Desperate Measures

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

Walk with me
Open your sensitive mouth and talk to me
Hold out your delicate hands and feel me
– Depeche Mode, Rush

 

===0===

 

Chapter Three: Turning Tides
July, 2378



It wasn’t as though tonight was any different. Another function, another shimmering, just-this-side-of-respectable dress. Another sparkling evening, during which she would smile and drink champagne and pretend not to mind when some sweaty diplomat addressed her as ‘honey’ or let his hands linger just a little too long. Another night she’d spend alone in her apartment in her cold white bed. And another morning to follow, during which Admiral Kjogo would berate her for challenging the political views of whichever ambassador she was supposed to charm, and snipe at her for smiling too infrequently, or for not showing enough cleavage.

No, tonight was nothing different. And yet the very knowledge that this, tonight, was just one more evening in an interminable stretch of evenings that she couldn’t imagine ever ending, was the thing that drove Kathryn to excuse herself abruptly and seek solitude on the terrace before she screamed.

She’d been through this a hundred times before, half a galaxy away: gritting her teeth behind a polite smile as she danced or dined with some alien trade minister, hiding the boredom and frustration as she negotiated for whatever Voyager was running low on that week. But at least then she’d had her crew to back her up: Tom’s cheeky running commentary, Tuvok’s dry wit, Chakotay’s bolstering smile and protective hand on her back…

Kathryn leaned on the terrace railing, sighing. There was no point in romanticising the past. Life on Voyager had been years of terror interspersed with periods of loneliness and tedium, and there was no use pretending any different. At least her life now was more tedium than terror.

As for the loneliness – well, not a lot had changed there.

Be honest, she rebuked herself. That’s your choice now, just as much as it was your choice out there.

She’d started out trying to keep in touch with the crew. Particularly Tom and B’Elanna, who were both brave enough and stubborn enough to persist in calling her almost daily, weeks after she’d stopped hearing from Harry, the Doctor, Sam Wildman and the others. But every time she promised to meet up with them, Kjogo’s wilful directing of her social schedule forced her to cancel. It distressed Kathryn that as far as her crew was concerned she had become unreliable.

Even Tuvok’s communiques no longer arrived with any regularity; she had last heard from him two months ago, when he’d informed her he was returning to active service but hadn’t said where he was being posted. Kathryn made a mental note to have Lieutenant Jens track him down. She could use a little Vulcan clarity in her life right about now.

As for Seven, she had sent a short message after debriefings to let Kathryn know that she was going to Trebus, another when she and Chakotay had returned, and three or four brief messages since then. She seemed not to expect a reply; Kathryn rather thought the messages were a duty her former protégée was performing, like filing a status report. She had replied anyway, keeping her messages brief and upbeat; Seven had never been comfortable with excessive displays of emotion, and the last thing Kathryn wanted was to make Seven uncomfortable. Or Chakotay, for that matter.

Not that Chakotay would care one way or the other. She hadn’t heard from him since Voyager slipped into drydock, nor had she expected to; not after their final, soul-splintering conversation in her ready room.

That didn’t make it hurt any less.

Maybe she’d made the wrong choices about him, out there in the Delta quadrant. Maybe she wouldn’t have been so lonely then, be so lonely now, if she’d chosen differently –

“Is this railing taken?”

The smooth, gently amused masculine voice startled her. Turning, Kathryn’s gaze lit on a broad chest in pristine white linen, a head of slightly tousled black hair and a pair of smiling, very blue eyes in a face so handsome she couldn’t help staring.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” the man said. “Ryan Austin.”

Recovering her composure, she took his outstretched hand. “Kathryn –”

“– Janeway. Yes, I know.” He grinned. “I’d have to be living under a rock not to know who you are.”

Her smile faded.

“Actually,” the man said, lowering his voice, “I was hoping I’d have the chance to meet you tonight.” The grin broadened. “I was starting to think I’d have to do something embarrassing to get your attention, and then luckily I spotted you out here all alone.”

Kathryn tugged her hand away unobtrusively. “Mr Austin …”

“Ryan,” he corrected.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but if you’re looking for an interview you’ll need to talk to my aide, Lieutenant Jens. She handles all my media engagements.”

“Oh, I’m not a reporter,” he laughed. “Just a fan hoping to get to know the woman behind the legend.”

“I’m hardly a legend, Mr Austin.”

“Ryan,” he repeated. “And I beg to differ, but we can change the subject if you like.”

“I would like.”

“What should we talk about then?” Ryan leaned a hip on the railing, smiling down at her, and Kathryn couldn’t help a small shiver at the obvious interest in his gaze.

She took a small step backward, glancing away from those disconcertingly warm eyes. “Actually, I should probably get back inside –”

“Great.” Ryan straightened up, offering his arm. “Allow me to escort you, Kathryn Janeway who dislikes being called a legend. Maybe you’ll even do me the honour of a dance.”

She studied his face. He seemed sincere enough in his interest, and she didn’t think she’d imagined the way his gaze had lingered on her bare shoulders. And he was undeniably attractive. She felt that tingle along her spine again. It seemed so long since anyone had looked at her that way.

Kathryn raised her chin and smiled back at him, taking his arm. “I’d love to dance.”

There were only a few other couples out on the floor, and Kathryn bit back on a surge of anxiety as knowing smiles turned toward her.

“Ever feel like you’re being watched?” Ryan murmured as he turned her into his hold.

She sighed. “Unnerving, isn’t it. Still want to dance with me?”

“I’m here with the most beautiful woman in Starfleet. Do I look like I care who’s watching?”

Kathryn raised an eyebrow at him. “Most beautiful woman in Starfleet? I know a good doctor if you need your eyes checked.”

“Are you telling me you don’t know how gorgeous you are?” Ryan held her away from him, letting his gaze sweep over her body. “Half the men and women in this room wish they were me right now.”

“I thought we were going to change the subject.”

“Okay,” he said easily, gathering her close again. She forced herself to ignore the way his thumb was stroking her spine, and just how good it felt.

“Tell me about you,” she tried not to stammer.

He shrugged. “I run a small courier company, mostly delivering medical supplies from Federation worlds to planets without the resources to produce their own.”

“A commendable profession,” Kathryn said, then, “Forgive me for being blunt, but what are you doing here?”

“You mean, what’s a small-time businessman doing at this very swanky ball attended by legends?” Ryan smirked down at her. “My dad was a Starfleet admiral who knew how to network. I guess I’ve managed to stay in the inner circle since he died.”

“Admiral Bart Austin?” Kathryn’s eyes widened in recognition. “I remember him – he was a friend of my father’s.”

“Sounds like you and I go way back,” he answered, as his fingertips brushed low on the base of her back.

Kathryn tensed, and felt his fingers slide upward. She couldn’t help the quick glance up under her lashes. He was watching her, pupils dilated. She swallowed around a suddenly dry throat.

“Kathryn.”

“Yes?” she managed.

“Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

“I can’t – I have somewhere I’m supposed to be …” She was sure she did; her calendar always seemed to be full …

“Cancel it.”

She felt his breath brush her temple.

“I don’t –” she bit her lip. “I don’t even know you.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “You already know my pedigree. I could send my résumé to your office if you’d like.”

Kathryn’s cheeks reddened.

“I know a place that does the best kung pao noodles in the city,” he cajoled. “It’s quiet and out of the way, and they make a killer coffee.”

“Quiet?” she repeated, tempted. “No paparazzi lurking around the corner?”

“Not a one.”

She tilted her head, unable to stop the smile flirting with her lips. “Good coffee?”

“The best.”

She thought about choices she’d made in the Delta quadrant, and about going home to her empty bed, and she told herself defiantly, what the hell. Why not?

“Okay,” she said, letting the smile blossom on her face. “It’s a date.”

 

===0===


Seven was inordinately pleased to find Harry Kim waiting for her when she stepped off the transporter pad on the USS Mehit, one of the brand-new Hawking-class exploratory vessels. They were scheduled to bring its new astrometrics lab online by 1500 hours, and Seven estimated there was almost a full day’s work to do before then.

“Lieutenant,” she greeted him.

Harry held out a hand to help her down from the pad. “Hi, Seven. Ready for launch day?”

“Launch day?”

“Yeah. The Commander-in-Chief is coming by to watch us bring the lab online. I think she wants to crack a bottle of champagne over the console.”

“For what purpose?” Seven arched an eyebrow at him as they strode into the corridor.

He grinned. “It’s a traditional way to celebrate success, Seven. Don’t you remember us christening the slipstream drive back in the DQ?”

She remembered becoming intoxicated on a few sips of champagne and resolving to avoid it from that day on. “Will I be expected to partake?”

Harry snickered. “Don’t worry, nobody will notice if you fake it.”

They entered the lab and Seven immediately strode to the main console, where Ensign Tal Celes was calibrating the long-range sensors. “Status, Ensign?”

“The sensors are distorting the images returned from the farthest areas of scanned space. I’ve been trying to recalibrate, but …” Tal trailed off, stepping aside for Seven.

“Try this algorithm,” Seven suggested, entering the beginning of a code and indicating Tal should take over. She stood by as Tal completed the sequence and the image on the viewscreen came into clearer focus.

“Thanks, Seven,” Tal broke into a smile.

“You almost had it,” Seven praised her. “Continue.”

As they moved away, Harry leaned in close to Seven. “That was impressive.”

“It was a relatively simple numerical sequence.”

“I’m not talking about the algorithm.” Harry pulled her aside, speaking low. “I meant the way you were with Tal. You’ve really figured out how to get the best out of her with a little encouragement.”

Seven met his approving eyes and wondered why Lieutenant Kim’s compliment, and the touch of his hand on her shoulder, caused a small bubble of pleasure to rise in her chest. She dropped her gaze, feeling guilty for a reason she couldn’t name. “It seems Chakotay’s guidance has provided me with a positive influence.”

“Of course.” Harry dropped his hand from her shoulder and stepped back, his smile fading. “Well, I guess we should get to work.”

They logged into their consoles and as Seven initiated a diagnostic she found herself becoming distracted by Lieutenant Kim’s physical presence beside her. Her peripheral vision was focused on the movement of his hands across the controls. She imagined those capable fingers smoothing across her shoulders, weaving into her hair, cradling her face …

Flushing, Seven forced her attention back to the program she was running and resolved to set aside some time when she was alone to examine the confusing array of emotions she’d begun to experience whenever she was in close proximity to Harry Kim.

 

===0===


Kathryn was surprised to find that in fact, there was no need to cancel some tedious official function to make her date with Ryan Austin. For the first time in what seemed like months she had the evening free.

Despite her resentment of Fleet Admiral Kjogo’s micro-management of her life, there were a few advantages to it, Kathryn reflected as she stepped out of the sonic shower and wrapped herself in a fluffy towel.

For one thing, she never had to fret about finding something to wear. Her wardrobe had never been so expansive, nor her clothing so beautifully tailored to her exact specifications.

For another, those specifications – thanks to her army of beauty specialists and that drill sergeant of a personal trainer – had never been so streamlined. Kathryn dropped the towel and inspected her reflection. She hadn’t been kidding when she complained to Kjogo that she’d never worked out so hard in her life, and it showed. There wasn’t an ounce of extra weight on her, her muscles were lean and strong, her skin glowed and her hair shone.

Kathryn performed a small pirouette in front of the mirror and couldn’t help a smirk of satisfaction. She would never fill out a catsuit to Seven of Nine’s proportions, but she was pretty sure she’d give her former protégée a run for her money these days. She’d love to see Chakotay’s expression if –

She cut off that rebellious train of thought immediately.

Moving to the wardrobe, Kathryn flicked through the hangers, trying to decide what would be an appropriate outfit for a dinner date. A date, she thought, with a brief rise of excitement. It had been so long, she wasn’t even sure what to do on a date.

She selected a lightweight, navy-blue dress and turned to her bureau. The drawers were overflowing with lingerie of all kinds. Picking up a matched set in skimpy red lace, she huffed out a laugh. There was nothing Starfleet-issue about these.

She started to put them back in the drawer, then hesitated. It wasn’t as though she had any intention of modelling them tonight, but it had been so long since she wore something indulgent just for herself instead of whatever her stylist decided would maximise the optics.

Defiantly, Kathryn put on the lingerie, slipped on the dress and twisted her hair into a loose knot at the base of her neck. A light application of makeup, some perfume and a pair of stiletto heels, and she was ready.

There was still half an hour until she was due to meet Ryan at the restaurant, and she had no idea what to do with herself until then.

She spent five minutes rearranging the flowers in one of the vases on the drinks cabinet, ten minutes checking her messages and confirming her calendar for the next week, and a further five fiddling with her hair, trying all the while to ignore the hastening of her heartbeat. It’s just dinner, she rolled her eyes at herself.

Dinner, with an attractive man she barely knew.

Maybe that was why she was so nervous. For seven years she’d lived with the same people, give or take a few. She knew the names, the hobbies and foibles, the strengths and the weaknesses and the personal histories of every single person on her ship. And here was this man – this good-looking, interesting, interested man – who was also a complete stranger, and she was anxious because he was somebody she knew nothing about. Somebody she’d have to get to know.

Somebody who’d expect her to open up to him.

Her throat closed over at that thought, and before she could second-guess herself, Kathryn had poured two fingers of scotch into a glass and slugged it.

So that was what terrified her. Letting someone in, laying bare all of her quirks and imperfections. She wouldn’t be the captain – aloof and unknowable – if Ryan Austin turned out to be someone she wanted to spend time with. There would be no hiding her feelings behind the impenetrable wall of protocol.

She could get hurt.

Kathryn scoffed out loud. As if it hadn’t hurt to keep herself apart all those years. As if it hadn’t hurt to pretend she felt nothing more than friendship and obligation for the people she loved. As if it hadn’t hurt to swallow the bitter knowledge that, by her own actions, she’d pushed away the man who, once upon a time, had loved her too.

The alarm on her personal console chimed, making her jump. So much for being ready early – now she’d have to hurry if she wanted to make it to the restaurant on time. Pulling a light wrap around her shoulders, Kathryn activated the personal transport device Kjogo had insisted she carry and rematerialised in a small, dimly-lit entry foyer.

“Kathryn.”

Ryan was waiting for her, leaning against the bar, tall and lean in a dark-grey suit. She smiled in answer to his lit-up grin and moved toward him.

“Hi.” She felt suddenly shy as she approached, but then he took hold of her hand and leaned in to press a kiss to her cheek – warm, and somehow comforting – and she felt her trepidation dissolve. He smelled good, woody and spicy, and she didn’t want to move away.

“Hi,” he replied, pulling back slightly to smile at her. “You look amazing. Are you hungry?”

“Famished,” she realised.

“Great.” Ryan nodded to someone behind her. “This is Liang – he’s the owner and head chef here. I’ve left the menu to him, but trust me, you’ll love his food.”

Kathryn turned to face the short, smiling man in the white apron.

“Admiral Janeway, it’s an honour.” Liang smiled. “I’ll show you to your table.”

As they followed him, Kathryn glanced around and frowned. “We’re the only ones here.”

“Well, you mentioned that you were sick of being the centre of attention, so I booked the place out.” Ryan ducked his head sheepishly, tugging on his ear.

The gesture was so familiar and yet so out of place that Kathryn blanched, her step faltering.

“Kathryn?” Ryan turned back to her. “I’m sorry, did I overstep?”

“No … no,” she said faintly. “It was … very thoughtful. Thank you.”

Ryan held her chair for her as she sank into it, crossing her legs. He slid into the seat opposite as Liang filled their wine glasses. She found it hard to return his smile.

“Is everything okay?” he murmured after Liang had recited the dishes he planned to cook for them and disappeared into the kitchen.

Kathryn straightened her shoulders, forcing herself to meet his clear gaze. “Everything’s fine,” she assured him.

“Good,” Ryan answered, reaching across the table to take her hand between his. “Because I’ve been looking forward to this since last night, and I was kind of hoping you have, too.”

A small flutter of pleasure began in her fingertips, encased in his warm hands, and spread throughout her body, and Kathryn reminded herself to let go of all the things that might have been and concentrate on what could be.

“Actually, I have,” she told him with a slow smile, and Ryan relaxed into his chair and raised his wine to her.

The food was as delicious as he’d promised and the conversation surprisingly easy. They found they had several acquaintances in common as well as a shared Starfleet childhood, and Kathryn enjoyed Ryan’s dry humour and slightly wicked commentary on everything from the political landscape to the music she’d missed during seven years in exile. By the time they finished dinner and a bottle of wine, Kathryn realised with a slight start that it was almost midnight.

“I’d better go,” she said regretfully, rising from her chair. “I have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

“May I walk you home?” Ryan asked, standing to help her on with her wrap.

“No need.” Kathryn held up the small personal transporter.

“Friends in high places,” Ryan grinned. “In that case, Kathryn – can I see you again? Soon?”

“I’d like that.”

“Then I’ll call you tomorrow.” He took a step closer and Kathryn found herself holding her breath as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

“Okay,” she said, slightly breathless.

Their eyes locked, and Kathryn knew he was going to kiss her. And she was going to let him.

The instant before his mouth touched hers, she let her eyes drift shut and the face she’d been trying so hard to forget flashed behind her closed lids … but then she felt Ryan’s warm lips brushing hers, and a bolt of lust so strong it was shocking seared through her. She gasped, her hands coming up to clutch his shoulders, and he took advantage of her opened mouth to lick inside, his tongue stroking lightly against hers. She felt his hands, one on her hip, one flat against her lower back, and couldn’t stop herself from leaning into him. It felt … God, she felt almost insane, so strong was her desire for him.

It was that fleeting thought that dragged her back to reality, and Kathryn stepped back away from him, her breath coming fast.

“What –” she started, then shook her head. She’d never felt anything like that before – a physical, visceral need so immediate, so intense, she’d been half afraid she’d let him strip her and take her right there in the restaurant.

She dragged a trembling hand across her mouth and tried to catch her breath.

“I know it’s … been awhile since I –” she broke off. “What was that?”

“You felt it too?”

Ryan’s chest was rising and falling quickly too, but she thought he looked a whole lot more in control than she felt. Then again, he probably hadn’t gone without close physical contact for the majority of the past seven years.

She gave a short nod. “I felt it.”

He seemed to be regaining his composure; he raked a hand through his hair and gave her a sidelong smile. “I don’t know, Kathryn. I guess we’re just … extremely compatible.”

She choked out a laugh. “I guess so.”

“So I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Kathryn twined her fingers in her wrap, holding it together over her chest. “Tomorrow,” she repeated. “Good night, Ryan.”

“Good night, Kathryn,” he replied, and she activated her transporter, suddenly relieved that she was heading home to solitude and order.

 

===0===


“So what’s this I hear about the two of you inventing some new astrometric array that can find a needle in a haystack?” Tom Paris asked, gently turning a milk-drunk Miral against his shoulder. “We ran into Tal Celes last week and she couldn’t stop talking about it.”

“It sounds impressive,” B’Elanna chimed in. “What did Tal say – it works on a gravimetric oscillation principle? If we’d had something like that in the Delta, we might’ve been able to find a wormhole and get home even sooner.”

Harry Kim shrugged modestly. “It was Seven’s design that made it possible.”

“Lieutenant Kim is exaggerating. Without his input, we never would have developed the new sensor configuration.”

“How many times do I have to ask you to call me Harry?”

“Apparently, more times than you have already asked me, Lieutenant,” Seven replied with a trace of a smile.

Tom and B’Elanna exchanged a silent, loaded glance as their lunch companions continued to banter. It was clear that the past few months of working closely together had turned Harry and Seven’s previously professional relationship into something more familiar, and B’Elanna was torn.

Her long-held antipathy for Seven had muted into respect and even a grudging, slightly competitive friendship, and she had often thought that Harry was a much better match for the former Borg than Chakotay. But Chakotay was one of her oldest friends, and if Seven broke his heart or hurt him in any way, B’Elanna would personally rip the blonde woman’s elegant throat out.

Not for the first time, she wondered just how deeply Chakotay’s feelings ran for Seven. The chemistry between Seven and Harry was exponentially more evident than the lukewarm regard she thought she saw in Chakotay’s eyes when she saw him and Seven together.

B’Elanna’s thoughts wandered to the last time she’d seen Chakotay with their former captain. It had been a couple of days before their untimely trip back to the Alpha quadrant, and the elder Admiral Janeway – the one from a future that now would never be – had been aboard Voyager. B’Elanna had been at her upper workstation in Engineering, running some calculations on Voyager’s new shielding, when she heard voices – hushed and livid – from the level below.

She’d glanced down and seen the captain and Chakotay glaring at each other, their body language clearly combative despite their lowered voices. All she heard was a snatch of Chakotay’s words: “… insane plan? … keeping secrets from me again, Kathryn,” and the captain’s terse reply – “Then we make a fine pair, don’t we, Commander?” before she turned and stalked away.

Chakotay had stared after her, jaw set and eyes hot, raking a frustrated hand through his hair before he growled softly and marched off in the opposite direction. And even then – when they were so obviously at odds – B’Elanna remembered more heat crackling between them than she’d ever observed between Chakotay and Seven, even on the one occasion she’d been unable to avoid seeing them kiss.

And on the day of Miral’s birth she’d expected Janeway to visit her in Sickbay, but Chakotay had turned up alone and obviously unsettled. She had thought then that he was just shell-shocked from their trip through the Borg conduit, but she wondered now if that had been the moment of the final break between him and Janeway. Because they certainly hadn’t spoken since –

“Earth to B’Elanna,” Tom drawled lazily, and she snapped back into focus to find the three of them watching her.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Lost in thought.”

Seven pushed back her chair and stood. “If you will excuse me, I must return to the Mehit. It has been pleasant dining with you, Commanders.”

“Call me Tom.”

Harry snorted. “Good luck with that. See you back there in an hour, Seven. I have to run a couple of errands first.”

“Very well, Lieu- Harry,” Seven corrected herself, one corner of her full mouth lifting as Harry grinned back at her in delight. His gaze followed her as she walked away.

Tom and B’Elanna exchanged another glance, full of shared meaning.

“Harry, Harry, Harry,” sighed Tom. “What are we going to do with you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t get defensive, Starfleet,” B’Elanna chimed in. “It’s obvious you’re still holding an Olympic-sized torch for our Borg queen.”

“Don’t call her that,” Kim scowled. “And I’m not.”

“Whatever you say, Lieutenant,” smirked Paris.

“Can we talk about something else?”

“Actually,” B’Elanna relented, “I was just thinking about Janeway. She hasn’t returned my last few messages, or Tom’s. I don’t suppose you or Seven have heard from her?”

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t spoken to her since her promotion ceremony. As far as I know, Seven hasn’t heard from her either.”

“Neither has Chakotay,” B’Elanna muttered.

“Doesn’t that seem sad to you?” Kim asked. “I mean, they were so close.”

Were being the operative word.” Paris rubbed his daughter’s back as Miral snuffled sleepily into his shoulder. “I guess that all changed when he and Seven hooked up.”

“That’s not Seven’s fault,” Harry shot back.

“It’s not all her fault,” B’Elanna conceded. “Chakotay has to take at least half the blame. Idiot,” she added under her breath.

This time it was Tom and Harry who exchanged a glance. B’Elanna noticed.

“Okay, okay,” she raised her hands, “if he wants to make stupid life decisions I can’t stop him. So, Harry, since you’re apparently not interested in Seven, who’s your latest inappropriate crush? Please don’t tell me it’s Tal Celes.”

Kim rolled his eyes as he scraped his chair back from the table and stood. “It’s been great catching up. See you next time you’re bored and need someone to pick on.”

He bent to place a kiss on Miral’s dark head and another on B’Elanna’s cheek before he walked away.

“She’s an idiot, too,” B’Elanna said speculatively, watching Harry leave. “I hope she realises what she’s missing out on before it’s too late.”

“Who?” Tom asked her. “Seven or Janeway?”

“Both.”

 

===0===


“Good morning, Admiral.” Lieutenant Jens rose from behind her desk in the anteroom, moving smoothly to keep pace with Kathryn as she swept into her office. “I have today’s schedule for you. There’s only one change – Admiral Kjogo wants to see you at 1100 hours, so I’ve pushed back your personal training session to 1600.”

Kathryn paused in the act of switching on her monitor to glance up at her aide. “Did the admiral say why she wants to meet?”

“No, ma’am.” Jens handed her a padd. “Your messages.”

“Thanks.”

Kathryn flicked through them, ignoring the majority, and paused at a short note from Admiral Paris asking if she was free for lunch sometime that century. She looked up at Jens, who stood poker-straight with her hands clasped behind her back. Kathryn was momentarily struck by her aide’s resemblance to Seven of Nine; Tora’s hair, though walnut-brown instead of blonde, was pulled back in the chignon Seven had favoured on Voyager, and with her large blue eyes, full lips and slender limbs, she could have been Seven’s cousin. A wave of nostalgia and longing swept through her, forcing Kathryn to clear her throat and blink rapidly.

“Lieutenant, could you find a lunch opening in my calendar for Owen Paris?” She forced her voice steady. “The sooner the better, please.”

“Of course. Can I get you a coffee?”

Kathryn managed a brief smile. “You have to ask?”

Jens strode out to the anteroom, returning with a fresh, steaming cup which Kathryn lifted gratefully, closing her eyes as she inhaled the steam. When she opened her eyes, her aide was grinning at her.

“What?”

“Just,” Tora shook her head, “the look on your face. It makes me want to give up sex in favour of coffee.”

Kathryn choked on the sip she’d just taken, and Jens laughed. “Sorry, Admiral, but surely I’m not the first person to comment on that?”

“Actually, my first officer –” she caught herself, shifting her gaze away. “No, I guess you aren’t the first.”

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone.” Tora backed toward the door, still smirking. “Call me if you need anything.”

The door slid closed behind her, and Kathryn leaned back in her chair, her mood turned sour.

She worked steadily for the next few hours on an analysis of the revised Japori-Federation trade agreement – she was scheduled to meet the Japori ambassador the following day, and fully intended to quiz her about her request for increased Starfleet presence on their trade routes – until Jens poked her head around the doorway. “It’s almost 1100 hours, Admiral.”

Kathryn couldn’t quite suppress a sigh. Straightening her hair and steeling her spine, she took the ‘lift to Kjogo’s palatial office on the top floor of the building.

“Admiral Janeway to see Fleet Admiral Kjogo,” she informed the lieutenant manning the desk.

“Yes, ma’am. If you’ll take a seat, the admiral will see you shortly.”

Take a seat, Kathryn thought darkly. I guess even the hero of the Delta quadrant occasionally gets treated like a wayward child waiting to see the schoolmaster. Smirking to herself, she activated her padd and continued working on her analysis while she waited.

And waited.

It wasn’t until after her third, increasingly unamused query to the blond lieutenant at the desk that she was finally summoned into the admiral’s inner sanctum.

“Oh, there you are, Kathryn,” Kjogo said absently, but it was a further five minutes before she put down her padd and turned her attention to her visitor.

Kathryn stood and stared at her, forcibly keeping her annoyance in check.

“Well, you look a little happier this morning,” Kjogo remarked frankly after thoroughly glancing her over. “If I had to guess, I’d say you enjoyed your date last night.”

“My date?” Kathryn said faintly. “How did you know?”

“Did you really think I wouldn’t hear about it? Ryan Austin, entrepreneur, son of the late Admiral Bart Austin.” Kjogo appraised her, then shrugged. “You could do worse. He’s photogenic, charismatic, and he’s successful enough to give the press hounds something to write about.”

Kathryn’s jaw dropped. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’m giving you my blessing, Kathryn. Actually, I’m quite impressed. It’s about time you enjoyed a little romance, and Mr Austin is an appropriate partner for you. Yes, I think the pair of you will play well in the media.”

“I –” she shook her head in disbelief. “Admiral, this is a step too far. My private life is not up for public consumption.”

“Please don’t make me go through this again – it’s becoming tiresome. You’re a public figure now, like it or not, and everything you do will come under scrutiny. The spotlight is your friend, but only if you know how to influence it. Don’t forget that, not even for a moment. Which reminds me, Kathryn…” Kjogo stood, ushering her toward the door, “your former crew have been quite irritatingly persistent in their attempts to claim your time and energy. I instructed Lieutenant Jens to keep their distraction to a minimum, but I wanted to make sure you also understand the need to continue to distance yourself from them.”

Kathryn slowed her tread, digging her heels into the soft carpet. “Distance myself? Admiral, I haven’t seen a single member of my crew in weeks. How much more distant could I get?”

Former crew,” Kjogo emphasised.

“And what do you mean, you instructed Tora to keep them away from me?”

“They’re a millstone around your neck. Particularly that Maquis of yours – Jens tells me he’s been quite tenacious. Still, his new job should keep him out of your way, which is good. We don’t want the paparazzi starting any of the wrong kind of rumours.” Kjogo all but pushed her out the door. “Make sure Austin takes you somewhere a little more public on your next date, won’t you? And don’t forget to smile for the cameras.”

Before she could gather her outrage to formulate a reply, the door slid closed in Kathryn’s face.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper