Summary: A Post Endgame fixer upper. Poor old Starfleet gets a bit of a bashing in this story but I’ve been dealing with electricity companies and banks for the last couple weeks and here is where I vented my spleen.
Pook, this one is for you, m’dear. Happy Birthday, cobber. Have a good one.
Thanks to Audabee for the read through but as always I’ve fiddled with it so any mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
This was hell!
No, it was worse than hell and, as the resident expert, I should know.
I’d spent the last seven years getting up close and personal with my very own version of hell but this was definitely worse.
My first command had ended in disaster. What began as a relatively straightforward three-week mission – in the blink of an eye – became a seventy-thousand light year odyssey through vast tracts of unknown space, each light year brimming with every conceivable permutation of evil alien and malevolent space dwelling life form. On the whim of a dying entity called the Caretaker, Voyager was dragged halfway across the galaxy and from that moment on, ‘straightforward’ became something of a non-starter. Our futures were irrevocably altered and for me it also meant assuming the onerous responsibility of getting as many of my crew and the surviving Maquis home.
Those seven years were pretty much as close as one gets to hell.
But this was worse.
I don’t know what the rest of the crew expected on our return to the Alpha Quadrant, but what we encountered was a universe away from how I’d envisaged our homecoming. It was the rudest of awakenings and I felt so cheated and angry; my insides burning white-hot from the sense of betrayal. Starfleet’s hostile reception had thrown us all for a loop – me most of all.
For almost seven years, the lure of the Alpha Quadrant had kept me focussed – my eye keenly on the prize and my head filled with blissful fantasies of our return. I’d imagined Starfleet welcoming us with open arms; lauding and praising us for our bravery and ingenuity; the Maquis pardoned, everyone promoted and, after a few weeks of R&R, all of us safely aboard Voyager once more to continue our mission to explore strange new worlds and civilizations.
My puerile imaginings couldn’t have been further from the harsh reality that awaited us but I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, when does reality ever live up to one’s fantasies? Real life is almost guaranteed to fall short of one’s expectations. But sage platitudes and hindsight aside, I was distraught. I felt as though I’d been hit by a phaser set on full stun and although the evidence was staring me in the face, it took me a while to truly comprehend the gravity of our situation. My disillusionment was overwhelming.
The minute the Borg sphere’s debris cleared, the Maquis were taken into custody and I’d spent the last four weeks fighting tooth and nail to secure their release. Using every Starfleet connection I had, I’d called in every favour, used all the negotiating skills I possessed – and then some; however, I’d made no inroads. I might as well have been banging my head against a goddamned duranium hull.
Starfleet remained immovable and resolute in their highhandedness. It wasn’t until my mother and Phoebe suggested that I toss out the old rulebook and begin my own campaign of intimidation that we saw progress. It took some deft manoeuvring and sleight of hand to maintain my anonymity, but I made the necessary connections and started feeding true but damning information to the independent press.
The instantaneous and frenzied swell of negative public opinion finally put a dent in Starfleet’s sanctimonious shields. All of a sudden, they sat up and took notice, and it was about damned time too. They had their suspicions about my involvement and even had the gall to threaten me with a court martial and demotion if it were proven, but their pathetic intimidation tactics didn’t scare me. If they thought I would give any consideration to backing down, they were sorely mistaken. I’d come up against far more terrifying adversaries than they could ever imagine. What I wouldn’t have given to lob a few Vidiians or Kazon into their laps to see how they coped.
They had no idea with whom they were dealing. The post Delta Quadrant Kathryn Janeway was an entirely different animal to the starry-eyed, naive martinet they’d sent on that three-week mission all those years ago. I was no wet behind-the-ears virgin captain anymore and I could be just as stubborn and dogged as they were – even more so. I was fighting for my crew’s survival; nothing was more important to me than that and I was well practiced at laying everything on the line for them.
I refused to retreat, and with the help of various advocacy groups and the ongoing press campaign, Starfleet at last relented and released the Maquis from custody. I choose to see it as a victory but I also knew there would be ramifications. I’d won the battle – if not the war – but the trouble with implacable institutions like Starfleet is that they take great offence at being railroaded.
But I had news for them – so do certain Starfleet captains.
I was pissed, royally pissed – and not just with them. I was angry with myself as well. How could I have been so naive to not see what was going to happen once we reached Earth? I’d been so blind. I’d trusted in an organization that for the last year had been milking me for information about the Maquis. What the hell did I think they were going to do with that information? Chakotay had tried to warn me but I’d been my stubborn and arrogant self and because of that, he and a cherished part of my crew had paid the price. The guilt and regret were hard to bear.
I should have known. I’d been privy to classified documentation and records regarding the Dominion conflict, and it didn’t take a genius to read between the lines. With the Cardassian Union and Klingon Empire in disarray, and the Romulans and Federation vying for power in the post-war Alpha Quadrant they were looking to silence any dissenters and remove from circulation any reminders of their short-sightedness and failure. Voyager’s arrival had played right into their hands with the only surviving Maquis ripe for exploitation by power hungry factions within the Federation Council and upper echelons of Starfleet. I can’t believe I fell for their lies and manipulations.
Any institution that could so ruthlessly screw over its member planets and citizens for its own ends would have no compunction about taking advantage of a few dispossessed freedom fighters. I only had to look at Chakotay’s tribe and their experiences to know what Starfleet and the Federation Council were capable of and I’d spent seven years with the Maquis – I’d heard the stories and knew the truth. I don’t know why I’d so stubbornly refused to see what was right in front of me, but lifelong loyalties are hard to surrender.
It had cost me dearly, however, more than anyone would ever know – more than I was even willing to admit to myself. If I did, the self-recrimination would likely send me mad.
I was all too aware that I’d been manipulated and used. Starfleet knew the old Kathryn Janeway well – my pedigree, my command style and dedication to the ideals of the Federation. As unorthodox as I could be at times, I had always been a stickler for the rules and it galled me to think that they could so unscrupulously use my allegiance against me, and ultimately against my crew.
I’d followed their goddamned regulations to the letter out there. I’d compromised my relationships, my sanity, my life and, at times, the lives of others in doing so. I’d invested everything in toeing the Starfleet line and this was how they repaid me?
I know, I know, it’s not all about me, but as captain, it started with me and those standards that I’d upheld so diligently set the tone for the rest of the crew. I’d run a tight ship – I thought I had to – and I’d adhered rigidly to Starfleet values; I’d kept myself aloof, maintained a stringent hierarchy and stuck to those fucking protocols as though my life depended on it, and what did it get me?
I was alone, exhausted, worn to the bone with worry and now I had the fight of my life on my hands to make sure that bringing my crew home wasn’t the biggest and most costly mistake I’d ever made.
The disappointment was killing me and I was afraid of what would become of me at the end of all this. I’d never been so scared in my life or so fearful of failure, but my duty to the crew was still paramount and until they were safe, I had no choice but to persevere. I’d deal with the aftermath when the time came. As long as my crew were safe, nothing else mattered.
But it was all so damned unfair. We deserved better. My crew had done an amazing job out there under the most extreme of circumstances and to top it off, we’d accomplished some of the most extraordinary feats in Starfleet history – a thirty-thousand light year dash through a transwarp conduit, the destruction of a Borg hub and decimation of the Collective. When I thought about the injustice of it all, my vision blurred red and I could barely breathe, but I refused to let those malicious morons in charge undermine all that we’d achieved or allow them to tarnish the proud name of Voyager’s crew, both living and dead. We’d fought the good fight, taken what I thought were the best of Starfleet’s edicts and positively influenced hundreds of civilizations across that far-flung quadrant. We’d battled the Borg and won, and brought back with us a mind-boggling cache of technology and knowledge.
But none of that seemed to matter. The nitpicking, pedantic bastards sitting in their nosebleed offices overlooking San Francisco Bay just didn’t seem to get it. All the ideals that Starfleet had once stood for – loyalty, honour, integrity and courage had been thrown out with the Dominion Conflict bathwater and Voyager’s crew had been caught in the deluge.
I was beyond livid knowing that even though my crew had been the embodiment of those ideals, the powers-that-be seemed intent upon undermining and misrepresenting them – for what purpose, I couldn’t even guess. All I knew was that we had to get out of there; I had to get everyone away from the clutches of this institution that seemed hell bent on destroying our lives.
The entire crew travelled to New Zealand for the Maquis’ release and we whisked them away from the Federation Penal Settlement as quickly as we could before battening down the hatches to await the repercussions. I was immensely proud of everyone and the loyalty they’d shown their Maquis counterparts but it tore at me to think that so many extraordinary men and women would find their career paths jeopardised because of the part they’d played in the fight for justice for their shipmates. I’d tried to discourage them from becoming involved but they’d refused point blank to abandon their shipmates and now all they could do was wait while I went into battle to win back what was rightfully theirs.
Many of Voyager’s original Starfleet crew had resigned in protest and I’d been sorely tempted to follow suit but as satisfying as it might have been in the short term, it would have been a hollow victory; a case of cutting off my nose to spite my face – as Aunt Martha would say. As limited as it was, I needed the leverage afforded by my position to continue the fight. My Starfleet clearance allowed me access to databases, files and communiqués that would have otherwise been off limits.
For now, I kept the pressure on and made my presence felt, turning up to headquarters every day to lobby for my crew’s status and the compensation they deserved, – both financial and professional.
It took time, a vast amount of energy and I was down two uniform sizes by the time Starfleet finally caved in. Pressure from the Federation Council on the back of the public’s demand for a fair and equitable resolution for the Voyager crew, forced the CinC and his gang of toadies to reluctantly agree to my terms.
I took a certain perverse pleasure in being witness to their grudging capitulation and watched with relish as they put their thumbprints to the documents that would ensure that all of my crew would retire with full benefits – no matter what their initial affiliation. Written assurances that they would be neither hounded in their civilian life nor prejudiced against in job applications and career opportunities were gazetted, as were appropriate pensions for the families of those crewmembers who hadn’t made it back. Those inclusions had been a particular triumph but I deeply resented the fact that I’d had to fight for what should have been graciously forthcoming.
Starfleet’s callousness and insensitivity made my next move all the more gratifying.
Once I had lodged the affidavits with the appropriate authorities and made certain of their legal authenticity, I marched back into Starfleet Headquarters and the offices of the presiding panel of Admirals. Without a word, I shrugged out of my uniform jacket, tore the pips from my collar and threw them at the feet of the CinC. I took a moment to look each of them in the eye before I turned and marched out of the room. My letter of resignation had already been sent and with that final act of defiance, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders.
The anguish that I thought would overwhelm me simply didn’t eventuate. I was free and so were my crew.
I had finally brought them home – perhaps not to the life they or I had expected – but adversity was an old friend and I knew we would survive and thrive – I would make certain of it.
As I stepped out the doors of Starfleet headquarters – quite possibly for the last time – I stood at the top of the stairs and took a moment to reflect. This was it. The beginning of my new life. I briefly turned to look back at the way I’d come but I refused to let regret follow me. It was time to start afresh. After seven of the toughest years of my life, I had a clear view of the horizon and nothing stood in my way. With a deep breath, I prepared to forge forth but before I could take that momentous first step, a surprise awaited me.
“Kathryn?” Chakotay stepped from the shadows into the sunlight. He’d been waiting for me.
I should have known.
Where sorrow and devastation should have harboured, I felt a rising tide of joy. Our eyes met and the unique connection we shared – the one that had kept my head and heart whole during our seven-year odyssey – snapped into place and I watched, enthralled, as his mouth softened into a gentle smile – that wonderfully familiar smile that I so dearly loved.
For several heartbeats, I remained riveted to the spot, my mind awash with memories and moments of our years together – of our deep friendship and affection for one another. We’d made a formidable team and I owed him much. I wouldn’t have made it home without him and I felt a small stab of regret that I hadn’t told him more often just how much he meant to me.
But – it was what it was and we were who we were.
Hindsight, in my opinion is overrated – it’s not as if one can go back and change history – except, I amended wryly, if you’re me and decide twenty odd years in the future to break every rule in the book, steal temporal technology and rewrite that history. I decided not to dwell too much on that thought. Instead, I studied the handsome face of my former first officer and wondered briefly, what life was going to be like without his constant presence.
I knew that we would remain friends but it wouldn’t be the same as working with him every day. I was going to miss him dreadfully – that much I knew for sure. For seven years, we’d spent the greater part of each day in each other’s company, both on and off duty and to only see him for the occasional dinner and crew get-together was going take some getting used to. The very thought made my heart break a little. He’d been integral to my survival out there; as my sounding board, the keeper of my secrets, my safe harbour – a hugely important part of my life for all those years – and I dreaded having to cut those ties.
I could almost hear him telling me that it hadn’t all been rainbows and unicorns, and he would be right. We’d had our falling outs and disagreements but we’d always managed to find our way back to one another – always.
All these thoughts swept through my mind as I stood there watching him. He, in turn, had been studying me; most likely gauging my mood – he’d become something of an expert in reading me over the years. Tilting his head to the side a little, he frowned. He must have been able to see the sadness seeping through but rather than address it, probably based on the fact that I’d refuse to reveal the true source of my sorrow anyway, he nodded towards my lack of uniform jacket and pips.
The reason for their absence was self-explanatory and his eyes reflected empathy. “You resigned. Are you all right?”
I took a couple of steps down towards him, as he took a few steps up – always in sync, the two of us. I smiled. “I’m fine. More than fine.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. “You?”
He reached towards me and nodded, his smile broadening as I took his hand and held it tight. His dimples flashed at me and his voice was light. “Couldn’t be better.”
His touch was warm and reassuring and I breathed deeply, glad of the connection – I hadn’t realised just how much I needed it and how much I’d missed it.
The warmth of his hand contrasted starkly with the cold whip of wind coming off the bay and I shivered. But I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was from the cold or from his touch. However, with the shiver came a flutter deep in my middle that was definitely a reaction to his presence; a very familiar response that I’d spent years quashing and ignoring. This time, however, I took a moment to analyse the sensation and decided that without the accompanying surge of panic triggered by the fear of discovery, it was actually very pleasant. Very pleasant indeed – and food for thought.
I glanced around to see if any other crewmembers were with him but he was alone. I wondered if this was intentional on his behalf or the crew’s, but decided that it didn’t matter one way or the other. Neither of us was answerable to anyone anymore. Our lives were our own. We were free.
His brief relationship with Seven was over; not that it had ever really amounted to much. Admiral Janeway’s arrival and her revelations about our futures had seen to that. I’d obviously become much less of a stickler for the rules in my old age. Her disclosures had been pivotal in my decision to follow her plan to get Voyager home and although I knew that Chakotay would play a part in my future, exactly what that role might be was yet to be revealed. I’d be a fool to pretend that I didn’t want more than mere friendship but I was unsure of his feelings. Years of diligently deflecting romantic overtures and reining in my own needs and desires made me entirely ill-equipped to read Chakotay’s intentions – if he indeed had any. For the moment, it remained a waiting game.
Giving my hand a small tug, he waited until I was level with him at the bottom of the stairs before he let go. I felt the loss of contact keenly and yearned to touch him again but unwilling to overstep those self-imposed boundaries too soon, I gave him a warm smile to cover my reaction and my surprise. This resurgence of my feelings towards him wasn’t entirely unexpected but I hadn’t thought it would happen quite so suddenly or easily. Where had they come from and where the hell had they been hiding for all these years? Obviously not far away considering how quickly they’d found their way to the surface again.
I began to walk towards the exit, making it two or three steps before I realised he wasn’t walking with me and it was only when I turned back towards him that I noticed he had a coat draped over his arm. Smiling, he lifted it to cover my shoulders and I marvelled at his insight and that he’d known to come prepared. His uncanny knack of knowing what I was thinking even before I knew myself was a little disconcerting but it was also incredibly endearing.
I waited while he draped the jacket over my shoulders but he didn’t move away immediately. Instead, he stepped close behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders; the warmth and weight of them were a godsend. It was exactly what I needed and I wondered if the connection was something he needed too. This was new territory for both of us, sort of. I’d been here in my dreams many times and with that thought came a momentary stab of panic as I wondered if this reality would follow the disaster trail of my homecoming fantasies – that would be just my luck.
Unsure of what to do, I waited, as still as stone and barely breathing.
He was so close behind me, his body almost touching mine; the heat of him radiating down my back. I could hear his slow steady breaths and feel them against the fall of my hair. His proximity was having a profound effect on me and I was at something of a disadvantage. Perhaps it was the lack of armour; without my Starfleet uniform and pips I felt vulnerable and defenceless. I almost snorted at that ludicrous train of thought. Chakotay wasn’t the enemy – he was the furthest thing from an enemy that I could think of. This was the man I trusted with my life and he was simply doing what he had always done – looking after me – but the jolt of want that had landed low in my belly was skewing my responses. I swallowed painfully and, to cover my confusion, I went about the mundane task of sliding my arms into the sleeves of the coat before turning and giving him a quick nod of thanks.
It appeared that he wasn’t finished with me yet and moving in front of me, began to fasten the jacket. I could only stare at him as he lowered his eyes and frowned in concentration as he slid the zipper end into the pull and slowly raised it until it was tucked under my chin and I was snugly cocooned in what I now realised was one of his coats. It smelled of him – his cologne and his scent – it was a heady moment and my desire for him surged.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me or how this had happened, but in the space of a few minutes, the entire dynamic of our relationship had changed. Not just changed, it had made a quantum shift and I began to see a subtle changes in Chakotay as well. He wasn’t my subordinate anymore and he never would be again. We were now equals. With my resignation and the tossing of my pips, I’d demolished all the barriers and walls that had kept us apart all these years.
I lifted my eyes to meet his again and was witness to this none-too-subtle transformation. Here was the man who had been captain of his own ship, a Maquis fighter and now free man in his own right. I inhaled shakily, my eyes wide with realisation, and watched a slow knowing smile break across his features.
I was stunned. Delightedly so and without thinking, whispered, “Oh my god, really?”
He nodded slowly and then laughed when my hands landed with a dull thud against his chest. I’m not sure if he realised but I wasn’t merely making contact again; I was unsteady on my feet and needed his support but it didn’t matter, I knew that whatever happened, he would never let me fall. Ever.
I’m renowned for thinking fairly quickly on my feet but my mind had suddenly become sluggish. My immediate world had begun to move in slow motion but my other senses were spinning at warp speed. I could feel his heart pounding under my hands, the heat of him through his coat, and I could hear the rapid in and out of his breathing. Even though on the surface he appeared unaffected by what was happening, his hammering heartbeat told an entirely different story and the thought made me bold. I gave him a dazzling smile.
His eyes crinkled at the corners in response and then his hand slid up under my jawline, his fingers weaving into the hair at the nape of my neck as his thumb stroked gently over my cheek. His touch sent a shiver through me again and I closed my eyes to concentrate on the sensations filtering through the fog of my spiralling arousal. I’d never wanted anyone or anything so much in my life and all he’d done so far was touch my neck. I opened my eyes as I drifted closer to him.
I tried to focus on his eyes, they told their own story and I’d never seen them filled with such warmth and love. I could have happily drowned in them.
We were only inches apart and although a small part of me was still aware that we were on Starfleet grounds – in fact, just outside the main entrance of Headquarters – I didn’t care. It didn’t matter, not one iota. We were where we were meant to be – together – and before either of us could change our minds or disaster struck; I closed the distance between us and pressed my lips to his. It began as a chaste kiss, a mere press of my mouth against his but it soon deepened. He groaned and grasped the back of my head, holding me to him we kissed with a passion held at bay for almost seven years.
My fingers curled into the fabric of his jacket, and his arms wrapped around me, holding me tight against him. His tongue teased at the corners of my mouth and I drew away momentarily, panting heavily before I tangled my fingers in his hair and pulled him back towards me, my mouth open and willing under his. Our bodies were flush against one another’s and I could feel the heat and hardness of him pressing against me. The mere thought sent flaming rushes of want ricocheting through my body and I moaned into his mouth before I pulled back and stared.
I glanced downward and then met his gaze with a wide-eyed one of my own.
He gave a small shrug and with eyes bright, muttered, “Umm, sorry.”
I laughed. For the record, he didn’t look the least bit sorry. It was the first time I’d laughed in weeks and it felt damned good.
It also eased the sweet tension between us and my mouth twisted into a wry grin. “There are some things you should never apologise for – and that’s one of them!” I stepped back into his arms and surreptitiously tilted my hips into him. My intention was clear as I grinned, “I have elaborate plans for that.”
This time, he laughed and swept my hair back from my face, tucking a few stray strands behind my ear, before he kissed me again – my eyes, my cheek, my nose, my neck, the whole time whispering words against my skin that I couldn’t quite understand. It was erotic, but in the gentlest of ways. All I wanted to do was to curl into his arms, forget the world around us existed and never leave the safe cocoon of his embrace.
Realisation slowly seeped into my bones – we could do exactly that.
There were no protocols governing our actions, no regulations to come between us, or what we so desperately wanted – each other. The delicious hum of want vibrated through my body but here on the front steps of Starfleet headquarters was not the place. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want this new and wondrous part of my life to be tainted by my disappointment in this institution. It wasn’t a part of our future and never would be. So dragging myself away from him, I tucked my arm through his, and biting my bottom lip, I hummed, “We should go.”
Chakotay quirked a smile in my direction before extricating his arm from my clutches and nonchalantly draping it around me to hold me close to his side.
With my head comfortably tucked against his shoulder and my arm around his waist, we headed towards the exit of the Starfleet campus.
He paused as we stepped through the imposing gateway and as reluctant as I was to make a detour from the course I’d set, he made a point of turning me back towards the familiar skyline and grounds. I knew what he was doing and my chest tightened as my heart swelled with love and gratitude. He was giving me an opportunity to reconsider, to take a moment to reflect on my decision. He knew me well.
I’d set myself a secret challenge – once I passed through these gates, there would be no going back – ever. The bridges had been burned, the connection permanently severed but Chakotay also understood that it had been my life and my passion since as far back as I could remember and I loved him all the more for allowing me this moment. His solid presence was my shield against the grief and bitterness that I would eventually have to confront but we would deal with the fallout when the time came. Knowing that I wouldn’t be facing it alone gave me confidence, and I knew that I’d survive. We both would, but I admired his courage and his selflessness. He had no guarantee that I wouldn’t suddenly change my mind and return to the old ways – the comfort of the devil I knew. But one look at his dear face and the love and sympathy reflected in those dark eyes was more than enough to reassure me. I didn’t have a doubt in the world. He was my world.
Reaching up, I pulled his face towards me and kissed him hard before stroking my fingers over those beautiful and mysterious blue lines on his forehead. “I love you.”
I think I surprised him but giving him a shrug and a smile, I decided that those three words said it all. He knew me well enough to know that woven into them was my commitment to him and our future.
He breathed deeply and a little shakily. The depth of my love and strength of my conviction had rocked him to his foundations – I was quite proud of the effect I was having on him and to emphasise my words, I turned my back on Starfleet – figuratively and literally – tucked myself against his side again and without a backward glance, headed towards home.