Rules of the Game

Part 1

I thought there would be joy. Exultation.

And for a day or so, there was. Watching my crew disembark on Utopia Planitia - Tom and B'Elanna showing off little Miral to Admiral Paris, seeing the look on Owen's face when Tom called him Grandpa for the first time. Tuvok solemnly greeting his wife and daughter and his own new grandchild via a visual commlink to Vulcan. Seven of Nine meeting face to face the great aunt who had presumed her dead for nearly two decades. And Harry Kim being wrapped in a hug by his parents, beaming as he pointed to the new pip he finally wore. I'm proud to say it was my last official act before docking on Mars -- making Harry a lieutenant, something he so richly deserved after toiling away as an ensign for seven long years.

Then there was Mom and Phoebe, waiting for me -- letting me walk up to them with dignity, then catching me as I fell into their arms. A blur of hugs, tears, kisses...

But that was weeks ago. Today I am under investigation for my dealings with Captain Ransom and the Equinox crew. Noah Lessing has accused me of attempted murder, and I feel my very sanity is being questioned. While the investigative panel looks into his allegations, I've been ordered to undergo counseling, officially to help speed my 'acclimation' back into Starfleet. But I know what this is about.

I understand.

This isn't just some routine counseling session. It's a gauntlet, thrown at my feet. The test I have to endure to prove myself, my competency. To show Starfleet that I actually did manage to maintain my sanity after stranding my ship in the Delta Quadrant for so long -- something the remaining crew of the Equinox now quite vocally brings into question. Unfortunately my case isn't helped at all by the actions of my own future self -- the mad Admiral Janeway who deliberately altered the very fabric of time itself in order to bring Voyager home some 16 years early. As I see it, it all comes down to this: they have to make sure I'm not certifiable before they can make up their minds about what to do with me. Which means my entire future may rest on how this session goes -- it may be the one thing standing between me becoming an Admiral, or facing a court martial, or even being busted back to ensign.

As if I even give a damn any more.

"You're angry," she observes.

"Did your telepathic abilities tell you that?" I retort, not caring how rude I sound. I'm not really angry with the Betazoid counselor they've assigned me -- it's the whole process, the idea that someone would question my thoughts, actions, feelings. Examine them. Judge them. Pick them apart. I haven't had to deal with that in seven years, and now it's driving me-- Hmm, I suppose 'crazy' would be a poor choice of words. Let's just say I'm frustrated.


"I'm only half Betazoid," she corrects me. "I'm really only able to sense feelings, not read minds. But if it would make you more comfortable, I can promise not to use my abilities during our sessions."

"It would," I snap.

"As you wish," she says, inclining her head in consent. "Still, it doesn't take any special abilities to see that you're angry."

"Oh?" I'm pacing the floor, prowling it, making it my own. I glance at Counselor Troi-- Deanna, that is. She'd told me to call her Deanna. "And why do you think that is?" I ask, throwing her own method of questioning back at her.

The Counselor smiles at the small dig, a genuine smile that makes me think she's rather attractive in a dark, Mediterranean sort of way. "Kathryn..." she begins, then quickly adds, "may I call you Kathryn?" A nod, then she continues. "Why don't you sit down? It might help you relax."

"Maybe I don't want to relax."

"Then don't. Feel free to pace as much as you like." Deanna watches a moment as I continue to do just that, then she says, "Kathryn, I think you're feeling a certain amount of resentment towards this situation, which is understandable given the circumstances. You haven't had a ship's counselor for seven years. You've grown accustomed to making your own decisions, within a certain type of environment. Without being questioned about those decisions."

She's a little too close to the truth, so I force myself to calm down. "You obviously haven't met my First Officer yet," I remark, taking the seat opposite her. God, I hate this chair. It's comfortable, plush, and the gray cushions immediately mold themselves to the contours of my body. But it doesn't do a damn thing to ease the tension that twists the muscles of my neck and shoulders, the constant pain that has plagued me for years. I always thought it would lessen when we made it home, when the weight of command was finally lifted from my shoulders. But it only seems to be getting worse. "If you think I wasn't ever questioned about my decisions as Captain," I tell Deanna, "you should talk to Commander Chakotay." She raises her eyebrow at that, as if this is extremely important information, but as personal revelations go, this is a minor one indeed. "And you're wrong about us not having a counselor. For three years we had an Ocampan on board Voyager named Kes. She was a counselor to me, to all of us."

"She was a friend of yours as well, wasn't she?"

I know I've got that smile on my face, the same one I get every time I think of Kes -- her warmth, her gentleness. Her childish wonder balanced by such serene, selfless wisdom. I fight to push back the disturbing image of the older, confused Kes who came back years later to try to destroy my ship. That wasn't the woman I'd known, that wasn't the Kes I loved. "Yes, she was my friend," is all I say.

"And you prefer talking to a friend, rather than having to talk to me."

"I prefer not to *have* to talk to anyone!"

"But you do understand that after an away mission as long as yours--"

"Please," I say, raising my hand to stop her. "There's no point in going through the whole spiel again. Admiral Paris already covered it. 'The commander of an extended deep-space mission requires a certain amount of re-acclimation into civilian life as well as to Starfleet,' blah, blah, blah. But I know how the game is played. I know what that really means. They want to make sure I didn't crack under the pressure of being separated from Starfleet Command for so long. So they've given you the plum assignment of trying to determine if I'm still fit for duty. You now have to find out how far I've gone -- whether or not I really have become the kind of person who's capable of trussing up a fellow officer and offering him to a horde of homicidal aliens like some sort of sacrificial pig."

I'm baiting her, pushing hard for some reaction, but she just smiles. "Actually," she corrects me in her maddeningly calm manner, "I was going to say that it would be beneficial for you to talk with someone who can help you deal with the return home on a personal level. You have been separated from your family and friends for a very long time."

"As has the entire crew. But we've been through so much together over the years, we've become as close as any family."

"Of course, but I'm speaking of your family on Earth. Seven years is a long time to be away from them."

"Not so long really, when you think about how long it could have been."

I can see that she understands what I'm talking about, that she's already been briefed on the confidential reality of our return home. "And how do you feel about that? Bringing your ship home years sooner than you would have--"

"You mean, how do I feel knowing that the only reason I'm here is because my counterpart from the future broke every precept of the Temporal Prime Directive just so Voyager could get home a few years early?" I interpret. "How do you think I feel? I've got my people home. I don't have to look forward to 16 more years in the Delta Quadrant. I don't have to lose 22 more members of my crew -- I don't have to lose any more of my friends. And I'm finally home, after seven long years. How would you feel?"

"I would imagine that I would be happy, relieved. Even elated. But that's not what you're feeling now. You seem to be experiencing some emotional turmoil--"

"'Emotional turmoil?'" My laughter is sharp, unamused. "Have you considered that maybe there's an obvious reason for this? That I might still be in shock after everything that has happened, and I can't quite believe we really made it back? That I've been so focused on getting home, now that I'm here it's going to take some time for me to adjust, to learn to let my guard down again?"

"An interesting observation, Kathryn. And even more interesting that you would offer such an observation up to me so willingly."

"What can I say? I'm self-aware, self-reliant," I answer, a bit smugly. "I've had to be."

Deanna regards me steadily, then changes the subject. "Admiral Paris tells me that you have not yet gone home to be with your family."

"I've seen both my mother and sister several times. I went to lunch with Phoebe just yesterday, in fact."

"Yes, but you haven't permanently returned to earth. The Admiral says you are still residing on Voyager."

I cross my arms over my chest, give her a mild glare. "As long as I have crew on board Voyager, then I'm staying on board as well."

"But I'm told there is only one crewmember left."

"Two, actually. You're forgetting about our Doctor, he's also on board."

"Your Emergency Medical Hologram, of course. I met the good Doctor last year when he traveled through the micro-wormhole to assist in Doctor Zimmerman's treatment and recovery. I'm sorry that I forgot to include him as a member of your crew -- a definite oversight on my part."

"Just don't do it around him, for all our sakes," I warn her. "We'd never hear the end of it."

Deanna smiles sympathetically, "I did get the impression that he could be quite a... handful."

"To say the least," I respond, relaxing a bit. Talking about the Doctor is good -- let's do more of that. "He's been the direct cause of several hundred headaches I've had over the past few years, but I wouldn't trade him now for any other doctor in the quadrant. What other doctor could have expanded his program to act as an 'ECH?'"

"'ECH'... that stands for Emergency Command Hologram, correct?"

I'm impressed -- I hadn't expected her to study the file so closely. But of course I don't let her see this. I've become an expert at hiding things -- my reactions, my thoughts, my feelings. This session is just a mild workout of that expertise. "Yes, he actually took over command of Voyager on two separate occasions, saving the ship and the crew both times."

"You must be very proud of him."


"You helped him get to the point that he's at today, to the point of being considered a sentient being."

"I suppose..." I hesitate, sensing that she's going somewhere with this line of questioning, but I'm not sure where. "But any progress the Doctor has made is his own personal growth, his own journey."

"What of the other crewmember left on Voyager?" she asks, changing the subject again. "Tell me about Seven of Nine."

I make no move, not even a flicker of an eyelid. "What would you like to know?"

"She is a friend of yours."

"Of course. I have many friends on Voyager."

"According to all accounts, she is the one person you consistently spent the most time with, other than Commander Chakotay."

I shrug as I reply, keeping my tone of voice flip. "She was the only one on board who could challenge me at Velocity, my favorite game." A long pause as Deanna silently waits, and I know I have to say more. "Actually, Seven's situation is quite unique," I answer seriously. "As a former Borg drone, she needed a... mentor, of sorts. Someone to help her understand and embrace her humanity. Because I'm the one who made the decision to free her from the Collective, she was my responsibility."

"Then your relationship is based on you feeling responsible for helping Seven with her 'personal growth?'"

Throwing the same phrase back at me that I'd used when talking about the Doctor is an obvious counseling ploy. I avoid it easily. "First and foremost, our relationship is based on a Starfleet Captain's concern for a valued member of her crew," I say firmly. Then I ask, looking around, "Where is the replicator?"

"There isn't one in this room," she says. "But I can offer you some coffee."

Everyone knows about this, my greatest weakness, so I'm not surprised she has some on hand. "I'd love a cup."

She gets up, moves to her desk and pulls a thermos and mug from a drawer, then pours a cupful of the heavenly elixir -- black, just like I like it. She offers it to me and I accept it with a smile, holding the mug under my nose, inhaling the fresh, aromatic scent deeply, feeling the steam caress my face. Deanna sits back down and gives me time to take one long, satisfying sip. Then she begins again. "I find it interesting that you used the third person when speaking of yourself as Captain."

"Simple semantics," I answer, steepling my fingers on both sides of the mug, holding it close to my face.

"Perhaps," she allows. "Still, I wonder if it's not an indication that you see 'Kathryn Janeway, the person' as somehow separate from 'Kathryn Janeway, the Captain.'"

I respond immediately, without thinking. "Being a Starfleet Captain is who I am. There is no separation." As soon as I say this I see a slight look of satisfaction cross her face, and realize my mistake. Of course there should be separation -- in any other Starfleet Captain there would be. But I've been 'Captain Janeway' for so long now I'm not even sure there's a 'Kathryn Janeway' left anymore. I swiftly change the subject. "That's a beautiful clock," I comment, nodding to the shelf in the corner and a replica of a 22nd century Swiss design.

"I think so as well, but I'm not sure whose it is," she says. "It was here when they gave me this temporary office."

"Is that the correct time?"

"As far as I know--"

"Then I really must be going," I say, standing.

Deanna stands as well. "But we haven't finished your hour."

"I'm sorry, but I have the presentation and reception tonight -- I need time to prepare."

"Of course. I'll see you tomorrow? We can make up for the lost time then."

"I can't wait," I dryly retort, and flash an insincere smile as I beat a hasty retreat. Not a pretty exit, but I leave with only minimum damage. And after seven years in the Delta Quadrant, I've come to realize that any day without major hull breaches, casualties or Borg attacks is a good day indeed.

* * * * * *


I had made the word my sole objective, my sacred quest for so long, that it hardly holds any real meaning for me anymore. It's a symbol, an amalgam of ideas -- my crusade, my Holy Grail. And now as I stand in the grand auditorium on Utopia Planitia, finally realizing that my journey is coming to an end, all I feel is emptiness. And despite the crowd of people milling about me, I have never felt so utterly, miserably alone.

One more reception, and then I can go back to Voyager. I have to censor the thought that almost slips in, uninvited. I almost think, "Then I can go home." It's just too ironic, that after all those years of striving for one single, elusive goal, now that I'm back within transporter range of Earth, Voyager seems more like home to me than anywhere else. But even Voyager is beginning to feel foreign -- its halls crawling with engineers and scientists from Utopia Planitia as most of my crew takes advantage of the six-month furlough they were granted after their debriefings. My crew is moving on, scattering like dandelion seeds in the wind, to be with their families, their friends. And can I blame them? When they do return to duty -- if they do -- it will be to take on new assignments on different vessels, under different captains. There is nothing left to hold them to Voyager.

It's not their home.

Maybe my feelings will change when I'm back on Earth. And not just anywhere on Earth. In my mother's house in Indiana, sitting at her kitchen table, eating her homemade caramel brownies. I haven't allowed myself the luxury yet. I'm not sure when I will. If I will. For now, Voyager is the only place I want to be.

I try to focus my attention on the people surrounding me, mostly new cadets who've stayed to meet me after my presentation, and their endless barrage of questions. I've become so used to answering the same ones over and over, I can do it in my sleep. I often do.

"Who is the most significant individual you met in the Delta Quadrant?"

I forgo the first answer that always springs to mind, and give the safe reply instead, "Amelia Earhart. She had been a personal inspiration to me, and the chance to actually meet her, to speak with her, was simply amazing." I smile slightly. "Not to mention the satisfaction I felt at being able to definitively solve one of the most celebrated mysteries of the 20th century."

There are a few light chuckles, then the next question: "What was the most dangerous species you faced in the Delta Quadrant?"

"Let's see, there were so many," I say, and begin to count them off on my fingers. "The Borg. Species 8472. The Kazon. The Hirogen. The Vaadwaur." I flash a smile at the young man who'd asked. "With a list like that, it's so hard to pick a favorite. But the Borg were always a constant threat."

"What was your favorite species?"

"Again, it's hard to say. But I have a particular fondness for Talaxians because of our own Mr. Neelix."

"What was the most unique planet you visited?"

"The planet that, because of a drastic space-time differential, lived a day for each second of our time. Within just a few days, we were able to observe as an entire world evolved over thousands of years."

"What is the one thing you regret the most about your time in the Delta Quadrant?"

This question always sobers me. "It's the same regret that every captain has," I respond. "I regret every single life that was lost during our journey." There is a moment of respectful silence, then a woman raises her hand. She's young, pretty. Blonde. "Yes, Ensign?"

She smiles shyly. "How difficult was it for Seven of Nine to adjust to life on Voyager?"

My first instinct is to say I'd prefer not to talk about Seven of Nine, but instead I reply, "Seven would be the best person to answer that." I smile to distract from the fact that I'm dodging the question. "As a matter of fact, she was in the audience earlier, and I'm fairly certain that she'll be at the reception. Perhaps you can talk to her there?" An excited murmur stirs through the group at the prospect of meeting a real-live former Borg drone, and I take the opportunity to make my escape. "Now if you'll excuse me," I say, and begin to push through the crowd, ignoring the calls for 'Captain Janeway' until I hear someone call out my first name.

"Kathryn!" I turn and urge a welcoming smile to my lips as Admiral Owen Paris approaches, the cadets seeming to magically disperse in his wake. I'm always genuinely happy to see him -- the man who had been my father's friend, my own personal mentor in Starfleet, and whose son I had handpicked to be Voyager's helmsman. It is one of my most satisfying accomplishments that I was able to bring Tom safely back to him from the Delta Quadrant, and every time I see Owen it reminds me of that.

"Excellent speech," he says as he joins me.

"Thank you, but you've heard it so many times the past few weeks I'm surprised you don't have it memorized by now."

"True," he laughs, offering me his arm. "But I never get tired of hearing about your exploits in the Delta Quadrant."

"'Exploits?' You've been talking to Tom again." I rest my hand in the crook of his elbow as we walk together to the reception area. "So tell me, how is your little granddaughter?"

"Wonderful," he beams. "B'Elanna swears Miral looks just like me, but I think that's just her subtle way of saying we've got the same hair cut," he says, giving his bald head a playful rub. I smile indulgently as he launches into stories about his new extended family, knowing full well that if things had turned out differently he wouldn't have had this opportunity to share in his granddaughter's childhood. But as we enter the large double doors to the reception area, I'm only half listening.

I know she's here. I can feel it. But where...? I skim over the various faces milling about the room, my eyes automatically seeking out--

There. In the corner, with Chakotay-

I feel the gasp as if it is torn from me, wrung from my throat, and I stop so suddenly that Admiral Paris actually walks two steps beyond me before realizing that I'm no longer at his side. "Kathryn?" he prompts, turning to me.

"Owen, I don't know if I can make it through another reception right now." I raise a hand to my temple, rubbing at the taught skin. "I've developed a bit of a migraine. Would you make my excuses?"

"Of course. Everyone will be disappointed, but you need to take care of yourself first."

"Thank you," I nod.

"You still staying on Voyager?" he asks, his tone deceptively mild.

I look at him sharply. "You know I am."

"Then why don't you stop by Sickbay and have the Doctor give you something for that headache?"

"I'll do that." I force a smile as I say goodnight, then retreat through the large double doors, praying that my exit goes unnoticed.

* * * * * *

I return to Voyager, but not to Sickbay. Instead I lock myself in the cabin that has been my refuge for seven years, and sit down with a book until the computer tells me what I want to hear. I force myself to be patient and let another hour creep by, then I begin to casually roam through the halls of my ship, as I've done a thousand times before, as if I don't have a specific destination. As if I don't do this every night after the computer alerts me her alcove has been activated.

Along the way I pass faces that are unknown to me, people who stare at me like I'm some sort of walking oddity from a museum exhibit. This is the transitional crew whose very presence makes me feel like I'm a stranger on my own ship as they study Voyager, inspect her, analyze her, tear her apart. I can't help but feel a twinge of resentment at the treatment, but it was to be expected. There's so much to learn from a ship that now combines Starfleet, Borg, and future-generation technology, which is probably something I should be thankful for. I'm well aware that if Voyager hadn't been such a treasure trove of military technology, I might not be walking these corridors freely right now. I certainly wouldn't have been allowed to oversee the work being done to my ship, or to make sure these people treat her with the respect she deserves. To be fair, this new crew does seem to be suitably impressed by Voyager and everything she's been through. But still. This isn't my crew, these aren't my people.

While the analysis is being completed, I've requested that two rooms not be disturbed. One is the Captain's Quarters. The other I approach now. The doors automatically swish open as I enter Cargo Bay 2, then stay open as I come to an abrupt stop in the doorway. There are two occupants in the room -- not just the one I had been expecting.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" I snarl, in a voice so low I swear it should peel the paint off the walls. The young ensign jumps, staring at me with wide eyes. "Well?" I growl.

He points to the tricorder in his hand, stuttering. "Sir. I'm taking readings. Of the Borg alcoves. For when we move them."

I storm into the room, my voice soft, dangerously so. "Really? When I spoke with Admiral Necheyev yesterday, I thought we agreed that the alcoves would be staying here for the foreseeable future. Are you telling me that I'm mistaken?"

"No, sir," he squeaks.

I can see that he's pale, shaking. Good. "What's your name, Ensign?"

"Brannigan, Ensign Kyle Brannigan, sir!" If there's anything I can't stand, it's being called 'sir' and not 'ma'am.' But there's no point in correcting him, because if this ensign has any survival instinct whatsoever he'll make damn sure he never crosses my path again.

"Ensign Brannigan, let me make myself perfectly clear." I march right up to him, push into his personal space. "No one," I say, wielding my harshest command voice with knife-like precision, making him flinch with each word, "and I mean NO ONE is to enter this Cargo Bay without direct authorization from me, is that understood?"

"Yes, sir!"

Brannigan is standing at attention, eyes steadfastly forward, and I lean into him, close enough to see the pores of his skin. "Now get the hell out of here," I purr.

He steps back from me, and -- I swear to God -- actually salutes before scurrying out of the room. Probably rushing off to tell all his friends how the mad Captain Janeway practically threw him out of the Cargo Bay so she could be alone with her Borg. Fine, let him tell the whole ship, the whole station even. I just don't give a damn. Even though I think I've successfully blocked Admiral Necheyev's bid to have the alcoves moved, I know they can't stay here indefinitely. Sooner or later Seven is going to want to leave Voyager, so until then I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I can to be right here.

With her.

I approach the bank of alcoves slowly, focusing on the lone occupied one, savoring this moment, drinking in the sight of her -- the rigid posture, the calm, peaceful expression, those full lips... A thought flits unbidden through the back of my mind: the image of my future self sitting on a bio-bed in Sickbay, the look that crossed the Admiral's face when she first saw Seven walk in. The unguarded longing, the intense yearning that was so transparently visible to everyone in the room. I should have known then that something was wrong, that something terrible must have happened to cause Admiral Janeway's mask to slip so completely.

I would never expose myself like that. Not in public. Only here, when I'm alone with her like this. Watching over Seven as she sleeps.

I stand beneath her like some foolish mortal staring at a perfect statue, and, not for the first time, I think that is exactly what she is. She is my creation, my Galatea. Smooth, white, cool as marble come to life. And just as unattainable. I made her, but I can never have her. The woman-child who haunts my dreams, fills my fantasies. I can never cross the invisible line that separates us, the Captain and her crew... the mentor and her student... the mother and her child. Because that is what it would be to me, as damnable as incest -- to take advantage of her innocence, her trust, to expose her to the longing, the mad obsession that consumes me. Even now, just as the rules are changing and some of those old barriers have begun to fall away, Seven is moving further out of my reach. I saw her with him tonight at the reception, and I understand that she is growing beyond me, growing away from me. As I always knew she would. She is my Galatea. But I can never be her Pygmalion. I can only be...

Her Captain.

Part 02