By Seema

Author's note
: Set in my Picard/Janeway universe -- Touch, Beautiful and Once and Never -- but can also stand on its own. Many thanks to Rocky for the beta.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns these characters, but certainly not in these combinations.


Kathryn Janeway stared out the window of her office, watching the cadets crisscross the campus. It was just before lunch on a Friday, and Janeway knew the majority of Academy classes had concluded for the day. A few upper classman might stick around to work on their flight skills or engineering practicums, but most students cleared out for the weekend. Taking a deep breath, Janeway turned back to her desk. She had finally made a dent in her paperwork, and for the first time in weeks, she figured she deserved a weekend off. With a wry smile, she imagined herself skulking along the corridor to the back staircase to sneak off to begin her weekend early. With her luck though, Janeway suspected there'd be a journalist lying in wait for her at the bottom of the stairs. It amazed her that five years after Voyager had returned, the ship's story of seven hard years in the Delta Quadrant still made for saleable media fodder.

The previous month, one of the entertainment journals had done a glossy "Where are they now?" feature on the Voyager crew, and interviewed nearly everyone except for Janeway and Seven. Janeway, aware her fellow admirals were just short of annoyed when it came to the intense media attention she received, had declined the request. Even so, a picture of her and Jean-Luc attending a recent Starfleet function had been published along with the story and with plenty of unnamed sources providing the meat of the article.

"It's not like I ask for the attention," she had said with some exasperation over dinner. "And it's certainly not as if Voyager is the top story every day, just on slow news days, and lately, just in the gossip section." She'd reached out, covered Jean-Luc's hand with her own. "A very nice picture of you, by the way."

Jean-Luc had smiled. "I do not envy you, Kathryn," he had said. "The life you have chosen, the admiralty--" he had shaken his head "-- there's a lot of ego involved and I want no part of it."

"If only I had known you *before* I'd accepted the promotion," Janeway had answered. "Still, it *has* been five years. Surely the media could find another starship crew to focus their attention on."

"Perhaps, but Voyager is still a great story." Jean-Luc had gotten up from his chair and headed to the wine cabinet. "The people need a hero they can relate to, Kathryn, and they wish for a certain excitement, the triumph of sheer will and determination. These are people who have suffered greatly and they need something to hold on to, something to remind them of what Starfleet once was, what it could still be."

Thinking of Jean-Luc now, Janeway pressed her lips into a tight, thin smile. He had been gone for several weeks now, and she'd briefly contemplated rendezvousing with the Enterprise at Betazed, but for one reason or another, she'd let the window of opportunity slip by and now she'd be cutting it close to reach Betazed before the Enterprise was scheduled to depart for a humanitarian mission at Cestus III. She'd broken the news to Jean-Luc just a few hours earlier.

"If I left now, I'd run the risk of delaying your mission to Cestus. Next time," she had said, somewhat apologetically, and Jean-Luc had nodded.

"Of course," he had said. Later she'd wondered about the lack of inflection in his voice.

Sighing, Janeway rose from her chair. Hell with it, she thought with a spark of irritation. She quickly organized the stacks of PADDs on her desk into two separate piles -- one marked for immediate attention on Monday morning -- and then took a long look around to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. As she walked out into the hall, she nodded at a passing colleague and then stopped at her aide's desk.

"Shaila, I have an appointment--" Janeway felt vaguely guilty at the lie "--and I won't be back this afternoon, but feel free to contact me in case anything comes up that requires my immediate and urgent attention."

"Will do. Have a nice weekend, Admiral," the lieutenant said, before turning back to her console.

Outside, the sun warmed Janeway's skin, and just a hint of breeze hung in the air. It was an unseasonably warm day for July, but after enduring a messy week of battering rain and wind, Janeway was grateful for the respite. She walked towards the shuttle stop, nodding to the few cadets and officers who paused to salute her. She was halfway to the shuttle pad when she heard her name. She stopped and turned around.

"Chakotay," she said. She smiled at the unexpected pleasure of seeing him. "What brings you by? You should have told me you were on campus today."

Slightly out of breath, Chakotay jogged up to her. "I needed to secure some diplomatic credentials for a trip I'm making off-world in a few weeks," he said. "I was going to stop by your office to see if you were free for lunch, but your aide told me you'd already left for the day, that you had an appointment. She thought if I hurried, I could catch up with you here--" Chakotay gestured toward the shuttle pad "-- so here I am, but if you're on your way somewhere--"

"No, no," Janeway said, shaking her head. "I don't have an appointment, just needed some time to myself and it felt more, I don't know, legitimate--" she shrugged "-- to say I had somewhere to be. Though, I don't know what I have to feel guilty about. I *have* been putting in long hours and--" she stopped abruptly. "It's good to see you, Chakotay. It's been too long."

"A few months at least. When did we see each other last?"

"At the five year reunion."

"Which was tedious at best," Chakotay said with easy humor. "I think it's safe to say there won't be a sixth year commemoration."

"At least not one hosted by Starfleet Command. I do think they are as sick of us as we are of them," Janeway said, laughing.

"All the same," Chakotay said, "I wouldn't mind a more private gathering with a little less linen and crystal and a whole lot more music, preferably with a beat." He nodded towards the shuttle. "So, where did you say you were heading to?"

Janeway considered. She'd left the office so suddenly, she hadn't really thought about what she would do with this unexpected block of free time. "I hadn't thought that far ahead," she said slowly. She offered Chakotay a hesitant smile. "You know spontaneity hasn't ever been my strong suit."

"At least not when it comes to enjoying yourself," Chakotay said. Janeway flinched at the acidity in his tone and by the expression crossing his face, Janeway knew her former first officer regretted the comment. He bit his lip. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

Janeway held up her hand. "No, no," she said. "It's probably a fair and accurate assessment."

Chakotay tipped his head toward the shuttle pad. "How about I buy you lunch so I can have some time to pull myself out of this hole I've dug myself into?"

"As long as it's not the mess hall. You know how people talk."

Chakotay furrowed his brow. "Talk? About you and me?"

"After all these years, the rumors don't seem to want to go away." Janeway turned her gaze to the distance. She could see the blue-green hills of Marin County rising up over the Bay, and just to the east, the expansive span of the Golden Gate Bridge. She'd admired this view so many times over the years and had yet to get tired of it. "The tabloids will do anything they can to sell a story."

"Even one that's so obviously false?"

Janeway turned her attention back to Chakotay and met his gaze head-on. "Is it?"

Chakotay sucked in his breath. "Embarcadero it is then," he said in a strained voice.

As they waited for the shuttle, Janeway eyed Chakotay critically. He looked good, a little fuller in the face and stomach then when she'd last seen him, and his skin seemed to have more of a golden tone than usual, probably due to long hours in the sun. At the fifth year anniversary of Voyager's return, Chakotay had mentioned he had put his carpentry skills to work on a house in Arizona. "It's something I've always wanted to try," he'd said then.

Remembering the bathtub Chakotay had so carefully crafted for her on New Earth, Janeway had said, "You do have a talent for building." And, then, glancing sideways at Jean-Luc, who appeared discomfited by Chakotay's presence, she had quickly changed to the subject to Seven's latest academic research.

"How's the house coming?" Janeway asked now, as she leaned towards Chakotay. He didn't move away but remained where he was.

"The foundation has been poured and the framing is nearly complete," he said. "It's not a big house, about four rooms, but it's adequate for my needs."

"And when do you expect it to be finished?"

"By the end of the year is my hope, but--" he shrugged "--you know what they say about best laid plans. I'm doing most of the work myself, and so I have to fit it in between meetings, trips, and teaching."

"And Seven?"

"She's doing fine. She's in Boston this week to give a talk, but she should be back tomorrow morning."

"Ah." Janeway settled back in her seat. Even after all this time, she still found it somewhat uncomfortable to think about her former first officer's relationship with the young woman she'd 'rescued' from the Borg. That Chakotay had fallen for Seven had been shocking, not in the least because Janeway hadn't thought Seven mature enough for a relationship, not to mention she'd never expected Chakotay to move on and *away* from her. That five years later Chakotay and Seven were still together was also nothing, in Janeway's view, short of surprising.

"And Jean-Luc?"

Janeway cleared her throat. "The Enterprise is on special assignment to Betazed and Cestus III."

Chakotay frowned. "Interesting choice of worlds."

"I thought about joining him at Cestus III, as I've never been there, but several meetings came up with the Vulcan delegation over the Neptune project and then there was that last negotiation with the Dominion over reconstruction funding and there was no way I could take time away."

Chakotay shook his head. "To hear you talk, it's as if the balance of the quadrant hangs in the balance and without you, the Federation will come apart at the seams."

Janeway laughed, low and throaty. "That's what we want you to think." The shuttle lurched to a stop and Janeway rose. "In reality, very few things are as urgent as they are made to sound. It's mostly a lot of paper pushing and mediating squabbles between colleagues and diplomats."

"Something, no doubt, you do very well."

"Actually, I try my best to stay out of the arguments," Janeway said. She disembarked from the shuttle and shaded her eyes as she glanced to the left. "No need to call further attention to myself."

Chakotay fell into step next to her. "Still trying to keep a low profile?" He shook his head in disbelief. "It's not like you to shrink away from a fight, Kathryn."

"It's not exactly 'shrinking'," she said, "more like picking what battles I want to fight." She gestured towards a small sandwich shop. "Corn chowder in a sourdough bread bowl sounds good to me. What do you think?"

"That's fine."

"When I took the promotion, I didn't expect things to turn out the way they did. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret my decision. Jean-Luc warned me, but I was so blinded by the honor Starfleet bestowed on me, amazed they'd give me a promotion considering some of the things I did in the DQ--" she took a deep breath "-- I think you could say I wasn't thinking clearly and now I accept my current position for what it is."

Chakotay opened the door to the shop and Janeway stepped inside, deeply inhaling the smell of freshly baked bread.

"Are you saying you expected one thing and got another?" Chakotay asked.

"I don't want to generalize, but I often feel, when I'm in meetings, everyone has an agenda or something to prove. But that's not the way I work," Janeway said simply. She stepped forward to the counter to order.

"That's called confidence, Kathryn," Chakotay said, after he had placed his order. "You already experienced the adventure of a lifetime and proved you could succeed under any set of circumstances and in situations where other captains might fail or compromise their integrity."

"Like Ransom?" The words slipped out unexpectedly.

"Yes, like Ransom."

Janeway was silent for a moment. "You know," she said slowly, "I never apologized to you."

Chakotay looked surprised. "Apologized for what?"

Janeway chose to take that moment to scan the restaurant for a table. She located one by the window and gestured. "How about over there?" Without waiting for an answer, she made her way there. "What happened with Equinox, and Lessing in specific," Janeway said finally. "But there are plenty of other things I owe you an apology for as well."

Chakotay dismissed her comment with a wave of his hand. "It's all in the past. You did what you had to do to get us home."

"Yes, but at what cost?"

"You always knew the burdens of being a Starfleet captain. You accepted them, wore them well."

"And you?" Janeway asked pensively.

Chakotay shifted in his chair. "I wasn't the captain."

"I didn't make it easy for you though, did I?"

Chakotay glanced down at his interlaced fingers before responding. "No," he said finally.

Janeway took a deep breath. Her heart was pounding and she felt a sudden heat rising in her cheeks. She was grateful when the waiter brought her lunch and she could concentrate for a moment on stirring the thick chowder. "I guess I deserve that," Janeway said quietly. She gave a shaky laugh. "I suppose you should never ask the questions you don't actually want to hear the answers to."

"You did make decisions I didn't agree with," Chakotay said. He leaned forward, covering her right hand with his. "But you also had a responsibility that I didn't have and at the end of the day, you had to make the decisions you could live with."

"You're a lot more forgiving than I would be, if our positions were reversed."

Chakotay regarded Janeway. "Why is this all coming up now?"

Janeway shrugged. "Five years is time enough for introspection," she said simply.

"And it's enough time to come to terms with what happened and to move on," Chakotay said gently. "I'm not surprised Ransom still plagues you after all these years. His actions in the DQ were despicable, but they were actions taken by a desperate man, one who faced much the same choices as you. He chose incorrectly."

"As did I when I went after him."

"You acknowledge that now," Chakotay said. "But it's easy to second-guess."

"You second-guessed me and I threatened to relieve you of duty."


Silence fell and Janeway concentrated on her soup. She and Chakotay had clashed often over the decisions she'd made on Voyager, especially over Seska and the Kazon, and later the alliance with the Borg. But she would always look back at the Equinox incident as the point of no return. After a few minutes, she lifted her head and looked at Chakotay. "We were never the same after that, were we?" she asked.

"No, not really."

"That's the other thing that 'plagues' me, as you so eloquently put it," Janeway said. She laid her spoon on table. "The 'what if'." She looked meaningfully at Chakotay and by the expression on his face, she knew he knew exactly what she was referring to.

"You and I both knew the regulations. We both understood the consequences of--" Chakotay paused "--what would happen if there was a relationship within the chain of command."

"We were light years away from any authority but my own," Janeway said. "We could have said the hell with it."

"We could have, but we didn't." Chakotay took a deep breath. "Don't get me wrong, Kathryn, I consider myself content with the life I have now. Do I wonder about missed opportunities? Yes. But at the same time, when it comes to the question of 'what might have beens', I have no regrets. You stuck to your principles, adhered to Starfleet regulations as you always said you would, and you were true to what you believed in. I'm not necessarily sure you needed to sacrifice as much as you did in terms of your own personal happiness, but you realized there need to be an example set, that captains didn't have the luxury of following--" he cleared his throat "--their impulses like others do."

Janeway allowed herself a small smile. "You make it sound so grim."

"Not at all," he said. "Only that you've proven yourself capable of making difficult choices, whether it's allying with the Borg or going after a Starfleet captain who overstepped his boundaries. At the end of the day, you did what you believed in and that's really all that matters."

"I wish I could believe that."

Chakotay looked at Janeway with some compassion. "I think you could be happy," he said carefully, "if you only let yourself be."

Janeway flinched. "What makes you think I'm not?"

"First, you left early but not without a keen sense of guilt mixed with responsibility and because you can't let go, you couldn't come up with one thing you'd do with this unexpected block of free time. What would you have done if I hadn't accosted you by the shuttle stop?" Chakotay watched her carefully. "You still don't know. Second, you tell me you don't want to draw attention to yourself, but that's not the Kathryn Janeway I served with. And third--" he leaned forward "-- you could have taken some time off and accompanied Jean-Luc if you'd really wanted to. It's okay to take a break from saving the
quadrant every now and then."

Janeway shook her head. "You seem to have me all figured out."

"No," Chakotay said. "Only because I've been there, and understand." He twisted his hands together and glanced out the window at the passersby before turning his attention back to Janeway. "It hasn't been perfect with Seven either, Kathryn." He inhaled sharply. "We've had our rough spots and there were times when I contemplated giving up. But--" he smiled "--the irony is you're the one who taught me defeat is never an option. We're hanging in there, Kathryn. I'm not saying that's what you should do, but musing over past 'what ifs' isn't very productive either."

"Have you always been this philosophical?"

Chakotay laughed. "As you said, five years is plenty of time for thinking," he said. He pushed his plate away. "And I do have regrets, Kathryn, don't think I do not." He glanced at his watch. "I better get going," he said. "I have a meeting at three at Berkley and then I have a few other things I need to clear up before I leave next week."

"Yes, of course," Janeway said, feeling slightly dazed. She rose and followed Chakotay out the door. She blinked against the bright sunlight and paused, for a moment, to recover her composure. "Chakotay?"

"Yes?" He glanced back at her.

"Are you happy?"

"Whatever that means."

"That's not an answer."

He shrugged. "I have a good life, no complaints," he said pensively. "Maybe not the way I expected things to turn out, but all the same, it could be worse, it could be better." He considered for a moment. "I won't hurt Seven, and I know you care too much about Jean-Luc to ever put him in that position either."

"Do you ever feel as though you're settling?" Janeway asked, a trace of desperate urgency underlying her tone.

The question seemed to take Chakotay by surprise. He bit his lip, and a faraway look came into his eyes. Janeway watched him carefully, her fingers curling into fists.

"No," he said finally. "I wouldn't do that to Seven."

Janeway pondered the response for a moment and then slowly, nodded. "Okay," she said, unable to help the note of resignation in her voice. "Okay."

They stood there, staring at each other and then Chakotay said, "Take care of yourself, Kathryn."

"You too."

"And when the house is finished--"

"I will come and visit." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "We both will, Jean-Luc and I."

"Good," Chakotay said. He reached for her hand, clasping it firmly between his. "And let's not wait until then or the next reunion, all right?"

Janeway nodded. "Agreed."

She watched him walk towards the shuttle that would take him back to Starfleet Headquarters. Taking a deep breath of the tangy air coming off the Bay, Janeway squared her shoulders and headed the opposite way. She knew the Starfleet Transport Office would still be open for another few hours and with her rank, there would be no problem in securing a spot on a ship to Betazed. She hoped Jean-Luc would wait for her.

~ the end

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