Lines in the Sand IV, part IX
I roll over in bed, and stare up at the ceiling in a moment of disorientation. Then I remember everything and a second later, I'm on my feet, heading into the bathroom. I dry heave a few times, but bile continues to burn in my esophagus. I slump to the floor, nearly banging my head on the toilet.
For seven years, I stared down aliens and called their bluffs.
Even took a few risks myself.
Won most of the gambles I took.
Thought I did a pretty good job with Voyager too.
Now, one conversation with an admiral and I've reduced myself to a sniveling mess.
I draw my knees to my chest, hugging them close to me. I'm suddenly aware of the cold and wonder about the environmental controls. And then I remember that B'Elanna's not here to monitor to the systems and thinking about B'Elanna naturally leads me to thinking about Chakotay.
Neelix said that Chakotay must have a plan; he wouldn't leave me.
Neelix knows the crew better than anyone. Hurts me to admit it, but it's true, very true. He spent the time getting to know them; I just dished out orders, watched the crew follow my directives, and occasionally, one of them would question me. Most of the time though, out of a sense of propriety, I would stay in my quarters when not on duty, waiting for Chakotay to arrive on whatever pretense he had concocted for that day. Some nights he would show up with a duty roster and a formal, "Captain, I thought you would want to review my changes for this week
In some ways, I enjoyed the subterfuge but I also resented the invisible barrier that kept me from socializing more informally with crew.
Sometimes, I wanted to do more than lean towards Chakotay; I wanted to grab his hand right there in front of everyone. I wanted to brush my lips against his cheeks lightly the way B'Elanna does to Tom when she thinks no one is looking.
If that's love... God, what am I saying? It must be, right? I don't even know. I hate that I don't know.
When we spent time in the void, I allowed only Chakotay to visit. He would hand me the duty rosters, give a general state of the ship ("Everything is operating at peak efficiency, Captain.") and then he would gently massage my shoulders and back. He would tell me stories, and soon, I found myself looking forward together. In a way that made me uncomfortable and exited at the same time, I anticipated his arrival, sometimes with shaking hands and flushed cheeks.
And other moments, when I felt our relationship growing too close, frighteningly close to the point where Mark and I had been, I would draw back. I relied heavily on my sense of guilt as a convenient excuse and Chakotay, hesitantly, would agree and withdraw.
Once, I wandered the corridors of Voyager, keeping close to the walls, and ducking into storage rooms if I heard voices. That night, I saw Tom and B'Elanna. They were in front of his quarters and his hands rested on her hips lightly. I could barely make out their conversation, but it was something about breakfast plans and then B'Elanna broke away. A second later, Tom turned down the corridor and saw me there.
"I thought I heard something," he said. "It's usually B'Elanna who suspects someone's around, but this time... it's good to see you, Captain."
"Hello, Tom. I- I didn't mean to intrude."
"You didn't," Tom said easily. "It's your ship."
He laid special emphasis on the word `your' and I didn't particularly care to correct him; hell, at that moment, I didn't care much about anything but getting the crew home in one piece and these days, the possibilities of that seemed to be next to nothing.
"Is- is everything all right?" Tom asked carefully. "We've been worried about you."
"I need some time to think," I told him. "Everything is fine."
"Would you tell us if the situation was otherwise?"
"I've always been candid with the crew."
"In your way, yes."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I leaned back against the wall, folding my arms against my chest. "I've never lied to any of you, Tom."
"I didn't mean to imply that you did," Tom answered. "I think you tell us the truth the way you want to see it. But I suppose, you can say that of anyone. We all look at things from our own perspectives."
"When did you get so philosophical?"
of myself, I was amused by Tom's comments. I did feel the sting of reproach
underlying his words, but the sight of a pensive, serious Tom? Now that was
a phenomenon rarely observed.
"I've had a lot of time to think also," he said. "B'Elanna and I've been fighting."
I blinked in surprise at his frankness; it wasn't like Tom to talk about his relationship to B'Elanna. I didn't even think he talked to B'Elanna about their relationship.
"I wouldn't have guessed," I answered finally.
"You've been in your quarters, with all due respect," Tom said. "Right now, we're okay, but I know we're due for an argument any time now. God, I hate it when we fight. It eats at my gut, you know? I'm always thinking of a million things I should have said. And then I think about how I can make it up to her. And it's odd, because no matter what the argument is about or who started it, I always think it's my fault. Even when she apologizes, I feel terrible, because I feel like I've failed her in some way. Sometimes, B'Elanna's got me so turned around, I don't know what to think."
Then Tom bit his lip, looked at me and said softly, "But I don't suppose you know how that all goes?"
I wanted to disagree with him, but I couldn't. After all, where do you start if you're already at the beginning? If Tom wanted to stand here and trade relationship tips, what could I say? The truth? And how exactly would that come out? Maybe something along the lines of: "I do understand what you're talking about, Tom. I don't know how to tell you this - hell, I'll just say it. Chakotay and I are sleeping together. We can't tell anyone because it's a breach of protocol, but yes, the rumors are true. And you must have noticed by now that Chakotay and I have a communication problem. At least that's what Chakotay thinks. He's always analyzing, reading too much into each situation. I know what the problem is and he's wrong. He likes to question my decisions and I don't like his solutions. The issue of command, it gets in the way. What do you think, Tom? How does that compare to your relationship with B'Elanna? Maybe we should trade notes."
But of course, I couldn't say all of that. I simply looked at Tom, swallowed hard, and said with sincerity, "I hope you and B'Elanna work things out. It's not easy, I know- but I think you can do it."
Not exactly a gung-ho speech there, but I couldn't rouse myself to the proper levels of enthusiasm when it came to B'Elanna and Tom. To me, they often acted like unruly children, fighting constantly because it was easier to trade insults than to confess to something real. Or maybe they didn't know how to be in love. And in that case, who was I to offer them any advice?
Tom nodded, said his goodnight, and disappeared into his quarters.
And because I didn't want to risk encountering anyone else, I headed back to mine. Once back in the privacy of my quarters, I poured myself a glass of Merlot, and sat down on the sofa. I thought about Tom and B'Elanna and the way Tom's eyes glazes over when he looks at B'Elanna.
When Chakotay came that night, I pulled him into the bedroom and put my hand on his chest. He covered my fingers with his and for a long time, we just stood there. At some point, I leaned forward, resting my cheek against his chest, and he held me.
"I'm here," he said very softly and that night, I felt safe from the blackness that threatened to engulf me.
The memory makes me want Chakotay even more at this moment for nothing more than his ability to keep the demons far away from me. Even in those moments when I hated him for contradicting me, I knew he stood behind me, no matter what I did, ready to protect me from myself.
Starfleet captains don't huddle on the floors of bathrooms, hugging their knees. They don't sit in dark rooms, brooding and ruminating over past foibles. Starfleet captains certainly don't allow for relationship issues to interfere with command.
There should be a class on this kind of thing because I don't know what do other than sit here and sulk on the bathroom floor. Truth be told, I'd rather not be a captain for a while. Being womanly, even for a few seconds, would be nice change of pace.
I would like to believe McArthur is responsible for my current state, but I'm gradually beginning to realize that Starfleet, in all of its schizophrenic glory, is only partially responsible for my current distress.
If my crew could see me now, what would they say?
~ end part XII ~
"What is it? Captain Proton?" I ask.
see," Harry says. He punches in some codes while I shift from foot to foot
behind him. I try to peer over his shoulder, but Harry's not having it; he shifts
his body so I can't see
what he's doing.
"Don't hold me in suspense," I say.
"Patience is a virtue, Tom," Harry says. "Good things come to those who wait."
"You sound like a grandmother."
"Seems to me you're coming back to normal. Same old carefree happy Tom Paris, eh?"
"If you say so."
"What are you doing?" Seven approaches us. She holds a PADD in her hand. "Ensign Kim, I was looking for you."
Harry turns around guiltily.
"Did we have a meeting, Seven?" he frowns. "I don't recall-"
"No," she holds the PADD out. "I require your assistance in responding to this letter."
Harry takes the PADD and scrolls through the content.
"It is of a conciliatory nature," Seven continues. "However, I am uncertain how to respond. I believe a reply is appropriate in this case."
"Depends," I say, thinking about some of the letters that I wrote to my father from New Zealand - letters that he never answered. "If you have something to say, that is. Or maybe, you don't, in which case, you don't write back. Whatever you want, Seven."
Seven looks at Harry, ignoring me smoothly.
"It's human nature, isn't it?" I ask. "Do what you want to do since you're going to do it anyway?"
Harry stares at me.
"What are you talking about?" he asks finally. "Seven needs advice, Tom, and you're not helping."
"It's her decision," I say. "Whatever she chooses to do. I don't know why you can't see that."
"I am unsure of how to draft a letter," Seven says. "I have never written a letter before. You offered your assistance earlier."
"Of course," Harry says. He shoots me a look with the intention of reducing me to a shriveling pile of guilt at Seven's feet; hell, he's not getting me this way. Seven and her letter, damn, they can fend for themselves.
"These individuals, Karin and Kristophe Hansen, have offered to meet me when we dock," Seven says. "Kristophe Hansen is my father's brother. My uncle."
"So the letter says."
"I must rehearse a speech."
"No speech necessary, Seven. Be yourself," I advise. "It's only family."
"Tom," Harry says agitatedly. "Would you stop it?"
"Look," I hold up a hand. "It's a letter, for God's sake. Just say or do something, but don't think about it."
I punch in a code to open the holodeck and the doors slide open. Instead, Harry has programmed a tropical jungle, complete with lemurs swinging from tree branch to tree branch and in the distance, I can hear the roar of a river. Brightly colored florae dot the verdant shrubbery while vines twist around tree trunks. Humidity hangs in the air, sticky and oppressive. I look at Harry in surprise; he shrugs.
"A rainforest?" I ask. "Of all things?"
"It is an interesting environment," Seven observes. She glances around. I hear the howl of a wild animal and a second later, I'm aware of a snake hanging discreetly from a tree branch.
"Harry!" I scream. I jump back, nearly knocking my friend over. Harry regains his balance.
"Something wrong, Tom?" he asks innocently.
"I thought gangsters, Harry. Captain Proton at the very least. Even the beach. But this? This is a rainforest. What are you thinking?"
"Look at the detail," Harry grabs my arm.
"I'm looking." I point to the snake whose tongue darts in and out of its straight-line of a mouth quickly. "I don't like this, Harry. God! You programmed a snake?"
A second later, something small and furry runs across my boot. I jump, earning me a look of disdain from Seven of Nine.
"There are mice in here? Good lord, Harry. What is this?" I exclaim.
"I believe it is an authentic recreation of a rainforest," Seven says. She takes a few steps and then glances up at the canopy of leaves above us. "The temperature, however, is uncomfortable."
"Sorry," Harry says. "Like you said, it's authentic. Do you like it, Tom?"
"Are you crazy? What is - damn it, Harry, something bit me!"
"You should be okay. I left out the poisonous species," Harry answers.
I stare at him in surprise.
"That was thoughtful," I retort as I rub the red welt on my ankle.
"I programmed this a while back," Harry says pensively. "Before we even got back to the Alpha Quadrant... I've been wanting to show it to you for a while, Tom. I'm - I'm proud of it. I think it's one of the best programs I've done."
Seven leans down to pluck a reddish-hued flower from a shrub. She holds it up, examining it - stamen, pistils and all.
"What species is this? I am unfamiliar with this flower."
"It is a Heliconia, commonly called lobster claws. See how the flower looks like a claw?" Harry leaves my side to talk to Seven. For a few minutes, they discuss this particular blossom in great detail. Seven seems satisfied and then she looks at me.
"Lieutenant," she says. "Are you not interested?"
"I was misled," I answer grumpily.
"Fine, go," Harry says.
"What possessed you?" I can't resist asking. "This isn't exactly the ideal vacation spot. You could have left the mosquitoes out."
I slap at my arm and I'm irritated that Seven and Harry do not seem to be tasty prey for the insects of the rainforest.
"Next time," Harry says.
"Hell, even you think there won't be a next time. You choose this program for our last holodeck experience? Don't be ridiculous."
"Come with me," Harry says. His tone is firm, effectively cutting off any other complaints I must have. "I'm sorry that there aren't any fast cars or shuttlecraft for you to race, but this is important to me."
Properly chastened, I follow Harry and Seven.
The undergrowth is thick and in some places, still damp with morning dew. Harry, wielding a machete, cuts us a path expertly; I'm truly impressed at my friend's skill. I would have never guessed that trail blazing was a hobby of Harry's.
I step gingerly to avoid stepping on snakes, mice and other native fauna that Harry might have felt lent authenticity to the program. The trek is arduous since no path exists and the sounds of the jungle make me nervous.
Finally, we emerge on the bank of a river. The water is murky but fast flowing. On the other side, I see more trees.
"Well?" I question.
Harry points to a smooth-faced boulder jutting out of the bank.
"See that?" he asks.
"I almost proposed to Libby there," he says. "`Almost' being the operative word. I actually lost my footing and fell in. I lost the ring."
"That is unfortunate," Seven says.
"I've been thinking a lot, Tom," Harry says. "You asked about Libby and I told you that I didn't expect anything. But the other day, I came here to sit on that rock and I realized that I don't want any regrets. I don't want to look back for the rest of my life and wonder what would have happened if for a single moment, I had kept my balance."
"You did not propose again?" Seven asks.
"No. The Voyager posting came up and I thought that I had plenty of time. Libby never knew what I had intended. I needed to save up for another ring. Of course, I didn't think it seven years would pass before I could ask the question. And now... well, I was certain of her then. Hell, I was certain of me too."
I stare in fascination at the rock. I can almost see Harry and Libby standing there and Harry, in his enthusiasm, slipping on a wet spot and landing in the water. I imagine that he laughed nervously the way he does when he isn't sure what to do next. Maybe Libby extended her hand to help him out, maybe she jumped in after him or just maybe, she stood there and laughed. Harry doesn't seem inclined to fill in the blanks.
"You should write the letter, Seven," Harry says firmly. "But not the way Tom suggests. Write with your heart and tell them everything. Answer the questions they ask. Don't wait for another opportunity; take this one now."
This new philosophical Harry stuns me. In the past, I've always chided him on being wet behind the ears, but his present sincerity and serenity both reveal a side of Harry I've always ignored in favor of his more playful side.
"I'll help you," Harry says. Seven looks relieved.
"Harry?" I ask.
"Why - why did you choose a rainforest?"
"Like everything else," he says. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
He leads the way back through the forest. This time, our walk is much easier since we follow our original path. I think about making a joke about maps or even about programming nice trails into the scenario, but Harry doesn't seem inclined to humor at this moment.
Back in the corridor, Harry ends the program and then looks at me.
"I've wanted to show you that for a while," he says.
"I'm glad you did," I tell him. "Why didn't you ever say anything before?"
"I guess the longer we were away, the further away reality got. I started to forget Libby - the way she looked, walked, spoke, all of those things. And then, when you asked me about her the other day, I remembered this. In a way, it bothered me that I could forget so easily a moment that could have been the most important in my life."
"Do you intend to renew your acquaintance with this woman?" Seven asks. I look at her and for the first time, I think I detect a note of jealousy underlying Seven's tone. She keeps her expression even, but I wonder if there is something there. When Seven first came aboard Voyager, Harry had definite surge of testosterone whenever the former drone came within thirty meters of him. I teased him then, perhaps to the point where his attraction to her all but vanished. Yet, never for a second did I imagine Seven could have an interest in someone that went beyond efficiency and expediency.
"I wasn't going to," Harry answers. "Tom asked me a while ago and I said no, but I think - remembering this, I think I want to see her. It may not be the same, but I'll regret it if I don't. I don't want any regrets. Can you imagine us, Tom, at ninety years old and wondering what if we had done things differently? I don't want it to be like that. So I think I'm going to answer Libby's letter. I'll ask her to meet and there won't be any expectations, none. I think it's too much to ask, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I answer. "Like a lot of things, it's too much to ask."
"Do you plan to meet your family?" Seven asks.
"I don't know," I say. "My mother and sisters, they didn't say anything in their letters."
"Do they know about your father?" Harry asks softly.
I lean back against the wall and rub my hand across my eyes; suddenly, I'm very tired.
"I don't know. They must, right?"
Several crewmembers walk by us, talking in low voices. They nod a greeting at us, but pass by us without further conversation.
"Ensign Kim," Seven says. "You did not finish your story. What happened when you fell in the river?"
Harry's expression immediately brightens.
"I didn't? Oh, I landed in the water and it was maybe waist deep, but the current ran strong. Libby found a branch lying on the side of the bank and held it out to me. Pretty funny, isn't it?"
Seven tilts her head to the side.
"I fail to see the humor," she says. "But Libby sounds like a nice individual."
"Oh, she is," Harry answers wistfully.
"I didn't know going home would be this painful," I say. Harry looks at me in surprise.
"Think about it," I continue. "We've been hoping for home for years now and now that we are, I'd rather be back in the Delta Quadrant. What do we do now? We don't even know. God, I don't even know when I will see my mother. I don't even know when I'll see B'Elanna again. I don't like this, Harry."
"Tom, you've been through a lot in the last few days," Harry says kindly. "It's only natural you're having difficulty coping."
"Don't," I hold up a hand and then take a step away from Harry and Seven. "`Difficulty' is an understatement. I'm still trying to figure out what remains. Do you get that? You were talking about reality before, Harry. You were saying that you'd gotten away from reality for a while and yeah, we did. It's not just coming home to family and accolades. What we remember doesn't exist anymore and that's what's difficult. The rest, those are just details. Minor details."
"The death of a parent is not a minor detail," Seven retorts.
"I didn't say that," I answer. "I only pointed out what I felt. Don't think I have for one second forgotten my father. Believe me, I'm never going to forget him. Not after what he's done."
"What has he done?" Seven asks. I realize that she has little idea of my father's role with the Maquis and the subsequent destruction of the starbase. "I did not know your father, Lieutenant, but I believed him to be an honorable individual. Was I mistaken?"
Harry and I exchange a look. It's better, I think, that the memory of Owen Paris, distinguished Starfleet Admiral, remain a hazy vision of what was, rather than what is.
"No, Seven, you're not wrong," I say. "He- he was honorable in his way. And you know what? He was so proud of his granddaughter. The way he talked about her, God, I wish I could have seen the two of them together. When he talked about Linsey, he seemed less like an admiral, more like a human being. It was... nice."
"That's a good way to remember him," Harry says carefully.
"Perhaps I should recall my parents in a similar manner," Seven adds. She doesn't say anything else, but I know exactly what she means.
"I'll help you with that letter," I tell her in one of those heartfelt moments of dysfunctional solidarity. Kind of a "I'm okay, you're okay" moment, but without the hugging.
"Thank you," Seven says. "I am grateful for your assistance."
"Tuvok to Paris."
"Report to the bridge. We have arrived."
He doesn't have to give us much more information. Seven's letter is going to have to wait.
"Understood," I reply. "Paris out."
Harry, Seven and I exchange a look and then, silently, we walk towards the bridge.
"Tuvok to Janeway."
"What is it?"
"We are in range to dock."
Deep breaths. Long and slow.
"Are you all right, Captain?"
"I'm fine. Thank you for letting me know. Janeway out."
I rise from the sofa, where I've been resting for the last hour or so, trying to convince myself that a good cup of coffee is all I really need to shake off my anxiety. The effect, I realize, is the exact opposite of what I'd hoped for; my hands shake as I reach for a clean uniform. I dress quickly and then take a look at myself in the mirror.
Outwardly, I look every inch the regulation Starfleet officer, from the arrangement of pips on my turtleneck to my gleaming boots. Hell, you can't even tell that just over five months ago, I was the epitome of perfection, dressed steel plated armor, complete with the accessories every well-dressed drone needs: various blinking lights, tubes of varying radii and glow-in-the-dark circuitry.
But the Doctor has done his work well, and there are no scars. Not any that you can see and I refuse to confess to any of the rest.
I run my hand over my hair, smoothing a few stray hairs back into place. A deep breath, a quick pinch to the cheeks for color, and I'm ready to step back into the persona of Kathryn Janeway, Captain.
I swallow hard as I walk down the empty corridors. You can imagine how you'll feel in a certain moment. I mean, I visualized for hours about what a homecoming would feel like. And I practiced that happy feeling. Then when I realized I wouldn't get my ticker tape parade and no one would be celebrating our return, then I practiced this homecoming - the one where I would walk alone, head held high, blinking back tears.
Still, my imagination did not feel like this. Not at all.
I hate reality.
I arrive on the bridge to see my crew working diligently at their stations. They are calm as if coming home is something we do regularly.
"Commander," I nod at Tuvok.
He gets up from my chair and moves slightly the left so I can sit down. I take a look around my bridge before settling down. They - Harry, Tuvok, Tom, and Seven - offer back nervous smiles. Moments like this need speeches, rousing Cicero-style orations guaranteed to bring everyone to a foot-stomping ovation. Yet, when I need them most, words fail me miserably.
"Okay, people," I say. "This is it. Take us in, Tom."
I sit down and cross my legs. Tuvok sits down next to me.
"You have fulfilled your promise to the crew," he says in a low voice.
"Two-thirds of them anyway."
Tuvok maintains his rigid posture.
"You must be looking forward to seeing your wife and children," I observe.
"I anticipate our meeting with considerable joy," Tuvok says.
"For what it's worth, I appreciated you. Very much."
"Captain?" Tom twists around. "We have permission to dock."
"Go ahead, Tom," I say. Then, in a low voice, I continue my conversation with Tuvok. "You always put logic into situations where none existed. Thank you for that clarity."
are welcome," Tuvok responds. "Captain, I do not intend to leave until
the fate of the
Maquis is settled."
I look at him in surprise.
"And if you are subjected to a court martial, I intend to represent you."
"Tuvok, thank you," I cover his hand with mine. "Your friendship has always meant so much to me, but I don't want to keep you from your family. Not after all this time."
"I will not abandon you."
"Thank you." I offer Tuvok a smile. "Are you adopting me as a reclamation project?"
He tips his head towards me slightly, but doesn't offer a response.
"Chakotay put you up to this, didn't he?" I lean over so that only a few centimeters separate me from Tuvok.
"We did discuss your situation briefly," Tuvok admits. "But he did not have to convince me. He only suggested that he felt some trepidation regarding our homecoming. We believe there is a plot out to discredit you."
"Tell me something I don't already know."
The ship lurches as the docking clamps slide into place. I look up at the viewscreen and see the vast steel framework of the station. I stand up. Tom turns to face me.
"Captain?" Harry asks. "Incoming message from Starfleet."
I stare at the viewscreen and then turn to look at Harry. Seven, who is sitting at B'Elanna's station, stares at me.
"Welcome home," I tell them.
Tom begins the applause. Slow and softly, but applause all the same.
It's definitely not what I imagined, but it will have to do.
"Captain?" There is definite tension and urgency in Harry's voice. I look at Tuvok and sigh.
"What is it, Harry?"
"Incoming message from Starfleet."
"I heard you the first time, Harry," I tell him.
"They're welcoming us home."
Tuvok and I glance at each other. I stand up and look at Harry.
"You're certain?" I ask.
Yes. And they are requesting permission to board."
"Requesting permission?" I frown.
Harry looks uncomfortable and he shifts side to side.
"Actually, they are requesting to board and would like you to surrender command of the ship, effectively immediately."
"That's more like it," I say.
"Indeed," my Vulcan friend says.
"Well." I look around at my crew. I note that their boots gleam, their pant creases are perfectly lined up, and all haircuts are regulation length. They look serious, the very epitome of Starfleet protocol. If nothing else, Starfleet can't fault me for not having a professional, well-dressed crew. "It- it has been a pleasure serving with all of you."
I bite my lip. I pace the bridge, very aware of the suffocating quiet around me.
"Whatever happens now," I continue. "I want you all to know that I commend you for your service and loyalty. You performed your duties with honor and distinction. If I can, I will recommend all of you very highly. I wish you all good luck."
I take a deep breath and then look up at Harry.
"Let them board," I tell him. I sit back down, clutching the arms of my chair one last time.
Tuvok looks at me.
"This is not over," he says in a low voice.
I smile at him.
~ The End ~
(Continued in "A Fugue in Blue Minor").
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