Notes: Paramount may own the ST universe, but I manage to retain a character here and there. Thanks to Froot for the read-over and push of assurance.
Finding Home by Cheshire
I’d thought I was over this feeling. This gaping sense of loss, the pain of his absence constantly gnawing at me from the shadows is one I thought I’d finally subdued. At the very least, I’d been doing better.
And then there was today. The day that brought such wonderful unexpected news to so many sent me spiraling down a black hole I never saw coming when I’d gotten out of bed this morning.
Luckily, I was at home when I first heard it. I watched on the viewscreen, as did the rest of the planet I’m sure, as that silver arrowhead looking starship cut smoothly across the San Francisco skyline. My knees buckled at the sight, and I was fortunate to have been standing in front of the couch at the time as I sank down onto the cushions.
Voyager was home.
They’d made it home some sixty odd years earlier than expected. Four years too late for me…
I stared at the screen, watching blankly as the ship settled onto its extended struts, the people gathered near the landing pad all getting wind whipped by the landing ship. There were hundreds of people waiting to welcome home the lost ship and its crew. And it was only then that it dawned on me.
Starfleet had notified the families of the crew.
Correction – Starfleet had notified the families of the surviving crew.
I can’t say that I really saw anymore of the news coverage from that point on. Anger like I haven’t felt in years welled up in me, searing away that small amount of forgiveness I’d managed to build towards Starfleet in the past months. The fragile scar tissue I’ve only recently begun to gather over the gaping hole in my chest was scraped off with the fleeting sight of those first crewmen running down the starship’s ramp and into the arms of their loved ones.
An evening glass of wine that had somehow not slipped from my fingers despite my shocked state had quickly become a projectile of the worst kind. I imagine the damage done to my carpet will be worse than my viewscreen. I haven’t bothered to check.
Standing on the balcony, sipping my fourth glass of something a bit harder than wine, I’ve calmed some since that first red wave of memory passed over me. The first glass of liquid heat disappeared before I even moved away from the bottle, the second lasted slightly longer until my comm. console began lighting up with incoming calls. Even though I can silence the viewscreen, the telltale beep and the flashing message indicator on the console are a bit more difficult to control. I’m sure there’s some setting I could initiate to block the intrusions, but I found that a blanket stuffed into the console silences and masks the concern of my friends and remaining family quite effectively.
Feeling the relaxing warmth of my drink as it dulls my senses works even better. I can breathe again. The desire to wail like a dying animal has passed. Now, I simply feel myself slipping into the numbness I’ve grown so accustomed to these past four years.
He was supposed to have been back in three weeks. That was seven years ago. The first year he’d been missing had been the time of eternal hope. Something had happened, no one knew what, but surely a starship doesn’t simply vanish. They were all still alive. Somewhere. In the second year though, doubt began to creep in. That horrible nagging feeling that had been hanging around for months began to grow, nibbling at the optimism that held it back, but it was still controllable, relegated to a dark corner of the mind where it issued low menacing but not threatening growls.
And then doubt became reality. Starfleet Command declared Voyager lost with all hands. Next of kin received death benefits and official certifications for whatever record keeping and paperwork they needed to file. I received an ornate shadow box with David’s dates of service, official awards, rank pip, and a comm. badge. I attended the ceremony to honor the lost ship and her crew.
It was difficult to move forward from that point though. David’s side of the bed hadn’t been slept on since the night before Voyager had departed, but I’d received no remains. I’d been given no proof except some admiral’s arbitrary decision that enough time had passed. I had no closure, but I was now suddenly expected to accept this loss and move on with my life. After all, it had been years now of living without him. What was the big change really?
Then a little over a year after the ceremonies, the rumors started. It was difficult to pin down at first, but the whispers were coming from within the halls of Starfleet. A classified mission. An experimental ship. Romulans. A hologram. The relatives of Voyager’s crew that still worked within Starfleet were all hearing bits and pieces, and none of it made any sense. The only constant thing among the gossip was that Voyager was somehow involved. That possibly Voyager had not been destroyed after all.
Rumors and gossip about what really happened to Voyager had been running rampant since the first day when they had not returned from their mission. Plasma storms? Cardassians? Some new unheard-of threat from the Gamma Quadrant? The rumors had grown in outrageousness, but this time was different because the source of the rumors seemed legitimate. And persistent. When the FedNews reported on it, Starfleet was finally prodded into giving an official statement.
Yes, they said in their official news release, a classified source of intelligence confirmed that the USS Voyager and her crew were alive and well…in the Delta Quadrant.
A flurry of searches regarding the Delta Quadrant ensued across the planet at that announcement. I know because I was one of the people doing the searching. Of course, I’d had my college courses the same as anyone and was peripherally aware of the Delta Quadrant, but I had no real sense about where it was exactly or what it meant that David was alive and well there.
David was alive and well.
That was well and truly the only thing that mattered. Starfleet had come out and said it. Voyager and her crew were alive and well. My David was alive…and oh, he was going to be so mad at me for getting rid of his favorite chair. I knew I shouldn’t have listened to my mother.
The chime for my front door interrupted my nascent research on the Delta Quadrant. For one fleetingly brief moment I allowed myself to think that it was David at the door, ready to surprise me; to tell me that this was the reason Starfleet had delayed their announcement, why the rumors had been so persistent. Luckily, I was able to reason myself away from that thought before answering the door.
I welcomed the two Starfleet officers at my door. They’d essentially just given me back my David; I was more than happy to ask them into my…mine and David’s home.
How foolish I’d been.
Yes, Voyager was making its way home, they told me, but David was no longer with them. He’d been killed in action approximately a year earlier by phaser fire while protecting the captain.
Denial ran rampant among us.
David was an engineer. His specialty was transporter technology. He was only an ensign. Surely, they had trained security teams to protect the captain. What possible situation had happened that would have put him in a position like that? Had Cardassians or some Delta Quadrant equivalent stormed the ship? Had David been on the bridge at the time for some reason? Or had the captain been down in engineering? Where had her security been?
They gave me next to nothing. They either didn’t have the details or they weren’t sharing them. I’d been less polite in showing them the door than I had been in opening it for them.
Maybe that was why they hadn’t contacted me today.
Within minutes of stepping outside, I’d activated the balcony’s force field to insulate me from the cold night air, but even with that my bare feet are growing numb with cold. My glass has long been empty and I really shouldn’t refill it. I should just crawl into bed and try to forget this day. Stepping back inside, the universe continues to conspire against me, and I see the wine splattered viewscreen and remember with a groan that I still have a mess to clean up.
While I’m in the kitchen, searching my cabinets for the micro-ion cleanser, the chime for my front door sounds. I glance at the comm. console unable to see anything but the blanket stuffed into it. I didn’t answer any calls so, of course, that means someone would come to check on me. Fine. I’ll answer the door, let them know I’m alive and going to bed. If they insist on coming in, I’ll let them clean up the mess in the living room.
When I activate the door, allowing it to slide open, the first thing I notice is the red and black uniform. At first glance, the woman wearing it is of no consequence. The sight of any uniform darkening my doorstep is more than enough to make my blood pressure skyrocket these days.
I don’t answer. I can’t answer. My brain is still trying to catch up with my emotions.
Concern crosses her features. “Are you the wife of Ensign David Martin?”
She actually flinches. It’s slight. Barely more than a blink of her eyes, but I saw it.
“Mrs. Martin, I’m Captain Kath-”
“I know who you are.”
And I do. Her face had accompanied every news report regarding Voyager at the time of its disappearance.
She falters, swallows, and looks down at her hands. “I see. I, uh…”
“Why are you here?” Her chin comes up at the snapped question. “I mean, the whole world is celebrating your arrival home. Shouldn’t you be at a welcome back banquet or something?”
She’d be a fool not to hear the acid dripping from my tone, and she does not strike me as a fool. But she chooses not to acknowledge it either.
“There were some things I needed to take care of first.”
“And coming here was one of them?”
“Yes,” she states solemnly, “very much so.” There’s more she wants to say, but given my reception she backs off. “However, I can see I’ve interrupted your evening, my apologies. Please forgive the intrusion.”
She turns and walks away from my door, making her way down the corridor. For a moment, I stare dumbfounded at the now empty space where she had just been standing. “You’re just going to leave?” I ask the air in front of me before stepping out into the hall after her. “You came all the way down here to find me and now you’re just going to walk away?” She stopped at the first sound of my voice and faces me as I approach her. She is not relaxed and I realize she’s uncertain of my intentions. She is wary of me. The idea would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. “Well?”
Something hard flashes in her eyes and my guess is that she doesn’t like being pushed, but I wait and after a moment she answers.
“Your husband, Ensign Martin, died saving my life. I wasn’t able to thank him for that sacrifice. At the very least, I wanted to give you my regards personally, but I can see my presence here is only causing you pain.” She places one hand on her hip, then slides it back down almost immediately as if reminding herself to stay calm, but her voice takes on the slightest bit of attitude. “So yes, I would simply walk away.”
Except that now she isn’t. Now we’re just staring at each other. The silence building between us at an astonishing rate.
“Was it quick?” The question spills out of my mouth with absolutely no regard to what I had actually intended to say. Guess I can thank the four glasses of hard liquor for putting voice to a question I had only ever asked in my nightmares because in reality I am terrified of what the answer might be.
Janeway’s shoulders drop slightly and it’s as if she’s shrinking right in front of me. “It was very quick,” she answers quietly.
“David, did he...suffer?”
“No, he didn’t suffer.”
Relief floods my eyes, and although I know she could just be telling me what I want to hear, I want so badly to believe her.
Reflexively, I cross my arms over my chest. It’s a stance I perfected very early on after Voyager’s disappearance. Dig the fingers of one hand into the opposite bicep and hold on for dear life while people offer condolences or speculate with well-meaning concern about what could have happened. “They said it was phaser fire.”
She nods. “It was.”
Her hand twitches at her side as though she means to raise it, to reach out to me, but then she thinks better of it and it stays by her side.
I can’t help but look down at the floor when I ask my next question, fingers trembling against the hold they must keep. “Did you catch the bastard who did it?”
The sound of an indrawn breath instead of an answer has my eyes rising to meet hers. She looks uncomfortable, and I reckon I have my answer. The anger which is always so close to the surface for me has me practically snarling, “You didn’t, did you?”
I spin on my heel and begin walking back to my still open door. To her questionable credit, she follows me. “It was complicated.”
“Complicated?” I whirl to face her, my hand on the door’s panel intending to activate it, to slide it shut in her face. “Someone shot David with a phaser! You either know who did it or you don’t. There’s nothing complicated about that.”
“You’d be surprised,” she mutters, not so loud that I didn’t hear her, but probably louder than she intended.
She offers nothing more though and I can’t help but shake my head. What the hell was I expecting? I don’t need this right now. I’m done with her. “Go back to your party, Captain. We’re all sold out of absolution here.”
I activate the door, but the slight woman steps boldly forward, her boot catching the door before it closes. A stupid move considering the door could have been set with security measures, closing regardless of obstacles and crushing her foot. As my life has never required that degree of protection, the door hits her boot and obediently slides back open. She looks a little relieved.
“I can tell you about what happened, but it’s not something I’m prepared to talk about in the corridor,” she offers.
My desire to shut her out wars with needing to know every little scrap of detail I can about how David spent his final hours. I wish I had an ounce of her self control, but between the emotions of the evening and the four glasses of false courage, I feel the tears welling in my eyes. Her features soften in recognition and damn her all over again, I turn away, moving back inside my home, leaving the door open. “Stay or go, Captain,” I manage to croak out. “Do what you want.”
I hear the door slide closed behind me, and I squeeze my eyes shut against the burn of unshed tears. The thought of turning around and finding an empty room has me frozen in place. It’s only when I hear the shards of my wine glass breaking further under her boot that I know for sure she stayed. I turn in time to see her staring down and stepping gingerly back from the chaos on the floor.
I think about giving some wry comment about the cleaning service, but it sticks in my throat and I end up gesturing silently at the mess. It horrifies me when she bends down and begins cleaning up the shards of glass.
She looks up. “Do you have a towel or something I could put the glass on to gather it up?”
“Y-you don’t have to do that,” I manage to say.
She shrugs, continuing to gather the pieces into a small pile. “I’ve found over the years, that sometimes the only recourse available to us is to throw something. When you have to clean the mess up yourself, it’s not nearly as therapeutic.” Her fingers brush over one of the dark maroon blotches on the floor. “It’s still a little damp. Shouldn’t be too hard to ion out. Do you have a micro cleanser?”
Oddly enough that’s what I had been looking for when she came a-knocking. I know I used to have one. Living with David had always proved a need for one. Like any engineer I’ve ever met he was always tinkering with something which half the time led to stains of some sort or another wherever he’d been working. I used to tell him I’d never lose him because I could always follow the trail of coolant-
“Mrs. Martin?” Her voice has lost the edge to it that she spoke with in the hall, but it’s still jarring enough to stop my spiraling thoughts.
“Erica,” I manage to say, the knot in my throat dissolving slowly even as I realize that she had to have already known my first name. “Please, call me…Erica.”
“Erica,” she repeats gently.
It hits me again how absurd this whole situation is. Kathryn Janeway, the Kathryn Janeway, captain of Voyager, kneeling in my living room, cleaning up broken glass and spilled wine. Glass that I broke and wine that I spilled because I found out that she and her ship were back in my universe. Irony doesn’t quite cover the situation when I think that she is alive and well, able to stand in my living room because at some point, in some distant armpit of the galaxy, my husband saved her life.
“Why are you here?” I’m repeating myself and possibly in need of another drink that I thought I was done with for the night, but still my question to her stands.
Dusting her hands against each other, she gains her feet. “I meant it when I said wanted to offer condolences for your loss personally.” She gestures aimlessly and this time it’s she who falters. “I wanted to apologize for not being able to bring your husband home.”
It’s only for a moment that we stare at each other in silence before it’s she who looks away. And despite my own miserable state, I truly see this woman for the first time. Even though I recognized her, she does not look like the images that accompanied every report about Voyager for the past seven years. Dark smudges under her eyes betray her tiredness, and the hair is obviously different, years gone by have dulled some of the sharper features displayed in her official Starfleet photo, but she just looks…smaller, as though maybe having the weight of an entire unknown quadrant on her shoulders actually physically diminished her. Or maybe it’s just because I never imagined that I was taller than her.
The mantle clock chimes on the hour, making me realize it’s even later than I thought. The clock belonged to David’s grandfather and for the longest time the chime had either not worked or sounded more like a hammer hitting a rock, but David had tinkered with it and fixed it. It’s a sad unexpected warmth that spreads through me at the sound of the clock chiming in this particular moment. David would say that it was just coincidence, but I like to think it’s him, telling me now that I’m finally ready to listen, that everything really will be all right. That if he did indeed die while trying to protect this woman, it would have been what he considered to be a worthwhile death.
Then another thought hits me. “Captain, Voyager landed hours ago.”
Having marshaled her features once again, her deceptively mild, blue eyes meet mine.
“What have you been doing all this time?”
A small frown mars her face and I think I’ve surprised her by asking. “This,” she answers.
This. As in? “You mean talking to families?”
After a moment, she nods.
“Eight… so far.”
“So far,” I repeat gently.
Eight confrontations like the one she had at my door. Eight families startled by news of Voyager’s unexpected return and then thrown off kilter even more by the sudden appearance of a pseudo-celebrity at their door. Some would have still been angry like me; others confused.
I don’t know how she’s done it. “What about your family?”
The flash of a smile. “I saw my mother as I debarked, hugged her. My sister is off planet, but I spoke with her…”
Her voice trails off and the fleeting moment of joy fades from her eyes. She had the chance to reconnect with her loved one, something that the people that died under her command will never have the chance to do. Something I will never get to do. Surprisingly, the anger I expect to feel at this thought doesn’t flare up like the constant companion I’ve come to know so well.
Janeway fidgets, drawing my attention, and I realize she’s preparing to leave. I guess I know that she intends to visit every family who lost a loved one. She’ll probably even try and get it all done tonight unless someone stops her.
“Eight families,” I say again with more conviction. “Well, Captain, I’d say you’ve done more than enough for one night.”
Her head snaps up. “What?”
“You’re done for the night, Captain. Have a seat.”
It takes her a second to grasp my meaning, but then she gives me a flat, placating smile. It’s one I’ve seen David do numerous times over the years. I swear it must be one they teach at the academy, the approved facial expression for dealing with civilians.
“I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Martin, but-”
“I told you, it’s Erica. Now take a seat on the couch, Captain, and I’ll brew us a pot of coffee.”
She almost balks. Almost. Her back straightens to its most upright rigid position of attention, but then at the last second, a corner of her mouth quirks upwards. She tucks her head, hair falling forward in a wave, and gives me a small nod. “All right,” she drawls, “but please, call me Kathryn.”
I don’t know for certain why she stayed. It may have been because she felt a real connection with me. Maybe she realized she was tired. It might have been that she saw reason in waiting until the next day to finish what she considered her final mission as captain of Voyager. More likely, as her commander would later tell me, it was probably just the promise of a good cup of coffee.
I would have never guessed that coffee could calm a person down like it does her. As she cradles the warm mug between her hands, she sinks back against the couch cushions. “Oh. That’s good,” she says after taking a sip, her eyes closing in blissful surrender. “That’s really good.”
I grin, amused at her delight. My amusement is a surprise in itself. “It’s an indulgence. I can’t stand the cheap stuff.”
“This is a delight.” She salutes me with the mug. “First non-replicated non-substituted cup in seven years.”
“You have no idea,” she states, looking over the rim at me. After taking another hearty swallow, she lowers the mug. “I have to admit that I didn’t know your husband all that well. At his memorial service, his fellow crewmen spoke very highly of him.” She pauses, remembering back and in doing so allowing me a moment to strengthen my composure. “I remember he had some impressive ideas about how to improve the transporters, and I encouraged him to implement them.”
“That would have made him very happy,” I tell her. “I’m sure that given the go ahead he probably stayed in there for weeks putting in the changes.”
She laughs politely. “Well, I never heard any rumors of anyone camping out down there, but on Voyager, anything was possible.”
Anything was possible. “I guess Voyager really was the right ship for him then.” She looks questioningly at me. “When he was trying to convince me to marry him, he told me anything was possible.”
“You must have believed him. Apparently, you said yes.”
I nod. It’s true. I did believe him. Still do on occasion.
“How long were you married?”
“Almost three years when he left on Voyager so almost six total, I guess.”
“I was engaged when Voyager departed Earth,” she admits. “Mark was a very quiet man and his proposal was quite simple. It fit our relationship.”
“David’s teeth were chattering so hard I could barely understand him,” I chuckle at the memory and at her raised eyebrow I explain. “He was wearing nothing but swimming trunks in the middle of a Minnesota snow storm.”
She insists I tell her the entire story, and I almost don’t. Ever since that first day when news came of Voyager’s disappearance, despite numerous offers from well-meaning friends and family, I’ve never wanted to talk about David. The words have never come and somewhere deep down I know it’s because I felt like sharing my memories of him would be almost like losing that part of him. They’re my memories of David and I haven’t wanted to share them with anyone.
But my world has shifted once again, and smiling through the tears welling up in my eyes, I tell David’s captain about the man I had known and loved. Not the engineer, or the Starfleet officer, but the man that taught me how to scuba dive and who I had planned on spending the rest of my life with.
I talk for almost an hour. It’s easily the most consecutive time I’ve spent speaking in seven years. During one of the more humorous bits, David’s first time snow skiing, I realize my audience of one has become very quiet. I finish the story before turning carefully to face her, and as I suspected the captain has fallen asleep. Her chin touches her chest and the now empty coffee mug rests precariously in her lap between loosened fingers.
Some people would probably be offended. “I guess I was more right than I knew,” I whisper while gently plucking the mug from her grasp. “You really have done more than enough for one day.”
Easing myself off the couch, I take both of our mugs to the kitchen. The junk drawer is still pulled open and I spy the micro cleanser I’d been so haphazardly searching for sitting right on top. Grabbing it and a towel for the shards of glass, I head back into the living room. Glancing over at my unexpected house guest, I see she’s actually shifted a bit, her head now supported by the back of the couch. I smile to myself and kneel down to begin cleaning the carpet.
I’ve almost got the last spot ioned out when the chime for my front door rings. I immediately look up to the sleeping captain and know that she must be really out of it; she doesn’t move, not even at the sound that always seems louder than usual at this late hour. Hurrying to the door, before the chime rings again, I slide it open without even looking or calling for who’s there.
An unknown gentleman dressed in dark slacks and a white collared shirt, starts slightly, stepping back from the now open door. I don’t generally have feelings of trust for men with tattoos on their face, but his gentle smile puts me at ease far easier than I would have imagined.
“Hi,” he starts, “I’m sorry to bother you so late, but my name is Chakotay. I’m hoping you can help me find someone.”
He’s holding a folded up tricorder down by his side, and I’m guessing he already knows for a fact that the person he’s looking for is in my house. “Are you Starfleet?”
“Sort of,” he says with a bit of a grin, “I’m the first officer for Voyager, or at least I was until today.”
“You aren’t anymore?”
His hand tugs absently at his ear lobe when he answers. “It’s complicated.”
“Complicated,” I repeat, echoing the conversation I had earlier in the hallway. “Let me guess, you’re looking for a woman, red hair, about yea tall, bit of an attitude, and relaxes when you give her coffee.”
Smiling, he ducks his head but not before I catch sight of a pair of delightful dimples. He clears his throat. “Yes, that’s a fairly accurate description.”
I chuck my thumb towards the inside of my home. “She’s asleep on the couch.”
The stunned expression on his face is priceless. “Asleep?”
I motion for him to follow me in and watch as a wide grin appears on his face at the incongruous sight.
“She’s been up for almost thirty-six hours straight with not much sleep for several days before that,” he confides quietly to me, “but it’s still a sight to see.”
“I was surprised,” I admit in the same hushed tone. “She drank an entire mug of Colombian coffee. That usually perks up anybody.”
He chuckles. “It’s like warm milk for her.”
“So what does she drink in the mornings?”
A small shrug of the shoulders. “Same thing.” He turns to look at me. “She’s really going to be embarrassed when she wakes up. She’ll be horrified that she fell asleep on you.”
“Please,” I wave him off. “Just tell her she owes me a drink the next time we see each other.”
“I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to oblige.”
He shifts, preparing to move forward to wake his sleeping captain, when I tug at his sleeve. He stops, looking questioningly at me. His warm countenance inviting anything I have to say.
I almost don’t ask. Even now with his full attention, I falter. “I was hoping…I mean, I always thought that when Voyager returned, I’d find out more about how Dav- Ensign Martin died.” I take a deep breath that’s meant to be calming, but really just makes me feel like I have an over-inflated balloon sitting beneath my breastbone. “Will you tell me what happened?”
His eyes cut quickly over to Kathryn and then back to me.
“We didn’t exactly make it that far in the conversation.” My hand flutters uselessly as I try to explain. “She said it was phaser fire, but that it was complicated.”
“I can understand why she’d say that,” he admits. “The circumstances were unusual.” He scrutinizes me as he makes his decision. “Would you like to sit down?”
“No.” I shake my head emphatically. “I just want…I just...how?”
He settles into a stance, hands clasped behind his back, feet shoulder width apart. It’s probably one he’s more comfortable with when confronting unpleasant memories. “We had a young woman on board with us the first few years of our journey. Her name was Kes, and she served as a medic in sickbay. She happened to be there on duty one day when we picked up three very injured aliens. One of them died in sickbay, but unfortunately not before he managed to transfer a malicious consciousness into Kes. The consciousness belonged to a warlord that had been dead for centuries; he dominated Kes’ own personality and will. It wasn’t apparent to anyone that she was no longer in control until the incident in the transporter room.”
“So,” I swallow tightly, “David was in the transporter room. I’ve wondered.” It’s all I can think to say. All these times I’ve wondered why he was with the captain, and it was more like the captain just happened to have been with him.
“He was at his station. At the captain’s direction, he’d just beamed a diplomat aboard. Tieran, the entity controlling Kes, killed the diplomat, a man Tieran viewed as part of the ruling body that was standing in his rightful place in the planet’s government.” Chakotay pauses, glancing again at the sleeping woman on my couch. “I was on the bridge at the time, but the captain said later that Ensign Martin immediately pulled his phaser to return fire. His actions drew Tieran’s attention, and he was killed.”
The transporter room is a small space. It would have been chaos. “And the captain?”
“In those few moments that Tieran was distracted by your husband’s actions, the captain managed to close the space between her and Kes. There was a struggle between them for the phaser, a security team was on the way, but Kath- Captain Janeway was struck from behind by another assailant. Tieran and his two accomplices managed to escape to the surface of the planet. Our security team arrived at the transporter room only moments later, but it was too late to save your husband.”
“It really was quick then,” I manage to whisper.
“Yes, it was, and if not for Ensign Martin’s actions, Tieran would have likely killed Kathryn right after the diplomat.”
He doesn’t notice that he called her by name this time. “What happened to Tieran?”
“The captain led an assault team down to the surface, and we managed to force Tieran out of Kes. At least, we thought we had,” he continues before I have to ask. “It was Kes herself who realized Tieran had jumped bodies again before we’d gotten to her. She used the synaptic stimulator we’d brought to extract Tieran from his final host.”
“Extract? Does that mean he’s destroyed then?”
“Yes,” Chakotay nods. “He’ll never be able to hurt anyone again.” He looks more carefully at me. “In any quadrant.”
That, at least, is good to hear. “What happened to Kes?”
“She was changed by the experience, and remorseful about what her body had been used to accomplish. Kes was a very gentle being, one of the kindest people we ever came across.”
He looks again at Kathryn. “Her people only live seven years, and she chose to stay in the Delta quadrant. If she’s still alive, she’d be incredibly old for her kind.”
“I guess complicated really was an apt description.” Disembodied consciousnesses. Warlords and diplomats. It’s almost too incredible to believe, but then this was also coming from the ship that still wasn’t supposed to be home for another six decades. I pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to piece all that he’s told me together. It’s only then I’m reminded of how very tired I actually am. I look at Janeway, sleeping soundly, and feel a surprising pang of jealousy, until my mulish brain picks up on something else the commander had said. “The captain led the assault team down to the planet?”
He grimaces. “I believe in her reports she referred to it as a rescue operation.”
My brow furrows further. “I didn’t think captains were supposed to lead away missions?”
“They aren’t,” a third voice joins our conversation, “but my first officer understood my proclivities towards flaunting the rules.”
Chakotay gives Janeway an indulgent smile where she still sits on the couch, the side of her hair that had lain against the cushions now less than meticulous in its appearance. “Certain rules, at any rate,” he concedes.
She pushes herself up to her feet, one hand smoothing down the unruly hair. “Erica, I’d like to apologize for-”
I cut her off before she can manage to make us both self conscious. “Just buy me a drink one day, and we’ll call it even.”
“How about next Saturday evening?” Chakotay suggests.
Janeway and I both frown at him in confusion, but I see recognition light her face first. “A banquet to celebrate Voyager’s return?”
He nods. “The official one for friends, family, and crew.” The captain looks at me, a bit concerned about how I’ll accept this invitation given our contentious start. Chakotay picks up smoothly on the silent cue. “It will also be the time for us to honor those members of the Voyager family that we lost.”
“And to welcome into the fold those we’ve gained,” Janeway adds.
Several hours ago the possibility of me attending a gathering like that with any sense of goodwill to the people involved would have been inconceivable. Now, however… “I’ll… be there.”
Kathryn relaxes, “I’ll buy you a drink right after the speeches.”
Speeches. My throat begins to close up at the thought. “I’m sure by then… I’ll need it.”
“I’m sure we all will,” Chakotay admits his gentle manner easing the tension. “The admirals are already elbowing each other aside to be the one that gets to officially welcome us back.”
Janeway rolls her eyes. “So, which one sent you after me tonight?”
“None of them.”
Staring him down, she waits.
“It was actually your mother.”
She shakes her head, laughing silently. “She really does wield more power than the rest of those stuffed shirts put together.”
“Indeed.” He offers no argument. “The admirals were all getting a bit nervous about your disappearance, but your mother shut them down, assuring them that if you could find your way back from a different quadrant, you could certainly take care of yourself on a single continent.”
“And yet here you are.”
“I said she shut down the admirals.” He glances down at his civilian clothes. “Clearly, I’m not one of them.”
“Clearly.” She eyes his appearance, and I swear I can almost see the blue of her eyes darken.
“If you’ll allow me,” he offers his arm. “I’m here to escort you home to Indiana.”
“And if I don’t?”
A shrug of feigned indifference, the proffered arm never lowering. “I’m not letting you out of my sight, wherever else you intend to go.”
“And what about once you get me to my mother’s?” She asks even as she slips her hand up and under to take his elbow. “I could easily decide to go back out again.”
“You’ll be easy enough to follow,” he says, tucking her hand closer. “It just so happens that I’m staying in Indiana too.”
“Indiana is a pretty good size state. That’s a lot of area for one man to cover.”
“Luckily, the Janeway residence isn’t overly large.”
“My mother invited you to stay?”
“Invited is a rather soft word. Insisted would probably be a better description.”
She doesn’t reply, just gives him a rather crooked grin until she apparently remembers I’m still in the room. A light blush rushes into her cheeks as she looks at me.
“Are you two…together?” I ask.
She glances guiltily at him before answering, “No.”
“No?” He asks.
Her eyes go wide in surprise, but she repeats her answer. “No.”
He looks a lot more amused than I would’ve expected from someone who just got turned down for a relationship, and she looks more confused than someone who had just given a pretty definitive answer.
She drops his arm in order to square off with him more directly. “You didn’t think no?”
He shrugs. “No.”
Her eyes scrunch up a bit, his answer not helping to clear up the issue. “So, you thought something besides no?”
He takes a minute, probably running the question over again in his head like I am. “I thought there was the possibility of something besides no.”
“You didn’t think so?”
“Well…I mean, I always thought that maybe…when we got home…” Her voice trails off as she realizes what she’s just said.
Clearly, Voyager’s sudden and unexpected return home caught its captain as much by surprise as it did everyone else.
Chakotay continues to wait patiently, grinning, apparently having already come to the conclusion that is slowly making its way through Janeway’s fatigued mind.
Taking pity on her, I step forward and grasp her by the shoulders. Surprised and shaken her eyes lock onto mine. Calmly, I hold her gaze for a full moment, ensuring I have her focused attention, before saying, “Welcome home, Captain.”
Her gaze doesn’t leave mine. It’s the first time neither of us has looked away. Her mouth pulls to one side and I can see her jaw tighten and flex as she tries to control her emotions; I don’t have her discipline and the tears flow freely down my cheeks.
Finally she breaks the silence, her voice husky, “It’s really good to be here.”
It is indeed. “Be happy, Kathryn. It’s what David would’ve wanted for you.”
“What about you?”
It’s a fair question. My gaze drifts over to the framed holos on the wall and my favorite picture of David. He’d been swimming in the lake and was soaking wet, trying to get me in the water. I’d snapped the holo just as he’d lunged for me and the picture had caught him perfectly, water dripping down his face, bright green eyes, and a big wide open laughing smile.
And that was my David. Laughing, so full of life, and always trying to get me to jump in too.
I have an answer for Janeway’s question. It isn’t the answer I had when I got out of bed this morning, and it isn’t what I thought I’d know when I crawled under the covers tonight. I give her a watery smile. “I’ll be all right. I think I’ve finally found my way home, too.”
Thanks as always to Audabee for giving my words a home!