were walking along a quiet road which ran behind beachfront houses.    Chakotay could just hear the steady pounding of waves along an unseen shore, as well as smell the distinctive salty tang of the sea.

           Patting Kathryn’s hand, he glanced down at her, as if to reassure himself that she was still there.    Her ‘episode’ earlier in the restaurant had shaken him more than he cared to admit.    It had been so completely contrary to everything he knew about her.

           Looking up in response to his gaze, she smiled slightly and gestured towards the houses, barely visible behind whitewashed, eight-foot walls.   “It’s not much further.”

           Nodding, Chakotay tightened his grasp slightly.

           A few moments later, Kathryn slowed, tugging him to a small door built into the wall, beside which grew a large rose bush, its thorny tendrils snaking across the vertical surface in myriad directions.   Pressing the keypad, she entered her code and waited for the door to slide open.

           Chakotay let her lead the way into a small courtyard, paved with bricks, and dotted here and there with large tubs of various flowering plants.    Even this late at night, he could feel the residual heat of the sun through the soles of his shoes.

           Without stopping, Kathryn moved onto a covered verandah and entered the house, turning to beckon to Chakotay.   “Come on in.”

           Following her through the door, he paused as she called for the lights to activate.    The hallway where he stood led straight through into a large room, which, he discovered, spread right across the rear half of the house.    He moved forward slowly, entranced by the fabulous view stretched out before him.    All he could see was dark ocean, dotted here and there with white-capped waves and above it, the night sky, lit only by stars.

           Without realizing, he stepped through a sliding door onto a large deck, partially covered, that ran the width of the house.    As he came to a halt at the outer railing, his eyes sweeping across the incredible expanse in front of him, he heard Kathryn step up behind him.

           “Well?” she queried, her voice filled with pride and delight at his obvious appreciation.    “What do you think?”

           “Very nice, very nice indeed.”   Chakotay’s voice was filled with awe.   “How long have you had it?”

           Shrugging, Kathryn’s response was almost offhand.   “Only the last eight months.   It belonged to a retired admiral, who loved the sea.   He was an old friend of my father’s, had actually taught him when Dad was a cadet.  My mother told me he was very interested in Voyager’s story and asked if I would make the time to visit him.   So, one day, while I was still on leave, I did.

           “It’s funny, you know.    He was over a hundred and twenty years old, but sharp as a tack.    Mom had kept him up to date on our progress through the Delta Quadrant so he knew all about the Hirogen, the Devore, the Borg – you name it.   The first time I came to see him, he grilled me for over two hours solid.   Tough questions, too, let me tell you – he could have given the Review Board a run for its money.    I was exhausted by the time I had to go.  But before I left, he told me how much he’d enjoyed my company and hoped I’d come again.

           “The next day, the admiral – I always called him ‘the admiral’ – told my mother that Edward, my father, would have been proud of me.   High praise, I can assure you!    Two weeks later, I found a message from him asking me to come the following afternoon for tea.   After that, I came regularly every month until he died, almost a year ago.    Much to my surprise, he left me this property in his will.    Apparently, he’d never had any family of his own, and, knowing he was going to die soon, he decided I should have it.”

           Her voice became wistful.   “It was such a surprise, I had no idea until his lawyer contacted me a few weeks after his death.    It was an incredibly generous gesture….”

           Chakotay smiled gently.   “By the sound of it, you gave him a lot of pleasure too, in the last years of his life.”

           She shrugged noncommittally.  “I guess.   We seemed to spend an awful lot of time arguing.    I learned early on that he didn’t like people kowtowing to him because of his age or who he was; ‘condescending’ he called them.   So I didn’t.   More than once, I stomped out of here, swearing I’d never come back, but I always did.

           “He must have had a premonition he was going to die soon.  The last time I saw him, he told me how much I reminded him of my father, that I’d inherited every scrap of Janeway obstinacy and stubbornness, but that it was probably a good thing or I’d never have survived the Delta Quadrant.  It was the only time he ever said something like that to me.”

           “Well, I’d certainly agree with him there,” replied Chakotay.

           Chuckling, Kathryn started to pat his arm, then clutched it as she tottered slightly.

           At once, Chakotay gripped her shoulders, steadying her as she swayed.   “Come on,” he told her, when she had taken several deep breaths.  “Let’s call the doctor.”

           “Chakotay,” she began to protest weakly, “I don’t think….”

           “No,” he interrupted firmly.   “I don’t like this, Kathryn.   You nearly fainted that time.   Show me where your room is.   You’re getting into bed now.”

           Gripping her hand, he led her slowly inside, following her directions up the open stairs to a large bedroom located over the living area.    Telling her he would wait while she was in the bathroom, he sat down in a comfortable armchair by the window until she reappeared, dressed in her nightgown.

           As he moved to assist her into bed, she tried to resist, reminding him she wasn’t an invalid yet, but he ignored her objections as he settled her under the covers.

           “Where’s your comm unit, Kathryn?” he asked as he glanced around.

           “Downstairs in the den, just off the front hall.”   Despite her protests that she was fine, her voice sounded weak.

           “I’ll contact the EMH now.”

           “You won’t leave?”

           “No, I’ll be here for as long as you need me.”

           Hurrying down the stairs, he located the den and activated the console, before keying in a short message.   A moment later, the EMH appeared onscreen.

           “Commander!” he exclaimed, automatically using Chakotay’s old rank.   “Well, this is a surprise!”

           “Doctor,” interrupted Chakotay,  “I don’t have time to chat.   I’m at the captain’s house; she’s not well.   Can you come?”

           “Yes, of course.   What are the coordinates?”

           “Just a minute.”  Chakotay quickly brought up the location in one corner of the screen, then relayed it to the doctor.

           “I’ll see you shortly,” promised the EMH.

           Sure enough, within five minutes, Chakotay heard the hum of a transporter in the courtyard, and moved to open the front door.   “Come in,” he called to him.   “She’s upstairs in bed.”

           Without a word, the doctor followed him into the hall and up the stairs, speaking only to ask Chakotay to wait until he’d finished, as he was sure he’d have some questions.

           Chakotay promised not to leave, and headed back out to the deck, settling into a large comfortable chair.    In the warm silence, he tipped his head onto the back of the chair, staring up into the clear sky, searching out the stars he knew.     He was still engaged in this exercise when movement inside the house caught his attention.   Turning his head, he spotted the doctor obviously looking for him.

           Standing, he activated the glass door.   “Out here, Doctor,” he called.

           “Oh, there you are.”   The doctor followed Chakotay onto the deck, looking around appreciatively.   “Very nice indeed.   I can see why the admiral refused a transfer to the new starbase Starfleet’s building between the Tzenkethi Coalition and the Badlands.”

           Chakotay’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.   “Really?  She never mentioned anything about that.”

           The doctor shrugged and changed the subject.   “Well, on to more important matters.   First of all, can you tell me when these ‘episodes’ began?”

           “No, I can’t.    Doctor, I haven’t seen Kathryn for over five years, since shortly after we finished debriefing from Voyager.    I only arrived yesterday on Earth for an archaeological conference at Starfleet Headquarters.    All I know is that during dinner tonight, she blanked out for a brief period of time, and later, here, she seemed to suddenly become very dizzy.  Fortunately, I was able to grab her before she fell.   That was when I put her to bed and called you.”

           The EMH had listened intently, his expression becoming frustrated at the lack of information.    “Well, it isn’t much but it’ll have to do.”   Sighing, he stared out at the sea before looking back to Chakotay.   “The problem, like so many times before, is that she won’t admit there’s anything wrong with her!   All she’ll say is that she knows she drinks too much coffee, doesn’t get enough sleep and occasionally forgets to eat, so I can save the lecture.   I want to admit her to Starfleet Medical to run some tests but she flatly refuses to permit them.”

           Chakotay grimaced, well aware of Kathryn’s opinion of the medical profession.  After a moment, he asked.  “What did the scans show?”

           The doctor shrugged again.   “Well, I probably shouldn’t say anything – doctor-patient confidentiality and all – but they were generally pretty vague and inconclusive.   From what you’re telling me, she has a problem of some sort, but without a proper examination, including the tests I mentioned, I can’t determine what it is.”

           “Is she all right here by herself?”

           “Probably not, but try telling her that!”

           Chakotay thought a minute longer, before abruptly rising to his feet.   “Come on, she should be hearing this as well, let’s go talk to her.”

           Behind him, the EMH trailed through the door and up the stairs, his voice exasperated.   “Fine, if you think it’ll do any good.”

           Knocking on the door, they entered Kathryn’s bedroom at her bidding to find her sitting up in bed with a book.    She scowled when she saw the EMH behind Chakotay.    “Are you still here?” she demanded.  “Haven’t you done enough poking and prodding for one night?”

           The doctor rolled his eyes, but remained silent as Chakotay moved to sit on the edge of her bed.

           “Kathryn,” he began gently.  “The doctor tells me you should go into the hospital for some tests.”

           Before he could go any further, she interrupted him.  “Now don’t you start, Chakotay, for heaven’s sake!   So I had a little dizzy spell.   So what?!  I’m fine.  You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill!   Both of you,” she added with a baleful glare at the EMH.

           Sighing, Chakotay took the book out of her hands, before grasping them firmly.   “Kathryn, this argument got old a long time ago.   Now, for my sake if nothing else, please do as the doctor asks.   If there’s nothing wrong, fine – we’ll chalk it up to your advancing years.”   Her brows came down at that.   “But let’s make sure.

           “As well,” he went on, “I’m going to stay here tonight.   I don’t think you should be alone right now.”

           “Oh, good lord!” exclaimed Kathryn, but got no further as he covered her mouth.

           “I don’t want to hear it,” he told her firmly.   “I know the litany just as well as you do and I’m tired of it.    For once, you’ll do as you’re told.”

           Her eyes blazed at him over his hand, but she remained still, obviously not sure if she should test his patience further.

           After a moment, Chakotay removed his hand, but kept his eyes fixed on her face.    “All right?”

           She nodded sulkily.

           “And first thing tomorrow morning, the doctor will admit you to Starfleet Medical.”   His tone left no room for argument.

           Again, she nodded.

           Smiling warmly at her, he squeezed her hands tightly.   “Good girl.   I’ll see the doctor out and then come up to say goodnight.”

           The doctor remained silent until they had moved out of Kathryn’s hearing.   “Chakotay,” he began, his voice filled with awe.  “I’m impressed.   That was a masterful performance.   I only wish you’d done that a few times on the ship.”

           Chakotay shrugged.   “I couldn’t then, Doctor, not while I was under her command.   But now, with that obstacle removed, it’s a different story.”  He opened the front door.   “I’ll have her there at nine tomorrow morning.”

           “Excellent.   I’ll see you then.   Goodnight.”

           “Goodnight, Doctor.”

           A moment later, he made his way back up the stairs.

           Kathryn called him in before he had time to knock, her bearing one of command.    “Just what do you think you’re doing, Mister, ordering me around?” she began indignantly.

           “I’m not one of your crew anymore, Kathryn, do try and remember that,” he told her firmly in a level tone.   “And you weren’t very polite to the doctor, were you?   He’s only trying to help; I don’t understand why you’re being so difficult.”

           Her anger seeped away as frustration tinged with fear took its place.  “I know, it’s just…he nags at me constantly, and I don’t like it.   I’m not stupid, but the way he carries on sometimes, you’d think I was the village idiot!”

           “He cares about you, that’s all.   I’ll grant you his manner could use some improvement, but maybe if you tried to be more gracious, you’d find he wouldn’t nag so much.”   He paused, debating whether to probe deeper, but he had her a little off-balance right now, and perhaps she might open up more than if she had time to put up her guard.

           “I think there’s another reason as well, isn’t there?” he began casually, trying not to give any hint of where he was going.

           “What do you mean?” she demanded at once, just as he knew she would.

           “I suspect that this isn’t the first time you’ve nearly fainted for no reason, or suddenly blanked out.   Am I right?”

           When she didn’t answer, he moved to sit close beside her, tilting up her chin.   “Answer me, Kathryn.”

           “I’m fi – .”

           She never got to finish as Chakotay leaped to his feet in complete exasperation.   “Oh for god’s sake, woman!   Stop saying that!   You’re not fine!   There’s something wrong with you, why can’t you admit it?!”

           Staring up at him in shock at his sudden anger, Kathryn couldn’t find the words to say anything.

           Mistaking her silence for obstinacy, he shouted at her.   “Answer me!   And this time, be honest!”

           “There…may have been…one or two other occasions,” she finally replied, in a voice so low he could barely hear her.

           His anger evaporating instantly, he sat down heavily on the bed again, running his hands through his hair before looking up at her.   “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled at you.   But Kathryn, you need to be honest with yourself.    If there’s a problem, we have to find it so it can be corrected.   Surely you can understand that.”

           “What if…it can’t be corrected?” she asked after a moment’s silence.  “What if I’m stuck with it?”  Her eyes came up to meet his, letting him see something he would never have believed possible – she was genuinely afraid.

           Without stopping to think, he gathered her into his arms, hugging her tightly as he stroked her back.   “Then we’ll face it together.   You’re not alone, sweetheart, I promise.   I’ll stay by your side as long as you want me.”

           He felt her hands slide around his waist as she buried her face in his neck.    A profound contentment slowly spread through his body from head to toe.   This was where he belonged and always had – with her now and forever.

           Slowly, Kathryn lifted her head, her eyes filled with the same realization.   “I think I’ll hold you to that,” she murmured.

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

           The following morning, at precisely nine o’clock, Kathryn Janeway marched resolutely through the doors of Starfleet Medical, her former first officer at her side.    The EMH met them in the main lobby.

           “Good morning, Admiral, Chakotay,” he began a little too cheerfully, ignoring Kathryn’s glare.    “Admiral, please come with me.”

           “A moment, Doctor,” she ordered in her best command voice, before turning to Chakotay.   “I’ll see you later?”  Her tone changed completely, becoming almost plaintive.

           As he started to reply, the doctor interjected.   “Visiting hours are 2 to 8 pm.   You can talk then.   Right now, we’re scheduled for the first round of tests in the neurological unit.”

           The admiral swung around to glare forcefully.   “I said I wanted a moment, Doctor.   When I’m good and ready, we’ll go and not before!   Understood?!”

           Chakotay tried very hard not to burst out laughing as the EMH wilted under Kathryn’s fury.    “You’d think he would have learned by now not to push you,” he chuckled.

           “Stupid hologram!” she muttered wrathfully, before her expression changed to wistfulness.   “Will you come later?”

           Squeezing her hand reassuringly, he smiled down into her anxious face.  “Of course I will.    And in the meantime – try to cooperate, Kathryn.   He’s only trying to help.”

           Her response was a growl as she turned her attention back to the chastened EMH.    “Well, Doctor?” she demanded firmly.  “What are we waiting for?  Let’s get to it!”

           Rolling his eyes dramatically, the doctor led Kathryn out of sight around a corner.

           Chakotay could only wonder how long it would be before she tried to reprogram him into a whistling teapot, as B’Elanna had threatened to do more than once on Voyager.   Hopefully, his human colleagues would be able to restrain her.
 

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

           The next six days quickly established themselves into a routine.    Each morning, Chakotay attended the archaeological conference, which included presenting a paper on his theory about how and why the Iconian civilization had suddenly disappeared.

           Following a working lunch with some of his colleagues, he would make his way to Starfleet Medical, arriving in mid-afternoon to keep Kathryn company for two or three hours.

           After dinner with her, he would retreat to his hotel room to read the papers presented in the afternoon, which he’d missed.    One evening he spent with several former members of Voyager’s crew at a little impromptu party organized on the spur of the moment by Tom and B’Elanna Paris.     He was delighted to catch up on all the news of their ‘family’, not returning to his hotel until well after midnight.

           More quickly than he would have believed possible, he and Kathryn were re-establishing the relationship they’d had so long ago on New Earth.   He was astonished at how easily the barriers, which had eroded so slowly on that far-away planet, now evaporated as if they’d never existed.    Kathryn didn’t hesitate to ask for his support and assistance, as the doctors prodded and poked in what she swore were new forms of torture which the EMH had devised especially for her.

           “It’s payback, you know,” she complained more than once.   “All those times I made him obey me out there, and now he’s finally gotten his chance for revenge!”

           Chakotay laughed at her grumblings.  “Kathryn, you know perfectly well he only has your best interests at heart.”

           She raised a skeptical eyebrow.   “Oh?!   How would you know?   He’s not putting you through all this nonsense!”

           Taking her hand, he stroked it soothingly.   “I think you know it’s not nonsense.    He’s doing exactly what he should, making sure that he’s covering every possibility.”

           “Hmph!” she muttered again, before giving in to his warm smile.   “And don’t try to wheedle me with those dimples, Mister.   It won’t work!”

           His grin widening, he teased her gently.  “But Kathryn, it always works.”

           At that, she gave up her crankiness, letting Chakotay coax her into feeling better as he brought her up to date on his latest news.

           He was still there on the afternoon of the sixth day, when the doctor came to tell Kathryn the final results of all the tests.   Her face tightened with concern at the EMH’s solemn expression.   After so many years serving together, she knew him very well, and what she saw now meant he had bad news.   Her hand reached to grasp Chakotay’s arm, as unconsciously, she stiffened into command mode; when she spoke, her voice held every scrap of authority she possessed.   “Well, Doctor?   I gather you have news.”   Correctly interpreting the EMH’s glance at Chakotay, she added,  “I want him to stay.”

           The EMH nodded.  “Very well, Admiral.    In a nutshell, the results are as follows.   You are suffering a neurological disorder, which is affecting your auditory and visual responses.    In effect, your brain ‘short circuits’ occasionally, which causes brief periods of ‘blankness’, for lack of a better word.   As yet, the problem is minor.   However, unless you make a drastic change to your lifestyle, I can guarantee that eventually, it will become so severe that you will no longer be able to function at all.

           “For years, you have abused your body with too much caffeine, not enough sleep and poor eating habits.   Your assimilation by the Borg six years ago has also contributed to the deterioration we see now.    As I warned you at the time, the methods we used to stop the collective were experimental – I didn’t know what side effects there might be and we had no time to test them.   From what I’ve learned this last week, the neural suppressant I designed to prevent your assimilation is activating at random intervals for short periods of time, although what is stimulating it, I don’t know.   As a result, the neural pathways in your brain momentarily become blocked.  And before you ask, I have no way of reversing it.    The stress of your work, as well as the long hours you put in, only aggravates the condition.”

           He paused briefly before continuing.   “I suspect this same problem manifested itself in Commander Tuvok in the last few months we were in the Delta Quadrant.   It would appear that the degenerative neurological condition he developed then was most likely aggravated by the neural suppressant.   As yet, I have seen no sign of anything untoward during my examinations of B’Elanna, but she is younger than either of you.   And those Klingon genes could well make a difference….”   His voice faded into silent  speculation.

           Kathryn had gone very still as the doctor told her his diagnosis; however, other than her face paling at his blunt words, she evinced no immediate reaction.

           Silence hung heavily after he’d finished, as his listeners tried to digest what he’d told them.

           It was Chakotay who spoke first.    “Is there a treatment?”
 
           “There is,” replied the EMH, turning to face Kathryn, “but you won’t like it.”
 
           Chakotay felt her fingers dig into his arm as she spoke.   “What is it?”

           “Immediate retirement.   Get out of Starfleet, get away from all the pressures of command and decision-making, and, for the time being, let your brain rest completely.   Enjoy that lovely house of yours, sit on the deck and do nothing but admire the view.    Don’t read, don’t listen to the newsnets, don’t do anything.   It’s not guaranteed, but you will dramatically increase your chances of eventually living a full, complete life if you take my advice now.”

           “And if I don’t?” she had to ask.

           “If you don’t, Admiral,” the doctor’s voice was solemn, “I can promise that within ten years, you will suffer massive cerebral failure, the extent of which even I can’t begin to predict.   However, at the very least, your physical abilities will be affected; at the worst, you’ll be little more than a vegetable lying in your bed, unable to move or think.”

           “But…I would have ten more years?”

           “Kathryn!” interjected Chakotay, horrified.   “You can’t seriously be thinking of ignoring his advice!   For gods’ sake….”

           He broke off as the doctor raised his hand, his voice hard.   “I said ‘within ten years’, Admiral, and I could well be overestimating.   It might be five, or three, or – tomorrow.    Chakotay is right – you cannot ignore this!  Not this time!”

           With a sudden shift, Kathryn jerked away from both of them, yanking her hand out of Chakotay’s grasp.   Hunching her shoulders, she turned to look out the window.   “I want to be alone now,” she told them, her voice brooking no dissent.

           Sighing heavily, both men rose.   “I’ll see you tomorrow, Kathryn,” murmured Chakotay, while the doctor promised to look in on her in the morning.

           Outside her room, the EMH paused, frowning.   “Do you think she’ll do it?” he asked, his tone worried.

           “What?  You mean, retire?” responded Chakotay.    “I don’t know, Doc.   I don’t have to remind you how many times Kathryn Janeway has ignored our advice before.   This is one of the biggest decisions she’s ever made – I honestly don’t know what she’ll do.”

           “Well, I could order her out of Starfleet on medical grounds, but I really hesitate to do that.   It would be an awful way to end such an illustrious career.   I’m hoping she’ll see reason and retire on her own.”

           Chakotay patted his arm as he began to walk to the main door.  “I hope you’re right, Doc.   See you tomorrow?”

           “Absolutely.   Goodnight, Chakotay.”

 
                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 
 
           On the following day, when Chakotay arrived, he suggested they head outside for a change of scene.   Although for safety’s sake, Kathryn had to use a cane, she was determined to walk herself.  Moving slowly, Chakotay accompanied her into the large garden planted years before in the grounds of Starfleet Medical.    As they stepped into brilliant sunshine, she paused, tipping back her head to enjoy the warm rays on her face, her mouth falling open with a sigh of pleasure.

           “Ohh, that feels so nice,” she murmured softly.

           He smiled as he led her down a side path to a secluded bench, settling beside her as she sat down, before taking her hands.

           “I thought you might prefer to be out here rather than cooped up in your room, even if it does have a nice view.”   He paused briefly, then plunged into the discussion he knew they had to have.   “Is there any further news?”

           Her eyes closed, she shook her head.

           “Have you thought about what you might do?”

           The smile changed to a frown.   “I’ve tried…but….”  She sighed heavily.   “It’s such a nice day, Chakotay, can’t we talk about something else?  Something pleasant?”

           Shaking his head in disbelief at her attempt to change the subject – he would never have believed Kathryn Janeway to be evasive – he steeled himself and tried again.   “Kathryn, much as we both might like to avoid the topic, you need to make some decisions about your future.   Ignoring that isn’t going to make it go away.”

           Turning her head away from him, she stared blindly at the nearest rose bush.    “It’s there all the time, Chakotay, believe me, I’m not ignoring it.   I can’t!”  Her voice quavered on the last words, and he knew she was trying valiantly not to cry.

           “Then talk it out, talk to me!” he demanded, exasperated by her obstinate refusal to face facts.    “It seems like a pretty straight-forward decision to me!    Stay in Starfleet and end up a mindless nothing, or retire now and start to live again – as Kathryn.    I don’t see what your problem is!”

           Turning, she faced him angrily.   “It’s my career, Chakotay!   What I’ve worked my whole life for!   From the time I was a small child, crouching under my father’s desk, listening to him make the decisions which directly affected so many people, I’ve wanted to do the same.    I want to make a difference, just like he did!”

           “Seven years in the Delta Quadrant isn’t enough?!” he demanded, his temper rising as well.   “For heaven’s sake, how much more glory do you need?!”

           “It’s not about glory!” she spat back at him.   “It’s about seeing a need and filling it, it’s about wanting to use my abilities as best I can, it’s about all the things I still have to do!    For heaven’s sake, I’m only fifty years old!”  She waved her hands furiously.   “Retirement isn’t even a blip on the horizon!”

           Chakotay stared at her, almost mesmerized by the enormous gap between them.   He’d always known they approached their lives very differently – he was much more willing to accept a situation and try to make the best of it, while Kathryn would inevitably do her damndest to bend the fates to her will.   But, until this moment, he’d never realized just how opposite their personalities were.    Suddenly, he was filled with misgivings – he loved her deeply and yet…he didn’t know if he could live with her.

           Aware that she could read everything he was feeling in his face, he glanced down in an attempt to hide his uncertainty.   However, he was too late.

           Kathryn’s hand slid to his face, caressing his cheek gently.  “Chakotay,” she called softly, “look at me.”

           Automatically obeying, his eyes flew to hers.   “Kathryn,” he began, before realizing he had nothing more to say.    As had always been the case, she would make up her mind and he would agree.    For a second, his expression changed to one of anger before regret took over.    Sighing, he reached for her hands, his voice low.   “If you want to stay, then I can’t stop you.    But I hope you realize how many people will be affected by your decision.”

           She caught her breath at his words.   “Oh, Chakotay, you fight dirty….”

           “When it comes to your life, you better believe I’ll do whatever I have to.”

           Rising to his feet, he walked away from her, trying to calm his turbulent emotions and examine the problem from her point of view.   However, even being as objective as possible, he still couldn’t understand how she could possibly want to jeopardize her life the way it appeared she was intending to.

           Watching him pace, Kathryn also attempted to rationalize her resistance to letting go.     Words from long ago flitted through her head at random.

                 “Sometimes…it seems as though you’re giving up.”

                 “I can’t sit waiting for a future that may never happen.   So yes, I’m trying to make a home – something more than a plain gray box.”

                 “Maybe someday, I’ll have to let go.   But not today, okay?”

           Slowly, she began to verbalize the thoughts running through her head.    “When I think about it, I realize we’ve had this conversation before, well, one very like it, anyway.    You’ve always been willing to make the best of what life throws at you, while I fight tooth and nail to make things go my way.”

           Nodding in agreement, Chakotay came back to crouch in front of her. “Funny, I was just thinking much the same thing.   We agree on so many other topics, why are we so divided on this one?”

           “Perhaps…it’s because, deep down, you’re not afraid to take what you’re given.”   Kathryn’s voice was very tentative, as she worked through her motivation.    “Perhaps…it’s because, in the end, you have a lot more courage than I do.”

           Although she expected him to protest, he remained silent and she knew he agreed with her assessment.   That realization stung and yet, for both their sakes, she knew she had to be completely honest with herself.

           His hands came up to grip hers firmly.   “I know you’re afraid to let go, Kathryn, but I’ll be there, I won’t let you fall.”   Giving in to impulse, he reached to pull her against him, wrapping his arms tightly around her.    “Sweetheart,” he whispered, “you need to trust me, trust that I won’t leave you.    You’re not alone.”

           Kathryn turned in his embrace to peer into his face.   “Chakotay, I can’t ask you to give up your life for me.   You did that for seven years in the Delta Quadrant, it’s not fair….”  Her voice trailed off as he covered her mouth with his fingers.

           “Shh,” he whispered.   “Don’t you know by now how much you mean to me?   Staying with you, looking after you, being with you – I want to do all that, I need to.   Please, don’t make me leave you.”

           Her eyes were suspiciously bright as she stared at his hopeful expression.    “I don’t want you to,” she began hesitantly.    “I-I need you beside me.”   Her voice dropped almost to a whisper.   “I love you so much, Chakotay, that it frightens me.   What if something happens, what if I lose you?   I can’t go through that again!”

           Reaching up, he stroked her cheek tenderly.   “Kathryn, I can’t predict the future anymore than you or the doctor.   But what I told you long ago still holds true – I won’t focus my life on something that may never happen.”

           His voice became hopeful.  “Let’s start a new life – together.  Come, join me in the present, and take each day as it comes, treasuring it for what it is.   You’ve given Starfleet nearly thirty years, now it’s time to do something for yourself.”

           In spite of herself, she began to smile.   “With you, I presume?”

           He grinned at her, dimples flashing.  “We could have a lot of fun together, you and I, and yes, I believe I can make you happy.”

           “All right, Chakotay, I won’t make any promises, but I’m willing to try.”

           Pulling her to her feet, he hugged her tightly.   “That’s all I ask.”

           She clung to him, feeling absurdly light-hearted, as a thought ran through her head.   ‘Maybe letting go isn’t such a bad idea after all.’

           “You’re calling the shots, Mister,” she told him after a moment, “so what do we do now?”

           “Oh no,” he protested.  “This is a partnership.   You have to make some of the decisions, too, you know.”

           Peeking up at him from under her lashes, she pretended to pout.   “And here I thought I was going to be able to take it easy from now on and let you do all the work.”

           “We’ll keep it simple to begin with,” he cajoled, his eyes twinkling.   “How about you make one decision each day about something you’d like to do.   It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, it can be as simple as deciding to do absolutely nothing.    How does that seem?”

           “All right,” she agreed, her voice bright with expectation.   “Then here’s the one for today – get me out of here.”

           Tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, he began to lead her back to the hospital.   “I think that’s an excellent idea.    Let’s find the doctor and tell him we’re heading home.”

           Kathryn grinned up at him.  “You know, I like the sound of that.”

           “I thought you would.”
 

The  End

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