By Brianna Thomas

Rated PG

Disclaimer: Voyager is owned by Paramount. I own this story, but not the characters, sad to say. Reference to Jeri Taylor's Pathways, Pocket Books, 1998.
Summary: On the occasion of Admiral Owen Paris' retirement, from the pov of an alien waiter.
Inspired by Black Jaguar's utterly gorgeous, fantastic Hello Old Friend painterly fiddle. Thanks for letting me write this, Gilly.
My timeline. My universe, therefore C/7 NEVER HAPPENED!

The moment he walked in, I knew who he was, and what had brought him here tonight. Although he hadn't been seen recently, no one in the Federation could fail to recognize him after the saturation of news vids covering Voyager's return six months ago. If nothing else, the navy sweep of a tattoo over the left side of his brow was a certain give-away.

My filaments picked up the slight flutter that went through The Observation Deck as he crossed the bar to take a seat near the windows that overlooked the ballroom. I am not attracted to this species, but even I could tell this was a fine example of a Human male. He was tall, well-built, moved with smooth control, and although my species does not discern colors the same way that Humans do, I could see that the dark suit and light shirt flattered him well. It was no surprise to me that many eyes in the room followed him, although he seemed oblivious to it.

His aura floated in smooth undulations around him, portraying calm power like an evening ocean. It seemed fitting that he should choose the quiet tradition of a place like The Observation Deck. As I approached to take his order, he was scanning the crowd in the ballroom below, as though looking for someone. I could tell he did not find whomever he was searching for. "Would you care for something to drink, sir?" I inquired.

Looking up momentarily to answer me, he said quietly, "Jack Daniels on the rocks, please." His dark eyes returned to the scene below.

"Very good, sir." As I retreated back to the bar to fulfill the order, my filaments detected a rise in pheromone levels in the room. Males and females were present from several different species this evening, and at least half of them seemed riveted to the lone figure. My ear swirls picked up smatterings of conversation.

"I can't believe it's him! He's even more…"

"Heard he was off-planet. I suppose he's here for Paris' retirement."

"I wonder what he's like? What I wouldn't give to…"

It is equally an asset and a curse to possess the heightened senses of my Greckan heritage. At a very young age, we are trained to filter out the extraneous, and to hone in on what is pertinent. As a waiter, over the years my ability to maintain an impervious façade has allowed me to garner many interesting facts. The time that I overheard plans to bomb Starfleet Headquarters earned me an offer of employment from their security section, which I declined. Some people may consider it a waste of natural gifts, but on my world, I saw more than enough intrigue, deceit, and violence to last several lifetimes. I much prefer the innocuous gossip I more commonly hear.

I returned with his drink on a silver serving tray, placing the glass and the requisite drink napkin before him. He had loosened the old fashioned necktie and shirt collar, and I surmised he didn't often wear such formal garb. Although he appeared casually slouched in the leather chair, there remained an undercurrent of coiled intensity about the man. Presenting him the order PADD, I watched as he absently made his thumbprint. His focus was still on the ballroom on the lower level.

"Thank you, sir." I began my rounds of the tables, clearing glasses to the recycler, passing the sanitizer instrument over the surfaces. A few people exited, and the remaining patrons returned to their own concerns, only occasionally flicking glances in the direction of the solitary man relaxing with the whiskey in his hand.

Suddenly my filaments began to tingle wildly as the air became charged with surging tension. My ear swirls picked up the swish of garments against the carpet and I looked to the door as a graceful figure appeared.

At that moment, I knew the gentleman by the windows would not be leaving alone that night.

Of course I knew who she was, even though in her full-length ball gown and matching wrap, she looked very different from all the news vids where she had worn her old style uniform. Her dress flowed around her and glimmered despite the dim lighting of the bar. It was an elegant gown that so perfectly skated the line between enticing and demure, so perfectly draped her body, I knew it must have been designed specifically for her.

More importantly, the aura emanating from her pulsed strongly, more powerful than anything I've previously detected in a Human. I now understood how this petite female had succeeded in the daunting task of traversing almost 75,000 light years in just seven years.

She stood backlit in the doorway, scanning the room. A hushed silence descended as several patrons recognized her. Spying her quarry, she advanced, an almost predatorial expression on her face. For a Human female, she was certainly an outstanding specimen. I immediately refocused my hearing. Three of my eyes remained on my work, the other two kept the couple in sight - my usual tactic for allowing people to believe themselves unobserved.

"Hello, old friend."

Although his body language didn't change, the intensity that surrounded him coiled tighter. I could see his reflection in the window, the way his eyes lit up before he even turned to face her. When he looked up, his expression was one of poorly concealed delight.

"You're late. As usual." He was trying - unsuccessfully - to sound scolding.

"Nice to see you too, Chakotay. Mind if I sit? These shoes are killing my feet."

He waved his glass at the chair across from him, and she lowered herself with a sigh. They sat silently for a while, just grinning at each other.

His eyes flicked over her in open admiration. "Nice dress. It looks familiar; have I seen it before?"

I approached the table before the lady could reply. "Please excuse me. Anything for you to drink, ma'am?"

At her slight wince, I realized the rumors I'd heard in the past about her were true. Before I could apologize, she turned to me.

"Baileys on the rocks."

"Coming right up, Admiral." My correction earned me a delighted smile.

My years of tending bars have taught me that a person's choice of beverage says a lot about them. Both these Humans had ordered very ancient, traditional Terran drinks.

"What kept you, Kathryn? Did you deliberately time your arrival to miss the usual indigestible retirement dinner, with all the requisite lengthy, tedious speeches? I wouldn't blame you; I skipped dessert because I just couldn't face Starfleet's version of cheesecake. It's almost as bad as Neelix's." He gave a slight shudder.

She laughed lightly. "No, I wouldn't do that to Owen. It was unavoidable, so I've made my apologies to him, and of course he understood. After all, he's been an admiral for thirty-eight years." She hesitated. "I'd like to tell you about it, but…"

"I know. It's classified."

She smiled at him sadly. "I've missed having you around so much, Chakotay."

I placed her drink before her on the table, and noticed her eyeing my name badge. It is written in Greckan script, so it is rare that people are able to read it. She reached for the order PADD, but the gentleman took it instead.

"Let me get this, Kathryn."

She took a sip from the glass and nodded. "Thanks, Chakotay. And thank you, Shrnjeshgravjni."

My filaments stood straight up in shock. Not only had she read the script, she had pronounced my name perfectly, something that has not happened since I left my world. I bowed to her in the ancient Terran fashion. "It is my honor, my lady." She favored me with another of her smiles.

There was only one other table occupied now, the rest of the patrons either choosing to retire for the evening, or moving on to a livelier venue like The Great Dungeon in the bottom level of the building. I retreated once again behind the counter to my surreptitious observations, quietly reorganizing the perfectly ordered bar.

He looked into his glass. "I know I disappointed you when I turned down the captaincy of Voyager."

She waved her hand dismissively. "Yes, I was disappointed, but I understood. That was my dream, but you needed to follow your own calling."

I could tell he was surprised at her comprehension. He asked, "Who's going to captain Voyager now?"

"No one. She's being decommissioned and is in the process of being turned into a museum. She'll be parked right on the Presidio."

"What?" His aura spiked sharply as he frowned. "Why? There's still a lot of life in her."

She smiled wryly. "And that's why you were the only person I wanted to captain her. I knew you understood that she's so much more than just titanium and relay circuits."

His expression was dumbfounded. "Are you saying you're the one who recommended the decommissioning?"

"Yes. I'm overseeing Project Voyager." She leaned forward with urgency. "Think about it, Chakotay. She was our home, carrying us, sheltering us, protecting us. Across 75,000 light years of hostile space, she provided the means for friendships to form, people to grow, births, and deaths. How could anything else top that? I'd hate to see her become obsolete, slowly decay, and ultimately be turned into scrap metal. She deserves better than that."

The gentleman was quiet, looking out the windows again. "Not with a bang but a whimper."

I didn't recognize it, but surmised it was a Terran quote, because she leaned back in her chair and replied, "Exactly. And I think that popping out of a Borg sphere qualifies as a bang, don't you?"

He laughed. "Agreed. So her maiden voyage was also her final voyage. At least she didn't end up like the Titanic on her maiden voyage."

"That's exactly what Tom said, too."

I'm not sure if the sound he made was of disgust or amusement.

"Something in common with Tom Paris? Now there's a first."

She shook her head. "Not really. You both love B'Elanna, you as her friend, he as her husband. You both had difficult pasts to overcome, you were both misjudged over certain actions you took. And most importantly, you both tirelessly and courageously served Voyager and her crew."

"A lot of that had to do with Voyager's extraordinary captain," he replied quietly, his eyes locked with hers.

The air around them became charged, and I witnessed an amazing sight, something that occurs very rarely, most often with bonded partners. Although they physically didn't move, each aura stretched toward the other, the edges just touching, slightly overlapping. Then they looked away, and the edges separated. I wondered, how many times had that occurred over the seven years of their journey together? An awkwardness had descended, so I took the opportunity to approach.

"May I offer either of you any further beverage?"

"Black coffee." "Tea, please."

They both spoke at the same time, then laughed at each other.

He tossed back the last of his whiskey. "It's good to know some things don't change. It must be a relief to be back in the quadrant of endless real coffee. I hope someone warned the plantation owners in South America to lay down some extra crops."

"Would you believe I actually missed Neelix's version?" At his skeptical look, she added, "Okay, for about five minutes."

"I still remember the sick look on your face the morning he had you try four different concoctions."

Setting their cups before them, I inquired, "May I get you anything else, Admiral? Sir?"

"No thanks, Shrnjeshgravjni."

Again, my filaments straightened with astonishment. This time, it was the gentleman who perfectly pronounced my name. "I thank you, sir."

Down in the ballroom, the tables had been shifted, and the band was about to start. The Observation Deck had been designed to hear any music generated from the stage below. As the couple sipped their drinks, the music began, and the soaring strains of a clarinet were clearly heard.

"Lieutenant Kim is in exceptional form tonight," she murmured, watching through the windows.

"So, Kathryn, am I going to be attending your retirement in about thirty years from now?"

She looked back at him, shaking her head vehemently. "No way. I guarantee you I won't last that long."

"Would that be because of your counterpart?" he asked gently.

Ah, the rumors of a senior time-traveling Admiral Janeway were true. I studiously regarded the PADDs with the evening's tallies. Next, I would check the inventory - for the fourth time.

She shrugged. "Maybe a little, but not totally. Don't forget, we got back sixteen years before she did, so things are different." She took a sip from her cup. "Truthfully, being an admiral is about 40% tedium, 40% frustration, and 20% utter terror. You give orders to people that can cost lives on a huge scale."

He quickly looked around before leaning across the table to take her hand. There was no one else in the bar to possibly overhear, but he still spoke quietly. "Kathryn, there's no way you could have known Shinzon's real motives before you sent the Enterprise to Romulus."

Her eyebrows lifted. "I'm not even going to ask how you know about that. But I have to tell you, Chakotay, I thought it was bad with Voyager's crew being my responsibility; this is worse. Whole worlds can be affected by our decisions."

He nodded. "We've actually had a few Starfleet admirals show up on Trebus for an assessment."

"I heard about that, and I wanted to go myself, but I couldn't because of…the situation."

"I think it was good for them to see the results of their decisions firsthand." He took a gulp of his drink. "They were very quiet during the whole tour."

"How are things there?"

The light in his eyes dimmed along with his aura. His face was bleak. "About what you'd expect for a planet bombed with thermalite. On certain days, I could still smell it, even after all these years. The stench comes out of the ground when it rains. Despite the fact that I know things have improved a lot, I couldn't stop comparing the current desolation with the lushness that existed when I was growing up." He inhaled sharply and passed a hand over his face.

Greckans are not telepathic, but his pain sliced at me like a knife. I could see a sympathetic bright glimmer in the admiral's eyes. I'm not sure the couple even realized, but their hands were still clasped. They sat silently together, and this time, her aura reached toward his. After a few moments, she released his hand and sat back in her chair.

"Does that mean you're back permanently, or did you just come for Owen's retirement?"

"Semi-permanently. The counsel on Trebus felt I'd be more useful here as their liaison, using my contacts to negotiate for resources and equipment. I'll have to make occasional trips back as supplies become available."

"I'll help you any way I can, Chakotay." Her eyes twinkled at him. "It just so happens that I have a few contacts myself, you know."

He grinned. "I was hoping you would say that."

A couple of older admirals in dress uniforms entered the bar, and I hastened to them. The officers were looking for their wives so they could head home, and left once they'd looked around. I returned to my post, using the sanitizer on the immaculate counter. I kept one ear swirl pointed in the direction of the ex-Voyager's table. Some may consider my ability an invasion of privacy, but I prefer to think of it as information gathering.

"How did you manage to find me up here, Kathryn?"

She laughed. "I'd like to say it was a matter of logical deduction, but truthfully, a little bird told me."

"Let me guess," he responded dryly, "Paris."

"You're right, but not the Paris you think."

His eyes opened wide. "You asked Admiral Paris where I was?"

"Don't be so surprised about Owen. He's the proverbial, 'you can teach an old dog new tricks'. He feels that he was away so much while his children were growing up, he doesn't want to repeat that with his grandchildren. But, I didn't actually ask him where you were. He saw me looking around and said," her voice dropped gruffly, 'Unless I miss my guess, Katie, you'll find him upstairs in the O.D., probably looking for you.'"

Shaking his head, he laughed. "You always were a good mimic, Kathryn."

"Was he right?"

"Well, obviously, because I'm here."

"I meant about looking for me."

There was a weighted stillness to the air. Picking up his cup, he took a sip and grimaced at what was undoubtedly cold tea. He finally looked back at her. "Yes, he was right."

They sat quietly, smiling gently, knowingly, at each other, exactly the way their conversation began. Once again, their auras began to drift together, so I decided not to interrupt to offer a refresher to their beverages.

"Where are you staying, Chakotay?" she asked.

"My decision to attend this bash was a last minute one, and the final leg of the journey was delayed, so I arrived just as the dinner was starting." He made a face. "Wish I'd been a little later. But it meant that I didn't get a room booked. I suppose I can always ask-"

"You could stay with me."

A crisp, sharp-edged silence fell between them, the light musical strains from the ballroom sounding almost obnoxious in the tension.

My filaments were quivering, and I found myself holding my breath because the gentleman just stared at her. I was unable to read his expression, but I could tell she was becoming uneasy.

"It wouldn't be a bother. Really, I have plenty of room."

He stood up suddenly, and as the Earthers say, my heart sank. Her face was pale, and she spoke quickly, "It was just a suggestion. If you prefer, I'm sure Tom and B'E-"

"Dance with me."

His hand was extended to her, their eyes locked in an eternal moment. She shook off her wrap, placed her hand in his, and rose. Filaments finally relaxed, I exhaled a long sigh.

He began to lead her to the small section of uncarpeted floor, then stopped suddenly, staring intently. "Now I know why your dress is familiar. It's almost the same as that robe you wore into the Subu prison when you impersonated a noble woman, isn't it? You backhanded me across the face to imbed a Borg homing device to help us escape."

Rolling her eyes at him, she complained, "Figures you would remember that part. I did apologize, if you recall."

"Hey, that thing hurt like hell while it was erupting . But this dress…" He shook his head, clearly somewhat overwhelmed.

She lifted the skirt slightly and let it drop in a shimmer. "If I remember correctly, you offered me a month's worth of replicator rations if you could see me in it again. I should have taken you up on that while I had the chance, considering I was always short of coffee rations."

"Sorry I don't have anymore Voyager rations, but…" He'd begun to draw her into his arms for the dance, but stopped as his hand connected with her back. He turned her slowly, and I could see what had him breathing shallowly. "Kathryn, I hope you didn't pay very much for this dress because there's an awful lot of fabric missing."

While still elegant in its own way, there was nothing subtle about the back of the gown. She was totally bare from neck to waist, a long shapely expanse of pale skin.

From my studies of Humans, I'd say her expression as she looked over her shoulder was coquettish. "Do you like it? I had the Doctor design it."

He was still staring, eyes wide. It took him a few seconds to find his voice. "Our EMH designed it? How the heck did you navigate the ballroom without getting assaulted in this dress?"

"Nobody but you, the Doctor, and our waiter has seen the back of it, Chakotay." I would never have believed it possible from this powerful woman, but she sounded almost - what is the word? Shy, I believe that is it.

His eyes snapped up to hers. "You wore this for me?"

She turned to face him, placing her left hand on his shoulder, holding out her right hand in Terran dance position. "Partly."

He glanced over her shoulder. "Which part? The front or the back?"

With her free hand, she cupped his cheek. She was laughing, yet her words were almost a sob. "You and your wacky sense of humor. I have missed you so much, Chakotay."

"Shh, Kathryn, I'm here now." He cradled her close to him, and pressed a kiss to her temple. "How long would that invitation be open to stay at your place?"

"As long as you like."

"I'm a bit of a nester, you know; remember New Earth? Once I move in somewhere I don't like leaving. You may regret this."

She rested her head against his chest. "I doubt that, but I like taking risks."

They danced slowly, feet barely moving to the music. I slipped from behind the counter and silently removed their cups to the recycler.



"How long have you been planning to seduce me tonight?"

"Ever since Owen announced his retirement. I knew you would come." She lifted her head to check his reaction.

Drawing back slightly, he looked at her quizzically. "How could you know I was coming when I didn't make my decision until the last minute?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, but I knew it all the same. Is it working?"

"Your seduction?" His expression became similar to the one she'd had when she first arrived at The Observation Deck. From the reflection in the window, I could see his hand slowly skim down, down her back, and I heard her soft gasp. He brushed her lips with a light kiss. "Sweetheart, you never even needed to try."

Sliding along the far wall, I moved to the entrance and activated the closed sign, then eased myself into a chair by the door. One last look at the couple showed their auras totally merged, creating a perfect, shining circle around them that undulated like gentle waves on a beach. I closed all my eyes, re-attuned my ear swirls so their voices became a muted murmur, and focused on the sounds of the music, the scrape of their shoes on the floor, and the soft, gentle swish of her gown.

The End

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