Tying The Threads
Chapter One: It Ain't Over 'Til the Captain Sings
Kathryn Janeway touched the screen gently, tracing the outline of the U.S.S. Voyager's schematic displayed on the briefing room wall.
"You did it, old girl, you got us home, " she said softly. "You may be limping a bit, and may have seen better days, but you managed to hang together. And for that, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart."
The journey into the Alpha Quadrant had left its mark. Warp drive was off-line so they were traveling back to Earth on impulse power. Low impulse at that. B'Elanna, in sick bay with her new baby, was nonetheless chomping at the bit to get back to engineering and fix it. Kathryn had had to resort to ordering her to stay in bed, eliciting a promise from Tom that he'd keep her from getting anywhere near the doorway. Seven was sent down to help the engineering staff do whatever repairs were possible. Everyone wanted the ship to be in the best possible shape when they reached her home planet. Wanted the Federation and Starfleet to be impressed by how she had survived, flying for many more years than originally thought possible with only a few major maintenance overhauls.
The engineering crew was working hard to honor both their chief and her unofficial assistant chief. The recently lost Lieutenant Joe Carey. Kathryn made a silent vow to get down there before too many hours had passed. To give them her private thanks, before the general crew meeting that was scheduled for early the following morning. She ran her hand one more time over the screen, softly touching all the different departments throughout the ship, letting seven years of memories wash over her.
Seven years of trying, sometimes desperately, to find dilithium, trilithium, deuterium, virilium, and all the other minerals and parts needed to keep the ship functioning. Seven years of spit and bale wire, as her great-grandfather used to say. Of integrated alien technologies, Borg technologies, Maquis engineering creativity. And yet, the relationship between the Captain and her ship had never wavered. Voyager always came through for Kathryn Janeway. She made a second vow, this one aloud.
"I'll do whatever it takes to see you're not decommissioned, dismantled, and torn up for spare parts. I can't promise you'll still fly, but I can promise I'll do my best by you. No Captain could have asked for more from her ship. You deserve the same from me." She turned off the schematic and made to leave the briefing room, patting the wall affectionately just before the door swooshed open.
Commander Chakotay, piloting, met her eyes as she entered the bridge. "I'd li..."
She held up her hand to silence him, turning to ops. "Harry, patch through a communication to Admiral Paris at Command in ten minutes. I'll be in the ready room." She faced the helm again. "Now. What?"
"I'd like to go to sick bay and see B'Elanna and Miral. I'll get Ensign Jenkins to take the helm," he said with a small smile.
"That's fine. Give the baby a kiss from me, would you?" She suddenly felt a slight blush creeping across her cheeks, hoping he didn't realize the suggestiveness of her comment.
His smile broadened. "I'd be happy to, Kathryn."
She almost admonished him for being personal on the bridge but stopped herself. She wondered if he understood her earlier command, when she'd ordered him to take the helm for Tom. If so, she certainly couldn't fault him for following her lead. But whether he did or didn't, she needed to be making her own plans. So she returned the smile, thanked him, and retreated to the ready room.
She opened her desk, pulling out seven years of accumulated stuff. A rock containing a beautiful purple vein of crystal she'd gotten on a shore leave. A shore leave taken with Chakotay. They'd hiked the hills and had a picnic lunch. He'd actually been the one to find the crystal vein, giving it to her almost shyly, then beaming at her when she thanked him warmly. That had been a lovely day, one of those times they rarely had since their twelve week hiatus on New Earth.
Chakotay. The conversation with her future self came back to her, giving her some measure of comfort that she sorely needed right then. Her heart still ached, remembering the Admiral telling her about Chakotay and Seven, married. Married...
"Did you honestly think he would wait forever for us?" Admiral Janeway said, her eyebrows raising significantly.
"No buts, Captain. I think it's safe to say that your almost blind adherence to protocols cost me everything."
Kathryn looked at her older self, seeing the lines of pain around her eyes. "You seemed to be supportive of his choice a few minutes ago..."
"I've had many years to deal with it all. Too many years," the admiral admitted. "So, tell me, though I'm sure I remember, how do you feel about him?"
"Are you baiting me?"
"For what? A true confession? Who exactly am I going to tell? Starfleet, for goodness sakes? I'm going to be dead soon, remember?"
"You're terribly cynical - did you know that?" Kathryn asked.
"Well I have you to thank for that as well. There's not all that much joy in a life lived alone, even if you can be friends with the man you loved."
"Loved? As in past tense?"
The admiral gave her a hard stare. "Why don't you tell me. How do you think I feel about him after all this time?"
It was actually very clear to Kathryn at that moment. "You're lying. You still love him ... I would still love him. I can't imagine ever being out of love with him. You've never gotten married, have had no relationships, no children, you stayed by his side until he died, didn't you?"
Again the admiral stared at her. "And if that's true, why would I come back to give him more of a future with Seven?"
"Because you love him. You want him to be happy."
"And how about you? Do you want him to be happy with Seven? Or you?"
Kathryn couldn't answer that question. She wasn't sure. "I...."
The admiral held up her hand to interrupt. "Let's start over. Let's admit that you love him, deeply, and have for at least five years. You've always dreamt of coming home and beginning a real life with him, of letting go of all the pain you've caused each other here on the ship, finally. And here I show up, to get you home now rather than later. He's just begun to date Seven. Nothing much has happened between them. We both know they've never particularly liked each other. I'm showing you what your future could be, without him. What do you want to do about it all?"
"You're not asking me a very easy question, I've barely begun to let myself think about the two of them together," Kathryn replied.
"I'm not supposed to ask the easy ones. You don't, do you," the admiral said with a smile.
"I guess I don't at that. Okay. Hypothetically?"
"That's the easy way out."
"Point taken. Okay. Non-hypothetically. As much as I want him to be happy, and as much as I want her to find out about love, I want the chance to find out if he and I could, well, give in to our feelings for one another. I think up until a few months ago, he still loved me. Until Jaffen, anyway..." Kathryn studied her hands.
"Yes, Jaffen. Remember what you thought about that?"
"You mean my memories of his forehead? Or should I say what I thought I saw there?" Kathryn asked.
The admiral smiled. "Yes. It's one of the things I regret in the small hours of the morning when sleep isn't possible. That I didn't tell Chakotay. I only allow myself that regret, say, once a year now."
Kathryn wanted to change the subject. Thinking about possible future regrets wasn't something she wanted to waste time with. Not now. "Getting back to the situation at hand, at least my personal situation. Am I understanding you correctly? You also came back to convince me to do something? To tell him how I feel?"
Kathryn got up to get a cup of coffee from the replicator. She'd been surprised at the admiral's answer. "Yes" was all the older woman had had time to say before they'd been hailed. Still, it was enough to give her some serious things to think about in the midst of everything else. To plan it out, to look for her opening, to contemplate the words she'd use. In those few minutes she had here and there. So far, she'd only made the most basic of plans. To stop calling him "Commander".
She heard her console beep from the other side of the room. Maybe Harry had located Admiral Paris, she thought, as she returned to her desk. It was an internal indicator, not ops. She touched the key and was surprised when the computer asked for one of her command codes. After entering it, she was even more surprised. Her older self smiled at her.
"Hello, Captain. I embedded this message with a command that it only be sent in the event you actually made it to the Alpha Quadrant. We never got the opportunity to finish our conversation about Chakotay, and I had one more point to make with you. It's one that I've also had many years to think about. One that I've never had the chance to find out about, or even really know the answer to.
Please be very sure you can make him happy. You know what I'm talking about. You might need to make some changes, some basic changes. He'll be in it for the long term, giving everything. Be sure you can give everything, too. Good luck, Kathryn. Janeway out."
The message ended. The emotions surging through her were just beginning. She did, indeed, know exactly what the admiral was talking about. Her relationships, those few that she had, could not be considered successful. Mark had been her best shot at permanence, up until her trip into the Badlands. And yet, they had had some serious problems that they may or may not have ever worked out. She'd never know. She was certain, however, that if they had been destined to be permanent, neither would have given up. And Chakotay would not have found a place in her heart.
Mark often complained about her long periods away from home, her zealous dedication to her career and Starfleet. During arguments he would call her pigheaded, in more loving moments he called her strong-willed. In her mind, there really wasn't much difference between the two. And really, he was so easygoing, willing to back off whenever they'd get into it, even if he was the one starting the argument. If he was the one who was needing more from her. If he was the one who was hurt. Or disappointed.
She ran through all the personality traits she possessed which were not conducive to a healthy, long term loving relationship. She was too stubborn. She didn't allow herself to need help, much less ask for it. The one thing she did need was to be right. Always. Or nearly always. These were things that ran through her mind whenever sleep eluded her. It depressed her to think that her insomnia didn't go away with age. That regrets, guilt, and perhaps even feelings of inadequacy stayed with her throughout her life. Though now that she knew what was at stake, maybe these things could be things she might change.
Then again, she was in her mid-forties. How much can a person change at that age, she wondered. She was not nearly the blank slate that Seven was. Maybe that was what Chakotay found attractive about her. She stopped herself from going down that road, but not quite quickly enough. Her heart sank.
She'd always thought she was the model of independence and self-confidence. That she made decisions with assuredness and strength. In this situation, she was coming to realize, she had no idea what to do. Tell him she loved him? Or let him go?
"You know," B'Elanna said, "I understand Tom had to fly this crate through the conduits, but why weren't you at least here to help me? I mean, what good is the First Officer to operations when the only order was probably, ‘Hang on!'"
"Oh, I'm betting the orders down here would have been pretty much the same. At least on the bridge, nothing got broken," Chakotay waggled his fingers lithely. "But I do regret that we all couldn't be here for you -- then, and now."
"Yeah, well, I had expected to see you last week, too, bearing some secret tribal remedy for my screaming back pain."
"I said I'm sorry, B'Elanna," he replied, a small grin playing on the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah, well, maybe it's just not enough. I think you might have to give up some time and babysit or something to make up for it." B'Elanna gently lifted Miral to the large hands of her oldest friend. He took the baby and held her to his shoulder, rubbing her back with tenderness. "Besides, where the hell have you been the past couple of days? I could have used some company..."
"So I'll say it again. I'm sorry for deserting you, and missing out on the birth of this beautiful child. And I'll be happy to babysit, anytime. If you trust a man who, according to you, has had no experience with children."
"Listen, Chakotay, I never said I didn't trust you with the baby."
"I know. Really. I do."
Their gazes locked for a moment. The child in question began to fuss a bit, and the hand rubbing her back began to lightly bounce her against his shoulder. The fussing stopped.
Tom took the opportunity the lull in conversation afforded him. "Well, I for one think there's someone else you should apologize to for your recent disappearing act," he said pointedly.
Chakotay turned his head slowly, deciding whether or not to react. He opted for neutrality. "And who's that?"
"The captain," Tom answered.
Neutrality was no longer an option. "And just what do you mean by that?" His heart was pounding a bit as he narrowed his eyes at the younger man.
"It had to be weird for her, dealing with herself as an old woman. I'm sure she could have used a friend. To talk to. That's all."
Chakotay breathed again. He continued to bounce the baby gently. He had to admit, he hadn't thought about what Kathryn had been going through. For that he felt a little guilty.
"And man, seeing the two of them, together," Tom continued, "it was kind of overwhelming for us, too. Two Janeways could probably take over the world. No disrespect intended, Chakotay."
"I'm sure you meant it as a compliment, Tom."
"I did. On the other hand, two Janeways got us to do something that I originally had no intention of doing. I thought the risk was too great. And yet, I agreed to the plan, even though I still don't entirely understand why the admiral came back now. I mean, why didn't she come back before Joe died? Tell us about that mission? I don't envy the captain trying to explain that to Sarah, not to mention the boys..."
B'Elanna agreed. "I don't understand it at all, Chakotay. Not at all. From what everyone's been telling me, anyway. The latest gossip is all about the captain and the admiral. Don't get me wrong -- most everyone is thrilled to be home. They just don't understand why now. If there were these hubs all over the Delta Quadrant, we must have come close to one before this." She reached out to take her baby back. The babysitter reluctantly complied.
He didn't know how to answer them. He came to the quick conclusion that he had been entirely too preoccupied during this entire situation. He really didn't know much more than his friends, and he was supposed to be the First Officer, the captain's confidante. Instead, he'd been avoiding her. For the past few months, since Quarro, he'd been pulling back from their friendship. He'd just been feeling so tired. Of it all. Until Seven asked him for a date. And now, when the crew needed him, he'd been too preoccupied to pay attention to what Kathryn was up to. In thinking about it, he didn't understand it either. He knew the admiral had convinced Seven to help, scaring her with some tale of her own death, but that's all he knew. Well, enough was enough.
"B'Elanna, Tom, you take care of your lovely daughter. I have something I need to go do. And maybe I'll be able to find out some answers for you." He smiled, leaned in and kissed the ridges on his friend's forehead, rubbed Miral's ridges for good luck and patted Tom on the shoulder. Then he turned and left sickbay, telling the lift to take him back to the bridge.
Kathryn sat under the viewports in the ready room, staring at the now cooling cup of coffee on the table in front of her. A stack of PADDs also graced the table, waiting for her review and approval, waiting to be sent to Starfleet, hurried reports from the various departments. No one was really all that prepared to be in the Alpha Quadrant. Or perhaps no one had really believed it would actually happen. She ignored the stack, opting to refresh her coffee instead. The chime rang as she was standing at the replicator. Her sixth sense regarding him was well honed. She almost called for Chakotay to enter.
"Come in," she ordered the computer.
The door opened and as she expected, Chakotay walked in. Still, her heart skipped to see his face, so serious, no smile gracing his chiseled features. She was surprised at the dull ache of pain that settled in her chest at the sight of him. No matter how he wanted this meeting to go, she needed it to be strictly professional. Until she made her decision, the use of rank was once again her only protection.
"Have a seat, Commander. What can I do for you?" She noticed the slight hesitation in his forward motion at the use of his title. He came up to the couches and sat next to her, turning slightly to be able to meet her eyes directly.
Chakotay noticed immediately the rigidity of Kathryn's posture. Hearing her use his title rather than his name reminded him of when she had called him "Mister" on the bridge earlier. At the time, he thought that she had decided rank was no longer going to be an issue between them. He now wondered what was going through her mind. He had to admit, he couldn't tell. He fell back on his own agenda.
"You can answer a few questions for me," Chakotay said, laying the sentence at her feet.
Kathryn took a moment to breathe. "Fine. Go ahead."
"Well, I can't help feeling that there might have been another reason that the admiral came back to help us get home."
She took another breath. "What do you mean?"
"Why exactly was she so willing to break the Temporal Prime Directive? For that matter, why were you? Given the risks..."
"I wanted us to get home. Sooner is better than later, don't you agree?"
"Yes, I agree with that statement. However, it occurs to me that you were, well, very driven to accomplish this. And the combination of the two of you, strong-willed, determined commanding officers, guaranteed that the goal would be reached. I just don't really understand why. It's almost as if there was some other reason to do it. At least that's how it looks in hindsight," he said, watching her face tighten at his words.
In the past, during moments of weakness late at night in bed, she had imagined this scene many times. Arriving in the Alpha Quadrant, almost all of her dreams tangibly coming true, she had envisioned Chakotay coming to her ready room. She would tell him that they could finally be together, as she thought they both had wanted and hoped they both still did. He would be ecstatic. They would hug. And finally, finally kiss. A wondrous kiss, sweeping them both off their feet. She again thought of her conversation with her future self. Considered telling him how much she loved him, and ultimately, that that was why they had done it. Why the admiral had sacrificed everything. She wavered. Strong-willed, he'd said.
"Kathryn? Are you all right?"
The concern in his voice was almost her undoing. She couldn't do it, she realized. She needed to let him find his happiness with Seven. She'd have to let him go. Again. For the millionth time. The ache became a stabbing pain.
"I'm fine, Commander. There is no other reason than what I've already told you. This was the best opportunity and the admiral knew passing it by had been a mistake. She wanted to correct it. That's all. Now, if there's nothing else, I have quite a stack of reports to review as you can see." She folded her arms, leaning forward as if to rise, hoping he would pick up on her need to have the conversation end.
"Would you like some help?" He still couldn't put his finger on it, but he was almost certain she was lying to him.
"No, I don't need any help. You can go."
Chakotay hesitated, but stood up, not knowing what else to say. "Very good, Captain. I'll be in my office if you should need me."
Kathryn stood as well, nodding to him in dismissal, not trusting her voice at that moment. After he nodded in return, she swiveled to the viewports, knowing tears were forming, needing privacy to contain them. She listened to him move away, down the step toward the ready room door. She heard it open.
Chakotay walked away, trying to understand what he was missing. He approached the ready room door and it swooshed open. Standing at the threshold, he made an instant decision to try one more time to get at the truth. He felt an inexorable need to get through to her, that this was one of those all important moments he'd look back on in the future. If he didn't do more, he'd regret it. Something was wrong, he was sure of it. He turned back into the room and the door closed.
She heard it close and let go. She stopped trying to hold back the tears as she hugged herself tightly, at once feeling as though her arms were the only things keeping her from falling over. She was having trouble breathing, finally gasping sharply. She wanted to scream. Instead, she allowed herself to voice the truth out loud, to the walls, into the room where they had spent so many thousands of hours together, her sanctuary. The place of her dreams.
"I did it for one reason, Chakotay. Because I love you," she choked out. "I love you with everything in me and I have only one thing to show for it. An empty life ahead of me. Alone. Still in love with you..." Unable to finish, the words faltering completely, she collapsed on the couch and buried her head in her arms against the back. Vaguely wishing she were anywhere but there, she finally broke down and sobbed.
Chakotay came out of his stunned silence. He didn't know what to do, didn't understand what he had heard, couldn't believe the words that had just come out of Kathryn's mouth. He suddenly felt like an intruder and turned as quietly as he could, hoping she wouldn't hear the door work a second time. He left the ready room and went directly to his office to stare out his own viewports.
He needn't have worried. Kathryn heard nothing but the sounds of her own sobbing. She eventually quieted enough to try and pull herself back together. Try and ignore the deep, intense pain that was now a constant in her chest.
She headed for engineering to praise her crew, to check on the repairs to Voyager. More than ever, she needed to be reassured she could still count on her ship.
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