Map of the Vaadwaur.

Chakotay had always hated Starfleet dress uniforms; the fact the brand found on Voyager resembled a long dress while resembling normal uniforms looked bizarre did not help. In many ways he envied the Starfleet officers wearing the new variety; a white jacket coming down to the waist, trimmed in gold, and depending on the officer's rank would either have a white undershirt or a blue one.

But looking around, picking out the Starfleet officers and the crew of Voyager, it was for Chakotay like looking backwards into the past by only a few years.

His mind went back to how they had travelled across the Delta-Alpha quadrant border, and after exploring that distant part of space they had encountered one of a number of Starfleet ships sent by the Federation to look for them while mapping out routes towards the heart of the Federation. Once they'd made contact with the starship, the Hotspur (Chakotay wondered just how many officers were reading Hornblower nowadays; he'd already heard someone call a ship the Justinian, and another the Renown, and the Indefatigable), Voyager had simply travelled home while the two crews interacted, and the Voyager crew had contact with another Starfleet crew after so long on their own.

Thinking that reminded Chakotay of the Equinox, of the way Ransom and the others on her had captured those aliens to fuel their ship, and he grimaced as he recalled how Janeway had gone insane because Ransom had crossed the line. While Chakotay understood and even agreed with her stance and her point of view, especially since the aliens had been sentient enough to feel grief over what the Equinox crew had been doing to them, Chakotay had drawn the line when she had taken the step to torture Lessing in the cargo bay. At the same time, Chakotay had thought about everything Ransom and his crew had gone through, and he had realised how right the other man had been.

While he couldn't agree with what Ransom had done, Chakotay could understand better than Janeway ever could where Ransom had been coming from when he'd orchestrated the use of the aliens' unique and bizarre physiology to fuel his ship, to get them home so they could escape the death trap that was the Delta Quadrant before they were all killed because they were out of their depth. He had been there. He had been forced to watch as his crew and his ship were torn apart by forces beyond his control, all Maquis leaders had.

He'd been forced to think of the bigger picture more than once just to ensure his crew survived. In that regard he and Ransom were alike, but what worried Chakotay the most was he could actually see himself kidnapping those aliens to fuel his ship, and going on and on until his ship returned home, even if he knew the risks.

Encountering the Equinox had been too much like looking in a mirror, where some were concerned since Voyager could easily have been in the same sorry state, although Chakotay wondered if they'd gone through much the same experiences and the ship was a wreck and barely operable if Janeway would have crossed lines to get them home.

He doubted it.

Janeway was too rigid a fleeter for his liking, and the chances of her doing anything that went against her precious Federation was poison to her. She might cross one or two lines, but only as a last resort. It was thinking like that that Chakotay wished fervently their journey home had been beyond rough, and not the almost easy ride it had been.

"Hey, you okay?" Chakotay looked up and smiled at Sveta. It was good to know something of the Maquis still survived, even if so many of them were dead.

"Yeah, I'm just thinking about our journey back home, and something that happened along the way," he added, not wanting to even talk about the mess with the Equinox, not now they were back.

"What?"

"I'll tell you later. Anyway, what's it been like for those who managed to get away from the Dominion?" He asked while B'Elanna, Tom, and some of the other Maquis from his cell who'd found themselves forced to work with the Voyager crew although he knew if it had been different, they would never have been welcome leaned in to listen closely.

It had been a hard thing to accept; the Cardassians had entered into an alliance with powerful allies from the Gamma Quadrant, and now the Maquis had been all but wiped out by. Allies who had no regard for the niceties of Federation treaties which basically said to the Cardassians "you can have the colonies, to hell with the people already there" and wiped them out so quickly the Maquis in the DMZ hadn't really had the time to set up a good enough defence.

"Hard," Sveta licked her lips, her eyes suddenly showing the pain she felt over the loss of so many of their friends. "Many in Starfleet didn't want our help in fighting off the Dominion when the war hit the quadrant hard; quite a few wanted us to be thrown into the stockade and left to rot. But luckily they were overruled. We proved ourselves and our tactics many times over, but now the war's over we're going to set up a colony on a remote planet as far from the Federation and Cardassian territories as we can get. We've just about had enough of the so-called 'paradise' of the Federation when its nothing more than a pack of lies meant to tell everyone the Federation is benevolent and those who join need never go through grief."

Chakotay wasn't surprised his fellow Maquis were in agreement. If there was one thing they'd all worked out long ago it was the Federation's white-washed view of itself hid the true depths of just how far they were willing to ignore the evils of civilisation in the face of their own views of the Greater Good. They had done it with the Klingons, and they had later done it with the Cardassians following the war. They had dismissed the misery caused by the Cardassians to Bajor, and to the colonies out near their territories.

"Better not let Harry hear you say that," Tom commented solemnly as he gazed at Sveta. "He's one of those types who sees the Federation the way so many others do while ignoring the bleakness of life before it all pieced itself together."

"Harry?" Sveta looked between the Voyager Maquis questioningly.

B'Elanna sighed, but not before she lightly smacked Tom on the chest. "Harry Kim," she said in explanation. "He's a Starfleet ensign, dedicated to the Federation, although he doesn't mean anything bad by what he says. He's a great friend, but his problem comes from a lack of real experience in the real world. It's worse because it's clear he doesn't want to experience anything that goes against the Federation."

"Well, that settles it; I don't want to meet him, especially if he makes the mistake of saying anything about what's left of the Maquis," Sveta remarked.

"Ah, he's not that bad," Chakotay interjected before he changed the subject. "How far have you come with setting up the colony?"

"Well, we've found a decent enough planet, which comes with a nice little sector of space where we can settle down on," Sveta went on, "and we've managed to persuade the Federation council to give us the technology and materials to found it, we are just moving there gradually. Why, are you thinking of coming?"

Chakotay was aware of the looks he was garnering from the others. "I don't know," he replied honestly while he thought about what she'd just told them, and he couldn't help but ask himself how much trouble the surviving Maquis had in getting their case through. He didn't doubt for a moment the Federation Council had fully expected the former Maquis, having seen their former cause completely gone with the deaths of so many of them, to want to return to Paradise, so it must have caused one hell of a stir for them to discover the former Maquis just wanted to be left alone; in truth, he had honestly expected to just stay on Earth and not leave beyond the solar system boundaries, but now he had new opportunities. "We've just been in space so long, crammed into one ship, unable to routinely breathe in the fresh air of other planets because the captain was so determined to get us back to the Federation she couldn't see there were dozens of ways we could have benefits from landing Voyager, and we've been through so much, I don't really want to spend so much time inside another ship. I probably will, especially since I don't really have anything on Earth, but its been so long since I was here, and I'd love to see just how much of the place has changed over the years, especially now the war's over before I decide on what I want to do."

"It's okay, I understand," Sveta reassured him, although Chakotay knew her well enough to see she was disappointed before she turned to the others. "What about the rest of you?"

Ken Dalby looked down lovingly at Mariah Henley; the pair of them had gotten together recently, and they'd become inseparable. "What do you think?" He whispered to her.

"I'd love to go, but I'd like to see some of my distant family on Earth; we didn't have a good time when I saw them last, in fact, it ended in a screaming match, but I'd like to try and change things. They certainly reached out when they discovered I was still alive, and I'd like to reconnect. What about you?" Mariah asked.

Ken shook his head. "I haven't got anyone, but if you wanna go or stay… that's okay with me."

The pair of them kissed.

Sveta smiled at the scene.

"I think I'd like to visit Bajor," Gerron said, and the other Bajorans in the cell nodded in agreement, "but….I dunno. I would like to do what the chief says, try to work out what I wanna do before I make a decision."

"That's okay, Gerron; you've spent so long out of the loop, you all have, you've got every right to make your own decisions," Sveta smiled reassuringly, but her smile faded.

"What's wrong?" B'Elanna asked, wondering why her friend's smile faded.

"Is that Janeway?"

As one the Maquis crewmembers turned and they saw Janeway coming towards them.

"What does she want?" Gerron asked quietly to the others.

"Oh, I hope there aren't any bombshells; we've only just got back," Henley groaned.

Very few of the Maquis really cared for Janeway. They knew what kind of stress that the woman had put Chakotay through over the years, how she only paid attention to his counsel whenever it agreed with her own views. They also couldn't stand how the woman went from nought to ninety, claiming she wanted them to get home when she was more than willing to plunge the ship into trouble.

Quite a few people had died because of that, and there had been many times over the years when they had wondered if they would ever escape. One of the worst times that happened was that mess with Seska and how she'd duped the crew into entering Kazon space, which ended up with them stranded on an alien world. If it hadn't been for Tom Paris and his work with the Doctor, Lon Suder, and the Talaxians they would never have escaped.

But Janeway hadn't learnt from the mistake. She had still plunged them into one disaster after another, and they wondered what she was going to do next.

Many of the Maquis were just going to move on with their lives. They were never going to spend any time in Starfleet, they were planning on just going on with their lives. Sure, they had been enriched by their time on Voyager, but at the same time, they would never be able to forget how bleak some things had been.

"Commander," Janeway greeted, sending the Maquis crewmembers a curious look but otherwise the woman didn't say a word, "I'd like to speak with you," she said, motioning for him to step away from his crew so he could speak to her in private.

Chakotay was tempted to tell her what if she wanted to speak to him, she could do it in front of the others. But he didn't. He could see the look on her face, the look that said it was non-negotiable. And he sighed wearily, knowing some of the crew had seen the look as well, recognising it for what it was.

When he nodded and followed her over to a relatively quiet corner, watching as members of the Voyager crew spoke to friends, relatives and family. Some of them looked happy, although many looked awkward. That made sense to him; they'd been separated from their peers for a long time ever since the entity stranded them in the Delta Quadrant.

"I thought you were going to be speaking to your mother and sister," Chakotay commented, hoping to get to the point although he knew Kathryn Janeway was not one to beat around the bush.

"I am, but I wanted to speak with you quickly," Janeway said to him.

Chakotay blinked as he studied the woman. "About what?" He asked, concerned as he knew for certain Janeway had wanted to reunite with her family especially since her previous fiancé, Mark, had married someone else and was not here. He had known ever since they had sent the Doctor to the Prometheus via the Hirogen network, and he knew Janeway had been aware of it herself, there was a chance Mark would have moved on with her life. Chakotay could understand that alright, and yet he had no idea how Janeway had felt about the matter beyond what was said in the Ready Room, and he knew it was painful for her.

"I had hoped you would be nearby so I could talk to you about this earlier, Chakotay," Janeway wrung her hands while trying to look as confident as she could. "What are your plans now we're back home?"

Chakotay was surprised by the question. "What do you mean?"

"What do you plan to do now we're home?" Janeway clarified, gazing imploringly at him. "I was hoping you could come with me to my family home in Indiana."

Chakotay had plans of his own. He had been planning on meeting several of the Indian in America, spending time in Mexico and swimming in the bay on a summer's day. On top of that, he wanted to catch up with some of his old friends who'd managed to survive the Dominion War and the Jem'Hadar purge of the Maquis. In no way did he have plans for Starfleet. And he definitely did not want to be near Janeway. He did not want to be in Starfleet HeadQuarters anymore than he'd want to, but he would have to in order to be fully debriefed.

Chakotay was no longer worried Starfleet would detain him; if there was one bonus to the explosion which was the Dominion war, the Federation Council had more or less forgiven the Maquis, even though it was their fault they had even sparked the creation of the Maquis in the first place, opting to give away far too much away to the Cardassians. Now he was older and more experienced especially after trying his best to inaugurate moments of peace, Chakotay could understand the matter better, but he didn't like how the Federation was willing to give away their own people's homes to dance to another race's tone.

But he wondered why Janeway wanted him to come with her. It sounded like she was a teenage girl, wanting to take her lover home to her parents and telling them she was getting married…

"I'm sorry, Kathryn, but I can't," Chakotay honestly hoped the woman wasn't doing what he was thinking, although it made sense.

"Can't? Why not?" Chakotay winced at the volume and the change in Janeway's tone. Spirits, it looks like I was right; I knew she was attracted to me, the stares she sent my way were far from subtle, but I stopped being interested in her a long time ago, especially when I saw for myself she has a personality I just do not like.

And then the idea came to him.

While he didn't like the thought of needing to change his plans like this so quickly, and because of her, he had to admit he had thought of just going to the new Maquis colony. But he hadn't planned on leaving so soon, at least not until he had thought over his options and spent more than a few days on Earth.

Bloody woman! Why couldn't she have left things alone?!

"I don't plan on being on Earth for long," Chakotay replied after thinking quietly for a moment of what to say or do about this, and he had no intention of hurting her unless he had no choice; he might not be interested in her and she had pissed him off, repulsed him a few times with her actions, but Chakotay was a gentleman and he had no intention of hurting a lady. "I'm going off to a colony founded by the Maquis."

"A colony?" Janeway repeated, her voice rising in volume.

Chakotay nodded. "Yes. After being formed, one of the plans of the Maquis was to form an independent state, but that idea was shattered by the Jem'Hadar, but now the war's over, the surviving Maquis found a planet in a remote system to colonise. They want to be independent; they might have been forgiven by Starfleet, but it will be a long time before its mutual; there's still too much bad blood."

"Surely they can see there's no need for that, now they've been welcomed back into the Federation?" Janeway asked, but for Chakotay, the question was the ultimate death knell for whatever kind of relationship she might want them to have.

"If you really believe that, then you don't understand the Maquis at all, Kathryn," Chakotay's voice was low, and Janeway could tell she had made a mistake where he was concerned. "You have no idea what its like, Kathryn, when your own government hands over your worlds to an alien power, and allows those aliens to come in, and feel it's their right to assault the inhabitants. You have no idea what it's like for settlements who colonised worlds in peace, only for the Federation to hand them over while turning their backs. You have no idea what it's like for Starfleet officers to arrive on the planets, pretending to look into the security of the colony…only for them to beam you en-masse onboard their ships, just because they did not want to leave their homes and livelihoods!"

The memories of the betrayal of Starfleet and of the Federation made him tighten his muscles in anger. He had always despised that about the Federation, how they were keen to sacrifice and make deals with the literal deal in the name of the Greater Good. And it had happened, many times in the past. The Klingon Alliance was nothing compared to the treaty with Cardassia, only you'd need to be blind to not realise the Cardassians really did not care about treaties like that.

Unfortunately, what the Federation did with throwing away Federation colonists' hopes and dreams was beyond evil.

Chakotay had never forgiven the Federation for it any more than he had forgiven them for handing over his home colony to the Cardassians.

"The Federation offered the colonists new homes. You know they could never have returned to their homes, never mind set up an independent state," Janeway argued, but with that Chakotay sneered and let loose some of the contempt he had for Captain Kathryn Janeway.

"And with that, you've lost whatever respect I may have had for you. None of us wanted to leave our homes! None of us wanted to fight, but we did because we wanted to take back what was ours!" Chakotay kept his voice low although he was tempted to bellow his rage out, he didn't. He knew it would do little good, and he didn't want to create a scene although that might not be a bad thing in the long run.

Suddenly he looked down at the woman pityingly. It really amazed and hurt Chakotay the woman was this clueless. But why would she know? She had grown up wrapped in cotton wool, while her Starfleet following family treated Federation policies like they were religious texts, and they ignored everything else as result.

But what angered and upset Chakotay the most, what disappointed him the most, was how Janeway had known him for a long time, and yet now they were back to square one even though she'd shared her ship with members from a Maquis crew for seven years. She had seen and heard the loathing they had towards the Cardassians, such as during that mess where B'Elanna's body was used as a life support machine and the Doctor worked with a hologram of Crell Moset, and was ignorant of the Cardassians' crimes against sentient beings, who were to him nothing more than experiments.

The Doctor had been horrified by what the hologram had done, but this was different.

Here they were, back in the Alpha Quadrant, and they were back fighting over the same tired old ground.

Chakotay honestly did not know how much trouble Sveta and the others were getting from the Council about their plans, but he guessed they were saying the same things Janeway had on the tip of her tongue. She could not see she was wasting her own time, not to mention his own, while she talked about a subject she did not understand.

That was what he found annoying about Janeway.

She had never really spoken about the Maquis in his presence, not the Maquis on Voyager - that was expected given how the crew needed to assimilate with their Starfleet shipmates and work together as one crew even if Chakotay despised the thought of being Starfleet - when he had joined Starfleet years ago, he had wanted to explore space, and broaden his mind, but when he had discovered what they were doing out in the DMZ….

He had just left, especially when he'd learnt what the Cardassians were doing to his home.

No-one from Earth could understand, not unless someone stupid just handed over the planet to an alien power.

That was why Janeway could never understand. It was why they had never spoken about the subject at length in their time in the Delta Quadrant, not out of causing offence, but because regardless of how many times he'd explain the situation, Janeway just would not get it.

To her, it was inconceivable for anyone to want to leave the Federation, but Chakotay hoped the Council, too preoccupied with other matters, would just do the Maquis a favour, and leave well enough alone. Maybe the Vulcans would look at their perspective and realise the Maquis were operating on a sense of logic; they merely wished to be left alone, and it was illogical to meddle in their affairs.

Janeway was looking at him in horror - Chakotay wondered what the main thought was behind that emotion, was she horrified because of what he was saying, or horrified because he was rejecting her?

He didn't know.

But he did not care...

"So…you're going?" She whispered.

"Yes. My home was on Dorvan, Kathryn, but I want to try to rebuild the kind of life my father had; it's ironic, really, I wanted to leave that life and go into the modern galaxy. But I've had enough of that. I want something simpler. Goodbye, Kathryn."

Chakotay turned around and walked off, leaving a heartbroken woman behind. The sight of her face hurt him a great deal. But it needed to be said.

X

Shortly after Voyager's return home to the Alpha Quadrant, the ships exploring the Underspace network were recalled to Federation space. Starfleet just didn't have the resources to support a long-term exploration phase following the Dominion war. The Admirals wanted to concentrate all resources on the rebuilding of the Alpha Quadrant. But at the same time, the admirals advocated a massive research and development program, using the massive amounts of knowledge gathered by Voyager, and the other ships who'd entered the Underspace and travelled to various worlds and systems in the galaxy currently unknown to the Federation.

Voyager had gathered a lot of technology and scientific knowledge during their time in the Delta Quadrant - new alloys, new weapons, new means of propulsion and concepts not even on the drawing board in the Alpha Quadrant, and in the Alpha Quadrant a lot of Dominion and Breen technology had been left for the allied powers to scavenge. Ships were modified to fire phased polaron beam weapons and energy-dampening weapons while using Romulan derived plasma torpedoes, while later classes were provided with Dominion-style sub-light engines while using the shipbuilding techniques to make the vessels more durable, more compact.

Quantum Slipstream Drive became a focus in the Federation even if they had access to the Underspace. The story of how Voyager had become lost in the Delta Quadrant had taken the Alpha Quadrant by surprise. The idea of a powerful entity using technology like that to drag a Federation starship into an unknown part of the galaxy… while it sounded exciting, being able to see a part of the galaxy nobody expected to see in their lifetimes regardless of how advanced technology was getting all the time, it was also terrifying.

The Caretaker had become analogous to Q, or to Trelane, who'd both used means known only to themselves to throw ships to some parts unknown, and it wasn't unknown for phenomena to do the same thing. Starfleet wanted to make sure that never happened again, but because of how dependent the Federation was on warp technology, they hadn't had much luck. That was all changed, now Starfleet had several propulsion and transporter technologies to experiment with; the Sikarian folded-space transporter was of interest to the Federation even if the attempts to understand and utilise it had ended in failure, but the Voyager engineering crew had learnt a lot from the principles, the translocator from the Nyrians, Borg transwarp drive technology, Quantum Slipstream Drive and Coaxial warp drive which was soon provided to small ships. But it was hoped with access to Quantum Slipstream Drive, and Underspace, combined with warp technology, Starfleet ships would never find themselves in the same position.

It took Starfleet fifteen years, but eventually, three expeditionary fleets were sent to the Delta Quadrant. More powerful and stronger than Voyager, and in a better position to return to Federation space, they were sent on a five-year mission, which was reactivated to explore the Delta Quadrant while being aware of the hazards.

During their time they came across several discrepancies in the Voyager logs. They encountered several species who claimed to have encountered Voyager, but the Voyager crew claimed they had never met them before ever, and yet the aliens described the encounters very clearly. But Starfleet was mystified, especially since the Voyager crew were screened and it was revealed they were telling the truth. It wasn't until Commander Tuvok suggested imposters or duplicates were involved, the idea was it might have been the Silver Blood copies of the Voyager crew, but when the expeditions ventured to the Demon planet, they found nothing there to suggest the duplicates were there. And there was no sign of them anywhere. The expedition ships in that part of the Delta Quadrant were given standing orders to locate them, but they were never found.

But something was found.

The data recorder of the USS Equinox, another ship dragged into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker. When the Federation discovered what the crew had done, the lengths they had touched just to get home…

As Starfleet slowly but surely explored the Delta Quadrant, mapping the Underspace and using slipstream drive, colonising planets as they went, and bringing in species into the Federation, they ushered in a new dawn for the Federation…