Desperate Measures
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Summary: They’re home… but it’s not what they hoped for. Estranged by circumstance and misunderstanding and kept apart by devious design, Voyager’s former command team are drawn into a world of danger, deception and political intrigue that could end up costing their lives.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Seven, Kim, Tuvok, Torres, Paris, Sekaya, Original Female Characters, Original Male Characters

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Other, Chakotay/Seven, Kim/Seven

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Warning: Non-consensual sex depicted.

Rated E

Small talk is a great disguise
Just let me be, just let me be
Empty thoughts start to crowd my mind
Am I only living, living to survive?
– Faith Marie, Antidote

===0===

 

Chapter Two: The Delta Quadrant’s Darling
May, 2378



Kathryn had been right, Chakotay mused as he pinned on his brand-new captain’s pips. Voyager’s former Maquis crewmen had been welcomed into Starfleet with open arms, and most of them, including himself, had been immediately promoted.

He’d taken Seven to Trebus after debriefings had finished. She’d got along surprisingly well with his sister Sekaya, so well that she’d been reluctant to return to Earth a month later. Officially they were still on leave until the beginning of July, but Chakotay had wanted to get back to Earth. He anticipated that some of the Voyager crew would have trouble adjusting to their return and there wasn’t much he could do for them from several sectors away.

And now his presence had been requested at Starfleet Headquarters. He assumed he was about to be given his next assignment. He wondered if it would be a ship of his own.

It wouldn’t be Voyager; of that he was certain. The ship was at Utopia Planitia being picked over by swarms of engineers and wasn’t expected to be recommissioned any time soon. At least Lieutenant Commander Torres was in charge of the operation, and Seven would be acting as Starfleet’s civilian consultant on the peculiarities of Voyager’s Borg componentry.

Seven and B’Elanna seemed to have resumed the truce they’d held before he and Seven had become a couple, which was a relief; Chakotay hadn’t enjoyed having his girlfriend and best friend at loggerheads. Not that B’Elanna hadn’t expressed a few choice opinions over his romantic decisions.

“Just tell me what the hell you’re thinking,” she’d demanded one night over a few too many glasses of wine. “She’s half your age, Chakotay.”

“But twice my IQ,” he’d countered with a smile, “not to mention she’s actually very sweet. And she’s not half my age.”

“Practically,” B’Elanna had snorted. “She’s what, twenty years younger than you? Don’t you think you’d be better matched with someone closer to your own age?”

I used to, he’d thought. But she’s made it crystal clear that she’s not interested.

“Seven is more mature than you give her credit for,” he’d replied mildly. “And besides, we’re taking things slowly. I have no intention of hurting her.”

“It’s not her I’m worried about,” B’Elanna muttered, but she’d dropped it at that – only to move onto the even less comfortable topic of his ruined friendship with their former captain. It didn’t matter how deftly he tried to dodge the subject; B’Elanna wouldn’t rest until he’d promised to call Kathryn the next day.

It had taken him most of the next day to work himself up to placing the call, only to reach Kathryn’s aide instead, a willowy brunette whose hauteur and patrician features reminded him oddly of Seven; Lieutenant Jens had assured him Kathryn would return his call the following day. She didn’t, and when he commed her office again, Jens’ politeness was edged with impatience. Chakotay was left with the distinct impression that neither Kathryn nor her aide would welcome further contact.

And when B'Elanna wanted to know if he intended to keep trying to reach Kathryn anyway, Chakotay had evaded the subject, and when pressed, muttered vague half-truths.

About Seven, though, he hadn’t lied; they had been taking it slowly. He’d been content with dinner dates and chaste kisses. But it seemed Seven hadn’t.

The seduction took him completely by surprise. They'd finished a picnic at Golden Gate Park and walked back to Seven's apartment hand in hand. At the door, he bent to kiss her goodbye – just a brief press of his lips to hers – and she had wound her arms around his neck and pulled him inside, pressing her body to his.

Until that point, when they kissed, he’d always kept his hands strictly above her shoulders and his kisses gentle and controlled, and Seven had mentioned once or twice that she appreciated his restraint. Apparently she had changed her mind. She bit down on his lip, pushed her hips against his, tugged open his shirt and splayed her hands across his bare chest, and Chakotay had pulled back, breathing heavily.

“Seven, what are you doing?”

Her face was flushed. “We have been exclusively dating for four months, Chakotay. According to my research, most couples consummate their relationship well before this stage.”

He took her hands in his and kept his voice gentle. “There’s no golden rulebook for relationships, Seven. You don’t need to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“I appreciate your patience with me. But I believe I’m ready.” She bit her lip. “I would like to be intimate with you. That is,” she looked up at him with anxiety in her eyes, “if you’re willing.”

Chakotay looked at her lush body, her swollen lips, her darkened eyes, and couldn’t deny his own response. “Oh, I’m willing,” he murmured, and bent to capture her mouth.

He’d done his best to go slowly, to draw out her pleasure, to make it all about her, and he thought he’d succeeded. Afterward she lay half over him, boneless and smiling as he traced her spine with his fingertips.

“Are you okay?”

“Very much so,” she murmured drowsily. “You exceeded my expectations.”

“Glad I measured up,” he teased.

“You were perfect,” Seven mumbled, and drifted off to sleep.

She had upped the intensity of their relationship after that night. Wanted to spend more time with him. Moved some of her belongings into his apartment, and invited him to keep his at her place. Spent the night with him several times a week, usually initiating sexual contact within half an hour of arriving. In fact, she’d become somewhat insatiable. Chakotay felt like he was off-balance most of the time – seven years of abstinence, bar a few short dalliances, and now he was bedding a beautiful young woman almost every night. It wasn’t that he couldn’t keep up with the pace, but he felt …

He didn’t know what he felt. It all just seemed so … empty. The sex was great – Seven was in that, as in all things, a talented and diligent student – and it was nice to be physically close to someone after so many years starved of contact, but something was missing. As soon as the post-orgasm afterglow faded, all he felt was …

Empty.

 

===0===


Tossing her jacket on the pristine bed she hadn’t slept in for almost a month, Kathryn moved toward the bathroom, shedding pieces of her uniform as she went. Her steps felt leaden. By the time she sat naked on the edge of the enormous ensuite bathtub, her eyes were almost closed.

“Computer, fill the tub. Thirty-seven degrees Celsius. Vanilla scented bubbles.”

The computer chirped and delicious-smelling water began to stream into the tub. As soon as it was full enough, Kathryn lowered herself into the bath with a sigh.

Incoming transmission, the computer informed her.

Kathryn could barely summon the energy to groan. “Who is it from?”

Fleet Admiral Nyla Kjogo.

Cursing under her breath, Kathryn hauled herself out of the bath, wrapping a robe tightly around her over-punished body. She sat at her desk and activated the commlink.

“Good evening, Admiral. What can I do for you?”

~I’ve made some adjustments to your schedule for next week, Kathryn. The Regulan premier has decided to pay a surprise visit to Earth and I’m assigning you to show him around. It’ll be good for publicity. Lieutenant Jens will handle the details of your travel and appearances.~

“Admiral,” Kathryn couldn’t hide her dismay, “I’ve already made plans for next week. I’m going to spend some time with my mother. I’ve barely seen her since Voyager got home. You provided your approval.”

~Well, you’re going to have to postpone your little holiday. President Zife has specifically asked that this assignment be given to you.~

President Zife, Kathryn thought sourly. You’d think the man had a personal stake in ensuring I never get a moment’s rest.

“Admiral, I’ve just come back from a whistle-stop tour of seven member planets across three sectors, and before that I was out pressing the flesh and posing for photos in the former Demilitarised Zone for two weeks. Your aides have me spending every spare moment giving media interviews and being fitted for ridiculous haute couture ballgowns, and that personal trainer you assigned to me is a slave driver. I haven’t worked out so hard or so frequently since I was a cadet.” She paused to get her temper back under control. “I need some downtime with my family, sir. I’m exhausted.”

~Then you’d better make sure you get some rest tonight, Kathryn, and for God’s sake get a treatment done on those under-eye circles. You don’t want to look like a haggard old crone in the PR shots. Kjogo out.~

The screen went black.

Kathryn didn’t know whether to scream, burst into tears or throw the console across the room. But she’d spent seven years ruthlessly tamping down her emotions and it was a hard habit to break, so instead she sucked in a deep breath, went over to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a very large scotch.

 

===0===


“Captain Chakotay, you are hereby assigned to Starfleet Intelligence, reporting directly to Admiral Owen Paris. I believe you’re acquainted?”

“We are.” Chakotay shook Paris’ hand, then turned back to study Admiral Kjogo; she met his gaze steadily. “Forgive me, Admiral, but I thought Admiral Paris reported to you, under the Communications Division?”

“Now that Project Pathfinder has been downgraded, Owen has been reassigned. I understand you’re still on leave for another two weeks, Captain, but I expect he’d like to give you an introductory briefing now.”
    
Kjogo rose to her feet and Chakotay and Paris mirrored her.

“Congratulations, Captain. Given your background, I’m sure you’ll find counter-intelligence is an appropriate posting to utilise your skills.”

“Thank you, Admiral. If I might prevail on you for a moment longer?”

Kjogo cocked an impatient eyebrow.

“I understand Admiral Janeway reports directly to you. Her former crew hasn’t seen her for weeks, and they – we – miss her. Can you tell me if her schedule allows for a Voyager get-together in the near future?”

“Kathryn is a very busy woman, Captain. I’m afraid she’ll be fully occupied for some time to come.”

Chakotay’s forehead crinkled. “Surely she gets a day off every now and then?”

Kjogo shrugged. “As I said, she’s a busy woman. I can’t see her finding the time to mingle with lower crewmen when she has so many important engagements, but I suppose I could instruct her aide to book you in for an hour in, say, a month or so?”

Chakotay’s jaw loosened. “Do you mean to tell me Kathryn hasn’t had a moment to herself since debriefings, and there’s no respite in sight?”

The admiral drew herself up to her full, impressive height; Chakotay found himself eye-to-eye with her. “Admiral Janeway’s schedule is no longer your concern, Captain, in case you’ve forgotten. You don’t answer to her anymore. As for respite, Kathryn is grateful to be home – that’s all the rest and relaxation she needs.”

“You make it sound as though Kathryn should be grateful to you, Admiral.” Chakotay stared at her levelly.

Kjogo flicked an unreadable glance toward Owen Paris, whose expression remained impassive, then turned back to Chakotay. “I’m sure you of all people are aware of Janeway’s propensity for reckless decisions, Captain. It’s largely thanks to my intervention that she wasn’t brought up on numerous charges after Starfleet examined Voyager’s mission logs. So, yes. She should be grateful.” Kjogo smiled without warmth. “As should you,” she added over her shoulder as she exited the room.

Chakotay turned back to Paris in disbelief. “Excuse my bluntness, sir, but is she serious?”

Owen sat behind his desk, waving Chakotay to the seat opposite. “About her having intervened with Command to ensure Katie avoided misconduct charges? Serious as a heart attack.” He steepled his fingers, watching Chakotay carefully. “What Nyla declined to explain is that she also intervened on your behalf. And on behalf of Tom and the rest of your crew, including that young lady you’ve been seen out and about with so frequently. Your welcome home could have been a lot less friendly without Admiral Kjogo’s influence.”

Chakotay’s eyes narrowed. “You make it sound as though Admiral Kjogo singlehandedly kept us all out of prison out of the goodness of her heart.”

“Do I?” Owen asked mildly. “Well, I’m sure Katie’s had something to do with that as well. After all, she hasn’t missed an opportunity to praise her former crew to the media.” Paris continued to stare at him. “And you and I both know how much Katie loves the spotlight.”

“Kathryn hates the –” Chakotay paused, reading the glimmer in Owen’s eye. Closing his mouth, he sat back as comprehension rushed over him.

So Kathryn had been dragooned into service as Starfleet’s media darling under threat of losing her career? Chakotay growled. She’d given them, and her crew, the best years of her life, and this was how they repaid her? She must be hating every minute of it.

It’s not your problem anymore, he reminded himself.

Screw that. He might no longer be her first officer, but he was still her friend –

Except you’re not.

She’d made sure of that on their first day back in the Alpha quadrant, and she’d kept on making sure of it over the months since. It was obvious. Sure, Starfleet had her sequestered for debriefings, but surely after her release she could have got in touch with him if she’d wanted to re-establish their friendship. No matter how busy she was.

He remembered the night of her promotion. He’d lingered, despite Seven’s discomfort in the crowded hall of strangers, hoping for a chance to speak with Kathryn. But she’d come nowhere near him and eventually he’d suggested to Seven that they leave. And then, on their way out, he’d turned back to glance at the doors of Cochrane Hall, and thought for a moment that he’d seen her. But she’d had her back to him – if it was even really her – and was walking away.

And yet… the thought of drifting further away from her, of completely letting go of what they’d had… it was unacceptable.

Dragging himself back into the present, Chakotay sat forward. Owen Paris was still watching him patiently.

“Have you spoken with Kathryn lately, sir?” Chakotay asked.

“You heard Nyla,” Owen replied. “Katie’s schedule doesn’t leave much time for socialising. But I’m sure she’d welcome a call from her former first officer.”

“I’ve tried to reach her,” Chakotay admitted. “But I’ll try again.”

“Good move.” Paris handed him a padd. “In the meantime, Captain, welcome to Starfleet Intel.”

“Admiral –” Chakotay took the padd, frowning. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why am I here? Seeing I’ve just been promoted to captain, I rather expected I’d be given command of a ship.”

Paris smiled. “You’re here because I requested you.”

“I see.” Chakotay studied him. “So why the promotion?”

“A captain’s rank gives you a far higher clearance level, and you’ll need that for the assignment I have in mind for you. My aide will brief you fully, but I wanted to give you a heads-up and see if I can’t tempt you to wrap up your leave a few weeks early.”

“Something urgent?”

“You could say that.” Owen leaned back in his chair. “Have you heard of the Fermola Rebellion?”

Chakotay searched his memory. “I remember hearing something about it from the Pathfinder transmissions. Wasn’t it a skirmish over mining rights in the Trialas system a few years back?”

“That’s the one. As you know, the Trialas system is independent, but Starfleet relies heavily on the dilithium produced on the third and fourth planets. The mining rights were managed by Japori II until about four years ago, when a group of miners decided they weren’t happy with Federation trade laws. They took over the Fermola dilithium facility and refused to allow any of the product to be transported to the Japori freighters.”

“As I understand it, the hijack was contained and the mine returned to Japori authority?”

“Yes, Starfleet stepped in and sorted it all out. Or so we thought.”

Chakotay frowned. “What are you saying, Admiral?”

“I’m saying the Fermola group didn’t just go gentle into the good night, Captain. The ringleaders consented to leave the Trialas system, but it appears their rebellion was incited by an individual or individuals we haven’t yet identified, and the Fermola incident was just the start of things. For the past few years they’ve been building alliances and gathering resources. Someone has to be bankrolling all that. They’ve become quite the power to be reckoned with for anyone wanting to trade with the Borderlands planets.”

“Which would include the Federation and the Klingon Empire,” Chakotay deduced.

“And the Cardassians,” Paris agreed. “We even suspect they’ve made overtures into the Romulan Star Empire.”

Chakotay’s eyebrows rose. “I can see why Starfleet Intelligence is interested.”

“On top of that, they’ve been encroaching on what were traditionally Orion and Ferengi trade routes. They’re risking open conflict in close proximity to Federation space. It could destabilise the whole region.”

“So why not shut them down?”

“We can’t,” Owen said flatly. “Not only does Starfleet no longer have the manpower, but we don’t know who’s bankrolling them. They’re as tricky as the Orion Syndicate – you think you’ve found the kingpin and it turns out to be just another lackey. Nobody knows – or is giving up – the brains behind the operation.”

“I see.”

“We need someone to train up the new operatives we’re grooming to send in undercover. And a fresh perspective on the intel wouldn’t go astray, either.”

“You want me to train intelligence operatives?”

“You’re the ideal candidate. You taught Advanced Tactics for over two years, joined an insurgent group that ran rings around both Starfleet and the Cardassians for a good while, and picked up a few tricks in the Delta quadrant, I’d warrant. What do you say?”

Chakotay hesitated. He’d spoken the truth before: he’d expected a ship of his own, a crew, the chance to continue exploring space. But it was good to feel solid ground beneath his feet, and this job would give him the opportunity to stay close to the Voyagers – at least, those who decided to stay on Earth. And, hopefully, to rekindle his friendship with Kathryn.

And of course, he remembered somewhat belatedly, there was his relationship with Seven to think of. He shifted in his chair.

“I’d say I’m in,” he replied.

“Great.” Paris stood and indicated the padd Chakotay held in his hands. “There’s some background info. Report to your new office in the Turner Building tomorrow at 0900 sharp for a full briefing.”

 

===0===


Premier Sina of Regulus V was a royal pain in the ass, Kathryn reflected as she dragged herself through the front door of her apartment. The Caitian had taken a shine to her of the most irritating sort, and she’d spent the past four days unwinding his two-metre tail from various parts of her body and picking strands of his fur – it was shedding season – off her uniform.

Stripping off her jacket and tossing it into the recycler, Kathryn sneezed for perhaps the hundredth time that day. Not only was she not particularly fond of cats, it seemed she’d developed an allergy to this particular felinoid.

At least she had the night off for a change – the premier was attending a formal dinner at President Zife’s residence – and she intended to make the most of it. Kathryn stripped to her underwear and headed directly for the bathroom.

“Computer, fill the bathtub. Maintain temperature at thirty-eight degrees Celsius and add rose-scented bubbles.”

She went back to the kitchen while the tub was filling, selected champagne from the multitude of bottles that appeared in her fridge with alarming regularity and popped it open, swigging directly from the bottle’s neck. The kitchen counter was blooming with bouquets, all bearing cards addressed to ‘the darling of the Delta quadrant’ or some variant, and her coffee table was overflowing with prettily-wrapped boxes. Kathryn slumped against the wall. Would this never stop? Lieutenant Jens had had to be given the passcode to her apartment so she could arrange for delivery of the gifts that kept turning up at Kathryn’s office.

She fingered the card attached to a spray of lurid Rigelian orchids, idly reading the inscription, which was so explicit it made her blush. She screwed it up in one hand and tossed it into the sink.

Wandering back toward the bedroom, she noticed that there were seven messages blinking on the console on her desk. Jens was pretty adept at weeding out the party invitations, requests to give commemorative speeches and marriage proposals, so this lot should hopefully all be from people Kathryn actually wanted to talk to. She pressed ‘play’ and listened as she tipped the champagne bottle back up to her lips.

Hello, sweetheart, came her mother’s voice, and Kathryn smiled. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it home this week. I hope they’re not working you too hard. Tell that fleet admiral of yours that if she doesn’t let you take a break soon, she’ll have me to answer to.

Kathryn’s mouth twisted. She doubted even Gretchen Janeway could intimidate Nyla Kjogo.

Phoebe and Sean will be here for the weekend, Gretchen continued. They’d love to catch up with you before they head back to Betazed. Try to come for a few hours at least, won’t you? I’ll be making my famous cheesecake for your birthday. I love you, honey.

Her mother’s message ended, and Kathryn’s smile faded. She’d barely seen Phoebe since touching down on Earth – her sister was busy with a travelling exhibition of her artwork – and she hadn’t even met her brother-in-law yet. She was supposed to be attending yet another interminable diplomatic ball this weekend, this time in London. Kjogo would be there, parading Kathryn before the photographers, and she doubted she’d be able to escape the fleet admiral’s vice-like grip for long enough to visit the powder room, let alone sneak off to Indiana.

And Saturday was her birthday. Her forty-third birthday, and her first chance in seven years to celebrate it with her family. Damn it.

There were still six messages waiting. Kathryn’s eyes blurred as she stared at the console, and she suddenly decided she didn’t want to hear from anyone else. For the first few weeks after their release from debriefings, her former senior staff – with two notable exceptions she refused to think about – had called to leave invitations to dinners and weekends away, but after a string of last-minute broken dates the invitations had slowed to a trickle and the tone of the messages had morphed from cheerful to concerned. Even the persistent B’Elanna Torres had stopped suggesting Kathryn make the time to visit her goddaughter and started asking if she was okay.

And Kathryn didn’t want to admit to anyone, least of all the crew she still lived to protect, that she wasn’t at all okay.

London turned out much as Kathryn had expected: overdressed ambassadors, blowhard admirals and platters of the richest, most decadent food the Federation had to offer, and Kjogo had hardly left her side. She’d barely had the chance to comm her mother and apologise for missing out on the cake Gretchen had made especially for her birthday.

The following weeks were filled with yet more official functions, media interviews, mindless paperwork and the interminable, body-shattering workouts her personal trainer prescribed. By the time July rolled around, Kathryn could barely drag herself out of bed.

She was bored, she was lonely, she was exhausted, and she was starting to wonder about the point of it all. Surely by now her former crew were safe from Kjogo’s thinly-veiled threats of reprisal? Surely Kathryn had earned the right to request an assignment that actually meant something?

Determined, she dressed in her perfectly-pressed uniform, pinned up her hair – Kjogo had insisted she have it lengthened, claiming it was both versatile and photogenic; it was perhaps the only concession Kathryn hadn’t really minded making – and checked her reflection. The woman gazing back at her had the smooth skin of a Kriosian and the taut body of a teenager. She’d never looked better.

Except for her eyes, which laid bare the weariness of her soul.

Scowling, Kathryn strode out of her apartment, resolved that today would be the day she stood up to Nyla Kjogo.

An hour later, she staggered into her office, reeling.

So much for her demands. She’d started by requesting a transfer to another division – Science, Intelligence, Exploration, anything useful – and been flatly denied, which wasn’t unexpected. Her next tactic was to suggest she use her newfound fame to lead first-contact missions; again, Kjogo had refused, telling her she was needed in her current capacity and should leave the first contacts to the fleet captains. Finally, growing desperate, she’d declared that she intended to take a leave of absence whether Kjogo approved it or not, and if not, she was prepared to resign from Starfleet.

Kjogo had risen to her feet, hands planted on her desk, cold glare turned on her.

“If you attempt to refuse my orders – if you defy me – if you so much as sneeze in the wrong direction, Kathryn, I will rescind the generosity this organisation has shown you and your former crew. I will request that the Judge Advocate General open an immediate investigation into your many transgressions against the Prime Directive. I will have the unsavoury elements of your crew – all of them – thrown into prison. I will have your Borg dissected by Starfleet Medical. I will have your EMH decompiled. And don’t think I can’t, or won’t, make good on this promise.”

Kathryn stood to face her, pale but determined.

“Leave my crew out of this, Admiral. I will not allow them to be treated like criminals or lab rats. They deserve all the accolades and the freedom they have already been granted, and I resent your threats.”

“Your ingratitude,” Kjogo’s voice lowered dangerously, “is unbecoming of a Starfleet officer.”

“Then allow me to resign,” Kathryn shot back.

“That is not an option.” Kjogo’s expression flickered. “However, in the interest of harmony, I will agree to allow you two weeks’ personal leave – after you complete your next assignment.”

“Which is?”

Kjogo smiled. “A simple diplomatic mission, and not even very far from home. Representatives of a number of Borderland planets will be meeting with President Zife on Stardate 55508. The topics of discussion will include strengthening trade agreements and political affiliations between the unallied Borderlands worlds and the Federation.”

Stardate 55508. Kathryn stared at her. “That’s only two days away, Admiral, and I haven’t been briefed on the political intricacies of those sectors.”

“That’s why you’ll be taking Lieutenant Jens with you. She is fully apprised of the political situation. You’ll find her a useful resource.”

Kathryn’s lips compressed. “I see. And might I ask where this conference is being held?”

“Of course.” Kjogo smiled genially, but her eyes were sharp. “It’s a world you’re quite familiar with, in fact. You spent some time there – oh, it must be almost twenty years ago now.”

Kathryn stared at her.

“Yes, in fact, I believe Stardate 55508 will make it exactly twenty years since – oh, but of course, it’s unlikely you remember the event with a great deal of joy. Never mind. I’m sure your second visit to Tau Ceti Prime will be a much happier occasion.”

Unable to speak, Kathryn had allowed Kjogo to take her by the elbow and guide her out into the anteroom. Whatever else the fleet admiral might have said to her was lost in the haze of her own shock. She could barely remember her feet moving, carrying her automatically to the dubious sanctuary of her own office.

Tau Ceti Prime.

The loss of her father and fiancé in that fatal shuttle crash on the Tau Ceti ice cap – almost exactly twenty years ago, as Kjogo had so sweetly pointed out – was a hurt that had faded over time and under the weight of countless other losses, but it was one she would never completely get over. And the wanton, deliberate cruelty with which Kjogo had delivered her blow left Kathryn shell-shocked.

She no longer harboured any doubts that, should she flout Admiral Kjogo’s orders, the Tandaran woman would use every ounce of influence and vindictiveness to make her, and Voyager’s crew, pay for it. She couldn’t refuse Kjogo’s assignments. She couldn’t even resign from Starfleet. Any act of defiance would leave the people she loved unprotected.

She was trapped.

 

===0===


The sweat had barely dried on their skin when Seven raised her head from Chakotay’s chest and announced that she would be accompanying her Aunt Irene to visit relatives on the Vega colony the following day.

“For how long?” Chakotay frowned at her.

Seven shrugged. “Two weeks. Perhaps longer.”

Chakotay sat up, dislodging her from her comfortable position in his arms. “And you’re just mentioning this now?”

Her eyes flickered uncertainly; it appeared her lack of experience in human relationships had caused her to transgress. “I apologise – I should have mentioned it sooner… My aunt has been suggesting the trip for some time, but I was busy upgrading Voyager’s astrometrics lab. However, the work has reached a stage where I am able to leave it in the hands of Utopia Planitia’s engineers.” She hesitated. “I didn’t mean to distress you. I’ll tell my aunt I won’t be able to go.”

“No.” Chakotay sighed. “You should go. I’m sorry for getting upset with you.”

“You’ve been so busy with your new role,” Seven added gently. “I doubt you will notice my absence.”

“If you’re suggesting I won’t miss you,” he traced the side of her face with one finger, “you couldn’t be more wrong,” and she relaxed back against him, smiling.

And yet, when he saw Seven off at the transport station the following morning, Chakotay found himself heading to work with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

He’d spent the first three days of his new job poring over the data Starfleet Intelligence had collected on the former Fermola rebels, chasing leads and checking facts, and delivered his report to Owen Paris in person, waiting patiently while the admiral read it.

“The Celendi Nebula?” Paris had asked. “You think that’s their base of operations?”

“That’s my theory.”

Paris leaned back in his chair, placing the padd on his desk. “It’s certainly close to Trialas. But it’s riddled with plasma storms and unstable gases, and the Orion Syndicate controls three of the nearest planets. It’s hardly a safe harbour.”

“Which is exactly why I believe the Fermola group chose it – it’s the perfect hiding place, out in plain sight but very difficult to penetrate.” He added pointedly, “And it wouldn’t be the first time a dissident group has used an unstable area of space in this manner.”

Paris allowed a smirk to cross his face. “I knew your Maquis background would come in handy.” He studied the padd again. “Starfleet hasn’t charted any habitable worlds inside the Celendi Nebula. Where do you think they’re lurking?”

Chakotay shrugged. “We won’t know until we go in there.”

He’d spent the past six weeks imparting to his new team, a Vulcan and a human, everything he knew about covert tactics, and now they were ready to go in undercover. The work was hard and the hours were long, and he hadn’t seen a lot of Seven. She was tolerant of his absence; more so, he reflected ruefully, than a less experienced lover might be. But then, she was just as busy as he. Starfleet had engaged her to install an astrometrics lab on their newest prototype vessel, and she’d insisted Harry Kim be posted to the project alongside her.

Chakotay’s workload failed to keep him distracted from the knowledge that Kathryn Janeway had not responded to any of the messages he’d left her, and her continued silence hurt more than he was willing to admit to himself. After the fifth unreturned comm call, he conceded defeat.

She seemed to be forever in the news – smiling with diplomats, shaking hands with ambassadors, stepping from hovercars in slinky hand-tailored dresses – and Chakotay had taken to switching off the broadcasts as soon as his former captain’s face appeared.

He’d learn to live with the loss of her friendship, he told himself. He had Seven in his life now. He didn’t need Kathryn. And clearly, she didn’t need him.

But then, scanning the Federation News Network for pieces on the Borderlands trade worlds, he caught the tail-end of a social snippet: President Zife had met two days earlier with representatives from Yaraka, Midrian and Turkana at the recently refurbished ambassadorial residence on Tau Ceti Prime. Chakotay’s curiosity was piqued; those three worlds featured heavily in the Intelligence reports as possible strongholds for the Fermola group. He flipped through the holoimages from the conference. There was Zife, rotund blue face grinning widely as he shook hands with well-tailored, smooth-looking businessmen. There was Admiral Nyla Kjogo, who never seemed to be far from the president, eyes sharp and dress uniform perfect. And there – God. There was Kathryn Janeway.

He stared, and couldn’t stop staring.

She looked beautiful – sleek, groomed, her lithe body clothed in a black silk dress that clung to her like a waterfall. Her hair fell in loose curls down her back and her complexion looked like cream. He found himself touching a finger to the image, as though he could feel the softness of her skin.

Then he looked into her eyes, and his stomach clenched.

He knew that look. Had seen it before, many times, in the Delta quadrant. After battles, when they counted their injured and dead. During senior staff briefings when each ship’s report painted a picture grimmer than the last. In the Void.

She was in pain. And he wasn’t there to help shoulder her burden.

Admiral Kathryn Janeway entertains representatives from a number of trade worlds on July 5 at the Ambassadorial Hall on Tau Ceti Prime, he read in the caption below the picture.

Chakotay re-read it: July 5, Tau Ceti Prime. A loose connection sparked in his mind. That date, that planet. It meant something.

The memory came to him gradually. Kathryn had been sitting on his couch late one night, two years ago now, feet tucked beneath her, eyes bleak as she recounted one of the most painful events of her life. They both died eighteen years ago today, she’d told him, drowned under the polar ice cap on Tau Ceti Prime. I was the only survivor.

She’d never been back to the scene of that terrible loss. Until now.

He was shocked and dismayed for her, and he couldn’t believe she’d have chosen to be there, on that day of all days. And if she hadn’t chosen it, then somebody must have forced her into it.

Chakotay yanked his console toward him and punched open a commline.

~Admiral Janeway’s office.~ The young woman answering onscreen obviously recognised him, but her cool expression never changed.

“Lieutenant Jens,” Chakotay greeted her. “May I speak with the admiral?”

~I’m sorry, Captain, but Admiral Janeway is unavailable at present. I’ve passed on your earlier messages, but I’ll be happy to let her know you called again.~

“I’d like to see her at her earliest convenience.”

~In what regard, sir?~

Chakotay raised his eyebrows. “That’s between the admiral and me, Lieutenant. How soon can you book me in?”

Jens made a show of consulting a padd. ~The admiral has a thirty-minute slot available at 0800 hours two weeks from Friday. Shall I make you an appointment?~

“Two weeks?” Chakotay stared at her. “That’s ridiculous. Look, Lieutenant, the admiral and I are old friends, as I’m sure you know. Just tell her I called. I’m sure she’ll make the time to see me.”

~Of course,~ the lieutenant answered smoothly. ~Thank you for calling, Captain. Have a nice day.~

The screen blinked off, and Chakotay sat staring at it pensively.

Was this the life Kathryn had hoped for, after seven years of sacrificing herself to get her crew home to Earth? Was this what she wanted?

Somehow, he doubted it. He remembered his conversation with Admiral Kjogo a couple of months earlier, when she’d implied that but for her influence, Kathryn would have been court-martialled.

And yet the rest of her crew had been pardoned, promoted, promised the world on a platter and had it hand-delivered.

And he found himself wondering just what sacrifices she’d agreed to, and continued to make, so that her crew could live the lives they wanted.

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