Dani Janeway must live with the consequences of a decision she never thought she would have to make.
Author's Note: This story is the sixth in a series of stories that do not follow cannon and should not be taken as such. The previous stories, in order, are: 1) Delta Wild, 2) Homecoming, 3) Graduation, 4) A Love Less Ordinary, and 5) Return to Normal. The events in these stories occur in an alternate universe in which Chakotay's stint with the Maquis happened much earlier in his life. He is
married to Kathryn Janeway, and they have a daughter. In this universe, Voyager did not combine with a crew from a Maquis ship, but instead reached the Delta Quadrant with a small loss of life and most of her crew in tact. The events of "First Contact" and "Insurrection" have already occurred in this timeline, but "Nemesis" has not. The Dominion War occurred, but with vastly different results. Many of the events of the final season of Deep Space Nine didn't occur, which means the characters that died during the season are not dead in my story. Please overlook any other inconsistencies or errors pertaining to the original Star Trek universe as the author's ignorance.
1. SURVEYING THE DAMAGE
Jean-Luc Picard looked at each of the faces of the Enterprise E's senior crew, seated around the large conference table in the observation lounge. He hated meetings of this nature, but it was necessary that they be informed of the bittersweet results of their most recent away mission. They all knew that Federation Ambassador Hea Starr had been successfully rescued from a labor camp on Cardassia Prime. They also knew that both Will Riker and Danielle Janeway had gone to Prime to rescue Starr and that Janeway hadn't returned to the Enterprise, while Riker had.
"As I'm sure you're all aware of by now, Lt. Janeway did not return to the ship with Commander Riker and the ambassador. I have been informed that she is being held on Cardassia Prime as a prisoner of the Cardassian state," Picard said, simply stating what was already known by his senior staff. "Now we've got to try to find a way to get her back."
Will Riker looked down at the table. She doesn't want to come back, he thought.
Picard continued. "I've been in contact with headquarters, and they are in the process of --"
The captain was interrupted by the sound of the observation lounge doors swishing open. He swiveled around to see who had just joined his meeting -- late. Ambassador Hea Starr made his way to an empty seat at the table.
"I apologize, Captain. I didn't mean to interrupt you," Starr said, settling in at the table. "Please -- continue."
"Ambassador -- good of you to join us," Picard said. "I'm pleased to see you are in good health."
"All thanks to your skilled officers and medical staff," Starr replied with a smile. He was a handsome, middle-aged human with warm, dark eyes and wavy salt-and-pepper hair. "If not for them, I wouldn't be here right now. Chances are, I probably wouldn't even be alive." Starr had escaped from Prime with Riker nearly three days earlier, and had been on board the Enterprise for nearly twelve hours.
"Yes," Picard began again, "actually, one of my officers is the purpose of this staff meeting."
Starr's smile faded. "Lt. Janeway," he said sadly.
"I was just telling my crew how headquarters has initiated negotiations talks with the Cardassians in hopes of freeing Lt. Janeway," Picard said. "It is our hope that the treaty we signed with them at the end of the Dominion War will play to our favor."
Starr nodded. "She is the reason that I am in attendance at this meeting," he revealed. "I didn't want the opportunity to tell everyone what kind of officer the lieutenant is to pass. She wasn't forcibly taken by the Cardassians."
Will's head shot up in the ambassador's direction. He had been dreading the moment when he'd have to reveal to the captain, to everyone, what Dani had done. She'd abandoned the Federation and Starfleet for Dukat. So far, he hadn't been able to bring himself to offer that information up to anyone. He hadn't been planning to unless he was ordered to. But it looked like Starr was about to spill the beans right now. When Will had made his decision to keep to himself as long as possible, he'd forgotten that the ambassador had been standing right there when Dani had done it. He'd watched on as Dani had thrown away her Starfleet life.
His heart sinking to the pit of his stomach, he watched and listened as Starr continued.
At Starr's last words, everyone at the table had looked at each other, obviously puzzled.
"Ambassador, what do you mean she wasn't taken forcibly," Geordi asked. "You don't mean she wanted to go with them?"
"Oh, yes, Commander, that's exactly what I'm saying," Starr said. "Lt. Janeway went with the Cardassians willingly because she wanted to make sure they released me. She offered herself as a bargaining chip. I saw her do it before my very eyes. She offered herself to them for my freedom."
Will looked at the ambassador, surprised. He had not been expecting that to be the description of what had transpired on Cardassia. Starr had apparently seen Dani's decision as a heroic notion.
The Enterprise's first officer thought about Dani and her situation. Perhaps, he thought, it had looked like Dani had turned herself over to the Cardassians in exchange for Starr's life. Suddenly, there was a bright spot in all of this darkness for Will. If, somehow, they were able to get Dani back, her career might not necessarily be over. In his heart and mind, though, Will knew the ambassador's version of what had happened wasn't accurate. Concurring with Starr's story would mean knowingly lying to the captain, Nechayev, and all of Starfleet. Could he do it?
Meanwhile, the meeting had been continuing, Will oblivious to what had transpired in the minutes since Hea Starr had given his account of what had happened at the prison.
"Starfleet has commenced negotiations with the Cardassians for the return of Lt. Janeway," Picard was saying. "At the moment, those are the only actions being taken. However, it has been made very clear that if negotiations are not successful, other measures will have to be taken." The meeting's attendees all looked at one another, understanding the implications of the captain's words. They would have to attempt another rescue mission if the talks failed.
"By my projections, it is highly unlikely that the talks will be successful," Data said. "We must remember that Starfleet is at fault in this situation for breaking into a Cardassian prison and aiding the escape of a prisoner of the Cardassian state. And it appears that we may have no choice but to repeat our infraction."
No one liked that prospect, but it looked like the most likely option would be what Data had suggested.
Picard nodded. "That's all the information I have for you at the moment," he concluded. "You are dismissed."
Everyone at the table rose and began to file out of the lounge. "Number One?" Picard said.
Will, who'd been on his way out of the room, turned to face his captain. "Sir?" he said.
"Will," Picard said, approaching his first officer. "I realize that this entire ordeal must be very difficult for you."
Will sighed. "I won't lie to you. It certainly hasn't been a picnic."
"Well, I assure you -- we're doing everything we can to bring Dani home. You have my word that I will do everything in my power to make sure that Dani is returned safe and healthy."
"Thank you, sir," Will said. "I appreciate that."
Picard hesitated a moment before continuing. He knew Will wouldn't like what he was going to say next. "In the meantime, I think it would be best if I took you off this mission."
"Sir --" Will objected.
"Will, you're much too close to this one," Picard explained. "Take some time off. Get your head together."
"Sir, I appreciate the gesture," Will began, "but I'd prefer to remain involved with this."
"Will, I understand what you're going through. I really do."
"Then, you'll understand my desire to want to do something, to feel useful. Frankly, sir, the only way you're going to get me off this mission is to order me off it."
Picard studied Riker. He certainly didn't want to pull the younger man off this mission. He truly did understand that the woman Will loved was being held captive. The man wanted to do whatever he could to make sure she returned home again.
Picard nodded. "Very well, then. You shall remain a part of this mission. But Will, if you, at any time, feel that you no longer wish to remain involved, please don't hesitate to inform me."
Will nodded. "Aye, sir." With that, he left the observation lounge.
When Will entered the turbolift, Deanna Troi followed him right in. "Deck 8," Will said. The lift obediently began to move.
Will knew why Deanna was here, and he wanted to tell her that he didn't need to talk to anyone, but he knew that wasn't the case. He needed to talk. Desperately. And there was no better person to talk to than the woman standing next to him. He looked down at her.
"I don't even know where to begin," Will said. He and Deanna were both on the sofa in Will's quarters. "I don't know how to begin."
"Let's begin with you," Deanna suggested.
"I feel absolutely horrible, Deanna," Will expressed. "I should have never let them give her this assignment. I should have never let her agree to this assignment." Will paused and reconsidered. "I know it wasn't exactly her choice, though. I know it was an order, but I should have ... done something."
"So, you feel responsible for Dani's presence on Cardassia right now," Deanna surmised.
"Yes," Will said honestly. His thoughts wandered back to those final moments on Cardassia when he'd watched Dani choose Dukat over him. That had hurt like a knife. "Maybe," he continued, lost in his thoughts, forgetting that Troi was sitting beside him, "maybe if I'd done something, anything ... she'd be here right now."
"You're right," Deanna told him. "Dani didn't have any control over this assignment, and neither did you. Will, this isn't your fault. You obviously did everything you could to ensure Dani's safety."
No, I didn't, Will thought. If that were the case, he'd have shot Dukat when he'd had the chance, grabbed Dani and gotten the hell out of there.