Old Flames by D.A. Kent
Part 1



E-mail:

D.A. Kent

Date:

February, 2003

Code:

J/C

Rated:

NC-17

Disclaimer:

Paramount owns the show and the characters, who in turn own too much of me.

Summary:

When Voyager comes upon a sedentary Federation vessel in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway is all too familiar with the ship and its captain. Can an old lover cause problems between Kathryn Janeway and her first officer? Or, will his presence serve to bring them together instead?

For:

Linda, who still believes in the magic of J/C



Kathryn Janeway sat back in her ready room chair and took a sip of steaming black coffee. She let out an audible sigh.

Coffee was her ultimate pleasure, and the only one she allowed herself on a regular basis. A very regular basis, she knew, because the Doctor was always there to remind her of it.

She had told Commander Chakotay exactly five hours ago that she was retiring to her ready room and wasn't to be disturbed unless it was an emergency. He had grinned and nodded. She shook her head and smiled ruefully. He had known what she had in front of her. And he hadn't offered to help. Ah well, it was her job, after all.

But Chakotay was cooking dinner for the two of them this evening, and that more than made up for her few hours of reading reports.

She put her head back and closed her eyes, savoring the moment. A nice hot cup of coffee now, and Chakotay's vegetable lasagna tonight. Life didn't get much better than that, she decided.

"Chakotay to Janeway," came Chakotay's voice over the comm channel.

She knew something was up or he wouldn't have disturbed her. "What is it, Commander?"

"We're detecting another ship at 20,000 kilometers," he said. She heard a slight hesitation in his voice. "I think you might want to see this one for yourself, Captain."

He was being mysterious, but she knew better than to question his intent. He knew her well, better than anyone. "I'm on my way," she said, already rising. She sighed as she put her cup on the desk. This coffee would end up turning cold like the rest. She shook her head absently as she headed out of her ready room.

Janeway walked onto the bridge of her starship and quickly took in the faces of her crew. They were staring intently out the viewscreen ahead. She turned to look for herself. There was another ship out there, but it was too far away to see clearly.

But something about that ship had obviously caught the interest of her entire bridge crew, Tuvok included. "Report, Harry," she said automatically.

"It's another vessel," he said with a sort of awe in his voice, and speaking more quietly than he should have.

"I can see that, Ensign," she said in her sharpest command voice. It was time to get the crew's minds back on the bridge.

Harry nearly jumped at the sound of her voice. "It has a Federation signature, Captain," he said quickly, sounding more like the starship officer he was. "But we can't read it."

Kathryn felt a surge of adrenaline shoot through her system, though she didn't show it. She turned toward the screen again, and placed her hands on her hips. "Magnify," she said, and immediately the starship came closer into view in front of them. It was definitely Federation, that much was distinguishable from the faint outline of the craft. But they were still too far away to get a good, clear look. "Can we magnify further, Harry?" she asked.

"No, Captain. This is as good as it gets from this distance," he replied.

"Then take us closer, Tom," she said in a strong voice, although her heart was hammering inside her chest. "But don't be obvious about it." Something was already familiar about this vessel, but her gut told her to be cautious. She sat in her command chair.

"Aye, Captain," said Tom Paris from the helm. He knew what her order meant. Get closer, but don't let the other ship know they were there.

"Mask our signature," she called over her shoulder to Harry Kim.

"Aye, Captain," said Harry. He was already working on it. Since they didn't know anything about this other ship, he knew Captain Janeway wouldn't want to let them know Voyager was a Federation ship, as well – just in case they detected Voyager's presence from afar.

Tom took Voyager closer.

The entire bridge crew worked methodically, quietly, but Janeway heard each breath they took, each sigh that escaped their lips. She was in tune to every nuance of her ship's systems, and every slight movement of her crew, especially at critical times like this.

She knew they were all thinking their own silent thoughts right now. If that truly was a Federation ship out there, where had it come from? How long had it been here? Was it abandoned, or was there crew aboard? Was it bound for home? And especially: Could it help them get home again?

Kathryn shook her head, as though to free those questions from her own mind. There was no time for that now.

Voyager began to close the distance between the two ships. All eyes on the bridge watched closely as time slid by, and as bit by bit the other ship became larger on the viewscreen.

Now they were traveling on impulse engines only, and Kathryn would call for a full stop when they were close enough to examine the other vessel more thoroughly. No need to get too close, though, until they had time to figure out what, and who, they were dealing with out there.

Kathryn stole a glance at Chakotay. Like everyone else, his eyes were glued to the screen in front of them. But when he sensed her looking at him, he turned to stare back into her eyes. A look passed between them, and Kathryn knew he was thinking the same things she was. A Federation starship didn't necessarily mean good news. If they discovered a broken and abandoned ship, the crew's suddenly uplifted spirits could crash. And this crew, on their very long journey home, could become disillusioned and disjointed once again. It had happened so many times in the last few years already. And every time she thought it couldn't happen again, it did.

Morale was the most difficult thing to patch and repair on Voyager. B'Elanna's engines were easily fixed next to broken crew morale.

When Captain Janeway finally called for a full stop, the entire bridge crew seemed to take a collective breath. She wasn't sure she liked this. But it would do no good to remind the crew now that what they were looking at might be nothing to get excited about.

They were still a long way from the Federation ship, but their analysis of it could more than likely be done from this distance.

"Tuvok, run a scan of their security systems and capabilities. Mr. Kim, run a general diagnostic of the entire ship."

"Aye, Captain," came both voices from behind her.

She stood. She wasn't by nature a patient person, but she couldn't allow her crew to see her rising anxiety. Something was too familiar about that ship, and her stomach was tying itself up into knots, which didn't help matters.

"Captain," said Harry hesitantly.

She turned to him. "Go ahead, Mr. Kim."

"I'm detecting life signs on board, but I can't tell how many yet. The ship is also…uh…"

"Yes, Mr. Kim?" she prodded.

"It's stopped, Captain. It's been here awhile. Many of the ship's systems haven't been used in a long time, and some of them aren't working anymore. It seems to be used as more of a…dwelling than a ship." Harry continued to work his console, confusion evident on his face. He wasn't used to seeing a starship stopped in space, and treated as a domicile.

"Captain," said Tuvok, "The ship has minimal shielding capabilities, but they also have not been used recently. They do, however, appear to be in working order. All other security systems are minimal, as well." He checked his monitor quickly. "I believe the people on board this vessel are regarded by others to be harmless, and as such, are not considered a threat since they also seem to possess no firing capabilities, and have no weaponry or other valuables others would want to steal from them."

"An interesting hypothesis, Tuvok," said Janeway slowly. "Is it possible to read the Federation signature yet? Can we trace it to a ship in our database?" she asked Harry.

"I'm trying, Captain," said Harry, then paused to look up at her. "I'm still not getting a reading."

"Very well. We'll do a visual if we have to," she said. The knot in her stomach was getting tighter. "Take us in closer, Mr. Paris. I don't care how long it takes us to get there, I just don't want them to know it when we arrive."

"Aye, Captain," said Tom, moving his hands deftly over the controls in front of him.

Finally, Janeway called for full stop again and returned to her chair.

This time the information was the same. Harry still couldn't get a full read on the ship.

And the knot in Janeway's stomach was starting to work its way through the rest of her body, no matter how much she tried to ignore it.

"It doesn't make sense," said Chakotay, leaning toward Kathryn as she leaned toward him. "The Federation signature should be easy to read from this distance."

Janeway nodded. "Unless they've masked it as we've done ours." She leaned back in her chair and thought about it. But why would this ship's captain mask their signature? They certainly shouldn't be concerned about other Federation ships being in the Delta Quadrant. Then again, Voyager was here, wasn't she? Kathryn sighed. Sometimes trying to reason how another captain might think only made for more confusion.

Something began to tug at the back of her mind again, but she brushed it away. The shape and configuration of that ship made her uneasy but she just didn't have the time to think about it right now.

"Mr. Kim, since we're not able to read the Federation signature, let's try for a visual. Can you magnify the image enough to read the call letters?"

Harry ran a quick analysis. "I can try, Captain," he said, "But I'm not promising anything."

She tried not to grin. Harry had come a long way in the past few years. "Understood. Let's give it a try."

The magnification on the viewscreen increased, and the vague image of the other Federation ship loomed even larger in front of them.

Every neck on the bridge craned forward as though it would help them to see the image more clearly.

Janeway stifled a gasp, and her pulse loudly in her ears. But she continued to deny what her mind was trying to tell her.

Harry slowly rotated the image to the aft side, and then toward the rear, but there seemed to be no call letters anywhere on the ship. "Even if we do find them, Captain, I'm not sure we'll be able to actually read them from this distance," he said.

"Just do your best, Harry," she said calmly.

The image before them continued to turn slowly.

Suddenly Kathryn stood, and felt a chill run down her spine.

She couldn't deny it any longer.

She knew that ship.

It couldn't be true, but it was. Somehow it was.

But she had to be sure.

She took a deep breath. "Harry, move visual to the underbelly of the ship," she said, knowing that her voice sounded calm. But her heart was throbbing in her chest. She also knew that every bridge crewmember was now wondering why the captain had ordered Harry Kim to look for Federation call numbers on the underbelly of a ship.

But she knew they would be there.

She knew this ship. She'd known it the moment she entered the bridge and saw the vague outline in front of her, but she hadn't wanted to admit it to herself. She'd ignored her instinct, and the warning signs her gut had tried to throw to her conscious mind.

Harry acknowledged her command and the ship began to rotate in the opposite manner, turning the image of the ship forward into a slow cartwheel. Suddenly, the scan came to rest on a small dark section underneath the ship.

As Harry worked to clear up the distortion on the screen, Kathryn used every breathing technique she knew to slow her pulse and her heart rate. She pivoted quickly to exchange a glance with Tuvok. He met her eyes, then looked away.

He knew the ship, too.

That small, nearly undetectable affirmation from Tuvok forced her to accept what she'd seen on the viewscreen.

It was the DESTINY.

Harry continued to work the console in front of him, trying to clear the fuzzy image so they could read the call letters.

But Kathryn already knew the letters; it was just a formality now.

Behind her, Chakotay was becoming more and more concerned. He had watched Kathryn out of the corner of his eye since they'd first begun trying to identify the ship. And only a moment ago, he saw a look cross her face he'd never seen before. It was a look of recognition – recognition, and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on.

"I'll have this distortion cleared up in another 10 seconds, Captain," said Harry without looking up from his console.

"Take your time, Mr. Kim. We can wait," she said calmly. And while they waited, she would begin to sort out her feelings and her thoughts about what they saw before them. More importantly, she'd try to settle down her stomach.

"Okay, I think I have it, Captain," said Harry, punching a final button on his console and looking up at the screen. The distortion immediately cleared.

There it was, on the underbelly of the ship: USS DESTINY, NA-1711C.

The entire bridge was silent.

"That's strange," muttered Tom Paris. "Why is the name of the ship underneath like that?"

Chakotay's heart skipped a beat. Why indeed, he thought. And why had Kathryn known it was there? Something was tugging at the back of his mind, but he didn't, couldn't, quite grab it. He wasn't even sure he wanted to, and that in itself made him wary.

"They know we're here, Captain," said Harry Kim from over her shoulder. "They've just begun to scan our ship."

"Let him," she said. "But don't allow one iota of information to leave this ship."

"Aye, Captain," said Harry.

Chakotay's heart skipped another beat. Him? Kathryn had referred to this strange Starfleet vessel's commanding officer as a "him," as though she knew who was out there scanning Voyager. What was it that she knew that no one else on the bridge, except Tuvok, knew? He saw the glance they'd exchanged. Again, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Something was telling him he didn't want to know. And he became even more wary than he'd been before.

Kathryn knew she had to maintain control – of herself and of her emotions. She was the Captain. She continued to stare straight ahead into the viewscreen.

Chakotay thought hard. USS DESTINY, NA-1711C. Why did that seem familiar somehow? He thought harder, trying to remember his formal Starfleet training. USS DESTINY. Those words should mean something to him.

Captain Janeway took a deep breath. "Status, Mr. Kim," she said in a fully controlled voice, and returned once more to her command chair.

"They're still scanning, Captain," said Harry. "But we're not giving them anything. I'm not sure how long range their sensors are, though," he said. "I can't get a read on them. They may be able to read our call numbers the same way we read theirs."

"That's all right – we won't be in their database," she said softly, more to herself than to the bridge crew.

Chakotay wondered how she could know that. Then again, even he could see that the ship in front of them was an older vessel. It had obviously been constructed before Voyager was ever commissioned. It had a somewhat similar look, however, as though the same ship designer had influenced the design of both vessels. And of course, an older ship without an updated database wouldn't have information about Voyager. But how would Kathryn know the ship's database hadn't been updated?

There would however, be information on the older ship in Voyager's database. Chakotay pulled up his command computer. He keyed in USS DESTINY, NA-1711C, and waited for the results of his search.

The captain was looking straight ahead. He knew she was working hard to maintain a captain's objectivity about the situation, and not react in a personal way. He knew her well.

Finally, the results of his computer search were in front of him:

USS DESTINY

NA-1711C

Starfleet command vessel

Commissioned 54913.4

Chosen Captain: NONE

Vessel lost: Stardate 54923.1

That was all. Evidently something had happened to the ship before a captain had been assigned to her.

It wasn't Starfleet's way to be this vague. Usually complete information was available on anything that wasn't for command eyes only. He took a deep breath. Of course. All information regarding the USS DESTINY NA-1711C was more than likely in the command database. And since he had officially left Starfleet a long time ago, he had no access to that information.

But his real concern was Kathryn's reaction to all this. Although she was doing a good job of hiding it from the rest of the crew, she knew this ship, and from a personal perspective, too. The look that had crossed her face, the glance she'd shared with Tuvok, and her restlessness that only he could detect, told Chakotay that the USS DESTINY meant something more to Kathryn Janeway than just another Federation ship that had gotten lost in the Delta Quadrant.

No, the look that had flashed through Kathryn's eyes told him it was much, much more than that.

Chakotay knew there was a story about this particular vessel. He searched his mind for it. There had been rumors about the DESTINY that had spread throughout the Starfleet command center, and Starfleet Academy.

He thought again.

The rumor, he remembered, had never been substantiated. He glanced at Kathryn.

Until now, evidently.

The USS DESTINY was a newly commissioned Starfleet vessel of the day, he recalled. She had stood ready, awaiting a captain to command her. But then something had happened.

He closed his eyes, willing the rest of the information to come forward.

The new vessel had been tested and retested. She was the best of the best of the time, the fastest and the quickest. And something had happened….

Chakotay opened his eyes. Yes, something unexpected had happened, but he couldn't remember what it was.

He glanced sideways at Kathryn again, but she was still fiercely maintaining her stoic façade.

Chakotay wished he could ask Tom Paris about the rumor. Tom had heard all the stories and even remembered them.

Chakotay glanced at Tom's back and saw that it was strong and solid, and ramrod straight. Whatever the story was regarding this vessel, Tom was already putting it together in his own mind. Chakotay sighed. Maybe it did pay to listen to rumors, after all.

"Mr. Kim?" asked the captain, demanding an update.

"Still scanning, Captain," he said.

"That's fine. Keep me informed," she said.

"Yes, Ma'am," replied Harry.

It was certainly crunch time, thought Chakotay absently.

But then, unexpectedly, Chakotay recalled something else about Starfleet vessel USS DESTINY. It had been stolen. A captain who had expected to be assigned to her hadn't been because of some impropriety in his records. And soon after finding out that he wouldn't be chosen to captain the vessel, he had stolen her, had taken off with her into the night. And…he had been a professor at the Academy as well, Chakotay recalled.

That was all he could remember. He glanced over at Kathryn again.

It was obvious that she knew more, much more, than he ever had.

"Kathryn?" he called her name softly.

Without looking his way, she shook her head once, letting him know she couldn't speak to him now.

"Mr. Kim?" she asked, her voice slightly on edge. The edge was so slight, however, that only Chakotay noticed it.

"Still the same, Captain," said Harry. "They're still scanning."

She took a deep breath. "That's enough. Open a channel, Harry," she said in a calm, and very controlled, voice.

"Aye, Captain," he said, and worked his console quickly. "Channel open."

"Federation vessel, this is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager…"

Her voice was cut off by a hearty laugh. "Ahh…Kathryn!" Suddenly, the image of an attractive late middle-aged human male appeared on-screen. "How wonderful to see you, my dear! Imagine my surprise at seeing another Federation ship out here! And then to see you in charge of her!"

"Hello, Seth," said Kathryn Janeway softly.

"How have you been, Kathryn?" He seemed genuinely glad to see her.

"I'm well, Seth, but I have a great many questions for you."

"I'm sure you have as many for me as I have for you, Kathryn," he said, as though that were already understood. He smiled at her, and his voice changed, becoming softer, gentler. "I had no doubt we'd meet again, Kathryn, no doubt at all."

Kathryn took a deep breath, trying to force a comfort level that was eluding her just now. "How long have you been in the Delta Quadrant, Seth?" she asked, as calm as ever, giving nothing away.

Chakotay thought for a moment her voice reflected more than mere Starfleet concern, but of course it could have been his overactive imagination. It always ran into overdrive where Kathryn was concerned. But there was no mistaking the familiarity in her voice for the captain of the DESTINY.

"A very long time, Kathryn. But look at you – Captain Janeway! But of course you would be captain by now! You always claimed it wasn't your goal, but I couldn't imagine you settling for a science station for very long. There was no other way for you to go, my dear. Surely you knew it all along, as well?"

She straightened in her chair, and remained as neutral as ever. "Actually, no, Seth. I fully intended to remain a science officer for the duration of my Starfleet career." Her voice softened. "But things change."

"That they do, Kathryn, that they do."

They were both silent.

"How did you make your way out here, Seth?" she asked finally.

"Through a wormhole, Kathryn. And you?" he asked, not missing a beat.

She took another deep breath. They'd get nowhere like this. "We need to talk, Seth," she said. "Why don't we arrange to have dinner this evening – on Voyager. I'll make the arrangements. How about 19:00 hours?"

He laughed heartily. "Ah now, there's my Kathryn! How I've missed you! Always taking 'command,' always prepared for any occasion."

"Not always, Seth," she said softly.

He sighed. "You look incredible, you know," he said gently. "I've missed just looking at you."

His voice had a lover's edge to it that made Kathryn Janeway – and her first officer – very uncomfortable.

Chakotay's heart was beating rapidly. He didn't like this at all. Of course, Kathryn had her share of old flames she'd left along the way, but this man was behaving as though time had stood still.

No, Chakotay didn't appreciate the look this man was giving her at all.

Kathryn made sure to use her captain's voice when she responded. "We'll transport you and three of your crewmembers aboard Voyager at 19:00 hours. I'll meet you in the transporter room then."

He sighed melodramatically. "Ah, so then it's not going to be just the two of us this evening, Kathryn?"

"No," she said in a tone that left no other option open for discussion. "We'll see you then." She glanced over her shoulder. "Harry, end transmission."

Harry quickly did just that.

Kathryn stood. "Commander," she said, as she glanced at Chakotay. "My ready room." She started forward, and locked eyes with Tuvok. "You have the bridge, Commander."

Tuvok nodded, but Chakotay saw that his eyes stayed with Kathryn's a beat longer than usual.

Tuvok was concerned for his captain, Chakotay realized with a start. Somehow that didn't make him feel reassured about what he'd just witnessed.

He followed her through the doors to her ready room and stood before her desk.

Captain Janeway moved to the replicator and ordered two cups of tea. This in itself made Chakotay anxious. When she didn't order coffee, she was sidetracked, and that didn't happen often.

Kathryn waited for the tea to appear in the replicator slot. What she really needed was fifteen minutes alone, but she didn't have that luxury right now. She needed to explain to Chakotay what he'd just witnessed on the bridge first, without giving him time to come up with his own conclusions.

The reason she might not want him to come up with his own conclusions never occurred to her.

Taking both cups of tea from the replicator, she moved back to Chakotay. She looked up into his eyes, the desk in front of her the only thing between them, then handed him his tea. He took it from her, but his eyes never left hers.

"What is it, Kathryn?" he asked softly. "Who is he?"

She motioned for him to sit. He did, then she did the same.

Kathryn glanced at the tea in her cup, wishing she'd ordered coffee. Coffee always brought her comfort. Tea was…flavored water. It tasted all right, but it would always be no more than flavored water to her. Coffee, on the other hand, was a real beverage. It had spunk, gusto.

She sighed. Why was she comparing tea and coffee at a time like this? Why, to postpone an explanation, she knew. More than anything, she didn't want to explain Seth Thomas to Chakotay.

She raised her eyes from the cup in her hands and stared straight into his. "I know you're wondering about what went on out there." She paused, knowing that Chakotay wasn't the only one on the bridge a few minutes ago who'd be wondering.

But Chakotay was her first concern, her only concern, right now.

This was going to be harder to put into words than she thought. "It's a long story," she said. "But I'll tell you everything I know."

He nodded.

"The USS DESTINY was a brand new prototype ship when I was a second year cadet at the Academy," she said. "Do you remember her at all?"

"I recall hearing about her," he said. "But only briefly." He would let her tell him the story.

She sat back in her chair and looked away, into the space in front of her, and into the past.

"I remember seeing her for the first time," she said. "We'd all heard rumors about her, but she was as sleek and fine as anything I'd ever seen, and could only imagine. All I could think about was how I wanted to be there for her first mission, how I wanted to be the science officer assigned to the DESTINY." She paused. "But, of course, I was still a long way from being assigned to any ship."

Chakotay thought about how a young Cadet Janeway would have looked at that ship in wonder and amazement, never imagining she'd captain an even more wondrous spaceship herself someday.

She continued. "Several candidates were being considered to captain the DESTINY. Her maiden voyage was only six months away, and the captain had to be chosen and readied for it." She took a sip of her tea. "Seth Thomas was one of those considered for the job."

Chakotay waited for more.

"But he didn't get the position," she said. "His…ethical nature…was called into question. During a previous command post he had disagreed with a direct order from a superior officer. And since he didn't carry out that mission to the satisfaction of the Admiral who'd given the order, he received a large black mark on his Starfleet record. It didn't matter that the mission was a success by all other standards."

Chakotay now recalled how it had been a shock and a surprise to many that Thomas hadn't gotten the post. But what he really wanted to know was: Who was Seth Thomas to Kathryn Janeway? There was more to this story, a lot more. He had felt it, seen it on the bridge. He knew Kathryn, and during her conversation with Thomas she had been guarded.

And before that, when she'd realized the name of the other ship, that certain look had crossed her face that he'd never seen before.

And it had frightened him.

Kathryn continued. "When Seth didn't get the commission, he took the ship and disappeared. He wasn't heard from again." She paused. "Until now."

Chakotay knew it was true. But there was nothing like this in the databases, it had just been rumor. There was no mention of the DESTINY in the lectures at the Academy, and not much mention of Captain Seth Thomas at all, even though he had once been a decorated Starfleet hero.

But what was Seth Thomas to Kathryn Janeway, he wondered again. He forced himself to stick to the story. "So the rumors were accurate?" he asked. "He just disappeared one night?"

"Yes," she said. "He left with the DESTINY. And that was that."

He didn't think so. "But you're not telling me everything, Kathryn," he said softly, as he watched her stare into her cup.

She looked at him, at first surprised, but the surprise left as quickly as it came. "No," she said quietly. She put her head against the headrest and shut her eyes for a moment. She had promised to tell Chakotay everything. And she would.

After a moment, Kathryn opened her eyes and turned her chair to face him. "I knew Seth, had known him my entire second year at the Academy. He had been an instructor of mine, and later, after I graduated his class, we became lovers." She paused. She had told only one other person about her relationship with Seth in all these years, even though a few people had suspected she and Seth were seeing each other.

Tuvok had had his own dealings with Seth Thomas, and years later, after she and Tuvok had become friends and associates, she'd told him the entire story over a cup of Vulcan tea. For some reason, it was always easier to tell Tuvok things about her past than anyone else. Perhaps it was because he didn't judge, merely tried to see the logic behind the actions.

"It wasn't the usual type of dating, Chakotay," she said. "We were both terribly involved in our careers. I was a willing student for a man who loved to tell war stories." She took a deep breath. This was proving to be even more difficult than she'd imagined. "He was a great deal older than me, you see. I looked up to him, and he…enjoyed having me around."

Chakotay knew without question that any man in Thomas's position, and especially with his obvious ego, would have thrived on having a lovely young Kathryn Janeway by his side.

She took a deep breath and sat back in her chair. "I cared about him deeply. I didn't love him, but I cared about him." She looked out into space, and back into the past. "He came to me the night before he disappeared. We hadn't seen each other in weeks, the result of a huge…disagreement…and our combined stubbornness."

She paused, remembering, then continued. "He asked me to go away with him. He said he was going to go somewhere new and fresh, and see stars that he'd never seen before." She paused. "I didn't even take the time to consider what he meant by that."

"He was already planning to steal the DESTINY when he visited you?" asked Chakotay.

"Evidently, but I didn't realize it at the time," she said. "It never occurred to me that he would steal a ship, nor that he wanted to leave for good. I thought he just wanted me to leave my classes for a few days." Her voice lowered. "Even though he'd been quieter, more reserved, for a few weeks, I never considered that he was at a point in his life where he wanted to leave Starfleet, and Earth, and the life he'd known completely."

They were both quiet, thinking. And then she continued. "I thought he wanted me to take a trip with him," she said. "And I told him 'no' – I said I had my studies to think about."

Suddenly, she turned back to Chakotay. "He was asking me to run away with him forever," she said softly. "And I didn't realize it until the next morning when Starfleet authorities came to question me about his disappearance, and the disappearance of the DESTINY."

"Do you think he intended to wind up in the Delta Quadrant? That he'd found a way to come here?" asked Chakotay.

"I don't know what to think," she said.

Out of everything Kathryn had just told him, Chakotay had only one question. "Would you have gone with him had you known what he really meant?" he asked.

She smiled sadly. "Of course not, Chakotay. I wasn't even prepared to give up a few days of classes to go on a short trip; I would never have thrown away a career I was working so hard for, and wanted so desperately."

He nodded. He understood completely.

And he took a quiet breath of relief.

"I was 21 years old, Chakotay, and he was 43. He may have been ready to leave everything behind, but I wasn't."

He nodded again. "I still wonder how he got here. Somehow I doubt the Caretaker brought him to the Delta Quadrant as he did us."

"I agree," she said. "And I intend to find out at dinner tonight. But first, it was necessary to give both of us some time alone."

His heart nearly stopped beating. Maybe Kathryn still cared for this fellow. "To catch your breath?" he asked.

She stood. "To look over those scans and figure out what he's been up to," she said, and started for the door to the bridge.

Chakotay grinned and followed her. This was the Kathryn Janeway he knew.

*

Kathryn stood at the ready, eyes forward. She faced the transporter pads, her captain's mask firmly in place. It was necessary.

"Energize," she said to the ensign behind the console.

Captain Seth Thomas and three other individuals appeared on the pads.

"What a marvelous transporter room, Kathryn! Starfleet has certainly come a long way in the aesthetics department since I was teaching at the Academy," he said, stepping onto the floor, with his crewmates following him. He took Kathryn's hand and kissed it gently, then looked into her eyes. "And you are more lovely today than you were then," he said softly, to her and only her.

"Then your eyes deceive you, Seth," said Kathryn, with a twinkle in her eye, and an obvious fondness for this man, even as she remained the captain.

Chakotay was very aware of how easily this man addressed only Kathryn, and completely managed to ignore everyone else in the room. He didn't like it every much.

And he liked the twinkle in Kathryn's eye even less.

But Kathryn quickly became all business. "This is my first officer, Commander Chakotay. My chief of security, Commander Tuvok, and the Doctor, Voyager's chief medical officer," she said to Seth Thomas, making the official introductions.

They each nodded as they were introduced, and Seth turned his attentions to the three men in front of him. "I'm very pleased to meet you," he said, nodding in turn. "You must be proud to serve on such a fine ship." Then he turned back to Kathryn. "Allow me to introduce Kaitlin, my number one officer. And this is Kanorf, my chief of security, and Turak, my science officer."

Kathryn noted a humanoid first officer, a Klingon chief of security, and a Vulcan science officer. "Welcome aboard Voyager," she said. Then she turned back to Seth. "Shall we?" she said, gesturing to the door.

Seth followed her, and the rest of the party fell in step behind them, with Tuvok bringing up the rear.

"I hope you're hungry," Kathryn said to Seth as he walked beside her. "Neelix has prepared a special meal in honor of our discovering your ship," she said.

"Neelix?" he asked, taking her arm, the perfect gentleman.

Kathryn forced herself not to react in any way to his touch. "Neelix is our head chef, guide, and morale officer," she explained, leading the way to the mess.

Chakotay followed them, telling himself to relax. Maybe he and Kathryn weren't having dinner alone tonight as planned, but they'd make up for it one evening soon. Besides, it wasn't the cancelled dinner that was bothering him, it was the new guest, the captain of the DESTINY. The man was too…slick, he decided. And try as he may, he couldn't imagine Kathryn Janeway ever being taken in by him, even as a young girl.

But then, maybe there was more to the man than there appeared to be.

Chakotay was glad Kathryn had included her first officer in tonight's dinner party arrangements; it would give him a chance to find out more about Seth Thomas.

Somehow, he didn't think he was going to like the man any better.

*

"So you see, Kathryn, it was a simple twist of fate that brought the DESTINY here," said Seth Thomas, raising his glass to Captain Janeway. "And I'm more than pleased it has resulted in you and I finding each other again."

All evening, whenever possible, Seth Tomas had turned the conversation toward the more personal angles between he and Kathryn. Chakotay didn't like it at all, and he liked Seth Thomas even less than before.

Kathryn ignored Seth's remarks as much as possible. They made nearly everyone at the table uncomfortable, but Seth didn't seem to care. However, she couldn't completely ignore a new knot that had been tying itself up in her stomach all evening.

Memories of their heated romance, and the way he had loved her, were coming back to her full force. He had been a wonderful lover, and when they were together nothing in the universe would take his attentions from her. That had been a wonderful thing for a young woman to experience, a man who had eyes only for her.

He had also been stubborn and arrogant, and she had been the same. He was older, though, and had already experienced the things she was just beginning to learn. And their egos had brushed on more than one occasion.

Ah, but he had taught her a great deal about Starfleet, life and love. She had to give him his due. He had been an important person in her life, and she'd often wondered what had become of him. Truth was, though, she had been so busy in the Delta Quadrant for so long now that she hadn't thought about Seth Thomas in years.

"Seth, you say you were brought here by a wormhole, but did you try to use it to return to the Alpha Quadrant?" asked Kathryn.

Seth paused, then glanced quickly toward his companions. "Kathryn, I know that you won't understand this because you're still in love with the life you've known, and with all things Starfleet, but my dear, when I liberated the DESTINY, I took a crew with me who were as anxious to start a new life as I was. When we were swept away and thrown into the Delta Quadrant, it was a new chance for us, a new life." He leaned forward and took Kathryn's hand in his, once again ignoring those around him. "Each of us wanted to leave our old life behind, and all for different reasons."

"Seth, you could have turned your reputation around. It was an unfair judgment," she said, taking her hand back as graciously as possible.

But Seth shook his head. "It may have been unfair, Kathryn, but it was true as well. I would never have regained my former position at Starfleet Academy, nor would I have regained the respect from my peers." He paused. "And Kathryn, I didn't mind, really. I didn't care about that anymore. I just wanted to go away, to start a new life."

"Yes, I remember," she said quietly.

He smiled. "My only regret is that you refused to come with me." Kathryn looked uncomfortable again, but he finished his thought. "I would have felt complete with you by my side."

She looked away. "Seth, that was a long time ago."

"Yes," he said, and then laughed. "And we were both younger." Then he stopped laughing, and leaned even closer toward her. "And I've missed you terribly," he whispered.

Chakotay had heard every word, and bristled inwardly. The word "slick" hadn't begun to describe Seth Thomas, he decided.

Kathryn turned toward Seth's first officer, who had said very little during the evening. "Are you glad to be in the Delta Quadrant as well, Kaitlin?" she asked.

"Oh yes, Captain," she said quickly. "These past years have been kind to us."

"In what way?" asked Kathryn.

"I beg your pardon, Captain?" she asked.

Kathryn rephrased her question. "Why would you rather be here than your homeland?"

Kaitlin paused only slightly. "Because here we can be who we are and not be afraid. All of us on board the DESTINY are friends, but we consider ourselves family. "Kathryn nodded. She knew the feeling. Kaitlin continued, "We work well together and enjoy our time off with each other, as well. There is only harmony among us, Captain."

"Surely there is an occasional imbalance," said Chakotay.

"No," said Kaitlin. "Seth doesn't allow it."

"Doesn't allow it?" asked Chakotay. But he held his tongue and didn't say more. Evidently this man was very much in control of his vessel and his crew, even if they were stationary. He briefly wondered whether Thomas ever allowed them to think or speak for themselves.

Kathryn decided to move the subject into other directions.

But after several more minutes, and questions and answers from both Kanorf and Turak, it was obvious that these people lived in a dream world of their own making. Or, at least they wanted others to think it was trouble free, Kathryn thought. But that was their business. Hers was getting her own ship back home.

After Neelix's elegant dessert of Talaxian crème pie and coffee, Kathryn and her entourage escorted their guests back to the transporter room.

Even as they walked, Kathryn thought about how her questions regarding the DESTINY crew's future had gone unanswered. She had asked them all, in various ways, if they were ready to integrate into the Voyager's crew and head back to the Alpha Quadrant. But no one had seemed very interested in leaving the Delta Quadrant. And Seth had calmly and skillfully moved her questions into other areas of interest.

Kathryn had to admit that the evening's conversations had enlightened her very little about the DESTINY's adventures. Perhaps it would have been better if she and Seth had dined alone, after all, she thought as they walked, but then decided quickly that she wasn't ready for an evening alone with him. Seth had a way of taking control of every situation, and she wanted to avoid a conflict, if at all possible.

When they reached the transporter room, Seth pulled Kathryn aside the best way he could with so many people around. "Kathryn, you and I need to talk," he said. "Alone."

"Yes, we do, Seth," she said softly. "But not tonight. Tomorrow. I'll contact you in the morning and we can make arrangements to meet."

Seth nodded. There was nothing else he could do. Kathryn was calling the shots.

Chakotay overheard the exchange, but looked the other way.

After their guests transported back to their own ship, Kathryn Janeway turned to the others beside her, Chakotay, the Doctor, Tuvok and Neelix. "I want to see all of you in the briefing room in twenty minutes," she said, and left the transporter room.

Chakotay stopped by his quarters for a quick cup of tea. He needed a few minutes to himself to think about the situation. He new what Kathryn wanted to talk about. She wanted everyone's opinions about the dinner. He was glad of that. At least that meant she hadn't fallen under whatever spell this Thomas seemed to cast over women. Hadn't fallen again, he corrected himself. At least not yet.

He sighed and took a last sip of herbal tea before depositing the cup in the recycler and exiting his quarters.

*

"I need your opinions about our dinner this evening, Gentlemen," said Captain Janeway, from her usual spot at the head of the conference table. This time, though, the entire senior staff wasn't present, so it seemed like a large place for such a small meeting. "Chakotay?" She usually began with Chakotay, her first officer, and all eyes turned toward him.

"I'm not sure, Captain," he said. "It felt more like a standoff than a dinner."

"How do you mean, Chakotay?" she asked. His insights were invaluable to her.

"We were asking obvious questions in the gentlest way possible, and they were giving us sugar-coated answers to them," he said.

"Meaning?" asked Janeway. She needed him to be straightforward.

Chakotay understood. "Meaning, Captain, that none of us asked very much about the wormhole that brought them here, and they didn't tell us much about it, either," he said. Kathryn nodded thoughtfully, and Chakotay continued. "We asked soft questions, but they didn't really want to talk about themselves. They seemed much were more interested in us."

"True," she said. "I thought they would enjoy having an audience, a chance to tell others of their adventures. We are obviously no threat to them in any way, since we're in no position to turn them into Starfleet Command for going AWOL and stealing a Starfleet vessel." She sighed. "Not yet anyway," she said more to herself than to the room at large.

Chakotay wondered if she would actually inform Starfleet about Seth Thomas and the DESTINY's location when Voyager returned home. Then again, she was nothing if not true to her obligations as Voyager's captain.

Chakotay knew Kathryn needed to have a viable explanation for everything, even situations that seemed harmless. But Chakotay also knew she went with her instincts when something didn't feel complete, and this might be one of those times.

"If I may, Captain," said the Doctor hesitantly.

"Certainly Doctor," she said.

"I agree with Commander Chakotay that not a great deal was explained or discussed, but I believe it was a necessary first step for us all to take – sort of like a first contact situation, Captain," he said, beaming at his comparison.

"True," she said. "You make a good point, Doctor."

"I also believe Captain Thomas was more interested in Voyager's captain than in Voyager's adventures," continued the Doctor.

Chakotay looked toward Kathryn for her response to that.

"Yes, I realize it seemed that way, and I apologize, Gentlemen," she said to the men in general. "We haven't seen each other in a very long time."

Chakotay held his breath to keep from saying something he would regret later.

"Captain?" asked Neelix.

"Yes, Mr. Neelix?"

"Is there a reason we're all being so evasive?" he asked. "I mean, can't we all just say what's on our minds, and tell them we're curious to hear about their adventures?" he asked.

Janeway sighed. Sometimes it was the easiest questions that were the most difficult to answer. "Captain Thomas has proved himself to be less than trustworthy before," she said.

Chakotay wondered if she meant less than trustworthy where Starfleet was concerned, or where she was personally concerned.

"It was under very different circumstances," she continued, "And a very long time ago. But perhaps you're right, Mr. Neelix. Maybe I'm so used to being overly cautious I've become distrustful of everyone we meet, even people from back home."

"That's understandable, Captain. But why not just meet with Captain Thomas and ask him everything you want to know?" continued Neelix. "I'm sure he'll be very accommodating."

Chakotay was sure Captain Thomas would be more than happy to accommodate Captain Janeway in other ways, as well.

Janeway smiled in spite of herself. "That's a fair question, Neelix. I'll give it some thought." She took a deep breath. "But perhaps tonight was best served for making acquaintances," she said.

Or for attempting to rekindle old flames, thought Chakotay, thinking of Seth Thomas. But he forced the thought away.

After a moment of consideration, the Doctor spoke. "Captain, I believe tonight should simply be remembered as a relaxing evening, in the company of fellow wanderers, all of whom are so very far away from home." He paused for a beat, to consider that he'd nearly spouted poetry.

"Thank you, Doctor," she said, turning to Tuvok. "Mr. Tuvok? What is your opinion?" she asked.

"I am in agreement with the others, Captain," he said. " However, I suggest we attempt another meeting with the entire crew of the DESTINY present, and in a lesser constrained atmosphere. In that way, perhaps both crews can adjust to each other before continuing with more conversation about their predicament." He had learned long ago that humans were unpredictable when it came to making simple explanations. They sometimes needed coaxing, which often tried his composure.

"What do you have in mind, Tuvok?" she asked.

Although the neutral Vulcan facade remained intact, it was obvious that Tuvok was working hard to keep it there. "I would suggest we invite them to one of Mr. Neelix's parties in the holodeck, Captain," he said.

Both Kathryn and Chakotay had to look away quickly so as not to let a smile creep onto their faces. They knew how Tuvok felt about Neelix's parties, and it must have been extremely difficult for him to suggest having one.

"Well, thank you, Mr. Vulcan!" exclaimed Neelix. He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I always thought you enjoyed our little parties more than you like to admit."

"I think that is an excellent suggestion, Mr. Tuvok," said Captain Janeway, turning back to look at him, her control firmly in place.

Tuvok took a deep breath, though his demeanor remained as stoic as ever. "Thank you, Captain," he said. "Of course, all of the DESTINY's crewmembers will be confined to just the holodeck," he said.

Janeway nodded. "Anything else?" she asked.

"Captain, as an aside," said the Doctor proudly, "I am happy to report that B'Elanna's "tweak" to my digestive system worked beautifully. I was able to eat and digest all the foodstuffs offered this evening quite well."

"I'm glad to hear it, Doctor," said Kathryn Janeway. "Are there any other observations or comments regarding our meeting with the crew of the DESTINY?" she asked.

Chakotay wanted to ask what she thought, but knew her well enough to know that if she'd had a different opinion from what she'd heard, she would have voiced it.

What Chakotay really wanted to ask was what Kathryn thought of Seth Thomas now, and did he make her feel the way he used to. While he had watched Kathryn interact with Captain Thomas all evening, she'd given nothing away. And he'd known she wouldn't. She wore the captain's mask very well, better than anyone he'd ever met.

"Dismissed," said Captain Janeway, and the others moved to the back of the room to exit, while Kathryn moved up to the viewport to look outside.

As Chakotay turned to leave behind the others, he glanced back at her one last time.

She was leaning on the wall to one side of the viewport with her arms folded across her chest, and looking out at the Delta Quadrant stars she'd finally come to appreciate.

*

Several hours later, Kathryn stood at the viewport in her quarters, in much the same way Chakotay had seen her earlier.

The DESTINY was not visible from here, but she knew it wasn't far away.

She'd been trying to sleep for hours on end, but couldn't. She pulled her robe more tightly around her and belted it, then glanced across the room at the chronometer. It was 03:00 hours. She sighed and returned to the couch, where she'd sat drinking herbal tea for the past two hours. She didn't care much for it, but she also knew better than to drink coffee at this hour.

She leaned her elbows on her knees and scrubbed at her face. She was exhausted but she just couldn't sleep. She'd tossed and turned for most of the night, but it had been no use.

She couldn't stop thinking about Seth Thomas.

Seth had been a mentor of sorts, way back when she was a second year cadet at the Academy. She'd learned about quantum theory and relativity from him inside the classroom, as well as a great deal about life and love outside the classroom.

He had been larger than life to Kathryn once, but in many ways he was a larger-than-life sort of person, the type who takes charge easily and who overpowers a room simply by walking into it.

She didn't pause to realize that others saw her the same way.

Kathryn had felt Seth's commanding presence again tonight. He had gotten older, as she had, but he didn't seem to have aged much. He still had a theatrical flair about him, and it made her smile. She'd missed that for a long time after he disappeared.

She sighed again. Yes, she and Seth Thomas needed to spend some time together alone. They needed to talk about the difficult things, including making decisions about whether the crew of the DESTINY would accompany Voyager on her journey home. But Kathryn also knew they needed to put the past to rest, too. Since there had never really been an end to their relationship in any of the usual ways people ended relationships, she knew they would have to put it into perspective now.

And she really didn't want to rehash it all with Seth.

To Kathryn, the past was the past. She'd put it all away a long time ago – Justin, Seth, Mark, her father, any past life she'd had. Being stranded in the Delta Quadrant did wonders for a person's way of looking at life. There was no time for the past. The present took up nearly all her time and thought, and on the rare occasion she thought about what she would do after she got her crew home, she stopped herself short. She didn't have time to think beyond getting home again. That alone was her goal, her life's ambition, her destiny. It was also her promise to herself.

When she used to think about what would happen after they arrived back on Earth, her heart would beat faster and she would become apprehensive. But when she tried to think farther ahead now, her thoughts stopped cold. She'd trained herself well these past few years.

And now what? Would Seth want to return home again aboard the Voyager? Did he or any of his crewmembers want to go home again, or were they truly happy where they were? And if they did want to integrate into Voyager's crew, was Seth Thomas the sort of man today who could sit back and take orders from Kathryn Janeway?

Once, Seth wouldn't have been able to do that, because he'd never been able to take orders from anyone very well. His history at Starfleet was proof enough of that.

But perhaps he's changed, she thought.

Somehow, she didn't think so.

No, Seth Thomas was the sort of man who needed to be in charge. So what in the hell would she do if he came on board her ship to return to the Alpha Quadrant?

She sighed again, deeply, and leaned back on the couch. Why was she even thinking about it at this hour?

Because she always tried to be prepared for the worst.

If Seth Thomas and his crew came aboard her ship to return home with the rest of them, then Seth would have to integrate into Voyager's crew along with the rest of his people, just as the remaining members of the Equinox crew had done, and as the Maquis crew had done before them.

And he would just have to learn to take orders for the first time in his life.

Kathryn suddenly felt something akin to what was once known as hypertension. She stood and began to pace the room, her robe and nightgown swishing around her feet as she walked. She ordered a warm milk concoction from the replicator that the Doctor had prescribed for her for times like this, but she could hardly choke it down. She'd never liked warm milk.

Just the thought of forcing Seth to take orders made her stomach upset. She knew they would butt heads constantly, but she wouldn't stand for his interference in her command. The command chairs were taken – she was the captain and Chakotay was her number one, her first officer. And that was the way it would always be. She'd throw Seth Thomas in the brig before she allowed him to interfere with her command or her crew. There was no doubt about that.

Chakotay.

Thankfully, Chakotay was there, always there, for her. She still couldn't imagine a day without him.

But her thoughts went back to Seth.

How did she feel about him? She'd put off thinking about it all night. He was still attractive, and his smile was still as becoming as ever. She grinned unknowingly just thinking about it.

And he still looked deeply into her eyes, probing her every thought, giving her his complete attention.

She'd discovered earlier this evening that she had to be on guard with him in public just as she used to. He was the only man she'd ever known who could make her blush.

His eyes seemed to devour her this evening – they always had. Once, he could look at her a certain way from across a room and she would feel her knees weaken. She used to know precisely when he was thinking about making love to her. He would look at her, and she would know it, feel it, anticipate it. Look forward to it.

When he got her alone, he would slowly and carefully peel off every item of clothing she wore, and put her onto the bed, where he would make exquisite love to her for hours on end. She remembered the need, the fire, the flames he sent throughout her body each time they made love.

Kathryn suddenly shivered. All of that was in the past. And Kathryn didn't dwell on the past. And she certainly wasn't interested in making Seth Thomas a part of her future.

She was lonely, that was a given. But she wasn't about to rekindle an old flame, not for anything. And certainly not with Seth Thomas. He was a part of her past, but he had no place in her future.

She'd needed him when she was younger, true, to teach her things she'd not yet experienced, to make her feel like a woman instead of a girl trying to become a woman. He'd touched her in ways she'd not known before, and she was still grateful for all that he'd taught her, for all that he'd meant to her. And, if she wasn't mistaken, she'd taught him a thing or two, as well.

But the past was the past. Seth had been what she needed once, but he couldn't give her what she needed now – a way to get her crew home.

And she didn't want to reminisce about the past with Seth Thomas, either, but she might have to do it to some extent so they could all move forward. She needed Seth Thomas to keep his mind on business and not on their past together.

She shook her head to clear it and looked at the chronometer again. 04:00 hours. She took her cup to the recycler and started for her bedroom. A quick sonic shower and a fresh uniform would make her feel better. Then she'd head for the bridge. The graveyard shift wouldn't appreciate it, but what the hell. Everyone needed to be kept on their toes.

After all, they were still a long way from home, and who knew what lay before them.

*

After a couple of hours in her ready room, Captain Janeway left for the mess hall for breakfast, which she hadn't done much of lately. She was exhausted, but she'd be damned if she'd let anyone know it. She'd added a touch of makeup to the circles under her eyes, and that was that.

Upon entering the mess, the wonderful smell of coffee nearly knocked her over. Once, she thought she'd never get used to Neelix's various coffee knockoffs, but over the years her taste buds had come to appreciate most of them.

Neelix was happy to see her and insisted she try the best of the best items on the breakfast buffet. While she poured herself fresh coffee, he even insisted on making a plate for her himself.

Finally, she turned and nearly gasped at the amount of food on the plate. "Neelix, I don't eat that much in an entire day," she said.

"I know, Captain," said Neelix, and winked at her. "But think of it this way, you can eat what you want and leave the rest. Meanwhile, the Doctor will be sure to hear about the plate of food I made for you and he'll think you're eating better!"

Janeway looked Neelix in the eye. "Nice try, Mr. Neelix," she said, taking the plate from him.

"Aw, come on, Captain, just give it a try. There are some incredible delicacies on this plate – Delta Quadrant specialties that everyone else tosses off with a frown and walks by. But let me tell you…."

"Well, this is a rare treat, Captain," said Chakotay, moving up beside them with a cup of tea. "Are you planning to eat all that?" His grin was disarming.

For a quick instant, Captain Janeway felt her knees go weak, but she took charge of herself and ignored it. "Actually, Commander, Neelix just put together this plate for the both of us. He must have seen you come through the door." She turned to Neelix before either of them could disagree. "Thank you, Mr. Neelix," she said. "Commander, let's find a table." She turned away and led Chakotay to a table in the back of the room, where she ceremoniously put the plate in the center of the table. "Thank you for showing up when you did," she said in a low voice, and sat.

Chakotay put a couple of side plates in front of each of them, glad he'd thought to grab them along the way, then sat. "Somehow I think you're happier about it than I am," he said, as they both looked at the food on the center plate.

"Nonsense," she said, sitting taller and using her fork and knife to take things at random from the plate. She was determined to make the best of it. "You were simply doing your duty by protecting the captain from an awkward situation."

He smiled. "I suppose you're right about that," he said, following her example and taking a squash-like thing from the plate. He tried to figure out how best to cut into it.

"Take more," she said between bites of a pink and gray substance that Chakotay was glad she'd taken from the plate first.

"What?"

"You're not getting away with just that, so don't even think about it," she said with a smile.

Chakotay sighed. "Somehow I knew coming in here this morning was a bad idea," he said. But he wouldn't trade this time with Kathryn for anything, even if he did have to eat this…food. "Have you discussed the details of the party with Neelix yet?" he asked.

"Not yet," she said, forcing food down with another big gulp of coffee. "I was going to, but Neelix insisted on giving me this," she nodded toward the plate, "And you know the rest of it."

Chakotay drank his tea.

Neelix stopped over with a pot in each hand. "Well, well, more coffee for the Captain," he said delightedly, as he filled her cup. "And more tea for Commander Chakotay," he said, pouring tea in Chakotay's cup. "You both must be very thirsty this morning," he finished, then continued on his rounds about the room.

Kathryn and Chakotay smiled behind Neelix's back. They were both grateful Neelix was around, but some things were best left unsaid.

Chakotay put down his fork, but Kathryn motioned for him to pick it up again. "Not so fast there," she said.

"We don't have to eat it all," he said.

"I'm glad to hear you say that," she said, and put down her own fork, as well. "Now I can blame you that it's not all been eaten." They smiled at each other, and Kathryn looked away quickly, as she usually did when they stared into each other's eyes for longer than a moment. "Any more reflections about the dinner last night?" she asked, all business.

Chakotay grinned. He loved it when he caught her off her guard like this and she joked with him, or gave him a special smile as she'd done just now. It meant a great deal to him, even if she was quick to become the captain again.

But he put that thought away for later. "Not really. I agree with the Doctor, though, that this was more of a first contact situation." And then he thought of a way to introduce another topic that was still bothering him. "And I have to admit that I felt Captain Thomas was more interested in Kathryn Janeway herself than what Captain Janeway and her crew were doing in the Delta Quadrant." He took a deep breath. The ball was in her court.

Kathryn sighed, but her mind was on business. "That's just Seth," she said. "He's always been a charmer."

Chakotay thought of other words he might have used instead.

She leaned toward Chakotay and lowered her voice. "So tell me," she said, and he leaned forward as well. "Do you think I'm being paranoid?"

"In what way?" he asked.

"Chakotay, we're having a party tonight to see if we can determine whether the DESTINY crew wants to go back home with us. Neelix wanted to know why we didn't just ask, and maybe he has a point," she said.

But Chakotay knew her instincts were more often right than not. "Each situation is different, Kathryn. If jumping in and asking didn't feel right to you, then maybe we'll feel better about things after tonight. Maybe not. Sometimes the one day at a time approach is best."

"Maybe you're right. I just have this feeling in my gut that we should take things slowly." She paused to think. "We know they stole the DESTINY. They know that we know they're fugitives. They also know we can't possibly arrest them and throw them in the brig for the rest of our journey home." She furrowed her brow and Chakotay listened to her intently. "Seth obviously chose his crew based on two criteria – a desire to start a new life, and a specific skill set that could be used on this new mission, whatever that is. My guess is they simply wanted to get away from it all and Seth put together a crew that could handle the DESTINY's specific needs, such as engineering, tactical, helm, ops."

"Maybe that's all there is to their story, Kathryn," said Chakotay.

"But why don't they seem happier to see us?" she asked. Maybe that was what had been bothering her most. "The crew at dinner last night simply reacted as though we're a friendly new species – they didn't seem overjoyed that we are from the Alpha Quadrant and on our way home again." She looked into her cup. "No one seemed interested in the fact that we're going to make it home soon, and no one asked if they could join us," she said, leaning closer. "If we were lost out here in a ship that we knew for a fact couldn't make it home, Chakotay, I'd do whatever it took to gain passage from another ship, especially one from home that I could trust."

"But we're not them, Kathryn. And you're not Captain Thomas. Maybe they like it out here. Maybe they even ended up here intentionally somehow. We still don't know their story," he said. "Besides, if I were in their position, I'm not at all sure I would be overjoyed to see a Federation ship again, one who could report my whereabouts to the Federation."

"But there is no immediate threat to them, Chakotay. The Federation is still in the Alpha Quadrant," she said.

"True," he replied, "But now, with Voyager, they've officially made contact with the Alpha Quadrant. Who knows how much longer it will be before Federation ships find a way to begin exploring the Delta Quadrant."

She nodded. "True," she whispered. "But my concern is getting Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant." And try as she might, she couldn't put herself in Seth's position, never wanting to get home again.

"Maybe, too, they haven't had a chance to digest it all yet, Kathryn," he continued, bringing her back to the present. "Their ship isn't as powerful as Voyager. I'm sure they've tried for a long time to make a life for themselves here, whether it was their intent or not." He took a deep breath. "We just need to wait and see what happens next."

She looked at him and grinned slowly. "I'll try to be more patient," she said.

He grinned back. Somehow he didn't see it happening.

Kathryn watched his grin widen, and saw the way it moved all the way up to his eyes. She looked away.

"What about Thomas?" asked Chakotay. He had to bring them both back to safe ground. He'd gotten good at it over the years. "You don't think he'd deny any member of his crew the right to chose coming with us, do you?"

"I'm not sure," she said slowly. "But then, I'm not the most objective person there is when it comes to Seth Thomas." She thought of how he'd betrayed her once, and how it had taken her a long time to forgive him for it.

Chakotay looked into his own cup. So, Kathryn was admitting she wasn't objective about Seth Thomas. Maybe she still felt something for him, after all.

"We'll just have to sort things out, Chakotay," she said. "I'm sure things will come together. But you know how unsettled I get when I'm not in control of a situation." She smiled lamely, and he smiled back at her. How could he not react to that smile – she had completely disarmed him.

He still loved her and always would.

The realization hit him hard, out of the blue, as it did every so often. He should have been used to it by now, but it still caught him unaware. And he felt as though he'd been slugged in the stomach, just as he did every time this happened.

"Meanwhile, I want you to work with Harry this morning on a complete analysis of the DESTINY's capabilities. I want to know what does and doesn't work on that ship, and why," she said. "If they do intend to stay out here, I want to know exactly what condition that ship is in."

He nodded again, trying to bring his focus back to the present. Even if she still cared about Seth Thomas, Kathryn would always put the safety of her crew first.

"But be discreet," she continued. "I don't want Seth to know we're running scans. And continue to monitor their assessment of Voyager. Don't give them access to our database, or to anything else. And let's you and I watch Seth's crew closely at the party tonight, see if we can determine the type of relationship they actually do have with each other – and with their captain. We'll compare notes in the morning," she said.

He nodded, and held back another smile. Kathryn was always happier when she was in charge of a situation.

She sat back up and checked the chronometer across the room. "It's nearly 07:30," she said. "Why don't you go ahead and report for duty. I'll be there as soon as I have a quick chat with Neelix."

He finished his tea and nodded. "See you in a few minutes," he said, and left the table, taking the empty plates with him.

Kathryn shook her head, thinking about how she didn't really have the time for this. But she straightened her shoulders and went to speak with Neelix, knowing that she would make his day by discussing his party with him.

*

Kathryn Janeway entered the bridge and greeted the crew, then sat in her command chair.

"Ensign Kim," she said after she'd nodded at her first officer, "Please contact the DESTINY."

"On screen, Captain," came Harry Kim's voice from behind her.

Captain Thomas appeared before them, and grinned when he saw Kathryn Janeway. "Ahhhh, Kathryn," he said, "Thank you for a lovely dinner last evening. My senior staff also thanks you."

"You're welcome," she said in her best command voice. "Seth, I'd like to invite you and your entire crew to a party in your honor, tonight on Holodeck One. Neelix is already making preparations."

Chakotay was amused that she left no room for appeal.

But Seth Thomas smiled his winning smile. "That would be wonderful, Kathryn," he said. "What time shall we begin to transport to your ship?"

"Since you have twelve crew members, why don't you beam over in small groups, starting at nineteen hundred hours?" she asked in an efficient Starfleet voice. "Someone will be in the transporter room to greet you."

"Sounds good, Captain," said Seth, responding accordingly. "We'll all be there." And then he leaned forward as though he were speaking to only Captain Janeway. "And I can count on your duty crew to watch over our ship since we'll all be gone from here, can't I?" he asked.

"Of course," she said and stood from her chair. "I'll see to it."

He grinned and nodded. "Thank you, Kathryn," he said. "I'll see you tonight," he added, in a voice meant only for her.

Chakotay seethed inwardly, but he refused to allow anyone else to see his discomfort.

"End transmission, Harry," said Captain Janeway. Then she turned to Chakotay, but left only the captain's mask on her face. "I'll be in my ready room, Commander. And I believe you have other duties to attend to this morning, as well," she said, as she left the bridge.

"Aye Captain," he replied automatically. Chakotay sat back in his chair after she was gone. He pulled up his computer console to gather data before seeing Harry about their little project. But it was no use. All he could think about was Kathryn Janeway and Seth Thomas.

Finally, he convinced himself to wait and see what the evening had in store. Meanwhile, he had work to do for the captain.

Only time will tell, he thought.

And he would be there to see what it told him.

*

Kathryn entered the holodeck in a clean, fresh uniform. She'd stopped off at her quarters after her duty shift and taken a long, luxurious bath. Only then had she felt relaxed and ready enough to handle this evening. A good hot bath could always work wonders for her.

And after her bath, she had sat back on her couch and drank a fresh hot cup of coffee, compliments of Neelix, and sniffed an exotic hybrid orchid, compliments of Tuvok.

She smiled at the thought. Tuvok didn't often relinquish one of his special orchids to anyone, and she knew he'd done so now to show her his support. He knew how difficult it was for her to see Seth Thomas again after all these years. Who said Vulcans didn't have emotions, she thought.

She looked around the holodeck, taking in their guests. Every crewmember from the DESTINY had beamed aboard Voyager, and had been personally escorted to the holodeck to enjoy the evening's entertainment. No one had been left to his or her own device, per the captain's orders. Any member of the DESTINY's crew who left the transporter room or the holodeck was to be accompanied by a Voyager crewmember at all times. And Tuvok had his security detail in place to be sure. Just in case.

She smiled and nodded to everyone she passed. People were drinking the special Talaxian punch, and dancing to the soft, seductive music. Perhaps it was a bit too seductive, she thought, and vowed to speak to Neelix about it as soon as possible. At least she knew the punch had no real alcohol mix in it, per her instructions, but only a similar tasting substitute.

Kathryn looked around, and took a drink from the tray that appeared before her. She tasted it. It was smooth and enticing. She nodded at the holographic waiter and he moved on. Kathryn continued to move forward.

She was aware of Chakotay watching her from a corner stool at the bar. She nodded at him, and he returned the greeting. She knew where to find a safe haven should she need one, she thought unconsciously, and continued on her way.

"Ah, Kathryn," came a voice from behind her. "I was looking for you, and wondering when you'd show up."

"Hello Seth," she said. She sat her drink on the table in front of her. She didn't need it.

Looking up and into Seth Thomas's eyes, she was struck again by how attractive he still was. Yet she wondered if he'd always been this arrogant, this sure of himself. Yes, she was certain of it, she decided. But it hadn't bothered her when they were lovers, all those years ago. Back then, when he'd turned his attentions to her, she'd felt larger than life too.

"I'd like to dance with you," he said softly, still smiling at her.

"Another time," she said. Now, when she looked at Seth Thomas, she didn't see an old flame, she saw someone she didn't know anymore, someone who had stolen a ship and run away instead of standing his ground.

"It seems the last time I asked you to dance I got the same answer," he said, laughing. "And that was…just how many years ago?"

"Too many to count," she said, and smiled back at him. Seth had always been good at easing her tension.

"Well then, it seems you owe me that dance after all this time," he said, with the usual sparkle in his eyes that came when he gazed upon a very special woman.

"I don't owe you anything," Kathryn said in an even voice that held a meaning only Seth would understand.

And he understood the meaning well. "True, Kathryn, true. You're not still holding that against me, are you?" He searched her eyes.

She softened. "No," she said. "I can't afford to hold onto the past."

"Good," he said, all ready to move forward himself. "And you're sure you don't want to dance with me?"

The last thing she wanted right now was for Seth Thomas to hold her close on the dance floor. "No, I need to move around, visit with crewmembers."

"I'll join you," he said, and took her arm to escort her across the floor.

She tugged free of his grasp gently, though she knew he would recognize the gesture. "I can walk beside you, Seth," she said softly, but her eyes held his.

"As you wish, Captain," he said, dropping his hands to his sides. "Whatever you wish."

They began to walk together, moving easily around the room, and interacting with crewmembers.

Seth Thomas was very impressed with how much the Voyager's crew respected and admired their captain. It was evident in the way they looked at her, and in the way they hung onto her every word.

He had to admit he was very impressed with her, as well.

Chakotay watched them from across the room. Kathryn was smiling and introducing Thomas to Harry Kim. She looked like a proud mother, and he couldn't help but smile. Harry had worked hard to earn Kathryn's respect, but he'd persisted and done so. For that matter, Chakotay was equally proud of him.

But Chakotay's smile disappeared when Seth Thomas once again placed his hand against the small of Kathryn's back to guide her to their next stop.

"Hey, there you are, Chakotay," said Tom Paris, as he chose one of Neelix's finger foods on the tray next to Chakotay. "I thought you'd have the party rolling by now." He looked around. "But obviously I was mistaken."

"What are you doing here, Paris?" asked Chakotay, with an agitated undertone. "I thought I'd arranged for you to be on duty shift," he said.

"Oh you did, but my shift just ended," said Tom. "And I'm hurt. I thought you did me a favor by letting me off the hook just in time for the party to liven up a bit." He popped the Talaxian equivalent of a beer nut into his mouth. "Seems like I still managed to get here too early," he said, then decided to have a bit of fun at Chakotay's expense, since nothing else seemed to be going on. "So," he said in a tone that Chakotay didn't care for, "That Thomas fellow sure loves to hang around the Captain every chance he gets. And he's always touching her." He shivered dramatically. "Kinda gives me the creeps, you know what I mean?"

Chakotay forced himself not to dignify Paris's comment with a remark of his own. He knew Tom Paris was taunting him in the way he did best.

"And he stares at her a lot, too, you know. Looks into her eyes with that dumb grin on his face…" Tom was giving it his best shot, and Chakotay still hadn't jumped on it. "Well, the Captain is a beautiful woman," he tossed out, as he threw another beer nut into his mouth. "And I don't get it, personally," he continued, taking in the room, "But the female crewmembers on our ship sure seem to enjoy looking at him."

"Shut up, Paris," hissed Chakotay, knowing he'd fallen into Paris's trap, and hating himself for it.

Tom suddenly saw B'Elanna across the room. "Speaking of beautiful women," he said, "I see one who actually crawled out from under an engineering console for a few minutes. See you later, Chakotay," he said over his shoulder, and walked away as though he and Chakotay had just shared a normal conversation.

Chakotay took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He tried not to let Paris get to him, but Tom was just too good at it. He knew exactly which buttons to push.

Kathryn nodded at crewmembers as she passed them. Whatever happened, she was their captain with one goal in mind: to get them home. It had been her promise to them, and it was still her only goal. And as she took in the familiar faces around the room, she felt the intensity of that resolve as strongly as ever.

Getting her crew home had been her only goal for a very long time. And whether she wanted to or not, she had to have a very serious discussion with Seth Thomas as soon as possible. Voyager was not going to remain here for more than another day or two at most. She had to get on the road again, back in space.

And she had to know if the crew of the DESTINY wanted a lift home.

If Seth and his crew wanted to stay behind, then so be it. That was their decision to make. But she was getting her crew back on course for the Alpha Quadrant.

Chakotay continued to watch the exchange between Kathryn and Seth Thomas from his corner across the room. He was used to reading body language, and he knew Kathryn's well. He knew her every movement, could gauge her every reaction.

Kathryn had seemed pleasant, yet distant, with Thomas when he'd first walked up to her. There had certainly been no underlying hint of any attraction she might still feel for him. In fact, she had stood tall, straight, using more of an official posture as she would with someone she'd just met, that the captain had just met rather than Kathryn, he mused.

And Thomas…he was a man used to having his way, both as a captain and as a man, thought Chakotay. And it was very apparent in his physical presence. He was tall and well-built and had a rugged good-looking face. And he stood like a man who was completely at ease, yet ready for anything.

Even Thomas's ego didn't seem to interfere with his composure, and his obvious good looks. Maybe that's what Kathryn had once been attracted to, Chakotay decided.

He also wondered if she was still attracted to it.

But it was Thomas's eyes, and his ability to laugh quickly and easily, that Chakotay was sure he'd used on many occasions to disarm and control a situation. He was also quite certain Thomas had used that charm on many women. But Chakotay didn't care about that – and he didn't care what effect that charm had once had on Kathryn Janeway, either.

Chakotay only cared about whether that charm had any effect on her now.

Seth Thomas was a man Chakotay wouldn't trust as far as he could see him.

*

Half an hour later, Kathryn glanced over to where Chakotay had been earlier in the evening. He was gone.

She stopped Neelix as he was passing her. "Neelix, have you seen Commander Chakotay?"

"Oh, he left about ten minutes ago, Captain," said Neelix. "He said he had the early shift tomorrow and needed to get some sleep."

She nodded. "I see." But she knew it was unlike him to turn in so early.

"Was there something you needed to speak with your first officer about, Kathryn?" asked Seth.

"What? Oh, no, nothing that can't wait until tomorrow," she said, turning to look about the room, trying to determine whether she could get away with leaving so soon herself.

"You're sure?" he asked, with a slight query in his voice that asked more than just a simple question.

She turned to look him in the eye. "Yes, I'm sure," she said, without a trace of anything else in her voice. "And I believe I will take his example and turn in a bit early myself." Her tone was dismissive, but Seth wasn't ready to have her leave him just yet.

"Kathryn, we have to talk," he said. "In private, the two of us."

"What about?" she asked.

"Please…give me five minutes of your time."

She knew the look on his face, knew it well. It was a pleading look that melted the hearts of women, and had in fact once melted her heart as well. But she had been a young woman then, with all her hopes and dreams ahead of her. And she hadn't had an entire starship crew looking to her to get them home from an incredibly long and difficult journey they'd never signed up for.

And she truly was tired and not ready for the type of conversation she needed to have with Seth. She was also too tired for the one Seth might be wanting to have with her.

Now, Seth's personal attentions only sent faint red alert klaxons to the corners of her mind. She was wary of his intent, but not aroused by him as she once was. She sighed inwardly. When had she grown up? When had she become immune to this man's sensual power over her, to the arousal she'd once felt by simply looking into his eyes?

She let out her breath. It was strange how time changed things one never consciously thought about changing. "All right, Seth," she said. "Five minutes."

She led the way out and into the corridor.

*

Kathryn led Seth into the second holodeck, which was vacant at the moment.

The gridlines and vast empty room cast the perfect atmosphere for their brief conversation, thought Kathryn vaguely.

"What is it, Seth?" she asked, turning to him.

He took a slow breath. This wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

"Kathryn, I was hoping we could sit and talk," he said.

Kathryn sighed. "I don't intend to be inhospitable, Seth," she said. "But I truly am tired this evening. It's been a long day."

"I'm beginning to think you don't trust yourself to be alone with me, Kathryn," he said slowly, and allowed a hint of innuendo to creep into his voice.

"Think what you want, Seth," she said evenly, although his tone had gotten through to her very clearly, and she didn't appreciate it.

He stepped toward her, closing in on her space. Kathryn held her ground; she had to. But her heart skipped a beat. He wore the same scent that had once aroused her when she was with him.

Seth took her hand in his. "Kathryn, please. It's been a very long time since we were together. I simply want to spend an evening in your company, to talk and laugh together as we used to, just for one evening, without the constraints of command or having to put on a brave front for our crew." He began to rub the palm of her hand with his thumb, just the way he used to.

Kathryn gently pulled her hand away. "I'll tell you what, Seth. I'll have dinner with you tomorrow evening, just the two of us. We can talk then."

"And the catch is…" Seth probed. He remembered Kathryn well.

She paused. She wanted to tell him the catch was that he wasn't to touch her, wasn't to try to woo her, but she realized how any comment of the sort would sound. She didn't want him to get under her skin, but she couldn't tell him that. By broaching the subject at all, he would think she was thinking of him in that way again, and she certainly wasn't.

It might have been some time since she'd been in involved in a relationship, but she still knew how men responded to words and looks, as well as to touch.

Besides, she wanted to keep Seth off guard. She wanted him to talk freely with her, and maybe she could find out what was inside him, what he was thinking, whether he was ready to return to the Alpha Quadrant.

She took a deep breath. "There's no catch, Seth. I simply don't have the time to spend until then."

He grinned at her. "Fair enough, Kathryn," he said. "I'll look forward to tomorrow."

" I'll escort you back to the party," she said, starting for the door.

"Actually Kathryn, it's been a long couple of days for me as well. It's not every day the DESTINY has guests from the Federation show up on her doorstep, you know," he said.

Kathryn turned back, and smiled at the image.

"If you don't mind, I'd prefer to be beamed back to my ship," he said.

She nodded, and they exited the holodeck together.

*

At the senior staff meeting the next morning, Kathryn asked if anyone had something to share about last evening's party.

The opinions were similar. The crew of the DESTINY seemed content to be on their own and comfortable with each other. But they seemed to enjoy the party and the chance to mingle with people much like themselves they could trust and enjoy the evening with. But no one had mentioned joining the Voyager crew on their journey home.

"Mr. Neelix, what's your opinion?" asked Janeway.

"I believe they had a wonderful time, Captain," he said, beaming. "And no one seemed interested in anything outside the party. A few people commented on what an incredible ship Voyager is, how they'd not seen one like her, but they seemed more in awe than they were envious."

Janeway nodded. She'd seen the same reactions while she was there, crewmembers who seemed to enjoy themselves, but remained a bit reserved.

"Anyone else?" she asked.

When no one had anything to add, she nodded and moved up to look out the viewport behind her. "Maybe I am being overly cautious for no reason," she said softly.

"I believe you have good reason, Captain," said Tuvok. "We still know nothing of the DESTINY's plight, their history in the Delta Quadrant, nor what their plans are for the future. You are simply protecting your ship and crew by being cautious," he said.

She looked at him and nodded again, as though considering his words. "Perhaps," she said, and started back to the conference table. "I've agreed to have dinner with Captain Thomas this evening aboard the DESTINY. I'll see if I can find out anything further, one on one. And if not, if I return to Voyager satisfied that nothing is out of sorts, I'll chalk it up to being cautious for no reason," she said. "Meanwhile, Mr. Tuvok, don't let down your guard."

"Aye Captain. But I would like to have a transporter lock on you at all times while you are away this evening," he said.

She sighed, knowing she'd lose the argument if she didn't agree with her security officer. She nodded at Tuvok. "All right, is there anything else?" she asked.

Kathryn didn't notice her first officer, to her right. Chakotay's eyes were on the floor and he could barely contain his feelings. Kathryn was having dinner with Thomas tonight, one on one, by her own admission.

"Captain…"

"Yes, Doctor," she acknowledged.

"I have been updating the medical database as a result of last week's yearly examinations," said the Doctor. Janeway nodded. "And there are several individuals I will need additional information from, either blood samples, questions answered about medical histories, or other necessary tests performed."

Captain Janeway knew the Doctor took his work seriously, but she didn't have time today for things involving updating databases. "Of course, Doctor," she replied automatically. "Anyone present with direct reports, please inform them they are to work with the Doctor on this."

The senior staff either nodded agreement or replied with an "Aye Captain."

"Anything else?" she asked.

"Just one more thing, Captain," said the Doctor.

Janeway had very little patience left for database updating. "One more, Doctor," she said, emphasizing the 'one.'

"I will need a blood sample from you to complete your medical analysis from last week," he replied.

Out of the corner of her eye, the Captain saw a brief flicker of confusion cross Tom Paris's face, but she kept her focus on the Doctor.

The Doctor continued. "And in an effort to save time, I've brought a medkit with me so that I might take the sample immediately after today's meeting. It will only take a moment," he added. The Doctor had learned over the years that there were few things the Captain disliked as much as medical examinations or anything to do with her own medical conditions. And so he tried to think of ways of forcing her to comply without causing much trouble for her. Otherwise, he'd never get his work done.

"Doctor…" she began, but then realized he had backed her into a corner of her own making. She'd ordered her staff to accommodate the Doctor, and she couldn't very well deny him herself. She sighed. "Very well, but this had better only take a moment." The Doctor nodded. "Anything else?"

This time no one answered.

The Captain looked around one final time. "Dismissed."

The senior staff began filing out the door, as the Doctor prepared a hypospray for the captain.

Kathryn started to move toward the Doctor, but noticed Chakotay was still sitting at the table. "Chakotay?" she said in a low voice.

Startled to hear her address him, he immediately brought himself back to the present and stood. "Sorry," he said, and started for the door. "Have a good time this evening," he said, without looking back.

After he was gone, Kathryn wondered what had gotten into Chakotay.

And she'd just watched a look cross his face she'd rarely seen before, a look very much akin to jealousy.

*

"Janeway to Paris."

"Paris here," said Tom into his comm badge. He was still on duty, and the captain was in her ready room.

"Report to my ready room," said the Captain's voice.

"Aye Captain," he said, then moved aside so that a replacement could take his place at the con.

Tom glanced at Chakotay to see if he knew what the Captain wanted, but Chakotay seemed lost in his own world as he looked at the monitor beside his command chair. In fact, Chakotay had seemed lost in another world most of the morning.

Tom continued on his way to the Captain's ready room. Tuvok didn't even send him a glance. Only Harry looked as confused as Tom felt.

"Come," said Janeway when Tom Paris rang her door chime.

Tom entered the room and stood in front of the Captain's desk. "You wanted to see me, Captain?"

She stood. She didn't want to take time out for this, but had to so she could get it out of her mind. "This morning, when the Doctor asked to take a blood sample from me, you look confused. Is there a reason why?"

Tom paused, but only for a moment. "No, Captain." When she only continued to look at him, he cleared his throat and looked away. He hated the fact that she could always read him. "I was just wondering why he would need a blood sample from you for a simple yearly examination. But I know the Doctor likes his information on you to be more thorough than anyone else's, so that he can be prepared for anything that might happen. With you being the captain and all."

She continued to look at him.

"That's all, Captain. I just overreacted," said Tom.

She nodded thoughtfully, convinced that he'd told her the truth. "Dismissed, Lieutenant," she said.

Tom got out of there fast, and returned to his station. He hadn't done anything wrong, and he didn't know what the Captain wanted from him or even the answers to her questions.

Somehow he still felt guilty. He sighed.

But he still wondered why the Doctor needed a blood sample from the Captain.

*

Kathryn Janeway stared at the civilian clothes in her closet. There weren't many of them. She rarely had a need for civilian clothing, and every time she did she ended up standing here like she was now, staring into her closet.

She hated dressing in anything other than her Starfleet uniform. A uniform was so easy to lose oneself in, and it wasn't difficult to figure out what to wear. Ever.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn began to look through the few items hanging behind her uniforms. There was nothing here really appealing, but then, she really didn't want to be appealing.

She wanted to wear her uniform this evening, but knew Seth would be put off by it. He would expect her to be in civilian clothing, whether she wanted to be or not, and whether they were discussing business or not. She sighed. And she didn't want to start the evening on the wrong note.

Finally, she pulled a deep blue ankle-length dress from the back of the closet. It was plain, simple and sleeveless, not fancy and not overly flattering. It would have to do, she thought, as she took it from the hanger and started for her bathroom. A nice hot bath was just the thing she needed to clear her mind and refresh her before the evening ahead.

Lying back in the tub, Kathryn closed her eyes and tried to relax. She was feeling anxious about Voyager being still for so long. It was time to start on their journey home again, and Kathryn intended to find out all she could about Seth Thomas's intentions tonight. He and his people were going back with the Voyager crew, or they weren't. But she would find out tonight, one way or another.

Feeling much better, Kathryn relaxed at last.

Half an hour later, Kathryn turned to study herself in the mirror. After all these years, she still looked pretty good. And the dress didn't appear bold or daring – which was just as she'd intended. That was very important for tonight. She wasn't going to give Seth Thomas any thoughts about trying to rekindle old flames. That simply wasn't going to happen.

Kathryn attached her comm badge to her dress, and after only a moment's pause, put her tricorder and phaser into a small handbag. She knew Chakotay and Tuvok would never allow her to leave Voyager without them. This was, after all, an away mission.

With one last look in the mirror, Kathryn left her quarters and started for the turbolift, and the transporter room. Tuvok was due to meet her there himself to transport her to Seth's ship. She smiled, knowing he would check that she had everything she needed for her away mission, and then he would lock on to her comm badge when he beamed her to the coordinates Seth had sent earlier.

She knew Tuvok would also be the one to beam her back to Voyager at the end of her evening, no matter what time she returned. He would wait up for her like a father waiting up for his daughter after her first date. She grinned at the thought.

As she walked the corridor and rounded the last corner near the transporter room, she very nearly ran into her first officer.

"Chakotay!" she said, as she touched his shoulder briefly. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

His breath caught in his throat. "Kathryn," he said softly and swallowed hard. She looked so beautiful he could barely speak, yet he couldn't look away.

"I was just on my way to dinner," she said. "Tuvok's meeting me in the transporter room."

Chakotay nodded. "You look very…nice," he managed to say, but he nearly choked on the words.

"Well, thank you. You can't imagine what a difficult thing it is for me to dress in civilian clothing," she said.

He managed a small smile. "Hasn't gotten any easier?"

"Not at all," she said and smiled at him. Then she squeezed his shoulder as she walked past him. But she turned back before entering the transporter room. "By the way, Commander, I finished the report you and Harry made on the DESTINY. Nice job."

He nodded. He could barely stand the thought of her being alone with Seth Thomas this evening.

"How about meeting me for breakfast tomorrow morning?" she asked.

"Breakfast?" He knew he sounded like a fool, but he couldn't help it.

"Yes. If I discover anything new tonight, I'll want you to be the first to know, of course." She smiled mischievously. "And naturally, if Neelix insists on fixing my plate again, I'll need you there to help me eat it all."

He nodded, and the smile came more easily this time. "It's a date. 07:00?" She nodded. "What I won't do to protect my captain," he said.

She laughed, and entered the transporter room.

Chakotay stood where he was for another full minute. His heart was beating rapidly, and he could barely get his breath.

Finally, he pulled himself together, thankful that no other crewmember had passed him in the corridor since Kathryn walked away.

He started for the turbolift, and his own quarters.

And he couldn't help but think that she was more beautiful tonight than he'd ever seen her.

*

Kathryn materialized in a small transporter room, one half the size of Voyager's.

"Kathryn, my dear," said Seth Thomas, stepping forward to take her hand.

She stepped down from the transporter pad and continued to look around. "Nice place you have here," she said.

But he couldn't take his eyes off her. "Nice, but much smaller than Voyager's. Surely you remember it?"

"Yes, but it's been a long time," she said, looking around. "Voyager was merely a spark in someone's eye about the time the DESTINY was built," she said. Suddenly that seemed so very long ago.

He kissed her hand. "I meant what I said before, Kathryn. You're more beautiful today than you were back then."

She took her hand back. "Thank you, Seth. I appreciate that. But tonight I'm here captain to captain. And that's all." It was important that she let him know where she stood right now.

He smiled, but his eyes never left hers. "Of course, Kathryn. I understand," he said. He knew her well. As much as he might want it to be otherwise, he knew tonight would be nothing more than a business meeting. But that was all right – first things first. And with Kathryn, business had always come first.

Seth led her down the corridor and directly to his quarters on deck four. He saw that she took in everything around her, re-familiarizing herself with the DESTINY's layout, and probably making some quiet comparisons.

He watched her, studied her. Ah yes, she was beautiful. He had spent much of the day recalling their love affair, and how lovely and willing she'd been back then. It was obvious that she had changed through the years. The lovely, intelligent young girl had become a beautiful starship captain.

Making love to her had been a feather in his cap, and he still fantasized often about the young woman she'd been then. But he immediately saw that nothing could compare with the woman who walked beside him now.

Back then, Kathryn had been young and free-spirited, and willing to do what it took to learn all she needed to know to become a science officer on a future Starfleet space ship. She'd studied hard, and taken every course the Academy had to offer that might help her.

And obviously all of that had paid off, he thought. She was captain of her own ship now, and his equal.

And oh, how he wanted to take her in his arms and love her now.

But he would have to tread very carefully. He knew that any untoward advances wouldn't be appreciated tonight. After all, she was here captain to captain.

Entering Seth's quarters, Kathryn saw that the lights had been lowered. Candlelight gave the room a warm glow. Just as she was going to say something, he asked the computer for lights to be brought up to full.

Good, she thought. Maybe he finally realized there was nothing left between them but business.

"May I get you a drink, Kathryn?" he asked.

"A drink? Are your replicators still working?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

He laughed heartily. "No, no, of course not," he said. "They ran out of 'juice' a long time ago. But we have managed to befriend a few species in this quadrant. They supply us with a few things we need from time to time."

"And what exactly do you supply them with?" she asked.

He smiled at her and waved his finger. "All in good time, my dear. I know this is a business dinner, but I'm hoping we can have a good time, too." He moved away to pour them a glass of wine. "I don't know about you, but I need a relaxing evening."

She nodded. It was true. There had been so much stress these past few days.

He brought her a glass of wine and put her handbag on the table beside the couch. "To a lovely evening," he said softly, and touched his glass to hers.

After taking a sip, she looked at the glass in her hand. "This is excellent," she said, surprised.

He went to check on the food in what seemed to be an old-fashioned oven of some sort. "Yes, it's Movarian," he said. "The Movars have excellent wine-making recipes that go back many turns of the sun, probably about 4,000 years in our terms."

She smiled. "It seems you've made the most of your time here."

He moved to her again. "Kathryn, no matter what you might think, we've made a good life for ourselves here."

The table had already been set, and Seth began to put food onto plates. He brought them to the table and motioned for Kathryn to sit, pulling out her chair for her.

"I hope you're hungry," he said, offering her a dinner roll from a breadbasket.

"As a matter of fact, I am," she said, smiling, taking a piece of bread.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. "This is really good, Seth," she finally said. "When did you become such a good cook?"

"Only a few years ago," he said. "I had to. We found ourselves here and decided to stay. I knew that our replicators would only last so long before we'd have to use the energy for other things, like life support. And so I began to cook. For myself at first, but then I started to invite other crewmembers over from time to time, to test my culinary skills." Kathryn smiled. "And now, I'm considered one of the best cooks on the DESTINY."

"I'm envious," she said.

"So, you never learned to cook, Kathryn?" he asked.

"No, never had the time," she said, taking another bite.

"Nor the inclination," he said.

She laughed. "Yes, that's true. I admit it now." He smiled at her, and she sighed. "Cooking has always been the last thing on my list to learn," she said.

"Many years have passed us by, Kathryn, and many more will pass us by, if we're lucky. But one of the things I've learned is never to look to tomorrow for another chance at today."

She listened and nodded. Yes, she'd heard similar advice once. Her first officer was a staunch believer in living for today – no one knew that better than she.

And, she thought, here in the Delta Quadrant, who knew if they'd see another tomorrow?

They ate in silence for a bit. "Kathryn," Seth said, "I know you have been trying to get home for some time now." When Kathryn looked at him with a question in her eyes, he said, "We had an informal staff meeting after the party on your holodeck the other night. The senior staff reported that Voyager has been in the Delta Quadrant for nearly seven years."

She smiled. Of course they'd have had a staff meeting too. "Yes, and we're closer to home than ever. In fact, we've made contact with Starfleet Command."

"Really?" he asked, already having heard it from his first officer after last night's holodeck party.

"Yes. But contact through the data stream is sporadic. And it's difficult to spend much time on business when we have so many crewmembers who need to contact loved ones back home."

"You mean you allow your crew to take up precious Starfleet time?" he asked, laughing.

"Of course," she said, and grinned. "I understand the need for contact. Once a month, we transmit. Several crewmembers are given a certain amount of time to use at each contact point," she said, and sighed. "Giving them this opportunity to speak with family is important. But I'll have to use the time for business soon enough. Meanwhile it does wonders for crew morale," she said, taking another bite.

"I can imagine, Kathryn," he said. "But what about you? Is there anyone back home you've contacted?"

She looked up. She knew what he was asking. "My family, Seth. I've contacted my mother to let her know I'm all right."

He nodded. "So there's no special man waiting for you back there, Kathryn?"

The image of Mark came into her mind's eye, but only for a split second. She hadn't thought of him in years now, and it no longer hurt to think about him, she realized. "No one," she said.

Seth nodded. Then she must have a lover on board Voyager, perhaps even that first officer who kept such a close eye out for her. He turned his attention back to Kathryn.

Seth Thomas was a man who barely gave other men a second thought when it came to vying for the attentions of a woman. He'd never lost to another man yet, and he had no intentions of doing so now.

"And what about you, Seth?" she asked softly. "Are you planning to stay out here for the rest of your life?"

"If I'm lucky, Kathryn," he said. "If I'm lucky."

*

Chakotay paced the floor of his quarters. Kathryn had been aboard the DESTINY for nearly two hours, and so far there'd been no word from her. He'd already contacted Tuvok three times, and Tuvok's answer had been the same. The Captain had not yet asked to be beamed back to Voyager, and there was no cause for concern.

Chakotay knew Tuvok was thinking he was overreacting, but it was his job, after all. He had to look out for the captain.

But Tuvok was also one smart Vulcan, and Chakotay was sure he was very much aware that Chakotay had plenty of reasons other than the Captain's safety for wanting to know she was back on Voyager.

Right now, Chakotay didn't have time to consider Tuvok's reactions. He just wanted Kathryn back home safe and sound.

And when he thought of her again in that blue dress, all rational thought left him.

Chakotay began to pace his quarters once more….

*

After dinner, Seth put the dinner dishes in the kitchen and escorted Kathryn back to the couch in his living room.

Seth had made fresh coffee – a different blend than she'd ever had, but not at all unpleasant. "Where did you get this?" she asked.

"I got the recipe from the Grethos," Seth said. "We met them several thousand light years ago." He smiled. "They traded their coffee recipe for a two meter long dilithium bar. At the time, we could afford it."

Kathryn thought for a moment. "You've had your share of experiences out here, haven't you?"

"Yes, and I'm sure you've had yours, Kathryn," he said.

She grinned. "More than our share, I'm afraid."

He sat back in his chair. "I'd love to hear all about it," he said.

But she wasn't to be taken in so easily. "After you," she said. "I'm anxious to hear all about your travels."

"That's fair," he said. Seth sat back in a chair across from her and told Kathryn how they'd made their way to the Delta Quadrant, entertaining her with stories about the various species they'd met along the way, the friends and the enemies. Oddly enough, the DESTINY's adventures had taken a different path from Voyager's and they had both run into different species on their separate journeys, just to end up in the same place now.

This wasn't all that strange, according to Seth, who had pieced together several star charts and showed Kathryn the borders of various species she hadn't even known existed.

After a warm Eunebian dessert that Seth had learned to make just last year, Kathryn took a deep breath and smiled contentedly.

"That was wonderful, Seth," she said. "The wine, the meal and dessert…all were just incredible."

He grinned. "It took me all day to prepare them," he said. "I wanted you to enjoy yourself tonight."

"Well, I have. Very much," she said. "And I do appreciate your taking the time to make such a lovely meal for me."

She sat her coffee on the table next to her. Now was the time for business.

"Seth, Voyager is leaving for the Alpha Quadrant soon. And I need to know if you or any of your crew want to return with us," she said. It was time to speak freely, truthfully.

He looked her in the eye. "No, but thank you for asking, Kathryn. We're most happy here."

She shook her head and looked away. "I don't understand," she said softly.

"I know you don't, Kathryn," said Seth. "You're still Starfleet through and through. And so is your crew. You'll make them all proud when you finally reach Federation space again. You'll be the toast of the town."

"I don't care about that," she said. "I have a crew to get home. That's my only concern."

"I believe you, Kathryn," he said. "And I thank you for your kind offer. But we like it here."

"Why?" she asked softly. "Why live your lives here when you can come back with us…come home with us."

He smiled. "This is our home, Kathryn. We're happy here."

"Are you?" she asked.

"Yes." He sighed and put his coffee down. "Kathryn, every one of us on this ship is broken in some way. We're misfits. We don't belong back under Federation rule, or even in the Alpha Quadrant, for that matter. Just to be sure my crew feels the same as I do, I've spoken with each crewmember individually. No one wants to go back to the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn. He paused. "For us, going home is just not possible, Kathryn. We belong here now."

She nodded.

"I know you don't really understand it, Kathryn, because you are still Starfleet through and through. But you don't have to understand it as we do." He paused. "And the very fact that you're in contact with Starfleet brings them closer to us." He leaned forward. "Kathryn, I beg you not to tell them of us."

She looked at him, surprised, and immediately thought of Chakotay's earlier words on the same subject.

"Leave us be, Kathryn. Go if you must, but leave us in peace."

"Seth, the Federation is years away from penetrating the Delta Quadrant. Maybe a great many years if other things continue to take precedent. But they should know you're here," she said.

"No, we've done well without the Federation, and we don't want it them to know our whereabouts now, Kathryn. Please. You know our stories – rejection, defiance, shame. And yet we've all pulled together out here. We are a family, Kathryn. Surely you understand that, after bringing together a Maquis crew and a Starfleet one."

She nodded. This she understood very well. "Yes, I do understand the difficulties, Seth, as well as the sense of family you feel with your crew. And I couldn't have brought our two crews together without the help of Chakotay, my first officer."

Again, Seth wondered if Kathryn's first officer had a special place in her life, other than just occupying the seat to her left on the bridge.

She leaned forward. "Tell me, Seth, do you…are you happy here? Truly?"

He laughed. "Do you mean, do I have a special friend, is there a special relationship in my life? No. My crew is my life, Kathryn. And I would take a woman to be mine if there was one who was special to me. But there isn't. Perhaps someday I'll find a mate, but maybe not. Either way, it's probably best that I'm not attracted to someone on my ship."

She nodded again. She understood that sentiment completely.

"But for you it's different, Kathryn. You will be home soon. You can do as you like."

"That's not true, Seth," she said. "Besides, who knows what Fate has in store? We still might not make it home, you know."

"Fate, Kathryn? Since when have you believed in Fate? You always believed in science, that everything can be explained scientifically. And you'd not take any other answer to solve a problem. Have you changed your mind?" he asked.

She was quiet a moment, thinking. What he said was true. She'd held science as the highest explanation for everything that couldn't be understood in normal terms. She'd clung to science as a substitute for any spiritual outlet. "People change, Seth," she said. "I still believe science has most of the answers, yes, but in the past few years I've also learned that there are things outside ourselves that we cannot control."

"Well, this is quite a remarkable change from the Kathryn Janeway I once knew," he said.

She nodded. "I believed, as you said, that science can explain anything, until these past few years in the Delta Quadrant. Some things have happened here that have made me question all that I believed in before."

He understood. "The Delta Quadrant is full of new ways and beliefs that make us question our own," he said softly.

"What about you, Seth? What makes you, and your people for that matter, want nothing more than to spend the rest of your days right here, on the DESTINY, beside a nebula. Isn't there anything else you want, any other place you'd like to visit?" she asked.

He smiled and shook his head. "No, Kathryn. We're completely satisfied. When we run out of food or other staples, we take the shuttle to one of three 'M' class planets we have befriended and stock up." He looked into her eyes and saw exactly what he'd expected to see there. "I can assure you, we want for nothing, Kathryn."

She looked away, trying to consider his words. So her senior staff had been correct after all, she thought. Seth and his crew were happy here. And that was that.

"Kathryn," he said softly, "I know you don't understand. You are an explorer…"

"And so are you, Seth. At least you used to be." She stood and began to pace the room.

Seth smiled as he watched her move around, just the way she used to do when she tried to make sense of things. And she had never looked more beautiful than she did right now, wearing the most beautiful blue dress he'd seen in a long time.

Kathryn had become even more stunning as a mature, intelligent, self-assured woman than she had been as a young girl on her way to becoming what she was today. She had the same blue eyes that could look right through a man, into his heart and his very soul, but they'd learned to miss nothing over the years. They were honest eyes, kind yet tough, and they wouldn't like being lied to.

And he'd never wanted to hold her in his arms more than he did right now.

She turned to him and stopped pacing. "What made you change, Seth? Why are you happy just…sitting here?"

"You forget, Kathryn, I'm a great deal older than you. I've had plenty of experiences, ones I've enjoyed and some that I haven't. Now I just want to live out the rest of my years in peace, and with others who feel the same way I do."

"But I'm about the age you were when you took the DESTINY and ran, Seth."

"Not quite, Kathryn, not quite. And believe me a few years can make a difference. Besides, you were made captain; I was defamed, blacklisted," he said.

"But…" she began.

"No, before you say it, I couldn't have changed things, Kathryn. And if there was a chance I could have, I wasn't up to the challenge. I was tired." Then he looked at her pointedly. "And I didn't take the DESTINY and run, Kathryn, though I'm quite sure that's how it looked. I prefer to think of it as taking what was owed me."

"But you weren't owed the DESTINY, Seth. None of us are owed anything. We work hard for the privilege…"

"Please, Kathryn," he said, standing. "Spare me the Starfleet propaganda. I already know it." He went for another bottle of wine.

"None for me, but I'd like another cup of coffee if you have it," she said.

"Of course, Kathryn. I stocked up when you accepted my dinner invitation." He smiled and refilled his glass and her coffee mug.

She sighed heavily. "You and I agreed on so much, Seth, yet we also disagreed on a great deal, as well. I forget that."

"You do," he said, handing her the mug, "But we fought, then forgot it, if I remember correctly." He looked into her eyes. "Of course, we had certain other ways of making each other happy."

She moved away from him. "Once, yes." She turned to him again. "But things are different now." He shrugged, and she knew he was telling her that it was all up to her. For the first time, she was happy that Tuvok was keeping her on a transporter lock.

He waited.

She began to pace again, and he returned to his chair. He knew this routine well.

"I asked my first officer and my operations officer to do a little research for me," she said carefully, thoughtfully.

He knew what was coming next. He'd been expecting it.

"They've done a detailed analysis of your ship and its capabilities," she said.

He remained quiet, and sipped his wine.

"They tell me you've lost many of the DESTINY's functions. You have minimal shielding capabilities, and your two phaser banks are empty. Is this true?"

"You were scanning my ship without telling me," he said, wagging his finger at her.

"Is it true?" she asked.

"What do you think?" he asked.

She thought about it. "The Seth Thomas I know would probably hide his last two photon torpedoes, masking their signatures so they were undetectable, and keeping them hidden in case of attack."

"Three."

"What?" she asked.

"Three photon torpedoes," he stated simply.

She nodded. "Is that all you have?"

"You mean in terms of protection?" he asked.

She nodded again.

"Kathryn, we don't need much. We are virtually unarmed, and we own no valuables. We have been ignored by every race who has come upon us with harmful intent. We have nothing to offer anyone."

Kathryn immediately thought of the Vidiians, but didn't mention them. This was far from the Vidiian home world, after all. But what if there was another race who harvested organs, for example? Seth and his crew might have more valuables than they were aware of. She tried to put that thought away.

"Suppose you meet someone some day who thinks otherwise, Seth? You aren't protected out here, like this."

He put his glass down. "Kathryn, I appreciate your concern. I do. But neither I nor my crew has any desire to return with you to the Alpha Quadrant. And we're perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves. We've done it for years now."

She began to pace again, and he rose and went to her. "Kathryn," he said, taking her by the shoulders to still her. "We were fine when you arrived, and we'll be fine when you leave us. You are not responsible for us, or our well-being. I know it's difficult for you to understand this, but there's nothing you can do for us."

She moved away and took a sip of coffee. "I do find that hard to accept," she said softly.

He grinned. "But if you were to think about it and discover you'd rather be here with us, then you're welcome to stay."

She turned. "No, but thanks for the offer." She gave him a small smile.

He realized she was going to leave him soon. Suddenly, he didn't want her to go. "Kathryn…?"

"Yes?"

"We were good together once," he said.

"We were," she said softly. "I have no regrets about us, Seth."

Her words were more important to him than he could ever have guessed they'd be. He smiled. "Thank you for saying it," he said.

They looked into each other's eyes and realized there was nothing else to say about the past. It was long gone, long put away. They both knew all the reasons they'd come together, as well as why they'd had to go their separate ways. The past was the past, and they could put it to rest behind them.

"For old time's sake, Kathryn, I'm asking you not to report the DESTINY's location to the Federation," he said softly, and Kathryn knew how difficult it was for him to take advantage of their past relationship to ask this of her.

"I'll have to think about it, Seth," she said. "I need time to consider my position in this matter."

He nodded. "Take all the time you want," he replied. "I've nothing but time, Kathryn."

They looked at each other a moment longer, then Kathryn put her coffee mug on the table beside her. "I'm afraid I'm due back on Voyager," she said.

"Is your first officer waiting up for you, my dear?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"I'm not sure about Chakotay, but I do know that my tactical officer is waiting," she said, ignoring his innuendo.

"Ah, the Vulcan," he said, nodding. "Of course he's up and waiting for you, and probably in the transporter room. But don't be surprised if that first officer of yours is there with him," he said. He picked up her handbag and took it to her. "I suppose you also brought the tricorder and phaser to please the Vulcan?"

She smiled, taking the bag from him. "Standard Starfleet away mission procedure," she said.

"Of course," he said. "Well then, allow me to escort you back to our transporter room so the Vulcan can beam you back home." He extended his arm, and she took it.

They left the captain's quarters together and made their way down the corridor toward the turbolift, where they bade each other good night.

Seth Thomas kissed her hand and smiled into her eyes. She'd never allow him to kiss her the way he really wanted to, he knew, and so he wouldn't even try tonight. There was no reason to end such a nice evening on a bad note. Ah well…maybe another time, he thought.

But he knew his time with Kathryn was running out. She was already anxious to get her ship back into space, and resume their trip back to the Alpha Quadrant.

As she dematerialized in front of him, he sighed heavily. He would miss her when she left him for good.

*

Chakotay entered the transporter room.

Tuvok looked up from the console, his surprise at seeing Chakotay evident by the slight quirk of his right eyebrow.

"I just thought I'd check on the captain," said Chakotay. "When is she due to return?"

"Momentarily," said Tuvok. He was waiting to beam the Captain back to Voyager himself, since he had kept her on a transporter lock all evening.

"Good," said Chakotay, awkwardly. He knew Tuvok understood very well why he was there. "I'll just wait for her, if that's all right with you."

Tuvok's eyebrow twitched again. "I have no objection, Commander," he said.

"Fine," said Chakotay.

"Janeway to Tuvok," came the familiar voice of their captain, over the comm link.

"Tuvok here, Captain."

"I'm ready for transport," she said.

"Aye, Captain."

A moment later, the faint hum of the transporter began, and Captain Janeway appeared on the transporter pad in front of them.

Chakotay took a deep breath of relief, but couldn't suppress the thought that she should be forbidden to wear that dress.

"Well now, this is a treat," she said in a smooth voice, as she moved to step off the transporter pad. Chakotay quickly went to take her hand. The captain in her uniform boots was one thing, but in a dress with tiny narrow heels on her sandals, she was an entirely different being. "My two favorite men are here to meet me," she said with a smile. "Don't tell me you were worried." She had a lilt in her voice, and looked meaningfully at Chakotay.

"There was no reason for concern, Captain," said Tuvok evenly.

"True. I'm glad you both realize that," she said, giving Chakotay a sideways glance, and putting a soft touch on the word 'both'. Even a Vulcan could understand her meaning.

Chakotay held his tongue and grinned. Kathryn was back safe and sound, and he could breathe easier again. He was always concerned when she was off the ship, and he usually tried to go on away missions with her when she'd allow it. But of course that wasn't possible this time.

"How was your evening, Captain?" asked Tuvok.

"It was very nice," she said. "Thank you."

Chakotay wondered just how nice of an evening she'd had. "I'll escort the captain back to her quarters, Tuvok," he said.

Tuvok nodded.

"Good night, Tuvok," said Captain Janeway, as she allowed her first officer to lead her out of the transporter room and down the corridor.

*

"Come in with me if you have the time, Chakotay," Kathryn Janeway said, as she walked through the door to her personal quarters. "I want to talk to you about something."

He began to follow her inside, but suddenly froze. What if she wanted to tell him she realized she was still in love with Seth Thomas after all this time? She was in such a good mood, after all.

"Chakotay," she said, turning to him. "Come inside, the door's still open."

He realized he was standing in the middle of the doorway, and moved forward so the doors could close properly. But he was still afraid, more afraid than he'd ever been of anything.

"Chakotay?" she asked softly, moving toward him and looking into his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I was thinking about something." He swallowed.

"Is there a problem on board ship?" she asked, concerned.

"No," he said, grabbing hold of himself. Above all, he was Voyager's first officer. "I apologize." He desperately needed to change the subject. "So, what did you think of the DESTINY, walking her corridors after all these years? Was she as you remembered her?" he asked.

She moved back into the room, and dropped her handbag on the small table in the living area. "Yes, but I was still amazed, comparing the DESTINY to Voyager. The size difference is incredible. I can't imagine spending years out here on a ship that size," she said.

He nodded. Good.

"Tea or coffee?" she asked.

He smiled. "Tea."

"Of course," she said, smiling and rolling her eyes at him. "But I had to ask."

While she ordered their drinks from the replicator, Chakotay sat in his usual chair in her living room. He was afraid his legs wouldn't hold him up much longer. He dreaded their conversation, wished it could wait until morning when he wasn't so tired. That way, if he needed to be strong for Kathryn, he'd be better able to pretend.

She brought him his tea, then sat on the couch and kicked off her shoes.

He held his breath, watching her behave as a woman instead of a captain. Captain Janeway never kicked off her boots when he was in her quarters.

And he resisted wetting his lips when she brought her legs up beneath her. She was so beautiful. He had to be careful not to stare at her for very long or she would notice he was behaving differently.

He wondered why she was so relaxed. Had Seth Thomas brought something new to her life, a new reason to live, to look forward to the future? Had he made her relax in a way that no one else could?

He shut any other thought out of his mind. He couldn't continue to think like this – he had to wait for Kathryn to tell him if she had plans that included Thomas. He wouldn't think about her being in love with Seth Thomas unless she told him she was staying behind, or that Thomas was coming along with the Voyager crew, heading home again.

"I was wondering," she said, "About the scans you and Harry completed on the DESTINY."

"What about them?" he asked. At least they could discuss business first. He'd never been so happy to oblige.

"Your report only verified what I'd already suspected. But I still find it difficult to believe the destiny is in such bad shape," she said.

"What did you see when you were there tonight?" he asked.

"Not much. I was escorted directly to the captain's quarters for dinner, and then back again," she said.

So she'd had dinner in his quarters, Chakotay thought, and his heart felt as though a dagger had gone through it.

"But what I did see of the ship was kept in very good condition – it's clean and polished, and Seth obviously runs it well," she continued, not noticing Chakotay's discomfort.

But then, Chakotay was quick to conceal his thoughts and feelings from her. He'd gotten very good at it over the years.

"But I'm concerned, Chakotay," she admitted. "If the ship were ever under attack, they wouldn't stand a chance of surviving against an enemy." She paused, thinking. "Do you think we could retrofit their ship, Chakotay? Make some modifications and repairs, and add some fire power to their phaser banks?"

He took a deep breath, and considered her questions. He forced thoughts of her deep concern for Thomas and his ship away, knowing in his heart that she would have been concerned for anyone in Thomas's situation. "We could, Kathryn, but it would take several days, and even at that, there's only so much we can do for them."

"I understand that," she said. "But I'd feel a whole lot happier if the DESTINY were in better shape when Voyager leaves her."

She hadn't said which ship she'd be on when that happened, he noted.

"Let me get with B'Elanna in the morning and find out her opinion," he said.

She nodded. "Sounds good to me," she said. "Tell B'Elanna we don't want to modify the entire ship, we just want to make her better than she is now. And we don't want to take more than a couple of days doing it."

"I'll tell her," he said, putting his cup on the table before him. It was time for him to go.

They stood at the same time, and he was amazed at how much taller he was when she didn't have shoes on. He grinned.

"What?" she asked.

"Don't ever let Tom Paris see you without your boots on," he said. "He'd take advantage of the situation."

She put her hands on her hips. "Just let him try," she said, smiling back at him.

"Oh no," he said, turning to walk away. He had to. The sight of her in that dress, with no shoes and her hands on her hips was enough to melt him where he stood. "I wouldn't ever want to see that happen. We still need him around for his piloting abilities."

She followed him to the door. "I'll see you in the morning," she said, smiling, and as comfortable with another human being as she'd been with anyone in her entire life.

He turned. Their eyes met and Chakotay suddenly found that he couldn't talk. She was only a foot away from him – he could even smell her shampoo. He wanted to reach out his arms and pull her into him. The desire to kiss her was suddenly overwhelming, but he'd been in this situation before. With her. Many times with her.

Kathryn looked into his eyes and felt a familiar flutter inside. She looked away quickly.

He swallowed. "Good night, Kathryn," he whispered, then left quickly.

For a long moment, Kathryn stood where he'd left her. It was strange how sometimes when she least expected it, when she let her guard down for one instant, she still found herself incredibly attracted to Chakotay. Still, after all this time. Would those feelings ever completely go away, she wondered for the thousandth time.

And what if they didn't?

She and Chakotay had always had a certain…charisma together, she knew. In fact, truth be known, there was a time she thought he might be waiting for her – waiting for her to either make her feelings known to him, or waiting for them to get back home again so they could try to make a relationship with each other, a life together.

And, on the rare days she allowed herself to dwell on the past, she'd dwell on the days with Chakotay, alone on a planet with her first officer. Or, thoughts of the two of them sharing a laugh in the mess hall or on the bridge, skiing or sailing on the holodeck, dinners with him – in her quarters or in his.

She and Chakotay had shared a lot over the years, and she was convinced he was the only man she'd ever known who could put up with her stubbornness and demands, and still look at her with genuine fondness and respect. Even love, she'd thought for a time.

She was sure he'd once loved her.

But now….now she wasn't so sure. They'd been on Voyager for nearly seven years. Surely he wasn't harboring any feelings for her, still. How could he? How could he take orders from her, disagree with her as many times as he'd done in the past, see her at her worst as well as at her best, even attempt to eat her cooking, and love her?

She shook her head and turned away. She couldn't think about that now.

The DESTINY was her main concern at the moment, and would remain her primary concern until Voyager had left Seth Thomas and his crew behind them.

She was itching to get back into space, and get her crew back on the road toward home. They'd spent too much time here as it was.

She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck with her hand. She felt a headache coming on.

The Doctor had told her time and again that most of her headaches were self-induced. Her concern and worry about things that were beyond her control often drove her into such a state that she ended up with a headache.

She hated it when things were beyond her control. Always had.

And she hated it when the Doctor was right about such things.

She had to get out of this dress and back into a command uniform, she thought absently. She should have done that the moment she'd entered her quarters with Chakotay. She didn't know why she hadn't, but it never occurred to her.

Kathryn realized, not for the first time, that she was more comfortable with Chakotay than she'd ever been with anyone – outside of past lovers or family.

In fact, if the truth were known, she couldn't remember being more comfortable with either past lovers or family than she was with Chakotay.

Chakotay was her rock. He helped her to run her ship, take care of the crew. She relied on him to keep her straight.

And he'd never let her down.

She stopped cold at that thought. People had always let her down, but Chakotay never had.

Kathryn shook her head as though it would help to empty her mind, so that she could prevent this headache from taking her control away from her.

Sighing, she started for her bedroom. Another hot bath might help.

All she had to do was clear her mind of things she didn't want to think about.

*

The following morning, Kathryn felt better, but still had a touch of the headache from the night before.

She was anxious to hear about Chakotay and B'Elanna's discussion, but it was far too early for that. She was even more anxious to get Voyager moving again.

Kathryn checked the chronometer. She was already on her second cup of coffee, and she wasn't due on the bridge for another hour. And breakfast with Chakotay was off, since he was visiting B'Elanna in Engineering this morning instead.

She thought of a little discussion she needed to have with the Doctor. No time like the present, she thought, and put her cup in the recycle bin, then started for the door.

*

The Doctor looked up from his microscope. "Ah, Captain, it's good to see you. I see that you actually do remember where Sickbay is located."

The Doctor had obviously been working on his dry wit. "Good morning, Doctor," she said, ignoring his comment. "Have you completed your work on the crew's physical examinations?" she asked.

"Yes, in fact I entered my final comments into the computer log only this morning," he said. "My report will be on your desk by the end of the day."

"Good. There is something I've been wondering, Doctor," she said, following him to his office.

"Of course, Captain." He turned to her.

"How many crewmembers did you need a blood sample from other than myself?" she asked.

He didn't hesitate. "No one, Captain," he said.

"You only needed one from me?"

"That is correct," he said.

"Why is that, Doctor?" she asked in an even voice.

He began to put away empty vials on his desk. "I needed to complete your cardiovascular analysis, Captain. I detected a slight irregularity in your blood vessels, and I needed to be certain there was nothing to be alarmed about."

"And?" she asked.

He straightened. "And there's nothing to be alarmed about, Captain. You're perfectly healthy."

She nodded, and stifled a sigh of relief. "What did you think the problem might be, Doctor?" she asked, feeling oddly as though she were asking a child these questions.

He straightened again and looked at her. It wasn't like the Captain to be so concerned about her own examinations. Usually she simply went through the motions when he forced her to, but she was never like this afterward, particularly after being told she was fine.

"It occurred to me that the irregularity in your blood vessels might be a signal that you are nearing the end of your child bearing years, Captain," he said. "But after careful analysis, the irregularity is simply part of the aftermath of the virus that you and Commander Chakotay contracted several years ago."

"The virus…" she said softly.

"Yes, Captain. You and Commander Chakotay will always show a residual amount of the virus in your bloodstream, I'm afraid. However, it is harmless to you now. I simply wanted to recheck my findings, but I'm satisfied that you are extremely healthy." He took a deep breath. "So. In lieu of an illness or a wound taken in the line of duty, you are not due back in Sickbay until this time next year." He looked at her more closely. "Unless of course you are suffering from one of your migraines, as you are now."

She looked up. "What?" she asked.

"Captain, are you ill? You seem preoccupied this morning," he said, scanning her with the tricorder he picked up from his desk.

"I'm fine, Doctor," she said. "Except for this headache."

"Hmmm, you've had it for several hours," he said. "I'll prepare a serum for you." He turned and began to ready a hypospray.

Kathryn walked over beside him. "Doctor, are you saying that I can still have a child?" she asked, incredulous. Her voice sounded strained to her own ears.

He injected her neck with the hypospray. "Of course, Captain." He looked at her more carefully. "Did you think you couldn't?"

She looked away. "I…wasn't sure. I haven't thought about it in a very long time, Doctor." She moved to the front of his desk. "I guess I've just been so busy, it never occurred to me that I would still have the option, when the time came – if the time came."

"To have a child?" he asked.

"What?"

"You thought that by the time you were ready to conceive a child you wouldn't be physically capable of having one?" he asked.

"Yes, something like that," she said.

"Well, if you would like to have one now, Captain, prospects for becoming pregnant and carrying a baby to full term look good. They even look good for the next six months or year, barring other difficulties. Past that, who knows? Even in the 24th Century it is difficult to predict when physical changes in the body of a human female will occur."

"I understand, Doctor," she said.

The Doctor frowned and turned to her again. "Captain, when you were put in charge of this vessel, your medical records indicated that you were a fertile human female. After I became your chief medical officer, if your physical condition had changed at any time, I would have informed you of it immediately."

She looked up. "Of course, Doctor, I'm not questioning you."

"Then I'm afraid I don't understand, Captain," he said.

"I just…" she realized she was sounding completely unlike Captain Janeway. She straightened her shoulders and looked the Doctor in the eye. "It's just that I haven't given it thought in quite some time, Doctor." And suddenly she thought of something else. "You said both Commander Chakotay and I will always have residual traces of the virus in our bloodstreams?"

"Yes, that's true. But it should have no effect on how you live your lives," he said.

"And Commander Chakotay can still father a child?" she asked, working to keep her vocal cords from sounding strained.

The Doctor looked at her closely. "That information would normally be kept confidential between doctor and patient, Captain, but in this particular case I can see how you would be concerned. Yes, Commander Chakotay is fully able to father a child."

She nodded, and looked away. "Thank you, Doctor," she said, and turned to leave.

"Captain?"

She turned. "Yes, Doctor?"

He paused. "How is your headache?"

"Oh, it's much better. Thank you, Doctor," she said, and left Sickbay.

The Doctor turned back to his work with a sigh. Trying to figure out the Captain's various moods was often too much for a hologram, and more often than not proved to be a waste of time. He preferred to deal with scientific information, and other things that were much easier to understand.

*

After leaving the Doctor, Kathryn immediately returned to her quarters. She still had half an hour before she was due on the bridge, and she was already exhausted. She hadn't had so many…emotional reactions in years. These past few days had proved to be unsettling, first seeing Seth again after all these years, and now learning that she could still have a child.

Imagine that, she thought. She could still have a baby.

Not that she had known for sure that she couldn't give birth to a child, but there had been a certainty inside her that she would never have one.

And she simply hadn't thought any more about it, not for years now, not since the moment she'd known she would more than likely need to devote the rest of her days to getting her crew home.

Perhaps she had come to the acceptance too soon, a defense mechanism she'd thrown into place, knowing that she was none too close to having a relationship with the man she would want to father her child.

No, she had a crew to get home.

Being in the Delta Quadrant for nearly seven years had done some strange things to her. She'd accepted that Mark was gone to her forever, had accepted that she could not have a personal and fulfilling relationship with a man until they were once again in Federation space.

In fact, she had once asked the Doctor to give her something that would take away her physical desires, but he'd refused. "I'm a Doctor, not a magician, Captain," he'd said. "And I don't use the powers that I do have for false purpose."

After that, she'd relieved herself when it was necessary, firmly believing it was wrong for a captain to have a physical relationship with a subordinate, and not liking the idea of using the holodeck to create someone less than a real man to release her sexual frustrations.

Besides, she was too busy out here in the Delta Quadrant, and with all the difficulties they'd had and enemies they'd made, she couldn't let her guard down – not for an instant.

Not long enough to love someone.

Something stirred inside her, a memory. A memory and a feeling, strong and insistent.

But she was stronger than the feeling, and she pushed it back into her subconscious, the way she'd learned to do a long time ago.

She was used to it.


Part 2