Copyright September 2001
"Joey! For feck's sake leave the dog alone. You'll be late for school." The unspoken 'again' hung in the air. Sarah Carey, widow of Voyager's late engineer, Joe Carey, sighed and pushed her messy mouse-brown hair out of her eyes. Joey would be late, making Hunter late, and in turn she would be late for work. Again.
The small apartment was a mess, but then it always was. Joey's PADDs for school were scattered all over the couch, she could see one of them disappearing down the back of the cushions and knew that in a few minutes - if Joey EVER left the poor fecking dog alone - that the missing PADD would cause a major crisis. Hunter's boots were missing as well, but quiet Hunter was still wandering around gathering Joey's things for him while Joey tormented poor Bran Og, the dog. Sarah was still in her dressing gown, trying to get some food into the boys before they left and trying to gather her own PADDs for work at the same time. She turned her back on the stove for a minute as she put out the dishes for breakfast and the oatmeal, thick and gelatinous, promptly stuck to the bottom of the pot and burned. She rushed to scrape it off but Joey's cry stopped her in her tracks.
"Mam, Bran Og's been sick again..."
She turned the heat off, leaving the oatmeal to congeal on the bottom and went to fix up the mess. The dog was young, barely past puppy stage, and excitable. Joey's teasing often had this effect. She had bought the dog for the boys the day after they heard that Joe, her darling Joe, had been killed. Executed no less. Joe, her lover, her husband, her comforter, her supporter, the father of her kids... No, she wouldn't go there now. Resolutely, Sarah turned to the mess on the floor.
Poor Bran Og was cowering, tail between his legs. The puppy puke was spread from one end of the rug to the other. Bare floors in the entire apartment and each time the fecking dog managed to throw up on the only rug. She wiped it up and reassured Bran Og. It wasn't his fault that Joey was such a little bastard.
Joey, now that tormenting the dog had achieved the desired result, was tearing through the apartment looking for his school bag. His sandy hair stuck up in tufts and his face was belligerent.
"Where's my PADD? And the oatmeal's burnt again. I hate oatmeal anyway. Why can't we just replicate breakfast like other families? Why d'you have to cook muck?" His little fists were balled on his hips and the posture was so like his father that she had to swallow hard against the sudden thickening in her throat.
"You know why, Joey. It saves credits if I cook." She strove to keep her voice calm as she repeated the words she spoke to him every morning. Saving credits, the eternal battle. The state provided their basic foodstuffs for free, as it did for everyone, but most normal people used their credits to replicate more palatable food. That was not an option for her.
Joey spooned burnt oatmeal into a bowl and picked at it grumpily. "I hate this stuff."
"Just eat yer fecking food, Joey, and stop whining." Her voice was sharper than she intended.
"Can I have some extra credits today?" Hunter had entered on silent feet and stood towering over her. Thirteen years old and he was already nearly six feet tall.
"Cam and I want to play the new Captain Proton adventure - it's been released on the public holodeck downtown."
Captain Proton. Another Voyager legacy. The dodgy black and white holodeck programs had been released to the public a few months ago and their popularity was booming. It seemed that every kid in town wanted to play at being Captain Proton and Buster Kincaid.
"No, I'm sorry, Hunter. We don't have the credits." She hated refusing him; he asked for so little but what she said was the truth.
"Please, Mam? It's only five credits."
She gave him a fierce hug, her undemanding first-born. "I'm sorry, Hunter.."
"Okay." As he always did, he accepted her decision. He had inherited Joe's stoicism and way of accepting that which cannot be changed. Joey, the passionate and erratic had inherited Joe's stubbornness and flashes of brilliance.
A beep broke the temporary silence. Joey jumped up and the oatmeal bowl went flying, splattering its viscous contents all over the chair and floor.
"It's Starfleet!" Joey rushed over to the console in the corner of the room.
Even covered with Hunter's coat, plates of congealed food and a pile of laundry, the console stood out in the room like dog's balls. It was modern; the Starfleet insignia on its screen proclaimed its origins. Starfleet had installed it in the apartment when the pathfinder project established near-instantaneous communication with Voyager. Each waiting family had been given one. Sarah hated it. She and the boys had only used it once before Joe was killed, and now it sat as a constant reminder of all they had lost. She kept it though, as it also permitted local communications and it was more reliable than her own older one.
A message from Starfleet. She wondered why they didn't just leave her alone. The room was silent, except for the sound of Bran Og lapping up the spilt oatmeal.
"Leave it, Joey. The message can wait. You have to get to school." She crossed to the console and knocked his hand away when it seemed he would disobey her and open the channel anyway.
She rose, gathering bowls and clothes. "Come on now. Both of you. You haven't got all day, get yer fecking arses in gear." She clapped her hands, shoeing the boys from the room. They disappeared and then reappeared in record time, more or less in one piece. Joey's boots were trodden down at the heel where he had shoved his feet into them. They were probably too small. New boots. More credits she simply didn't have.
She kissed both boys, watching them squirm away at the display of affection, then they fled out the door to catch the transport to school. She saw the chronometer and hurried to get herself ready. She would be late too. Again. That would make it every day this week.
A scant five minutes later she left the apartment. She had left the dishes, hadn't even taken the time to put them in the recycler and once again she hadn't fed Bran Og. No doubt he would have licked the dishes clean by the time they returned.
As she walked to the transit she kept a wary eye out around her. They lived in a rundown area of Los Angeles and the risk of petty crime was an accepted part of life. She averted her eyes from the child selling Bajoran Flight - the latest in a long line of addictive mind-altering substances to hit the streets. Once more she prayed to the god that she no longer believed in, to keep her children safe from its seductive clutches. She would sacrifice almost anything to move from here, but the state-supplied apartment was all she could afford. Like basic foodstuffs, simple housing was an assured right. But anyone who wanted to live in an area of their choosing had to make up the difference from their own credits. Once, seven years ago, she and the kids had lived somewhere nice. She and Joe had deemed housing a priority and had used nearly a third of their available credits to live in a safer area. Somewhere where there were trees and parkland, swingsets in fenced backyards and white-shuttered houses. Suburbia. Safe and secure. Seven years ago and Joe was alive, the kids were darling babbies and life was full of promise, something to be savored, not simply endured.
She boarded the transit that would take her to her downtown job, where she worked cloistered in the basement of a large computer company, writing the complex manuals for the systems. Manuals that were never read by the users, who simply preferred to muddle through and then scream into the datalink for assistance. She wondered why she bothered, but there were few options for someone with her lack of formal qualifications, and at least it generated more credits than other work.
Above her, unseen, Voyager maintained its standing orbit. Sarah didn't glance up. The less she acknowledged that doom ship the better. The last thing she wanted was a permanent reminder of all the trouble and pain it had caused her.
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Sarah keyed in the code to let herself back into the apartment three hours later. The chaos of the room mocked her, but Bran Og was pleased by her unexpected arrival. With a guilty start, she remembered she hadn't fed him.
She crossed to the replicator and paused. Heaven knows, she shouldn't waste credits, but she needed this. It wasn't every day that she was fired.
"Computer, one large glass of Irish whisky, with ice."
She crossed to the table and sat, cradling the glass. "Sláinte," she said ironically to Bran Og and drained the glass in one gulp. The whisky burned as it went down, mixing with the bile and acid of her own despair.
She had no job. She was fired for being tardy. Again. She knew she didn't have a leg to stand on; they had warned her countless times already and cut her a lot of slack just after Joe was reported dead.
She rested her head on her folded arms for a moment. She was just so tired. So bone-deep weary. And now, on top of everything else, she had just lost the major source of credits. She was down to Starfleet's widow's pension now, but that wouldn't even cover the repayments on the credit financing she had taken out years before.
She pulled a PADD towards her and started calculating. Credits had been tight for the last five years. When Voyager disappeared, initially she was believed to be lost in the Badlands. Starfleet had kept in close contact with her for the first few weeks, but as the time stretched into months she heard from them less and less. She refused to let the matter drop. Others might be willing to forget about Janeway and her crew, but Sarah was not. Joe, her beloved Joe was on board, and she wasn't about to call him 'missing in action' and get on with her life. She rang Starfleet daily, but as time progressed, fewer people responded to her pleas and demands. Eventually her calls went unanswered.
On the day that Voyager was declared officially missing, Joe's salary, which had been paid into their joint credit account, was replaced with the smaller widow's pension. On that day, she came home from lobbying fruitlessly outside of Admiral Paris' office and told the kids that she didn't believe that Joe was lost. Together, they would continue to search for him.
She gathered together all the credits she could lay her hands on. All of their accrued credits and the small inheritance her father had left her. It wasn't enough, so she sold jewelry and the few decent paintings she had. The fancy hover-car was replaced with a smaller model. Still it fell short of what she needed, so she moved herself and the kids into a smaller apartment in the same neighborhood.
She had enough credits to hire an investigator and send him out on an Andorian freighter bound for the Badlands. There he connected with the underground movement of the Maquis, and ascertained by discreet questioning that they didn't have anything to do with Voyager's disappearance, and in fact had lost one of their own ships, the Liberty, at the same time.
The investigator was following a promising lead from the Ferengi when the credits ran out. He sent her a message outlining his findings. If she wanted him to pursue the lead, she had to transfer ten thousand more credits. She didn't have them, but she went to one of the black-market barterers and arranged a loan. Such transactions were illegal; the state preferred to believe that there was no need for such a system. The state provided basic food, housing and healthcare; any more was superfluous. State housing; she grimaced. Their final move had been into state supplied housing, in this run down neighborhood.
The investigator took the credits and disappeared with the Ferengi, but the lead petered out. Two weeks later, he reappeared with another lead, again with the Maquis, and this time he needed fifteen thousand. Two months later, she was one hundred and ten thousand credits in debt and she had no concrete evidence about what had happened to Voyager. She recalled the investigator; she had no choice, even the underground financier had pulled the plug and was refusing her business. She took employment, and all the credits generated from her salary went into repaying the loan. Defaulting on the loan was not an option. Once she had been a few days late with her repayment and she had received a phone call. An anonymous voice had asked her if she knew where her kids were. Really knew. And suggested that she hurry up with her repayment if she didn't want to worry about them.
Sarah calculated. She had enough credits to make the next repayment. She hoped she would find employment that would cover the repayment for the month after that. She would have to; there was no one she was prepared to ask for help. Her parents were dead and although Joe's parents had contributed what they could, they weren't in a position to offer much. She wouldn't ask them anyway. She was far more able- bodied than they were; she could earn her own money.
She crossed to the console thinking that she would access the position open advertisements on the public channels, but the blinking message light caught her attention. Starfleet. What the feck did they want? She hadn't heard from them since she had refused the grief counseling they offered following Joe's death.
She activated the message. The familiar haughty face of Captain Janeway - now Admiral Janeway - appeared on the screen. Sarah studied the screen. The Admiral appeared more relaxed than she had when she first returned to Earth. She had put on a little weight and the planes of her face were softer.
"Good morning Mrs. Carey. I am Kathryn Janeway, formerly Captain of Voyager."
Sarah's mouth twisted. Did the woman really believe that she didn't know who she was? Still, she supposed that that was better than arrogantly assuming that the world knew her identity, even if they probably did.
"I was wondering if it would be all right if I came to visit you at some time in the near future... What's that?" Janeway's voice trailed off and she appeared to be talking to someone in the background. Then Janeway resumed looking at the screen, "Sorry about that. If Commander Chakotay and I could come and pay you a visit." Janeway's face was mellow and she looked happy. "You can reach me via Starfleet at any time. I'm looking forward to meeting you, Mrs. Carey. Joe was a valued and much loved member of my crew. I wish..." Janeway looked wistful for a moment then collected herself. "I hope to talk to you soon." The message ended.
Sarah stared at the console. Admiral Janeway, the last person on Earth she wanted to meet. Janeway, who was indirectly responsible for her predicament now. She didn't reply to the message.
On a whim she replayed the last message she had received from one of the Voyager crew. The Doctor's stern face appeared on the screen. Dr. Joseph Carey Zimmerman, Sarah reminded herself, not simply 'The Doctor' anymore. The message was now nearly five months old and she had yet to reply. The newly dubbed Dr. Zimmerman explained to her why he had chosen his name. He wished to honor the last Voyager crewman to fall in the line of duty as well as his creator. He apologized for not asking for her approval beforehand, but the circumstances surrounding his trial had made this impossible. He ended by saying that he hoped his choice of name ensured that Joe Carey's name lived on and was not forgotten.
Sarah's mouth twisted wryly; the Doctor either didn't know or had forgotten that there was already a Joseph Carey Junior - her son Joey. But the man - hologram, she amended to herself - meant well. She recorded a brief message to him, assuring him that she understood his choice of name and that he had her blessing for what it was worth. She ended by congratulating him on the outcome of his trial and then, acting on an impulse she didn't stop to analyze, she invited him to come and visit herself, Hunter and his other namesake, Joey, sometime.
She sent the message. Voyager and her crew it seemed, were going to be a part of their lives whether they wanted them to be or not. She childishly stuck her tongue out in the general direction of the ship herself, orbiting above.
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The boys took the news that she didn't have employment stoically. Hunter never mentioned the Captain Proton program, Joey hugged her in a rare physical burst of affection.
"Don't worry, Mam, " he said. "You'll get better work soon. Maybe Admiral Janeway will get you a job."
Joey hero-worshipped the great Janeway. She hadn't dissuaded him; she thought it made him feel closer to his father.
She spent the days scouring the employment openings. There was plenty that she could do, but she needed something that provided at least the level of credit allocation that she had received before. Each day, when the boys had left for school, she made a half-hearted attempt to restore order to chaos in the small apartment, and then she would sit down with a cup of tea and check the day's opening.
Three days into her unemployment, she had just sat down at the console, when the door chime rang. She opened the door to find a familiar dark, curly head outside.
"Michael," she squealed, "oh god, it's good to see you." She flung her arms around her friend, hugging him tightly. "Come in. Cup of tea?"
"Thanks." Michael Ayala threw down his jacket, and tipped Bran Og off the couch with the ease of a welcome friend. He settled himself into the worn couch, putting down the bag he carried. "I never knew why you gave this dog such a ridiculous name." He scratched the droopy-eyed Bran Og between the ears.
"Hunter named him," Sarah called from the kitchen area. "It's from Irish folklore. Bran Og was Oisin's hound."
"Ah, I see." Michael fended the dog off when he tried to jump into his lap.
"How are Sonia and the boys?" Sarah enjoyed the company of Michael's wife and his boys, Ivan and Gus.
"They're fine. Sonia wants you all to come up for dinner again sometime. We all really enjoyed the last time."
"Ah, it's a bit hard getting to San Francisco right now." Sarah busied herself with the tea. "The credits for the transport, you know."
"Yes, I understand." Michael didn't press the issue.
"Here," she handed him the mug of tea. "I'm sorry I have no cookies. I can't even offer to replicate you some." She passed a tired hand over her forehead, brushing back the mousy strands of hair.
"It's all right. I know what happened." Michael cut off her explanation. "I called you at work. They said you didn't work there any more."
"Yeah. They sacked me, finally." She gave a short laugh. "Guess I'm lucky I lasted as long as I did."
"Ah, Sarah, you're an asset to anyone. Person or company. Here." He rummaged in the bag at his feet. "I stopped by the Statestore, I've got cookies." He pulled out a packet and opened it, passing them over to her.
"Thanks." She chewed absently.
"Any luck finding employment?" Michael asked the question cautiously. Sarah could be prickly when she thought someone was being too nice to her.
"Not yet. But I will. I have to."
"You will. I have every faith in you." Swiftly he pulled her into his side for a quick hug. "But Sarah, if you haven't by the time the next repayment is due, I want you to promise you'll come and ask me, I'm..."
"No." She cut him off unequivocally. "I don't ask for charity, Michael. I'll manage."
"I know you'll manage, Sarah, but I want you to do more than manage. Please. Let a friend help you if you need it. Let me do this for Joe."
She hesitated, but looking in his face she saw nothing but the genuine desire to help a friend. The humiliating pity that she sometimes saw on well-meaning people's face was absent. From the start Michael had been there for her.
"All right," she said finally. "If I really have no other options, then I'll take you up on the offer."
"Good," he said simply. "Now, suppose I cook us some lunch and I'll tell you my news."
She settled into the couch, sipping her tea and watched him bustle around the small kitchen, pulling food out of the bag he had brought. Dear Michael, he had almost certainly brought the food especially for her. She thought back to when he had first appeared in her life.
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Voyager had been back for nearly four months. She and the boys were watching the newscast, curled up together on the couch like a pile of puppies. The real puppy, Bran Og, was panting at Hunter's feet. The newscast was talking about the release of more of the former Maquis members of Voyager's crew. The newscast showed some of them filing out of Starfleet Command earlier in the day. She watched their jubilant faces as they finally walked out, free men and women. She thought that she caught a glimpse of Joe's friend, Michael Ayala, but she couldn't be sure.
The door chime rang and Hunter uncurled himself long enough to answer the door. Sarah looked up to see him lead a dark-haired man into the room. He was dressed in civvies, but she recognized his smiling good looks from the screen. He carried a large box carefully in both arms.
"Mr. Ayala?" She asked the question to be polite.
"Yes, Mrs. Carey. I'm Michael Ayala. I hope you don't mind me dropping in unannounced, I would have called ahead, but I was in the area so I thought I would just come around. I can come back later, if this isn't convenient. I don't know if you know, but I was a good friend of Joe's."
"Yes." His words brought a fresh wave of grief and she hugged herself tightly. "Joe spoke of you in his letters and mentioned you on the datastream. He thought highly of you."
"He was my friend," the man said simply. "He helped me out many times. He was a very good bloke."
He put down his parcel carefully. "I know Starfleet gave you his possessions, but they didn't give you this, simply because I had it in my quarters and they assumed it was mine."
He opened the box and pulled out a large glass bottle. Inside was a scale replica of Voyager, perfectly constructed inside the narrow-necked glass bottle. "He was making this for Hunter and Joey. He had nearly finished, when..."
"He was killed," Sarah finished quietly. She noticed Hunter and Joey staring wide-eyed at the visitor.
"He only had to finish the port nacelle." Joey solemnly looked up into Michael's face.
"I know. Maybe you and Hunter would like to finish it for him." Michael was very serious with the child. "I think your dad would like that."
Hunter came over and put his face to the glass. "I'll finish it."
"No, I will!" Joey clenched his fists menacingly. "Why d'you get to do it?"
"I'm older. You'll only mess it up."
"Won't. You'll do it too slowly, it won't be any fun."
Sarah stepped between them. "Be quiet the pair of you. You'll do it together or not at all. Now take it to your room. Carefully" She hoped they wouldn't smash it as they fought over who would carry it. "Fecking eejits, the pair of them," she added to Michael.
He stood looking after them with a twisted smile on his face. "They are good lads," he said. "Joey looks like Joe."
"Yes," her voice was unsteady, "and Hunter takes after me." She cleared her throat. "I want to thank you for your letter," she said. "Yours and the one from the rest of the crew. But yours in particular made me feel I was listening to someone who really knew my husband."
"Thank you," he said quietly. "For letting me continue to write to you. It helped me accept what happened. I hope it helped you too, just a little."
Suddenly it overwhelmed her and she choked, turning her head away from Michael. Tears threatened as they had so often over the past few months. She drew deep breaths willing them to pass. Two arms wrapped around her shoulders and Michael turned her, bringing her head to his shoulder.
"You can cry, Sarah," he said. "It's allowed."
His gentle sympathy was the final straw, and she clutched him and cried, letting the tears flow freely, soaking his shirt. When her sobs finally faded to hiccups and gasps for breath, she lifted her head and stepped away from him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."
"Don't be ashamed to cry, Sarah. I certainly cried enough for Joe too."
"Did you?" She tried to imagine this man crying for her husband and found the picture came easily.
"Yes. When my mother died nine years ago, I found I could only let go in the shower. I had to be strong for my brothers and sisters, so I never cried in front of them. I would go into the shower and when the water started to pour over my head, the tears would come too. When I turned the shower off they stopped. I did the same with Joe." He shrugged self depreciatingly. "But it isn't the same in a sonic shower, which was all we had on Voyager."
She smiled and wiped her face with her sleeve. "I can imagine. But, thank you for sharing that." She hesitated, then rushed on, before she could change her mind. "That is the first time that... that I've cried for Joe. I couldn't let myself. There was too much I had to do, and I had to be there for the kids."
"We all need to cry. Until we acknowledge our grief, we can't begin to heal."
"Whose shoulder did you cry on?"
"Sam Wildman's. Once on Chakotay's."
"Sam and I have become friends," said Sarah, deliberately ignoring the reference to Chakotay. "She's a lovely person. She and Naomi have been visiting us here."
A noise from the other room reminded her of the kids. "I don't want them to see me like this." She hurried over to the sink and started splashing water on her red eyes. "Can you stop the little gobshites coming out here for a minute?"
"Sure." Michael disappeared towards the boy's voices.
She heard him talking to them, admiring the spaceship in a bottle and telling them how much patience it took to build something like that. When he reappeared with the boys in tow, she was composed again. He smiled and said that he was taking them all out to dinner, his treat, as he was so delighted to finally meet his best friend's family.
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Sarah recalled herself to the present as Michael put down a steaming plate in front of her. The bacon and cheese omelet and crispy hash browns made her mouth water. She reached for the pepper sauce. "How did you know I haven't had breakfast?"
"Lucky guess." He sat down next to her and tucked into his own plateful. "Want to hear my news?"
"I've decided to stay in Starfleet. They were patient with me while I considered my options. Sonia didn't want me going off into deep space again, so I didn't accept their offer immediately, but now I've been offered a position on the Cosmos. She's a small scout ship and operates close to Earth, so I'll be home frequently to see Sonia and the kids. No more deep space for me!"
"That's great, Michael. Sonia must be pleased to have you around."
"She is. But I won't be taking the position until after Voyager's dedication as a museum. So I will have plenty of time to get to spend with my family."
He smiled. "Admiral Janeway left me a message congratulating me."
"She left me one too." Sarah couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice. "Finally, she decides she wants to come around and visit me."
"When is she coming?" Michael asked curiously.
"She's not. I didn't reply to the message."
"Ah, I see." Michael put down his mug of tea and turned to face her. "You should meet her, Sarah. She's a generous and kind-hearted woman underneath the captain's mask. And I heard she was pretty cut up when Joe was killed. She blamed herself somehow for not saving him. Later, too, when we made it back home, she blamed herself again."
"Bully for her." Sarah's face was set in lines of stone.
"If not for you, Sarah, consider it for Hunter and Joey." He hesitated slightly before plunging on. "If you don't mind me saying so, I think all three of you need some sort of closure for Joe's death. "
"I'll think about it. Is that good enough? Please don't push me, Mike."
"It's a start. You never know, Sarah. I think you'll like her."
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Kathryn came slowly awake to the feel of a large hand stroking over her ribcage to cup a breast. She lay still, feigning sleep and let Chakotay's fingers tease her breast. His warm breath was erratic on the back of her neck, telling her he was very definitely awake and wanted to play.
She could feel the hard ridge of his erection pressing into her buttocks. His hips undulated slightly, pressing himself more firmly against her and his fingers circled around her breast, focussing with creeping slowness on her nipple. She tried to maintain the illusion of sleep, but his fingers gently pinched her nipple and she let out an involuntary breathy gasp.
Knowing she was awake, he redoubled his efforts, suckling on the back of her neck as he spooned himself around her. Her bottom tucked snugly into his groin and his hand left her breast to meander over her stomach to the clutch of hair between her legs. She raised one leg slightly and let his finger circle lightly over her center. She was slickly wet from their lovemaking the night before - she loved the sticky feel of his seed inside her and the mess and sheen of it on her thighs.
He shifted, and she felt the head of his penis drag down over her buttocks to nudge between her thighs for a moment. Subtly, she arched her back, giving him easier access, and in one smooth movement he slid inside her. She moaned a little, feeling herself dilate around his welcome thickness.
"Good morning," he whispered into her hair.
He didn't move, just let his rigid length remain in her moist heat, while he teased between her legs with his fingers, rubbing lightly.
"Hello." She arched up and let him kiss the side of her neck. "Your wake-up call is better than the computer's ever was." She moved herself slightly on his shaft, feeling him stir within her.
He thrust gently a couple of times and she gasped slightly as he stretched her tender tissues. Her body had readjusting fast to lovemaking after such a long period of celibacy, but Chakotay was a fierce and energetic lover.
"Sore?" He whispered into her hair.
"A little. But don't stop." She moaned slightly as his fingers teased between her legs again and she felt her body's rush of moisture.
She closed her eyes, concentrating on the sensations he skillfully built, until she was gasping and pushing herself against his hand, the tremors of her orgasm quaking through her, her inner muscles contracting hard around him.
He started to move within her, gently at first, letting her sighs of pleasure guide him. She reached around behind him to grasp his hip, to pull him closer and harder to her, and he moved, rolling her over onto her stomach with one fluid motion. His weight lay on top of her, she could feel his damp skin clinging to her, the press of him deep within her as he adjusted his position. He started to move faster, building in momentum until he was pounding forcefully into her, his strokes sure and rhythmic.
She knew the moment that he came, his thrusts faltered then he pushed hard a final time, his weight heavy as he emptied himself into her.
"Oh god, Kathryn," he whispered into her hair, "I love you."
He moved away and she rolled over onto her back and pulled his head down to her breasts. She cradled the dear, dark head, seeing his flushed cheeks, watching his lips murmur incoherent words of love against her skin. His solid leg rose to lie across her thighs, his damp member resting snugly against her hip. He smelt of yeast and musk, sex and sweat.
"We need a shower," she whispered lazily.
"Not yet," he said, "Lying her with you like this is a gift to be treasured. I don't want to move yet." He rolled over, taking her with him so that she sprawled over him.
So she lay with her lover, letting him cradle her on his chest, their bodies spiraling down from the plateau of their desires. Their limbs were entwined, cream on gold, dappled with the morning sunlight washing through the room.
She turned her head and pressed a kiss to his chest, salty and warm. "I love you. I still can't believe that this has happened. That we are together."
His laughter rumbled through his chest. "I know. After all we went through, Kathryn, to have you here, with me, in our bed… Well, I had given up hope of it ever happening."
"I know. I'm sorry. I wish…"
He cut her off with a finger to her lips, then pulled her over his chest to kiss her once more. "Kathryn, don't be sorry. It wasn't our time before. Maybe we would have tried and failed, the pressures of our position may have driven a wedge between us. Don't waste time in regrets. Just enjoy what we have now."
She laid her head back down on his chest. He combed his fingers through the burnished carpet of her hair, spreading it over his chest so that he could admire the sheen of it against his skin.
"Know one thing though, Kathryn. We won't separate now. Not ever."
"No. We won't. We'll grow old together."
"Wrinkled and gray."
"Flabby and age-speckled."
"Fading sight and hard of hearing. We'll be two crotchety oldtimers together in a corner." He wove his fingers with hers. "But we'll be together. And we'll still love each other."
"Yes," she sighed, "we will." She held him close, tightly. Binding him to her and her to him, for as long as forever. The sun climbed higher in the sky, unnoticed by both of them, as they reaffirmed their vows to each other in the oldest way known to man weaving their bodies and spirits together so that they truly didn't know where one ended and the other began.
Later, Kathryn sighed, a soft breath, fanning over his warm skin.
"What are you thinking about?" Chakotay asked the question idly.
"Sarah Carey. She never answered my call."
His hands traced patterns on her skin. "Give her time, Kathryn. It must be hard for her."
"She's had nearly ten months. Maybe she's annoyed I haven't called her before this. She may have heard that we visited the families of other crewmen who didn't make it home. Maybe she feels ignored, or slighted. Maybe she's heard about Admiral Janeway. It wouldn't be too hard to find out. Maybe she's wondering why the Admiral didn't come back a few scant weeks earlier and prevent Joe being killed." Kathryn's eyes were haunted. "I know I wondered."
"That's why you can't face her, isn't it? You feel guilty that your future self couldn't help Joe."
"Yes, it is. Oh, the Admiral gave me an explanation. She didn't mention Joe specifically, but I think she knew. A miscalculation. She meant to arrive nearly a month before. Before Joe was killed. Before you and Seven became close."
Chakotay winced slightly at the implication behind the words. Even then the future Kathryn was trying to prevent pain to those she loved. Trying to spare Seven the humiliation of a broken relationship. Trying to save him the necessity of choosing between them. And trying to save Joe.
"So what do I tell Sarah, when she asks me why my future self didn't save her husband?"
"The truth, Kathryn. Tell her the story as it should be told. She will appreciate that. I hear from Ayala that she is a very forthright woman. Tell you what, if we haven't heard from her by next week, we'll pay her a visit. Maybe it will work out better if we just appear."
"Yes." She laid her head back down. "When did you learn to be so wise?"
"You taught me wisdom, Kathryn, just as you gave me peace and brought me love."
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Sarah was home when the second message from Starfleet came in. The console played the message automatically as she was logged in. A young Bajoran woman with lieutenant's pips relayed the message to her that a date had been finalized for Voyager's dedication ceremony. Voyager would be landed on the pad that would be her final resting-place in six weeks time. All the crew would be on board, the young woman said, and families and friends of the crew would have special reserved seating on the ground to watch the landing. There would be a telecast from the ship, so that they could see inside and watch the crew as she made her final landing.
She had six tickets allocated to her. The young woman asked that she get back to her with names as soon as possible.
Sarah stared at the screen. "You can keep yer fecking tickets," she said. "I won't be going."
"Ma'am?" The lieutenant appeared to doubt what she had heard.
"You heard me. I won't be going."
"Well ma'am, if you could let me know, when you are ready, the names of the people who will be using your tickets. Your children…"
"They won't be going either." Sarah's mouth twisted into a sour line. "Starfleet has done nothing for me. I don't want to celebrate the hoopla with them."
She could see the young lieutenant's mouth form an O of astonishment as she closed the channel. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Starfleet, she thought savagely.
"Mam?" Hunter's timid voice brought her back. "Mam, I would like to go."
"And me. Please. We could go with Mike." Joey crept up and rested his head on her lap, something he hadn't done since the awful night when they learned that Joe had been executed.
"Mike will be on board," said Sarah.
"Well, we could go with Sonia, Gus and Ivan. Please? I want to go. For Dad."
"Yes, for Dad." Hunter's voice held the crack of adolescence, and he looked her in the eye, daring her to tell him no. So like Joe.
Did she really have the right to deny them this? Sarah didn't know. She felt she didn't know much about anything any more. She had thought the kids wouldn't care, just as she didn't. "I'll think about it," she said finally.
"I promise. And if we go, we go together as a family."
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
The day before her next repayment was due, Sarah received a communication. The financier's face stared impassively out at her. "Miz Carey, I heard about your unfortunate piece of luck. No job, so I hear. Isn't that a shame?"
She stared with dry mouth at the screen, wishing he would hurry up and get to the point. She no more believed that he had called to offer her sympathy than she believed that Bran Og was Lassie the wonder dog.
"I'm sure the idea of defaulting on your repayments hasn't even entered your head," the man was saying in an odious smooth tone, "because I'm sure you know that if the repayment isn't received by tomorrow one of your boys could be very, very late home from school."
The channel went dead. She had the credits for this repayment, but she would have to find employment that paid sufficiently well to make the next payment. She was thankful that the message had come through when the kids were in their room.
The fecking dinner was burnt again. She crossed quickly to the stove - this time it was beyond saving. She dumped it in Bran Og's bowl and watched him lash into it. At least someone appreciated her cooking.
Hunter and Joey came out of their room, sniffing the air.
"Burnt the dinner again, Mam?" Joey was already rooting around in the cupboard, looking for something to eat. "I'll eat those cookies that Michael left instead."
Suddenly furious with him, she grabbed his arm. "You will do nothing of the sort you fecking gobshite. Put them back."
Joey stared at her sullenly and defiantly crammed three cookies into his mouth at once. "Shan't. Gonna make me?" Crumbs sprayed over the messy kitchen counter.
She grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the cupboard. The cookies dropped on the floor, to Bran Og's delight, but none of them noticed. Joey looked scared for a moment, then rallied. "Bully," he screamed, "pick on someone your own size."
"You ungrateful little bastard." The words were shrill in the quiet apartment. "Get out of my sight before I do something I will regret." Her hand raised and hovered in the air, then she grabbed his shirt and turned him fiercely around, paddling his bottom with sharp strokes. "Get out of here."
Joey was white, "I will, and I won't be back. You'll be sorry."
She saw Hunter grab Joey's coat. "Joey, wait…"
Joey turned around at the door and she saw that tears were streaming down his face. "I hate you," he shouted. "You wouldn't do this if Dad was alive." Stamping a foot he ran back and grabbed his coat from Hunter. He whirled around, ready to leave and the coat trailed out behind him.
Sarah saw it in slow motion. Joey's tearstained angry face; Hunter shocked and silent. She saw the coat float through the air, heading inexorably for the one thing in the room that was truly theirs and totally irreplaceable. The coat caught Joe's ship in the bottle, and in horror she saw it glide to the edge of the shelf, and teeter for long moments before crashing to the floor.
She saw the jagged pieces of glass, the crushed model that Joe had worked so hard to build for the kids and for her, and it was too much. She started to cry, tears running down her face, coming harder as she noticed through her blurred vision that Hunter was crying too, great gulping sobs as he took in the smashed wreckage of the ship. Joey howled in horror, a long scream that seemed torn out of him. "Nooooooo" he moaned, and Bran Og raised his head and howled his mournful wolf-howl in chorus.
The dam had burst. She didn't know how but the boys were in her arms, Joey hugging her tightly around the waist, Hunter around the shoulders. She reached out as far as she could and embraced them, as tears ran down her face. The ship lay in pieces at their feet, and Bran Og pressed against their legs. So little they had, thought Sarah, the only thing that mattered was each other. She clutched the boys tighter to her.
"Excuse me," a husky female voice interrupted her thoughts. "I realize this is a bad time, but we were just passing…"
Sarah looked up, into the concerned face of Kathryn Janeway. Chakotay stood beside her, holding her hand.
"I'm sorry. We don't mean to interrupt, but maybe we can help in some way?"
Sarah started to laugh, and the boys, who were wide-eyed and staring at Janeway, looked worriedly back to Sarah.
"Help?" she said. "Oh god, if only you knew."
The boys peeled away from her and went over to stand next to Janeway. "You're the Captain," said Hunter..
"Yes." Janeway crouched down and started picking up the shards of broken glass. "And you're Hunter. And I damaged my Voyager just as badly as you have here, and we recovered. Let's see what we can do with this one." She lifted the broken model out of the glass. "I don't think she's too badly broken. Here, Joey, retrieve that section of the bridge over there. Let's see if it will fit back on."
Sarah watched possibly the most famous woman on Earth reassure her kids. The great Admiral Janeway was down on her hands and knees among the broken glass. She glanced at Chakotay, and saw that he was watching Janeway with a tender expression that surprised her. She hadn't known that the pair were lovers.
He saw her looking and smiled. "Any chance of a cup of tea? If I know Kathryn, she won't stop until she's made sure that model can be fixed."
Sarah led the way into the small kitchen and put the kettle on. "Why are you here?" Her voice was still thick with the tears she had shed. "I didn't reply to her message."
"I know." The big man leaned against the doorjamb. "We were passing…" …" He must have caught the flash of disbelief in her eyes as he said, "all right, that's not true. We wanted to see you. Kathryn needed to see you… to explain." He caught himself and continued, "she cared about all her crew. She cared about Joe. The night after he died, I went into his quarters, and she was sitting there, in the dark, just looking at that model ship. Don't think she is indifferent, Sarah. Sometimes when you feel too much, it is easier not to face it."
Much as she didn't want to, she found she believed in the sincerity of his simple words. "What does she want to explain?"
"Joe's death. How she couldn't prevent it. How valued and loved Joe was on the ship. His steadfastness, fairness, how he had time for everyone. How he cared for little Naomi Wildman." He took a deep breath. "I may be asking too much here, Sarah, but please, try not to blame Kathryn too much. And there are some things that only she can tell you, what she tried to do. All I'm asking is that you at least listen to her. Please. I hope it's not too much to ask."
She busied herself with the tea. "All right. I'll listen." Dimly she wondered how often in the last few days she had agreed to just think about it, listen to someone, and keep an open mind. Had she really become so bitter since Joe had died? The flash of compassion she saw in Chakotay's eyes told her that yes, maybe she had, but that he at least, understood.
They took the tea out to the living room. Kathryn and the boys had cleaned up the glass and were intent on assessing the damage to the model. Kathryn looked up as they came in. "She can be repaired. It's not as bad as it looks."
The boys nodded in affirmation. They could fix her. Make her as good as new. Carefully, Hunter picked up the damaged model and the boys took her into the bedroom.
An uneasy silence fell. Sarah cradled her mug of tea carefully in two hands and stared down into it. She had promised Chakotay that she would listen, but she was unsure how to broach the subject. She didn't have to.
Kathryn Janeway, displaying a hesitation at odds with her assured demeanor, told her the fantastic tale of Voyager's arrival in the Alpha Quadrant and the part played by her future self. She said she couldn't be sure, but she thought it was a miscalculation using the new technology that prevented the admiral coming back earlier in the timeline in time to save Joe.
Sarah listened and strangely was the one to comfort Janeway and reassure her that she couldn't be expected to be responsible for the actions of her future self. And she found that in offering forgiveness to another, her own hurt and bitterness began to recede.
She watched Chakotay silently support the Admiral, holding her hand, offering the balm of his touch as wordless reassurance that he was there. She saw the love flowing between the two of them, and sensed that there was more to their story than anyone would ever know. It couldn't have been easy for them, loving each other yet unable to express it. Sarah felt the space in her heart that belonged to Joe ache anew in the acceptance of his absence.
In return for their giving, she shared a little of her own life. Without anger, she told of the credits spent on the search for Voyager, waving a hand in dismissal of her impoverished circumstances. She did not tell them about the crippling repayments, for fear that it might be interpreted as a plea for assistance. Sarah was still not ready to accept handouts.
When Janeway and Chakotay finally made to leave, the artificial streetlights spilt pools of gold on the sidewalks outside, painting the rundown neighborhood with an aura of acceptability. She hugged them both in turn, then waited as they said goodbye to the boys.
"I hope we'll see you at the dedication," said Chakotay. "You and the boys."
"I haven't decided yet." Sarah was still ambivalent. "I'm not sure if I can see that ship as a cause for celebration just yet."
"Why not come up next week sometime?" Janeway made the suggestion carefully. "Many of the crew will be volunteering time then, including myself and Chakotay. Come and see her first, before the dedication. Take time to walk around, visit Joe's quarters. Make your peace with her in your own time."
Sarah gave a faint smile. "I might do that. "
"We'd love to see you, anytime. Tell the transporter staff to call me for immediate authorization." Janeway gave her a second swift hug. "Thank you," she whispered in her ear, "for listening and for your understanding. I wish it could have been different.."
Sarah swallowed hard but hugged the older woman back. "So do I," she whispered, "so do I."
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Sarah transported over to Voyager a week later, acting on a sudden impulse. She was alone; the boys were at school and she felt that this was something she needed to do by herself. Janeway hadn't lied; when the public transporter staff had called Janeway for authorization, the answer came back swiftly: "Get her up here, and tell her I'm putting the kettle on!"
Janeway alone met her in the transporter room.
"Chakotay will be joining us later," she explained. "He's helping B'Elanna dismantle a particularly stubborn piece of Sedakatah technology from the impulse engines. Would you prefer to wander around by yourself or would you like me to give you a tour?"
"The tour would be nice." Sarah made up her mind quickly; she wanted time to compose herself before visiting Joe's quarters and the tour would give her that breathing space.
"We'll start in the messhall and see if we can find you that promised cup of tea." Janeway led the way out of the room and down the long corridor.
Sarah looked all around her as she walked. She had been on several starships of course, but none of them had carried quite the lived-in feeling that Voyager had. The ship shone, although some of her bulkheads were dented and the floor coverings worn. Crewmen were busy, refurbishing parts of the ship.
"You would be amazed at how many decisions were made in these corridors," Janeway said conversationally. "As many as in the ready room, I'm sure. Chakotay and I would walk and talk."
Sarah had a sudden mental picture of the two of them, the darkly good-looking Commander, head bent attentively close to the diminutive Captain. She thought they would have been a very fair team.
In the mess hall there was a knot of crewmen. A Bolian was overseeing a crew who appeared to be stabilizing some large cooking burners. "No," he was saying, "Neelix had them arranged that way for a reason - he liked to talk to people as he was cooking. Having the burners there may not have been the most ergonomic way, but it meant he could socialize as well as cook."
Janeway interrupted with a grin. "And Neelix loved to socialize! Chell, if we could trouble you for a cup of tea, and a cup of coffee, please."
"Certainly, Admiral. Replicated or Neelix's way?"
Janeway rolled her eyes at Sarah. "Much as I would love one last taste of Neelix's coffee, I think replicated might be safer. Your crew is blocking the replicators, would you mind?"
As Chell turned to make the drinks, Sarah felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to see Sam Wildman there.
"Sam! How nice to see you." The two women hugged briefly.
"I didn't know you were coming up today! You should have told me, I would have loved to show you around. And Mike's not here - he'll be sorry he missed you."
Sarah looked uncomfortably towards the Admiral. "Admiral Janeway has offered to escort me," she said.
Janeway sized up the situation instantly. "I'll show her the main areas of the ship, Sam, then I'll hand her over to you. You might like to show her your quarters and maybe the holodecks."
"I'd like that," Sarah and Sam spoke together and exchanged a conspiratorial grin. Sam touched Sarah's shoulder. "I'll see you later. We can catch up then."
Drink in hand, Janeway led Sarah through the maze of corridors and onto the turbolift. "Bridge," she said, before turning to Sarah. "You don't know how pleased I am that you came, Sarah. This was Joe's home for seven years, and I'm glad you are seeing her before they turn her into a museum with sticky-fingered kids running their grubby paws over everything. It's a fitting end for her, but it won't be the same ship."
"Kathryn, if you don't mind. I'm not your superior, but I hope I can maybe be your friend."
"Kathryn. I just wanted to thank you for inviting me. I hope you can understand, but you haven't exactly been my favorite person over the years. I rather blamed you, you see, for stranding Joe out on this fecking ship at the far end of the galaxy. Now that I've met you, well, I think I was wrong to condemn you as I did. I'm sorry. And, if you can be patient with me a little longer - so much anger and bitterness is hard to let go - then I think we will eventually be friends."
Janeway studied her, with a wry twist to her mouth. "Yes," she said, "I appreciate your candidness. I think we will eventually be friends."
The turbolift came to a halt. "Now, let me start by showing you the bridge."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Chakotay greeted them in engineering, smiling hello to Sarah and greeting Janeway with a soft press of his fingers to her palm. Her face softened in response, and their eyes held each other for a brief moment, before they returned to business.
"Did you bring Hunter and Joey?" Chakotay was looking around for them. "They might enjoy the holodecks."
"No." Sarah was a little defensive. "They are at school. And since I'm no longer working it was easiest to come alone. The transport up here takes enough credits for one person, let alone three."
A brief flash of anger showed in Janeway's eyes. "Why didn't you…"
Sarah saw Chakotay press her fingers slightly in warning, and Janeway subsided again. "Another time," she said evenly. "Now, there is some-one here I would like you to meet."
She led Sarah over, to where a dark young woman was snarling invectives at her console. "B'Elanna," she said, "I'd like you to meet Sarah Carey."
"Oh." B'Elanna looked up in surprise and smiled a warm, genuine smile. "Sarah, I feel like I know you already from Joe's stories. I'm so happy to meet you."
Janeway's comm badge chirped and she spoke into it for a moment. "B'Elanna, can I leave Sarah with you - there's a problem with the remaining Borg alcoves in cargo bay two. Take a break, if you want, and when you've finished showing Sarah around Engineering, page Sam Wildman. She is going to show Sarah the crew quarters."
"Sure thing." B'Elanna took Sarah's arm and started to lead her away. Her voice floated back clearly to the command team. "Did Joe ever tell you about the time I broke his nose?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Much later, Sarah keyed in the code she was given and stepped into the quiet quarters. Joe's quarters. His home on board, where he had written such tender letters to her, where he had lain awake missing her and the boys, and where he had painstakingly worked on his ship in a bottle. Happy times too. She knew from Sam that they and Naomi had shared good times together, quiet meals in these quarters and that the three of them had often spent happy times on the holodeck, each in their own way trying to recreate some sense of the family they were missing.
Leaving the lights dim, she wandered around the deserted quarters. Joe's possessions had been packed away after his death, but the quarters had never been reallocated. Michael had said that they would have been, in time, but it hadn't been done before Voyager's abrupt return to the Alpha Quadrant. So the ghosts that stole out of the bulkheads to surround her were those memories and echoes of Joe's presence.
She lay on his bunk and closed her eyes, letting the memory come of the last time they had lain together. She remembered Joe holding her close, his sweet, soft lovemaking and the way he had cried her name at the moment of orgasm. Such a tender, gentle man. Such a fiercely passionate man. The paradox that was uniquely Joe. She let the tide of memories wash over her, moments of joy, of sadness, funny little snapshots of their life together. For the first time since he went missing she didn't try to suppress them; she let them come, chasing through her head in a flickering procession of images and sounds.
She opened her eyes and found she was hugging his pillow. It bore no trace of his scent. Still, if ever there was a place in this world where traces of Joe lingered, then it was here, in these dark quarters. She knew that Joe believed in an afterlife and at that moment she hoped he was right. She fancied that he was watching her somehow, that if she turned her head she would see his ghost, as insubstantial as smoke, surrounding her. The thought gave her strength.
"Good bye Joe," she whispered in the recycled air. "Good-bye my love. You are not forgotten."
She fancied she heard the whisper of a sigh, an echo of her words maybe, breathed into the shadowy corners, and the atmosphere lightened imperceptibly.
Wearing her tears proudly on her face, Sarah Carey left her husband's quarters to make her peace with his ship.
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Kathryn Janeway stormed into Owen Paris's office a few days later. She was in uniform and any of her crew would have instantly recognized the expression on her face. Ferociously determined to set a wrong to right, and equally determined that nothing - or no one - would stand in her way. On Voyager, this expression would have caused the bridge crew to quail and had silenced many of Tom's quips, but the aide manning the Admiral's outer office didn't know that and foolishly tried to prevent her entering. She silenced him with a look and barged into Owen's office.
Inside, Owen Paris was sitting with Admiral Cogley, the head of the Institute of Starfleet History. Janeway pushed past the astonished Cogley to place her palms flat on Owen's desk.
"I want you to explain to me, Admiral," the title dripped with sarcasm, "exactly how Sarah Carey has fallen through the cracks, and is in the pitiful position she is in, without any sort of support or assistance from Starfleet." She flung a PADD down on the desk. "I suggest you read this. It details the lengths to which Sarah has gone to find out what happened to Voyager. On the surface it seems far more of a search than Starfleet managed - and it tells you exactly what it has cost her - financially, morally and emotionally. And when you're done, I want you to tell me exactly what reparation Starfleet is going to make. I will wait while you read it." Crossing to the replicator, Janeway ordered herself a coffee and went over to stand by the window. She sipped her coffee with her back to the men in the room.
Paris glanced at Cogley, who appeared stunned at the uncharacteristic behavior of one of their admirals. "I suggest we read what she has put together, before we discuss this," Paris said sotto voce to his colleague. "Kathryn Janeway rarely puts herself out on a limb for something she doesn't truly believe in."
Silence fell on the room as Admiral Paris read the PADD, passing it over to Cogley when he was done.
"Your interest in this woman is commendable," Cogley said finally. "I won't ask how you found out about her illegal financing."
"I have my sources." Janeway wasn't giving an inch.
"What are you asking for?" Owen leant back in his chair.
"I believe it to be appropriate that Starfleet reimburse her - with interest of course - for her considerable time and effort in hunting for one of their ships. And as Sarah is currently unemployed, and co-incidentally Admiral Cogley, your history department is actively seeking a person to chronicle Voyager's seven year journey for the popular media, I am recommending her for the position."
"She doesn't have the qualifications." Admiral Cogley recognized a skilful manipulator when he saw one and was resisting all the way.
"I believe that if you review her qualifications, you will find she is admirably suited for the position. She is a technical writer. And, most importantly, she has a deep and personal connection to this ship, and I am sure that this empathy will be reflected in her writing. She can start tomorrow."
Admiral Paris raised a questioning eyebrow at his colleague. "I think we need to discuss this further. May we keep the PADD?"
"Of course," Janeway replied keeping a neutral face, "but I'm sure you realize that that isn't the only copy. If Starfleet doesn't feel they can make amends in this situation, then I'm sure that Jake Sisko of the Federation News Service would be delighted to bring the story to the public's attention. Good afternoon, gentlemen."
Janeway marched out of the door without a backward glance.
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Three weeks later, Michael Ayala rang the chime of the Carey's new house. In his hands he held French champagne for Sarah, Captain Proton tee shirts for the boys and a marrow chew-toy for Bran Og. He looked around him as he waited for an answer. The moss-green timber house was set back from the road in a quiet residential street on the edge of the hills around Los Angeles. There was a large garden, already showing Sarah's creative touch in its borders and the various toys scattered around obviously belonged to the boys. Bran Og had dug a large hole in one corner. A modern hover-car sat in the driveway.
Sarah answered the door, hands dusted with flour. There was a large streak of it in her soft brown hair.
"Michael!" She held out her arms for a hug, then obviously remembered she was covered in flour. He hugged his friend anyway, and allowed her to sweep him into the interior of the house. The house was sparsely furnished, and half-full boxes lined the walls in the hallway.
"Still settling in?"
"Yes, oh Mike, it's so exciting! A house, a real house, somewhere that I don't need to worry about where the kids are or what they are doing. Credits for the replicator. Employment. Here…" she drew him forward with both hands, "I have a present for you."
"And I have one for you." He presented her with the bottle of champagne. The look of delight on her face made the credits worthwhile.
The kitchen smelt warm and yeasty. "I've been baking," Sarah explained. "Now that I don't have to cook, it's a rare treat to do it for pleasure." She offered him a plate of muffins, and gestured to a small parcel wrapped on the counter.
He opened it to find Joe's personal toolkit, the small leather case he had often seen him use on Voyager.
"Sarah, surely Hunter or Joey would like to keep this," he said helplessly, trying to pass it back to her.
"No, it's for you. I think Joe would like you to have it." She smiled, a soft smile he had rarely seen from her in the past. "Please, Michael, take it. From all of us."
He pressed a kiss on her cheek in thanks and sat, chewing on one of the muffins she had made. "How's the new job going? Is it strange to be working for Starfleet?"
Sarah laughed at him, and he was struck by the resemblance to the laughing young woman in Joe's holoimage. A woman he had never seen until now.
"At first it was," she said. "I didn't want charity. But now I see there really is a position there, they didn't invent it just for me, and I can do it! And, more importantly, I love doing it. It's creative, rewarding, and, in some ways it brings me closer to Joe. It's showing me the last seven years of his life."
Sarah returned to kneading her bread dough. "And Starfleet has paid me back all the money I spent searching for Voyager. And all the interest, and more on top. Apparently, Kathryn Janeway persuaded them that it would be very adverse publicity if, for example, the Federation News Service were to get hold of my story. They agreed in an unseemly hurry!"
Michael grinned. "Admiral Janeway normally does get what she wants."
An outside door slammed and running feet alerted them to Hunter and Joey's return. "Michael!" Joey flung his arms around his neck and hugged him. The more reserved Hunter just grinned. "We're going to Voyager's dedication! We have front row seats!"
Bran Og had followed them in and was crashing around in circles, chasing his own tail.
"That's great news," Michael said with a smile. "I'll see you there."
Sarah was opening the bottle of champagne, pouring two large glasses and two small ones. "I think you boys can have a taste of this, seeing as how it is a special occasion," she said. "A toast. A toast to Voyager, to Admiral Janeway, and to all of the crew. And a toast to us, our family and our special friends."
They raised their glasses and clinked them solemnly.
"And," said Michael, "to a very special husband, father and friend. To Joe."
The sun dappled room echoed
with their shared sentiments. "To Joe."
On to Chapter Eleven:
Threads Of Fate - PG-13 version
Twisting The Threads Of Fate - NC17 version
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