Graduation – 1. Leaving Indiana

It should’ve been one of the happiest days of her life. Instead, it ended up being one of the worst.

“At ease, cadets,” Rear Admiral Camden instructed. The multitude of graduating cadets on the large athletic field simultaneously shifted to the ‘at-ease’ position. It was graduation day at Starfleet Academy. 24-year-old Danielle Janeway, along with three hundred of her classmates were about to become Starfleet ensigns. But Dani was miserable. She was about to leave her closest friends for a science post on Deep Space Nine. That wasn’t the cause of her melancholy demeanor, though.

As Adm. Camden spoke, Dani searched the audience for her parents. Chakotay and Kathryn Janeway were seated in the alumni section along with the other Starfleet parents. Dani allowed herself a little smile. Her parents were the picture of pride, both of them beaming.

Dani’s eyes wondered over the crowd, and she realized that he was here, as well. She hadn’t expected him to be there. Her eyes fell to the grass as she remembered times when they’d been happier, like when she’d moved into her residence hall. He’d been there, then. She remembered that day very well…

xxx

Dani slipped her last data PADD into her suitcase and shut it. “I guess that’s everything,” she said. “I hope that’s everything.”

“Dani, the transport will be here any minute, now,” her mother called from somewhere in the house. “Are you almost ready?”

“Just about,” the 20-year-old called in reply. As she stood going over the imaginary list in her head, she didn’t notice her father approach the bedroom doorway.

“Don’t worry; you’ve got everything,” Chakotay said.

Dani turned to the doorway to face Chakotay. “I know,” she said.

“Besides, if you arrive and you realize that you are missing something, we can always send it to you,” Chakotay reminded his only daughter.

“Yeah.” Dani brought her suitcase to an upright position.

Chakotay stepped into the room. “Are you nervous?”

“No, not really,” Dani replied. “I’m excited, though.”

“That’s good. There’s a lot to be excited about. Academy life is…unique. I suspect it’s unlike anything else you’ll ever experience.”

“I know,” Dani said.

“Dani, I just want you to know that your mother and I are very proud of you. We’ve always been proud of you, but especially now.”

“Because I’m going to the Academy?”

“Partially. But that’s not the only reason. Dani, we’re proud of you for everything you’ve done in your life. You didn’t have an ordinary childhood. You know that. You’ve had to mature very quickly, more so than your peers. We’re just proud of you for handling it so well.” He and Dani hugged each other.

“I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without you or Mom,” Dani said.

“I know that there’s a lot of Starfleet in our family,” Chakotay began, “and that you’ve been around it all your life, but I don’t want you to feel as if you’re at all obligated to go to the Academy. Your mother and I only want you to go if it’s what you want to do.”

“It is, Dad,” Dani said earnestly. “This is the life that I want.”

Chakotay nodded. “Let’s go then.”

xxx

Move-in day at the Academy-probably one of the busiest days on campus. Besides move out day.

Dani walked down the hallway, looking for her assigned room number, 419.

“409, 410…” Dani said, searching the walls. Her mother and father, and Will Riker were a few paces behind her. “418, 419,” Dani said. She peered through the open door. Someone, her roommate, she assumed, had obviously started moving in. Suitcases already occupied one of the two beds in the room. Dani walked over to the unclaimed one and put her suitcase on it. Her three followers did the same.

“Well, what do you think?” Kathryn asked Dani.

“It’s not bad,” Dani replied. “It’ll just take some getting used to.”

“It’s nicer that what I had my freshman year,” Will input.

A girl carrying a box entered and froze the instant she saw the room’s new occupants. She immediately placed the box on the bed and stood at attention.

“At ease, cadet,” Kathryn gently said, as the highest-ranking officer in the room. The young woman relaxed noticeably.

Dani stepped forward, offering her hand. “Hi. I’m Dani Janeway,” she said.

The girl just stood there, unmoving. Dani didn’t quite know what to do. The girl seemed petrified. “Um..” Dani managed.

“You’re my roommate?” the girl blurted.

“Yes; Dani Janeway,” Dani said, emphasizing her outstretched hand. The girl hesitantly took Dani’s hand and weakly shook it. “And your name is…”

The girl realized that she had neglected to mention her name. “Oh, sorry. Emery Bell.”

“Pleased to meet you, Emery,” Dani said.

Emery let go of Dani’s hand and just stared in amazement at the people standing before her. Legends, practically.

“Emery, this is my mother, Captain Kathryn Janeway, my father, Commander Chakotay, and Commander William Riker,” Dani introduced. Emery shook hands with each of them in turn. She stepped back, awed.

“Wow…” she said. Will, Dani, Chakotay, and Kathryn all looked at each other.

“Well, it seems that you two have a lot to talk about,” Chakotay said. “So, we’ll let you get settled.”

“Oh…”Dani trailed off, following her parents and Will out of the room and into the hallway, where she hugged her father. It was time for them to leave.

“Remember to keep your focus,” Chakotay said, offering some final words of advice. “But have fun, too.”

“I will,” Dani said.

“And remember that we’ll be there if you need anything,” Kathryn reminded her. “Don’t hesitate to call or send us a message.”

“I will.” Dani hugged and kissed her parents for what must’ve been the hundredth time. Chakotay and Kathryn looked at their daughter one last time before their eyes fell on Will. They then left him and Dani alone.

Will took Dani’s hands into his own.

“Well, this is it,” he said.

“I know,” Dani said. For the past three months, Will Riker had been a staple in her life. After Voyager had returned to the Alpha Quadrant, they’d embarked on a relationship that’d had a bumpy start due to some initial objections from Dani’s father. But eventually, things had smoothed over and Dani and Will had been able to proceed with their relationship as any other couple would. Except Dani and Will were not any other couple. Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant had riveted the crew of the ship to celebrity status with the press. They were constantly being dogged by the media. The public had been especially fascinated by Dani. After Voyager had left, Dani had been reported as missing by her family on Earth. They hadn’t known that she was on Voyager, and a massive search had been organized in an effort to find her. Everyone had been surprised and relieved when Voyager had first been contacted, and it’d been discovered that Dani had been there the whole time.

So Dani’s relationship with Will had developed under the eye of the Federation News Service and other news organizations.

“These past few months have been heaven for me,” Will continued. He’d been on leave for the past few months while the Enterprise had undergone refits and maintenance on her systems. Now, his leave was coming to the end, as the Enterprise would be embarking on its next mission in a matter of days. Boy was he ever glad he’d decided to stay on Earth instead of spending his leave somewhere else.

“Me, too,” Dani said mirroring Will’s statement.

“Part of me doesn’t want to let you go, you know,” Will admitted.

“I know. But you’ve got the Enterprise, and I’ve got this.”

“What if I told you that I didn’t want the Enterprise, and that all I want is you?”

Dani smiled and shook her head. “What if you told me that?”

Will nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’d tell you that you were lying. The Enterprise means the world to you. You’ve spent the bulk of your career there.”

“Which is why I wouldn’t mind giving it up for you.”

“You’ve always wanted that command, Will. I find it hard to believe that you would just throw it away.”

Will laughed. “Me, too. But I would. If you asked me to.”

“I could never do that to you. I know your career is important to you, no matter what you tell me here and now.”

“You’re right – it is important. But it’s starting to pale in comparison to you.” With that, Will bent down and kissed Dani’s lips. “I love you, Dani.” He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to his body.

“I love you,” Dani replied.

“I think it’s only fair that I warn you beforehand – these first few weeks, I’m probably going to be calling you every hour.”

Dani laughed. She looked up and Will with tears in her eyes, and he wiped away her them with his fingers. They hugged each other again and kissed one last time before parting ways. Dani didn’t even cast a final glance and Will as she walked into her room because she knew that she wouldn’t be able to let him go if she did. He looked after her as she broke away from him and walked back into her room.

Dani looked at Emery. It was different, now that her parents and Will were actually gone. She’d never really been away from both of her parents on a long-term basis before. She’d always imagined how Academy life would be and how it would feel when her parents left her, but she didn’t imagine that she’d feel this way, like she didn’t know what to do next.

“So,” Dani began, “where are you from?”

“New York,” Emery replied.

“City?” Dani asked. One of the few things about Academy life that had caused her apprehension was roommate assignments. Protocol prohibited roommate changes unless serious problems arose. The idea was to get the cadets to work out their own problems. That didn’t always work.

“Yeah,” Emery said in reply to Dani’s question.

“I’m from-”

“Indiana,” Emery said, beaming. “I know.”

Dani almost asked how she knew, but then she remembered who she was. She laughed. “Yeah, I guess just about everybody knows that, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” Emery said.

The door chimed. Both young women looked at it. “Come in,” they both said. The doors slid open and two young women walked in.

“Hi,” one of them said. “My name is Elizabeth Crawley, and this is my roommate, T’Lo. We live across the hall.”

T’Lo was obviously Vulcan, with the customary closely-cropped Vulcan haircut and Vulcan calm. Elizabeth was tall, taller than either Emery or Dani, with long, blonde hair that was pulled back into a neat ponytail.

“Hi,” Dani said. “This is my roommate Emery Bell.” Emery shook hands with the new neighbors. “I’m-”

“Dani Janeway,” Elizabeth said, cutting Dani’s introduction short. “I know. Oh, my gosh – we’ve heard so much about you.”

“I can imagine so,” Dani said.

“I can’t believe you’re living across the hall from us,” Elizabeth said. The girls seemed to be somewhat in awe. Dani nodded. “So, where are you from?” she asked Elizabeth.

“London,” Elizabeth replied. “You’re from Indiana, I know, but it must’ve been amazing spending seven years on a starship.”

“Yes,” T’Lo agreed. “It must have been quite an experience for you.”

“Yeah, wel,l it was just like being on board any other starship – only longer,” Dani explained.

Just then, Emma Shale make her grand entrance into Dani’s life for the first, but certainly not the last, time. She entered the room, her little entourage following at her heels. She entered and approached Dani as if she were granting her the privilege of meeting her.

“Hi,” Emma said. “Emma Shale.” She held her hand out to Dani in a sort of royal manner. Dani took it and shook it.

“Hi,” Dani said. “Dani Janeway.”

“I know,” Emma said. Dani considered skipping her intro from now on. It just seemed pointless, since everyone already know her anyway. “Have you put in your request for a room change, yet?”

“I was under the impression that changes in room assignments were not permitted,” Dani said.

“Only in special cases,” Emma informed Dani. “This is a special case.”

“How so?”

“You’re Dani Janeway, and I’m Emma Shale,” she said. “It’s only natural that we room together.”

Dani looked at the others in the room. She was oblivious as to why she and Emma should be so special, but everyone else seemed to know. “Why?” Dani asked Emma.

Emma laughed a little. “Why not? I’m an admiral’s daughter, and you’re…well, your Dani Janeway.”

“And that affords us special treatment?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t believe in giving or receiving special treatment when it’s not warranted.” Dani watched Emma’s smile fall to the floor. The moment it hit was the moment all trouble between Dani and Emma began.

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