DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2020 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Bringing Back Fire
The marble of the memorial to Voyager's dead gleamed in the midday sun, the deeply etched letters adding weight and substance to the names on the ivory stone: Cavit, Durst, Jetal, Suder, Carey. The list was long, but Chakotay mourned them all, felt every one of the losses that the names on the stone represented.
He walked around the memorial, pacing the distance off as he took in the spirit of the place. It was still new enough that the ground was bare; the earth a rich brown that would soon give way to green as the grass grew in, hiding the line where Voyager's tribute to her dead joined the rest of the Fleet cemetery.
Chakotay had been offworld when the dedication was held, working to bring peace to two warring factions on a distant world. Seven had attended the ceremony for them both, filling in for him—again. He had not seen most of his former shipmates since the reunion that marked the first anniversary of their return. His work always seemed to interfere.
At first, it hadn't bothered him. His role as a Federation mediator was vital. He was able to make people who had quit listening to each other generations ago, put aside their grievances and focus on what bound them instead of what pushed them apart. Somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay had learned to compromise, and now he was teaching others to do it too.
He put his whole soul into each mission, so much so that he feared that his soul might be leeching away. Just like his life with Seven was slipping away. He worried that they'd wake up one day old strangers who'd spent their most precious years apart.
Gloom and doom, that's what they called him back at Diplomatic. Gloom and doom Chakotay. They thought he didn't know. But he'd heard them talking about him. They called him that behind his back but still vied with each other to be chosen for his teams. Because he was the best and they all knew it. He was the best, but everyone could see he was tired.
He was beyond tired. He was bone weary of debates with younger colleagues who were so sure they knew how the world worked when they'd barely lived. Sick of superiors who patted him on the shoulder and told him to get some rest and then promptly called him back for a crucial meeting in the middle of his and Seven's vacation.
He'd even had to steal time for his own tribute to Voyager's dead. But it was right and fitting and simply his way to do this. To do less would be to lose his faith, and his faith was what made him keep pressing for change. He still believed in a better world. He still wanted to make a difference.
But maybe it was time to make a difference in some other way? Somewhere else? Somewhere closer to Seven and all the things they called home?
He noticed a bench set back in the shade of the trees and walked to it, enjoying the light breeze that played over his face. He relaxed in the coolness, preparing himself.
Thoughts of Seven intruded—he planned to meet her later for lunch. His presence was rare enough these days that she'd agreed to leave a delicate experiment for him. She never seemed lonely when he was gone, her work kept her too busy for that. But he knew she missed him, and he found himself anticipating getting home to her more each trip.
They were doing well other than the separations, and he was happy that she'd been brave enough back when their relationship had wavered on the edge of never coming into being to choose him. He would tell her that at lunch; she liked to hear him say such things. She was surprisingly sentimental when they were alone.
In the meantime, the memorial beckoned. He didn't have to think of treaties and old animosities between people who were more alike at their core than they ever seemed to realize. Chakotay found he had less patience for any one side than when he had accepted the post. He rarely saw things in black and white anymore. Yes, there was evil, and there were aggressors. But situations where it was clearly one side's fault were few and far between.
Most conflicts were a matter of degree, a border dispute here, a political or religious schism there, then more disputes and more schisms and pretty soon you had war and brutality and death. Things built slowly, grew naturally. And no matter who you talked to, the bad guys were always the other guys.
The Maquis Chakotay who had fought so bitterly against the Cardassians would have been shocked to see that he'd become this reasoned diplomat. But back then he would never have imagined that he'd spend seven years by the side of the Starfleet captain sent to bring him in, that he'd support her and argue with her and try to help her in whatever way he could.
That was the benefit of getting older; less energy meant that if you were smart, you didn't waste it in anger or in hatred. Life was too short, as the names on the memorial attested, to do anything but live and enjoy the living. If you found love too, then you were especially blessed.
He heard the caw of a crow and glanced up, trying to find the bird in the shaded foliage. He would be in the pines, high up probably if he and his mate had a nest, lower down if they were just passing through. Midway up the tree, Chakotay saw the crow, black feathers nearly disappearing into the shadows.
He kept looking and spotted another bird, higher up. "Hello, little brother, little sister," he whispered, then turned his attention back to the memorial.
He tried to remember each person, how they'd looked, what their voices had sounded like. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply and imagined that the piney air was the slightly stuffy atmosphere of Voyager, that he was passing each of the dead in the hall.
Goodbye, he sent to each spirit, trying to reach the peace he felt when he was meditating. Rest easy.
Footsteps sounded on the walk, and he opened his eyes, dispelling the ghosts. He recognized her walk before she actually came into view, the cadence of her boot steps burned into his memory.
Kathryn didn't appear to see him as she walked to the memorial and stopped in front of it. She stood straight for a moment, then her shoulders hunched forward, her head dropping as if in misery and she sighed heavily enough for him to hear the sharp expression of air from where he was sitting.
The last time he had seen her had been shortly after Voyager's return, after the press and the public had lost interest in them and they had no longer been a favored pair for interviews and retrospectives. The Captain and the Rebel, Enemies Voyaging Home Together—the headlines had been dramatic, the story of their united forces inspiring to all. But now they were left alone, free to live life as it came to them. And that life never seemed to include any time for each other.
They'd planned a few lunch dates, but they'd all been cancelled as she was called away for emergency briefings with the other admirals, or he had to fly offworld for the latest diplomatic crisis. Kathryn and Seven were better at making time for each other. Seven being safely based at Command and less likely to have to shove off in a rush the way he and Kathryn were always doing.
Kathryn sighed again, then looked up quickly as one of the crows flew from the trees, its harsh caws disturbing the peaceful scene. As it came to light on a nearby branch, she saw Chakotay and jerked back a bit startled.
He smiled in apology and stood up, walking over to her. She looked tired. Tired and worn and unhappy. More so than the last time he had seen her. He wondered if he looked the same to her.
She turned back to the memorial as he reached her, and they stood looking at it together. "What do you think?" Her voice was rougher than usual, more gravelly. Too much coffee and not enough sleep were the usual culprits. Or they had been in the Delta Quadrant.
Chakotay didn't know her well enough in this setting to determine if there was more to it than that. "I approve." He glanced over to see her reaction, was happy to see her mouth quirk up.
"I do too." They stood in silence for a few more seconds, then she said, "We missed you at the dedication. Seven said you were called away."
He realized that Seven also served as his link to news of Kathryn. When had he and Kathryn stopped talking? How had they lost touch to such an extent? "I wanted to be here."
She gave him one of her gentle smiles, but the expression didn't reach her eyes. "I know. You were always big on rituals." The crow cawed again, and she shook her head. "One crow for sorrow, isn't that how it goes?"
He nodded, then pointed to the other crow, still nearly hidden in the shadows. "Two for mirth." When it was clear she didn't see it, he said, "Where the two pines meet, then go three branches up."
She nodded when she saw it. "Two of them. So no sorrow?" She didn't sound convinced.
"Not if you need a singleton for that. Crows don't tend to travel alone."
She smiled, and this time she did look amused. "Nature boy. I'd forgotten that about you." She shook her head, as if mocking her folly, then seemed to study him, finally reaching up and touching his temples briefly. "More gray than I remember."
He'd been noticing the gray too. "Time passes."
She looked away, her voice losing all inflection as she said, "Yes, it does." Gesturing to the bench he'd been sitting on, she asked, "Shall we?"
He followed her to the shade, waited for her to sit before joining her. She held herself stiffly, not touching the backrest, clearly not relaxed despite it being her suggestion that they sit down.
"What's wrong, Kathryn?" When she didn't answer, he waited a few moments before saying, "I know you. Maybe not as well as I should anymore, but I had seven years to get to know all the different Kathryn Janeways. And this is definitely not one of the happy ones."
"The pot says to the kettle," she said, studying him. "You don't look very happy either. Diplomatic life doesn't agree with you?"
"It does. Some days more than others," he said. "But you won't distract me like that. I asked how you were."
"You did, didn't you?" The small quirk of a smile threatened again, then died. "You're right, Chakotay. It's not a particularly good day." She looked over at the memorial. "I guess that's why I came here...to reconnect."
"With your family?"
She sighed, a shallow sound that gave away more than she probably intended. "Were we family?"
"We were, Kathryn."
She looked up at the crow again. "Dismal bird. Fits my mood."
"What happened?" He could feel the smile only Kathryn Janeway could coax out of him beginning as he said, "Come on, tell your First Officer."
This time her tight grin was real. "Still trying to ease my burden?"
She finally relaxed, settling back into the bench and crossing one leg over the other. "I think I'm getting tired of being the voice of gloom. All these other admirals, they've been through the Dominion War, but they didn't lose their optimism. Their..." She seemed to be searching for the word.
"Naivete?" he supplied, thinking of some of the brash men and women he worked with, so cocky—so sure they understood everything when in reality they understood nothing.
"That would be one word for it." She shook her head. "Maybe I'm just getting old, but I seem to always be the cautious one at the table. The one who worries that things aren't as they seem."
"Things rarely are as they seem," he said with a smile. "We learned that in the Delta Quadrant. You'd think fighting a war against changelings would have taught them that."
They fell into a companionable silence, the light rushing of the breeze through the trees the only sound. Even the crows had quieted.
"Did I make a mistake, Chakotay?" Her voice was soft, trailing off at the end so that he could barely hear her. She looked over at him, her eyes tired and grim. "Taking a desk job?"
He smiled slightly; he often wondered if he'd made a mistake not taking one. "What do you think?"
She rolled her eyes. "I've had enough counselors for one lifetime, Commander. I don't need you playing one."
"Sorry." They had all been subjected to numerous sessions after they'd returned. Starfleet's way of being careful, he knew, just as the short hearings on the fate of the Maquis had been.
He had been surprised at how quickly the hearings were ended, how easily Starfleet had dropped all charges against them. The Dominion War had left the Federation, and Starfleet especially, desperately in need of heroes. And Voyager's crew had fit the bill, Starfleet and Maquis alike. Those of the former Maquis who wanted to continue in the service were welcomed into the Fleet. The rest were free to go.
"B'Elanna said I should get a ship, get back into space." Kathryn gestured toward the memorial. "She was standing right there, by Joe Carey's name. She said I'd grown dark and bitter in this job." She gave a little laugh. "You've never been afraid to speak your mind to me. What do you think? Have I grown dark, Chakotay?"
"Not in this job." He thought of the many ways Kathryn had changed over the years. She had grown darker, more obsessed with getting them home, less willing to bend than the captain he'd first met. The journey home had taken its toll on her, not some chair at a desk on Earth.
She seemed to understand what he was saying. She looked up at the crow, her voice especially raspy as if she was trying to mimic its sound. "Hear that, Mister Crow? I've been dark like you for some time." She glared at the bird, the same way she'd scowled at the monkey on New Earth when it had done something to irritate her.
Chakotay laughed softly at the memory and held up a hand when she glared at him too. "Darkness isn't necessarily bad, Kathryn."
She shook her head. "I'll let you explain that to B'Elanna."
"You know there's an old legend about the crow." He saw her expression and laughed. "No angry warriors in this one, I promise. This is about how the crow turned black."
She lifted her eyebrows but didn't tell him not to continue.
"Long ago, crow was known as rainbow crow. He was the most beautiful bird in the world, and he had the sweetest song. All the other animals loved him. Then one day, winter came for the first time and snow fell and covered the ground. All the animals began to freeze, and they needed someone to go talk to the spirits of snow and wind and make winter stop. Rainbow crow was the only one who volunteered, and, although he tried to convince the spirits of snow and wind to stop making winter, they couldn't for it was their job to make snow and blow it across the land.
"So rainbow crow went to the great sky spirit, and his words touched the spirit so much that he gave rainbow crow fire to take back to the other animals and keep them warm.
"It was a long flight back, and as rainbow crow carried the fire, it began to singe his beautiful feathers, and as he breathed in the smoke over the journey, his voice became hoarse. When he arrived home, the other animals lauded him as a hero and sang his praises, but rainbow crow was very sad because his beautiful colored feathers were burned to pitch black and his sweet voice was ruined.
"But his harsh voice rings through the woods, and when the sun shines just right on his feathers you can still see all the colors of the rainbow."
She smiled, but he thought he saw something darker flicker in her eyes.
"The journey changed you, Kathryn. Took the woman you were and singed you, yes. But it made you stronger, it made you wiser. You aren't going to be fooled. Do you know how hard it is to trick a crow?"
"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."
He thought he saw a glimmer of the old Janeway in her small smile as she teased him. He smiled back, a genuine open-mouthed smile, the kind he realized he didn't use much anymore except with Seven or with Miral Paris, on the rare occasions he had time to play with her. "I wasn't so different. Running around with no idea of how dark a place the universe was until the Cardassians destroyed my world. Then I became a crow too. You know the crows warn all the other creatures of the dangers in the forest."
"Do they listen better than my colleagues do to me?"
"If they want to survive, they do." He shook his head. "Enough allegory, Kathryn. Do you want to leave your job?"
She shrugged. "It'd be nice to have another ship someday."
"Someday, but now?"
"B'Elanna seemed so sure that I was wasting my talents." She pursed her lips, as if trying to decide what she was sure of.
"B'Elanna is different than we are."
"She's not a crow?" Kathryn asked with a laugh. "Let me guess, she's an eagle."
"Have you ever watched crows mob an eagle? It's a sight you won't forget." He held up a hand to forestall any smart retort. "Maybe B'Elanna is the one who needs to get back into space? She could be getting antsy here?"
"She has a family."
"So do plenty of other officers." He saw her expression darken. "Thinking of your father?"
"You know me too well."
The comment seemed to drop like a lead ball between them. Once he had known her too well. But now?
"Do you have a dog?" he asked, not sure why that question had popped into his head.
She looked away. "No." Before he could ask why not, she said, "I travel a lot, conferences and meetings offworld, it wouldn't be fair to a dog."
He nodded, not wanting to argue with her. "Nobody at home waiting for you?"
"No. Wouldn't be fair to a person either." Kathryn turned away and stared out at the row of headstones. "We were family," she said, as if answering her own question from earlier.
"Yes, we were." He looked at her hair. Like his, it was grayer than it had been. "Stay in your job, Kathryn. The other admirals need you. They need the voice crying out at unseen dangers."
"I don't think being compared to a crow is very flattering, Chakotay." She stood up, walked over to the memorial, and ran her fingers over the names of the dead.
He didn't interrupt her, waiting until she reached the last one before saying, "Crows mourn their dead too. They return over and over to where one of their own was killed."
"Looking for food. They're scavengers." She dismissed his words with a wave.
"I don't think that's why they go back. But if you want to believe it, I won't try to stop you."
She smiled. "You've learned over the years."
The ghost of all their disagreements came flooding back. Their fight over the alliance with the Borg, his reaction to the way she'd treated Lessing during their run-in with the Equinox, and her reaction to his criticism—those had caused huge cracks in their relationship.
But the smaller arguments had taken their toll too, the times when he'd urged her to find a longer, safer way home, or even to settle down on some peaceful world in the Delta Quadrant.
She'd only ever wanted to get back home in the fastest—and often to him the most dangerous—way possible. But she'd done it, she'd gotten them home.
And now she was alone. He stood up and joined her at the memorial. As before, they stood in silence, then he turned away and she followed him.
"I've got to go," she said, as he turned to face her. "I have another meeting."
He nodded. He needed to leave too; he didn't like to keep Seven waiting.
Neither of them moved.
Kathryn smiled, this time it was the slightly self-mocking smile she used to give him when he'd won a point from her in some argument. One that she didn't mind losing. "So what kind of bird is Seven?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure yet."
She looked mildly disappointed in him. "Oh, come on. That's an easy one. From Borg drone to what she is now? She's the ugly duckling grown up into the swan."
He thought about that. "Yes. I guess she is."
"And so, I think, are you. From Maquis rebel to distinguished ambassador." She grinned. Somehow the expression managed to be a little sad.
"More tired than distinguished, I'm afraid. I'm thinking of quitting, Kathryn." He swallowed hard; it was the first time he'd said it out loud.
Her eyes seemed impossibly wise and sad, all at the same time. "I'd tell you a bird story, but I'm fresh out."
"Is the universe a better place because you're doing this?" she asked.
"I don't know."
She shot him the Kathryn Janeway "don't bullshit me" look.
"Yes," he said, a smile starting as her glare turned to the satisfied look she'd worn whenever she'd wormed the truth out of him. "But I'm away from Seven so much."
"If you're both swans, you'll survive the separation. Because swans mate for life, you know."
"You're not the only one who can spout bird lore." She gave him a quick hug, holding him awkwardly for a moment longer than he expected. "Don't give up. And I won't either," she said softly, then she let him go.
He touched her hand, reminded again of the woman warrior he'd first followed in the Delta Quadrant. She was still so isolated, and still so full of strength and sheer determination.
"Crows mate for life too," he whispered, expecting her to close down, to disapprove of his foolish whimsy.
Instead she smiled, didn't look away. "Sometimes, I wish you were still my first officer."
"I know. Me too. But I don't wish we were in the Delta Quadrant."
"No. You were never at home there."
He realized that for all her obsessive need to get them back to Earth, she had been at home there. Life probably seemed a little stale to her now. A ship might do her good, might give her back the zest for life. And might rob her of her best destiny.
There was always a need for the voice in the wilderness. In Starfleet Command. And in Diplomatic. Both he and Kathryn had their roles to play.
She touched him on the chest, the way she'd done all those years ago, when they'd first been lost and she still reached out to people. "Say hello to Seven for me."
He nodded, then watched her as she turned crisply and walked back to Command. He thought maybe her walk was a little brisker, her back a little straighter.
He turned down the hill, hurrying now. His walk felt brisker too. He smiled as an unexpected energy rushed through him. He felt something else, thought that maybe it was hope. Hope that it was all worth it. Hope that his life would still be waiting—just as Seven was waiting for him by the door to the restaurant.
Her face lit up when she saw him, she lifted her hand, her fingers moving in a way he doubted a Borg could usually manage. "Hello," the delicate wave seemed to say. "I love you."
And in her eyes he saw understanding as he told her he'd be offworld again soon. Her smile was untroubled, even as she leaned into him, letting him know that he would be missed.
He followed her into the restaurant, and for the first time in months managed to put aside his job and just enjoy their time together. As they laughed and talked, and she let her hand linger on his, he realized that she'd always known the best way for them to live. Maybe it was because she'd been Borg, had lived so long in the enduring present of the Collective, but she knew how to enjoy the moments they had together.
She wasn't afraid to live them completely and let them be full of love and wonder, not worry and regret.
They lingered over lunch, and afterwards walked back together to Command. She left him with a kiss on the cheek, a promise of more later that night, when he again slept in their bed and woke with her in the morning.
He walked the rest of the way alone. Back to Diplomatic where he had work to do. Peace to bring. A difference to make.
Someday he would rest. Someday he would sleep at Seven's side every night and wake up with her every morning.
Someday. But not yet.