"She's a Starfleet nerd -- they're the worst kind!" Owen Paris chastised himself for his wandering thoughts, and turned his attention back to the group of young recruits in front of him.
In the middle of the assembly sat Kathryn Janeway, daughter of Edward Janeway, known for his strident belief in upholding Starfleet's goals and directives, and for his unwavering loyalty. There was no doubt in Owen's mind that Kathryn would aspire to live up to the incredibly high standards her father had set for her.
Owen understood the sacrifices made by the families of those who ‘served the greater good'. No doubt, Edward was bursting with pride that Kathryn had been accepted into the Academy to follow in his footsteps. Again, he brought himself back to today, and continued to stare at her bright, young, eager face in the crowd of Starfleet's newest and brightest.
A Starfleet ‘brat' and a science ‘nerd' - yes, she'll go places, and fulfill her dreams of being a first-rate science officer.
Owen Paris stood rigidly, his back straight, eyes staring straight ahead at nothing. The words being uttered were meaningless to him, not bringing him comfort, as intended. He found his thoughts continually drifting, returning to painful memories despite himself. He tried not to think about the events that led to this day, to the Cardassian prison, and the nightmares that continue to plague him. He tried not to tell himself it had all been worth it in the end, and that something meaningful had come from his experiences.
He knows he's wrong. The torture and imprisonment had changed him, in ways that he could never have imagined. Initially, he regretted his survival and the legacy of having to live with the memories of his ordeal, and his guilt at not being able to protect his crew.
The only ‘good' thing to spring from that hellish episode was the love affair between his wonderful science office, Lt. Janeway, and another brilliant mind, Justin Tighe. Her rescuer became her fiancé, and once - just once - Owen hoped for that elusive happy ending.
Yet, here he stood, at the funeral service for both Justin and his own friend, Edward Janeway. He saw tears in the eyes of the gathered crowd, but none from Kathryn. He recognized that she was in shock - overwhelmed and unable to grasp the reality of their deaths, and still recovering from her own injuries, no doubt plagued with guilt at her own survival. Kathryn was in for a long and difficult recovery.
Owen thought of his friend, Edward, and promised himself that he would see her through this.
Owen Paris knew he shouldn't have been shocked when Kathryn approached him to request that his son, Tom, join her crew. He'd supported her through her grieving and her schooling, and knew that she was trying to help him in the only way she could.
The relationship between Owen and Tom had deteriorated since Owen's capture and horrendous treatment by the Cardassians, and no amount of counselling or medication could ease Owen's temper or depression. Although he knew that his expectations were too high, his criticisms too harsh, and his demands unreasonable, Owen could not stop himself from damaging every interaction he had with his son. Tom's imprisonment was the last straw, and resulted in a litany of vitriol and negativity that Owen was sure would never be forgiven.
Kathryn smiled and nodded when Owen gave her permission to begin the process of negotiating for Tom's release. He knew that she was glad to give Tom the opportunity to be of value, and hoped, for her sake, that he would live up to Kathryn's standard.
Owen Paris glanced out of the corner of his eye at Gretchen Janeway. She was being comforted by her only remaining child, Phoebe. No doubt, Phoebe was in much need of comfort as well, and he was glad they had each other for support. Feelings of sadness, regret and remorse overwhelmed him as he thought of Voyager's fate.
Tom was dead. The chance to mend the relationship with his son was gone forever, and Owen was forced to face that reality. He was devastated, and filled with despair at the enormity of his loss, knowing he hadn't appreciated what he'd had, and wishing beyond hope that he could change it.
Straightening his spine, Owen once again thought of his friend Edward, and of his widow beside him. Gretchen had also lost a child. By the end of the military funeral, Owen had made a conscious decision to deepen his friendship with the Janeways. He hoped their shared loss would help them both through the hard days ahead. Something deep inside him changed, and he knew his healing had begun.
Owen Paris knew that he looked ridiculous and was not responding according to protocol, but neither was anyone else in the room, all of whom seemed to be taking their cue from him. The data stream contained ‘letters home' from Voyager! The voice belonged to his son, and he was alive. He was also a lifetime away, but he was alive!
Despite the physical distance between Voyager and the Alpha Quadrant, and the fact that he might never see Tom in person, Owen was excited about the possibility of communicating with him and getting to know him again. He wanted to update Tom about his family, and hear all about Tom's life on Voyager. Best of all, Owen thought, he might get the opportunity to apologize to Tom, and show him what kind of man he had become.
Gretchen Janeway would be overjoyed, and Owen could hardly wait to tell her. There was no doubt in his mind that Captain Kathryn Janeway had gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the survival of her crew under extreme circumstances. Her natural stubbornness, coupled with her Starfleet training, made her a force to be reckoned with. Not only that, but Owen knew that because of her tenacity, he'd been given a second chance with his son - something for which he would be forever in her debt.
Owen Paris stood proudly, with other members of Starfleet and family members of Voyager's crew, watching as their long-lost loved ones debarked. Since receiving their first communiqué two years ago, he hoped he'd live long enough to see this day. His wish had been fulfilled, yet it still felt surreal.
Gretchen and Phoebe stood near him, eyes glued to the old-style uniforms making their way toward them. After getting to know them better, Owen had quickly learned that Kathryn's stubbornness was not unique to her alone. He smiled even more.
The truth was that his life had been affected in ways that would have been unimaginable to him, and immeasurably improved since his horrible ordeal with the Cardassians and with Voyager's disappearance. His life had become entwined with Kathryn Janeway since their first meeting, and he was better for it, even if she had no idea. He only hoped he could repay the debt in some way.
Admiral Paris hadn't found it easy to fulfil his silent promise to Edward to look after Kathryn. She was still rigidly ‘Starfleet' and as stubborn as they come. The former captain of Voyager initially received Owen's assistance with debriefings and insistence on enforced downtime with barely-disguised disdain. His well-intentioned suggestions for crew reassignments and private opportunities were seen by Kathryn as a sign of disrespect for the Maquis and a lack of confidence in her ability to reintegrate into the command structure of Starfleet. She made no apology for resenting what she saw as his interference.
Owen could see that Kathryn had changed. During her time in the Delta Quadrant, she had broken the Prime Directive and Temporal Prime Directive on numerous occasions, and made several other questionable command decisions. In other areas, she seemed more rule-bound than ever. While she revelled in discussing the many years' worth of scientific discoveries that Starfleet would be analysing, she appeared worn down by duty and openly conflicted about some of her experiences.
Owen continued to struggle with his inability to help the younger woman he'd taken under his wing so many years before. With practice, it became easier for him to discuss his feelings and speak from the heart. He eventually confided in Kathryn just how much she had influenced his life, from when she was an eager, rule-bound cadet to the young, cocky Starfleet captain. He spoke of her impact on his relationship with his son and thanked her for giving him and Tom a second chance.
Owen truly felt happier than he had in a very long time, and wanted nothing less than that for her.
While Kathryn had appeared touched by his obviously heartfelt words, it was clear to Owen that she failed to see his point as being in any way relevant to her. Starfleet defined her life, it always had done, and his insistence on a mandatory sabbatical had merely temporarily shelved her long-term career goals.
Owen stubbornly refused to budge, insisting that ‘Captain Janeway' reacquaint herself with Kathryn before returning to work.
The captain seethed but grudgingly accepted her ‘assignment' and Owen smiled to himself when Kathryn all but dismissed him after deciding that a nice, long nap was in order.
It was only a few months later, after Kathryn had gained some perspective and ‘a life', that she'd fiercely hugged Owen in gratitude. She apologized for her obstinacy, and thanked him for his ‘interference' stating that she was now an older and much wiser version of her former self.
The time she'd spent relaxing and reading while sitting on the big swing on the front porch of her mother's Indiana home, had been beneficial, allowing her to finally realize that she wasn't responsible for everyone and everything anymore.
It was obvious to Owen that Kathryn's attitude about many things had altered with this new perspective. He could see the change in her demeanour and knew she'd let go of some of the self-restrictions she'd always had in place. She admitted to some deep soul searching, considered her importance and place in the universe and decided that maybe there was room to make some changes in her life.
After her initial trepidation, she'd approached Chakotay. His new position with an earth-based research company had allowed their on-board friendship to evolve - slowly at first - into something much deeper and more meaningful. Owen couldn't have been happier.
Owen Paris looked around at the assembled group, enjoying the sheer happiness that radiated from the many smiling faces. He and his wife were seated at the same table as Gretchen and her family, and he was honoured by the significance of the gesture.
He'd been correct in his initial assessment - Starfleet nerds are the worst kind - but the bigger the challenge, the better the rewards.
Owen Paris stood and moved toward the podium. A proud smile spread across his face. As ‘father of the bride', he had a lot to say.