Returning the Favor by Spiletta42


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Rating: T™©
Spoilers: Brief references to Joined By Fate by Spiletta42 and the episodes Hunters and Night.
Pairings: Janeway/Chakotay
Michael Ayala/McKenzie Jenkins
A/N: Started for Mixed Doubles, finished for Jade's birthday with Dakota's Decathlon in mind. Happy Birthday Jade! It's fluff, fortified only slightly with humor, angst, romance and drama. I'm sure Tuvok would find it a logical entry for his event, the 400 meter run. With true Vulcan precision, it meets the 3,000 word limit exactly.
Credits: Thank you to Dawn for serving as Wedding Advisor as well as beta reader, and thank you to Anne Rose for the beta.
Disclaimer: There once was a studio named Paramount Pictures. It left its toys laying out in the rain. Since it no longer deserved any toys, it had them taken away, and now they are mine, mine, mine!
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dividerReturning the Favordivider

Ensign McKenzie Jenkins had written the same sentence at least fourteen times, but she couldn't seem to get it right. She deleted it again, then entered the exact same words in what she hoped was at least a different order.

"You don't look very happy." Tom Paris took the seat across from her. "I hope that's not a Dear John letter, because I don't think Mike could take it."

"Of course not. It's my vows. I can't seem to get them right." She barely protested when Tom took the PADD.

"I see your problem. It's this bit about the turbolift. It rambles."

"It does." She sighed. "But if the turbolift hadn't broken down that day, Michael and I might never have gotten together. I feel like I owe it something."

"It's a turbolift, McKenzie. It doesn't expect you to buy it a drink or make it a flower girl at your wedding."

"And there's another issue," she said. "The wedding's in less than a week and I still don't have a maid of honor."

Tom treated her to his most winning smile. "I don't mean to brag, but I look pretty dashing in taffeta."


"Another wedding," Chakotay said. He watched Kathryn's face, but if she attached any significance to this particular wedding, she hid it from him now.

"Ayala asked me to be his best man," he said. "Naomi will make an adorable flower girl."

"She always does," Kathryn said. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she returned her attention to the PADD in her hand.

He wondered if he imagined that her hand shook as she pressed her thumb to it, sealing three weeks worth of duty rosters with her approval.

"Anything else, Commander?" She didn't meet his gaze.

"No, Captain." He took the PADD from her. "Thank you."


The moment Chakotay left she ordered the computer to seal the door. Starfleet captains didn't cry, she told herself firmly, but she didn't feel very captainlike at the moment.

She hoped she could keep her emotions under control long enough to perform the ceremony, but then again, at a wedding a few tears could be excused as tradition. She didn't have any such excuse here in her ready room.

Ayala and Jenkins had a wonderful life ahead of them, and for that she felt joy and thankfulness. They both deserved happiness. Her own jealousy sprang from selfishness, and she'd have to get past it.

It hurt, though, and what hurt more was the pain she knew she'd caused Chakotay. After all these months, she had thought they had both healed enough to move forward. They'd returned to their normal routines, and Chakotay hadn't put any pressure on her at all.

Yet that moment, now six months in the past, remained as vivid in her mind as if it had happened that very afternoon. She could still recall the taste of his lips, the feel of his arms around her, the lightheaded joy at hearing his declaration of love.

And she could still see the pain in his eyes that her words had caused. We can't, she had said. The possible ramifications are too serious, she had said. It's not worth the risk, she had said.

Not worth the risk. She hated herself for those words. Of course he was worth the risk. She valued Chakotay above her career, above her very life. But the words, once spoken, couldn't be taken back. She'd pushed him away, and he'd honored her decision without argument.

This upcoming wedding had opened the wound again. She'd seen the pain in his eyes. The blossoming romance between Ayala and Jenkins had led to her moment of weakness, and the resulting kiss, and now their wedding served as a painful reminder.


"How often has the turbolift malfunctioned in the last year or so?" Tom asked.

B'Elanna looked up. "Three or four times. Why?"

"How about the time Ayala and Jenkins got stranded?" Tom asked. "Anything stick out in your mind about that?"

She snorted. "That wasn't a malfunction. That was a security override from the command console. Chakotay claims he tripped. He also somehow managed to accidentally encrypt the computer log, and use the captain's security code to do it. I wondered what you'd paid him to cover -- "

"Interesting," Tom said. "Hey, I'll be back in a bit."

"Tom -- "

"Twenty minutes." He bent to kiss her cheek. "I promise."


"It is inappropriate for you to violate security protocols in that manner," Seven said. "I will not participate."

"It's for a good cause," Tom said. "Can't you trust me?"

She appraised him with a withering look. "No."

"By depriving me of the facts, you're forcing me to jump to several unfounded conclusions. You don't want to be responsible for the consequences."

"I won't be responsible, Mister Paris, as I will not help you with this or any other misguided attempt to breach security or violate the captain's privacy."

"Fine," he said. "I'll ask Tuvok."

He didn't, of course, but he hoped that the suggestion would keep Seven from reporting him to security, at least until he'd put his plan into motion.


"I  don't remember," Harry repeated. "It was at least seven months ago. What does it matter?"

Tom explained again, which proved a waste of breath, because it just made Harry roll his eyes.

"But the cover story is clearly bogus," Tom said. "The odds against it must be astronomical."

"Clearly," Harry said. "Look Tom, just do whatever it is you want to do, because that's obviously what you're going to do anyhow, and let me get some sleep. I have to be on gamma shift in three hours."


"I  found your maid of honor," Tom announced. "Unfortunately, she's supposed to perform the ceremony."

"The captain?"

"Who better than the very person who locked you in the turbolift and therefore set you on the road to wedded bliss?"

"The captain?" McKenzie repeated. "On purpose?"

"You were ready to let that turbolift skip down the aisle with a basket of flower petals," Tom said. "I should think the captain deserves at least as much."

"Are you telling me that the captain locked us in the turbolift on purpose?"

"I have reason to think that she did. And one grand romantic plot deserves another, wouldn't you say?"

"Do you think she knew I was attracted to Michael?"

"I don't see any other possible reason for locking you in a turbolift with him, do you?"

"Well no. That's just such a wonderful thing to do. I already owe her so much, and now this?"

"You and me both," Tom said. "Now are you going to help me?"

"Of course."


Chakotay could barely find his desk under the avalanche of PADDS that required his immediate attention, but his mind kept returning to Kathryn. He remembered her withdrawal in the weeks following their kiss. She'd even used that region of empty space as an excuse to sequester herself in her quarters, and the tension between them had limited the support he owed her to an invitation to play velocity, but time had passed, and things had seemed better. They'd mended their friendship as best they could without directly acknowledging the incident, but now this wedding loomed before them.

Why did the joyous occasions cause them such pain?

He wanted to confront the issue, once and for all, but he doubted that she'd let him finish a sentence if he brought it up. No, he just needed to give her the same support and friendship he'd promised to give her since the beginning.

Eventually she'd see that both their friendship and their command relationship had the strength to weather a few fluctuations in the warp core, and perhaps then she'd allow herself some happiness.

In the meantime, Chakotay had to deal with Billy Telfer's claim that neither the Doctor nor Neelix would take his obvious allergy to leola root at all seriously. If he didn't respond soon, he suspected that the captain would get a copy of the complaint, with his name added to the list of offenders. While the prospect failed to leave him shaking in his boots, he still needed to avoid it.


"I'm honored, Ensign, but then who would perform the ceremony?"

"You could still do that part, too," Jenkins said. "The maid of honor doesn't really do anything during the actual ceremony."

Janeway eyed the garment bag suspiciously, but she couldn't turn the young woman down. "In that case, I'd love to stand up for you on your wedding day."

"Thank you, Captain." Jenkins beamed.

Janeway wondered if she'd ever get the same chance at happiness, but pushed the selfish concern from her mind. She had a crew to protect, and a ship to guide home to the Alpha Quadrant. Her own desires could wait.


"I'm really not sure about that dress, Tom. It's a little revealing."

"Trust me, she'll look great in it. Chakotay won't be able to see straight."

"He is the best man, you know," Jenkins said. "We need him at least coherent enough to pass Michael the ring."

"No you don't. When my cousin got married, his dog served as the best man. It worked out fine. He needs to look good in formal wear, not perform neurosurgery."

"What if she won't wear the dress?"

"She will. You're the bride. People will do pretty much anything you say on your wedding day." Tom looked wistful for a moment, as if regretting the fact that he would never be a bride. "Trust me, she'll have a lot more trouble concentrating on protocol and parameters without that stuffy old dress uniform to hide behind."


Childhood memories of bridesmaids' dresses too ugly to contemplate had haunted Janeway for days, but now she had to open the dreaded garment bag. She approached it cautiously, senses at full alert. With trembling fingers, she grasped the zipper. She fought the instinct to cover her eyes and lowered it slowly.

Too stunned to move, Janeway stood and stared at the dress.

It wasn't ugly at all. In fact, it was quite an attractive dress. Instead of the traditional lime green or flamingo pink, Ensign Jenkins had chosen a rich shade of dark blue. The shoulders featured delicate spaghetti straps, and not the ruffled sleeves she had so feared. The material didn't rustle menacingly when she removed the dress from the bag, and although the cut was a little low, it proved very flattering when she slipped into it.

The door chimed just as she finished her hair and she hurried out into the living room, hastily fastening an earring. "Come."

"Kathryn." Chakotay stood in the doorway.

Men always looked good in tuxedos. Janeway knew this, and yet this knowledge had not adequately prepared her for the task of speaking to Chakotay while he wore one.

"You're beautiful," he said.

She tried to ignore the catch in his voice.

"Shall we?" He offered his arm.

Somehow she managed to take it, although the rush of emotions made the trip to the mess hall surreal. She felt both slight irritation and extreme relief that he had appeared to escort her despite the memories that this particular wedding evoked.

Conditions in the mess hall didn't help Janeway regain her sense of reality. A sea of white flowers created a magical garden setting for the ceremony. Thick white drapes hid the mess hall viewport, and a white carpet formed an aisle between the rows of seats.

Tom Paris rushed over and provided extremely detailed instructions for the trip to the altar, while Harry and the Kim Tones set up off to the side. Even they didn't wear uniforms.

"Ayala didn't have a problem with Starfleet uniforms, did he?" She looked up at Chakotay, suddenly concerned at the thought of disharmony within her crew.

"Oh no, nothing like that." Chakotay's hand covered hers on his arm. "McKenzie wanted to wear a white gown, and I guess that led to formal wear."

Their eyes met, and they both nearly missed Tom's signal as the band started to play.


He could lose himself in those impossible blue eyes. He couldn't bear to look away completely even to walk up the aisle, and only Ayala's intervention prevented a potentially embarrassing collision with the altar.

Chakotay watched Kathryn take her place to perform the ceremony. That dress made it impossible for him to concentrate on anything else. Kathryn, however, seemed to recover her wits. Or maybe only his own wishful thinking made him believe that she'd seemed a little flustered before.

Kathryn was speaking about the value that love added to life, and Chakotay realized that the ceremony had started. He glanced dutifully at the bride, but his eyes quickly returned to Kathryn. Not even a bride as lovely as McKenzie Jenkins could hold a candle to her. He wished he could tell her that without reminding her of what they couldn't share.


The words made her throat tighten as she read them to the lucky couple. "Without love, life is incomplete. Every joy is greater when shared by two hearts. Every hardship is easier to bear with two sets of shoulders to share the burden. Today, we gather to witness as Michael and McKenzie pledge to bind their lives together, come joy or hardship, and they both will grow stronger for it."

Janeway tried to focus on Ayala as he recited his vows, but her traitorous eyes sought the gaze of the man beside him, the man whose shoulders made her burdens lighter. She wanted to share more than burdens with him. She wanted to give him the joy and happiness that he deserved.

McKenzie spoke of the courage it took to open one's heart to love, and how Michael's love had given her the strength to face anything life had to offer.

True, Janeway thought. Chakotay's friendship gave her the courage to open herself to him as she couldn't to anyone else. If only she had the freedom to let him in all the way, without any parameters to interfere, then she knew she could trust him completely.

Everyone was looking at her.

"The rings." Her voice sounded rusty.

After some fumbling, Ayala pulled one from Chakotay's pocket. It fell to the floor and rolled past the first row of seats.

"You should have tied it around his neck with a ribbon." Tom stood to hand Ayala the ring. "Worked like a charm at my cousin's wedding."

Janeway managed to pronounce them husband and wife without further incident. She wondered just how long she needed to stay before making her escape. Her aching heart wouldn't add to the festivities. Someone pressed a flute of champagne into her hands as the wedding guests began to mingle.

"Speech!" Tom Paris shouted.

McKenzie raised her glass. "I'd like to make a very special toast."

The room grew silent as everyone focused on the bride.

"Michael and I wouldn't be standing here as husband and wife if not for the actions of someone who truly understands the value of love. Someone who had the courage to prioritize love and happiness, even if it meant taking a few unorthodox steps. Thank you, Captain, I will never forget what you did for us, and what you do for all of us every day. I wish for you the same happiness that you've given Michael and me."

Applause broke out, and it was all Kathryn could do not to cry.

When he could be heard over the clapping, Ayala spoke up as well. "I owe you a debt that I can probably never pay. Thank you, Captain, for giving fate a hand." He grinned. "Now I'd like to invite the best man and maid of honor to share our first dance."

She stepped into Chakotay's arms, sure that he could feel her trembling.

"Your crew loves you, Kathryn," he whispered.

"I know," she managed.

His feelings for her shone in his eyes, and she let him pull her closer.

"You will always be my closest friend," he whispered. "Nothing will change that, and I will always love you, no matter what else changes, or doesn't change, in our lives."

She looked up at him through the sparkle of unshed tears, and reached to touch his face. "I do love you."

"I know that, Kathryn." His hand spread across her back, caressing her softly.

She stretched up to kiss him, but his gentle finger against her lips stopped her.

"I'm not going to kiss you," he said. "Not yet. Just enjoy the dance." He tugged her closer still, until she could feel his taut muscles moving against her body. His breath tickled her ear.

They continued through several songs, until the dance was nothing more than a pretense for an embrace. She clung to him, acknowledging that she needed this closeness as much as she needed her first officer's counsel on the bridge, or her best friend's shoulder after a hard day.

"I'm never letting you go again," he whispered.

She nodded. "You read my mind."

The music stopped, but they didn't notice until a steady clinking drew their attention to the galley.

"It's time for the most important part of the ceremony," Tom announced. "The traditional tossing of the bouquet."

A few women complied and gathered where Tom indicated. "Captain, I believe you're eligible to participate in this."

She shook her head.

"I've seen McKenzie play velocity," Chakotay shouted. "The captain has better odds right where she's standing."

Before she could thank him for saving her, the flowers sailed through the air, took a suspicious left turn, and attached themselves to the front of her dress.

"We're going," Chakotay whispered. "Now."

She followed him to the turbolift. "Why the hasty retreat?"

"Partly for Tom's safety. There's a less-than-tasteful garter related tradition that I wouldn't put past him."

She laughed. "And?"

He wrapped his arms around her. "And I can't wait any longer to do this."

"Me either." She kissed him.


 

LOVE NEVER ENDS


Background and graphics made by Dakota. © 2003


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Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, January 2005.