Bookends


This is a story I started nearly two years ago.  It started as a single scene and just grew.  And grew.  It shouldn't have taken me as long as it did, but I have given up on it more than once. It's time to finally get it out of my system (and off my poor struggling computer). 

Note: This story is rated PG13 (at least) for violence and a bit of bad language (but they were under a bit of stress at the time)

Another note: This is NOT a dead Janeway story. Promise.

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Bookends I - Part I

Captain Janeway was tired. She was tired of this damned quadrant. She was tired of being responsible for over 140 souls who depended on her every day. She was tired of weeks of the boring minutiae of running a starship, punctuated by moments of complete terror. Mostly, she thought, she was tired of being the Captain; feeling responsible, smothered. And it was unrelenting. There were always decisions to be made and there was no real alternative for another thirty years.

As she lay on the grassy hill in the sunshine on some nameless planet that they’d been forced to stop at for supplies, she contemplated her lot in life. Her mood was somber despite her bright and pleasant surroundings. But it was lovely on this planet. Like a spring day at home. With a slightly purple sky admittedly.

She wondered idly what would happen if she decided to stay and let Voyager continue on its seemingly endless journey without her.

But she couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t do that.

Not for the first time did she wonder if she would ever get the chance to be just Kathryn Janeway again.

Harry Kim was talking again. She roused herself in an attempt to catch up with his conversation.

"…and it’ll be on as soon as Tom can make the alterations to the program. Of course, Tom will probably win, but that doesn’t mean it will be a total waste of time." He smiled shyly at her.

God, she’d known Harry for seven years, seen him grow into an otherwise confident officer but he was still nervous around her. Somehow that endeared him to her even more. And he was dear to her.

He hadn’t expected a reply and he was prattling on again. About what, she didn’t have a clue.

The chirp of her comm. badge finally roused her enough to sit up and behave.

"Janeway here."

"I'm sorry Captain. It looks like it'll be about another thirty minutes before we can beam you both up."

"Understood Ensign."

Janeway didn't really mind not returning to the ship straight away. It was a good chance, if only for a few minutes, forget about the ship and its crew, especially in the mood she was in at the moment.

She walked over to Harry who was now sitting quietly on a rock formation about ten meters away.

"Sorry Harry, I didn’t really catch that last bit you said." Actually, she hadn’t caught anything he said.

"Are you joining us for the ship pool tournament? You really should. It'll be fun, even if Tom does win. It should be a great night." Harry blurted out nervously.

"Maybe I will. But I always think that people will be more comfortable when I'm not there though. I think I make people, um, uncomfortable.." she finished lamely.

"You're wrong." He looked almost angry. "I can't believe you really think that! Of course we want you there. You’re part of the crew too."

"Well..." she was surprised and just a little chagrined at his vehement reaction.

"Sorry, Captain. Anyway, please come."

"Who's your other member of 'Team Kim', Harry?" asked Janeway, taking another approach.

"Er, no one. I'm not that good and I couldn't get a partner. B’Elanna was going to play but as she’s now, as she puts it ‘twenty months pregnant’ she’s decided against it."

"I see. How about me? If you're going to order me to attend, I may as well go in boots and all." She was certainly in the mood for a change. Why not participate?

"You're kidding?"

"I’m quite serious."

"That'd be great." Harry enthused but then seemed despondent, "But I'd let you down. I'm hopeless."

"Harry. You could never let me down." she said softly. Then after some thought. "I've got holodeck time. We could practice, we've got a few weeks. And here's another thought…" she was smiling broadly now. "let's not tell Tom. We’ll wait until the last moment to enter." her eyes were pure mischief.

"Deal." His smile matched hers.

They started their plans. The thirty minutes passed quickly. Her mood improved with Harry’s enthusiasm.

***

As she stepped from the transporter pad, she nodded to the young woman manning the console.

"Has the malfunction been repaired Ensign Lang?"

"Yes, Captain, Lieutenant Torres said she would have a full report for you in an hour."

"Thank you. Ensign, you must have been here for longer than your usual shift, time to call it a day I think."

"Aye Captain."

Harry was still by her side as they left the transporter room and walked towards the turbolift.

"You too Harry, you should get some rest. And you should check when we can get some holodeck time for our new project tomorrow."

"Yes ma’am"

They parted as Janeway made her way back to the bridge.

***

Two days after her time on the planet with Harry, Janeway looked up from her reports and realized that her shift had ended an hour and a half ago. And Chakotay hadn’t come to remind her to quit and eat something.

As irritating as she found his visits, perversely she was irked when they stopped, and that happened not long after they had returned from Quarra.

She wracked her brain to think of what she might have done to make him upset with her. Well, except for the fact that she moved in with another man, a stranger, within days of getting there. Maybe that was it, but, she reasoned, surely being under mind control should count for something. Hell, he’d mutinied under mind control and she hadn’t held it against him.

But he was his normal, cheerful self the day before when they had discussed re-assignments for the Equinox crewmembers.

Actually, he hadn’t shown any outward signs of being upset with her at all, or even being angry. In fact, he was in quite a good mood.

For some reason, she found this disturbing to think about.

Maybe it was time to rethink the parameters she had placed on their relationship, or lack thereof, at the moment. For all their incredible progress getting home, they were still years away from the Alpha Quadrant. Did she want to be alone anymore? She wasn’t as sure of the consequences of them having a relationship she had envisaged were that relevant anymore.

Maybe she’d ask Tuvok for advice. She could always rely on his counsel.

But she couldn’t worry about it now. She had another four reports to read before the staff meeting tomorrow morning. Unconsciously, she refocused. There were disciplinary issues that she needed to work through with Chakotay before the meeting.

Some of the crew were still very unsettled since leaving Quarra. As was she.

Neelix leaving had just seemed to make things worse. There was no one to diffuse tensions with some culinary atrocity. Or to distract with a pointless, yet strangely amusing story. The improved standard of the meals due to Chell’s taking over strangely hadn’t seemed to cheer anyone.

There had been several heated arguments that she knew about and at least two crewmen had come to blows. An accusation of petty theft had been made, but thankfully it turned out that the item had just been misplaced. Except for the first couple of weeks of their voyage, tensions had not run this high in seven years.

The crew were fractious, on edge and tired. No one knew more than the Captain what Voyager’s continued journey was costing them all personally.

She sighed and picked up the next report.

***

What a day.

The arrival at Virna hadn’t relieved Janeway of any tasks. If anything, it had added to her burdens. She always thought the repercussions of dealing with a friendly planet incongruous.

It was always interesting encountering a new culture and species. Sometimes, like in the case of the Virn, it was even pleasurable, but in addition to her usual day to day tasks, she now had to carefully prepare to deal with an alien culture. To learn enough about them so that they wouldn’t be offended by someone not using the right cutlery at a banquet, or something equally trivial causing a diplomatic incident, or worse. An incident that she’d have to solve. Not much about first contact was straightforward.

As she waded her way through the preparation document provided by Tuvok, she wished, not for the first time, that she could get one of the senior staff to deal with the whole rigmarole. She scrolled through the document, discovering another sixty-two pages of information to digest and she couldn’t afford to skim. You never knew when someone’s life depended on it.

The morning had started normally enough with a coffee and muffin-like item for breakfast in the mess hall.

It had begun to unravel when Torres asked her to evaluate a proposal for boosting the performance of some of the key systems. There were few people on board who were qualified to do such a review. Another task that couldn’t be delegated.

There ensued a myriad of incredibly tedious, but vital jobs, which she would have to get through today. And every day was the same. And would be for the next thirty years.

The thought almost made her weep. And still sixty pages to go.

***

The next day, the Captain sat at her desk quietly reviewing a PADD. In front of her, three crewman stood rigidly at attention as if waiting for the executioner. They knew Janeway had already chewed out a number of the ‘real’ Voyager crew, so this could only be a bad thing the three had reasoned on their way to her ready room.

"Crewmen Tessoni, Gilmore and Lessing.." she began, "I have a report from Mr Neelix that he gave me before he left the ship, regarding some unauthorized and non-regulation modifications that have been made by yourselves to the airponics and water recycling plants."

Tessoni looked like he was about to comment but he met the eyes of his fellow crewmembers, thought better of it, and joined in the soft chorus of "Yes, Captains".

"Furthermore, you performed these modifications after hours and without the knowledge or permission of your supervisors." She looked up at them "Would you care to explain?"

If possible, the three looked even more uncomfortable than when they first entered her ready room.

"I see," Janeway slowly stood, still holding the PADD and continued sternly "well, let me tell you the consequences of your actions." she briefly looked at the crewmen and then back to the PADD and smiled "Food production is up staggering 15.2%, water recycling efficiency is up 4.7% and my assistant, Miss Wildman, reports that she has mysteriously begun receiving small amounts of real fresh fruit."

The three almost imperceptibly seemed to relax.

"To say that I’m delighted is an understatement. Your work is exceptional and I have recorded to that affect in my official logs to Starfleet.

"Now, can you please explain why this had to be a secret?" she added kindly and with another smile. "Ms Gilmore?" she prompted.

"Well, Captain, at first, it was just something to do. After a while, we really started to enjoy the work and making a difference, doing something positive for the whole crew, but we didn’t want people to think that we were doing it just to, um, gain favor."

"I see. Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres tell me you’ve managed to achieve these results without any significant drain on existing resources."

"Well, we are science and engineering officers Captain. And Neelix taught us how to scrounge." Lessing added.

"As I said before crewmen, I’m very happy with your work. I am not happy, however, that you’ve all done this in your own time. It is unacceptable that you have been doing, in effect, two duty shifts."

Apprehension again crossed the three officer’s faces.

"So," the Captain continued "I’m recommending that the three of you be transferred from your current duties to work full time on these projects, effective immediately. Ms Gilmore, you will be the ranking officer. Is that a satisfactory arrangement for you all?"

This time the chorus of "yes, Captain" was much more enthusiastic and heartfelt.

"Good." And more softly to the group "People, you’ve been part of this crew for some time now. I consider you an important part of Voyager’s crew." The meaning of her words wasn’t lost on them. "Now you should report to Commander Chakotay as I believe you’re all on the first rotation for shore leave on Virna. On your way out, please tell Crewmen Sofin and Morrow to join me. I have to discuss with them their ‘tweaks’ to the replicators and sonic shower system." She gave them a conspiratorial wink.

The three crewmen left the ready room with a spring in their step.

***

She decided on a change of scenery to read some reports. It was a good excuse to go to the Airponics bay.

She could see Kes everywhere here. It was as beautiful as it was functional.

There was the seat that she always used when she had chats with Kes, and she sat on it now.

Since Quarra she had felt not so much lonely, but maybe a bit isolated and Janeway didn’t think she’d missed the young Ocampa as much since her departure as she did now.

"Captain, I’m sorry. Am I disturbing you?"

She looked up to see Noah Lessing with a worried look on his face. He was obviously still wary of her.

"Not at all Noah. I’m just hiding among the wildlife – you won’t tell on me will you?" she smiled at him and motioned for him to join her.

"No ma’am. It’s my secret spot too. It’s the most peaceful and lovely place on Voyager."

"That it is."

They sat in companionable silence until they eventually started to chat about family, childhood, home, pets and life aboard a ship far from home. They discovered several hobbies in common, although Janeway couldn’t honestly say she’d been cave diving in nearly twenty years, they discovered that several hours had passed since they had first sat down.

"Noah, this is the most enjoyable afternoon I’ve spent for a very long time. Thank you." She reached out and touched him on the forearm and smiled at him. "But I haven’t even tended my bit of the garden."

At his quizzical looked she smiled shyly "Tomatoes." she explained with a nod of her head in the direction of the plants "Talaxian tomatoes."

"I wondered about them. I thought they must have been Neelix’s."

"Well, originally they were, of course. But they’ve survived nearly five years of my tender care and I’ve grown rather attached to them."

"I’ll look after them for you today Captain."

"Thank you Noah. If I don’t get back to the Bridge, Tuvok will send security looking for me."

***

Janeway has returned to the ship tired but happy with her preliminary discussions and negotiations with the Virn. Her talks with the ruler were cordial and he was genuinely interested in Voyager and her adventures. A topic for which he had endless questions.

The Virna inhabitants were friendly, and happily for Voyager's crew, the planet was rich in both minerals and foodstuffs that the local authorities were only too delighted to share with their visitors.

Still, Janeway mused, it may be a little tiresome to answer queries about the history of the Federation, but it was infinitely preferable to having to fight their way across the area of space. A situation they had found themselves in only too often.

She felt exhausted as she entered her ready room, looking forward to a coffee and putting her feet up and enjoying a bit of quiet time before going to the mess hall for dinner.

The coffee had only just appeared in the replicator when the door bell sounded. She was about to sit behind her desk as Chakotay entered, looking none too happy.

"Captain, have you seen that thing that Paris has had beamed up from the planet?"

"The, um, chair?" she remembered Paris had said something about ‘seating’ for one of his ‘projects’.

"Chair? Is that what he told you? Kathryn, it’s an enormous thing!"

"An enormous chair?" Janeway couldn’t help but be amused by his annoyance.

"It’s not a chair, it’s a damned construction project."

"Get Tom and we’ll go and have a look."

Paris had contacted the Captain during his shore leave requesting permission to bring the object aboard. He assured her it was perfect for his next project, which was some kind of sporting spectacle. He said it would complement and be part of the ‘warm up’ event for the pool tournament.

As the command pair approached the cargo bay doors, they were joined by Tom Paris, who was looking worried.

"Captain, I can explain…"

The doors opened and revealed an apparatus that reminded Janeway of badly constructed steps.

"Bleachers." Tom breathed in a reverential tone, "I think we could get practically the whole crew on them."

Janeway struggled not to laugh, between Tom’s enthusiasm and Chakotay’s outrage, she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to stop herself.

"What on earth are they for Tom? And why would we want to get the whole crew on it, er, them?"

"The big game," he explained "I’ve got a basketball game organized for early next week. You do remember, don’t you?"

"But it’s played with a ball, isn’t it?" Chakotay was still incredulous.

"This is for the spectators. You sit on it. The atmosphere will be fantastic!" Tom was getting enthusiastic again.

"We’ll be sitting on this? Is it safe? Couldn’t we have just used the holodeck?" she looked doubtfully at the object.

"It’s not nearly the same Captain." Tom pleaded "It’ll add to the fun, I promise. And after the pool tournament, it can be recycled." He sounded as if we the last thing he actually wanted to happen.

Chakotay could tell that Janeway was going to allow it and his anger was abating if not his annoyance.

"OK Tom, we’ll keep it until after the pool night, but it better be safe and it gets recycled afterwards." Her tone was stern.

"And," added Chakotay "if we need space in the cargo bay beforehand, it goes."

Janeway nodded and was still struggling to conceal her smile.

"Agreed. Dismissed, Lieutenant." She watched as the relieved Paris left and then she did laugh.

"Captain, you’re spoiling the children."

When she managed to control her laughter, she shook her head.

"Chakotay, this crew really needs some fun." he was about to interrupt, when she raised her hand to stop him "Shore leave is all well and good but since Joe was killed…" he winced "and Neelix left, we haven’t really had any fun events that the crew have done together. I can’t just order the crew to cheer up. It has to come from them. And Tom is just the man for the job."

He didn’t look convinced. They took one more look at the bleachers before starting to return to the bridge.

"Our job is to increase the suspense, look like we think he’s getting away with something and be duped. We’ve got to suspect something but never quite catch on."

They entered the turbolift and she continued.

"They need to let off some steam, Chakotay. Part of the enjoyment for everyone is Tom’s scheming and his devious attempts at putting it over us. " She paused "And of course the way he annoys you. That alone is a sort of a Voyager blood sport." She reached out and held his arm and asked him solemnly "Are you prepared to be irritated for the ship, Commander?"

"Well, if you put it that way.."

They both laughed.

"I just hope I can keep up the ‘unamused Captain’ routine."

"It’s a routine?"

They managed to regain their composure by the time they reached the bridge but he didn’t join her.

"My shift is over Captain, I’ll see you in the morning."

"Of course, have a good evening Chakotay."

"You too Captain." And he was gone in the direction of his quarters.

She checked the ship’s status and then returned to her ready room, trying not to wonder why he kept calling her by her title and how long it had been since they had had a meal together.

She wouldn’t think about that now, she had reports to read.

***

Two days later, Captain Janeway was sitting in the ready room, trying to pretend to herself she was interested in the various PADDs piled up in front of her that were listing the items they were attempting to trade with the Virn.

She had taken an hour that morning and had a relaxing time with Noah and had finally apologized to the young man for her behavior towards him during the Equinox incident.

"I’ve put a formal report in my log about it, Noah. What I did was totally unacceptable and I expect to face charges when we get home. I just wanted to let you know that," she paused "you know, that I won’t just sweep it under the carpet."

She felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. One of the weights anyway.

Noah shook his head sadly.

"You shouldn’t have done that Captain. We had betrayed you and Voyager, you did what you had to do."

"No, I didn’t." she took his hand in hers "I used that as an excuse, Noah. I was making the same mistakes as Captain Ransom and condemning him while seeing myself as a paragon of Starfleet ideals. I crossed the line Noah. And it was wrong. But I promise you this, I will never do it again. It was a hard lesson to learn and you nearly paid the price. I’m so sorry."

"Well, I will never testify against you Captain and I forgave you and myself a long time ago. So let’s just get back to the garden and let the future take care of itself."

"Thank you Noah."

They had worked quietly together for a short time until a query and request from Tuvok had necessitated her return to the bridge.

"I swear, he’s got a sensor that knows when I’m enjoying myself. It must be a Vulcan thing."

The were both laughing as she left.

So Janeway was feeling quite light hearted as she acknowledged the door chime and Chakotay entered.

"I think this lot is worth checking. Some of the minerals could be useful." She handed him the PADD she was reading as she took his.

"Have you been down to the planet yet?" Janeway asked her First Officer, leaning back onto the couch and putting her feet up, giving up any pretense of working. She motioned him to sit with her.

"Yes, I went down yesterday with Seven. And, I found a great wilderness park if you wanted to go camping..."

"I hope you're kidding." she laughed. She wondered why he had taken shore leave with Seven, of all people. It occurred to her that it was odd that Seven hadn’t mentioned it either but then realized since the incident with holo-Chakotay, as Janeway had called him, Seven had seemed a bit distant. Seven was probably just getting sick of Janeway constantly telling her what she couldn’t do, she reflected. It must be what it’s like having a teenager she thought. But she was glad that Seven was taking shore leave, an activity she usually termed "irrelevant".

But this was great. Maybe she could just have a normal conversation with Chakotay for the first time, in she didn’t know how long. Maybe she could talk him into dinner. Or even better, get him to make dinner. He was talking again.

"OK, I'll cancel your tent reservation...but you’ve still got almost two days. What have you got planned?"

"Well, I’ve got yet another meeting with Ruler Pelek this afternoon. As wonderful a change it is that we’ve met some friendly species, that man does loves the sound of his own voice." They both laughed. "Tomorrow, Seven and I are meeting their Starfleet equivalent to discuss an exchange of star charts. Then back to the ship for our formal farewell and thanks dinner for the Ruler and his cabinet."

"I meant relaxation, Kathryn."

"Oh. Well, I’m hoping to get to one of the capital’s art galleries before our meeting tomorrow."

"Sure." He sounded unconvinced.

"Anyway, how about dinner in the mess hall tonight?" she ignored his sarcasm "Chell has a whole new batch of puns on the menu. And from all reports, they’re even edible."

The mess hall wasn’t her first choice for an intimate dinner, but as she hadn’t had any sort of a meal with him for it seemed like months, it would be a good start.

"Sorry, I can’t tonight. I’ve made other plans. Rain check?"

She didn’t let the disappointment she felt show and continued.

"Sure. No problem. Anyway, I’d better get moving. I have to get Tuvok’s briefing notes for the meeting and make sure my dress uniform is clean."

***

Janeway entered the mess hall that night and was surprised at how crowded it was. It seemed that everyone who had already had shore leave was chatting excitedly about their adventures.

Finding most of the tables occupied, she was just about ready to go back to her ready room and splurge some rations on something replicated. She was feeling strangely deflated and just a little blue for reasons that she couldn't put her finger on.

Her attention was caught by the people at a table by the window. Tom Paris was waving her over to his table, which included B'Elanna and Harry.

He motioned towards an empty chair.

"Take a seat Captain. You look like you've lost your best friend. Harry will get you something to eat." he finished magnanimously.

"Tom, I think I can manage to get my own meal, and I haven't misplaced anyone for weeks." she chided, but with a smile.

"Nonsense. Harry will be happy to, won't you Harry?"

"Please sit down Captain, I'll get you something to eat." Harry smiled "And of course, some coffee."

Janeway relented and sat in the spare seat next to B'Elanna.

"How are you feeling B’Elanna? You're getting very close now."

"I'm ready to have this baby right now Captain. I think I'm over the whole thing."

"Well, I must admit, I'm getting anxious to welcome our second child to Voyager too. Probably not for the same reasons though." she smiled and patted her chief engineer's arm "Although, I should order you to delay for another few weeks as I'm a bit behind with her blanket."

'Gee, Captain, that doesn't sound like an appropriate use of your authority." Paris joked.

"As appropriate as you ordering an ensign to get my dinner." she countered.

"Good point." said Tom, smiling.

Harry returned. "Here you go Captain." he said as he placed the meal in front of her "Nacelle nachos and coffee." They all laughed at the latest Chell menu item.

"Thank you Harry."

"So, as I was saying before you arrived Captain, it’s only a couple of days until the basketball game. I think everyone’s going to have a lot of fun, both participating and watching. Then, of course, we've only got a couple of weeks after that until the big pool tournament. For that we've organized a small amount of replicator rations from all the attendees and Chell is going to put on a spread."

"Let me guess. Something twentieth century based."

"Of course. Those people knew how to party. It was a great era for finger food. Anyway, it looks like a big turn out so far. We've got more teams entering than ever before. Of course that just means I'll have more people to crush like bugs before my final, but inevitable, victory."

"Love your humility, Helmboy. I almost wish I was taking part now."

"I thought it was a team event Tom. How are you doing this all on your own?" the Captain asked innocently.

"Well, actually, Commander Chakotay is my other team member. He's a good player but let's face it, I've won the last few singles tournaments." he actually preened. "So Harry, have you found someone crazy enough to let you play with them?"

"I've got some irons in the fire." He didn't meet Janeway's eye.

"Tom, I think that's a bit harsh. I'm sure Harry is very accomplished."

Tom snorted. "Captain, even with you on his team he wouldn't stand a chance against us."

Janeway let the comment pass. She was spared making a comment by B'Elanna coming to Harry's defense.

"You know Tom, you're being even more obnoxious than normal." and then to Harry "Don't take any notice, Starfleet. I have faith in you."

"Thanks Maquis."

"Here, here! Actually Tom, I've got faith in Harry too. Want to make a little side wager?"

"Why Captain, I'm shocked that you would think I'd be involved in gambling."

"I'd be more shocked if you thought I didn't know about it." her mood was now buoyant, completely different to when she first arrived. "So put your replicator rations where your mouth is Paris. I say Harry and his team gets further in the tournament than you and Chakotay." She poked her fork at him to emphasize her point.

Unnoticed by the group was Harry looking decidedly uncomfortable. Only B'Elanna was enjoying the spectacle of her husband sparring with the Captain.

"I couldn't do it to the crew Captain, they'd suffer if you were without coffee until the end of the month."

"You're awfully cocky Tom, and I'll let the fact that I think you just insulted me slide."

"OK Captain if you insist, you're on. How many rations did you want to lose?"

"I'm going to win and let's make it the usual bet?"

B'Elanna looked at her Captain with renewed respect. Was there nothing that she didn't know about? She’d have to ask Chakotay about it later. She was even gladder to see Janeway obviously enjoying herself. She was sure that the Captain looked a bit down when she'd first entered the Mess Hall. Even Tom had his minor uses, she mused. He did have a knack for making people smile.

She watched as Janeway munched happily on her dinner, while still keeping up the banter with Tom. This should happen much more often. Another thing to talk to Chakotay about. And where the hell was he? If there was something unusual about what was happening at this table, it was that Janeway's first officer was missing and if the Captain ate in the Mess Hall, it was usually because Chakotay had talked her into it.

It seemed that the conversation had now veered back to the planet they were now orbiting. Tom was regaling Janeway with tales of their shore leave, making her laugh with his stories about a misunderstanding they had at what they had thought was a health spa but on fact had turned out to be an establishment that provided a little more than conventional massage. Apparently the proprietor was a bit surprised that he had turned up with a woman who was more than a little pregnant….