Star Trek Voyager: Lower Decks

Author's Note: With thanks to Sängerin (my legal counsel) and Kayla (now dubbed the resident 'Seven expert') for beta work; and to tayryn, without whose computer this story would have suffered significant delay, thanks for putting up with me!

Tying The Threads

Chapter Two: Future's Foundation

by LauraJo

Kathryn stood staring out of the view port at Earth as, behind her, most of the senior staff filed out of the briefing room. That had been it, the final meeting of the senior staff of the starship Voyager. And this was the second day in three that Kathryn had ended up on her own in this room, with tears welling in her eyes, thinking over what had just happened.

Two days ago it had been the shock of gaining a namesake, Miral Kathryn. She felt deeply honoured and moved by the gesture, and had even shed a few tears as soon as she had been alone. It said a lot. It said that, amongst all the bad calls, all the unpopular decisions she had made along the way, she had done something right. She had stood by her crew, always done what she considered to be the best thing for them. She had loved each and every last one of them, considered them family. She had hoped that they had felt even half of the same affection for her.

Now she felt that maybe, just maybe, she had proof that they did. And whatever was thrown at them over the next few months, they would handle it together.

That was something to hold onto.

It was something she held onto as she followed her crew, her friends and her family, to the bridge.

It was something she held onto as she ordered her ship to dock at their final destination.


Hours later Kathryn walked the last few hundred metres to her mother's house. She didn't care how late it was, or how early she had to be back at HQ in the morning, she needed to see her mother.

From the moment Tom had safely flown them through the gates into space dock events had taken a decidedly chaotic turn. The former Maquis members of her crew had been carted off she had yet to determine where and the 'Starfleet originals' had been summoned for the beginning of an intensive debriefing. Kathryn had felt a physical pain in her chest as Chakotay had been torn from his seat beside her on the bridge.

Daylight had long since disappeared by the time the captain's superiors let her go. Her mother might very well be in bed already, but Kathryn figured she wouldn't mind being woken up. After all, it had been seven years since she had last held a proper conversation with her elder daughter. Despite the advent of two-way communication towards the end of their journey Kathryn's turn on the link-up had never come around. Then, once they were travelling those last two days back to Earth, Kathryn had ended up spending what little off-duty time she had visiting or helping out other crewmembers. All she had had time to do as far as her mother was concerned was to send a quickly recorded message to find out if she was at home, or if, like some relatives, she had made the journey to San Francisco.

Her mother hadn't made the trip, rightly pointing out that a transporter would get her from Indiana to Starfleet Headquarters in the blink of an eye; sometimes her mother made a lot of sense. So now Kathryn entered the family home to find it in darkness. But not silence. The sound of scampering feet could be heard on the wooden floors, getting closer and closer to Kathryn's position by the kitchen door. Then around the corner came a large dog, moving as fast as her legs could carry her. The scattering of grey on her ears and muzzle belied her puppyish turn of speed, revealing her advanced years. She skidded to a halt in front of Kathryn, eyeing her suspiciously

"Molly!" Kathryn cried, "Molly, is that you?!" Kathryn dropped her bags to the floor and approached the now barking dog, who had been stunned by this strange woman's sudden outburst. Kathryn started to stroke Molly as soon as she could get close enough. Although Molly was wary she was unable to run away, so instead stayed where she was, eventually warming to the tender actions of the owner she no longer remembered.

Molly's barking had woken Kathryn's mother, who now came running into the kitchen to find her daughter.

"Kathryn! You're here..." Molly was instantly forgotten as Kathryn moved across to her mother and fell into her arms.

"Yes, Mom, I'm home. It's so good to see you."

"It's good to see you too, honey. It's been too long." Gretchen paused, having a little difficulty finding her words amongst all the emotions swirling inside her. "I assumed you wouldn't be able to come home tonight, 'fleet officials told us you'd all be staying in quarters at HQ for the time being."

Kathryn pulled out of the embrace so that she could look at her mother as she spoke. "We are, but I had to come and see you. I'll have to leave early tomorrow morning to get back there."

"You are allowed to be here, aren't you?" Kathryn's mother was suddenly worried that her daughter had slipped some kind of security measures in order to come by and visit.

"No one's going to stop me, I'm not under arrest. I can move about as I like, they just want us there working almost every hour of the day."

"Can't they give you all some time off first?"

"No, and I think I'm one of the lucky ones. I get the impression some of my crew will not be able to come and go so freely."

"Why not?"

"Starfleet Security escorted the former Maquis from my ship, Mom. They dragged them off as though we had just brought them into custody as ordered, as if the last seven years hadn't happened. I still don't know who was behind it, but when I find out, they are going to pay for what they did. Until then, I'm helpless, Mom, and I can't stand it!"

Kathryn was getting more distressed as she spoke, so Gretchen pulled her into her arms again.

"Hey, it's okay. You'll do something as soon as you're able to, and I'm sure your friends know that. Anyway, I don't think anything Starfleet does will stand in the way of them meeting some of their families again; from what I've heard the waiting areas provided for relatives have been bustling with people day and night since you burst back into the quadrant two days ago!"

Letting out a small chuckle at her mother's choice of words, Kathryn replied, "Well, we had to make an entrance after seven years away from home."

"You certainly did, my dear. I'd like to see anyone argue with that." There was a brief silence before Gretchen brought up something that had been on her mind, her speech a little hesitant as though she was afraid of the answer her daughter might give. "Kathryn, I was wondering if you could answer something for me. I've been worried about Owen; he's been so nervous about seeing Tom again how do you think that will go?"

"Tom and his father already spoke."

"What? How? When?!" Gretchen Janeway was more than a little shocked.

"Let's just say it was a little... unorthodox. I'm not even supposed to know about it; but I think they managed to come out of it all right. At any rate, Tom wasn't a quivering wreck as he flew us into space dock. Probably a good thing, crashing Voyager that late in the game would have taken the edge off our victorious homecoming!"

The two Janeway women shared a giggle as they finally made their way to the living room to sit down. They chatted into the early hours of the morning, catching up on all the news that they hadn't been able to share via the data stream; things that were either too small to warrant taking up limited space, or too big to do them justice with words alone.

Gretchen occasionally got the feeling that Kathryn was holding something back, but there was plenty of time to figure out what it was. She had her daughter back, and for now that was more than she could have hoped for. Gretchen believed in Starfleet, believed in the work they did, but there had been too many times when she had been forced to count the cost that they had wreaked on her life. They had taken her husband, her daughter's first fiancé, and then finally Kathryn herself. She had a feeling they weren't finished with Kathryn yet, either. But so long as they left her close by, Gretchen would cope, and she would be happy.

To: Captain Kathryn Janeway

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 54997.3

Subject: Meeting

Please report to my office at 0800 hours tomorrow. Acknowledgement of receipt of this order is required.

Kathryn sent her acknowledgement of the message she found on return to her temporary quarters at HQ barely seconds before her door chime announced the presence of a visitor. Calling for them to enter, she jumped to attention when Admiral Paris walked through her doors.

"Admiral, please come in. Take a seat."

Owen Paris made his way over to the small seating area and took the chair to Kathryn's left, waiting for Kathryn to retake her seat before he spoke. He leapt straight to the point.

"Kathryn, I'm assuming you got the message about your meeting tomorrow. I'm here with a friendly warning as to how to conduct yourself." Kathryn started to open her mouth in protest at the idea that she would conduct herself in anything less than the correct manner, but Owen raised a hand to stop her before she could start. "I know you Kathryn, don't forget that. You aren't going to be happy with what Admiral Muir has to say to you, and I don't want you shooting your mouth off and hitting your foot in the process."

"Okay, I'm listening. What is it I'm not going to like?"

"I'm assuming you've realised your actions from the last seven years are going to be closely scrutinised."

Kathryn looked slightly uncomfortable, though it was only visible to Admiral Paris because he had known her for so long.

"I had some idea of that, yes. I'm ready to stand by my decisions."

"I'm sure you are. The first thing I want to tell you is not to be concerned about the outcome of the examination the result of the hearing planned for you is already decided."

"What do you mean?" If he hadn't had it before, Admiral Paris certainly had Kathryn's full attention now.

"I mean that there's no way they are going to taint the image of the heroic captain. The Federation needs heroes right now, and you burst back onto the scene in a manner that couldn't escape the notice of anyone with eyes and ears in this quadrant and beyond. Starfleet aren't stupid; to publicly criticise your conduct over the last few years in any way would be to commit a kind of PR suicide."

"I'm waiting for a 'but' you said I wasn't going to like what Admiral Muir was going to say."

"You never were the patient kind."

"It's not always a virtue, not in this business."

"Not the way you play it, no."


"Okay, I'll get to the point. The former Maquis members of your crew are unlikely to be as lucky. They are all to be tried by the civilian courts, a result of the warrants existing for their arrest since before Voyager and the Liberty were taken. From what I've heard, the charges are likely to stick."

"What? I'll have to see about that..."

"Kathryn, no. That's what I wanted to warn you about. Admiral Muir is going to order you not to get involved in their trials."

"He can order me all he likes..."

"Captain!" Owen's calling her by rank stopped Kathryn in her tracks. "This is for their own good. The prosecution aren't pushing for heavy sentences, they know as well as anyone nowadays that the Maquis had the jump on us as far as the Cardassians were concerned. They are willing to agree to minimal sentences, but only if it's seen to be their own idea. Pressure them in any way, and they could go for longer custodial sentences just to save face."

"Longer custodial sentences? You said longer that implies they'll get custodial sentences as it is. I can't let that happen..."

"Kathryn, trust me on this will you? Don't get involved."

Kathryn considered the look on her old mentor's face. It was a plea, a personal one. For the first time in the conversation it occurred to her that Owen actually had some personal interest in this matter; after all, his daughter-in-law was one of the very people Kathryn had set her heart on fighting for. At that moment she made a silent pledge to herself. She would fight; she would keep an eye on her crew and do whatever was in her power to keep them out of a prison cell, and hell, to prevent their convictions if at all possible. But she would do it as inconspicuously as she could. She knew the system; she knew she could work it without most people even suspecting what she was up to. And as much as it tore at her heart to do so, she could do it whilst lying to Owen Paris her superior officer, and her friend.

"I understand, Owen. Thanks for the warning."

"So I have your word you won't try anything stupid, Kathryn?"

"You have my word."

Kathryn was only able to hold the admiral's eye for the briefest of moments before glancing away, a knot forming in her stomach. It was for his own good, she told herself. For his own good.

So why did she feel so damned guilty?

At 0755 the following morning Kathryn ran up the stairs to Admiral Muir's office, well aware that she shouldn't have had that last coffee before she left. It wasn't as if the stuff was on short supply anymore. There was no excuse for grabbing a cup every time the opportunity presented itself especially when doing so resulted in a frantic dash across the grounds of HQ to avoid being late for your first official meeting with a superior officer in seven years.

Reaching the fourth floor, where she had been informed she would find the admiral's office, Kathryn stopped to catch her breath. She hoped no one had taken enough notice to realise who she was as she had run, her reputation would be in tatters by noon. Once her breathing rate had slowed to a steady fourteen per minute a textbook example of normality she carried on towards her final destination.

Outside the door bearing Admiral Muir's name sat a young-looking male lieutenant, uniform starched and desk immaculately organised. As Kathryn approached him he glanced up from his monitor and nodded his head in acknowledgement of her rank. He then took a peek at his watch before addressing her.

"Captain Janeway?"

What, didn't he watch the news broadcasts? Janeway thought, surely my face has been plastered all over the media by now. However, she answered politely and correctly. "Yes, that's me."

"Please go on through, the admiral has been waiting for you."

That wasn't precisely what Kathryn had been hoping to hear. It was always best to arrive before your seniors are ready, never let them have the opportunity to blame you for wasted time in their day. She was sure her own crew had had the same philosophy concerning her on many an occasion. It was too late to worry about that now though, so she hit the door chime and entered when told.

As the door closed behind her Admiral Muir rose to his feet. He was your fairly average type of admiral, she might even have gone so far as to say stereotypical. His hair was mostly grey, but there were wisps of the dark brown colour it had once been speckled throughout. His height approached six feet, and his build was just slightly above what would be considered a healthy size for his age a hazard of spending most of your day behind a desk. He extended his hand to Kathryn as he addressed her.

"Captain Janeway, good to finally meet you."

"Sir," Kathryn said, as she shook his hand. His grip was firm, another feature typical of your average Starfleet brass. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long." Kathryn almost cringed as she said it. Talk about licking the boss's boots; she was definitely out of practice at this game.

"Not at all, I was just catching up on my messages. Please, take a seat." He indicated to the only other chair in the room, as if Kathryn couldn't work out where she was supposed to go. No, she corrected herself; he was just being polite, courteous. Yes, she was definitely out of practice, and had lost far too much respect for her superiors over the years. She took her seat and patiently waited for him to begin.

"First of all, I want to welcome you home. I can't begin to imagine how it must feel for you after all this time away from the familiar. It must be a real comfort to slip back into the old routine."

Did he even have a clue what he was talking about? Kathryn remained silent.

"But on with the real business. Later today I will be sending out a notice to all of Voyager's crewmembers outlining what will be happening now you're all back on Earth. I wanted to personally inform you of what to expect.

"I'm sure you have already realised that there will be an intensive debriefing for all of you, particularly the senior officers. There will also be a full review of all disciplinary action taken by you whilst you were away from us. I have every confidence that you dealt with matters that arose in the proper way, but please understand that we did not have the opportunity to read reports on these matters at the appropriate times at least, not until we established direct communication. So, if we seem to be picking your decisions apart it probably has more to do with the fact that we are reviewing everything at once than any implication of poor judgement on your behalf."

"Yes, Sir," Kathryn replied, although her inner thoughts were not quite so agreeable.

"Furthermore, I have no doubt you'll have realised by now that warrants are still in existence for the arrest of the Maquis."

"Former Maquis," Kathryn interrupted, "and of course I noticed them being escorted off my ship like common criminals."

"According to the law, they are common criminals."

"Not until they are found guilty by the courts."

Admiral Muir's suspicions about the need for this meeting were becoming more justified by the second. Most captains would fight tooth and nail for their own people, and he had heard that Janeway was about as ferocious a fighter as they came, but he hadn't fully submitted to that train of thought until now. "Captain, please be under no illusions on that matter. I have spoken to the civilian authorities personally with the evidence they have, there is no doubt about the convictions. They will happen."

Kathryn remained silent, so the admiral continued.

"Which brings me to my next point. I have no doubt that plans have been forming in your mind, ideas which you believe would help to exonerate your crew of any wrong doing. I am hereby ordering you not to interfere in this process in any way. If you are found to ignore these orders at any time, it could reflect badly come the time for your own performance review. I hope you understand how serious that could be, the impact it could have on your own future career."

"Yes, Sir," Kathryn replied, all the while realising Owen had known what he was doing when he came to talk to her about this. He knew as well as anyone that threatening her own career would never stop her trying to protect those under her command, something Admiral Muir had obviously yet to learn.

"Okay," continued Muir, "on to other matters. I realise that you have been transmitting reports from Voyager for a few years now, but to be frank we have had little time to deal with them in the throes and aftermath of the war with the Dominion. We always figured we'd have some warning of your return, and would be able to review the files in plenty of time. Needless to say, we got that wrong."

Kathryn couldn't help but smile. There was nothing quite like keeping your superiors on their toes. Her smile quickly faded at the admiral's next words.

"So, we would like you to review your official logs from the past seven years and identify those that require our attention. We don't need to see piles of routine reports; as many adventures as you had, I'm sure there were times when you simply pointed towards home and went merrily on your way. I'm not going to waste anybody's time reading about the daily monotony of running a starship, we all learnt about that at the Academy. What we want to see is how you dealt with the big events; first contacts, encounters with the Borg, with Q, anything that could have a long-term effect on Starfleet and the Federation.

"I know this is a big task, but no one knows Voyager's logs better than you. Unfortunately I can't assign any of your crew to assist you, so you'll be getting an aide. She's straight out of the Academy, and comes highly recommended. I'm also assigning you a temporary office to work from; you can collect the details from Lieutenant Collins on your way out. Any questions?"

"Just the one, Sir. You mentioned my own review could you give me some idea of when I can expect that to take place?"

"The most I can tell you is that your review is the last on our schedule."

Typical, Kathryn thought. Save the best until last. It didn't take much to see that this also meant they could keep an eye on her throughout the Maquis trials before looking at her own conduct. They were going to be watching her closely, she was definitely going to have to be careful. "Is that all, Admiral?"

"Yes, Captain, that will be all for now. You're dismissed."

Kathryn rose and nodded her acknowledgement before leaving the office, collecting a PADD from the lieutenant on her way past. She would find her temporary workspace on another occasion, for now she had more important matters to deal with. At a pace more suited to her rank than that she had adopted earlier, she headed back across the grounds to her quarters. She had calls to make.

To: All Voyager crewmembers

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55001.8

Subject: Information regarding the upcoming proceedings.

All crewmembers will be asked to report to Commodores Salada and Ducci for debriefing. Security will be alerted as to who is to attend each day and will escort you to the correct location.

The crew of the Maquis ship 'Liberty' will be tried under warrants held for their arrest by the Federation. Their cases will be heard in front of a judge only no jury option is being given due to the belief that no members of the public remain neutral enough to make an unbiased decision in the wake of the war with the Dominion. The crewmembers in question will not be allowed to leave the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters except for transport to their trial, at which point they will be escorted from the premises by a member of Starfleet Security.

All reprimands, promotions and commendations from Voyager's seven-year mission will be reviewed, and notice of any changes will be made at such time as the decision is made. These cases may require crewmembers to attend interview.

The actions and decisions of all officers will also be reviewed. Notice of any resulting action will not be a matter of public record.

To: Commodore Ducci

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55001.9

Subject: Seven of Nine

The borg Seven of Nine has been taken to a secure facility pending investigation into any possible threat to the security of the Federation. Please conduct interviews with her and relevant medical personnel with the aim of determining the level of any such threat, and a recommended course of action from this point.

Chakotay sat and fiddled with the new-style security bracelet around his wrist. The latest in electronic tagging technology; smaller than the old anklets, and by all accounts less open to tampering. Each and every one of the ex-Maquis crew sported his or her very own 'fashion accessory'; even Tom had himself his very own. Yes, it seemed they were indeed 'all the rage'.

Voyager's crewmembers were mostly housed in temporary quarters within the grounds of Starfleet HQ. For some it was a voluntary measure, a stopgap until they got themselves a more permanent base. For others, there had been no choice. Tags prevented them from leaving the grounds, giving them free reign of only the unrestricted areas of the facility. Chakotay supposed it could have been worse a cell in a Cardassian prison would certainly have made this place seem like a luxury hotel but he still couldn't help but be slightly resentful about the loss of freedom. The Maquis were housed awaiting trial in the civilian courts, a result of the warrants that had existed for their arrest before they had been tossed halfway across the galaxy. Starfleet had arranged with the appropriate civilian authorities to have the Voyager crewmembers housed on Starfleet property. The state had been only too happy to oblige they hadn't the room to house that many prisoners at short notice, and this saved them a huge administrative headache.

Tom was the exception to the rule amongst the detainees. He was awaiting a decision from the parole-board as to whether his sentence had been served as time aboard Voyager. The date for his hearing was expected to be one of the first to be announced, but until such time he was being treated in much the same way as the Maquis.

Chakotay had to admit that Starfleet had done them a favour when it arranged to take charge of their custody. Friends and families had been allowed to stay together; most importantly, Tom and B'Elanna had not been separated. The first few weeks were important for a child to bond with its parents, and Chakotay would have fought hard and long to get his friends back together if anyone had tried to separate them. He wasn't sure how much clout he would have had from his current position, but he did at least know he'd have had a powerful ally in Admiral Paris.

Looking out of his window to the courtyards below, Chakotay could see most of Voyager's crew roaming around in the spring sunshine. As he observed them, he realised he was the only member of his own former crew still wearing a Starfleet uniform. Even Voyager's original crew had mostly reverted to whatever clothes they wore during their downtime at every given opportunity, only sporting the garments of their chosen profession when they were needed for debriefing. It was too early for any of the legal proceedings to have begun, so no one had been required to dress for that particular occasion just yet.

He started to wonder why he hadn't changed, and even on noticing the situation still felt no particular inclination to do so. Maybe he felt a need to retain some connection with Starfleet right now, as if it would do him some good in the weeks and months to come. It may also be wise not to wear anything that made him look, and feel, more like a Maquis. If he connected too much with that not-so-distant past there was a high likelihood he would do something he'd later regret, and for once, he really did like the idea of living for the future.

Noticing B'Elanna getting particularly worked up about something as she tried to juggle Miral and whatever Harry was talking to her about, Chakotay decided to go out and join them. Some things hadn't changed since they had set foot back on Earth, and the crew's ingrained tendency to look out for one another was most definitely as strong as ever. As he worked his way outside to take care of this particular potential bomb, Chakotay chuckled to himself. He hoped that, amongst all the changes they were being forced to endure, this particular aspect of their unique situation remained unchanged; the closeness of this crew was something that couldn't be replicated. Only time would tell if he would get his wish.

Kathryn looked around the meagre office space she had been assigned and sighed. She knew she shouldn't be picky, but this place was a tenth of the size of her ready room back on Voyager. There was barely enough room for the two desks it contained, small ones at that, placed right next to each other hopefully, her aide was going to be easy to live with. Or should that be, live on top of.

Right on cue the door chime sounded, and on Kathryn's command, in shuffled what she had to assume was her assistant. Female, a few inches taller than Kathryn despite Kathryn's three-inch heels, and with long black hair tightly wound up into a twist on the back of her head. It reminded Kathryn a little of the look she herself used to sport, only somehow it looked even worse.

"Ensign Kessamyn Feho reporting for duty, Sir!" After her obviously nervous shuffle into the room, Ensign Feho now stood so stiff she looked as though she had a steel rod stuffed up her behind. Forget the risk of spraining something; Kathryn felt that if she were to push her, the ensign would topple onto the ground and shatter on impact.

"At ease, Ensign." Feho relaxed a little, but still looked somewhat starched. "And please, call me Captain. I never liked to be called 'Sir'."

"Yes Ma'am." Kathryn only sighed. She'd been here before; only something told her this time was going to be more of a battle. Harry had been green, but he learned pretty quickly. Maybe she had formed an opinion too hastily, but Ensign Feho wasn't living up to her expectations. It was almost enlightening to find that officers did exist who were greener than Harry was back then. Almost.

"Take a seat, Kessamyn."

Feho sat down where Kathryn indicated, before hesitantly starting to speak. "Umm, Captain, I prefer not to be called Kessamyn."

"What would you prefer?"

"My friends call me Kes or Kessa."

"Kessa it is then." Kathryn was not going to call this poor excuse for an officer by the first of the two given options; it would be an insult to every memory she cherished of a dear friend, and nothing in the world would force her to knowingly taint the image of the young Ocampan, now so many light years away.

"Ensign, you understand that you are here to help me organise Voyager's logs for review?"

"Yes Ma'am." Again with the ma'am. Kathryn would definitely have to sort that out later.

"Well, I feel I should let you know that I will often expect you to get on with that work alone. You will find that the logs are already well organised and more than ready for review, all you will be required to do is sift out the everyday monotony from the more 'exciting' episodes in our journey. I'm afraid I have many other matters to attend to in the coming weeks, so I won't be working with you as much as you may have been led to believe."

Kessa looked slightly confused at this. "If I may ask, Captain, what is it that will have you so occupied?"

"It's personal, and something I'd prefer to keep under wraps." Softening her voice slightly, Kathryn added, "I hope you understand." Unwilling to explain to her new aide that, whilst she was officially supposed to be doing just what her superiors had implied she would actually be doing nothing of the sort, Kathryn resorted to a little white lie to extricate herself. Maybe not so much of a white lie, as a bending of the truth; after all, the fate of her Maquis crewmembers was personal.

Luckily, Ensign Feho was still green enough that the thought of questioning her superior didn't even enter her mind. However, Kessa's easy acceptance didn't stop Janeway from wishing that Tuvok hadn't had to go straight to Vulcan. If he had been with her, she wouldn't have needed the aide; and she would have been able to work openly in her own office instead of planning how she could access restricted information and bypass security codes without gaining the attention of an unwanted, and unwelcome, foreign pair of eyes.

Quickly suggesting to Kessa that they get to work, and ordering her to spend some time familiarising herself with Voyager's crew manifest, Kathryn settled down at her new desk. She was still finding it hard to believe that Starfleet were handling things the way they were.

For seven years she had upheld Starfleet principles to a crew that would have been just as happy with a slightly less structured hierarchy. She had reminded them time and again that they were part of a bigger group, that they were representing the Federation in the Delta Quadrant and that they should be proud to uphold Starfleet's standards and ideals. She had been proud to remain part of the organisation she felt she had been born into, and had been proud of the way her crew had remained loyal to both her and the uniform.

She had assumed Starfleet would be proud of what they had achieved, would have celebrated the successes of the crew along the way home. Of course, she had expected a full and heavy debrief, but she had expected some kind of celebration first. Instead, there had been no reprieve whatsoever.

The doctor had been forced to commence his own battle before even leaving the ship, and Kathryn was grateful that she was being allowed to fight publicly on his behalf. At least one member of her crew would know she was still in their corner.

Looking around her excuse for an office, Kathryn considered that this had to be one of the low points of her career. She had given Starfleet more of her life these last seven years than they could ever have asked for, and now she had been given one of the worst tasks she thought they could have found for her. Separated from those she felt could have best helped her through, the ones who would have pointed out all the good things she did whilst on Voyager, the ones who had always stood by her no matter what. She found herself wondering, not for the first time, whether all her many personal sacrifices through the years had been worth it. Whether they had or they hadn't, one thing she knew for sure.

Life seemed to enjoy throwing things at her these days.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Salada

Stardate: 55003.9

Subject: New information re: selected Maquis crewmen

Attachment: Release list

I was informed today that selected members of the Liberty's former crew will not stand trial in the civilian courts. These crewmen were not implicated in any Maquis activities before their removal to the Delta Quadrant, therefore no warrant exists for their arrest and no charges have been filed against them. Any good trial lawyer could clear them of charges based solely on their presence on the Liberty, so the prosecuting authorities deemed it best that no action be taken. I hereby request authority to release those listed in the attached file.

To: Commodore Salada

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55004.6

Subject: Release of crewmembers

Authority is hereby granted for the release of those crewmembers listed in the document I received from you. Please liase with them regarding future assignments or resignation from Starfleet and report back to me as necessary.

The doors to Commodore Salada's office opened to admit Crewman Gerron, the last crewmember on his list of interviewees following the 'no charges' decision made only days earlier. He already knew what Gerron's hopes were the young man wished to enter the Academy, and Salada was pleased that on this occasion he had good news to report.

"Crewman, please take a seat." The commodore gestured towards a chair without ever leaving his own.

"Thank you, Sir." Gerron was dressed smartly in his old-style Starfleet uniform from Voyager. The Starfleet members of Voyager's crew had already received orders to replicate themselves uniforms in the updated style, but those who had been Maquis had continued to wear the ones they had already had for official business. Gerron was actually more than happy with that situation. After all, part of the appeal of attending the Academy was the chance to earn the right to wear those colours with pride. It took some of the edge off if you had already sampled the winnings, so he was happy to keep his old clothes and wait for the 'upgrade'.

Commodore Salada had wondered at first why Mr Gerron had wished to enter the Academy, considering a decision had already been made that all Maquis crewmen, in the absence of custodial sentences, would be offered the choice to remain in Starfleet in the rank and career area they had occupied on Voyager. They may not have graduated the Academy, but they had all proved themselves skilled at their jobs and, on Voyager, had shown that they could live within Starfleet's rules, regulations, and protocols.

As much as their captain had, anyway.

Maybe more so.

However, the commodore had since come to realise that simply working for Starfleet wasn't enough for Gerron anymore; he wished to become an officer. To do this, he did require formal academy training, and if he was willing to go back into education then Salada took it as a sign that he had the will and the stamina to see it through. It was a brave decision, from a promising young individual. The admissions board had agreed.

So now Gerron would be on his way, and the commodore was grateful for the chance to send him off.

"Crewman, I'm happy to be able to tell you that your application has been accepted." He waited a beat for the news to sink in before he continued. "Due to your previous experience the board approved an accelerated placement you will start at third year level at the beginning of the next academic year, giving you plenty of time to rest and prepare. In the mean time, you will receive the same leave benefits that the rest of your crew will be entitled to. Do you have any questions, Cadet?"

Caught a little off guard by the new title, but enjoying it at the same time, Gerron couldn't have come up with a question even if paid to try and do so. Instead, he answered in the negative, and took his leave.

The meeting had been short and simple, but it left Salada with a greater feeling of satisfaction than any other meeting he had attended in the past month.

To: Recipients not disclosed

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55010.2

Subject: Authorised leave

I trust your future career decisions have been dealt with to your satisfaction and extend my best wishes to you in whatever path you have chosen to pursue. Please be advised that before you move on to whatever awaits you, you are entitled to thirty days' leave, paid at a rate appropriate to your position on Voyager. If necessary, arrangements with your new employers can be made through this office.

To: Lt. Thomas E. Paris

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55011.9

Subject: Parole hearing

Please be informed that your parole-board hearing has been scheduled for stardate 55020.2, at 0900 hours. Legal representation is available to you upon your request. If you have any queries about this process, please do not hesitate to contact me at this office.

The chronometer showed 0915 as Tom reappeared, catching B'Elanna and Chakotay by surprise. They had been sitting in the corridors of Starfleet HQ, waiting whilst Tom's parole hearing was taking place behind closed doors. And now he was out, barely fifteen minutes after he had gone in. B'Elanna started to worry that the only way it could have been that quick was if something had gone wrong. Tom's next words allayed her fears.

"It's over. I'm still a lieutenant. I still have a job."

That was all he said before gathering B'Elanna close, leaving her just enough time to hand Miral off to Chakotay. Tom had been worried, more than he had let on to anyone. He had responsibilities these days, and the thought of being a jailbird Dad had not been a pleasant one. Thankfully, it was something he at least didn't have to contemplate anymore.

In the end, the procedure had been ridiculously simple. His original deal with Janeway had involved help at his next parole hearing, and that had been only for aiding them in the retrieval of the Maquis ship. One mission, successfully completed, and the favour would be returned.

He had never completed that mission, not in the way originally intended, but he had done more. So much more. He had spent seven years as a bridge officer on a starship, serving his captain honestly and faithfully. Yes, he had strayed once or twice along the way, bent and broken more than a few rules, but overall he had been a good officer. He had proved himself capable of starting again, and the parole officers had recognised the new man, one whom many colleagues would trust with their lives and with the lives of their families. The board had recognised the change in Tom Paris, and they had declared him free.

So now his sentence was considered fully served, and only one thing stood between him and the life he wanted to live with his wife and child. B'Elanna had yet to hear from the authorities with a trial date. The wait had been frustrating for her. He knew that she wanted to be with the crews working on Voyager, preventing them from hurting what she had long since considered her ship. Well, maybe the ship was Janeway's; but the engines were B'Elanna's. She did what she could with the restricted access she had from HQ, but whilst it was something, it wasn't enough. Tom longed for the day when both he and his wife would be free. When, not if.

Chakotay could sense the direction Tom's thoughts were taking, and decided that this was not a time for worrying about the future. Placing Miral back into B'Elanna's care, and taking one of his friends' arms in each of his, he started to march them outside. Today was a day for celebration the first court result of any kind to come through, and it was a good result. With any luck, it would be the first of many.

May 20th.

Twelve days since their emergence from the conduit.

Ten days since they finally set foot on Earth.

And Kathryn Janeway's 47th birthday.

As Kathryn hauled her heavy bags up the stairs she mused over how she really shouldn't be moving back in with her mother at this age. However, the quarters she had been assigned at HQ were driving her slowly crazy. It was funny, the regulation furniture and fittings in her quarters on Voyager had never really bothered her that much, but now that she was home she was finding it unbearable to spend all day, everyday staring at those bland colours.

Of course, there had been a time she had had her own home on Earth, a modern apartment in one of the nicer areas of San Francisco. Unfortunately, this was no longer the case. Her lease had been terminated within a year of Voyager's disappearance, and her things put into storage by her mother and sister. She was only grateful that they hadn't seen fit to throw away any of her belongings in an effort to grieve for the second member of their family to be lost to Starfleet.

So now Kathryn was bringing a few special items back here in an effort to make her room her own. The bag she carried contained a mixture of the new and the old, items from before her time on Voyager and those picked up along the way home. One of the first items she placed on her dresser was the piece of rock with the crystal vein, the one she had pulled out of her desk not two weeks ago. Next came the necklace she had been given by Caylem, the eccentric but endearing man who had mistaken Kathryn for his daughter near the beginning of their journey. Kathryn briefly wondered why she had never worn the necklace since, and resolved to correct that oversight as soon as an appropriate occasion arose.

More and more followed as slowly every surface in her room was covered with various knickknacks, each one of them with a special meaning to her. Satisfied with her work, she made her way back down to the kitchen where her mother was making coffee and brownies.

"Happy birthday, honey," Gretchen spoke as soon as she became aware of her elder daughter's presence. "The coffee's nearly ready. Did you get your room sorted out okay?"

"Yes, I think so. It looks a lot less bare now."

"I'm glad. I remember what those quarters at HQ are like from my early days with your father. We hadn't found a place of our own yet so we lived there for a few weeks."

"Only weeks?"

"Yes, obviously I couldn't stand them any more than you. It gave me the extra nudge to find somewhere permanent, which was when I found this little gem." Gretchen handed a cup of the now poured coffee to Kathryn, then cradled her own in her hands. For a moment Kathryn wasn't sure whether her mother had been referring to the house or the coffee when she spoke of the 'little gem'.

"It's a shame I don't have my apartment anymore, then I wouldn't have to impose on you while I get myself sorted out."

"Don't be silly, Kathryn! You will always be welcome here, you and Phoebe. Don't let anyone ever tell you that this isn't your home. It's your home whenever you need it."

Kathryn smiled at her mother and took a sip of her coffee. "Thanks, Mom. No offence, but I still hope I don't have to stay here too long."

"No offence taken, I know you want your own space. So, any plans for your birthday? Do you have to work again today?"

"I'm not going anywhere near San Francisco unless they threaten me with a spread of photon torpedoes aimed at this house. As far as they're concerned I'm 'in a meeting' all day."

"Really? I don't remember the last time you took the day off for something as 'trivial' as your birthday."

"Mom, I haven't been able to truly take a day off for seven years. I figured today was as good a day as any."

Gretchen allowed herself a giggle at her daughter's expense. It wouldn't surprise her if, after this year, Kathryn went another seven years without taking a day off on her birthday, but she kept that thought to herself.

"So," Kathryn continued, "are those brownies ready yet?"

"No, you'll have to wait a while. You can have one at lunchtime, and not before. Phoebe and the twins are coming round."

"You mean I finally get to meet Kym and Ashley?!"

"Yes, and they've been dying to meet their Auntie Kathryn."

"Oh no, I will not have them call me Auntie, it makes me feel so old! Kathryn, it has to be just Kathryn."

"We'll see. Remember, they're only three, so you may have to put up with them calling you whatever they can manage to say!"

"True, but that also means they are still young enough to be moulded into calling me anything I choose in the long run."

"Like Captain?!"

"So long as it's not Auntie. Or ma'am." Gretchen shared a grin with Kathryn; she knew just how much her daughter hated to be called ma'am by her subordinates. She'd also heard tales about Ensign Feho, who even after a week still hadn't learned what was good for her in that respect. "I take it from what you said that Adam isn't coming today?" Kathryn asked.

"No, Phoebe said he had to go and talk to his publisher, and they wouldn't change the date of his meeting 'no matter how famous his sister-in-law was'. You'll have to wait and meet him another day."

"That's a shame. I'm sure the twins will keep me occupied though!"

"Are you expecting to hear from any of your crew?"

Kathryn's face faltered a little at the mention of her friends from Voyager, and her mind couldn't help but run to Chakotay. She wasn't expecting to hear from any of them; she expected they felt a little abandoned, and she honestly couldn't blame them for that. It wasn't as if she had made any effort to contact them. She felt that, seeing as she was having to keep her work on their behalf strictly under wraps, it would be better for all concerned if she kept completely out of their way. If she didn't talk to them, she couldn't let any reassuring morsels of information slip. So she was keeping her distance.

Not speaking to Chakotay though... that would be the hardest part. Forgetting about the situation with Seven for a moment, if that were possible, he was still her best friend. He had been there for her every birthday for years now, forcing her to acknowledge it even when she hadn't wanted to. She remembered one year he had taken her to Paris for the evening via the holodeck. They had strolled along the bank of the Seine before stopping for a meal at one of the nicest restaurants in the city. She had felt so relaxed that evening, and had come perhaps the closest since New Earth to finally letting down her barriers and accepting him into her life in every way. How different would things have been now if she had... Would they even be home right now?

"Am I understanding you correctly? You also came back to convince me to do something? To tell him how I feel?".... "Yes"

Kathryn shook off the memories of her conversation with the admiral and turned her concentration back to her mother.

"I don't think I'll be hearing from any of them; everyone's pretty busy with the debriefings and legal proceedings. I'll catch up with them sooner or later."

Gretchen wasn't fooled by her daughter's forced lightness. She knew Kathryn had to be hurting from the separation, but she let it go. "That's a shame. I tell you what, why don't you go and take a long bath? I can finish up here ready for your sister to arrive; you go and relax."

"Okay, thanks, Mom." So Kathryn got up and headed for the bathroom, leaving her mother to her brownies, and still trying not to think about the admiral, Chakotay or Seven. She didn't do as well as she would have liked.

May 20th.

Twelve days since their emergence from the conduit.

Ten days since he'd had a security bracelet snapped around his wrist.

And Kathryn Janeway's 47th birthday.

Chakotay realised with a pang that he hadn't even thought about a present for her this year.

Well, I for one think there's someone else you should apologize to for your recent disappearing act...

Tom's words reverberated around his head. He realised that he never had apologised to his best friend, but instead had just asked her about the reasons behind the admiral's visit. And now on top of not being there for Kathryn during that time, he had forgotten that her birthday had been approaching. He had made it a point over the years to put some thought into her special day; what to give her, where to take her to celebrate... But this year it had slipped his mind completely.

He briefly thought about contacting her, but dismissed the thought almost as soon as it had occurred to him. He simply wouldn't know what to say. The last time they had spoken, well, the last time in private at any rate...

Very good, Captain. I'll be in my office if you should need me.

Spirits, he had been so formal! And then to hear her break down like she had...

No, he couldn't contact her; he just wouldn't know what to say. Pretend everything was rosy between them? He knew that it wasn't. Formally wish her a happy birthday as any former First Officer might? No, that wouldn't work either. It was safer just to avoid the matter altogether, and hope that someday he could make it up to her. Someday, he had to rebuild the friendship that he had taken a large hand in damaging.

Just not today.

The chaotic babbling emanating from the room below alerted Kathryn to the arrival of her sister and the twins. Placing the holoimage she had been studying back on the table beside her, she left her bedroom and made her way downstairs. As she reached the doorway to the living room she stopped briefly to take in the scene in front of her. Phoebe was sitting on one end of the sofa, looking even better than she had in any of the recent images Kathryn had seen. Her hair was still as dark, curly and beautiful as ever, and her grey eyes simply shone with life.

The twins were both standing at their grandmother's feet, talking over the top of each other and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Kym, the elder by ten minutes, had the most gorgeous red hair Kathryn had ever seen. It reached just past her shoulders, and was partially clipped back in silver hair slides. Ashley's hair was blond, a trait Kathryn assumed had to have come from his father. They were both dressed in blue jeans and yellow t-shirts, and Kathryn couldn't help but despair at what was obviously her sister's idea of 'cute'. Personally, she had never been able to understand why parents insisted on dressing twins the same, especially when they weren't identical.

Deciding she'd stood there long enough, Kathryn took the last few steps into full view and finally caught the attention of her sister. Phoebe could have broken glass with her shriek as she jumped up from the sofa and enveloped Kathryn in a giant bear hug. Kym and Ashley immediately abandoned their grandma when they heard their mother squeal and stood, mouths open, staring at the scene in front of them. Kathryn and Phoebe both began to laugh, and tears streaked down their faces.

"I can't believe it's been so long!" Phoebe cried, "You look fantastic."

"You too, Phoebe. I was kinda hoping having two children would have affected you a little," Kathryn teased. "Speaking of which, these two are absolutely gorgeous."

Kathryn smiled at the twins, and Phoebe beckoned them over to stand in front of her before addressing them.

"Kym, Ashley, there's someone I'd like you to meet. This is my sister, your Auntie Kathryn."

The two children just stood warily examining their new acquaintance, until Kathryn crouched down to their level, smiled at them, and said hello. Then it was as if some kind of barrier was lifted, as the children ran towards her and nearly knocked her off her feet they may have been only three years old, but there were two of them and in her position near the floor Kathryn had already been decidedly off-balance.

Regaining her composure Kathryn hugged them with an arm each, and looked up at her sister and mother. "I can tell these are your children, Phoebe, their features are just like yours."

"Kym reminds me a lot of you when you were her age, Kathryn," Gretchen interjected. "Her hair is a little brighter maybe, but equally beautiful. And she's just as clever; I think she's going for your record on learning her multiplication tables."

Kathryn gave no answer. It was well known in the Janeway family that Kathryn had never liked her hair when she was younger, and she didn't really want to comment on her own intellectual ability; so silence seemed the best option.

"Ashley, on the other hand," Phoebe continued, "is already showing signs of being more like his father. That is, if you include drawing on his hands and writing all over his sister to be the beginnings of a love for classical literature!"

Kathryn had to laugh at this, the image of a child at play being one of the most innocent and the most soothing thoughts to her mind. Standing up fully once again, she moved to the sofa where Phoebe had previously been sitting, and beckoned her back to join her.

"So, Phoebe, tell me all about this husband of yours! You mentioned a love of literature, does he write?"

The sisters talked for well over an hour as Gretchen entertained her grandchildren. Then after lunch Kathryn found herself crawling around on her hands and knees getting to know her niece and nephew better. For a few precious hours she had nothing on her mind but dolls, toy spaceships, and the ins and outs of building a tower out of old-fashioned sugar cubes.

Before she knew it dinner had been and gone, and Phoebe and the twins had to go home. Finding herself yawning for the fifteenth time in ten minutes, Kathryn retired to bed not more than three quarters of an hour after the threesome had left. Despite the early hour she fell immediately into a deep sleep, the most refreshing sleep she had had in years.

In the warmth of her family, and no matter how temporarily, Kathryn had found some peace.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Ducci

Stardate: 55028.5

Subject: Ensign Harry Kim

Following review of his files and interviewing the man himself I see no reason to question any of the reprimands or commendations Ensign Kim received from Captain Janeway. Furthermore, I have noted the captain's early recommendation that Harry be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and add my own voice to this request.

To: Commodore Ducci

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55031.3

Subject: Ensign Harry Kim

Your recommendations regarding Ensign Kim are noted. I will be requesting a personal meeting with him next week.

Chakotay lay in bed awake, thoughts of recent days racing around his head. A lot had been happening. Most of the crew were still involved in debriefing rather than any legal proceedings, but it was tiring work all the same. During the days, he barely had time to think about what was going on around him. When he wasn't talking to Starfleet himself, he was often to be found counselling one crewmen or another as the enormity of what could happen to them all finally sunk in. He was usually so wrapped up in looking after his crew, his friends, that at the time he was unable to spare any brain capacity to react too much to what he was saying. But now, alone in the accommodation that could be his home for months to come, his thoughts could finally run free. Maybe a little too free.

He had hoped the crew's actions over the years would not be scrutinized too fully. He knew some review was necessary, but too much analysis could have a bad effect on the crew, especially the senior officers. Of course, the majority of the material being examined concerned the times things had gone wrong. It was this that was the most concerning to Chakotay. It was human nature to beat yourself up over bad decisions, the last thing anyone needed was the chance to relive every mistake you had made over a period as long as they had been gone.

It crossed his mind, not for the first time, that one person in particular was unlikely to maintain the healthy distance from past decisions that such a review procedure required. Unfortunately, with things the way they were at the moment, there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it.

His thoughts staying with Kathryn, he allowed himself to worry about the hearing she would have to endure. He hadn't heard anything to confirm it, but he suspected Starfleet were saving the captain's review for last. The content of that evaluation would be anyone's guess, but it wouldn't surprise him if she ended up defending criticisms more than receiving praise. He had been in Starfleet long enough to realise that they were unlikely to completely ignore some of her actions in the Delta Quadrant.

Perhaps his own trial, and those of the other former Maquis, would provide some clue as to how Starfleet would deal with Kathryn. If the Maquis received convictions with heavy sentences, Starfleet may follow suit and throw everything they could possibly find at Voyager's captain. If the Maquis received not-guilty verdicts, then leniency with Janeway would seem the logical way to go. On the other hand, the brass may just decide to make her the scapegoat for any and all wrongdoings over the years. After all, as captain she had been ultimately responsible for everything that had happened good or bad. So on second thoughts, the Maquis results would be useless as a predictor.

One thing Chakotay did know, could say with certainty. Things were going to get tough; he just hoped they were strong enough to cope with it all.

To: Commodore Ducci

From: Doctor Sean Wilkes

Stardate: 55036.8

Subject: Seven of Nine Medical Report

Voyager's medical logs and my own examination of Seven of Nine indicate that her physiology is now primarily human; only those implants necessary for her survival remain. It is therefore my recommendation that her personnel file classifies her as human rather than borg.

To: Commodore Ducci

From: Counsellor Evelyn Romaine

Stardate: 55039.5

Subject: Seven of Nine

It is my professional opinion that the subject is of no danger to the general population. She no longer identifies herself as a borg drone, and shows no signs of hostile intent. She will require time to adjust to life back on Earth, but it is not my recommendation that she requires holding in a secure facility at this time.

Ducci waltzed into Janeway's office as if he owned the place, and sensing something in the way he carried himself Kathryn dismissed Ensign Feho with a nod of her head. Once they were alone, the commodore spoke.

"Captain, I was hoping to speak to you about Seven of Nine."

Kathryn barely managed to keep her face neutral, but inside her stomach was reeling. Seven was not her favourite subject these days, and she had done her very best not to think about her. It hadn't been working very well, but at least she hadn't had to see her. And she only felt some guilt at being in any way happy that Seven had been held in a secure building since they'd been back on Earth; it had nicely removed any chance of an accidental meeting with her.

Now, it appeared, she was going to have to spend some time purposefully thinking and speaking about that thing.

Commodore Ducci continued. "I have been investigating any possible threat the borg poses to the Federation, and would appreciate your cooperation."

Great, not only did she have to talk about Seven, she had to do so in a positive manner. It just got better. To the commodore, she simply answered,

"Certainly, what is it you would like to know?"

The opening questions were predictable. How had Seven adapted to the command structure, how had the crew reacted to her presence on the ship, had she ever caused injury to anyone on board...

Recent personal injuries to herself crossed Kathryn's mind, but she decided not to commit that particular issue to official Starfleet record.

From there things became a little more in depth, and Janeway found herself having to think carefully about her answers. How did you deny that Seven's presence was likely to provoke future involvement with the Borg Queen? Of course, that question worked on the assumption that the Queen was still around to worry about an assumption Janeway was more than willing to make. That woman had enough lives to convince Kathryn that somewhere along the line, she had to have assimilated a cat.

Luckily for Seven, and she supposed Chakotay by extension, Kathryn must have said something right. By the end of the interview Commodore Ducci had stopped referring to Seven as 'the borg', and seemed to be coming around to the idea that she had become a fully integrated member of Janeway's crew over the years. Despite herself, Kathryn was glad she had been able to help. Seven was still a member of her crew, and no matter what personal resentment, or even jealousy, she may currently feel, it hadn't always been that way. And it would be unfair to do anything to harm Seven's future freedom out of some juvenile need for revenge over the theft of Kathryn's own future. Or rather, the future she had dreamt of.

Ducci left Janeway's office satisfied that he now had enough information to compile his report. He had been concerned at first; Janeway had seemed a little less easy talking about Seven than he had expected, having read reports detailing their relationship over the years. No matter, she had given him the information he needed. And, he supposed, every friendship went through its rough patches. He was sure that, whatever bust up they might have had, it would be sorted out soon enough. And it was none of his business, anyway.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Ducci

Stardate: 55050.5

Subject: Seven of Nine

After intensive interviews with the subject, reviews of Voyager's logs and reports from appropriate medical personnel, it is my opinion that Seven of Nine is of minimal threat to the Federation. There is no recent evidence of hostility towards those she interacts with, and she appears to have integrated well with other members of Voyager's crew. Her knowledge of the Borg and their technology is of course extensive, and for this reason alone I feel that she is too big an asset to lose. I recommend that she be declared a free citizen of the Federation, and that she is offered a civilian posting within Starfleet.

To: Commodore Ducci

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55051.3

Subject: Seven of Nine

Your recommendation is noted. Please offer her such a position with all benefits, including Starfleet quarters should she so wish.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Ducci

Stardate: 55055.9

Subject: Seven of Nine

Seven of Nine has accepted the offer, pointing out that working for Starfleet will give her some continuity in a situation she is at present unfamiliar with. A package that suits both sides has been agreed upon.

Harry walked into Admiral Muir's office not entirely sure what to expect. No one else, excepting the captain, had actually had to meet Muir; and no one had seen or spoken to the captain since she had had that pleasure. No one had a clue what the admiral looked like, how he acted, if he even liked the crew of Voyager or admired what they had done. Harry felt like the ensign sent in to test the lie of the land, to find out if it was safe before anyone less... expendable had to tread the same ground.

It seemed he would have to wait a little longer. Despite the admiral's aide telling him to go right in, the desk at which Harry had expected to see his superior officer was empty. Noting that he was actually five minutes early for their scheduled meeting, he took a seat across the desk from the admiral's empty chair and waited.

At 1100 hours exactly, Admiral Muir strode into the room. Harry had to blink twice to believe it; the man had made the meeting on time to the second. His surprise caused him to be a little late to get out of his chair, and as soon as he realised his lapse in protocol he leapt up so fast it was a wonder he came to a stop upright, instead of flying headfirst into the opposite wall. He came straight to attention, and the admiral just gave the smallest hint of a smile before ordering him at ease, and gesturing to the seat Harry had barely been out of for ten seconds. The admiral himself walked in a leisurely manner around the desk to take his own seat.

"So, Mr Kim, how does it feel to be back?"

"Good, Sir, it's been good to see my family again."

"You're staying with your parents at the moment, is that correct?"

"Yes, Sir." Harry would answer the admiral's questions to be polite, but he silently wished he would just get to the point.

"That must be a change from living in your quarters on Voyager for the past seven years. I'm curious, which do you find to be more... private your own quarters on a small starship, or a room in your parents' house? I would have thought you would have valued your independence too much after this long to move back in with your mom and dad."

"It's not a long-term solution, Sir. It has been nice to be able to spend time with them when I haven't been busy with the debriefing here. Anyway, I'm not the only one to have moved back with their folks; I hear Captain Janeway moved her stuff over to her mother's less than two weeks after we returned."

"A smart one I see." Harry had the grace to look a little sheepish at that comment. "Well, I suppose we should get down to the reason I called you here. Have you thought about how you would like to see your career progress now you're back on Earth?"

"I've thought about it, but not come up with any concrete ideas. Do I need to make a decision right now?"

"No, I don't think that's necessary. You can take your leave like everyone else, and maybe that time will allow you to decide what you want. There is one thing we do need to do today though." The admiral opened his draw and pulled out a box, playing with it in his hands whilst he continued to talk.

"I'm sorry Captain Janeway couldn't at least be here for this, but I'm sure you understand that things are a little strained right now. We weren't as prepared as we'd have liked to have been for your return, and I don't think you were either. We've had to ask Captain Janeway to do a lot of work preparing the records of the last seven years for us to review, and we understand that has kept her away from you all." It wasn't the whole truth, but it was enough. "Anyway, that's not the point right now." Admiral Muir glanced down at the box in his hands and then passed it over to Harry. "Go on then, open it."

Harry didn't have to be told twice. What he saw inside left him speechless.

"Harry Kim, I hereby promote you to the rank of lieutenant. Congratulations."

Staring down at the pip that he now held in his hands, Lieutenant Kim finally found his voice. "Thank you, Sir."

"You deserve it. That's all, Lieutenant. You're dismissed." Harry rose and walked out of the room. That hadn't been so bad. No, not bad at all.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Salada

Stardate: 55124.4

Subject: Complaint notice

Attachment: Detailed breakdown of grievances filed

Crewman Lessing has filed grievances against Captain Kathryn Janeway concerning her interrogation of him aboard Voyager. I have included details of the complaint in the attached file, so that you may review the matter and determine the most appropriate course of action from this point.


To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Ducci

Stardate: 55135.4

Subject: Complaints about Captain Kathryn Janeway

It has come to my attention that a second complaint has been made against Captain Janeway, and I am concerned as to how this may affect her hearing. Please advise.

The door closed sealing Commodores Ducci and Salada in with Admiral Muir, ready for a conversation that had been on the cards from the moment Lessing had opened his big mouth.

"Gentlemen, please sit down," Admiral Muir opened the meeting. "We all know why we're here. Mr Salada, I need a report on exactly what happened with Crewman Lessing."

"I think it's all fairly self-explanatory," Salada began. "Captain Janeway lowered the shields around Lessing during her interrogation..."

"Step back a bit," Muir interrupted, "what interrogation?"

After pausing to refocus his thoughts, Salada continued. "Janeway was pressing Mr Lessing for information regarding Captain Ransom's status at the time. The logs state he was less than forthcoming although it may be wise to keep in mind that these are Janeway's logs and needed some coercion to open up. This is where things start to get a little awkward. Are you both familiar with the situation at that time?"

"Yes," Muir answered for them both.

"In that case, I will now come to the subject of the complaint. Captain Janeway, in the belief that Lessing would break under fear for his life, exited the cargo bay where Lessing was being held, with Commander Chakotay in tow. Once out she lowered the shields around that room, with the intention of allowing the alien's fissures to open. A fissure did start to open, but Lessing remained silent. We cannot accurately determine whether Janeway would have gotten him out of there in time to prevent his death because her First Officer took the decision out of her hands. However, it is my belief that she would have left him in there to die."

"This is a serious inference, Commodore. On what is this belief of yours based?"

"It is based on the fact that Commander Chakotay's actions, in saving the life of Crewman Lessing, resulted in his being relieved from duty."

"I believe it was actually the commander's statement that he would undermine the captain's orders again, given the need to, which resulted in that particular action," Muir corrected.

"If I may be blunt, Sir, it all stems from the same thing." Commodore Salada was adamant in his beliefs.

"Getting back to the point," Ducci interjected, speaking for the first time, "I believe we are here to discuss the impact of this complaint on Captain Janeway's future."

"And on the Courts Martial for the Equinox crewmen," Muir added, "this has implications for them too."

"How so?" asked Salada.

"Assuming that we want to deal with this in such a way that it has little to no impact on Janeway's standing, we're going to have to be careful how we deal with Lessing and the others. The alleged action against him effectively amounts to attempted murder by a superior officer, an officer whom we all know is going to come out of her own review smelling of roses and hailed as a hero. If we come down hard on Lessing and his former crewmates, he could find the perfect retaliation in taking his story to the press. Every sordid detail. They may not have much sympathy for him now, but believe me, it won't be long before any dirt on the heroic Captain Janeway will be worth its weight in latinum."

"So what do you suggest?"

"My suggestion would be that we are as easy on the Equinox crew as we can be, without raising any suspicions of interference. With the charges laid against them, we would be within our powers to bestow custodial sentences on the lot of them, following their dishonourable discharge from the 'fleet. As it stands, I think we would be wiser to recommend only the discharge. In the case of Marla Gilmore, I would recommend that she is not thrown out, but rather encouraged to resign. She did, after all, stay loyal to Ransom when the rest of the crew mutinied. Do I have your agreement on this, gentlemen?"

"Yes Sir," the two officers replied.

"Then you're dismissed. I'm sure you both have other duties to attend to."

"Sir," they both replied again, as they left the room, and Admiral Muir settled at his own desk to get on with his day.

Chakotay watched as five seething crewmen stormed away from the building that contained his own quarters. Or should that be, ex-crewmen. All five surviving members of the Equinox crew were now out of Starfleet. One had 'resigned', he had heard; the other four dishonourably discharged. Chakotay couldn't say he was particularly sorry to know that he was unlikely to cross paths with these people again. Seeing them only brought back memories, memories of a time he would rather forget.

They made him think of a time when lines had been blurred and life aboard Voyager had been strained. That period had been riddled with arguments with Kathryn, and the whole crew had witnessed as their command relationship had fallen apart, taking the friendship with it. The repair work had taken weeks, perhaps even months... an experience he was not keen to repeat. Just one of the reasons it was important to him that, once the current situation was over, he found some way to make up for her lousy birthday this year. He just had to figure out how.

Of course, the Equinox hadn't been the only source of arguments within the command team. Chakotay sometimes wondered if he and Kathryn would have clashed so often if their relationship had been simpler. Life had been that little bit more interesting from the moment he had met the woman who had later become his best friend. He had yet to decide whether Starfleet's brass had picked up on their interesting relationship. For some reason and he couldn't put his finger on why Chakotay hoped they hadn't.


To: Commodore Ducci

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55165.5

Subject: Concerns about Captain Kathryn Janeway

Please be advised that, as the Equinox hearings have concluded peacefully, I am not expecting any unpleasant repercussions concerning the previously discussed complaints against Kathryn Janeway. I am more concerned that the captain herself has gone against advice and involved herself in the Maquis trials. Please look into this matter and report to me personally.

The chime sounded, alerting Admiral Muir that he had company.


The doors opened and Commodore Ducci strode into the room, his gait purposeful and his expression serious.


"Commodore, I assume you have something to report."

"Yes, I have made some enquiries regarding Janeway and the Maquis. I believe that she is involving herself in the trials, but I can't find any proof."

"So she's being careful," Muir replied, "we should expect that from her."

"Yes. But if there's no proof, if she's leaving no tracks, where do we go from here?"

"If she's leaving no trail we can't prove that she broke the agreement. I've not felt any pressure about this one yet, so I'm assuming those who matter haven't caught a whiff of it. Monitor her. Have someone keeping an eye on her transmissions."

"Do you want her under formal surveillance?"

"No, I don't think we need to go that far. This isn't a conspiracy against her; we just didn't want things to get messy with the trials. Sometimes judges will go the way you want them to only until they feel they are being pressurised into acting a certain way. As soon as someone makes it public that they have asked for or have been working for a certain result, to then give that result could make them appear weak or corruptible. It's no more complicated than that. I don't want Janeway jeopardising the futures of her crew by interfering where it's not necessary. Unfortunately, I know she's precisely the type of captain who will fight to the bitter end for her crew, whether she's told it's what's good for them or not."

"Most of the time, that makes her the kind of captain any officer would want," Ducci observed.

"Most of the time, yes," the admiral confirmed. "Just not now."

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Salada

Stardate: 55182.0

Subject: Maquis trials

Attachment: Names and convictions

The first group of Maquis trials concluded today. All were convicted on all charges brought against them, and received custodial sentences appropriate to the charges. However, all sentences were ordered served concurrently and considered served aboard Voyager. These crewmembers therefore await your approval for release. A list of names and convictions is attached, together with their ranks and positions aboard Voyager.

To: Commodore Salada

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55192.9

Subject: Trial results

I have reviewed the list of names and enclose a document of my own detailing positions to be offered to those wishing to remain in Starfleet. I trust you will talk to these crewmen and deal with their responses appropriately.

To: All Voyager crewmembers

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55198.4

Subject: Leave entitlement

All crewmembers are entitled to thirty days' leave, paid at a rate appropriate to their position on Voyager. It is strongly recommended that this leave be taken as soon as debriefing is complete, and it may not be taken before such time. This offer is of course subject to change in the case of any crewmember receiving a custodial sentence not considered already served.

A new day dawned, and with it came the start of another miserable shift for Ensign Feho. She was early as usual, not daring to be otherwise, so it made little difference that she dragged her feet a little as she approached Janeway's office. She knew she hadn't gotten off to the best start with the captain, but honestly didn't see what she continued to do that consistently kept Janeway on her back. More than once she'd wondered whether it was who she wasn't that was the problem, rather than who she was and what she did. It was possible that it all boiled down to one thing.

She hadn't spent the last seven years in the Delta Quadrant. She wasn't 'one of them'.

Her heart only sank lower when she reached the office door, and could hear only too well that her superior was already inside. Stopping to assess the situation, she realised she could only hear one voice; one loud, angry voice. Kessa quickly deduced that Janeway was arguing over a comm link, judging by the volume and the occasional pauses. Had she been giving some poor soul a dressing down in there, nothing would have been heard outside the closed doors. Captain Janeway's reprimands were calmly, quietly delivered. Understated. Frightening. And highly effective.

It caught Kessa completely off guard when the woman in question stormed out of the office and strode purposefully down the corridor, almost bowling the ensign over as she passed. Seeming to move at close to warp speed, she was out of sight almost before she had appeared. Ridiculously thankful that, at least for now, the office was safe, Kessa moved in and sat down.

Then got up.

An active file on Janeway's screen had caught her eye. Since the short briefing she had received on that first day, Kessa had never been told any more about Janeway's work, and she had never asked. The captain had been meticulous, bordering on obsessive, about closing down her files every time she left her desk even if it was just to fetch a coffee from the replicator. Whatever this morning's call had been about it had obviously thrown Janeway off-guard, as Kessa now found herself staring at a screen she now understood she had never been meant to see.

It contained a photo, personal information, service record, list of charges and further information all pertaining to one B'Elanna Torres.

Unable to resist the temptation, Kessa sat down and scrolled through the data. As she looked more carefully she saw notes added throughout, detailing holes in the evidence, any possible weakness that could be exploited with the intention of clearing Torres' name; or at least reducing the charges.

What wasn't obvious was whom this information was intended for. Feho wasn't stupid; she realised that if Captain Janeway was working on this covertly, she wasn't supposed to be working on it at all. So who could this information possibly be headed for? How was Janeway intending to alter someone's intentions without them ever realising she had been in their minds? It was beyond Kessa's comprehension, and quite frankly, she thought it best it remained that way.

The question was, what did she do now that she had seen one of the captain's files? Tell her, or keep quiet? Close it, or leave it active with the risk that someone else would come into the office and discover what the captain was doing? Almost instinctively, her hand shot out and closed the file. No sooner had she done it than she realised she wouldn't be telling the captain a thing. She didn't need to know, and she wouldn't question a blank screen when she returned to her monitor. If she had any doubts, she would most likely assume she had automatically deactivated the file herself before leaving, and didn't remember doing so simply because it was so routine.

Settling back into her own chair, Kessa was forced to admit how, even against her own will, Janeway had managed to gain her loyalty. It was almost infuriating, and yet at the same time a warm feeling began to grow inside the young ensign. Voyager's crew may never know it, but they had just gained one more benefactor. It was Feho's little secret, and for some reason, she thought she would like it to remain that way.

As the weeks passed, more of the Maquis were convicted, and more of the Starfleet crew were released from debriefing. Many of the latter got away with no review hearing at all. If they had done their job, mostly stayed out of the senior staff's way throughout the trip, then there wasn't a whole lot to review.

The list of Maquis convictions now included Michael Ayala and B'Elanna Torres. To Chakotay's relief, both had received pretty much the same sentences as all the others custodial, but considered already served whilst on Voyager. They were two cases he'd been particularly keen to see end. Both had always been more than just crewmen to him; they were personal friends. He'd been through a lot with them both in the Maquis, and later on Voyager; it lifted a great weight from his mind to know that they were now free to get on with their lives. Whatever uncertainties the future may bring, at least they could face it as free citizens.

There were only a few trials left to be completed, including his own scheduled last by the civilian authorities. He was trying not to worry about it too much. He had legal representation, had discussed his case at great length, but he had seen enough of the others go through the system by now that he could be fairly certain how it would go. The only thing he wasn't sure of was whether his entire sentence would be short enough to have been completed aboard Voyager. It may have been a long seven years, but had it been long enough for the authorities?

Thinking back to Voyager, Chakotay knew that every former member of the Liberty's crew was thankful it had been Kathryn they'd ended up with and not any one of a hundred other Starfleet captains. He knew of more than a few who would not have granted them so much... so much of anything, really. Kathryn had put her trust in Chakotay, and to a large extent in the rest of his crew, right from the moment the Liberty was destroyed. That trust had faltered once or twice along the way, but essentially it had seen them through.

The crew had eventually learned to return the captain's faith in them, but now it seemed that relationship was being called into question. No word had been heard from her since they left the ship, either directly, through Chakotay or via any other source. Some members of the group, particularly the Equinox crew, had long since taken offence, and made underhand suggestions that she was now more worried about saving her own butt than trying to help any of the criminals she had brought home. Chakotay found himself, once again, defending his captain; though he was as unsure as some of the others about the reasons for her absence.

As he thought about Kathryn, his mind strayed to the possible outcome of her review. There had still been no indication as to what may happen to her. Surely Starfleet wouldn't make such a huge PR mistake as to throw the book at the heroic captain of Voyager, the lady who brought her ship home against the odds? He hoped they had more sense than that, but at the same time he realised that so far the crew had suffered very few consequences from their actions in the Delta Quadrant. The original crew had barely received a dozen reprimands between them, and whilst the Maquis had all been convicted except for the small group released at the end of the first week they had all been sentenced to time already served at worst. Essentially, they could all put it behind them.

It stood to reason that, as captain, Kathryn could be held accountable for everything that had gone wrong during the last seven years. If they had gone easy on the rest of the crew, why not use their captain as an example? It was, to coin a phrase, far more efficient to taint the record of one person, to lose one officer, than it was to throw an entire ship's personnel out of Starfleet. What they may not anticipate if they went down that route would be the crew's strength of feeling for their captain. If Starfleet did anything against her, the chances were they would lose the majority of the Voyager crew in protest.

It wouldn't be good for Kathryn, it wouldn't be good for their crew, and it wouldn't be good for Starfleet.

In fact, the only people it would benefit would be the media.

Lucky them.

Kathryn let herself in the kitchen door and walked through to the living room, calling for her mother as she went. However there was no reply, and she rapidly came to the conclusion that she was alone in the house. After returning to the kitchen briefly to fetch herself a glass of water, she collapsed onto one end of the sofa where Molly came to join her. The ageing dog clambered up beside Kathryn and laid her head in her lap in such a way that Kathryn couldn't resist stroking her. The rhythmical movement of her hand over Molly's soft fur soon became automatic, and as she started to relax Kathryn began to talk to her old friend.

"So, Molly, who'd have thought it, eh? Members of my crew are on trial and I'm nowhere near, having to hide in the background to help them out. After every promise I made them, every time I told them I would speak up for them when we got home... they must think I went back on my word.

"But I didn't! I'm doing everything I can. If I let them know I'm involved, it could do more damage than it would good. Hell, I could be no safer than the rest of them if what I've been told is anything to go by. How did it get this far, Molly, how did it get this far?

"Would you believe, there's even been complaints about me? I only overheard this, but it seems Crewman Lessing and Ensign Sharr both saw fit to file grievances over my actions on Voyager. I can only assume the brass is ignoring them since they haven't hauled me in for questioning yet. It seems my crew are not quite as loyal as they've been made out to be in the past. No, that's unfair. The majority of them have never given me reason to question their loyalty, and until they do I shouldn't pass judgement. After all, who am I to question loyalty, when I'm distancing myself from all of them now? I'm starting to wonder whether that was such a good idea, but I guess it's too late now. What's done is done.

"The isolation has been hard though, Molly. I'm so used to seeing them, working with them, laughing with them all every day. Every day for seven years I saw the same faces, heard the same voices, and now they've all been taken away from me. Or did I take myself away from them? I'm not even sure it matters anymore.

"But I miss them. I miss them so much. Every time one of them is mentioned on the news I feel like I'm going to cry. I saw Miral in the background of one of the reports last week; she's grown so much! And she's looking more and more like her parents everyday.

"I hope those on trial are doing okay. Maybe I should have sent a message to them all, just something personal telling them I missed them all and was keeping an eye on them from out here. Something so that they would know I hadn't forgotten about them, so that they would know I'm staying away not because I want to, but because I feel I have to.

"Though, I have to admit, staying away from them has its benefits. I just couldn't handle speaking to him now, Molly." As her mind switched gears to Chakotay, a single tear threatened to escape. Kathryn wiped it away before it had a chance to fall. "In all those years, I never saw this coming. I didn't think he even liked her; he certainly didn't agree with me when I kept her on board. And all those times we argued and she was the reason... it just doesn't make any sense."

Kathryn noticed she hadn't actually been speaking their names. A subconscious form of denial, perhaps? If she didn't actually speak their names together, it wasn't real? Whether this was the case or not, she decided not to dwell on it.

"You know, I even thought perhaps he was jealous of her. I always gave her a lot of my time, brushed him off more than once along the way because I was doing something with her. Maybe that had something to do with it. Hell, maybe I should have seen it coming! I've been the closest thing she's had to a mother since she was reclaimed from the borg, she must have picked up a few of my characteristics along the way. And well, when you consider that blondes have always seemed to be his thing... what could be more perfect for him?

"But damn it, I love him, and now I have to live with the same regrets the admiral battled with all her life. 'One of the things I regret in the small hours of the morning', she said, 'when sleep isn't possible' at least that won't be a new experience, I've lived with sleepless nights before." A second tear started to roll down Kathryn's face, and this time she made no effort to stop it. She cursed her counterpart's miscalculations... if she'd only had a chance.

As Kathryn's thoughts continued to dwell on Chakotay and Seven, the pressure behind her eyes increased as tears battled with her own will-power for supremacy. The tears won out, and for the first time since she had been home Kathryn finally broke down and cried. Her hand stilled on Molly's neck as she lost all control of her thoughts and feelings, crying for the might-have-beens and never-would-bes. Molly just lay patiently, lending her owner support, until finally Kathryn's tears were exhausted and she fell into a fitful sleep.

It was in that position that, hours later, her mother found her and left her, while she too went to get some rest.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Salada

Stardate: 55333.3

Subject: Commander Chakotay

Commander Chakotay's trial ended today. He was found guilty on all charges, but due to his service record aboard Voyager he received the minimum sentence for each one, to be served concurrently during his time on the ship. His sentence is therefore considered to be served and the matter closed. I await your instructions as to how to proceed at this time.

Chakotay arrived back at his quarters to find a message bleeping on his monitor. Activating the screen, he found that it was a text-only note from B'Elanna.


We heard about your result today no jail time, excellent news! We've been really worried about you, I was afraid they would try to make an example of you after the rest of us all got away with time served. I'm sorry we're not able to be with you to celebrate tonight, but we're in England; Kathleen just had her baby, and as I've come to realise those kids have a lousy sense of timing. To make up for it, you'll find a program dormant in your replicator's memory banks. Activate it, and invite someone over for dinner our treat. We'll talk to you soon.

B. '

Chakotay smiled, but it was only half-hearted. It was nice that B'Elanna had thought about him, but he actually didn't have anyone to celebrate with. The others had mostly moved on once their court proceedings and debrief had been completed. He had been as good as last, only Kathryn's review was still to come, so no one was left to celebrate now that he was free.

Deciding to make the most of the situation, Chakotay called up his favourite book on the screen and moved across to the replicator. Activating the program, a six-pack and pizza shimmered into existence in front of him; the choice had Tom's hand stamped all over it. They may have intended him to share the meal with someone, but he would just have to enjoy it alone.

Alone. Still in love with you...

Chakotay shook his head to clear it. Now wasn't the time to think about that conversation; now was the time to celebrate. He had beer, he had pizza, he had a good book.

So why did he find himself wishing for Antarian cider and burnt roast?

To: Commodore Salada

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55338.4

Subject: Commander Chakotay

Attachment: Job description and contract details

Thank you for your report concerning Commander Chakotay. I have personally reviewed his record, both his original Starfleet personnel file and the files from his time aboard Voyager. He has skills that would be an asset to Starfleet, and I believe he has in the past expressed a wish to teach. However, there is still a lot of bad feeling within the ranks about officers who left Starfleet to join the Maquis. For this reason I would recommend that he does not retain his position in Starfleet, although this of course remains his choice. Please offer the commander a civilian teaching post at the Academy. The details of this offer are contained in the attached file.

Commodore Salada's office was... different. Chakotay had been in many of his superior's offices in the past, but he'd never seen anything quite like this. Salada had seemed like such a normal, typical Starfleet character too. Yet here, in his office, the picture painted was far from normal. This had to be against regulations.

On each wall, there was a different theme. The wall that held the window was covered with photographs of famous landmarks from throughout the quadrant. Vulcan monuments, Betazoid waterfalls, Risan beaches... and each photo, in the foreground, contained an obviously imported image of the photographer. Salada himself.

The second wall, behind the desk, was painted with a starscape, simulating the image you might find out of a viewport at any one of the Federation's space stations.

The third wall was perhaps the most normal for an office. It contained only three frames. One contained the commodore's degree certificate, another his certificate of graduation from the Academy, and the third, a picture of himself and his wife on their wedding day.

The last wall, the one the door was built into, was without doubt the most odd. It was painted, like the second wall, but this time hundreds of tiny feathers had been used to print autumn colours onto the wall. Chakotay supposed that the colours could be somewhat soothing, and he couldn't deny that it probably looked stunning when the sun streamed in and hit at just the right angle, but it was... as he'd said before. Different.

And it gave Chakotay something to think about whilst he waited for Salada, who arrived twenty minutes late.

"I'm sorry Commander, take a seat." Finally looking up and seeing that Chakotay was already seated, Salada added, "Oh, you already have. Okay, let's get on with business."

The commodore went on to explain everything that Admiral Muir had mentioned to him, all the reasons for Chakotay to remain working for Starfleet along with an explanation of just why it would be in his best interests to do so as a civilian.

"Let me get this right," Chakotay interrupted, "basically, you're saying that if I were to stay in the 'fleet I'd be likely to come up against some bad feeling. I've been in the Maquis, fought hand-to-hand with more than my share of Cardassians, and you feel this would bother me?"

"Commander, please don't take this the wrong way..."

"Don't bother," Chakotay interrupted, "I've decided to go with your recommendation anyway. For my own reasons. I've been thinking long and hard about my position with Starfleet, and to be honest I hadn't come to a definite decision. I have many reasons to want to leave as I did once before, but I also have reasons to stay. The position you're offering me at the Academy allows me to have the best of both worlds, I'd be crazy to turn it down."

"So you're accepting our offer."

"I believe that's what I just said."

"Good," Salada's voice was full of relief, "would you like me to outline the terms to you now, or would you rather take a copy of the contract away with you to look over?"

"I'll take it away with me, if that's okay," Chakotay replied.

"Certainly." The commodore handed a PADD over. "Just read this through, and when you're satisfied sign the bottom and return it to me, preferably by the end of the day."

"You'll have it by the end of the morning, Commodore, along with my letter of resignation from the 'fleet."

"Thank you, Commander. And may I say that, whilst it's a shame to see an officer of your standing leave the service, I am glad we're not losing you completely."

"Thank you, Commodore." I think, Chakotay added to himself as he left the room, heading back to his quarters to read over the information on the PADD.

And of course, to write a letter. His second resignation from Starfleet. He doubted many people could claim to have done that.

To: Admiral Muir

From: Commodore Salada

Stardate: 55341.1

Subject: Commander Chakotay

Commander Chakotay has accepted the offered position and all terms of the agreement. Please find attached a signed copy of the contract.

Kathryn's performance review was underway, and after a typically horrendous Monday she let herself in and walked through to the living room, letting the door close behind her with a bang.

"Kathryn, is that you?" her mother called from upstairs.

"No, I'm just a figment of your imagination. The real Kathryn is still debating my various 'discretions' with the powers that be at headquarters." And the whole damn thing is just for show, she silently added, the ridiculousness of the situation getting to her.

Gretchen had made her way down the stairs whilst her daughter had been talking. "You look exhausted."

"I feel exhausted." As if to prove emphasise her point she collapsed rather ungracefully onto the sofa.

"You got a call this evening, can't have been more than twenty minutes ago actually. He didn't say who he was but I recognised him from the photos."

"Who was it, Mom?"


Kathryn was both surprised and confused at the same time. She hadn't spoken to Chakotay since they had left Voyager, and had no idea what he would need to talk to her about now.

"Did he leave any message?" she asked.

"No, sorry, honey." Gretchen watched as Kathryn's posture, if it were possible, drooped even more. Deciding to leave her to her bad mood she made her way back up the stairs, leaving her daughter hunched up on the sofa, hugging her knees.

Kathryn stayed like that for some time, thoughts racing through her head as to possible reasons Chakotay could have been calling her. You name a scenario, it entered her head. He had finished with Seven... He needed some advice now his trial was over... He wanted to see how she was... He and Seven were getting married... He wanted to apologise for not being in contact earlier... He needed to know why she had abandoned her crew as soon as they got home...

Endless trains of thought, but no conclusion any more or less likely than the other. Should she call him back? He had left no message. But after all this time to suddenly call out of the blue like that... it must have been important. Maybe something had happened, one of the crew was ill? No, if it were anything serious he'd have given some indication to her mother.

What would she say to him anyway? She wasn't sure she wanted to hear anything about him and Seven, but she knew that if she were to talk to him she wouldn't have much else on her mind. She just wasn't at the point yet where she could talk about it and pretend to be neutral, assuming she ever would be, so maybe it was better not to talk to him at all.

Kathryn got up and went to the replicator in the kitchen. Ordering a bowl of coffee ice cream, she sat down at the kitchen table not far from where Molly lay sleeping on the floor. That would be nice, to be able to just lie down and sleep like that. Kathryn felt like she could sleep for days, if only the brass would let her. And if only her thoughts would slow down! She had a feeling sleep would not come easily tonight though; her mind was too full of Chakotay and his call. Sighing, she took the rest of her ice cream upstairs to bed. It would be a long night.

Kathryn dragged herself into the office looking absolutely exhausted. As predicted she had tossed and turned all night, and despite already consuming four cups of coffee she still felt as if it would take a cortical stimulator to get her going this morning.

"Captain," Kessa exclaimed as she saw her, "you look dreadful!"

"Why thanks for that," Kathryn replied dryly. "I didn't sleep too well." And you still haven't grasped the idea of protocol, she added silently.

"So I see." Kessa started to fix her superior another cup of coffee as she continued to speak. "Well, I don't know if this will help ease your mind at all, but you got a call here just after you left last night, can't have missed it by more than five minutes."

"Chakotay." Kathryn said; not a question, a simple statement. She wasn't wrong.

"He said he tried calling you at your mother's, and tried here when he couldn't reach you. We had a brief conversation, and I was able to answer his questions. He wanted to know why you hadn't been more involved in the hearings for the Maquis crewmembers."

"What did you say?"

"I told him Starfleet are keeping you busy with their own business, and haven't left you with enough time to get involved in anything else. I also told him you'd been worried about everyone."

"Was that it?"

"Yes, I think so. He thanked me and signed off quickly after that. I hope I didn't say anything out of line."

"Right." Kathryn tried not to sound too disappointed, but deep down that was exactly how she felt. No matter how irrational she knew it had been, some part of her had still hoped he'd been calling to say it was all off with Seven and that he realised who it was he truly loved. Of course, the intellectual part of her had known that wasn't going to happen, certainly not quite as simply as that. But the part of her that was missing him, reaching out for him every day that she wasn't with him... that part of her was ready to jump at any possible chance to talk to him and convince him to change his mind, to come back to her.

Strong-willed, he'd said...

She needed to stick by her previous decision. She had to let Chakotay find his own happiness.

No matter how much it hurt.

Chakotay sat thinking over his new job, the details of which were now largely confirmed. He had, in fact, already started. The Academy had required him to do some work preparing curriculum proposals before he took his leave, so now that his resignation from Starfleet was confirmed he had jumped straight into the work. The job really did sound perfect for him. Working as a civilian instructor easily got around any misgivings he'd had about remaining in Starfleet. And, after some consideration, he had decided that Earth was where he wanted to be. He'd only lived on Earth during his time at the Academy, and although he regarded Earth as home he had no ties to keep him there. He only had a handful of blood relatives left, and only one or two were on Earth. However, he had a whole other family now, as close to him as any flesh and blood family had ever been. Of those that he knew about, the majority would be on Earth or within easy reach; most of them had their homes here, and he couldn't imagine them leaving to start new lives elsewhere. So when he'd looked at it that way, what reason did he have to leave?

Thinking about the rest of their crew and their plans for the future, his thoughts suddenly jumped back to a conversation he'd had with Seven on just that subject.


With a mixture of feelings he couldn't identify, he realised that he hadn't thought about her in months. More than four months. It had been that long, that long since he had seen her, spoken to her.

Touched her.

With all of his thoughts focused on the rest of Voyager's crew, Seven had never crossed his mind. No one else had mentioned her to him, either. Now that he did think about it, he started to realise he had always been thinking about the crew as three groups of people: the 'Starfleet originals', the ex-Maquis and the Equinox crew. Seven didn't fall into any of these categories, so maybe that was how she had escaped his roaming thoughts. Still, it disturbed him somewhat that someone who had had such a presence in his life just prior to their return had so easily dropped to the wayside.

He hoped someone had been looking out for Seven during the last few months. He knew she had an aunt here on Earth, but Voyager's crew were the only people she had really known since she was six years old. A sense of unease came over him as he realised that Kathryn had always been Seven's closest confidante on Voyager, if indeed Seven had such a thing. Not for the first time, he wondered if Kathryn knew about he and Seven. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed as though she must have.

An empty life ahead of me. Alone. Still in love with you...

Why would she have to be alone if she didn't believe him already taken? So if Kathryn did know, and she felt that way...

Would she contact Seven?

And if not, who else would do it? Certainly, Chakotay couldn't recall any specific mention of her by any of the crew he had been housed with. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that Seven had been alone these past few months. The thought was an uncomfortable one.


To: Commodores Ducci and Salada

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55360.3

Subject: Captain Kathryn Janeway

Attachment: Job description and contract details

As we approach the end of Captain Janeway's review the last of the proceedings concerning Voyager's crew I wish to thank you for the good work you have done over the last four months. So that you may be prepared for the coming days, I have attached details of the job Janeway is to be offered for your review. I must emphasise how important it is that this document not be released or discussed with anyone but myself until her hearing concludes. No one must know the predetermined nature of these proceedings. If you have any questions, my door is open to you.

To: All former Voyager crewmembers

From: Admiral Muir

Stardate: 55382.2

Subject: Completion of debriefing and review process

Please be advised that all official proceedings concerning your return are now complete. It just remains for me to request that you are careful with any releases you make to the press. We have tried to control the information made publicly available, but as I am sure you are aware, there are always leaks. Finally, welcome home once again. May I wish you all the best for the future, in whatever you have chosen to do.

The grounds of Starfleet Headquarters were heaving as both staff and visitors ran their lunchtime errands; but in amongst the crowds there was one stationary figure. Oblivious to the routine chaos around her, Kathryn Janeway stared up at the building in front of her with it's gleaming windows, trying to work out which one held behind it her new office, and with it, the only concrete part of her new life.

But even that stability wasn't completely, well, stable. She had two weeks to sort out a few loose ends before she started thirty days' leave. She was glad that she finally had a decent office space to work in, it was going to make it much easier to be organised before her leave started. Her first proper leave in seven years.

The new office a replacement for her previous cupboard and the new aide she was being assigned to replace the hopeless Feho, actually came with a new job she had been offered in preparation for the work on Voyager petering out. Sometime in the months after her return to duty she was to start at Utopia Planitia; a supervisory role, overseeing the work at the establishment. She had heard rumours around the complex that this position, whichever captain was finally awarded it, had always been intended to go hand-in-hand with a promotion to admiral, but she tried not to think about that too much. It certainly hadn't been mentioned in her meeting. What was more important to her was that it would allow her to remain on Earth. Mars wasn't very far to commute, and she wouldn't be needed there everyday anyway. Her base would be her office at headquarters, and she would also spend some time at the Academy updating instructors on the most recent changes in the design specs for new ships so that they could be incorporated into classes. All in all, it seemed the perfect position for her.

Giving up on counting windows, Kathryn moved to a nearby bench, sat down and closed her eyes with a gentle sigh. It had been one hell of a week. The job offer had come barely a day after the end of her performance review. She still felt a great unease at the commendations she had received in the wake of many of her crew's convictions. Though she still stood by every call she had made over the past seven years, she knew she had made many questionable decisions; decisions that her superiors would have been within their rights to criticise, even condemn. Instead, she had been forced to listen to their praise of her work, their admiration for her dedication and commitment to her promise to get her crew home, as in their summing up the brass had ignored all the 'discretions' they had previously discussed. She knew that she may not have been so lucky had Starfleet not had a tremendous need for heroes these days. She wished the need had been great enough to facilitate the exoneration of her entire crew.

Of course, she had had to make some apologetic noises concerning some discrepancies, but she couldn't honestly say that in the same situations she had been in in the Delta Quadrant she wouldn't have made the same decisions all over again. Even in the case of Noah Lessing, where she recognised now she had perhaps gone a little too far, she couldn't say with one hundred percent certainty that she wouldn't act the same way now if she were in the same situation. Hindsight may have provided a certain clarity but, as was the general nature of hindsight, temporal mechanics allowing, she hadn't been in possession of that hindsight at the time.

So her career was safe, flourishing even, and in time she would learn to live with the guilt she felt concerning her friends. Where did that leave her now? Living with her mother, sorting out a few loose ends, and then with thirty days' leave to fill. By the time her leave started it would have been five months since they arrived back on Earth.

Opening her eyes again Kathryn stared up into the surprisingly cloudless sky, imagining she could see Voyager in orbit up above her. It was almost heart-rending to think that, in seven and a half months' time, Voyager would land never to fly again. The only consolation to this was that her final journey would be made with her crew onboard, and that Kathryn had kept her promise to the ship: Voyager would not be dismantled and torn up for spare parts. Instead she would become a museum, a record of all that had happened aboard her and all who had resided within her hulls. Kathryn still wasn't quite sure how she felt about the idea. Having been told in the same meeting that had produced the job offer, she had barely had time to let the information filter through. One thing she was certain about though if it stopped them tearing her ship to pieces, it couldn't be all bad.

Thoughts of Voyager naturally led on to thoughts of her crew. Surprising even herself, Kathryn was worried about being able to see the others again. She hadn't had regular contact with any of the crew for months, except for her work on the Doctor's court case, and hadn't spoken to the ex-Maquis contingent at all since the day they were taken from her. She had been busy with her work, had spent almost every waking hour at HQ, so she had had very little contact with anyone other than her immediate superiors. She allowed herself a little chuckle at the thought that she was worrying more about the reunion with her crew than she had had any chance to about the separation. It had all happened so quickly upon their arrival at Earth that there hadn't been time to think about it. And now here she was, finally able to think about the future. Yet she didn't really know where to start.

Naturally, her thoughts ran to Chakotay. Kathryn wondered where he was now, and what he was doing. She knew the result of his trial, and that he had taken a teaching post at the Academy. She also knew his leave started this weekend, which meant she didn't have the smallest clue where to contact him now, if indeed she ever decided she would.

In all honesty, that was still an unlikely scenario. Four and a half months may have passed, but Kathryn still hadn't come to terms with the idea of Chakotay being with Seven. No matter how she had tried to rationalise it, she couldn't get away from the fact that she had always imagined that he would be hers as soon as they got back home. This had not been the homecoming Kathryn had imagined in more ways than one.

Realising that the day was moving on without her, Kathryn got up and headed for the transporter before she got any more lost in her own thoughts. She had the rest of the day off to recover from her hearing before jumping straight back into work with Voyager tomorrow, and she intended to make the most of it. Starting with a long, hot bath. With a sudden renewed spring in her step at that thought, Kathryn made it to the transporter rooms in record time.

Chakotay sat in the park outside Starfleet Headquarters staring up at the huge complex in front of him the huge complex that represented everything he was leaving behind. He'd left Starfleet before, but somehow it felt different this time. Maybe it was because he had no personal cause for which to go off and fight, or maybe it was because he wasn't really leaving Starfleet behind - he may not be visiting HQ again anytime soon, but he was going to be seeing a lot of the Academy.

Or maybe it felt different because of the people he was leaving behind. It wasn't so much that he didn't get on well with the crews he had worked with before leaving to join the Maquis, but more that other ships had never had the same sense of family as Voyager. Tom, B'Elanna, Harry, the Doc, Kathryn...

Kathryn. If no one else, that building definitely reminded him of Kathryn. It was everything she had always stood for.




And yet it wasn't. A life in Starfleet was almost the very opposite of freedom. Devote your life to Starfleet and you pledge your life, yourself, to their protocols, their regulations, their... parameters. That word still brought back memories.

Equality. What was equal about an organisation that only accepted the best of the best into its ranks? What was equal about an organisation that, as a matter of course, chose who was to live and who was to die.

And protection. Protecting whom? Their own? Certainly not his own people, his blood relatives. They protected the weak, but only when it suited them; or so it had seemed to him.

So why did he still want to work for them?

I did it for one reason, Chakotay.

Why did everything point back to Kathryn?

His train of thought was interrupted by someone speaking his name from behind him.


The tone and inflection in the voice were unmistakable, as was the feeling it invoked within him.


Suddenly, it became all too clear what he had to do.

"Seven, sit down."

Seven opened her mouth to tell him she was happy to stand, but quickly thought better of it and uncomfortably lowered herself to the ground beside him.

"How've you been?"

"I have been doing quite well. And you?"

"Not so bad, I think things are finally starting to slot together. I heard you were going to continue working for Starfleet."

"Yes, I will be starting work in the Engineering Department at Starfleet Headquarters. It will be different to working on Voyager, but I am looking forward to the challenge."

"I'm happy for you, Seven."

"Thank you. I haven't heard much about your own position, what will you be doing?"

"I've accepted a position at the Academy, teaching palaeontology and a little about the cultures of the Delta Quadrant."

"So we'll both be in San Francisco."

An uneasy silence followed, as Chakotay reacted to what Seven had said and decided it had to be done now. He had to get this sorted, there was no use putting it off.

"Seven, there's something I have to talk to you about. It's about us..."

"You do not wish to continue our relationship," Seven interrupted.

Chakotay was slightly taken aback, both by her boldness and by her perception. Then again, maybe he shouldn't have expected anything less; and maybe he had been silent for longer than he had thought.

"No," he confirmed, "I don't. I'm sorry, it's not that it hasn't been good getting to know you better, it's just that..."

"You have realised that in the long-term, I am not the one who can make you happy."

He wasn't sure how to respond to that. Just how perceptive was Seven? Was she simply saying that she wasn't the one, or had she worked out the truth about his feelings for Kathryn? Did she know about Kathryn's feelings for him?

I love you with everything in me...

"You sound like you already knew that, like you were waiting for this to happen."

"I have been aware of the possibility. Over the last months I have come to learn more about friendship than the Doctor would ever have been able to teach me aboard Voyager. I have watched the crew turn to each other for support as things grew difficult, but as things grew difficult for me, as I became apprehensive about my own future, I felt no need to share these feelings with you. The fact that you did not discuss your fears with me makes me suspect that you had no need for my company either. I am unaccustomed to being in a relationship but I believe that we both know now that this is not right for us."

A nod of his head was all the confirmation she needed from Chakotay, and it was all the confirmation she was going to get as his communicator bleeped to let him know someone was trying to contact him. He took the call before returning his full attention to Seven.

"I'm sorry, that was the academic secretary reminding me about my meeting with the curriculum committee this afternoon. I have to go."

Despite her earlier self-assuredness, Seven showed a brief moment of unease at Chakotay's imminent departure. She hadn't been in a relationship before, and she certainly didn't know how the end of one was supposed to go. She had no idea what she was expected to say or do, so for the first time in this conversation she let Chakotay take the lead.

"I'll see you around, I'm sure. Something tells me Voyager's crew will be together more than some of our superiors, or ex-superiors, would like."

"We were a unique crew, on a unique journey. It is... logical."

"I hope everything goes well for you, Seven."

"Likewise, Chakotay. Goodbye."


As Chakotay walked away from Seven and headed back to the Academy, he started to feel a new anticipation for his own future, and some small hope that maybe he could work things out. With Kathryn. He was gambling on a lot; that she still felt the same after these past months back on Earth; that she was willing to give him another chance after his recent follies with the ex-Borg - his second ex-Borg; and that despite their many differences, they would be able to make a relationship work, and last.

He was gambling a lot, he was gambling his heart, his body, his soul. But something deep inside told him it was worth it. She was worth it. And he believed it.

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