by Delta Story

February 2006

Disclaimers: All things are Paramount's - or is that CBS now? Since all the copyright stuff is in a dither right now, they won't notice if we have a little bit of not-for-profit play. :)


The pale midwinter sun broke through the blanket of clouds that had shrouded the city for most of the day; a bright crispness danced in, chasing offstage the gray cold, giving way to the promise of perfect weather for the remaining hours of daylight.

But Kathryn Janeway's face did not match the clearing weather. Her face was as dark and heavy as threatening storm clouds, while her eyes reflected thoughts as dismal as her demeanor, a mixture of doom and gloom. The brisk air circled around her as the doors of the hovercraft taxi opened. She deeply inhaled as she exited the shuttle, determined to show a cheery face as she thanked the driver - after all, it wasn't his fault that she had to withstand the torture to come. Only when he departed did she breathe out, allowing her face to assume its former state.

The sun played hide and seek with the stately building in front of her, its silver beams darting in and out around the minaret-like spires that rose from each of its four corners, sneaking into its inner structure through the lines of colored glass windows around its perimeter. The corner towers represented the four quadrants of the galaxy and the intricate windows paid tribute to many of the planets within the United Federation. But even the comforting effects of the IDIC Center for Meditation and Rituals did little to calm her.

She continued to take several deep breaths as she smoothed the material of her cerulean crepe dress. She probably should have worn her formal uniform - as she glanced around at other people entering the building, she saw many of her fellow Starfleet officers dressed in their dress finest. But for today's event, she didn't want to be reminded of her connection to Starfleet, especially of those years she spent in the Delta Quadrant. And, after all, the upcoming event was not anything official - it just happened to include Starfleet personnel. No, she wanted to keep it simple, so it was a favorite and familiar dress, worn with simple gold jewelry and a stole of heathered Bajoran wool, woven in an intricate pattern.

"Admiral! Admiral Janeway!"

She looked up as Commander Reg Barclay ran to greet her; her face assumed its pasted pleasant expression. "Reg - how good to see you! I didn't know that you would be here," she managed to smile. Actually, it was good to see him; she knew that, whether he meant to or not, Reg always managed to provide comic relief to any situation - and, God knows, she needed it today!

"Wouldn't miss is it for all the latinum in the quadrant!" he smiled back. "Why, I think half of Starfleet is going to be here today!" he flitted with his usual flustered enthusiasm.

For the freak show, you mean, she thought. Everyone has come to see her, not to celebrate the event. Most of these people are here to gawk and gossip, to see and be seen. It was going to be a three-ring circus.

Barclay took her elbow as they came to the short flight of marble steps leading up to the building's entrance. In spite of Reg's oft-displayed faux pas, he had the manners of a true gentleman. She turned to him with a smile. "Thank you, Reg. I really appreciate your being here with me... in so many ways."

A smiling Harry Kim met them at the heavily carved entrance door. He offered her his left arm, nodding a silent greeting to Barclay. "So - what will it be, Capt... I mean... Admiral - bride or groom's side?"

My God - they're even going through with all the old customs, she thought, taking Harry's arm and letting him lead her down the wide aisle. Actually, I don't want to sit on either side - I don't want to be here at all! I just want to run away, catch the first ship out to the Gamma Quadrant and let myself be swallowed up by some toxic nebula. I certainly don't want to sit on her side, but as close as I am to tossing him out of an airlock, I don't want to sit on his side, either.

She turned to Barclay. "Reg?" she asked, hoping that he would make the choice for them.

"Your decision, Admiral," he responded with a bow and a grin. "You outrank me."

Janeway took a deep breath and looked around. Much to her surprise, there were fewer people sitting on the groom's side - that didn't seem right! "Ummm... the groom's side, I guess, Harry."

Groom indeed! How could he do this? she thought. It wasn't right and he knew it... oh, yes - that he knew! And yet, here he was, playing out the charade through to its bitter end. Was he doing it to spite her... to let her know that she didn't have the final word anymore? Whatever...

"Is this alright, Admiral?" Her wandering mind snapped back to the present with Harry's whisper.

"Yes... yes - it's fine," she answered, disconnected from her words, hearing herself as if she were a programmed message. "This is fine, Harry." She slid into her seat, taking a gulp and smiling at Reg, making room for him to follow her like the puppy dog he frequently was.

"Right then," Harry smiled back at her. "Enjoy!" he added cheerfully. But his face filled with a dark blush as he hurriedly backed away to resume his duties.

A loud 'hrumph' came from her left and she turned to see Voyager's EMH seated next to her. His lips clamped tightly as he shook his head and leaned towards Janeway. "Enjoy! Can you believe he said that? Like either of us came here out of pleasure..."

"Well, add me to that list, too," seethed B'Elanna, looking around from the other side of the doctor. "I'm no fan of either of them right now myself." She wrapped herself tightly within her crossed arms, as if trying to hold herself in her seat, her hair flying out of place with each word she spoke. "I still can't believe they're going through with all of this," she continued, her voice filled with venom. "I swear that Borg bitch has some sort of mind control over him."

In spite of herself and her own inner turmoil, Janeway couldn't help but chuckle at the younger woman's words. She reached over and patted B'Elanna's arm. "Now, now - we can't jump to any conclusions here..."

"Any better suggestions?" B'Elanna fumed. "Everyone knows that he should be with..." She slapped a hand to her mouth, stifling the cascade of words. "Sorry, Admiral; I mean..."

Janeway shook her head, her eyes suddenly stern and commanding. "What's done is done. Let's just let it be and drop the subject, B'Elanna. After all, we should all be happy and supportive of Chakotay and Seven on their wedding day."

The background music faded into silence as a side door at the front of the large chamber opened. Chakotay slowly entered the ritual celebration room with Tom Paris by his side - his best man, she thought - Tom Paris, to whom Chakotay wouldn't give the time of day for years... now standing with his former first officer like a best friend - wasn't that ironic?

Tom's face drooped and his eyes looked red and puffy; his shoulders sagged a bit, allowing his uniform to look a bit unkempt and frumpy - probably too many sleepless nights with a baby in the household. Chakotay maintained a ramrod straight-to-attention posture, his face expressionless and immobile, his eyes staring out into space, as if afraid to scan the gathering crowd in the room. His stance and his Starfleet formal uniform gave him a regal appearance: tall, proud and unemotional.

Maybe B'Elanna is right, Janeway thought. He doesn't even look like himself. Why, I think I've seen more emotion in him when he was just sitting on the bridge staring at a blank monitor screen. And he certainly showed a lot more emotion the last time I saw him.

    The last time - three weeks ago when he told her his news. It started out when he ran into her - quite literally, as she was rushing to a meeting. She had flown out of her office at the Academy, late for a curriculum planning session and he was coming to see her - she almost knocked him over as she rounded a corner.

    "Chakotay - I'm so sorry!" she sputtered, grabbing ahold of him as he secured his footing. "Are you okay?"

    "I'm fine," he answered, rubbing his arm where her body had hit him. "I... I hoped we might talk."

    "Not now," she answered sharply. "I'm already terribly late for a meeting with Admiral Carnes and Commander T'Mer - we've got to start putting together the new slipstream simulation for the fourth year cadets."

    His face fell in disappointment. "All right; I understand." He looked at her but suddenly turned away. "But really, I do need to talk with you, Kathryn, before you..."

    "Later, Chakotay." She waved him off and took off in a rush. "Why don't you come by my place later? I should be home by 1900."

    He started to take off after her but stopped up short. "Uh... okay. I have to be at... Okay - 1900 it is," he stammered. "See you then."

Now, in retrospect, she recognized his apprehension and discomfort from what happened that day - and now he just wanted to get this over with.

    She barely beat him to her apartment that evening. She had closed the door and shucked duty boots - those damnable boots! - when the door breeped his arrival. She sighed, wanting nothing more than to sink into a chair with a cup of coffee. Ah, well; it was only Chakotay... her dear friend Chakotay; he'd understand.

    "Come on in, Chakotay," she called out, slumping into that welcoming chair as he entered. "I'm really bushed - have a seat."

    But he hadn't followed her invite. He walked a few paces into her apartment but didn't come close to her, as if he didn't want to be pulled into the personal space that they had shared so many times over the years. He stood stiffly in front of her, his stance somewhere between 'attention' and 'parade rest'.

    "At ease, Captain Chakotay - this isn't a tribunal," she smirked, loosening the closure of her jacket. "Come on; pull up a chair and tell me what's on your mind."

    He shifted his weight, as if trying to find a comfortable position. "Uh... I think I'd rather stand." His eyes gripped hers. "This might be a short conversation."

    The tiny hairs on the back of her neck quickly stood on end; she could smell the fear that suddenly flooded the air - this was not a polite, social call. "What? What is it, Chakotay?" She got up and walked over to him, placing her hand on his chest - that old, familiar personal touch.

    He took her hand in his, returning it to her side and backed away, again putting space between them. He lowered his head and she saw him swallow hard. He looked up and licked his lips. "Kathryn, there's no easy way to tell you this, so I'm just going to come right out and say it."

    A thin sheen of perspiration bloomed on his face as she moved towards him. "Chakotay - what is..."

    He pulled away, shirking from her outreached hand, cringing as if her touch would wound him. "It's... well, you know that Seven - um, Annika - and I have been seeing each other and..."

    Janeway paled as every molecule in her froze. She knew - oh, God! She knew - even before he spoke the words. No... no! Not now - not now, when they had time and a chance to...

    "Annika and I are getting married!" he blurted out with much more force than necessary, seeming to recoil from his own proclamation.

    She felt herself crumple internally, losing all sense of structure and stance. A blast from a photon torpedo couldn't have hit her harder or with more devastating force. Oh, she had heard the rumors... she had even seen them together at several functions lately - and she certainly knew that they were 'seeing' each other on Voyager. Why, even the 'older' Admiral Janeway had told her that... but now it was different - now they were back on Earth and...

    He was at her side, supporting her even as her own body betrayed her shock. "Kathryn, I didn't mean to..."

    She grasped his arms, giving her body the solid help needed to compose herself, brushing off his strength as she regained her self-control.

    "I... I'm fine," she lied, backing up and bracing herself against the sofa table. "You just... uh... took me by surprise. Of course I know about you and Seven... um... Annika. I just... well, I didn't think that... this would come so... soon."

    "It has been almost a year since she and I began..."

    "I know, I know!" Kathryn said, waving her arms in front of her face as if to brush away the remnants of a bad dream. "It's just that..."

    He took a couple steps towards her. "What, Kathryn?"

    "I just thought... after we got back here... that things would... be different," she muttered petulantly.

    He shook his head sadly. "Why? Why should things be different? Kathryn, we had grown apart in our last months on Voyager - you know that. You also knew that... well, that Seven and I had become close. Why, it's almost as if you and your... well, the you from the future... conspired to make it so."

    "Really?" she choked, her hands still shaking from his revelation. Her mouth tasted sour and dry - any further words she tried to say would only stick in her throat.

    "Yes, you did!" he cried out. "At first, I didn't understand, but then it felt like you were trying to atone for some great wrongdoing... that you were trying to push us together."

    She licked her dry lips. "And so you let me... never saying anything, never backing off from her. Just... letting us go... like that."

    His arms reached out and enfolded her small frame. "I thought that was what you wanted; I thought that this was your way of trying to give me something in replacement."

    Her body moved against him in a ripple of spasms, her hand wandered towards his face. "Chakotay..."

    At her touch, he backed off. "No... no; don't start that, Kathryn." He turned and began to move towards the door. "You've put me through this roller-coaster ride from hell for the last time. Seven is at least wanting to make an effort... and she tells me several times a day how much she loves me."

    "And you don't think I do?" she implored.

    He opened the door and turned. "You have never said the words, Kathryn. Never."

    She wanted to go to him, but her feet refused to follow her heart. "Did I really need to say it?" she asked.

    His eyes bore through her like a phaser, searing into her just as surely. "Yes."

    Her heart skipped a beat... no, it stopped. But, not one to let him have the last word, she filled the silent void. "Well, mister - two can play this game. You never told me that you loved me, either. And don't tell me that I was supposed to make the first move."

    He closed the door and walked the few short paces back to her. He seized her shoulders in a grip that she never felt before, pulling her into him, letting the heat and rage of his body suffuse hers. One hand moved down to the small of her back, plunging their bodies into an inescapable bond; the other hand grabbed her hair, forcing her head back into a tilt. Before she could utter her astonishment, his mouth engulfed hers, his lips taking her within his grasp, claiming her, overwhelming her, his tongue searching and probing, forcing her lips to open, entering her with the force and passion of seven years' suppressed emotion, exploring her, anointing her, devouring all the heat and hunger and desire denied for over seven years, thoroughly and completely transmitting the shared unspoken words and unconsummated love.

    Just as she felt other parts of his body responding to the lead of his lips, he broke away from her as quickly - and forcibly - as he had pulled her to him. "And that, Kathryn, is how much I loved you."

    She stood frozen in place, her body drained of all feeling by his overpowering actions, watching him open the door.

    He turned abruptly and flung his final words to her. "We expect you at the wedding. It will be in three weeks, on Saturday, February 14th... 1600 hours at the IDIC Center at the Academy; don't be late."

    The door closed with an echo of finality: he was leaving her... leaving her life... to be with that inhuman woman. And on Valentine's Day at that!

    It was the ultimate insult to her fragile pride - and even more fragile hope.

It all happened three weeks ago, and every day since that door closed, her mind lapsed into unbidden replays of scenes from their time on Voyager... of their times of give and take; of their laughter, friendship and tears. No, they never had put their feelings into words, but they were there - God knows they were there! And he was an intuitive person - why he probably had more sensitivity in his little finger than she had in her entire body! How could he...

Reg nudged her. "Are you all right, Admiral? You look a little peaked."

"I'm fine, Reg - just all the excitement, I guess," she managed.

Strains of music filled the air again and Barclay's eyes lit up. "Oh, look - here come Jenny and Megan Delaney; don't they look beautiful?"

Janeway's eyes followed his lead, watching the Delaney sisters come in and begin their trip down the aisle as Seven's attendants. She stifled a smirk. They're probably the only females on Voyager that she didn't alienate... and I'm not even certain about them! But she did have to admit they looked lovely, dressed in simple sleeveless tea length gowns of deep red, each of them carrying a single long stemmed white rose.

As the twins took their assigned places opposite Chakotay and Tom, the music swelled into lush, majestic chords, heralding Seven's imminent entrance. The tall blonde rounded the corner into the celebration chamber, looking deceptively sweet and innocent with an uncharacteristic smile across her face. Also in contrast to her usual self-sufficient style, her arm linked dependently through that of an escort, none other than Admiral Owen Paris.

Janeway glanced over at B'Elanna, her askance look silently asking the younger woman if she knew why Owen was playing this role. B'Elanna leaned across the EMH and whispered in clipped words. "I swear on Kahless' bat'lath that I had nothing to do with this, Admiral. In fact, when Tom told me that he was going to be Chakotay's best man, I exiled him to the sofa!"

So that's why Tom looks so tired! Janeway grinned and nodded her thanks, chuckling demonically to herself. Good for you, B'Elanna; at least there's one person who understands.

"Ladies, please," the exasperated EMH huffed. "There is a wedding going on, you know..."

Janeway and Torres shifted back into their positions, each blushing at the hologram's stern reprimand of their breach of etiquette.

"Sorry, Doctor," squeaked B'Elanna as the gathered crowd filling the Center rose to their feet to follow Seven's walk down the aisle.

Janeway glimpsed over at the younger woman. Voyager's former engineer's face twisted and contorted through a mixture of expressions, none of them happy. What had happened preceding Tom's sleepless night - or was it nights - on the sofa? B'Elanna obviously was replaying the event in her mind. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when that conversation took place...

    Three days earlier, Chakotay showed up unannounced at the Torres/Paris home. B'Elanna greeted him at the door, trying to juggle a squirming eight-month old Miral and a bowl of mashed bananas.

    "Looks like you could stand a little bit of help," Chakotay smiled, taking the baby from her. "I guess Tom isn't here."

    "You got that right; he's working late again with the reconfiguration of the Delta Flyer. I swear, Chakotay, sometimes I think he should have married that aircraft rather than me." She put the bowl of food on the table and pulled out the highchair for Miral. She retrieved her daughter and plopped her into the chair. The baby opened her mouth, and grunted her hunger; B'Elanna shoveled a large spoonful of bananas into her mouth.

    "Please - have a seat, Chakotay; I think I'll be here for a few minutes," B'Elanna sighed, trying to keep Miral's hands from 'helping' too much.

    Chakotay pulled out a chair opposite B'Elanna at the oval table. "She's really growing fast, isn't she?" he smiled. "And it looks as if she's going to be as independent a woman as her mother."

    "Hmmph," B'Elanna snorted. "Why can't you think of something more original, Chakotay? Seems like that's all anyone can say about her."

    "All right - how about she's as pretty as her mom, too?" he grinned.

    B'Elanna reddened at the off-hand compliment. "Nice try, but you can't get any points with cracks like that." Miral squalled her displeasure with the lack of promptness with her food and B'Elanna turned her attention to her daughter, shoveling another spoonful of fruit into the baby's mouth. Miral's smacks of satisfaction sounded in syncopation to Chakotay's fingers drumming on the table.

    "Okay, Chakotay - why are you really here" asked B'Elanna without missing a beat of her maternal duties. " It isn't just to keep me company while I feed Miral. Do you need to see Tom, or can I help you with something?"

    Chakotay looked up but didn't meet her eyes. "Uh... I just wanted to double-check with Tom about his duties for the wedding. We haven't talked for several days and I just thought, with the day getting so close, that..."

    "What duties?" B'Elanna asked sharply. "We're just supposed to show up, aren't we?"

    Chakotay squirmed a bit. "Well, he did tell you that he's... um... well, he's going to be my best man, didn't he?"

    "He's what?" B'Elanna shrieked, dropping the spoon onto the highchair tray; Miral howled at her mother's infuriated reaction. "He never mentioned that to me!" she fumed.

    "Guess he forgot?" Chakotay managed to squeak out.

    "Like hell he did," B'Elanna continued in her huff, pulling the crying baby out of the highchair and rocking her. "He was afraid to tell me - he knows how much I disapprove of this entire farce, Chakotay. I thought you knew it, too."

    Miral continued snuffling some tears as she buried her head into her mother's shoulder; B'Elanna began to pace with her.

    Chakotay got up and followed along in B'Elanna's wake. "Don't call it that, B'Elanna; it's not like that at all..."

    "No? Then what is it? Chakotay, I've seen you in love before - and this is not love. I think that Tuvok shows more emotion at times than what I've seen with you lately." Miral had quieted down and B'Elanna put her into the playpen set up in the living area.

    "She needs me, B'Elanna; Seven... er... Annika has nothing else here. She's alone, she's frightened and confused..."

    B'Elanna turned to her longtime friend. "Need is not love, Chakotay. In fact, it's worse - it's pity she's pulled out of you, not love. She's using you - can't you see that?"

    "You're really not being fair, B'Elanna. She does love me - she tells me that all the time."

    "But do you love her? That's the real question, my friend. I think she's found a weak spot in that oh-so-very compassionate heart of yours and has taken you along for a good old-fashioned 'ride'. She's going to milk you for everything she can get from you and then move on to the next target. My god, Chakotay - she's Borg and always will be Borg - she'll assimilate what's useful then destroy the soul and throw away the body; resistance is futile. There is absolutely nothing weak or helpless about that conniving bitch!"

    "B'Elanna... please don't say that..." Chakotay cried out, his face contorted in anguish.

    The woman's face darkened in anger and disbelief, her formidable look forcing the large man backwards until he fell into a stuffed chair. He buried his face in his hands, trying to stop a sobbing moan. He finally looked up, his face and eyes distraught at the harshness of her words.

    B'Elanna walked to him and leaned down, gently surrounding him with her arm. "You don't love her, Chakotay; but we both know who you do love... who you have always loved."

    The tortured man looked up at her, his eyes full of anguish. "Has it always been so obvious?" he asked mournfully.

    B'Elanna laughed as she sat on the arm of the chair and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Chakotay, everyone on Voyager has known it for years; only you and the Captain... um... Admiral... haven't admitted it. Why, we all knew that something happened after the two of you returned from that planet..."

    "New Earth," he interjected.

    She raised her thick Klingon eyebrow. "New Earth, huh? You even had a name for the place?"

    "Yes, but nothing happened there," he confessed. "Except for a promise..."

    "A promise?" B'Elanna perked up.

    Chakotay shook his head. "Not anything like that, B'Elanna; in fact; it was quite the opposite."

    "Go on," she nodded, more than just a little bit interested.

    He sighed before continuing the story he had never told to anyone before. "B'Elanna, I'm only telling this because you are one of my closest friends. Not even Kathryn and I have spoken of this since it happened." He paused, his face and thoughts disappearing into that night so many years ago. "You see, things never took place as you may have thought. We did become close - spirits, did we become close! - and each of us knew that it was just a matter of time before something would happen. We knew that one day, a simple look, an innocent touch, was going to send us over the brink of command and friendship into a completely physical expression of our relationship.

    "But Kathryn - dear, sweet, ever-by-the-book Kathryn - put the lid on our emotions before we reached that point of no return, although not before she pulled from me the promise to always be there to support her, to be by her side for better or for worse... but just never with an overt... um... consummation of our... dedication. And that's the way it remained for the duration of our trip."

    B'Elanna looked at him, her eyes wide with incredulity. "But surely you two... after we got back here..."

    He shook his head sadly before daring to look at her. "It ended long before that, B'Elanna. We both began to change - she forged herself into an indomitable self-sufficiency mode, obsessed with getting Voyager back to Earth by any means possible, leaving me and almost any input from me in the proverbial dust. During the last couple of years of our journey, I began to wonder if I really was of any value to her anymore - or to the ship, for that matter. Then, when Seven seemed to need me...and want me - well, I... I..."

    "You became weak," B'Elanna snorted. "Didn't you understand why the Admiral Janeway from the future came back to Voyager?"

    "She wanted to get Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant sooner," Chakotay answered meekly.

    "Hell, no! She wanted to save you...she wanted to keep you from dying as a bitter old man..."

    "Because I lost Seven and died of a broken heart," Chakotay nodded.

    "No, you dolt," B'Elanna said. "She did it because she wanted you to have the opportunity to dump the Borg, and for both you and the younger Janeway to have one more chance to come to your senses about your feelings for one another!"

    "Well, it's too late now." Chakotay lumbered to his feet. "Although I did give Kathryn one last chance; but she..."

    B'Elanna perked up. "Oh? When was this?"

    Chakotay rubbed his eyes and forehead. "A couple of weeks ago. I thought that maybe..." He sighed deeply. "But she didn't say or do anything; she hasn't even tried to contact me since then."

    "You could get in touch with her," B'Elanna said.

    "No, it's too late," he said sadly as he opened the door. "Have Tom give me a buzz, please."

    "Yeah, sure," she responded, but her heart wasn't in her words. She shook her head forlornly as he disappeared outside the closing door. She, B'Elanna Torres, wasn't the most stubborn woman in the galaxy; oh, no - that title belonged all alone to Kathryn Janeway!

With great difficulty, Janeway pulled her glance away from B'Elanna. Her stomach curdled just thinking about the fiasco unfolding before her eyes, much less having to watch it. It was bad enough that it was even occurring without adding the insult of being supported by people like Tom and Harry and even the Delaney sisters. Chakotay was lying to everyone by standing up there, looking so perfect and pious. She knew - she, Kathryn Janeway, knew who was his deepest desire, his soul mate - and it wasn't this frigid beauty walking down the aisle to meet him... to join him in pledging eternal love and fidelity. That kiss three weeks ago had told her who the real love of his life was.

And now Seven was right beside the row where she, B'Elanna, the EMH and Reg stood. Swirls of perfumed air enveloped everyone as the stately blonde passed, sweetness of lilies of the valley arising from her scented skin, mingling with the headiness of the red rose bouquet she carried. Ah, yes; red was her favorite color, wasn't it?

The silk of her snow-white gown rustled against the crimson blossoms, the deep folds of the skirt covering then uncovering the blood-like petals. It was strange to see Seven in a dress instead of that idiotic cat suit that she still insisted on wearing. Kathryn wondered if the wedding gown had any built-in Borg support like her skin-tight jumpsuits were purported to contain. A smile came across her face as she wondered if any of those 'connections' had ever short-circuited whenever she and Chakotay had... No - get your mind off such things, she reprimanded herself. Concentrate, concentrate...

The music faded away as Seven and Admiral Paris reached the front of the large chamber. Paris slipped her arm out from his and climbed the three steps to the podium. My God, he's even going to marry them! Kathryn suddenly realized. I've been totally betrayed by the Parises - well, not B'Elanna, but...

Her attention was diverted as Jenny Delaney moved behind Seven and straightened the long train of her dress until it encircled the floor behind her and Chakotay. Seven gave her bouquet to Megan then turned back to Chakotay and smiled, holding out her hand for him to take.

Although he accepted her hand, his grasp looked hesitant, almost as if he were afraid to touch her. He weakly smiled, but his eyes lacked the fire that Kathryn knew should be there for a man on his wedding day. He looked vacant and defeated, not the Chakotay she wanted to remember. What has Seven done to him?

Somewhere in the background, she heard Owen offering words of welcome to the assembled gathering. He sounds like a mockingbird, a popinjay... trying to attract attention that just isn't there, she thought. His words became a dull drone and she imagined herself as a student, back in her Academy days, trying to stay focused in one of Professor Sertak's lectures on Vulcan philosophy, her mind wandering to any subject other than the one at hand.

All around her guests were shifting in their seats, apparently as uncomfortable as she was: Sam Wildman fussed with the collar of Naomi's blouse; Chell squirmed in his seat as if someone had given him a wedgie. Susan Nicoletti, who had come with Chad Rollins, picked at a fingernail, while Jor Gerran and Mariah Henley kept nudging each other to stay awake.

With all the distractions, she barely heard Owen's pontification of the virtues of love and marriage, the joining of former enemies and how love changes all. Former enemies, indeed - what could have been at more opposite poles than the way she and Chakotay were in those first few days following the Caretaker disaster... the way they worked out their differences time and again because of the love they had for each other?

She jolted at her own thoughts - mentally, she had just now labeled their relationship as one of love, for that's what it really was: one of give and take, push and shove, but one which always brought them back together, frequently stronger than before. Wasn't that what love really was, not just some spur-of-the-moment flash of lust and passion? Not that there was anything wrong with passion, but when it lacked the committed involvement...

At that moment, she looked at the front of the hall. Admiral Paris had just requested the couple's verbal declarations of love and commitment, signaling Chakotay to pledge his promise first. He turned towards Seven, his hands trembling; perspiration beaded on his forehead. But his eyes momentarily glanced over Seven's shoulder and froze for one small fraction of a second, as his sightline united with that of Kathryn.

In that shared instant of astonished recognition, they both grasped the magnitude of the error that was about to occur, acknowledging to each other that now was the time of reckoning. Kathryn's mind flew back to that ghostly time when Chakotay cried over her inert body as she watched from outside her corporal being - she felt much the same way now, as if he were calling - pleading - for her not to leave him.

    (Editor's Note: What happened next, Gentle Reader, will be debated and discussed for generations to come by Starfleet social scholars, for there are as many variations to the story as there were people in attendance at that fateful function. Multiply that by the number of times the tale has been told and retold and it becomes a saga of epic proportions. This is but one of those many versions of what happened.)


Every eye present, every body in attendance, including those of the bride and groom, turned towards the thundering denunciation. Booming, guttural, adamant - at first no one could identify whether the word came from a male or a female. But soon there was no doubt as to the owner of the proclamation as Kathryn Janeway clamored and clawed over the lanky body of Reginald Barclay, forging her way to the aisle.

Janeway barged down the aisle, her face ablaze with passion, eyes fiery with determination. Her arms pumped back and forth, propelling her slight frame with the ferocity of an old fashioned military tank and she made her way to the front before anyone could shake out of their shock to stop her. The only sound heard throughout the hall came from the older woman's movements - no one else breathed, much less moved; it was as if they had become frozen in time.

She grabbed a stupefied Chakotay with super-human strength, yanking him away from Seven. Her grappling hold quickly morphed into an embrace that would have melted a Vulcan high priest. She pulled his head down and kissed him long and hard and thoroughly. When she broke the hold of her mouth over his, she left no doubt as to her intentions. "So you want to hear me say it, Chakotay? Well, how about this?"

She turned to the roomful of startled people, her face bursting with wild emotion, as she confessed in a firm and vibrant voice: "I, Kathryn Janeway, love you, Chakotay. I have loved you since almost the moment we met and I will love you until the day I die. I've been a selfish fool to deny it - and for denying you -all these many years." She looked over at Seven, who stood as immobile as a pale block of marble. "And there's no way in this universe or any other that I am going to let you marry this woman!"

Chakotay shook off his stupor, his eyes shining with the realization of what she said. He grabbed her into a huge bear hug and swung her around and around until they both became drunk with giddy laughter. His face broke into a glorious smile. "You cut this a bit close, didn't you, Kathryn?"

A shout suddenly interrupted the joy that permeated the auditorium. Attention quickly diverted from Janeway and Chakotay to the one person in the room whom everyone had forgotten, Seven of Nine.

They watched as the tall blonde's face segued from puzzlement to astonishment to absolute horror. Her pale face flushed and became mottled with angry red blotches; her gray eyes darkened to seething rage and a growl arose from deep inside her. She yanked the voluminous folds of her skirt, hoisting the fabric to allow her legs mobility. She began to storm towards Chakotay and Kathryn when she stopped suddenly, grabbing her head between her hands and shrieking in pain.

The attending crowd became mesmerized by her scream; they again froze in place - all except the EMH, who, in his own bit of personal suffering with the pending loss to marriage of the object of his long-time affection, never had taken his eyes off the statuesque blonde. He scrambled over B'Elanna and ran a flank approach to get to Seven, taking her into his protective arms and easing her to a seat at the side of the auditorium.

Janeway, despite her earlier heated words towards Seven, turned from Chakotay's arms and started to go over to the afflicted woman, only to be held back by him. "Not now, Kathryn; let the doctor go about his business."

She fell back into his arms as they watched the EMH proceed.

"Doctor," Seven whimpered, "it hurts."

"I know, my dear," he said, pulling out his med tricorder and scanning her, frowning at what the device told him. "Hmmm," he puzzled. "It seems that the fail safe device on your cortical node has regenerated and it's giving you electrical feedback again when you experience strong emotional reactions."

"Then I can't..." she sniffed.

"No, it probably wouldn't be good for you," he responded sympathetically. "But maybe you and I together could work out something." He gently raised a hypospray to the pillar of her ivory neck. The spritz of its contents infused a tranquilizer to calm the effects caused by the misfiring node and allow her to withstand the chaotic commotion around them.

"Yes; that is... logical," she nodded slowly.

He helped her to her feet, adjusting the constricting mounds of fabric of the dress so she could move without falling. "Now - let's get away from here. I don't think this is the place to be." And he led her away from the roaring madness.

"Chakotay..." Kathryn said, attempting to follow the pair.

"Not now, love," he responded while restraining her. "Trust me - she'll be fine. And she's probably with the best person she can be with right now."

The chamber slowly recovered from this latest twist of events and soon buzzed with the commotion of conversations and movements of three hundred people. Minds and bodies milled aimlessly, the air filled with a cacophony of words and gasps.

Suddenly, the voice of Owen Paris roared above the din. "People, people - let's remain calm! A little bit of order and decorum, please; after all, we are in a place that is supposed to be a sanctuary of peace and meditation!"

The chastised crowd began to quiet as people filed back to their seats. Janeway and Chakotay remained locked in their space in the aisle, holding each other close, fearing the wrath of Owen Paris who approached them, his face stern and foreboding.

The older man stopped in front of the apprehensive couple. He clasped his hands behind his back and took several paces back and forth before stopping in front of Janeway. "Kathryn," he sighed, shaking his head. "What are we going to do with you? Can you ever do anything in a conventional, acceptable manner?"

Janeway started to say something in defense but he held his hand up and quelled her words. "If your father were here today, he would have your pips for all of this upheaval."

Paris hadn't forgotten Chakotay. "And something tells me that none of this surprised you, Captain - that maybe you had a little inside knowledge as to the swing of events." He paced some more. "And that poor woman - all of this appears to have caused her physical harm! Not quite what I would call the behavior of an officer and a gentleman for either of you." The couple squirmed with his blistering words.

As the senior admiral's temper and blood pressure continued their journey towards an explosive point, a voice called out from the back of the auditorium.

"Admiral! Admiral Paris... Owen!"

The man turned towards the voice he knew all too well - it belonged to his wife. "Alicia?" he asked, taken aback.

"I've got something to say to you - and everyone here... something that might change your views about everything that has happened here," the woman said in a calm tone. She walked down the aisle, her face filled with assurance. She brushed past Janeway and Chakotay, giving them a wink and took her place by her husband's side.

Janeway had met Alicia Owen several times, but she never heard the older woman speak very much, always ceding the conversation to her more outgoing spouse. But now, she appeared sure and confident.

Admiral Paris nodded to her and she began to tell a strange story.

"First off, let me say that if Kathryn Janeway had not called a halt to this sham of a ceremony, I would have."

A collective gasp arose from the stunned audience.

"Four weeks ago, I went to a small café near the Academy to have lunch with Owen. He was late as usual..." A snicker rippled across the assembled group. "I recognized Annika - I mean Seven of Nine - sitting in the booth behind me; she was talking with a member of the Cardassian peace delegation at Starfleet. I overheard her make several references to the neural transmitter link she knew that Chakotay had imbedded from a past experience. At the time, I thought she was explaining how this link had been used to help deprogram her from the Borg - everyone knows that story well, now that we know so much about Voyager's journey.

"But today, I looked at her standing with Chakotay - just the way she was looking at him, it was as if he were her prey. I began to think back to that little scene in the café... that maybe she was talking with this person about gaining access to the link again via her intimate relationship with Chakotay. She then could coerce him into anything she asked... she would have complete control over his actions."

Janeway looked at Chakotay, her eyes widening with a sudden revelation. "And since you're going to captain Voyager, she could commandeer the ship and..."

Nothing more needed to be said. Admiral Paris was already on his communicator, summoning security to apprehend Annika Hanson, aka Seven of Nine. Physical pain or not, jilted bride or not, she was an immediate threat to the Federation.

The chamber once again filled with a babble of voices and a blur of sudden movements leading towards the exits.

Admiral Paris' voice boomed out, demanding their attention. "People, people - I have alerted security and authorities are already working to get on top of this matter. In the meantime," he grinned at the couple standing in front of him, "I think we still have a wedding to take place here."

Kathryn turned to Chakotay, her face flushed with myriad emotions as she comprehended the meaning of Admiral Paris's words. "Well, I'm not quite sure..."

Chakotay grabbed her hands and pulled her into the strength of his broad chest. "Kathryn, enough of this 'would I or should I' business - it's been almost eight years and that's long enough." He led her towards the front of the chamber, where Admiral Paris had resumed his officiating stance.

Suddenly Kathryn felt someone at her side. "Of course she'll marry you," B'Elanna retorted as she snatched Seven's bouquet from Megan Delaney and shoved the roses into her former captain's hand.

Kathryn turned to Chakotay and smiled. "I guess no one is going to let me get away this time."

His answering grin filled his face. "Nope, not with B'Elanna standing there. As she not so gently reminded me recently, it's not a good idea to get into arguments with Klingon engineers."

Janeway looked around. Every face in the chamber appeared as happy as she felt, but no one seemed as content and peaceful as the man standing beside her.

"Kathryn..." prompted Admiral Paris.

"Then a wedding it will be," she nodded, her eyes gleaming with joy. She squeezed Chakotay's hand. "It's February fourteenth - Valentine's Day - and you will be my forever love... my special Valentine."

His eyes danced impishly. "So... am I better than chocolate?" he asked.

"Hmmm; we'll have to see about that," she answered, matching his mischievous tone.

The euphoric couple turned to Owen Paris who began the ceremony anew. "Today we gather together to celebrate the union of two people who began as sworn enemies but discovered that love can come out of even the worst of circumstances..."


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