THE ADMIRAL'S NEW CLOTHES
(PG-13)

by Delta Story
April 2007


Written for VAMB's SPRING FLING 2007

Disclaimers: The usual: CBS/Paramount owns; I play.

Summary: Voyager has been back 'home' for three months and Phoebe Janeway is helping Kathryn get settled. But she's also decided that her sister's life needs some major overhauls.

~*~

"Where do you want me to put this wall hanging, Kathryn?" Phoebe held up a long piece of patched fabrics, heavy into purples and reds and small metallic studs, trying to figure out which way the design was meant to go.

A head of frazzled hair looked around the door from the kitchen. "Oh - that piece! I got that from an artist on Qomar who thought my life could use a little bit of color." Janeway took a few steps towards her sister, turning her head along with Phoebe. "You know, I never could figure out which way it should hang." She reached for the lower edge of the two-meter long rectangle, stretching out its length. "I would say the bedroom, but it is rather bright for in there."

"Where did you have it in your quarters on Voyager?"

Kathryn's face lit up with a grin. "Oh, that wasn't in my quarters - it was in my ready room. Kept me from going to sleep while reading reports late at night."

"Good idea," Phoebe chuckled. "Maybe you should transport it to your office at Starfleet for the same reason," she added, rolling it up and putting the piece back into the container from which she had pulled it. She sighed, looking at the small mountain of storage containers that still needed to be opened. "Did anyone ever tell you what a pack rat you are, Kathryn? I swear you must have brought back half the Delta Quadrant. Where did you stash all this stuff on Voyager anyway?"

Janeway emerged from the kitchen, pulled up one of the smaller metal containers and plopped down on it while tugging a battered brown box towards her. "Guess that was one of the hazards of diplomacy. Seems every friendly culture we met insisted on giving us some lovely parting gifts. Like the contents of this box..." She gave the lid a tug, falling back at bit as it came off. She reached inside and hauled out a round contraption of tangled wires, broken shells and what looked like silk ribbons. "This is a grznokia, a memory chamber from the Dornalians -we met several of them when we spent some time at the Markonian Outpost. I swear there were more societies represented there than at Deep Space Nine! And there are more con artists there than there are Ferengi in the entire universe." She laughed genially while twisting the sphere in her hands. "I guess it's working, too - I'm remembering all sorts of interesting things from those few days, including a plant that fell in love with me!"

"A plant?" Phoebe chortled. "Now that's a new one! Was it sentient?"

Kathryn continued to rotate the grznokia, her eyes twinkling as the memories flooded her. "I certainly thought it was at the time. It kept grabbing my hair and if Chakotay hadn't been right there to disentangle me, I think it would have smothered me!"

Phoebe began lining up the more than three-dozen mementos she had already unpacked, just from two storage containers. "You remember when we were growing up in Indiana? Remember those sales some folks would have called 'auctions'? I'll bet you could have a nice little retirement nest egg if you auctioned off some of these things, Kathryn. Items from the Delta Quadrant are hot tickets right now!" Phoebe's eyes widened with mischief as she blatantly shoved a wide bronze bracelet studded with multicolored stones up the sleeve of her tunic.

Kathryn dropped the grznokia and lunged at her sister, grabbing for the piece of jewelry. "Give me that, you little thief!" she laughed, scrambling to retrieve it. Her momentum knocked Phoebe backwards and she fell on top of the younger woman. Soon they were rolling and giggling on the floor like five-year olds, their bodies careening off storage containers and the few pieces of furniture in the room until they collapsed in spasms of laughter.

"How long has it been since we did anything like that?" Kathryn managed to gasp between short pants for air.

"Too long," Phoebe smiled back. "It's good to have you home, Kathryn."

Kathryn stretched and her eyes clouded over. "Home - is that really where I am?"

Phoebe rolled onto her side, propping her head on her hand. "Well, maybe San Francisco isn't really 'home' home, but..."

"I'm beginning to wonder just where 'home' is, Phoebe," she sighed. "After so much time on Voyager, wandering with no mooring whatsoever..." She closed her eyes and caught her lower lip between her teeth, losing herself again in so many of the memories of the seven years in the Delta Quadrant.

Phoebe pushed herself off the floor and picked up yet another item from the contents of the brown box. "Aha - a copy of Dante's Inferno - don't tell me you got this from some alien!"

Kathryn awakened from her daydreams and again made a wild grab for what her sister held.

"Phoebe - that's..."

"Private," Phoebe finished, as she scanned the first page, reading aloud the words she found inscribed on it: "To my beloved Kath - a true classic but in a class all to herself. May our love endure as long as the words of the great ones. All my love, Mark"

She looked at Kathryn. "From Mark? When did he give you this?"

Kathryn became more flustered. "Before we left. It was... he gave it to me... it was an engagement present." She reached for it again. "Please - give it to me, Phoebe."

Phoebe twisted out of her grasp, securing her hold on the book. "Nope, am not! There's something more to this book, isn't there? Why would you have held onto it long after you knew Mark had married someone else?"

Kathryn made another desperate move for the old book and Phoebe again snatched it away, this time with such gusto that it flew out of her hand. Its velocity flung it several feet where it finally hit against a wall; a brownish-pink form floated from within its pages and drifted to the floor.

"Now look what you did!" Kathryn cried out as she scurried on her hands and knees over to the object.

Phoebe, on her feet, beat her sister to the book and its dropped contents. Scooping it up, a couple bits flitted to the floor. "It's nothing but an old flower, Kathryn - looks like a dried up rose." She held it up to the light and twisted it around. "Looks like it's been in that old book for quite awhile!" Her eyes gleamed with teasing as she held it out to Kathryn. "Something else to remember Mark by?"

Kathryn scrambled to her feet and grabbed the fragile flower away from Phoebe as carefully as she could. "No, no - it's not from Mark." But the tone of her voice left no uncertainty that it had special meaning to her and the sudden flush to her face confirmed it to her sister.

Phoebe cocked her head, her face full of questions. "So someone gave you a rose - but from your reaction, I would have to say that someone had a pretty special meaning in your life." She handed the book over to her older sister; her voice became soft and consoling. "Here - you might want to put it back inside."

Janeway took the book from her sister's hands and juggled it as she placed the almost translucent flower once more between its protective pages. "He was special... once upon a time." Her voice sounded far off, as if lost among the pages of the ancient book. She carefully put the book down on a small table across from her, smoothing her hand across its cover before backing away from it. It was as if she were paying obedience to a shrine of some sort.

Phoebe cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably, but Kathryn knew that she was going to ask the question anyway. "Was it someone aboard Voyager?"

"Yes," she answered, almost choking on the single word. But before her sister could push it any farther, she stood and straightened herself, brushing her hands against her pants as if brushing away the subject. "But that was long ago and life went on." She grabbed the handle of another container and yanked it towards the bedroom. "Here are some clothes - let's get them into the closet."

"So that's it?" Phoebe pushed on. "Nothing else?"

"Nothing more to say. I had more important things to do with Voyager than to worry about any personal relationships." She lugged at the container. "I never realized I'd brought so much back - I thought I'd recycled most of what I had."

Phoebe jumped over to Kathryn's side. "Let me help you - that thing looks like it weighs a ton!"

"Feels like it, too," she answered as the pair dragged it across the carpet to the closet. "Maybe I'm just getting weak in my old age."

"Ha! That will be the day!" Phoebe retorted.

"You're right," Kathryn laughed, dropping her end on the floor. "I've seen 'myself' in my old age and 'she' scared the living daylights out of even me!"

Phoebe shook her head, brushing her hands in the air in front of her. "Please - let's not go there again - all that time travel stuff is too confusing to me!"

"Me, too," Kathryn answered. "Maybe that's one reason I wondered if 'she' really was me - she seemed to have a pretty good grasp on how to handle it... of how to make the two timelines work..."

She keyed the entry code into the lock on the large storage box and jiggled at the lid, loosening the space dust from its crevices. The two women yanked at the large lid and it popped open, revealing a thin mylar sheet over the top, protecting its contents.

"I packed this in a hurry, so no telling what anything looks like. I just sort of grabbed and tossed," Kathryn said as she peeled back the silver layer, revealing a hastily packed pile of cream-colored fabric.

"All right - I've always wondered what a well-dressed Starfleet captain wore in her off time," Phoebe chirped as she picked up the garment and began shaking it out. "Wow - a short, short dress! I'm impressed, Kathryn!" She winked at her sister. "Showing off those good looking legs of yours, huh?"

"Phoebe Janeway - you know me better than that!" Kathryn blushed, grabbing another piece of the same cream color. "See? Here are the trousers. It's a tunic and pants set."

Phoebe's face quickly morphed into a pout. "Oh, right. I should have known better." She laid it one the bed and smoothed it out. "But how about a nice necklace? Earrings? Something to have livened it up?"

"You know I don't own much jewelry," Kathryn snapped. "Besides, a simple outfit has its own elegance - and off-white is a good color for me."

"But, Kathryn - this is just so... blah! And it probably just hangs on you. Where's the pizzazz? How about that bracelet we found earlier?"

Kathryn placed the two items onto a hanger for the closet and walked it into the small storage area. "We were on a Starfleet mission, Phoebe, not an intergalactic fashion show. What little I needed, I replicated from Starfleet-supplied designs in our replicator system."

Phoebe continued unpacking the layered clothing, pulling out a tan sleeveless robe and dark brown jumpsuit. Her face screwed up in disgust. "Yuk - so did Starfleet regs stipulate that all civilian clothing be unflattering and drab?"

"It was comfortable," Kathryn said, snatching the clothes away from her sister. "I liked to be able to move around unrestricted. Besides, it was a change from those uniforms. Sometimes, it seemed like weeks before I could change into something else!"

Phoebe continued to rummage around in the contents. Her eyes widened and she let out a low whistle as she smiled, allowing a small roll of soft pink silk to fall into its full length. "Well, now this is better! Bet this isn't Starfleet issue!"

"Give me that!" Kathryn yelped, her face flaming. "Yes - that's mine. I took it aboard when we left."

"And just who were you planning to share that with on your trip, hmmm?" Kathryn's face turned an even stronger red and without her uttering a word, Phoebe made a wild guess. "Ah - I know! Late night communications with Mark, right?" Kathryn's deepening color gave her the answer.

"That's quite enough, Phoebe," the older woman retorted, again grabbing the item from her sister and laying aside. "Yes, there were a few personal items."

"Oh, wow - this is more like it, even though it looks a bit dated and is still in your monochromatic rut of cream," Phoebe commented as she hauled out several more pieces of clothing. The outfit consisted of a nicely tailored jacket with lapels, matching tailored trousers and a sleeveless fine-gauge sweater.

Kathryn's face softened into a wide smile. "Yes, that is a rather nice outfit. It's patterned after the styles of late twentieth century Earth, when we were caught up in another one of those time rift situations. We had to replicate clothing of the era and I rather liked that look - couldn't seem to be able to recycle the clothing after it was all over." The look on her face indicated that there were some interesting memories surfacing. "I wonder if Chakotay kept that blue shirt," she mused.

Phoebe's eyes registered a sudden realization. "Chakotay - that's who it was! That's who gave you that rose, who..."

"That's enough!" Kathryn blurted out. "Okay, so he did give me the rose. He... he was always a gentleman; he knew what I wanted... needed."

Phoebe's eyes narrowed as the clues fell into place. "Really? Everything you needed?"

Kathryn glared at her sister. "I said that... is... enough!" She began tossing the remaining items from the container haphazardly onto the bed, venting her sudden anger on the poor unsuspecting clothes.

Phoebe tried to change the subject, sorting out the clothing as it was thrown into a heap. "Well, here are some more colorful dresses," she mused, holding up simple green dress with a textured design running through it. "Although it's still on the rather simple, utilitarian side."

Kathryn shook out another bit of colored material, this time a blue dress. It had the same line as the green one, only with short sleeves and a draped neckline, in contrast to the longer sleeves and high collar of the green one. "Yes, these were meant to be that way. We were living a simple, survival mode life, and I had to be able to move around easily and everything."

Without having to be reminded of the facts, Phoebe recognized the event Kathryn described. "You replicated these for your life - exile time - on that little planet when you and Chakotay were infected with that virus..."

Kathryn nodded. "That's it. 'New Earth' we called it... "

"Why dresses?" Phoebe asked, rather perplexed. "You never really liked dresses before - said they were a hassle, that pants always let you be free."

Kathryn's color reddened again. "I guess that I just thought they were more befitting the simple lifestyle we had to maintain. And I did have pants there, too!" she hastily added.

Phoebe shook her head. "Well, these are definitely practical with no frills. They have to be Starfleet design - they are some of the ugliest dresses I've ever seen!" She laid them out on the bed and shook her head. "And they are quite worn, too. Why didn't you recycle them?" She pulled out another piece, a faded red dress that had several tears and stains. "Especially this one - it looks like it should have been tossed into the rag bag a long time ago!" she commented, looking at Kathryn.

Again the shadow that fell across Kathryn's face was all the answer she needed. "Chakotay, again, right?"

Kathryn reached out and took the dress from her sister and gently spread it on the floor. "See these pockets? I wanted those for when I went gathering specimens. Oh, I had containers for insects and all, but these were for, well, the interesting things: pebbles, seeds... those kinds of things." She chuckled as memories flooded over her. "He used to call it my 'kangaroo' dress, because of all its 'pouches'."

"But why would you keep it? Look at all those stains - looks like some sort of alkali was sprinkled all over it and bleached those spots. And it's torn here at the neckline and..." Phoebe looked up wide-eyed at her sister, whose face glowed with a burnished crimson, as the facts of the visual history fell into place. "Kathryn - is what I'm thinking about this dress true? No branches or door handles or rain could have done this type of damage..."

Kathryn quickly rolled the dress into a tight little package. "It's not what you think," she stammered.

"Oh, but I think it is, Kathryn Janeway - I think that that dress suffered a bit of distress at the hands of a certain handsome first officer. Come on - spill! Tell me what happened - I'm sure it's a good story. I can't imagine your just letting something like that happen!" Phoebe scuttled closer to Kathryn, crossed her legs and propped her chin in her hands, as if awaiting a campfire tale. "And don't leave anything out - I know you too well and I can tell!"

Kathryn lowered her head, shaking it ever so slightly, licking her lips. She fingered that dress lovingly, almost caressing it. "It... it was so long ago, Phoebe." She looked up, her eyes bright, her cheeks flushed with memories. "It was something that just... happened. Once and once only. Never again."

"And?" Phoebe pushed expectantly.

Kathryn took a deep breath, summoning up the courage to confess to her sister. "It all began with a horrendous plasma storm that rolled in with sudden ferocity."

"It was a dark and stormy night?" Phoebe interjected.

Kathryn shot her a stern glance. "Do you want to hear what happened or not?"

"Sorry," Phoebe grinned sheepishly. "Just couldn't pass it up..."

"Okay then," Kathryn huffed. "I had gone into the jungle, wearing my 'kangaroo' dress, to check my insect traps when this thing came roaring down in a matter of minutes. One minute, I was talking with a small monkey who had befriended me and the next, I could barely keep my footing. I tried to stay upright by grabbing onto trees and branches, as I tried to get back to our shelter. Chakotay came out looking for me and even with holding on to each other, it was all we could do to keep from being picked up by the winds. I've never been in anything like it before.

"Somehow or another, we made it back to the shelter, which seemed to be withstanding the storm pretty well, even though the frame shook all over, dumping the contents off shelves, moving furniture. Some of the siding ripped loose and the winds found their way inside that way, too. I remembered some of our good old Indiana farm training about tornadoes and we huddled together underneath a large worktable, hoping that it would hold secure if anything substantial fell on us.

"I watched with horror as instrument after instrument fell onto the floor or smashed against a wall - almost every delicate piece of equipment was destroyed. Even if I could repair them, it would have used much of our available replicator rations and there was no guarantee that they would work. Any hope of finding a cure was destroyed in front of my eyes in mere minutes - it was devastating.

"Then as suddenly as the storm had started, it was over. Silence took over and the only thing I could hear were my pathetic sobs and Chakotay's comforting 'shushes'." She smiled. "He was such a dear, holding me close until I stopped shivering. I wasn't cold - I think it was that I was just so mad at having lost so much, suddenly realizing that there was little left in hopes of finding that cure."

She looked away from Phoebe, once more fingering one of the pockets of the red dress, lost in her thoughts. "I don't regret what happened, next, Phoebe. It was... just one of those moments, when the actions sort of take over and seem so... right. It was if the storm's energy had shifted to us, filling us with some primordial need. I shook in his arms and his hands - those big, loving hands - ran down my hair, my face, calming me with their touch. As he held me close, he began kissing my forehead in an attempt to further soothe me. Then came the lips and the hungry need for each other. It shocked him momentarily when he tried to pull my dress bodice down and it wouldn't budge, so he jerked at it and it ripped. I smiled at him and tore it more, assuring him that it was all right. One thing led to another and then... well, it was over. Just as he um... got to his final bit, he raised up and hit his head on the table top above us. He... uh... sort of... um... wasn't quite finished but um... popped out and... er... my dress got... soiled." Kathryn's face was aflame as she described the intimate details to her sister.

A wide satisfied grin took over Phoebe's face. "Just once, huh?"

"Yes," Kathryn nodded, still not willing to look her sister in the eye. "The following day... really evening... we had a long discussion about... parameters... to our relationship, how something more than a professional friendship would never work." She sighed heavily and finally dared to meet Phoebe's piercing eyes. "And that's the way it was, from then on."

Phoebe snorted. "Come on, Kathryn - it wasn't the end and you know it. Why else would you have kept those clothes for almost six years? My God, woman - you never even washed that red dress! Even as a romantic memento, I think that's rather... um... kinky. And I think you love that man - don't deny it!"

Kathryn got up, gathering all the colored garments from her New Earth days into a huge wad and stuffed them back into the box. "No, it was over long ago, Phoebe. And you're right - I should toss all these into the recycler." She began to head towards the small room where the items could be disposed.

"No!" Phoebe cried out, running after her. "That isn't what I meant at all." She grappled the box away from her sister. "Don't do anything more that you'd regret."

"Who says I've regretted anything?" Kathryn snapped, tugging the box back. "It's time for me to get rid of any false hopes still lingering because of misplaced memories. We're back in the Alpha Quadrant and life moves on. For heaven's sake - he's taking over Voyager and I've been put on a pedestal at Starfleet. We haven't even seen each other for at least two months. For all I know, he and Seven are married and have a kid on the way..." The words flew from her with a vehemence that belied any idea that she no longer cared for him.

Phoebe planted her feet firmly and crossed her arms, waiting for Kathryn to settle down. "You have no idea, do you?" she said as Kathryn fell back onto the bed.

"What?" the older woman asked.

Phoebe sat down next to her sister. "If you would get your head out of your books and reports and meetings every once in awhile and socialize with your fellow officers - even over coffee - you would know that newly-appointed Starfleet Lieutenant Annika Hansen left Earth three weeks ago aboard a Vulcan science vessel to do extensive stellar charting in the Gamma Quadrant. That's on a science ship... not Voyager. Single - alone - unattached. With a bunch of Vulcans."

Kathryn sat up. "She did? No, I didn't know that. How did you..."

"Tom Paris. I saw him at The Pavilion, shopping with B'Elanna, a couple of weeks ago. Seems that your protégé had had enough of Voyager and wanted to spread her wings a bit more. Tom said that Chakotay almost seemed relieved to see her go - he was getting tired of the way she constantly corrected him or seemed bored when he digressed into some of his stories - not exactly what you want for a long term relationship."

Several emotions ran across Kathryn's face, running a gamut from shock to surprise and finally a quirky smile. "To tell you the truth, I wondered I long that would last... and just who would break off with whom."

Phoebe started tugging at another storage container. "Well, it seems it was mutual and surprisingly civilized. No temper tantrums, no rages - just Miss Iceberg telling him that she thought her skills could be better utilized as a science officer and working with 'logical' Starfleet personnel." She grunted as she pulled the container. "What do you have in here - leftover tidbits of quantum singularities?"

"No," Kathryn laughed, coding in the key to unlock the case. "Just some rock samples from several planets. You know how I've always liked to collect them." The lid sprang open, revealing a tray of orderly arranged and cataloged geological specimens.

"You could have chosen some lighter weight souvenirs," Phoebe noted, briefly glancing at the samples before taking her sister by her shoulders and glaring at her. "Now - what are you going to do about Chakotay?"

"Do? What is there to 'do'?" Kathryn asked.

Phoebe let go of the older woman and huffed, shaking her head. "Kathryn Madeleine Janeway, what are we going to do about you? Why are you so stubborn?"

"I am not stubborn," Kathryn retorted.

The comment brought a sarcastic laugh from Phoebe. "You're not? Then why do you refuse to admit that there's something between you and Chakotay?"

"Phoebe, I'm merely stating a fact. There is no 'Kathryn and Chakotay'. That relationship was doused before it even ignited - the rocket never left the launch pad," Kathryn sighed.

"Oh, really?" Phoebe continued as she waved her arm over the brown box with her sister's clothing from New Earth. "Here you've kept these clothes from the one time you two were the closest... you've kept a rose from him pressed in one of your favorite books and I would dare say that at least half those... rocks... have Chakotay memories associated with them!"

"Just because I've saved a few things doesn't mean that he has any feelings left for me. That was along time ago, Phoebe."

"Have you asked him? Have you done anything since you returned to the Alpha Quadrant to let him know how you feel? Have you talked with him since Seven left? How could you even begin to know what he thinks or feels?" Phoebe kept on with her questions, pushing Kathryn further. "Maybe the problem is that you need to meet on some grounds other than Starfleet, something away from all the 'stuff' that seems to rule your lives."

Kathryn noted the scheming gleam that suddenly radiated from her sister. "Oh, no you don't, Phoebe - no matchmaking! That isn't what we need right now."

"Why not? Neither of you is getting any younger!" She looked her sister up and down. "And the first thing we're going to do is go out shopping for you - get you some clothes that show that you are a woman as well as a sexless Starfleet officer. Even your so-called 'civilian' clothes hide that fact... and you are a good-looking woman, Kathryn! Is that something you're ashamed of... or afraid of?"

"No, it's just something that I've never needed. I've always felt secure enough in myself never to have to exploit - or flaunt - any sexuality," Kathryn snapped. "And I don't see any need for it now."

But it was evident that Phoebe was through listening to her excuses. She grabbed a jacket from among the scattered clothes and tossed it to her sister. "Now - we're going to go shopping now!"

Kathryn caught the jacket but was determined to continue her defense. "Can't we just look up some things from the computer catalogues? I'm really too tired to go out right now."

"And what fun is that?" Phoebe pouted. "Come on - let's consider it quality sisterhood time. I'll even buy you some coffee at that favorite place of yours..."

"The Night Owl?" Kathryn lit up. "I've only been there once since we got back. Okay; it's a deal - you've made me an offer I can't refuse."

~*~

Kathryn slumped into a chair at the edge of the brightly lit store. "Phoebe, I think we've done enough damage for one day. How many garments does a woman need? I've already got plenty at home and I am in uniform most hours of the week."

"But that's just the point - you don't need to be in uniform all the time. I know that there are many Starfleet functions, particularly evening ones, for which you can wear either a formal uniform or formal evening wear. Just once, why don't you opt for the latter? You've got that retirement dinner dance for Admiral Chapman coming up - why don't you shock everyone and show up in something different?" Phoebe was perusing yet another group of gowns that had been brought out for them to look at. "Like this number." She twirled around, holding out a simple but elegant midnight blue floor-length gown.

Kathryn let out a little sigh when she saw the dress: flowing but it looked to skim the body without clinging, almost strapless but for duo narrow straps that looked to be barely there. If she wore her comm badge on it, it would almost look like a Starfleet issue gown. She smiled to herself - no, she doubted even with the addition of the official adornment that it could ever be mistaken as anything from the quartermaster's supply.

She eased out of the chair and walked over to Phoebe. "Hmmm - this is an interesting dress."

Phoebe looked over her shoulder to an almost invisible store attendant. "She'd like to try this one on," she smiled at the waiting woman, who took this dress from her.

"This way, please," the sales person responded, ushering them towards the fitting room area.

"Wait a minute," Kathryn protested. "I expressed an interest in it - I never said I was going to try it on."

"Oh, yes you are," Phoebe stated. "This will be perfect for Admiral Chapman's function."

Kathryn shook her head, tired of trying to convince Phoebe otherwise, tired from three hours of frivolous shopping. She really had better things to do, such as finish unpacking at her apartment and prepare for a seminar the following day. "All right, but this is the last thing, Phoebe. I'm tired and I think we've expended my clothing allotment for the next three months."

"Trust me - this is going to be worth it," Phoebe insisted, waiting anxiously for her sister to get undressed and allow the folds of blue silk moiré to surround her.

The store attendant deftly secured the fastener up the back of the dress and gently pulled and straightened the skirt. Kathryn fiddled with the front fabric, her back to the large mirror behind her, but raised her head when she heard Phoebe gasp. "What? Are you all right?" she asked.

Phoebe's eyes were wide with startled surprise. "It's just... you have to... oh, Kathryn - it's as if this dress were made for you. Just look..."

She turned slowly, almost afraid and embarrassed to look at the image reflecting back at her. But there she was - looking like she had never seen herself before. The dress fit perfectly, even the length was almost right! The bodice fit snuggly across her full breasts, tight but comfortably so. The dress nipped in at her waist and fell in gracefully in its modified a-line design, grazing her ankles. Nothing extravagant, nothing frilly. But it left no doubt that it adorned a woman. She gasped a bit at the sight - she had never thought of herself as a beautiful woman, but even she had to admit that she approved of this 'look'.

"You're right, Phoebe," she finally muttered. "I think this will be a welcome change." She beamed at the attendant. "I'll take it."

~*~

Four days later found Phoebe back at Kathryn's apartment. A few storage containers remained unopened, but they had been discreetly pushed against a wall. Rays from the late afternoon sun poured in through the long window on the outside wall of the living room, flooding the room with a soft glow. Another glow came from the direction of the bedroom, where the Janeway sisters were putting the final touches together for Kathryn's premiere of the 'new' Admiral Janeway.

"You're going to knock 'em dead tonight, sis," Phoebe stated, standing a few feet from Kathryn. "You've set yourself to the 'stun' setting for sure."

"I'm still not too certain about this," Kathryn said, allowing a scowl to form on her face and a bit of uncertainty creep into her voice.

"Nonsense - you look great and he's going to love it!" Phoebe pooh-poohed, smoothing down the back of the skirt of the inky gown.

"Chakotay!" Kathryn cried out, turning and showing distress. "That's right - he's going to be there and..."

"And what? Don't tell me that you never gave that any thought, Kathryn. Besides, it'll be a good place for you two to meet up again: lots of other people, good times going on - just relax and be yourself. It's time that you two began to put aside all those lousy barricades you'd built up over the years." She walked over to her sister and gave her an all-embracing hug. "Trust me - he wants to try to make amends... he still loves you, you know."

Kathryn jerked away from her sister. "And just how do you know that? Phoebe, I told you the other day, this is none of your business! Chakotay and I are just..."

"...waiting for the other to make the first move," Phoebe finished. "He's just as stubborn as you are and unless someone gives each of you a push, nothing is going to happen." She reached for the same-fabric stole that went with Kathryn's dress and artistically draped around her pale, freckled shoulders just as a 'breep' sounded from the door to the apartment. "Sounds like your transport is here. Now... go; have a great time. And be back before midnight or everything will turn into a pumpkin and mice."

Kathryn managed a wan smile and patted her sister on the cheek and gave her a quick kiss. "Phoebe, I don't know whether you're a boon or a hurdle in my life."

"Probably a bit of both," Phoebe grinned back, guiding Kathryn towards the door.

~*~

The sun was just disappearing below the horizon when Kathryn's hover-transport arrived at the old War Museum in downtown San Francisco. Terrance Chapman, always a supporter of the arts in the city, had asked for his final Starfleet function to be held in the majestic Green Room of the building that still hosted many cultural events. Kathryn smiled as she passed through the high arch of one of the main entrances, marveling at how beautiful the stately place still was. Harry Kim had called her only last week to tell her that he would be performing in concert with a small chamber group in the prestigious hall in June and she had promised him she would be there.

The April evening had turned cool, with crystal-clear skies and a slivered crescent of a new moon. She shivered and drew the stole closer to her body with the sudden chill of a breeze.

"Kathryn!" a voice called out and she turned to see Owen and Alicia Paris a few yards behind her.

"Admiral... Alicia..." she smiled at them. "Good to see you tonight."

"And good to see you," Paris responded, taking a long look at her.

Kathryn smiled at his appreciation - there was no doubt where Tom had inherited some of his personality quirks.

"You look lovely, dear," Alicia Paris quickly said, hoping to cover up her husband's gawking stare. "It's always good to see folks opt for something other than uniforms at these functions." She turned towards her husband. "See? I told you other people would be wearing civilian evening wear!"

Paris shuffled from one foot to another. "I'd rather be comfortable than to fight with one of those damned monkey suits," he muttered. "At least the women officers have an option with different styles and colors with dresses!"

"So are you saying that you wouldn't mind wearing a dress?" Alicia continued with a twinkle in her eye. "I can just imagine you in something... oh... pink."

"That's enough, woman," he grumbled. "Besides, I'm not freezing like you two seem to be. Let's get inside... and find something to drink." He placed himself between the two women, taking each one by an elbow and urging them inside.

"I think that's the only reason he doesn't mind these affairs," Alicia said to Kathryn conspiratorially. "For the free drinks."

"Here's hoping they have some good California wines tonight," Kathryn said. "That's something I really missed for seven years - I would have traded three Delta Flyers and a warp core for a bottle of good merlot."

"Remind me never to send you on a trade negotiation mission, Kathryn!" Paris laughed.

"Don't worry; I've had enough of that sort of thing for a lifetime. You'd be surprised at how inventive one becomes when it's down to survival mode out in the middle of the Delta Quadrant," she retorted.

"No, I wouldn't - I've read a lot of your log entries, Kathryn. I'm damned amazed at how you and your crew managed all those years. Not that there aren't a few questions about some bending of Starfleet regulation..."

"Oh, look! There's Terrance and Morgana!" Alicia chirped, not too subtle in her attempt to steer the conversation back to something less controversial. "Terry! Morgana!" she waved, grabbing her husband's hand and pulling him towards their old friends, leaving Kathryn to fend for herself. "We'll catch up with you later, Kathryn!"

Kathryn shook her head, smiling at how deftly Alicia could handle any situation. Being a Starfleet spouse certainly had its own calling - she had seen that with her own mother. Although Gretchen Janeway had her own career and life, she also balanced the role of being the wife of an admiral with a combination of toughness and delicacy, able to host a dinner for twenty while remaining stoic when her husband was on a secret mission. As well as not knowing whether your daughter was dead or alive for almost four years, Kathryn mused.

"Ma'am... Admiral Janeway..." A soft voice called her out of her reverie. A young ensign, dressed in his formal finest, addressed her. "I need your thumbprint in order to tell you where you're sitting."

"Wha...? Oh, yes - good evening, Ensign," she smiled holding out her hand. She thought she could discern a bit of shaking on his part as he placed her thumb on the padd he held. "You are seated at table seven," he smiled. "It's the one immediately left to center of the head table." He nodded his sandy-brown haired head towards the far side of the room. "Have a good evening, ma'am."

"Thank you," she smiled, chuckling to herself as an image popped into her mind, remembering another nervous young ensign many years ago: It's not crunch time yet.

She glanced around, hoping to see some others from her old crew present, but realized that probably wasn't going to be the case, as only higher-ranking Starfleet would be here. She did see Will Riker and Deanna Troi in a group to her right - actually, she heard Will's hearty laughter before she saw him. Reg Barclay was in the group with them, seeming to hold his own in the conversation. She smiled in amazement at his transformation following his work with helping Voyager get home. But everywhere else she looked, it was bright and shiny and heavily loaded with 'the brass' - admirals, vice-admirals, ambassadors. Chapman certainly had drawn all of them in tonight: Ross, Brooks, Hayes, Patterson - even Margaret Blackwell had made it.

"Kathryn Janeway!" A stentorian voice rang out over the din of three hundred others.

She turned her head and smiled as she saw the snow-covered head peaking above the others like the tallest mountain in the range - it was Professor Hendricks from her advanced astrophysics course at the Academy, still looking and sounding the same, even twenty-five years later. "Professor Hendricks!" she called back with a smile. "Just a moment," she continued, securing the long skirt of her dress before making her way towards him.

By the time she reached him, he had managed to snatch two goblets of champagne from a passing waiter, holding out a glass of the golden liquid for her. "Kathryn, Kathryn. It's good to finally see you. I've been wanting to chat with you ever since your return but you seem to be a busy lady and I figured you wouldn't want to talk to a stogy old Academy professor."

The twinkle in his pale eyes told her anything but what he said. She took the filled glass from him, taking a sip before she wound her arm around him in a gentle hug. She leaned close to him and whispered conspiratorially. "Professor, I'd much rather spend the evening with you, trading stories about mischievous students and crewmen than smooze with all the hot-aired brass here. And I think you and I both know that only reason we're here tonight is because of how much we adore Chappy, not to 'see and be seen'."

"Amen to that," he agreed, returning her hug before backing off a bit and taking a long look at her. "But maybe you do want to be seen tonight - Kathryn, I can't remember ever having seen you quite so resplendent."

She blushed at his obvious enjoyment. "It's only because you've always seen me in uniform - or some other Starfleet-type dress." She unconsciously smoothed the front of her dress with her free hand. "My sister more or less pushed me into wearing something non-Starfleet tonight."

"Well, please thank your sister for me," he responded. "You really add to the festivities of the evening." As he took a long sip from his glass, the gong announcing time to assume their seats sounded. "By the way, where are you sitting? Maybe we'll get lucky and be able to continue this conversation." He offered his arm to her.

"Table seven," she answered, slipping her arm through his.

"Ah, close but not the same one," he said sadly, nodding towards the tables as they began walking into the maze of round, burgundy-draped tables. "I'm at number twelve." He leaned down to her. "Maybe I can trade with someone at your table. Know anyone who wants to sit next to Alynna Nechayev?"

"Not in this galaxy," Kathryn laughed back. "Who have you displeased to get her as a dinner partner?"

Hendricks sighed. "Sometimes I wonder if the reverse is more the case - I know that I make her uncomfortable."

"Good for you," Kathryn smiled. "Can't think of a better person to call her bluff."

They stopped. "I do believe this is your table, Kathryn." He pulled her chair out for her, helping her tuck the folds of the blue material away from the chair as it scooted in. "Maybe you'll save a dance a little later on for this old man."

"I promise," she said, turning to pat his hand, watching him weave his way among others to get to his table.

She sighed and took another sip of the champagne before putting her glass down. She began to look to her right, to see who she was seated next to but quickly looked up when she saw Admiral Ross and his wife approaching her table to take their places at it. She pushed back her chair and stood as the higher-ranking officer approached. "Admiral Ross... Mrs. Ross..." She stood as tall and straight and as at attention as if she were on the parade grounds.

"At ease, Admiral," he smiled at her. "We're off-duty tonight - remember?"

She relaxed and smiled. "Sorry, sir - old habits, I guess." She began to sit down when she realized someone had taken control of her chair and eased it under her.

"Hello, stranger. I was wondering if you would be here tonight."

The soft voice from behind her took her by surprise and she jumped up as she turned to see him. "Chakotay! Don't sneak up on me like that - I might have had a phaser and shot first," she said, her hand over her rapidly pounding heart.

"Well, good to see you, too," he smiled back at her. "Although I barely recognized you - didn't expect you to be here out of uniform. After all, it is a formal function and you're an admiral now."

"But no 'uniform of the day' was requested," she parried back, noting that he wasn't in uniform either, but was wearing the ever-proper evening tuxedo. "I see you opted not to follow protocol, either."

"If this had been on Starfleet property, it would have been a uniform. But I just felt like doing it a bit different tonight." He stepped back to look at her from the front. "As you did, too. You're looking quite lovely, you know."

She felt the color rushing to her face. "Thank you. You can blame Phoebe for all of this - she was helping me unpack, took one look at my wardrobe and insisted that I make some immediate adjustments to the inventory."

He nodded appreciatively. "Well, it looks like she talked you into some very nice additions. I don't know when I've seen you look... well... so elegant. The style really befits you, Kathryn."

His words and his attention made her uncomfortable and she chuckled nervously. "Thank you. Phoebe said that most of what I owned - even my civilian wear - looked like Starfleet had designed it. But then she does have an artist's slightly different taste and eye for design - I doubt that anything from Starfleet has any beauty in it from her point of view. Give me practical and utilitarian any time!" This small talk was making her uneasy - why wasn't he going to his seat?

She turned to sit down again. "Um... it was good to see you, Chakotay. We'll have to get together and talk sometime."

"How about now?" he smiled back, his deep dimples broadening. "I think we're here at the same table."

Kathryn let out a little gasp as she finally glanced at the name card next to hers: Captain Chakotay - Voyager. He settled down into the chair next to her. "Looks like you're stuck with me for the evening - unless you came with someone and he isn't here yet." He nodded to the as yet unoccupied chair to her left.

"No... no - I'm here alone," she responded anxiously, leaning over to read the name on the place card to her left. "It looks as if we'll be joined by Captain T'Ben from the USS Musashi."

Chakotay grinned. "It seems that you're stuck with talking with me - unless you look forward to an evening of scintillating conversation about the Gamma Quadrant with a Vulcan."

As if on cue, the tall Vulcan captain arrived and nodded curtly to Janeway and Chakotay. "Admiral, Captain - good evening," he said perfunctorily as he slid into his place.

Chakotay leaned over to her. "Want to bet that's the most we hear from him all evening?" he whispered.

"Behave yourself, Commander," she growled at him, nudging him with her elbow.

"That's Captain, now," he reminded her playfully.

Her heart missed a beat as he reminded her of his rank... and Voyager. She missed the ship more than she ever imagined. When you live and work in a place for so long, it becomes ingrained in you, in every fiber of you. "How... how is Voyager?" she finally asked, her voice twisted in remembrance.

"The refitting is going well," Chakotay answered. "It's amazing how well Starfleet advances are meshing with the jury-rigged adaptations we managed over our journey."

"Glad to hear it. Guess we have B'Elanna, Harry and Seven to thank to for most of those modifications," she added.

His face quickly clouded over and she suddenly realized her faux pas. "I... I'm sorry, Chakotay - I didn't mean to bring up Seven's name or anything." Again, without thinking, she reached over and touched his cheek in one of her typical comforting gestures.

"It's all right," he said, his voice and eyes lowered. He took her hand in his and brought into his lap. "I know now that our relationship was never meant to be - we were just two lonely, hurt people reaching out for something... someone... and we happened to just be there for each other."

She slipped her hand away from him; now she was the one startled and hurt. "Hurt? Alone? Chakotay, how could you ever mean that?" She tried to keep her voice low and forced a smile on her face - others around them were starting to look at them.

Before he had a chance to respond, waiters were around them, placing bowls with large rims in front of them. Billows of aromatic steam filled the air, announcing a first course of spiced fennel soup. As he picked up his soupspoon, he looked at her, his face stern and dark. "Kathryn, we've got to talk."

"Agreed," she responded, forcing a smile at the Rosses across table as she dipped her spoon into the soup. "But not here... not now."

"Maybe we could slip out after dinner," he whispered. "There's sure to be a break before the speeches."

She dabbed her mouth with her napkin, words coming furtively from behind the large cloth. "I don't know - we're close to the head table and I think our absences would be noted. After all, we both had Chappy for advanced tactical training - and I'm sure he specifically requested our being here tonight due to how we survived using the skills he taught us."

"Probably right," he nodded. "But please... don't be push me aside again, Kathryn; you've been doing this far too long."

"I'm not," she stated a bit too emphatically, causing the Vulcan to look in her direction. She felt her face beginning to flush. Was it the wine or the subject? She felt as if he were backing her into a corner. "I promise... we'll talk tonight."

His eyes drilled into her; she knew he was trying to read her. "I think for once you mean this," he finally answered.

"I do," she answered, covering his hand with hers. "It seems that I've run out of excuses."

He nodded a smile at her and blinked his eyes. "It's about time, Kathryn Janeway."

She returned his smile, suddenly wanting the dinner and its following activities to hurry and be over, yet she also wanted the time to stretch out. He had seen the mixture of anticipation and trepidation that filled her, yet she felt a sense of calm and acceptance flood into her. Phoebe was right: he very much still loved her - and she had never stopped loving him.

She became encapsulated in her own little limbo, watching the various dinner courses as they appeared and disappeared: tender greens from Risa with marinated peppers and mushrooms; grilled Bajoran quail and rice pilaf; a decadent slice of cheesecake floating in a lake of kwaxanberry puree - she knew that she only went through the motions of eating, tasting and chewing and swallowing only to be polite. Words of conversation and flickers of laughter flitted in and out of her ears, her mind unable or unwilling to absorb any of it. Wine glasses were filled, and, with few sips taken, whisked away for yet another one to appear.

From a distance, she heard hers and Chakotay's names mentioned and felt Captain T'Ben's hand urging her to stand up, to respond whatever had been said. She stood but she couldn't remember why. Applause rang out around them and she saw Chakotay nod his head in acknowledgement for something. She followed his lead and did likewise, but she didn't know why - for all she knew, they had just been appointed to the Romulan High Council.

The applause finally faded away and they resumed their places at the table. But their tablemates, from the Rosses to the petite ambassador from Andoria, continued comments aimed to the Voyager twosome. Kathryn leaned towards Chakotay, her face blushing in chagrin. "I'm ashamed to ask this, but what just happened? I'm afraid I had tuned out most of what was being said."

Chakotay's eyes widened with feigned shock. "What's this? Kathryn Janeway ignoring words of wisdom from Starfleet's finest?" He smiled as he whispered back to her, his voice and demeanor suddenly serious. "Admiral Hayes announced that since we worked so closely for seven years, we had fulfilled all requirements for a common-law marriage and that Starfleet now considers us to be legally married."

Kathryn was still too lost in her own thoughts to see the twinkle in his eyes as he led her astray. "What?" she shouted out. "No - that can't be!"

A sudden hush descended all around them as people from surrounding tables turned to look at her. Admiral Ross glared at her across the table. "Kathryn, are you all right? Of course it's true - why shouldn't it be?"

A wave of embarrassment washed over her as she realized how gullible she had been, that Chakotay had sensed that her mind wasn't on the events in the large hall - he had easily walked her into his ruse. She tried to recover her poise, only to turn and plead silently with Chakotay to get her out of the trap in which she'd caught herself.

"I'm sure what the Admiral means is that she and I should not be singled out for any courageous actions, that everyone..."

"That everyone who served on Voyager shares equally in any commendations," she finished, catching on quickly his prompt and to what really had been said.

"And that they do," Ross nodded. "No one will be left out when official tributes are made. It's just that Chapman saw that you and Chakotay were here tonight and he wanted to recognize you."

"Of course," she responded sheepishly. "I...I just didn't want the rest of our crew slighted for all their endeavors."

The moment seemed forgotten by the others as the orchestra began playing music that invited people to the dance floor. She turned towards Chakotay, her face dark with emotion. "Chakotay, that was just plain mean... leading me on like that," she seethed in a low voice.

His eyes danced like leprechauns around a pot of gold. "I thought it was quite funny - you should have seen yourself!"

She crossed her arms, as if to ward off any more of his charms. "I could imagine Tom trying to pull something like this, but not you, Chakotay. That was a rather pubescent prank."

"Would it really bother you so much if it were true?" he asked, taking her hand and pulling her into the rhythms of the music.

He swung her around ever so slightly before catching her in his firm grip, encircling her with his strength, cradling her with his composure. She had forgotten how this could be... how he could be - and how, with just a touch, he could reach into her inner soul. His question shook her, for this very idea seemed to be buried within the subconscious vaults of her memory, thoughts that she considered interred forever. Now, with one question, all the fears and insecurities - and desires - were resurrected.

"I... I don't know," she answered truthfully. "What about you? It takes two people to complete the formula. If I recall, you are just recently out of a relationship; maybe you're not quite thinking clearly."

His hand found the small of her back and he pulled her closer; his chin rested against her head and his whispered words felt hot as he spoke into her ear. "I don't believe either of us has ever stopped loving each other, Kathryn. Every time either of us searched for someone new, there was something missing. Haven't you noticed that we always seem to end up back with each other? Can't you give some credit to the idea of something destined to be?"

She pulled back and looked at him with that ever so slightly skewed smile of hers. "You mean like tonight - with our being seated by each other?"

"Exactly. You would have thought that whoever did the seating arrangement would have wanted to 'share' us with a wide circle of attendees, not had us sitting together."

"Isn't that rather presumptuous?" she laughed. "No, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that 'destiny' and 'fate' for tonight were in the hands of Keisha Chapman."

"Chapman's daughter?" he asked.

"Chapman's daughter... who organized this entire affair and probably made the seating arrangements.... That and the fact that Keisha is one of my sister's best friends," Kathryn responded, her mind quickly seeing the pieces fall into place. "I'm recognizing more and more of Phoebe Janeway's handiwork of playing matchmaker here. I think that there's a logical explanation to this - forget 'destiny'."

"Maybe it is destiny - it's just needed a little bit of outside help. Sometimes I think it takes someone else's perspective to help us see things clearly... sort of looking through their eyes at a situation - sort of like the job of a first officer," he grinned at her. "Is that really all so bad?"

"No, I guess not," she murmured as the music faded into the closing measures of the song.

With the slight pause in the music, people moved all around them, some going back to their tables, others pacing in place awaiting the next melody. "Maybe this is the time to slip out - to try to think through where we really are," she continued.

Chakotay folded his hands around hers, his thumb drawing sensual circles across the back of one of her hands. "Why do we need to talk anymore, Kathryn? I think we know what we both want, what we both have. How much more talk and time is needed for us to honestly admit that we love each other, that we have for a long, long time?"

"Is it that obvious?" she smiled.

He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head, not caring who saw them. "It has been obvious in just about every word or action between us for almost seven years."

"Even in the heated arguments?"

"Especially in them. Kathryn, why do you think we disagreed at times? Don't you think that it might have been because we worried about each other... because we loved each other and were concerned for each other?"

Suddenly it all made complete sense to her - he was right: she had loved him all these years, even when their opinions were at opposite sides of the universe, even when they found solace in the arms of others... surrogates for the love they dared not express. But now... now all was different. And the words of this evening... the conniving manipulations of Phoebe... all led up to a single response.

She reached up, taking his face between the slim fingers of her hands, touching him as she had many times before but this time, it was all new. She pulled him down to her and kissed him... softly, gently, filled with the sweetness of spring nectar. "I do love you, Chakotay. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to find the courage to say it."

He returned the kiss with increased ardor and smiled as they finally pulled apart. "Maybe the change of clothes has brought about a change in your heart, Kathryn - like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, bright and beautiful in its new form."

Chakotay looked around them, hoping that their public display of affection hadn't drawn any attention. But the orchestra was playing again and the room was filled with couples dancing and others laughing and talking.

He grabbed an unopened bottle of champagne from a nearby tray and a couple of glasses sitting next to it. "I have an idea," he grinned mischievously. "Let's find some place quiet and cozy and you can show me your new wardrobe... you know, the admiral's new clothes."

She looked at him quizzically. "My new clothes? Well, there's this dress, but the rest are back at my apartment."

"I was thinking more along the line of 'the emperor's new clothes'... you know, that old children's story?"

She was stilled confused. "But in that story, he wasn't wearing any clothes."

"Exactly," he leered. "And I think we should just get down to the bare basics and go on from there."

Kathryn's laughter echoed throughout the empty hall. It felt good to finally be free, to finally let the wings of love let her become a new being.


~ the end ~


Inspiration for this story comes from on-line discussions of Trek items
on eBay auctions and a certain picture by the ever-talented Camryn.





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