May 26th – Dani Janeway’s 20th birthday. She, Kathryn, and Chakotay had decided that a small gathering at the apartment would suffice, and the whole affair had worked out wonderfully. Many Voyager crewmembers attended, as did other friends, such as Will, and family. They’d all come bearing gifts and goodwill.
“I didn’t expect this to turn out so well,” Chakotay whispered to Kathryn, as he surveyed the filled apartment.
“Me either,” Kathryn whispered back. “I expected many people to be too busy to attend.” She watched Dani, who was standing across the room in the center of a group that consisted mostly of Voyager alumni. “I’m glad they didn’t have anything better to do.”
“I hear you’ve got the Academy test in a few days,” Tom Paris said. He belonged to the group that hovered around Dani.
“Yes, the day after tomorrow,” Dani replied.
“You aren’t nervous, are you?” Harry Kim asked. He’d been the Ops officer on Voyager, and after spending seven years as an ensign, had finally been promoted to lieutenant.
“No. It won’t be any different from the stuff I’ve been doing for the past seven years. What I’m worried about is the interview.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Harry said. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Just go in there and be yourself. Don’t go in there praising the ‘Fleet’. That’s not what they want to hear. Trust me.”
“Dani, why would the interview concern you more than the written exam?” Icheb asked.
“I don’t know,” Dani said. “I guess it’s because when you take the written exam, it’s just you…and the computer. With the interview, it’s you and a few Starfleet brass.”
“Dani, you’ve probably spent more time with the brass than all of us put together,” Tom said.
“Not like this.”
“Nonsense,” Tom insisted. “You’re on a first-name basis with the entire admirality.”
Everyone in the little group, except Icheb, broke into laughter. Dani glanced across the room and caught Will’s gaze. He was standing in a group with Voyager’s Chief Engineer, B’Elanna Torres, and holographic doctor.
“It’s about that time,” Tom said.
“What time?” Dani asked.
“Time for you, the guest of honor, to make her speech,” Tom revealed.
Dani started to protest. “No, no-” But Tom had already started to process of gaining the other guest’s attention. He picked up a spoon from a nearby table and started to lightly tap it against his punch glass.
“Attention, everybody!” Tom announced. “Attention!” Everyone turned to Tom. “The birthday girl-” Harry coughed quite noticeably. Tom looked at him and was silently reminded of something. “Oh, excuse me,” Tom said. “The birthday woman has an announcement to make.” He looked at Dani, who was blushing. “Ms. Janeway?”
Will immediately noticed how beautiful Dani looked. He’d initially noticed when he’d first seen her after Voyager’s return, and he’d noticed it a few moments ago when his eyes had met hers from across the room, but to him, it seemed that she grew even more beautiful each time he looked at her. ‘I’m glad no one here is a telepath,’ Will thought. ‘At least, Ihope no one here is.’
Dani smiled, somewhat embarrassed by all the attention. “Thank you, everyone,” she said. “I know this wasn’t a surprise party, but I’m still astounded by the number of people who actually showed up. I didn’t expect so many. No offense or anything, but don’t you people have lives?” There was a wave of light chuckles. “No, really, thanks for coming. I really do appreciate it. Um…this is one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long while. Not only because I’m finally 20, but also because I get to spend it here, on Earth, with all of you. Thank you.”
Everyone clapped. As everyone once again broke off into groups, Dani abandoned the party for the balcony. She walked over to the railing, drink in hand, and stared out at the city. The Golden Gate Bridge at night. ‘So beautiful,’ she thought. There was a time, about one year ago today, actually, when she thought she’d never see that sight again.
Will stopped at the balcony doors. He’d expected to find Dani out there, but she looked so engrossed in her thoughts that he didn’t want to disturb her. But she must’ve realized that someone was standing in the doorway because she turned her head. When Will realized that he’d been spotted, he decided that he might as well join her. He stepped out onto the balcony, closed the door behind him, and joined Dani at the rail.
“Will,” Dani said.
“Hey,” Will said, stepping to her side. “I just wanted to tell you again, happy birthday.”
“Thanks – again.”
“Also, I want you to know that I’m proud of you.”
“You? Proud of me? What for?”
“I know you don’t like people saying this, but we all know it’s true even if you don’t think so.”
Dani let out a frustrated sigh. “If this is about the Academy-”
“It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all proud of you for that, too, but that’s not what I was going to talk about. We’re especially proud of you for what you’ve been through and how you went through it.”
“I did what anyone else would have done.”
“Maybe, but it’s the way you did it. Your attitude. From what I hear, you gave so many people so much hope. They looked at you, and they didn’t see you, the person who probably had the most cause to complain, complaining. So, they felt like they didn’t have the right to complain. And if you don’t complain, that means you hope.”
“Oh, I complained. I just didn’t do it in public.”
“And it’s just that kind of thinking that makes a good command officer.”
Dani smiled, waiving the usual ‘I haven’t taken the test, yet’ speech. “Command?”
“Yeah,” Will said.
“I never really considered going to command school,” Dani said. “I’ve been pretty focused on Starfleet Medical.”
“You should think about it. I think you’d make a good command officer. How could you not? It is in your blood, after all.”
Dani nodded. “I’ll think about it.”
“Congratulations, Dani,” Will said. “On the birthday.” He bent down and kissed Dani on the cheek.
As Kathryn passed by the balcony door, he saw Will bend over and kiss Dani on the cheek. Any other person kissing Dani, and she would have immediately dismissed it, but since it was Will, for some reason, she couldn’t let it go as harmless, as she walked away from the door.
‘If only that had been a few inches to the right,’ Dani thought, of Will’s kiss.
‘If only that could have been a few inches to the left,’ Will thought, as his lips were leaving Dani’s face. The thought caught him by surprise. ‘Where did that come from?’ he asked himself. It was an empty question. He knew where it had come from. It had come from the same place that prompted him to do what he was about to do next. Quite unexpectedly, Will bent down and kissed Dani again, this time squarely on the lips.
When they parted, they were both shocked. Neither of them had expected that. As a result, neither of them really knew what to say. That’s when Tom Paris unknowingly saved the day (or the night, rather).
Standing in the doorway, Tom said, “Hey, Dani – get back in here. You’re missing your own party.”
Dani wandered away from the rail and walked back into the apartment and the party.