Return to Normal – Chapter 9

One week later, they were all back aboard the Enterprise, with the exception of Kathryn and Chakotay. They had all had a wonderful time on the Dolas, despite the fact that Will and Dani had to share a room with her parents. It hadn’t been so bad. Just a bit of an…inconvenience. And Dani and Will had been able to actually get some sleep the rest of their nights there.

The morning of her first day back on duty, Dani was preparing to go to the bridge for the start of her bridge shift at Ops when she was unexpectedly commed by the captain.

“Captain Picard to Lt. Janeway.”

Dani tapped her comm badge. “Janeway here, sir.”

“Lieutenant, I need to see you in my ready room at your earliest convenience,” the captain informed her.

“Aye, sir. I’m on my way.” She tapped her badge, closing the connection, and gave herself one final look-over in the mirror to make sure everything was as it should be before walking out the door.

As she strode onto the bridge, Will, in the command chair, turned to see who was stepping out of the turbolift. When saw that it was Dani, he was expecting her to go to her station at Ops and was quite surprised when she walked over to the captain’s ready room door instead. When she pressed the captain’s door chime, Will cast her a puzzled look.

Dani heard the captain’s invite and entered. Once the doors shut behind her, she said, “You wanted to see me, sir?”

Picard was seated at his desk, sipping on his customary cup of Earl Grey tea. “Yes, Lieutenant. Please – have a seat.”

Dani sat down in one of the two chairs in front of the captain’s desk. She had no idea what this was all about. Right now, she was calm, but she wouldn’t be surprised if, soon, her heart was beating about a thousand beats a minute.

Picard placed his cup on his desk and, sitting back in his chair and clasping his fingers over his waist, began. “Dani, I’ve had a chance to read the officers’ reports on the survey mission that took place a few weeks ago on Garessa II.”

Dani felt her heart rate spike. She’d been right. She might just have a heart attack before this was over with.

xxx

On the Bridge, Deanna, who’d just taken her seat, sensed extreme anxiety from someone. At first she thought that it was someone actually on the bridge, but no. She looked at the captain’s ready room door and then looked at Will, concerned.

“Dani’s in with him,” Will filled her in.

“Why?” Deanna asked.

Will shook his head. “I don’t know. She never said anything to me about meeting with the captain.”

“Will,” Deanna lowered her voice and leaned in closer to him. “She’s very nervous. I’m sensing fear, anxiety, apprehensiveness.”

Will looked at the ready room door, worry clouding his features. Dani was in there, and there was nothing he could do to help her. At least not at this moment. Perhaps later, he could talk to the captain on her behalf. What could she have done, Will asked himself.

xxx

Inside the ready room, Picard continued. “It’s come to my attention that many of your fellow officers offered numerous comments on your behavior and your actions throughout the ordeal.”

It was all Dani could do not to pass out. It was getting to where she had to force herself to breathe. But she sat there, the picture of calmness and reserve, as a good Starfleet officer should. Her mind raced over the numerous possibilities of what those other officers could have written about her in their reports. When her mind came to Eric Clements, all she had to do was scratch the surface of what he might have written before her nose began to burn with the beginning of the crying process. She would not cry, though. Not in front of this man.

xxx

“Will, I’m sensing a small amount of anger,” she said, her voice still low. “And great sadness. She’s close to tears, Will.” This almost spurred Will into action, but Troi placed a calming hand on his arm. “Let her handle this,” she urged.

Will relented and sat back in his chair, somewhat uncomfortably. What was going on in there?

xxx

Dani wondered what kind of consequences she was going to have to suffer. She didn’t even know what she’d done wrong, yet, but she was already contemplating various punishments. Would it be simply a dressing down, or would it be a severe as a demotion. She listened as Captain Picard continued.

“I must say, I’m not at all surprised by what has been reported to me,” Picard said. “Given your background, it’s what I expected.”

‘Oh, here it comes,’ Dani thought, steeling herself for the worst.

“Dani, what I’ve learned about your actions down on that planet is exemplary,” Picard said.

Dani felt like her heart had stopped. What? Exemplary? She waited for Picard to continue.

“Your actions are those of a true leader,” Picard elaborated. “You saved one of your colleagues’ lives and even risked your own to save a Q. You’re spoken very highly of in your comrades’ reports, Dani. Ensign Eric Clements had some particularly strong comments concerning you, all of them positive and grateful. I applaud you. A commendation will be placed on your records for your actions during the survey mission.”

Dani was almost speechless. Almost. “Thank you, sir,” she managed to say. “I’m honored.”

A little smile appeared on the captain’s face. “There’s also something else.”

‘Uh-oh,’ Dani thought.

Picard resumed. “I was going to wait until December to do this, with the other lieutenants, but I think it would be appropriate for me to do it at this time.”

Dani was utterly confused. Was he demoting her? He’d given her a commendation, and now he was demoting her? Finally she asked, “Do what, sir?”

Picard stood, and Dani followed suit, as any good officer would. “Attention!” Picard barked. Dani snapped to attention. Picard, almost beaming, stood in front of a completely confused Dani. “Lt. Junior Grade Danielle Janeway, I hereby promote you to the rank of full Lt., and bestow upon you all the rights and privileges of that rank.” He replaced the junior grade rank pin on her collar with that of a full lieutenant. “Congratulations, Dani,” Picard said with a wide grin.

“Thank you, sir,” Dani said. She felt as if a hundred pounds had been lifted from her body.

“Now, Lieutenant, you are dismissed,” Picard said, pride swelling in him. He’d known Dani since she was just a little girl, and now he’d just promoted her.

Dani walked out onto the bridge, one rank higher than when she’d first stepped onto it. She relieved the ensign at Ops and claimed her station.

Deanna smiled. She could sense elation in Dani. She looked at Will, who was still worried about what might or might not have transpired in the captain’s ready room. He stood and walked over to her station. She looked up at him. “Something I can do for you, Commander?” she asked him.

“No,” Will replied. He lowered his voice. “Are you all right?” The young lieutenant at helm glanced at Will and Dani. A glance from Will alerted him that he should keep his attention on his station. Will looked back down at Dani and repeated the question with his eyes.

“I’m fine,” she said. She looked down at her console and back up at Will. That’s when he noticed that her lieutenant’s pip was different. It was full. He looked at Dani, and a smile replaced his worry. She’d been promoted.

xxx

“I was scared shitless,” Dani said. Her finger traced the mouth of her glass. She and Will were in Ten-Forward that night, winding down the day.

“I know,” Will said, taking a sip of his yellow beverage. “Deanna sensed how you were feeling.”

Dani smiled and shook her head. “I’m not surprised. I was just hoping that Captain Picard wouldn’t pick up on it.” She took a sip of her own red-colored drink.

“She said, at one point, that you were close to tears?”

A small laugh escaped Dani’s lips. “Yeah. I was resolved not to cry, though.”

“Dani, what did you think was going to happen?” Will asked her.

“I don’t know. He was using all this ambiguous wording. I was thinking I was going to get demoted or something.”

“Why would you think that?” Will wondered aloud. She hadn’t done anything to deserve a demotion, at least not as he saw it.

Dani took another small swig of her drink before continuing. “Down on the planet, Eric Clements and I had a long talk, while you and Shields were gone. I thought, for sure, that his report would cast me in a less than favorable light. I don’t know. I just panicked. Now that I really think about it, there isn’t anything that would warrant the kind of action I was afraid of. I just overreacted.”

“Next time, don’t automatically think the worst,” Will advised. “And don’t freak out.” He finished off his drink.

Dani smiled. “I’ll try not to.” As she took another sip from her glass, Data approached their table and greeted them.

“Good evening, Commander, Dani,” the android said. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

Dani smiled again. “Thank you, Data.”

“Data,” Will said, smiling up at an old friend. “What can we do for you?” He offered Data a seat at their table with a swift movement of his hand, which the mechanical man accepted.

Interlacing his golden fingers on the table, Data looked at the two of them. “As you are both aware, I will be accompanying Geordi to the engineering conference on Medisna Prime tomorrow.”

“Yes, it’s a two-day conference, correct?” Will confirmed.

“Precisely, Commander. Which brings me to the purpose of my visit.” Data turned to Dani. “I will need someone to take care of Spot while I am away.”

Will was immediately reminded of his last dealings with Data’s cat, Spot. It was not a pleasant memory. That cat had scratched the hell out of him. Data obviously remembered this, too, which was why he’d immediately turned to Dani with the request.

“Would you mind cat-sitting for me while Geordi and I are gone?” Data asked Dani.

“Of course I wouldn’t mind, Data,” Dani agreed. “I love cats. Never actually taken care of one before, but I’m sure I could manage.”

“Thank you. I am truly appreciative of it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Data. You know I don’t mind. You just be sure to bring me back a good souvenir from Medisna.”

Data smiled and stood. “I will leave adequate instructions for her care,” Data assured her.

Dani nodded. “Yeah, yeah. You should be packing right now.”

Data nodded at her. He looked at Will. “Commander,” he said, bidding the couple farewell.

Will just looked at Dani. “I hope you don’t intend for me to be spending any quality time with Spot,” he said.

“No, don’t worry,” Dani said. “I know your…history with cats. Spot and I will be sure to manage on our own. We’ll have a…girl’s night out.”

Will grinned. “Wonderful.” He yawned. “I think I’m going to go ahead and turn in,” he said standing.

“Are you feeling okay?” Dani asked, concerning spreading across her features. It was still early in the evening. Will didn’t usually shut down for the night until much later.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Will assured her. “Just beat, that’s all.” Dani nodded, the worry leaving her features. “You’re coming by later?”

“Probably,” Dani replied. She sighed. “I don’t even know why I have my own place anymore, I never stay there.”

‘Hopefully, you won’t have to worry about that for very long,’ Will thought to himself. He didn’t dare say it aloud, though. He thought of something else, instead. “Oh, I almost forgot – Friday night, I’ll be performing in a little concert.”

“Concert?” Dani repeated. She hadn’t heard anything about a concert. Then again, she didn’t really hang around with a lot of the musicians. It could have been that the news just hadn’t reached her, yet.

“Yeah. It’s nothing big. Just a little performance,” Will elaborated.

“Sounds good,” Dani said.

“You’ll be there?”

“Of course I will, barring something unforeseeable occurs. Then again, that does have a tendency to happen on this ship.”

Will grinned. He loved her wry sense of humor. “I’ll see you tonight.” He bent down and kissed her cheek before leaving Ten-Forward.

Dani now sat alone, drinking the last of her drink. She looked out the viewport at the never-ending starfield. There was a blue nebula in close vicinity, which the Enterprise was exploring. In fact, that nebula was the reason Geordi and Data were leaving for Medisna by shuttle instead of letting the Enterprise transport them there. The ship would spend two days at this nebula before heading to Medisna.

“Lieutenant?”

Dani looked away from the blue mass in the viewport and up at the person who was now addressing her. It was Eric Clements. “May I join you?” he asked.

“Of course,” Dani said. “Have a seat.” She watched as the young man took the seat Will had vacated. This was one character who’d definitely succeeded in thoroughly confusing her during her time aboard the Enterprise. “What can I do for you?” she asked him. A waiter came and removed Dani’s empty glass for her.

“I never got the chance to thank you, Lieutenant, for saving my life,” Clements said straight-forwardly. “The doctor told me that if it hadn’t been for your quick thinking, I would have been…a lot worse off than I was when they got to me.”

“I didn’t do anything special, Ensign,” Dani insisted. “Just basic first aid.”

“Regardless, it saved my life. You saved my life,” Clements pressed. “Thank you.”

“Well, in that case, you’re welcome.”

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologize. We weren’t in the best of situations. And I certainly didn’t make things any easier. I have a tendency to-”

“Ensign, don’t worry about it.” Dani laughed. “I can’t really say I blame you for feeling the way you do.”

“But see, ma’am, I don’t feel the same way anymore.”

Dani stared at him unbelievingly. “You’re saying one away mission completely changed your opinions about me?”

“No, ma’am, not necessarily. Permission to speak freely?” Clements requested.

“Granted,” Dani said.

Clements continued. “I still believe that some of your past actions were carried out in bad judgment. I don’t think that’s something I’m ever going to change my mind about. But I’ve come to the stark realization that you are a good officer. Better than the one sitting across the table from you now.”

Dani sat for a moment, letting all that sink in. It was touching. “I disagree, Ensign,” Dani said. “I think you’re a fine officer. The very fact that you’re sitting across the table from me now is a testament to that. I just think you have a little growing to do. As we all do.” She gave him a few moments to absorb that. Then she stood. “Well, Ensign, I’m exhausted.” Clements stood, as well. “You have a good evening.” She bid the young man goodbye and left Ten-Forward. As she stepped into the turbolift outside, she thought, ‘I’d better watch it. I sounded a lot like my mother in there.’ “Scary,” she said aloud.

xxx

Dani entered the access code for Data’s quarters. She was rewarded with an inviting beep. The doors slid open, and she walked in. She looked down at the PADD of instructions that Data had left her pertaining to Spot’s care. Data had only left a few hours ago, at the beginning of her shift, but Dani thought she’d stop by and check on Spot during her lunch break.

“Spot?” Dani called out in a sing-song voice. She heard the cat meow from inside Data’s bedroom. When she walked in. She found the orange ball of fur lounging regally on Data’s bed. “There you are.” In the past, Dani would have expected Spot to bound off the bed and energetically come prancing over to her. Instead, she just lay there and meowed again. Dani wasn’t surprised. Spot had to be at least fifteen years old in human years. That would make her very old by cat standards.

Dani placed her PADD down on the nearest table and walked over to the bed. When she sat down, Spot rose and made his way over to her lap. “Hey there, girl. How are you this afternoon?” The cat responded by licking Dani’s hand with her little tongue. “Are you hungry?” Dani asked, half expecting an answer. “Let’s go get your lunch.” She stood, with Spot in her arms, and walked out to the replicator in the other room. She ordered Spot’s lunch, feline supplement Number 85 from the replicator. Once it materialized, she placed the dish of food on the floor, and the cat began to dine. Dani walked back into the bedroom to retrieve the PADD she’d left there. She rejoined Spot in the living area while she double-checked the list. Was this all she was supposed to do for Spot at lunchtime?

The door chimed, which surprised her. ‘Must be a visitor for Data,’ Dani concluded, walking over to the door. She answered it and found Will standing on the other side.

“Hey,” he said. “We still on for lunch?”

“Yes,” Dani said. “I’ll be done here in just a moment. Come on in.”

Will almost did, but froze when he saw the cat on the floor eating. “That’s okay, I think I’ll wait out here.”

“Will, she’s harmless. She’s just a little cat.”

“Tell that to my face,” he said.

Dani turned around and looked down at Spot. She had nearly finished her food. Dani walked over to the replicator and requested a dish of water for the cat. She bent down and placed it beside the nearly empty bowl of food.

“That should just about do it,” Dani said, standing upright. She walked over to the couch and picked up the PADD. “I’ll see you tonight, girl,” she said to the cat on her way out the door.

xxx

Six hours later, Dani was back in Data’s quarters with Spot. This time, she had an overnight bag and a book she’d been aiming to finish over the past few days. When she walked in, Spot was asleep in a chair in Data’s living room. At least, Dani hoped she was only asleep. She walked over to her and studied the cat’s form, noting the gentle rising and falling of the cat’s body. When she was satisfied that the cat was okay, she walked into the bedroom and dropped her bag on the bed. She pulled off her boots and pulled both her feet onto the bed. Leaning forward, she pulled her bag across the bed to her and began rummaging through it for the PADD that contained her book. ‘Ah! There it is!’ She pulled it out and stacked the bed pillows against the headboard of the bed, preparing for a good night of reading.

She’d just activated the PADD and read the first two lines of the book when the door chimed. Dani sighed and put the PADD down on the bed. She hopped out of bed and walked out of the bedroom, into the living room and to the door. It was Will. “Hey,” she greeted.

“Hi. Have you had dinner, yet?” he asked.

“No,” Dani replied.

“Wanna go get something?”

“You know, I was just going to stay in tonight. Replicate something.”

“Oh.” Will nodded. “Do you know what time you’re going to be finished up here?”

Will wasn’t going to like the answer to that one. “Actually, I’m staying here, tonight,” Dani informed him.

“Really?”

He might not have said it in any explicit way, but Dani could tell that Will was disappointed. “You could stay here with me, if you want,” she offered.

Will almost said yes, and would have, had it not been for this old lady with four legs and orange fur.

“Where is she?” Will asked, sticking only his head into the room.

“She’s in the chair, asleep,” Dani answered. She looked over at the chair. Yep, Spot was still snoozing.

Will thought it over briefly. There really wasn’t any danger, being that the cat was asleep. He cautiously stepped into Data’s quarters.

xxx

Two hours later, Will regretted the decision to ignore his gut and enter Data’s quarters. He regretted it with every fiber of his being because Now he sat on a biobed in sickbay while Nurse Alyssa Ogawa scanned the cat scratches on his face for infection.

“No signs of infection, Commander,” Ogawa said. She brought out the dermal regenerator and began to pass it over the three long, deep scratches on the side of Will’s face.

Will looked at Dani, who stood beside the bed. “Harmless…” he muttered. He knew he should’ve followed his intuition. He should have just told Dani good night and left. Everything had started out well enough. He’d entered Data’s quarters, and he and Dani had gotten cozy on the sofa. Spot had awakened about half an hour later, and Dani had fed her. Everything went downhill after that. After the cat had finished eating, she’d jumped into Dani’s lap and started to snuggle up against the warm body. Dani had stroked the cat’s coat and cooed at it affectionately. It happened when Will moved to do the same. When Will had reached out to pet the feline, she’d flicked a paw out and scratched the hell out of his face – again.

He shook his head. There was no way anyone was going to get him in the room with that cat again.

“Please be still, Commander,” Ogawa requested, turning Will’s head back to its previous position. “This will only take a few more minutes.”

Will sighed and complied with the nurse’s request. He hated cats.

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