Homecoming – Chapter 1

19 year-old Dani Janeway looked around her quarters. It was hard to believe that it wouldn’t be long until she would be back in her bed on Earth. Her old bed. At home. For some reason, that phrase felt foreign now. She was at home. Voyager had been her home for seven years, the whole last half of her childhood. Just like everyone else on board Voyager, she was overjoyed at the thought of knowing that they had finally made it back to Earth, but part of her wished she could stay on the ship. She would miss her time on Voyager and the excitement of not knowing what the day was going to bring. But then again, she was happy that her family wouldn’t have to face danger every time they turned the corner.

The whole latter part of her childhood. In a few weeks she would be turning 20. Officially, she would be an adult, although unofficially, she had been one for years. Her experiences on Voyager had forced her to grow up much faster than others her age had. She didn’t regret it, though. She was a better person for it.

But what if she wasn’t ready to enter the world? After all, she had only been twelve when she’d been catapulted from the Alpha Quadrant. Had things changed much? Even if they hadn’t, she hadn’t ever lived as an adult before she’d left. How was she to know what to expect?

That’s where her parents came in. They’d help her. She thanked her lucky stars that they hadn’t been lost in the Delta Quadrant, though there had been many times when she was sure they were goners. There’d been plenty of times when she thought she’d been a goner, herself. But they’d all made it through, and now it was time to move on. Her next step: Starfleet Academy. If everything went as planned, she’d enter in the fall and begin her studies at the Academy with an emphasis on medicine. But she couldn’t get ahead of herself. She hadn’t taken the first entrance exam, yet. It was March, now. The written exam wouldn’t be given until May. In all truth, it wasn’t passing the exams that she was worried about. She knew she would pass the written exam, and the interview wouldn’t be a problem. She just wanted to make sure that she would get in on her own merit, and not because of who her mother or father or grandfather were.

Dani took one last look around the barren room before finally leaving. She looked around the living room as she passed through, and a thousand nostalgic memories flooded her consciousness. She didn’t dare reminisce for too long, however, because she knew that if she did, she would never leave. She walked out the doors of the quarters, abandoning one life for another.

xxx

The next night, Starfleet threw a celebratory ball for Voyager’s crew. Even though it was a formal event, the purpose for the occasion was so unique that all officers were permitted to dress in attire other than their dress uniforms, and most did. Most of the women, including Dani’s mother, Kathryn Janeway, wore formal gowns. Dani wore a sleeveless two-piece made of white satin. Most of the men wore formal suits. Like some of the women, some of the male officers opted for the formal dress uniform. A few even wore old-fashioned tuxedos, one of those few being Tom Paris. That was expected of him, he was such a history buff. The surprise of the evening was that Tom had talked Chakotay into sporting the traditional black and white outfit, too.

Despite all the friends she’d made while she was on Voyager, there wasn’t really anyone here she could talk to tonight. She looked around the room. She didn’t really know anyone here, except those from Voyager, and they had already integrated into the party, mixing and mingling with old Starfleet buddies or long lost family members whom they hadn’t seen in seven years. This was one of the few times she wished her mother would take command and start dragging her to different groups. As if it were an answer to her prayer, Dani saw her mother walking toward her. She watched the long dress flow about her as she glided across the room. The royal blue gown she was wearing really brought out her eyes.

“Dani,” her mother was saying, “I have to re-introduce you to so many people.”

“‘Re-introduce?'” Dani asked.

“Yes,” said Kathryn, taking her daughter’s arm. “It’s been so long since they last saw you. Just look at it like a big family reunion.”

Kathryn led her daughter to the large crowd she had been apart of. This was obviously the party’s hotspot. This was something her parents had prepared her for. Voyager’s crew members had become celebrities the moment they’d sent their first transmission to Starfleet Headquarters from the Delta Quadrant. That status had exploded the moment they actually reached the Alpha Quadrant, and it was just outrageous by the time they’d reached Earth. Kathyrn and Chakotay had been so concerned, they had wondered if Dani would benefit more by delaying taking the entrance exams for the Academy a year or two. But Dani was adamant about taking the exams as soon as possible, and her parents relented.

Now, Dani wondered if her parents hadn’t been right in making that suggestion to delay testing. As she and her mother approached the group, everyone turned to stare at her. There had to be 20 or 30 people at least standing around them.

“Everyone,” Kathryn announced, “I’d like you to say hello to my daughter, Danielle.”

“Dani?” one man said, closing the space between himself and Dani. He sounded surprised. “This is little Dani?”

Dani studied the man’s face. It was familiar, in more way than one. He was an older gentleman, around 60 or so, with blue eyes…

“Dani, you remember Admiral Paris,” her mother said.

That was how she knew him! This was Tom’s old man.

A smile broke out on Dani’s face. “Of course. Your son taught me how to fly a shuttle.”

“Learning from the best, I see,” the admiral said, a twinkle of pride in his eyes.

“My mother wouldn’t stand for anything less.” Dani looked at the faces in the group. She realized now that she did, in fact, recognize a great number of them. Colonel Kira Nerys, from Deep Space Nine; Ambassador Spock; Captain Montgomery Scott; Captain Morgan Bateson. She remembered meeting most of these people in the course of her life. It was part of the experience of being a Starfleet brat. Her scan of the group brought her to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the Enterprise, and his second-in-command, Commander William Riker. She knew Riker, alright. She’d had a crush on him since she was 11. If one thing had remained the same while she was in the Delta Quadrant, it was most definitely that.

“Well, well, well,” the commander said to Dani, “I see someone’s grown up. How old are you now?”

“I’ll be 20 in two weeks,” Dani replied.

“Typical teenager reply…” Will said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dani asked.

“Just what I said. Whenever you ask teenager her age, she always tells you how old she’ll be on her next birthday,” Will explained. “Like it actually makes a difference.”

Dani looked up at the tall, bearded man and instantly remembered how her crush on him had developed in the first place. “It does sometimes, like when your birthday’s only two weeks away.”

“Maybe…”

“So…I hear you crashed a starship while I was away,” Dani said matter-or- factly.

“More like totalled,” Will corrected.

“I bet Captain Picard hasn’t let you drive his knew toy, yet, has he?”

“He has.”

“While he was off the ship or just off-duty?”

Will didn’t say anything. He just stared down at this beautiful young woman who used to be the cute little girl he’d always joked around with. “Would you like to dance?”

Dani looked up into Will’s impossibly blue eyes. “Okay.”

Dani and Will left the group largely unnoticed and moved to a large open area in the middle of the room. It wasn’t until after they’d started dancing that Dani realized that there wasn’t anyone else out there with her and Will.

“No one else is dancing,” she observed.

“Does it really matter?” Will asked.

“I don’t guess it does.”

Chakotay nudged Kathryn with his elbow. When she looked up at him, he nodded at Will and Dani. Kathryn followed his gaze to the unlikely couple, the only couple on the dance floor.

“Well,” Kathryn said, “it seems like she’s found someone to keep her occupied.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Chakotay said. “It was different when she was younger. Now…”

“You’re worried about his intentions,” Kathryn suggested.

“Aren’t you? Riker is known for being a bit of a ladies’ man.”

“I’m not going to lie to you; I am…concerned, but whether we like it or not, she’s not a defenseless little girl. She’s a young woman. I think she’s old enough to make her own decisions.”

Kathryn looked up at Chakotay. “She’s never let us down before,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for her to start now.”

So, the social gathering wore on through the night. Things had certainly changed for Dani. She’d spent the better part of the evening with Will and his circle of friends. Even though they were all scores older than she, herself, she had fun just the same. It was much better than standing alone by the punch table all night. Before she knew it, the party was ending, and it was about time to go.

“My parents are giving me that it’s-late-and-we’re-ready-to-go look, so I guess I’ll give them a break,” Dani said, observing her parents. They were lingering near the exit, looking dead at her. It wasn’t unreasonable, though. The party was winding down, and most of the guests were preparing to leave..

Dani looked up at Will. “I had a great time tonight, thanks to you.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Will said. “I hope this won’t be the last time.”

Dani pondered these words for a moment before answering. Either he was just being nice, or he was asking her out. “I’m sure it won’t.”

“When are you going back to Indiana?” Will inquired.

“As soon as all this investigation stuff is done,” Dani replied. “Probably another few weeks. Until then, we’re staying in an apartment building not too far from Headquarters. That’s where they’ve got most of us.”

“Oh,” Will said. “Well, I’ll keep in touch.”

Dani smiled. “Good. See you around.”

“Bye.” Will watched as Dani turned and walked across the room to her parents. She turned and looked back at him as she was walking out the door. Chakotay followed. He caught Will’s eye and did not look at all happy.

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