Beth tucked a third data padd under the console she was sitting at and then cast a glance at her father who had taken the Delta Flyer's co-pilot station. "Routine scans?" she asked again to verify her mission. "Is there any-"
"You're going to be fine," Chakotay assured her for what felt like the tenth time that hour. They had already reviewed the schedule that included a small loop around a class-3 nebula and then a pass through a small asteroid belt. He didn't tell her, but the captain fully intended to have the small shuttle on sensors the entire duration of the flight.
"I took the liberty of bumping Azan from the mission," Chakotay added. One person could have easily completed the mission, but as Kathryn had pointed out earlier, Starfleet habits died hard - including the "two to a mission" rule.
"Who'd you add?" Beth asked, running a hand over the old-fashioned helm controls to begin pre-flight checks.
Both father and daughter turned as Jaysen Dalby poked his head into the Delta Flyer with a grin.
"When Jaysen came to ask permission, I figured he could use the log hours as well," Chakotay explained. But, the mischievous twinkle that had stolen into his eyes informed Beth that he was only too happy to allow them time together. "Besides, you two make a good team."
Scowling at her father's obvious jest in her direction, Beth gave his boot a nudge with her own. "We need to run through pre-flight," she told him none too gently. "And you're in my co-pilot's seat."
Allowing Jaysen to take over, Chakotay leaned down to Beth. "Be careful out there," he reminded her unnecessarily. "I don't want to make you any more nervous than you are, but it's not the holodeck."
"I know," Beth flipped one of the gadgets on her right. "Initiating engine prep."
Chakotay watched her precise movements for another moment and knew he had nothing to worry about. Tom had prepared her well; she knew this ship as if she'd been flying it since she had been born. Which, considering how many hours upon hours Beth had logged in the holodeck simulations, wasn't too far from the truth. Slipping out of the back, Chakotay took over the station in the shuttlebay and opened the doors himself.
"You're cleared for launch."
Beth cast a glance over her shoulder, surprised that her father's voice had come over the comm and not from behind her. "I thought he was still her," she murmured to Jaysen before opening the link. "Thanks, Father. Give us another fifteen seconds."
"I've bypassed a plasma coil that looks like it might be ready to go, but injector readings are within an acceptable range. That's what we get for taking out one of the oldest shuttles," Jaysen finished the pre-flight checklist. "We're ready when you are."
"I like this shuttle," Beth reminded him. "Let's get this flight over with."
Tuvok followed his captain into the readyroom and silently watched the younger man fuss over the data padds on his desk.
"If you did not wish to speak with me," Tuvok began rigidly, "Then my time would be better utilized monitoring the Delta Flyer."
"It's Kathryn," he began. "She made a comment earlier today that disturbed me." Tuvok said nothing, as Chakotay knew he would, but waited for him to continue. "Tom stopped by our quarters just long enough to welcome her back; she said that...he wasn't glad to see her."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow, "Elaborate."
Shrugging, the captain frowned, "I don't know if I can," he replied. "Tuvok, I've relied on your insight for a number of years; I've come to see you as both a friend and a confidant."
"I also view our relationship as such."
Chakotay dropped into his chair and motioned for Tuvok to take the seat across from his desk. "I feel as though...she doesn't belong." The words seemed to echo in the small readyroom. "I've been trying to reach out to her," he hurried on, "But I'm not sure she wants to be reached."
"You are not pleased she has returned," Tuvok deduced. "I would have thought the opposite would be true."
Chakotay's eyes clouded over as he silently wished his first officer was any race but Vulcan. The unemotional logic that he was thankful for during times of battle could drive a man crazy under normal circumstances. "I am," he insisted. Then, closing his eyes for a moment, he leaned back in his chair. "I was, at first. But, as I spend more time with her I'm finding that she's not the same person."
"After seventeen years, it is only logical to assume that her personality has changed."
"Not just her personality," Chakotay argued. "But, who she is, is different. She claims to have been held in a prison camp followed by several years in solitude."
"Captain, may I speak candidly?"
"It has been my observation that humans tend to idealize loved ones after they have left us," Tuvok began. "Part of your discomfort may stem from the fact that for seventeen years, you have remembered only the things about Captain Janeway that you wished to. And now, she is not living up to your expectations."
Chakotay shook his head firmly. "No, that's not true. I've remembered her exactly as she was."
"Tell me one thing she did that displeased you."
Chakotay opened his mouth to answer, but after a moment he closed it. "That's really none of your business."
"She would drum her nails on the arm of her chair."
Yes, Chakotay admitted remembering, that had driven him mad several times. It usually meant that she was about to call him into her readyroom and a lecture would follow. The first time she had done it, he had been completely unprepared, but quickly guessed what would happen from her tone of voice.
Kathryn's nails tapped on the arm of her chair as she cast a glance in Chakotay's direction. "My readyroom, Commander," she said rising.
Knowing he was in trouble, and guessing he knew why, Chakotay followed her but stayed at the threshold of the door as it closed firmly behind him.
"I want to know exactly what you thought you were doing on the holodeck," she said in a low voice, steely blue eyes burning into his.
"Taking my frustrations out on a hologram, ma'am."
Kathryn gaped at the man who stood rigidly before her. "Taking your frustrations out-."
"In case you hadn't noticed," Chakotay interrupted coldly, "You haven't been around to command this crew in this past month - and it's not an easy task for me to fill the role of two officers."
"I do have a right to some holodeck time," she argued.
"There is a difference between some free time and an obsession. And, Michael's nose will heal with a few modifications - which is more than I can say for you."
It was Kathryn's turn to take a step back as Chakotay lifted his eyes to her. "Yes, you." He declared. "Michael Sullivan is a hologram -- a computer generated projection of light that is programmed to react to the stimuli you provide."
"I think I know what a hologram is, Chakotay."
"If you did, you wouldn't claim to be in love with him." Kathryn felt her face flush as Chakotay continued. "At first, it was amusing to watch you spend your time dressing up and taking on the role of a character in Fair Haven, but lately it's become an obsession of yours. You're there at all hours of the day and I'm not the only one who's concerned."
"You've been gossiping about me?" Kathryn seethed.
Chakotay shook his head in frustration. "Not gossiping," he corrected. "Several of the senior officers have come to me and I've listened to them - junior officers have even dared to voice their concerns. They know nothing of my own frustrations."
"Frustrations?" she scoffed. "What? Jealous of a hologram, Chakotay? It's really not becoming for you."
"My romantic feelings are not in question here," he said, deliberately distracting her with an open admission. "But, yours are. Falling in love with a hologram is simply not healthy."
"The Doctor thinks so."
Chakotay sighed in disappointment as he moved closer and gripped her arms. "Consider the source. And, if I altered his subroutines enough, he wouldn't. That's my point, Kathryn. Michael is not real. He doesn't really love you; his subroutines have come to the conclusion that the probability of a person with his 'personality type' and the responses you have displayed may fall in love. But, he doesn't really love you."
Kathryn felt as if her heart were being crushed and stomped on by her best friend as she took another step away from him. "Yes," she said in a low voice, "He does."
"When was the last time he did something for you without you putting the idea in his mind?"
"We went on a picnic yesterday," Kathryn retorted, thankful she had something to refute his remark with.
"And, have you ever mentioned you liked picnics before?"
"We've gone on them a number of times."
"But, he's never done anything that completely surprised you."
"Maybe I don't like surprises."
"Don't tell me that," he exclaimed. "On New Earth you were like a little kid squirming to know exactly what I was up to. And I know you loved it."
"New Earth was a different time in our life."
The doubt in Chakotay's eyes should have warned her, but it didn't. Kathryn was completely caught off guard as her first officer's hands pulled her full against his chest and he pressed his mouth firmly over hers. Startled, Kathryn's first reaction was to struggle, but almost immediately she stopped and lifted a hand to the back of his neck as she deepened the kiss.
When Chakotay finally lifted his head, he spoke softly to her, "I won't apologize for that," he whispered. "And, I don't think you want me to."
Kathryn pushed against his shoulders and effectively broke out of the embrace. "I could throw you in the brig," she seethed, catching her breath.
"At least then you'd be forced to take command of your ship."
"Get out, Chakotay," her voice was threatening low. For a moment, he wondered if she was actually considering the brig.
"What do you prefer, Kathryn?" he asked in a last-ditch effort. "Someone who calls you Katie O'Clare and sees you only as you want them to? Or, someone who loves you for yourself?"
"If you're insinuating yourself, Commander, then you can-"
"I would never be so presumptuous," Chakotay broke in. "But, I do know that many of the crew would much rather see you settle down with someone real instead of a hologram."
Chakotay jumped slightly as the memory of the first time he kissed Kathryn caused his cheeks to flush. "Sorry, Tuvok. I was distracted."
If he wasn't a Vulcan, Chakotay thought to himself, I would sometimes swear he was laughing at me.
"You've been quiet."
Giving Jaysen a small smile Beth replied, "Concentrating."
"I'm just a little nervous about this mission."
Glancing quickly over his console to ensure they were in no immediate danger, he turned to her and reached for her hand. "Why?" he inquired, caressing it.
"I haven't been on an away mission that didn't run into some sort of trouble," she replied candidly. "I don't know what's going to go wrong with this one, but I want to be ready."
"With that outlook, something probably will go wrong," he told her gently. Squeezing her hand, he managed to draw her attention away from the navigational displays and to his face. "Beth, you've performed these sorts of flights dozens of times. Just set the shuttle on autopilot until we reach the asteroid belt and then take over. It couldn't be more simple."
"I couldn't do that," she argued. "What if-"
Reaching across Beth to tap the console, Jaysen grinned at her. "It's on autopilot now, so you don't need to worry about it until we get to the asteroids. And then, those should be a walk in the park compared to the examination Lieutenant Paris gave us last year."
When Beth only glanced away, he grew concerned. "Beth? What is it? Is something else bothering you?"
"Yes," she replied immediately. "I mean, no. Well, sort of."
"Come here," he ordered, tugging on her wrists in order to pull her over to his chair.
"Jaysen!" Beth exclaimed. "Two won't fit in that chair."
"Sit on my lap."
"I can't do that," she protested with a laugh.
"Well, you are," he smarted back, wrapping his arms around her waist effectively capturing her. "Now, tell me what's been bothering you."
Laying her hands over his, Beth leaned back into his embrace. It was cramped in the one-person seat, but she did enjoy the feel of his arms around her. And, was it her imagination or did the nebula just outside the shuttle seem to glow more intensely from his seat?
"My mom," Beth sighed, in answer to his question. "We ran over some data for this mission just before we left."
"Nothing more exciting than a few scans will take place?" Jaysen didn't answer her, but Beth could almost hear his mouth turning down in a frown just behind her head. Heaving a small sigh, she continued. "She gave me a long hug ped said something about wishing I could be a little girl forever."
"Uh-oh. What'd you say?"
"You know me too well," Beth ducked her head in embarrassment.
"Maybe," he chuckled. "Come on, what'd you tell her?"
"All children eventually grow up; parents should be prepared for it."
"I'm sure that went over well," Jaysen chortled.
"How'd you guess?" Beth retorted. "I'm not sure why, but I think she may already know about M'Rana and I wanting to move out."
"Speaking of which, has your father given you an answer?"
"Oh," Jaysen was quite for a moment as he snuggled his arms tighter around Beth's middle. "How many bunks are in those rooms?"
"Two," she replied, twisting in his arms and giving him a teasing poke in the ribs. "But, forget it. There's no chance you're moving in with us."
"I'd never suggest it," he informed her, his brown eyes dead serious. "What kind of a guy do you think I am?"
"I'm sorry," Beth replied immediately, lifting a hand to his cheek. "I was only kidding. I know what kind of a guy you are - which is why we're together."
"I do hope we move in together one day," he replied cheekily. "After we're married."
"Married?! " Beth squeaked. "Jaysen Dalby, we've only been dating for three hours!"
"The thought hadn't crossed your mind at all?" he teased her.
"Do I have to answer that?" she inquired, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.
Jaysen watched her for several seconds and then allowed the corners of his mouth to turn up in a wry grin, "You just did."
Beth raised one eyebrow in her captor's direction. She was acutely aware of his arms around her and the one hand reaching up to pull her mouth down to his. As he brushed his lips against hers, she snuggled her arms around his neck and leaned in closer. His brown locks were just long enough to run her hands through, she discovered with satisfaction.
"What're you doing?" he asked, pulling back slightly.
"It's soft," she whispered back.
"And, if you keep doing that, it'll be pretty obvious that this mission isn't all business."
Beth only grinned in answer, which rewarded her with another kiss.
"Voyager to Delta Flyer."
"Ow!" Beth exclaimed as Jaysen's arms went lax and she found herself plummeting to the deck. With his arm still caught around her, Jaysen followed and they landed in a heap.
"Ensigns?" Chakotay's concerned voice filtered through to them when they didn't answer right away.
With Jaysen's frame still pinning her legs, Beth managed to kneel at the console and hit the comm panel. "Yeah? I'm here, Father."
"What took you so long?" Chakotay asked his voice laced with amusement at her delayed hail.
"Uh, lost a padd," Beth declared. Reaching under her chair to the three padds she had stored there, she held one up. "Mom gave me the schematics on the mission before we left. Just wanted to bring Jaysen up to date."
"Speaking of which, where is Jaysen?"
Beth forced her face not to give away his presence as he squeezed her ankle. "Um, he's looking over one of the plasma conduits. It showed up on pre-flight checks as a possible problem." She wasn't lying, she reasoned. He was, after all, lying on the floor within reach of the coil he'd been complaining about before they launched.
Tuvok, she saw, gave Chakotay a slight nod as if to confirm that there had indeed been a concern for the coil. Inside, Beth's nerves began to grate. Were they going to interrogate her now, she wondered. She was in the middle of a mission she didn't want to be on and was not in a good mood after being caught distracted from the mission.
"Fine, fine." Chakotay was saying. "I just wanted to check with you and make sure the scans were coming through okay. B'Elanna had reported a minor glitch with the Delta Flyer's short range scanners."
Jaysen had untangled himself from Beth and now allowed her to pull herself into Jaysen's chair as she brought the data padd with her. Running a hand over his console that had been set to do the sensor sweeps, she nodded, "Looks like everything is working. Of course, if it's not getting accurate readings, I have no way of knowing."
"True. But, at least we know it's functioning," Chakotay replied. "Make an adjustment to your flight pattern and include a run by the asteroid in grid Alpha-19. We were able to get a good lock on it just after you left, so we'll compare the data you bring back to the scans we took and make sure they match."
"Aye, sir," Beth moved back to her console and quickly made a note to the flight plan.
"Thanks, Beth," Chakotay moved to cut the connection, but then turned back at the last minute. "Why don't you bring the sensor logs to me yourself," he suggested. "As soon as you get back."
Feeling her stomach turn over, Beth merely nodded. "Understood. DF out."
"I was right," Jaysen muttered from where he'd pried a panel off the wall and was now inspecting the coil in question. "Darn thing is fried." Delivering a cocky grin in her direction he added, "That was fast thinking."
"No thanks to you," she retorted. "Now, it looks like I'm in trouble with my father."
"If you were," he reasoned, "He would have asked for both of us to report to his readyroom."
Beth said nothing, but turned back to the navigation display.
"Back to the original question," Jaysen was saying as he re-joined her. "Those extra bunks in your new quarters-"
"They aren't ours yet," she interrupted.
"Whey they are yours, then," he grinned. "I was hoping you'd take my sister with you."
"No thanks," Beth held up her hands. "Julie's been snapping at everyone in the science labs for two weeks now; I certainly don't want to move in with her."
"Rats," Jaysen mumbled, good-naturedly. "Imagine what it's like living with her."
"I'd rather not; I've got a few asteroids coming up that need my attention."
An hour later, Beth nervously rang the door chime to the readyroom. She thought she could feel the eyes of the entire bridge on her back, but she knew she was only imagining things -- at least, she hoped she was imagining it.
So lost in thought about how she was going to explain her way out of this one, Beth jumped when the doors to the readyroom slid apart. Well, she thought to herself, she'd have to wing it this time.
"There you are," Chakotay rounded the desk and sat on the front of it as he held out a hand. "The scans," he reminded her.
Chakotay pretended to review the scans, but in actuality he was watching his daughter squirm. Nothing at all like her mother would, he thought to himself. The few times he'd had witness to Beth in a state of being nervous, he had seen her as calm, cool, and collected - much as Kathryn had been under pressure. But now, maybe because he knew her better, he saw the few nuances that indicated she was more nervous than her body language let on.
"If I actually read this report right now, you might bite through that lip," Chakotay finally said, taking pity on his daughter.
Beth pressed her lips together in a thin line and raised her blue-gray eyes to her father's brown ones. "I apologize, sir," she spoke softly the knot in her stomach tightening at the rebuke she knew she was about to receive. "You reminded me right before we left that it wasn't the holodeck out there, but I got distracted and it could have killed us."
If Chakotay was any judge, and he considered him one when it came to the tendencies of Janeway women, Beth had been beating herself up over this incident the entire way back.
"Beth, I wouldn't have teased you about this had I known you would take it so seriously," he told her. "A number of couples have been...distracted....while on away missions together -- including your mother and I."
"You and mother?" Beth's eyes grew wide as a smile of relief stretched across her face. "Who caught you?"
"Tuvok," Chakotay replied matter-of-factly as he dropped into a chair and motioned for Beth to join him. "I used to think that Vulcans had a sixth sense about things like that. Be careful; he'll catch you every time."
Kathryn Janeway smoothed her auburn hair back once more and ran a hand over the arm of her new dress as she waited for the turbolift to stop. Earlier that morning, she had set about to find something more suitable to wear out and about on the ship and had finally settled on a newer version of one of her favorite dresses.
It was simple, but more than she had ever hoped to have after the past seventeen years of torture. Best of all, her feet were no longer fitted in the alien footwear she had arrived in. Now, they proudly wore a pair of brown leather boots. New, brown leather boots, she was reminded as the little toe of her right foot complained loudly. If she wasn't careful, there would be a blister as a memory that the shoes were indeed replicated only that morning.
Stepping out of the turbolift on deck twelve, Kathryn took care in her steps to avoid rubbing the toe against the leather as she made her way to the shuttlebay where her vessel was being kept. She hadn't been down here yet, and she needed to. Despite the aversion she felt toward the Awaxiels, the technology they had would only serve to enhance Voyagers' chances of returning home earlier.
And, she remembered, they had given her Shannon. Her intentions right now only included salvaging what little remained of the memory of her daughter - a rag doll.
Entering the shuttle bay, Kathryn was horrified to find an engineering team already crawling over the hull of her vessel and inspecting every square inch. They were young, she saw almost immediately. None of them looked old enough to be out of the Academy, but here they were pouring over her shuttle.
With heels clicking on the deck below her, Kathryn made her way to the entrance of the shuttle. One or two pairs of eyes glanced up, but no one tried to prevent her from entering.
As Kathryn ducked under a bulkhead, the familiar smells of burnt wires and mechanical grease assailed her senses and transported her back to a night she thought she had managed to push out of her mind. Forcing herself to remain in the present, Kathryn plowed forward through the darkness that still pervaded her ship and into the small chamber she had nicknamed cruasiels 'aet leitos, or the 'heart of the free'. By Federation standards, it was the equivalent to engineering.
Past the replicator that had ceased to function five years ago and around the corner where oxygen tanks that she had frequently wondered whether they were still operative were stored, Kathryn found the door to her old quarters. She hadn't entered the rooms in nearly eight weeks - not since before life support on the lower decks had been shut down in order to maintain a constant speed.
Startled, Kathryn's hand automatically went for the weapons locker built into the side of her doorway as a voice called to her from the darkened interior. "Answer me this," she ordered in a low voice, the Awaxiel weapon aimed inside the room. "Who is there?"
"Wrong answer," Kathryn released the weapon only long enough to punch in her security code at the entrance of the doorway. Gripping it again, she felt the blood rushing through her veins as the lights flickered and then came on at full power to reveal B'Elanna Torres-Paris kneeled beside a panel with a half dozen conduits opened before her. "What are you doing in here?"
"Trying to get the lights back on," B'Elanna answered, matter-of-factly. "But, it appears that I just didn't have the touch."
"I rewired them to react only to my authorization," Kathryn replied. B'Elanna nodded slowly, still eyeing the weapon trained on her. "Oh, sorry," she let the rifle slip into its customary position in her right hand.
"No problem," B'Elanna swallowed hard as she gathered up her tools and replaced the panel back on the wall. "Anything I can help you with?"
"I should be asking that of you," Kath's oreturned with a small smile. "It was, after all, my ship for over ten years."
Kathryn said nothing as B'Elanna stood and watched her former captain for a long moment. I feel like I'm being inspected, she thought to herself just as the chief engineer turned back to the tools that had been spread across the small desk when she entered.
"I hear you've been acquainting yourself with Beth."
"Yes," Kathryn answered slowly, replacing the weapon in its locker.
"I don't know all of the details and this probably isn't the best time for me to bring it up -- then again, when have I ever been anything but forthright with you?" B'Elanna began, hesitant, but still feeling she needed to lie this before the woman who had given her a second chance when even she had doubted herself. "I do know that things between Beth and her parents have been rocky since she discovered that Chakotay was her father. In fact, Beth and M'Rana have spoken to Chakotay about moving into the spare quarters on deck eight - which Seven isn't too happy about." B'Elanna wiped her grimy hands on her pants as she collected the last of her things. "I don't know where those girls got the idea to move out, but you should be aware that Seven may feel as if she's losing her daughter since you've come on board."
"Beth 'got the idea' from me," Kathryn answered honestly. "She and I had a discussion about children needing to try their own wings and I told her about my experience with moving to the Academy."
"You told her it would be beneficial for them to move out?" B'Elanna demanded, her brown eyes flashing as her maternal instincts kicked in. Taking a deep breath in an effort to keep her temper in check, she shook her head in amazement. "Ma'am, Seven and I have dedicated the latter halves of our lives to raising those girls. Both of them are very precious to Tom and I and I know Harry and Seven feel the same way. The girls are not ready to move out, but you've told them they should - and they probably will unless Chakotay intervenes."
"How old were you when you left for the Academy?"
"Eighteen," B'Elanna retorted. "That's one year older than they are now."
"One year can make a difference," Kathryn agreed. "But, you left your planet, B'Elanna. Beth and M'Rana will be moving down five decks. They'll still be on the same ship."
"It doesn't matter," B'Elanna argued. "They're still in need of our protection."
"I've not met M'Rana, but I have met Beth. She doesn't appear to be in need of anyone's protection. In fact, the only thing she seems to need is her parent's confidence that she can make her own decisions."
Snapping the cases shut, B'Elanna clenched one in each hand as she stood to her full height. "I'm sorry we don't agree, ma'am. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are several other conduits that need to be looked at on the bridge."
Squeezing past Kathryn, B'Elanna began to make her way down the dimly lit corridor in search of a ladder or access tunnel that would take her to the upper deck. But, she hadn't taken a dozen steps forward before she turned back.
"Ma'am?" she called into the room, interrupting Kathryn's thoughts where she sat holding a small rag. "I want to apologize for my outburst. I know you only mean well."
Kathryn pulled her eyes from the soft bunch of material in her hands. "Apology accepted," she answered quietly.
"And, welcome aboard," B'Elanna added before resuming her trek to the bridge.
"I don't think I've ever felt so welcome," Kathryn muttered at the dirty rag in her hands that Shannon had named Kaila. On Trianta 3, she had been held a prisoner and ordered to carry out the most detestable of tasks, but she had belonged to a group. True, the group consisted of only four other prisoners who were forced to work in the science laboratories, but they had become one another's confidants.
Once she had escaped the prison facilities, Kathryn was part of another group - this one, a band of refugees seeking out a ship called Voyager. But, Cajule and her husband had left the small vessel and Kathryn had carried on alone.
Now, on Voyager, and with all she had known in the past around her, Kathryn truly felt alone. Lifting the doll to her cheek, she allowed a single tear to push past her defenses in memory of the only child she had ever had -- the only person who had ever accepted her knowing fully who she was.
Beth froze as she stepped out of her bedroom later that night. The main room of the Kim' quarters was bathed in an eerie starlight, but she could make out the door to her parents' room. They were quietly discussing something - and judging from their hushed voices, there was a good chance she was the subject.
Creeping closer, Beth knelt beside the door in hopes of hearing better the conversation on the other side of the wall. Every so often, she heard her name come up and knew with satisfaction that she was indeed being talked about.
"She should have come to us," Seven's voice rose loud enough to be heard.
Harry's voice, muffled by the wall, immediately answered in soothing tones, but Beth couldn't make out the words.
Come to them about what? Beth wondered from her hiding place. Gathering bits and pieces from their conversation, Beth finally surmised that they were discussing her plan to move out with M'Rana.
A dull anger began to burn in her belly when she realized that her father had discussed the issue with her parents before consulting her. Would they always be intervening in her life before she was given a chance to live it?
Rising, she pressed the door chime not caring whether or not they discovered that she had been listening.
The sounds of movement assured Beth that she had been heard and a moment later her dad stood before her.
"Beth? What are you doing up this late? Don't you have a shift to cover tomorrow?"
"Are you always going to control my life?" Beth retorted. "Or just until I turn fifty?"
Seven's ocular implant rose slightly as she studied her daughter from where she was propped up against her pillows. "Restate your question," she ordered as Harry took a seat on the end of the bed and motioned for Beth to join them.
"I went to the captain to seek permission to move out-"
"Exactly," Beth bit her lip in an attempt to force down the anger that was beginning to rage under her skin. "I asked the captain, not you. But, he saw fit to discuss this with you."
"You're our daughter," Harry said simply.
"And his. And Kathryn Janeway's." When Seven visibly flinched, Beth knew she was treading on a sensitive subject. "Is he going to discuss the matter with each parent involved and take a vote?"
"Beth, what's the real issue?" Harry asked. "Is it really about your mom and I being involved in your life? Or, does it have something to do with the captain and your mother?"
"You and mom," she answered without hesitation. "On one side of the coin, I'm treated as an officer. But then you'll call and check up on me - or tell me I'm late for dinner. I feel like you're still treating me as a child. My mother has nothing to do with it; she's just the one who made me realize what I'm actually feeling."
"It's time for me to try my wings, I think she said."
Harry cast a glance in his wife's direction as Beth observed her mom's eyes turning a cooler shade of blue.
"Should I have asked permission to speak with my own mother?" Beth asked, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Go to bed," Harry quickly said with a nod in the direction of the door. "We'll discuss this later."
Beth flew from the turbolift and nearly tripped over her own feet in her haste to make it to the messhall doors. Stumbling inside, she grasped the doorframe while trying to catch her breath and survey the occupants.
"Help you with something?" Neelix asked, looking up from the replicator where a basket of purple fruit had just appeared.
"M'Rana?" Beth wheezed.
"Engineering, I think," a voice answered from a crowded table. "She's scheduled until 0930."
"Thanks, Mezoti!" Beth exclaimed already turning on her heel.
"No more than warp six!" Icheb called after her.
Forcing herself to pause just long enough to cast an angelic grin over shoulder, Beth ducked out of the messhall and took off in the direction of engineering.
Only minutes later, Beth burst into engineering and dropped to the floor beside the console M'Rana was working at. "We....we....we got-"
"What happened to you?" M'Rana asked in confusion as she gawked at her best friend.
"We got it," Beth said quickly, still catching her breath. "We've got out own quarters."
"Really!?" M'Rana's brown eyes fairly lit up with the news as her mother turned away.
"I....I was just talking with my father," Beth said, still huffing from her run from deck two to deck eleven. "Deck eight, section J27. One of the little ones. We can move in whenever we're ready."
"Just let me catch my breath first," Beth laughed.
"I warned her," an all-knowing voice suddenly said from above them. "I told you no faster than warp six and you must have been going eight or nine to get down here so fast. Wait until the next time Commander Tuvok catches you."
"If you don't stop picking on me, I'm going to make sure that I play music until 0300," Beth retorted in Icheb's direction. "Because it looks like we're going to be neighbors."
"Good grief! What'd you do? Pack everything except the replicator?"
"You can put that over there," Beth called to Jaysen from where she was hidden behind a small tower of boxes belonging to M'Rana.
"I think M'Rana has the replicator in this one," Roget piped up from another corner of the room.
"I heard that!" M'Rana shouted from somewhere in the vicinity of the bedroom.
Ignoring the rest of her friends, Beth poked her head into yet another storage container. "I know I left those padds on top," she muttered for what seemed like the fifteenth time that hour. After coercing Roget and Jaysen to help them move, M'Rana and Beth had both set about to accomplish the impossible - moving two girls into their new quarters within an hour.
"Ow!" M'Rana suddenly exclaimed and popped her head out of the small bedroom while waving a flat, gray object. "Beth!"
"There it is!" Taking the padd from her friend, Beth tapped a few commands into it and sighed with relief. "I thought I was going to have to try to rewrite this report - and it took me three hours the first time."
"First time you re-wrote it?"
"First time I wrote it, silly," she retorted giving Jaysen a swat on the arm with the padd.
Rubbing his arm as if hurt, Jaysen pouted at her. "I was just asking."
Beth raised an eyebrow at his stance, "Know what happens to boys and girls who push their bottom lips out?" she asked sweetly. Without waiting for him to answer, she reached up and gently brushed the underside of his chin. "A little birdie will land on it - at least, that's what my dad told me. And I always imagined a giant bird's claws getting stuck there. Not a pleasant thought for a five year old."
Jaysen winced, effectively drawing in his lip. "No wonder you smiled all the time," he grimaced.
She shrugged. "Dad's psychology may need a little fine tuning, but it worked." Lifting another box, she deposited it into Jaysen's arms and gave him a peck on the cheek. "That goes by the table."
"What's in it?" he asked, bewildered at what could weigh so much.
"Books," Beth answered innocently as she opened the storage container closest to her and pulled out her Flotter doll followed by Mr. Treevis.
"I'm kidding," she laughed tossing Flotter at him as he set the container down.
Catching the stuffed animal before it hit the ground, Jaysen turned back to her, "Well, what was in it?"
Beth rolled her eyes, "Chemistry sets, soil samples, petri dishes...."
"Your basic Starfleet laboratory," he finished for her.
"Everything but the replicator," she grinned lifting another stuffed animal from the box in front of her.
"Who's that?" Jaysen asked, slipping his arms around Beth's small frame as he pulled her to lean against him.
"Mr. Sandstone," Beth reminded him. "He was only in a few of the adventures, but I liked him enough to replicate a toy."
"Do you have all of them?" Jaysen asked, releasing her so he could peer into the box. "Mr. Nimala...Miss Rose...and look, even Mr. Featter."
"I liked the holodeck," Beth declared, gripping Mr. Featter in all of his feathered glory. "Problem?"
"As long as you're not running them for your own entertainment now," he laughed.
"He just doesn't want to run into you while he's in there," Roget quipped, with a poke at Jaysen's ribs.
"Careful, I've got Miss Rose to defend me. She's the princess of the flowers, you know."
"Is she going to protect you from the wrath of Paris if you're late for a shift?" the Tarkarian inquired.
"Not again!" Jaysen moaned casting a glance at the tiny chronometer that had already been extracted from one of the dozens of containers littering the floor. "I'm supposed to be in engineering in five minutes."
"Then get going," Beth declared giving him a little push in the direction of the door.
"Seven," Kathryn smiled warmly when the doors of her quarters slid apart to reveal the younger woman she had once considered a daughter. "Come in; can I get you anything?"
"No," she replied striding to the center of the well-lit room. Seven's hands were clasped behind her back as her clear blue eyes roamed over the furniture and data padds strewn about the quarters. Most everything was just as she had imagined it to be. Reports and half-empty cups of coffee littered the low table in front of the sofa. A book, with a forest-green marker in it, had been left in the chair. The desk, where a mug of steaming coffee rested, had a faint glow illuminating it from the computer screen.
"I was just reviewing the crew roster," Kathryn said softly in way of explanation as Seven's eyes landed on the console. "Icheb, Azan, Mezoti -- children have all grown up; some even have offspring of their own. You can't imagine how awkward it feels coming back to realize they've gone on without you."
I can. She didn't say it, but the words were on the tip of her tongue. Beth had spent her first night in the new quarters last night; Seven had lain awake until 0400 expecting her daughter to call and request that she be allowed to return home. But, the call never came. And, Seven was beginning to realize that she had missed a vital part of young-adulthood due to the Borg. She had never had the urge to seek her own independence and break away from her family, which was what Beth doing now.
"I...I shouldn't have come," Seven stammered, picking at the wrist of her blue-shouldered uniform in an effort to not meet the other woman's gaze. "I felt I should welcome you back, but I see now I was wrong in coming."
"Why?" Kathryn shook her head in confusion. "Actually, I'm glad you stopped by. I've been meaning to thank you and Harry." She reached out a hand and laid it on Seven's arm. "For raising Beth. She's turned into a beautiful young woman."
She was holding something back, Seven saw immediately as she dropped her arm. Her technologically enhanced eye picked up the minute fluctuations of body temperature and pulse with the utmost of ease and served as a litmus test. Kathryn Janeway was lying through her teeth. But, she wondered, why?
"You are welcome," Seven replied, hoping she was masking her own emotions. Welcome? What had made her say that? Seven had at first been infuriated by the daunting task of raising a child and felt that Chakotay should care of her. Now, however, she was questioning whether or not it was best for Beth to build a parental relationship with Chakotay and Kathryn.
After all, she argued, it would only serve to confuse her at an already confusing point in her life. Beth was attempting to assert her own identity and at the same time contend with multiple sets of parents.
"Is something wrong?"
"Nothing," Seven lied. No, she argued with herself. When it came to the best interests of her child, she had never backed down - she wouldn't start now. Not even for Captain Janeway.
"I have been thinking about Beth," Seven began slowly. Alarm immediately flew into Kathryn's eyes -- alarm and love. If she truly loved Beth, Seven rationalized, she would do what is best for her. "She is at a turning point in her life."
"I know," Kathryn nodded and motioned to the sofa and chairs. "Do you want to sit down and talk about it?"
"I did not come to seek your council," Seven stated bluntly, slightly ashamed as Kathryn flinched at her harsh words. "I have learned a great deal about child-rearing over the past seventeen years."
"I don't doubt it."
"Elizabeth is going through a time of self-discovery," Seven said carefully. "I believe it may have first been brought on when she was told that Captain Chakotay was her father. And now, it has only increased with your arrival."
"You blame me for her decision to seek other quarters?"
"No. I hold you responsible for what words you say to my daughter," the stress on 'my' was not missed on Kathryn, Seven saw. "I understand that you have spoken with her on several occasions."
"She's my daughter," Kathryn answered in a low voice. "I have the right."
Seven shook her head slightly. "If you truly love her, you would want what's best. And to confuse her even more than she is would be unforgivable. Once she has passed through this independence stage, she will return home and remain there until it's her time to move out."
"She's already reached that point, Seven," Kathryn responded. "Beth is not a child anymore; she's a young adult with definite ideas of her own. And one of those notions, which is not uncommon for people her age, is that she should be making her own choices and breaking free of the parameters imposed on her by parental figures."
Seven frowned intently at the older woman. "You know nothing of Beth's habits. She outgrew the desire to become a medical officer after a day in sickbay when she was six. When she was twelve, she decided to join the Borg following an argument with myself, but quickly decided against it. This too, will pass."
At least, Seven thought to herself as she quickly exited the quarters, I hope it does.
Several hours later, Kathryn Janeway slipped from her quarters to deck two. Framed in the doorway of the messhall, she glanced around slowly at the sparse sea of unfamiliar faces that greeted her. Children of the crew, she surmised, from their younger appearance and lower rankings.
One large table, once upon a time the senior staffs' favorite, was surrounded by a group of laughing teenagers in civilian clothes. If she had to hazard a guess, Kathryn wouldn't have thought the oldest to be more than fifteen - which placed them all within the age of students in Voyager's Academy.
To her right, behind the counter leading into the kitchen, Neelix was fussing over a bowl of fruits and attempting to arrange them just so. Glancing up and catching her watching him, he offered a slight wave in her direction.
With an amount of relief at the sight of a familiar face, Kathryn made her way over to him. "Neelix..." she greeted him, a wide smile stretching across her face in an effort to appear at ease in her new home. "How have you been?"
"Quite well, quite well," he answered quickly, setting another bowl of fruit on the counter and lifting a reddish colored fruit for polishing. "It's good to be back in the kitchen and out of that sickbay." He leaned forward and with a voice that instantly reminded Kathryn of how he had always sounded as if he was about to spill a secret, he added, "Don't get me wrong, working in sickbay was a wonderful opportunity - and I still look forward to it. But, there's something about creating a work of art that people can enjoy. And," he said proudly, "Food consumption had been boosted by fifteen percent since I retook my post as chef."
Kathryn looked away wishing she felt as good to be back as the alien chef did. "Where are the crew members?"
Following her gaze around the room, a puzzled looked crossed Neelix's spotted visage. "The crew- oh!, you mean the first generation crew members. I assume they're in bed, asleep. This is my midnight snack bunch. The kids were up late studying and the older ones have later shifts or have just gotten off duty. For that table over there," he gestured in the direction of two gold-shouldered officers and a science officer who appeared to be half dozing as they slowly ate, "This is breakfast. Speaking of which, why are you wandering around this ship at this hour?"
"Thinking," Kathryn lied. In truth, she had been waiting for Chakotay and hoping that he would discuss ship's business with her - anything to make her feel a part of this group again. But, when he'd finally arrived complaining of a headache, he'd begged off any talking that night and vanished into his room.
"Oh, well if there's-" Neelix turned sharply and sniffed the air. "Do you smell that?" he demanded. "It smells like - oh no! My roast!" Disappearing into kitchen, Kathryn heard him call of his shoulder, "Help yourself to whatever you want!"
Taking a slice of fruit and then adding a piece of chocolate cake to the side with a mug of a coffee, Kathryn studied the room for several seconds. Making her way to a table set in the very back and wedged into the corner, she took a seat where she could face the stars instead of being forced to watch the others socialize.
Two or three pairs of eyes followed her curiously and she felt the majority of the former senior staffs' table watching her intently as she made her way through the room past them. Setting her plate down, Kathryn settled herself into the chair and sighed.
It had been a long day for her - too long, she thought to herself. The previous night's sleep had been cut short due to the conversation with B'Elanna weighing heavily on her mind. Had it been her imagination, or had B'Elanna seemed reluctant to talk with her? And when she did, Kathryn wondered as she picked up a fork and speared a piece of the cake, why had she accused her of trying to spend time with her own daughter?
The short night of sleep wasn't the only thing that made Kathryn weary; Chakotay had had a hand in it too. It wasn't his fault, she knew, but he was still the one whose comm badge went off at 0430 sending a shrill alarm throughout their quarters. It was only a minor emergency, but the signal was still loud enough to wake her. She'd rose then, also, and spoke with her newfound husband only long enough to determine that he thought it would be a short battle from the description he'd been given. In fact, it wasn't really necessary for him to come to the bride, but it was a tradition for the captain to be there during battle that he wasn't about to give up.
And then, the conversation with Seven. Kathryn nearly groaned aloud in remembrance of the conversation only hours old. How could it be, she wondered, that the memories of the prison camps - in all its horror - were more welcome than the thought of staying on Voyager with the crew reacting to her as they were. Seven had not responded to Kathryn as she had expected - a concerned mother - but instead as an extremely protective, over-bearing drone.
She bit into a piece of fruit, hard. Was the crew ever going to warm up to her? Or, would she remain an outsider? Deep in her heart, Kathryn felt the answer gnawing away at her. They hadn't known her when she'd had Shannon. They knew nothing of how protective her maternal instincts were or how she would do anything to protect her child.
Kathryn dreaded the day that the crew discovered her secret. B'Elanna would be the worst, she knew instinctively. Ethical issues had come and gone on board Voyager during her time there, but none had so closely resembled her life as those that had surrounded her chief engineer all those years ago.
Suddenly, Kathryn's head perked up as an idea began to creep into her mind. Maybe, she thought to herself, they wouldn't have to. Had she or had she not the power to make sure no one discovered the truth about herself and about Shannon? She did.
Glancing into the curved glass that separated her from the emptiness of space, Kathryn found several pairs of eyes watching her and whispering furiously to one another.
It'd spare them from trying to adjust to a new captain, she added to her list of support. Chakotay would inevitably feel as though he had to relinquish command to her and that in itself could upset the ranks.
Gathering the more than half full plate and mug of coffee, Kathryn made her way to the replicator to deposit the dishes. With a new purpose in her step, she quickly left the messhall.
"Must you keep the lights on this late?"
Beth ignored M'Rana and stayed hunched over the slim volume resting in her hands.
"Beth?" M'Rana groaned from where she was stretched out on the lower bunk. It was late, nearly 0100, and Beth hadn't given any indication of turning out the lights.
"I don't care if you're on the last page of that insufferable book," M'Rana declared. "Lights out. Now."
"Just a minute...."
"Computer, deactivate lights."
"Belay that order," Beth replied as the lights dimmed and then came back to full illumination.
"Reduce ambient lighting to zero percent; require my authorization for over rides."
"Authorization Kim theta 2-1-6. Restrict all access codes for lighting in quarters 8-27 to me only. Now, computer, activate lights," Beth leaned over the side of her bunk as the lighting returned to normal. "One of the perks of being a bridge officer - higher rank," she smirked.
Then, without another word, she leaned back against the pillows and buried her nose back into Jane Eyre. In actuality, she was almost done. Jane was just now coming through the mist upon the house where Rochester now lived. If she could only get through the last few pages...
"Beth, that's pretty low," M'Rana growled as she rose from the bed to face her best friend. "Why'd you do that? We have to be on duty in six hours."
"Beth, I'm tired. And, I'm getting cranky. It's time to sleep!"
"So go to bed. It's my choice to stay up reading."
"Not when it keeps others up!"
"I'm not holding you hostage," Beth retorted. "If you really wanted to sleep, you could go elsewhere."
"I just may do that!"
"Fine," Beth returned her eyes to the novel, but was actually focused on M'Rana ripping her sheets and pillow from the bunk below her.
"Selfish child," M'Rana muttered as she hefted the bundle into her arms.
"I thought you were leaving."
Beth jumped slightly as the doors hissed shut behind M'Rana. She could hear the other girl making up the sofa in the small living room and then crawling into bed as she dimmed the lights.
She hadn't wanted to fight with M'Rana - not tonight. But, she was uneasy.
She'd run into her mother leaving sickbay only an hour ago. Nothing was unusual about that, she admitted, but her mother's countenance had alarmed her for some reason. Beth couldn't put her finger on the reason, but she knew something was dreadfully wrong.
Upon learning that Beth had been carrying around a padd containing Jane Eyre for the past week, Kathryn had immediately insisted that her daughter finish the novel from an actual book of the novel - not from the digital padd.
Now, she held the book in her hands and was determined to finish it before morning - even if it meant staying up all night. If M'Rana couldn't understand how important it was for her to be able to read from her mother's collection, then so be it.
Turning another page in the book, Beth smiled with relief -- the last page. A minute later, she laid the book on her nightstand and deactivated the lights.
"Where is she!?"
The ensign at the transporter console looked up started. "Sickbay," he answered, instantly.
Barely allowing time for the door to open, Chakotay lurched into a run and barreled down the deck in the direction of the turbolifts. As he skid around a corner, Chakotay frowned. The lift was supposed to be at the end of this corridor - he should be able to see it. He was going the right direction, right? Or, in his rush, had he been turned around?
Of course not, Chakotay thought to himself, picking up speed as he started running down the corridor. The only person on board Voyager who might know the ship better than himself was his wife - and that was only because she'd been given a few extra briefings before they'd left the Alpha Quadrant.
Breathe! He reminded himself, gasping for air. His heart was pounding a mad-man's rhythm as it tap danced against his rib cage. Wiping at the sweat that was beginning to bead up on his forehead, Chakotay pressed forward.
Laughter, sweet and that of his wife's, gently caressed Chakotay's ears. Pulling up short, he listened carefully. The laughter came again, this time with a whispered, "Chakotay..."
From the right, he decided, making a sharp turn at an intersection. In the distance, he could make out the slim figure of his captain and wife, dressed in a clean uniform and waiting for him where the corridor dead-ended.
"Kathryn!" he shouted, plunging forward. "Kathryn!" But, when he reached the end, he stopped and glanced around furiously. "Kathryn?" he asked, hesitantly of the air. Where had she gone? She had disappeared into thin air!
With a gasp, Chakotay gasped as his hand reached out to the pillow beside him half hoping she would be there, but knowing she wouldn't. When his fingers wrapped around the silky tresses of the bed's other occupant, his eyes shot open.
Kathryn lay, curled up on her side facing him, but still a respectable distance away, with one arm serving as a pillow and the other clutching part of the blankets that were wrapped around her.
Muscles still tense from his dream, Chakotay briefly wondered why he'd dreamed that particular one this night. It had invaded his thoughts several times a week before his wife had re-joined Voyager, but not since she had arrived. It didn't matter, he decided. It may simply be his fears releasing themselves.
Of course, the next question on his mind concerned what Kathryn was doing in his bed. Could she be ready to allow him into her past, he wondered. Or, had she simply had a nightmare and felt "safer" finishing the night in his room?
The fact that she was even in the room - let alone his bed - indicated she was becoming more comfortable with their relationship, Chakotay decided.
Easing closer to her, Chakotay had no trouble coaxing her sleeping form into his arms. Once assured that his wife was indeed in his room and lay sleeping in his embrace, Chakotay drifted into a peaceful slumber.
Whipping his head around, the Doctor calmly eyed the young ensign who had just stumbled through the doors of sickbay. "On the biobed," he ordered, swiftly moving a metal tray in the direction of the man. "What happened?"
"Holodeck," he gasped as the Doctor fully extended his previously cradled arm. "I was kayaking."
"Looks like you hit a few bumps," the ever-on-duty physician muttered as he reached for a hypospray from memorization. When his hand only clasped air, he turned to inspect the tray. They desired object was indeed not on the tray.
"Ensign," the Doctor began, a puzzled note in his voice, fully intending to question the young man. "Nevermind," he decided after a moment, giving a slight shake of his head. Michael had been on the holodeck ten minutes ago; he would have no knowledge of anyone being in sickbay or leaving sickbay with a hypospray.
Retrieving another from his medical store, the Doctor frowned at the shelf where a different bottle was missing. He was about to question Michael as to whether or not he had seen anyone leaving sickbay, but thought better of it. He had been alone for the majority of the night; only Kathryn Janeway and her daughter had stopped by.
Kathryn had stayed just long enough to have a short chat with the Doctor (he suspected her lonely) and Elizabeth had dropped by to give him a report for one of the lieutenants in the science labs. Neither, he decided, would have had time to steal from him. And besides, he reminded himself, he had trusted Kathryn Janeway with his very existence on more than one occasion and she had never failed him. She wouldn't turn her back on him now. As for Elizabeth, they had worked together several times over the past few weeks, but she would have no reason to steal from him.
"Ensign, did you see anyone in the corridor when you came in?" What other explanation was there?
"No, sir," Michael replied, clutching his arm with the good one. "Guess I'm the only one stupid enough to be on the holodecks this late."
"I suppose so," the Doctor wryly returned. Moments later, he had knit the shoulder back together and sent the ensign on his way.
Moving back to inspect the shelves, the Doctor found nearly a half dozen bottles and hyposprays missing. But, he wondered, who would have taken them?
Kathryn took a sip of the herbal tea as she leaned back into her sofa. Only an hour ago, she had awoken in the other room to find Chakotay's arms wrapped tightly around her. Panicking, at first, she had momentarily allowed herself be drawn into her past where guards were continually startling her awake. Returning to the present almost immediately, Kathryn was swiftly shuttled back to the past - a past before she became a prisoner.
Chakotay never moved in his sleep, she had remembered vividly. Not unless he had a nightmare; and even then, he usually returned to the position he had been in before.
Yet, although Kathryn had been careful to put distance between them when she had finally gathered enough courage to enter his room, she had still found herself in his arms. Which only left one conclusion - Chakotay had awoken during the night.
Knots re-formed in Kathryn's stomach. No one was supposed to know she had snuck into his room last night - especially not him. It was only supposed to be a 'treat' to sleep near her husband one last time.
Kathryn's head jerked, startled, as Chakotay greeted her.
"Looks like a long one for me today," Chakotay said, accepting the replicated mug of coffee and then moving to sit across from her. At the last minute, he changed his mind and joined her on the sofa. "I've got a dozen crew evaluations to go over and then there's Seven's latest experiment." Was it Chakotay's imagination, he wondered, or had his wife actually flinched at the mention of Seven's name?
"Fine," Kathryn answered softly. "I'll be here."
"Yes, I supposed you will be," Chakotay said slowly. "Is there anything I can do for you?" She shook her head mutely as he rose from the sofa. "I'm going to head up to the bridge now. If there's anything at all, you know where to find me." Bending back down, he lifted her face to meet his eyes. Startled as tears sprung into her eyes, he sat back down and drew her into his arms. "Kat?"
She shook her head quickly, a clear indication she didn't want to answer his question.
"Tell me," he implored, rubbing her back gently.
"You'll be late for duty," she reminded him, fighting the tears in her voice.
"Doesn't matter; I'm the captain."
Wiping her eyes as she pushed on his chest, she shook her head. "It's nothing. Really, Chakotay, go to the bridge. Your crew needs you."
Allowing her to pull away, he cupped her chin in his hand as he studied her face. "We'll talk about this later," he promised, pressing a kiss to the corner of her mouth. "Tonight. We'll talk about whatever it is you need to tell me tonight."
Chakotay rose for the second time to leave. Reclaiming the coffee mug that had been set down on the table, he exited the quarters slowly, forcing himself to not look back. They would talk tonight, he promised himself again. He would get to the bottom of this before he rested again.
"Bridge," he ordered once in the turbolift.
Unable to concentrate on the briefing that would demand his full attention in a few minutes, Chakotay found his mind drifting in the direction of the auburn haired woman he knew was still sitting on his sofa where he'd left her. What was her "big" secret, he asked himself continually.
No matter what she was hiding, he swore to himself, he would always love her. And, somehow, they would work through this. After all, the rest of one's life was a long time to go on being uncomfortable with his spouse.
Startled out of his reverie, Chakotay's eyes snapped up. The doors to the turbolift had slid apart several seconds ago and most of his bridge crew was watching him with concern.
"Let's go people. Back to work." Moving in the direction of the conference room, Chakotay gave his daughter's shoulders a friendly hug as they made their way into the staff meeting.
Beth watched her father, confused. He appeared to be ready for the meeting, but something told her that this morning had not been "normal". Then again, she reminded herself, on board the USS Voyager, what was considered normal?
Dropping into the seat she considered hers, she watched the senior staff for any indication that they knew what had disturbed her father this morning. Tom had his head turned away from Beth and for a moment she wondered whether or not M'Rana had spoken to her father about their argument last night. But, when he looked up from the conversation with Harry and asked how Beth and M'Rana were enjoying their freedom, Beth relaxed. M'Rana had said nothing.
"Excuse me, excuse me!"
The senior officers quieted down as the Doctor's voice spoke up from where he had just entered the conference room.
"I hate to interrupt your social gathering," he began, "But there is a matter I must bring up - despite its implications." Pausing for a moment to scowl at Chakotay for not starting the meeting on time, he continued. "Last night, I discovered several chemicals and hyposprays missing from sickbay."
"Anyone could have borrowed them," Tom informed him, slightly exasperated. "While you were offline, crewmembers had to get used to Neelix and I not always being in sickbay and became accustomed to treating their own scrapes and bruises whenever possible. You were probably offline and just missed them."
"They've borrowed chemicals on several occasions," Neelix added. "Samantha especially, what with caring for Rosetta and all."
"I did some research," the Doctor refuted. "The drugs in question are benign alone; however, when combined they're lethal."
"You think someone has created a drug with the intent on killing?" Andrea asked, quick to make several mental notes for her security teams.
"I can't say for sure, but it appears so."
Something was tugging at the edge of Beth's mind. Her argument with M'Rana was foremost in her thoughts, but there was something else. Something, she thought, that needed to be remembered. As the subject of the missing chemicals was dismissed (and Andrea promised to have a team look into it), Beth fought to remember exactly what it was she had heard or seen.
The meeting continued smoothly and without incident, but Beth only listened with half an ear as she studied the tabletop in an effort to remember what was so important.
Tom reported that several of the younger teens had shown an interest in piloting and requested additional holodeck time for flight classes. Harry and B'Elanna and Seven ran over the latest modifications to the sensors after implementing several pieces of equipment from Janeway's shuttle. As Tuvok was beginning to report the status of the late night shifts, Beth remembered seeing her mother late last night.
"Mother..." she murmured, eyes still on the smooth surface of the gray conference table. Lifting blue-gray eyes to meet her father's, she opened her mouth to speak, but found the words hard to say. "May...may I be excused?" she managed to choke out.
"What is it, Beth?"
"I-I don't want t-to say," she stuttered. "If I'm wrong-"
Chakotay raised a hand to halt her speech. "Go," he ordered. He trusted her judgment and if Beth felt it important enough to interrupt Tuvok's account something must be terribly wrong.
Beth leapt up from her seat and rushed to the door, barely giving it time to open before she barged headlong onto the bridge and in the direction of the turbolift.
"Deck three," she ordered briskly, tapping a foot on the deck. What would she find, she thought to herself. If she was wrong, her mother would be startled to be interrupted in the middle of the day by a hysterical teenager. If she was right....Beth hated to think of what she might stumble upon.
Counting the lights pulsating each time she fell another deck, Beth nearly plowed through the turbolift doors as it came to rest on the third deck. Not caring whether or not she was waking anyone with the pounding of her feet on the deck, Beth broke into a full run and then tripped as she slid to a halt at the door to the captain's quarters.
Entering an override code she had extracted from the computer several months ago, Beth nearly fell into the dark quarters, but caught herself just in time. The doors swished shut quickly, leaving Beth standing alone in the dark.
The only stars from the windows were the only source of illumination. As Beth's eyes adjusted to the eerie light, she cast a hesitant glance around the room. On a table below the window, a snow globe glimmered with "freshly" fallen snow as if it had recently been touched. A small collection on anta padds littered the coffee table and an old fashioned book with a thick green ribbon marking the reader's place was laid on the sofa.
Feeling someone's eyes on her, Beth whipped around to her father's desk. "Mother?" she asked, fearing what she would find.
Through the dark, she could make out her mother's silhouette and two glittering orbs silently watching her. Beth felt her stomach lurch as her eyes fell on the silver hypospray gleaming brightly out of place in the dark surroundings.
Unsure as to whether or not Kathryn had used the hypo, Beth took a hesitant step forward. "Mother?" she asked again eyes on the hypospray. "Give it to me," She held out a hand as her voice pleaded.
"There's nothing left for me, Beth," Kathryn's soft, yet grating voice reached her daughter's ears.
"Yes," Beth insisted taking a step forward, "There is. There's my father. And me."
"Sometimes, that's not enough," Kathryn replied coldly. "I've left an explanation for you - and for your father."
"I get a letter?" Beth scoffed. "Thank you so much," she snapped, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "I feel so lucky; I never knew my mother, but she's come back to leave me a note before committing suicide."
"Don't judge so harshly," Kathryn's blue eyes snapped with the uncomfortable fire that had been burning in her belly since she had laid eyes on her husband for the first time in so many years. "There are things you don't understand, Elizabeth, things about me that you don't know, things about your father and I that you don't know. Trust me, it's easier this way."
"Of course," Beth's voice was bitter and boiling at the same time. "Easier. I should have known. The stories about the fearless Janeway were lies. You always took the easy way out, I assume."
Kathryn stood from the desk, one hand still firmly closed around the silver instrument of death. ""Don't assume anything. I'm doing this for you and for your father as well as for my crew."
"For us!?" she exclaimed. "You think that killing yourself will solve everything??"
"The pain will hurt for a little bit," Kathryn watched as her daughter paced the room and came to stand in front of the snow globe Chakotay had given her as a birthday gift. "But, it will ease and you'll not remember me."
Beth lifted the snow globe in her hands and turned it over. "I refuse to believe that you're thinking of anyone but yourself right now," she snapped. Opening her mouth to continue, she was cut off by her mother.
"You can not possibly understand what I have been through," Kathryn strove to keep her temper in check. "I was kidnapped and forced to perform terrible experiments designed to kill in order to save my child from certain death. But," she laughed harshly, "It didn't matter; they murdered her anyway. So, I finally escape and I'm left to chase Voyager in a tiny shuttle, cut off from any form of human contact for over a decade. And now, you think that everything will work out just fine if I only try!" Kathryn glared angrily at Beth as she moved to stand in front of her. Looking her square in the eyes, she added, "The fearless Captain Janeway you have heard about no longer exists."
"Yes, she does!"
"She died in that shuttle and nothing can change that!"
"She died, of course! That explains it! So now that gives you an excuse to take the easy way out!" Beth clenched the snow globe in her hands tightly. "When I had a series of bad luck with the shuttles, do you know what father did?? He forced me to get back in and try again! Why should it be any different with you?!"
"I'm the captain."
"You are not the captain - my father is!"
"I was the captain!" Kathryn retorted smartly.
Beth stared at her mother for one split second of silence. Then, with a howl of frustration, she hurled the snow globe across the room where it smashed against a wall and shattered.
"You're a coward!" she shouted tears rushing to her eyes. "You loved Shannon and sacrificed your life so she might live, but you refuse to take the life that's been given back to you with father and me."
Dropping the hypospray with a strangled cry, Kathryn fell to her knees beside the pool of water and glass that had once been her treasured snow globe. Tears threatened to choke her as she pressed a hand to her lips while the other sought out the tiny, wooden house her husband had lovingly carved. Finally allowing the salt water to cascade over her cheeks, Kathryn hunched over and allowed herself to release the emotions that had been burning within her soul for seventeen years.
Beth felt a wave of nausea wash over her when she realized what she had done. Kneeling, she cautiously slid two arms around Kathryn and pressed a check hot with tears against hers. "I'm sorry, Mother, I'm sorry," she repeated over and over softly.
Turning, Kathryn caught her daughter in a tight embrace, only half noticing that Beth had kicked the hypospray across the room.
For several minutes, the two said nothing, but cried in each other's arms. Finally composing herself, Kathryn drew in several breaths of air and leaned back to look at her little girl.
"I'm sorry," Kathryn whispered, brushing back the sweaty hair from Beth's face. "I wish you hadn't come in to find me."
Beth didn't bother to wipe the tears from her eyes as she hoarsely asked: "Did you use it?"
Mutely, Kathryn shook her head. "No," she finally said. "Not yet."
"Mother!" a strangled cry escaped Beth's throat as fresh tears threatened to spill.
"Listen. Listen to me, Beth," Kathryn ordered, pushing her daughter back enough to watch her reaction. "Seventeen years ago, I thought Shannon was you. I told myself that I'd not let anything happen to that child, no matter the cost to myself. I was forced to do things - to kill people in horrible ways for a war I didn't believe in or even know anything about. But, I did it because I loved my child and so desperately wanted to protect her. Even if I began to make myself a home on Voyager, people wouldn't understand why I did what I did. I wouldn't be accepted and I don't want to live the rest of my life like that."
"If you explained-"
"Did B'Elanna ever tell you about Crell Moset?" When Beth shook her head mutely, Kathryn continued. "He was a doctor - a Cardassian doctor. We activated his hologram in hopes that he would have a medical solution to detach an alien that had leeched onto B'Elanna." Kathryn took a shaky breath as she remembered those days and the weeks that followed. "He had the solution, all right. But, he was Cardassian and had killed hundreds of people during war in the name of science in order to obtain that solution.
"B'Elanna was insistent - she didn't want the knowledge he had gathered from his crimes to be used to save her life. But, I made the ultimate decision and ordered the surgery to take place." Kathryn was silent for a moment as the argument that had followed replayed through her mind. "She told me I had no right to make that decision for her," she finally whispered, nearly forgetting the daughter she still held close. "And, I suppose that it should have been her decision. But," eyes clearing, she looked directly at Beth, "How do you think she would react to know that I'm no better than Moset? Would it matter that I killed in order to spare my daughter? Or, is that just an excuse?"
"I think you under estimate your own crew. Give them a chance."
"It wouldn't work," Kathryn muttered, releasing her daughter.
Blue-gray eyes flashed at her mother as Beth's mouth turned down in a frown. "Do you remember your father?" she asked finally.
"He died when I was a young woman," Kathryn answered softly after a moment. "I-I always wished that I would have known him better."
"Would you deny me to know you?" Beth whispered, pleading.
Kathryn felt something turn over in her soul. Here, she realized was her own daughter, begging her to not end her life. What had she done? Had she really reached the point of not caring what others felt?
Shaking her head ever so slightly, she reached forward and encircled the younger version of herself in a tight embrace. "I promise, Wahkita," she murmured the Indian name her husband had chosen.
For the tenth time that hour, Chakotay look down at the comm badge resting on his desk and resisted the urge to tap it. Beth would come to him when and if she needed to he knew. And, not a moment before.
Touching his computer screen briefly, Chakotay called up Voyager's schematics for the fifth time that hour, telling himself that he wasn't checking up on his daughter, but only looking to see whether or not she had left his quarters yet. She had, he saw instantly. And, his heart lifted, she was just walking up to his door.
Standing and ordering the door to open, he saw her frozen to the spot, eyes confused as she looked back down at the hand that had been posed to ring the chime.
He expected her to make a joke or at least attempt to see what was on his computer screen, but she simply came to stand in front of his desk, arms behind her back, and raised her blue-gray eyes to his.
"What happened?" he asked, a knot already forming in his stomach.
"Mother took the hypo," Beth didn't bother to mince words or soften the blow she was about to deliver. "She was going to commit suicide."
Chakotay's mouth opened slightly in shock as he collapsed back into his chair. The room suddenly felt as if it were suffocating him, he thought as he fought to take in several gulps of air. "Why?" he finally rasped.
Beth invited herself to take a seat across from him as she pondered exactly what to say. She hadn't wanted to shock him as she had, but it'd been necessary for him to realize the severity of the situation. Now, she thought to herself, she was going to have to convince him that the issue wasn't completely settled.
"She didn't feel as if she belonged," Beth replied. "She did things for Shannon..." her voice trailed off. With a forceful shake of her head, she met her father's dark eyes. "It's not my place to tell you; you need to talk with her."
For several moments, Chakotay's unseeing eyes stared out the window of his readyroom. How had this happened, he asked himself time and time again. How had his wife reached the point of not caring whether she lived or died and their daughter was the only one to recognize the symptoms? He should have comforted her more when she had first come aboard; he should have recognized the signs leading up to this moment; he should have been the one to know that Kathryn had the hypospray.
Finally standing, Chakotay pulled Beth out of her chair and, without asking, wrapped his daughter tightly in his embrace. "Thanks, Beth," he murmured against the top of her head. "I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost your mother again."
Hesitantly, Beth returned the embrace as tears again threatened to spill over her cheeks. Finally pulling away, she looked down embarrassed. "I'm sorry I was so difficult a few weeks ago," she whispered.
Reaching over to lift her chin, Chakotay nodded, "It's okay. Believe it or not, I do understand."
The corners of Beth's mouth lifted slightly in relief as she turned to exit the ready room. At the last minute, she turned back to her father who was still standing in the middle of the room. "I love my mother and don't want to lose her either," she informed him. "And, I love you too, Father."
Chakotay drew in a sharp breath as Beth quickly escaped the room. It had cost her to say that, he realized. Then, as his shock slowly melted away an amazed grin spread across his features. He'd done it. Beth's icy exterior had been broken down and she had finally allowed herself to let him in her life.
He had to find Kathryn and tell her.
Immediately, the smile vanished. As happy as he was over this glorious moment, a shadow fell upon him at the remembrance of his wife. He needed to find Kathryn.
Harry looked up from the data padd he'd been concentrating on as a voice spoke from the doorway.
"Beth? Come on in," Standing, Harry gave his daughter a quick hug and then reclaimed his seat in front of the large window.
"I don't want to interrupt your work," Beth said quickly, casting a glance at her mom who was sitting in the chair across from Harry.
"A new holoprogram Uncle Tom and I are working on," Harry said lifting the padd. "It's an old western town. Your mom and I were just discussing whether or not to include a town drunk."
Beth wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "Leave him out."
"Something tells me you're not here to give advice about the program," Harry motioned for her to sit beside him. "What's on your mind?"
Taking a deep breath and sitting down, Beth clasped her hands in her lap as she studied the table. Finally, she raised her eyes to study the painting that hung on the wall behind her mom. "I...realized that I don't want to stay angry with you," she said.
"What made you angry?" Seven asked softly.
Pausing to swallow hard, she finally answered. "It all boils down to you wouldn't let me grow up. I felt as if I was being treated like a child and not an officer. It wasn't one or two things that bothered me, but being told when to go to bed, having you check up on me to see if I was coming to dinner, and intervening with the shuttle incident."
"You needed to get back in the shuttle," Seven informed her. "But, I could see that you were unwilling to attempt it."
Harry held his breath as his eyes swung from Seven to Beth. He wasn't going to interrupt this conversation, he told himself. He had prepared for the time that Chakotay would acknowledge Beth as his daughter, but his wife had not been expecting Kathryn Janeway to appear. The few reactions he had witnessed told him that Seven was anxious about the former captain taking up a motherly position in their daughter's life.
"I did need to get over my fear of failing every shuttle mission," Beth admitted to her mom, "But I would have preferred to do it in my own time."
Seven was silent for a long moment as her daughter's words sunk into her. "I apologize for not allowing you to take responsibility," she said, to Beth's surprise.
Beth felt tears that had been pushed back for several hours trying to rush to the front again. "I'm sorry for being a head-strong teenager," she said with a small smile.
Seven joined her husband and daughter on the sofa and wrapped her arms around Beth tightly. "Beth, your dad and I love you, honey. And we don't want anything to come between us - especially now that you're...trying your own wings."
Beth smiled at the reference to what her mother had said. Clinging to her mom for a moment, she turned and looked over her shoulder at her dad. Taking the invitation, Harry wrapped his arms around the two most important women in his life with a wide smile.
Seven was still sitting on the sofa where Beth and Harry had left her after Harry had seen Beth to the door.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Better than I've been in a long time," Seven replied, her blue eyes bright with tears. "I never imagined that she would come to us."
"She's growing up," Harry said simply.
"I suppose so," Seven said slowly. Pressing her cheek against her husband's shoulder as his arms stole around her she shook her head slightly. "I don't want to do it, but I suppose I should talk to Captain Janeway tomorrow."
"Early staff meeting," Harry reminded her softly. "Chakotay sounded urgent when he contacted me; you don't want to be late."
"After the staff meeting then," Seven agreed. She wasn't sure, but somehow she knew this meeting would involve Voyager's former captain.
A low growl emitting from the next room alerted Beth to the fact that her roomie wasn't in the best of moods. Cautiously, she entered.
M'Rana lay on her bed, feet propped in the air, with two data padds in front of her as she tapped madly on a third. "Parabolita - 218," she muttered. "You should be doing these reports -- not me."
"Been giving you more bridge time," M'Rana muttered as she jabbed at the padd again. "I know. Everyone knows. We should probably get used to it though. You design the theory, we carry it out."
Feeling defeated before the battle had begun, Beth turned away. Her eyes fell on the book that had been the cause of the argument that had ensued last night. "M'Rana, I'm sorry."
The padd M'Rana had been holding stopped beeping and silence followed. Hesitantly, Beth turned around to look at her best friend. M'Rana stared incredulously at her.
Beth mutely nodded as she watched M'Rana scramble into a sitting position.
"Because...you're my best friend. And, I owe you that much."
M'Rana slowly nodded. "Thanks, Bethie. I guess I owe you an apology too. I'm sorry," she said looking her friend square in the eye.
"Apology accepted. Whew, that's a relief," Beth said with a half-smile.
"Bad day?" When Beth's face contorted in confusion, M'Rana only smiled. "You can't be best friends with someone for your whole life and not be able to read them like an open book."
"Sure you're not part Betazoid?" Beth muttered, dropping onto the deck floor. Laying flat on her back, she turned her head slightly in M'Rana's direction. "My mother was going to commit suicide."
M'Rana's stunned expression was almost enough to make Beth laugh -- almost. If the situation hadn't been so serious, she would have given in.
"I caught her in time," Beth continued softly. "We talked...and, I think everything will be all right - after my father talks to her, of course."
"M'Rana, please don't tell anyone. My father will probably talk with the senior officers, but it's not exactly going to be public knowledge."
"You can trust me," her part-Klingon brow moved slightly.
"I know. Otherwise I wouldn't have told you. But," Beth turned her eyes back to the ceiling. "I still wanted to state it."
Both were silent for a moment until M'Rana's curiosity got the best of her. "Why would she...." The question was left to hang in midair.
"I'd rather not go into it," Beth said quietly. "It's not a conversation I want to remember."
Accepting that now was not the time to pressure her best friend, M'Rana rolled back over to her padds and began tapping lightly on them again.
"Thanks, Goldie." Beth knew M'Rana was looking at her again even though her eyes were still trained on the ceiling. "For listening and not insisting that I tell you."
"You'll tell me when you're ready," M'Rana predicted. "I'll just have to be patient."
Beth's neck twisted quickly so she could face her friend. "A patient Klingon?"
M'Rana's brow moved again as she lowered her brows in defense, "Stranger things have happened," she declared.
"What happened?" Cajule looked up as Kathryn's face peered down at her through the dark. "She's ill," Cajule whispered feebly. "It's-"
"The cojala," the weary mother finished for her only friend. "But, it's not transmitted through the air. And, Shannon hasn't been in the labs. How-"
"They took her to the labs an hour ago," Cajule interrupted, refusing to meet the eyes of the only person she had trusted since entering the prison camp ten years ago. "I tried to stop them, but I couldn't. There were too many of them...I was pushed aside..."
"How could I have no seen it?" Kathryn moaned. "I was only gone long enough to choose another subject."
Cajule's own face fell. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry..."
Swallowing hard, Kathryn shook her head. "There wouldn't have been-"
"Mommy?" a weak voice rose from the bed where her daughter lay covered by a worn, dirty blanket.
"I'm here, Shannon," Kathryn dropped down beside the young girl who sported her father's brown eyes. "I'm here, honey," she repeated again as she clasped her daughter's hand, knowing that in a matter of minutes she would be unable to see.
"I'm hot," Shannon murmured.
"I know," turning to Cajule she silently pleaded with the other woman to find some water. With a determined nod, Cajule left mother and daughter.
Still holding Shannon's hand, Kathryn reached up to brush a strand of hair away from her young daughter's face. "Everything's going to be okay, sweetheart. I've sent Aunt Cajule for some water and tomorrow I'll take you over to the clinic so we can treat you."
Shannon opened her eyes and Kathryn saw instantly that she was losing her sight as she peered up at her mother for the last time. When the child gave a brave nod, Kathryn knew that her daughter, even at her young age, didn't believe a word she was saying. Shannon had been in the labs enough to know that no one was given medical attention and no one survived the cojala.
Kathryn felt her insides turn over. She was being forced to watch, not for the first time, as her own work took another life. Swallowing hard, she fought the onslaught of tears that were coming to her eyes as Shannon gave a small gasp.
"Mommy," the small voice held a note of panic. "Mommy, I can't see."
"I know," Kathryn managed to say, lifting Shannon into her arms and holding her close. "Mommy will take care of it."
Indeed, she wanted to shout. Mommy had indeed sealed her daughter's future. Ten minutes after being infected a victim became delirious with fever. Fifteen minutes, eyesight was lost. Twenty minutes - the victim was dead. Less than five minutes from now, she knew that she would be holding a corpse.
Sochlrum had been very proud of her, she remembered, pulling Shannon closer. To 'neutralize' an entire ship within twenty minutes was quite a feat. One that, Kathryn had dared hope, would buy the freedom of herself, Shannon, Cajule, and Cajule's husband.
"I'm tired, Mommy..." Shannon's unseeing eyes began to flutter.
"Go to sleep," Kathryn crooned softly, her voice thick with tears. "I love you, Shannon. Go to sleep and remember that."
"I-" Shannon fought for a breath as her throat constricted. "I love you too, Mommy..."
Kathryn heard herself cry out loud as Shannon's head rolled to the side. "Shannon," she whispered, clutching her daughter's lifeless body. "Shannon..." she whimpered, pressing a last kiss against her baby's dark hair.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump.
Twisting around, she expected to see Cajule behind her, ready to comfort, but was startled to see no one.
"Who's there?" she demanded, clutching Shannon close. "You can't have her."
"Kathryn, I'm here," the familiar voice reached out to shake her again.
"Kathryn! Wake up!"
Kathryn's head jerked in the direction of the voice as she started awake. Peering through the dark at the other occupant of her narrow bed she gasped, "Chakotay?"
"Shhh..." he whispered pulling her back into his arms. "You were taking a nap when I got back. A long nap, I'd say."
"Computer, what time is it?"
"The time is 0130."
"Almost fourteen hours," Kathryn moaned. Then, pushing herself into a sitting position and clutching the blankets around her and eyed her husband curiously, "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to be here so we could talk when you woke up," he admitted, laying his groggy head back on her pillows.
"Beth told you," she surmised.
Propping his head on an arm, Chakotay looked up at her. "Yes, Kathryn. She did. I want to know why you would even consider suicide an option."
Heart pounding and feeling cornered, Kathryn bit her lip.
Breaking eye contact, Chakotay inwardly sighed. "Tell me about the dream," he finally said. "I can tell it disturbed you."
Kathryn drew in a sharp breath as fresh tears sprung into her eyes. "Our daughter - my daughter," she amended, "died back in the prison camp. I was reliving that moment." Kathryn turned her eyes on the stars passing the window. "One of the worst moments of my life." She was silent for a long moment. Then, looking down at her husband she knew it was time to bare her soul to him.
Starting from the moment she had opened her eyes in the medical lab to find Sochlrum standing over her, Kathryn withheld nothing as she told the story that had led up to Shannon's death.
"Why you, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked in a whisper. "Of all people, why you and only you?"
With a small shrug she answered him, "I suppose because I was an easy target; I had science knowledge and understood the drive to protect a people - which is what they were trying to do, in a sense. They were brutal to their prisoners, but they had the same goal as Voyager - protect their own. Besides, the other members of the crew would have attempted an escape - Shannon prevented me from doing that."
Chakotay gave a small nod of acceptance and waited for her to go on.
"Cajule had some suspicions," Kathryn continued, after a moment. "About Shannon, specifically. We weren't under the most strict supervision in the labs, so she was able to run a few tests." Kathryn's voice caught again. It was as painful for her to relive this moment as it had been that day. "She discovered.....she discovered that Shannon wasn't related to me in any way. She was the same species as the majority of the prisoners on the planet and altered to appear as if she was our daughter - taking on many of your characteristics."
"What was there left?" Kathryn asked, hollowly. "Cajule and I planned carefully and within a week we had managed to create a toxin that would leave a victim appearing dead, but actually just hanging on to life. I took it to the mines and found her husband. During a staged argument, I scratched him pretty bad, but actually passed along enough of the toxin into his bloodstream from my nails so that he appeared to die. The dead were disposed of by simply leaving their bodies where they fell which is where Cajule and I found him. We were able to hijack an old shuttle and escape."
"Didn't we try it before?" Kathryn drew in a deep breath. "They wanted me there. They knew I could engineer a pathogen. But, they knew I'd also try to escape unless I had 'motivation' - Shannon. She was protected as long as I did my job, or so they said. And, an escape with a small child was out of the question - she would have slowed us down. Once I had perfected the pathogen, I was useless to them. Compared to the majority of the other prisoners, humans are too weak to work in the mines. Honestly, I think they were hoping I'd attempt an escape once my 'job' was done so I'd be out of the way." She gave a soft sigh, "The one guard we ran into didn't even pretend to stop us."
Chakotay was silent for several minutes as he laid thinking of the past seventeen years of his wife's life. Finally, pulling himself into a sitting position he leaned over and brushed a lock of hair from her face, "I love you, Kay."
She turned, slightly surprised, and looked at him. Inside, she had prepared for several reactions to her story, but that hadn't been one of them.
"Don't try to give me a false hope," Kathryn murmured, turning her face away from his touch. "You can't love me after what I've done."
"Do you remember New Earth?" She didn't answer, but met his eyes knowing where he was going. "In so many words, I told you then that I love you."
"I know, Chakotay," Kathryn lifted a hand to the side of his face with a sad smile flitting across her face. "And, I know you meant it. But, you don't know me anymore. How can you want to stay married to someone you don't know?"
"The first time I saw you, I knew I was going to marry you," Chakotay retorted. "And, I'd only laid eyes on you for about thirty seconds. Wil Riker thought I was crazy."
"William Riker?" Kathryn felt her stomach knot.
He was late. Nothing like being back at the Academy to reinstate his old habits, Chakotay thought to himself as he ducked around a corner narrowly missing a collision course with Professor Higgins.
Jumping out of the way, he nodded briefly to the professor and swiftly continued.
He hadn't meant to spend twenty minutes talking with the groundskeeper, but it had been nearly a year since he and Boothby had traded boxing tips. Not since the week before his graduation from the Academy had they had as much fun. Chakotay's only regret was that they weren't able to get in the ring today. Later, he promised himself. After this meeting with Admiral Lucak he would track Boothby down and set up a match.
But, if he didn't hurry for that meeting with Admiral Lucak was bound to land him a position on a merchant vessel instead of a starship. He was going to be late, he just knew it.
An old short cut Chakotay had used only a year ago suddenly came to mind. If he remembered correctly, there was a series of passageways that ran along the back of the classrooms and let out directly into the main corridor of the offices.
There! He saw the dark outline of the best secret the old building held. Built in 2206, he knew the design was something that would never be considered this day in age, but at that time creativity had been allowed.
The passageway was brightly lit, despite the fact that so few people knew about it and as Chakotay rushed along, he felt certain that he would make his meeting. Rounding a corner, Chakotay felt first an elbow in his stomach and then the hard floor greeting his jaw as the wind was knocked from his lungs and a small weight crushed his chest.
Sure that he was under attack, Chakotay sprang into a sitting position and glanced around furiously for his assailant.
"Oh," the auburn-haired girl gasped, trying to catch her own breath. When she did look up, Chakotay was rooted to the spot under her steely blue-gray glare. "Well, don't just sit there like an oaf," she snapped, already clamoring to her feet. "Give me a hand."
"Sorry," he muttered, finally catching his breath. Bending back down to help her collect the d I wpadds that had been knocked from her arms, Chakotay couldn't resist watching the young woman's every move. "I'm sorry. I promise that next time-"
"Next time? There won't be a next time." Exasperation was more that obvious in her movements as she stacked the padds and then stood, holding out a hand.
Chakotay also rose and offered his hand. "I'm-"
"I'm late for a quantum mechanics exam," she stated with more than a hint of annoyance. Then, plucking the data padd that he hadn't realized he'd been holding from his arms, she spun on her heel and flipped a lock of auburn hair over her shoulder before disappearing.
Chakotay finally tore his eyes away from the place where the young woman had turned a corner and glanced at the cadet who had joined him. "Who was that woman?" he asked, unable to keep the awe out of his voice.
William Riker only shook his head in amusement. Of all the people to be put under the "Ice Princess'" spell, he would have thought Chakotay to be able to resist her. "We call her Cadet Heartless, old man," he said, referring to the fact that Chakotay had graduated a year ahead of Wil and their other roommates. "Don't even give her a second thought. Daughter of an admiral and already in pretty tight with Admiral Paris -- she's way out of your league."
"I'm going to marry her," Chakotay stated, casting a glance down the corridor in hopes of catching a glimpse of her again.
"What's that got to do with now?" Kathryn asked, slightly confused yet thankful that Wil hadn't mentioned to Chakotay the time she had walked out on her date with him.
Chakotay was silent for a moment and then looked back into her face. "I made a promise to us back then, Kathryn. I promised myself I'd marry you and I promised you I'd always be there."
"Is that why you were interested in me?" Kathryn demanded, blue-gray eyes flashing. "At the beginning - I was only a prize you had wanted from your youth?"
"I tried to attend your graduation," Chakotay continued. "I suppose I was hoping for a glimpse of you, but the Admiral had others plans for me. I was shipped out three hours after our run in. At first, I thought of you every hour, but soon forgot about you all together." He lifted a hand to the side of her face, surprised when she didn't pull away, "On Beth's second birthday I finally remembered that incident."
Kathryn was silent for a long moment as she clutched the blankets tight in her hands. "I release you from that promise," she finally whispered. "You shouldn't stay with someone you don't know."
"Kathryn! " Chakotay let out a frustrated sigh as he ran a hand through his graying hair. "You can't release someone who doesn't want to be freed," he retorted. Reaching out, he pulled her resisting frame against him.
"Let me go," she struggled against his chest with all her strength, but he held her tight.
"No," he replied firmly. "Not until you get it through your thick skull that I'm always going to love you, Kathryn Janeway." She pushed against him again and he allowed her to pull back far enough to raise her face to his. "Do you really want me to let go and leave you alone?" he asked, lifting a hand to gently brush away a lock of hair.
Kathryn froze at the tenderness and love so evident in his eyes. "What about the crew?" she finally asked in a hoarse voice, tears threatening to push past her defenses. "I'm a murderer - they'll never accept me for that."
"You did what you had to do," Chakotay argued. "And, I know that the other crew members who are parents will agree with me."
Something inside of Kathryn hoped his words were true.
"You know I'm right," he told her, forcing a small smile across his face. "They loved and respected you back then and will accept you now despite what you were forced to do - just like you would do for any one of them."
Yes, she admitted to herself. No matter what one of her crew members had done, she would always accept them and try to take them back into the fold - it was her way and they knew it.
"You always were there to support me and give me a kick in the right direction when I needed it," she said, looking up into his face.
At the sight of the tense lines dropping from her face, the forced smile on Chakotay's own visage turned genuine and reached into his eyes. "I hope you won't mind if I take the job back," he retorted.
"There are a lot of things I'll never forget; it'll be hard for me to put them behind me."
"You never were one to take the easy way out; I wouldn't expect you to now."
Leaning forward, Kathryn rested her head on Chakotay's shoulder as she slipped her arms around his middle. "Thank you...for loving me."
Pressing a kiss against the top of her head he held her close for a moment before pulling back. "I always have and always will, Kay. Never doubt that"
"I won't," she answered, allowing him to pull her back into his arms as he stretched out in her bed. "Chakotay?"
"Hmm?" his breath was hot against her cheek and smelled slightly of cinnamon. Leaning forward, she brushed a kiss over the corner of his mouth, "I-I love you."
Two brown eyes slowly opened to watch her. Then, closing again, he smiled to himself as he tightened his embrace. "I know, Kay. But, it's nice to hear you say it."
"I love you, Chakotay."
Beth curled into a tighter ball, effectively squishing Mr. Flotter into an unrecognizable blue lump, as the sound of someone inching their way into her hiding place reached her ears. Turning her face in the direction of the grunts that now resonated through the jefferies tubes, she watched, half amused, as Jaysen stumbled around a corner and found her.
"Wow," he muttered, glancing down at a data padd he clutched in his hand. "M'Rana's directions worked."
Beth was silent as he made his way to her and dropped a kiss on her cheek before taking a seat beside her.
"Why'd M'Rana tell you where I was?"
Reaching over to claim the hand that was clenching her old, blue friend, he raised an eyebrow, "You haven't returned any of my messages or answered my hails in two days, Beth. I was concerned."
"I'm fine," she lied, reclaiming her hand and looking away. "I just need time to think."
"It was my thinking spot when I was little," she explained. "This is the only area of the ship where it's hard to get a reliable scan - thanks to all the shielding around the central computer core. I come here when I want to escape."
"Need someone to talk to?"
Looking up, Beth felt the color heighten in her cheeks as Jaysen's warm gaze held her own momentarily. Breaking the spell, she shook her head slightly. "I've got to work through it on my own."
"Is it about your mother?" Jaysen carefully inquired. When she looked up at him sharply, he knew he'd hit the mark. "She told the senior staff several days ago," he reminded her. "By now, it's filtered through the ranks and mostly everyone has accepted the facts."
"Told them what?"
"About what she was forced into doing at the prison camps," he answered slowly. When Beth only drew in a deep breath, he continued. "Beth, everyone knows that terrible things happen in those kinds of places. No one holds that against her."
"I saw your .... moms, I suppose is the best word, in the messhall only a few hours ago. Beth," Jaysen's eyes bore into her own. "If anyone has reason to be upset, it would be Seven - she probably felt like she was losing you. But, they were laughing like old friends - which, I suppose they are."
"Oh..." Beth moaned, her face dropping. Forcing a smile, she lifted her eyes back to his own, "If they spend too much time together, my mother will end up hearing all of the 'when Beth was little' stories."
"Is that so bad?" he teased.
"Yes!" Beth threw Flotter at him.
"Hey now!" Jaysen exclaimed, catching the stuffed toy. "Everything okay now?" he asked, back to being serious again.
"Almost," Beth whispered. "I...I just have to get used to having more than one set of parents." She couldn't tell Jaysen about her mother's suicide attempt, she knew. Kathryn Janeway had explicitly asked her and the other persons involved to not reveal it to the crew. But, it still bothered Beth that her mother would consider such an option.
Not ever again, Beth reminded herself. Her mother had sworn that she would never again consider it. And, judging from the way her mother and father had been looking at one another over dinner the other night, Beth had a feeling the promise wouldn't be a hard one to keep.
"Do you want to go see if we can con Uncle Tom out of replicator rations for some ice cream?" Beth suddenly asked.
"I can always use ice cream," Jaysen eagerly agreed. "Since you've been hard to find the past couple of days, I'll go ahead and be the one to tell you that the crew really likes your father's solution to the ranking problem."
"Admiral Janeway?" Beth shook her head. "I did hear my mother say something about not getting too comfortable with the title."
"Well, she's doing a good job down in engineering and astrometrics," Jaysen replied, already moving to inch his way to through jefferies tubes. "It's almost like having another pair of hands down there - except she's calling the shots over Lt. Paris."
"Is Aunt B'Elanna okay with that?"
"Fine," Jaysen answered honestly. "Everyone's been ecstatic since she showed up and started making modifications to the warp core." He raised an conspiracing eyebrow at her. "She thinks the Awaxiel technology is integrateable with our own systems - which means we could be home in a fraction of the estimated time."
"I hope so," Beth stopped for a moment and leaned back on her knees. "There's a place my father recommended I go to."
"The Martian quarries."
"But, we saw them on the holo-"
"I know. And Father said I should make sure to finish the program, but I'd kind of like to see them first hand."
Jaysen silently regarded her for a moment and then reached out to brush a lock of auburn hair from her face. "We'll go," he promised her. "I'll make sure you get to see them."
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