The trip through the wormhole was uneventful. Starfleet scientists in the Alpha Quadrant, together with the crew of Voyager, devised a procedure that made the momentous occasion almost anti-climatic. Of course, the rampant grief throughout Voyager made even this happiest event bittersweet.
Some of the grief was endured privately in the hearts of crewmembers. While Harry publicly mourned for his best friend and gave support to B'Elanna and Miral, he also mourned secretly for Seven of Nine. When he learned that she had decided against the lengthy surgeries that would allow her to experience deeper emotional stimulation, he realised that his fantasies to finally win her over became pointless. However, he never truly let her go in his heart and her sudden, senseless death left a wound that he knew would never completely heal.
B'Elanna was devastated. As a recently delivered mother her hormones were still out of kilter, and Tom's death shattered her. The doctor finally had to prescribe a mild sedative and Kathryn and several other women on board kept a 24/7 watch over her for more than a week. Neelix, together with Samantha and Naomi Wildman, took turns tending to Miral and helping B'Elanna nurse her baby daughter. The Engineering Department posted a schedule for visiting times that resulted in 100% participation within the department, plus offers to help coming from all corners of the ship. It would be a long road to recovery for B'Elanna, but her Voyager family was there to help her take those first painful steps.
Kathryn existed in her own personal hell. Although she knew her people had not actually been killed on the Delta Flyer, Starfleet had not given her any reason to believe that this was anything other than a kamikaze mission. She went through her days with the discipline of a Starfleet captain, tending to the concerns of her ship and crew and bringing them home at last. And then, when she finally retired to her quarters at night, she would enter a private screaming chaos that would not release her, leaving her to complete her duties day after day without sleep. Tuvok was faithful in his assignment and kept a close watch on her, but even he could do little to dilute her pain. She took comfort in his support, however, and even cried in his arms one night. He held and comforted her as well as any emotional human could have done, and dedicated himself to the healing of his old friend no matter how long it took.
The news of the catastrophe was received on Earth with horror, and the festivities planned for Voyager's docking at Deep Space Nine were cancelled. The valiant starship slipped quietly into dock late on the 2,504th day of her voyage and received a subdued welcoming committee. Admiral Paris, together with several other high ranking Starfleet officials, made the formal presentation and then gathered in the captain's Ready Report for a more personal welcome.
"So, Kathryn, how are you doing?" asked the admiral as he gave her a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Yours has been the most unusual first assignment in Starfleet's records and you've certainly earned your place in the history books. I can't tell you how ecstatic the entire Federation is to have you home at last."
Tuvok noticed the enormous bottle of champagne being placed on the coffee table and quietly went to the replicator to order glasses for all present.
"We're all doing as well as can be expected, Owen. Up until ten days ago we were doing very well; the loss of our friends so close to home has hit us all very hard."
He blanched and pain washed over his face. "I understand completely. Kathryn, do you think it would be possible for me to meet my new daughter-in-law and granddaughter later?"
"Of course, Owen. B'Elanna is still very fragile but meeting you should do her good. You'll be another connection to Tom and, hopefully, that will bring her more strength. But, be prepared for Miral. She's a little doll and she'll have you cast under her spell within seconds."
He smiled, but it faded as Tuvok put a tray of champagne glasses on the coffee table.
"We brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate Voyager's return, Kathryn. Would you like to pour?"
She hesitated. "As you wish, Owen. I'm afraid Tuvok and I really aren't in a celebratory mood these days, but it would be an honour to salute Voyager." She reached for the bottle. The admiral held his arm out.
"Then why don't we leave the bottle unopened for now, Kathryn? I'm sure I'm speaking for all the welcoming committee when I say that we don't mind passing on a toast at this time." He looked at his Starfleet companions and they nodded in agreement. "Let's just put it in full view on that shelf over there to honour Voyager. Perhaps there will be a time when we'll feel it's more appropriate to make a toast." His eyebrow lifted microscopically.
Kathryn gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Owen. We'll be more than happy to celebrate in the future, perhaps after her refit." She got up and placed the bottle in a prominent position on the shelf. "Voyager deserves this toast, but it's pointless when our hearts and minds are still too numb to make it properly."
"Just make sure you invite me when you want to crack that baby, Kathryn, and I'll be here before you get the glasses out." He smiled. "Now, would it be possible to see my family? And these people who are giving their best imitation of mutes are dying for a tour of the most famous ship in Starfleet - could that be arranged also?"
"Of course, Owen, it will be our pleasure. Mr Tuvok, would you please conduct the tour while I introduce the admiral to his family?"
It was the last official night on Voyager; tomorrow the crew would be scattered to continue their lives without the safety and comfort of Voyager's cocooned community. With this realisation, together with their continuing grief over the loss of the away team, it was a quiet group that slowly gathered in the messhall. No one had organised the get-together; it was as if the entire crew was drawn to the mess by a single desire to be with one another one last time.
It was soon obvious that almost 150 people could not sit around the tables, so a group of men hauled them out and stacked them neatly in the corridor. Some people sat on the window bench, some on the chairs, and the rest got comfortable on the floor. Neelix stayed in his galley keeping the refreshments coming.
Captain Janeway was the last person to appear. She was on the empty bridge staring into space and thinking about her people on the Delta Flyer. Over the course of the past two weeks the Flyer had been carefully stocked with food and supplies, and then the IM team had been beamed over.
Suddenly a desperate need to be with her crew washed over her. She had put their welfare before her own for seven years and she needed one last contact with each of them to convince her that they'd be fine. She left the bridge and strolled the corridors but didn't meet a single crewmember, which was odd. She peeked into several areas that had been used for recreation, but still no one. Then she came across the pile of tables outside the messhall and realised they had all felt the same as she had. She entered the room.
Suddenly a loud voice rang out, "Captain on deck!"
Everyone rose as one and assumed the position. She stood in complete shock at the unorthodox honour and then finally managed to nod and say, "Thank you, everyone."
The crew relaxed and somewhere at the back a clap was heard. It only took two seconds for it to grow to a standing ovation and Kathryn again stood silently. This time, however, the expression on her face conveyed her deep feelings for these people. When she started to blink quickly Tuvok emerged from the crowd and stood in Chakotay's usual position. Kathryn looked up to him with gratitude and then faced her crew.
"Thank you all for this incredible greeting. I don't think I'll ever receive another one in my life that will mean as much to me, and I'm very grateful. I promise you I will never forget this. When I feel low in the future and miss the Delta Quadrant, I will remember this moment and you. And I will remember that we're home today because of the crew of Voyager, both the living and," she swallowed, "those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their ship and crew."
She swept her head from one side to the other, giving everyone a smile. Then she stood at attention and said, "Well, one unorthodox gesture deserves another." Her hand came up to her forehead in the ancient position of a salute. "It has been an honour and privilege to serve with each one of you. As your Voyager years become distant may you always carry the love and respect that you earned from her captain." She stood at attention for a moment and then slowly lowered her hand. Then she turned towards the galley and called out, "Neelix! Champagne for everyone - a toast to this extraordinary crew and our absent friends!"
It turned out to be the perfect send-off. Kathryn managed to speak to everyone and, when the party broke up, the crew went to their quarters for the last time feeling a sense of closure. Except for Kathryn; she retired to her quarters for another sleepless night staring out her viewport.
The debriefings and subsequent hearings turned out to be both more and less than Kathryn expected. More, in the sense that Starfleet had not used any of the many logs that she had supplied to close files and, as a result, every event had to be rehashed even where they found her actions to be appropriate. And, less in the sense of how her personal feelings were so detached from the continual bombardment of questions. Her extensive training kept her replies and explanations within accepted Starfleet behaviour, but there were times when her mind watched the proceedings from afar. Only once did she become emotional with an issue and that was when the consideration of the former Maquis crewmembers was brought up. She kept her word to Chakotay and after some fussing by a few brassholes the matter was closed. Her entire crew was Starfleet and had proven that for seven years, and it was finally so noted in the official summary.
And then it was over and after seven years Voyager's maiden voyage finally came to an end.
The restaurant was cheerful and busy as Voyager's remaining six senior officers gathered in a private room. After the hearings everyone had gone their own way for a month to come to terms with both themselves and their new lives in the Alpha Quadrant. Now, rested and eager to see one another, they all looked forward to catching up with their other 'family'.
"Captain, can you pass the rolls, please?"
"It's Kathryn now, Harry, and here you go!" She tossed one at him and he caught it with a grin.
"Thanks, Captain. Didn't know that we should have recruited you for our baseball league!"
"Well, you snooze you lose, batboy!"
Neelix grinned and turned to Kathryn. "You didn't miss a thing, Capt - Kathryn. I tried to play but it's the silliest game I've even had the misfortune to get involved in! If it hadn't been for Tom and Chakotay I'd still be trying to figure out how the strike zone could change from day to day." He froze and looked at both Kathryn and B'Elanna. "I'm sorry ladies.." and his voice trailed away.
B'Elanna smiled. "That's okay, Neelix. Tom loved that baseball league and I'm sure Chakotay did too, when he could spare the time. And it's nice to talk about them so please, don't stop."
"An excellent idea, Miss Torres," said Tuvok. "It is not logical to assume that their spirits are gone just because their bodies are not here with us, so -- I propose a toast." He lifted his wineglass. "To the entire senior staff of Voyager, may we continue to feel the deep bonds of friendship in whatever dimension we exist."
They clinked their glasses and drank.
"Friendship?" repeated the Doctor. "Are you admitting to having an emotional attachment to this group, Mr Tuvok? How is this possible?"
"As you well know, Doctor, Vulcans have never suggested that they don't have emotions; they simply control them by various techniques. And in regards to Voyager's senior staff, I now find it illogical to pretend that these individuals are not special to me," he paused, "including even yourself, Doctor."
"Well, thank you very much, Mr Tuvok," deadpanned the EMH. "I'm rather fond of you myself. But now I want to hear what's new with everyone." He turned to Harry expectantly.
"Nothing very exciting with me, Doc," replied Harry. "After the hearings I went to stay with my folks and do you know what's amazing? After two days with them it was almost like I'd never been away. With the exception of being seven years older, my parents haven't changed at all."
"Well, I don't know about that, Harry," replied Kathryn. "Your mum and dad were two of the founding members of the Families for Voyager group. They never let up on Starfleet about getting us home from day one, even after all the memorial services. Admiral Paris told me that when the Pathfinder project finally succeeded in contacting us that his first thought was how he could finally bring some good news to the group."
Harry stared at her. "They didn't tell me anything about that - how do you know?"
Kathryn sighed. "Because my mother was the other founding member. And between my mum and yours I have no doubt that the admiral was overjoyed on more than one level when Pathfinder succeeded."
Everyone laughed and the then EMH turned back to Harry. "Mr Kim, I hope you don't think this is prying, but did you look up your Libby?"
Harry smiled sadly. "I did, Doc, and it's over. Seven years was just too long to remain faithful to a ghost, although apparently she did wait over three years before she got on with her life. I met her husband and their twin boys and they're very happy. And besides," he said wistfully, "I can't say that my feelings for her were the same, either. I may not have grown in rank on Voyager, but I'm not the green kid I was when I reported to duty. We really had nothing in common any more."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Harry. But no one knows more than me how much you've grown in the past seven years and I think I would have been more surprised to hear that you two were back together," said Kathryn.
"Yes, I know Captain, it's just that the idea of actually closing that chapter of my life still feels strange. I'll get over it." He turned to Neelix and asked, "How about you, Neelix? Is everything working out for you like you figured?"
"Amazingly so, Harry - I almost can't believe it. I spent my leave in San Francisco seeing the sights and unwinding some red tape at Starfleet Headquarters and.guess what?"
They all looked at him in expectation and said together, "What?"
"Well," he leaned forward, "I've received official Starfleet recognition. I can apply for a posting on any ship as a Galley Chief and Morale Officer. Trouble is, there doesn't seem to be much of a call for those duties on ships that only stay in the Alpha Quadrant, what with replicators and all..."
"Be patient, Neelix, there might be a ship for you yet," said Kathryn with a wink.
"Indeed. I have found that position to be a welcome addition to a crew," said Tuvok without a wink.
"In that case I'll be patient," smiled Neelix as he took a sip of his soup. "Needs leola root," he muttered.
"Doctor, why don't you share your good news with the rest of us?" suggested B'Elanna. She had kept him on as attending physician for both herself and Miral and, under his care, she was progressing well in her recovery.
"Certainly," he said, looking very self-satisfied. "I was invited to Jupiter Station to be completely upgraded by Dr Zimmerman." He looked up and smiled. "However, I do have medical responsibilities here on Earth and so, as a result, Dr Zimmerman is actually coming to Earth himself to do the re-programming. I am very pleased."
"We're grateful, too, Doctor," smiled Kathryn. "I hope these updates are to augment your current programmes and not to give you another....ah....specialty. I would hate to lose my Chief Medical Officer."
"I don't know about being your CMO anymore, Captain, but it does mean that I will remain listed as Voyager's EMH, at least until the final decision is made about her. It turns out that there is no desire to send me off on mining duties with the rest of the Mach Ones. And thank goodness for that!"
B'Elanna put her hand on his arm. "Doctor, don't be coy. Tell everyone what you told me that made you very happy."
The doctor almost glowed. "Well, it does seem that Haley asked specifically to come along with Dr Zimmerman so that she and I could get to know each other better. Apparently I made quite the impression on her when I was there for that month to cure Dr Zimmerman, which is understandable, of course. Women, even holographic women, appreciate medical genius. There's just one catch..."
"What's that, Doctor?" Neelix was entirely wrapped up in the doctor's recitation.
"Leonard. They're bringing that disgusting lizard, Leonard, with them."
"Don't you worry, Doctor," cried Neelix. "If you can't beat out an iguana or whatever that old Leonard is, then she's not the girl for you!" He gave an emphatic nod to the doctor.
"Why, thank you, Mr Neelix. I think."
Everyone laughed, with the exception of Tuvok, of course. Neelix turned to him with a smile. "How about you, Mr Vulcan, I hope everything is wonderful with you. Has Mrs Vulcan and your daughter arrived yet?"
"Yes, Mr Neelix, T'Pel and Asil are now here and they are setting up a very comfortable home for us. I am very fortunate to be back with my family again."
Kathryn, B'Elanna, Harry, and Neelix all smiled when Tuvok said that. Around this table sat the only people on Earth to whom he would have considered making that statement and, although they were all without their own loved ones, not one of them resented his happiness. He had been a rock on the bridge of Voyager and, if Chakotay couldn't be there as First Officer, then there was no one else they would have preferred. Everyone was secretly satisfied that Tuvok had settled on Earth.
"Well, I guess that just leaves our two ladies," laughed Harry. "How about it, Maquis, how are you doing?"
B'Elanna smiled at the old nickname. "I'm getting better, thanks, Starfleet. Miral and I have decided to stay with Tom's parents for the time being. We're all still a little shell shocked to lose him so near to home and it's good to be together. Of course, Miral is a main attraction for them, they just can't seem to get enough of her. And," she added slowly, "I've been in contact with my father and he's coming to see us next week. That will give Miral three grandparents on Earth and lots of children don't even have that. I'm very grateful for all the support we've received over the last couple of months. And thank you all for your letters and messages while on leave, not one of you forgot us and we appreciate that."
"You're both coming along wonderfully, B'Elanna. Not everyone could come back this far in so short of time, you should be proud of yourself," said the EMH.
"Thank you, Doctor. I'm trying my best for Tom," whispered B'Elanna.
There was a small silence and then Neelix turned to Kathryn. "Well, Kathryn, the floor is yours. How are you now that leave is over?"
"I'm okay, Neelix. Really. The hearings are over and I had a wonderful visit with my mother and sister. Say, it turns out that I'm an auntie twice over now, how about that?"
"That's wonderful, Kathryn. That means with Miral you have three children to dote on now. It can't get any better than that, can it?" B'Elanna smiled at her friend while Kathryn remembered the last time she had been with Chakotay and then quickly blocked out the pain.
"No, of course not, Lanna. I'm a very lucky woman."
"Are you staying in Starfleet, Captain?" asked Harry.
"What happened to 'Kathryn', Harry?" laughed Kathryn. He might not be the wet eared, green ensign from seven years ago, but Kathryn thought with amusement that she might never live long enough to hear her first name from his lips.
While he blushed she continued. "I'm definitely staying in Starfleet; I really don't know what else I would do. There was a time in the DQ when I thought that I might want to leave for other pursuits but..well, there really is nothing else that I would enjoy to do with my time now. I'm hoping Tuvok and I will be able to get working on Voyager's refit any day now."
Everyone guessed privately why Kathryn might have considered leaving Starfleet, but no one asked her out loud. It was obvious to all that their captain was still suffering greatly from Chakotay's death, and the shame of it was that she still felt that she couldn't confide in her dearest friends. Had those two actually thought that they had kept their attraction for one another secret? Had people that dim actually formed their executive command team? If so, how had they ever made it home?
The meal took on a more jovial atmosphere with each bottle of wine. Finally, Kathryn remembered something and she scratched through her purse. With a cry of victory she held up her hands, holding a fan of tickets.
"I almost forgot, everyone. A bigwig at Starfleet gave me these seven tickets so that we could all enjoy a concert tonight. Tuvok, do you think T'Pel would mind meeting us there? How about it, everyone, shall we do the night up right?"
T'Pel didn't mind meeting them there -- after all, it was logical -- and everyone enjoyed the concert. When they rounded out the reunion with a stop at a coffee shop afterwards, it was agreed that these get-togethers had to be repeated at least once a month. It became a priority for all of them and no one ever missed the monthly party after that.
On to PART THREE
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