Author's note: Voyager canon, Glory Days, and my J/P universe -- all mixed in together. My gratitude to my wonderful betas, Jemima and Rocky.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns. Not me.
She doesn't have the hands of a 90-year old woman. The skin is still smooth and clear, not sagging between the knuckles or mottled brown with liver spots. It's the first thought that occurs to Janeway as she accepts the glass of champagne Admiral Stockton hands her. She bites back a smile; it's funny the vanities she falls back on at times like this when there's no possible chance of escape and she's been cornered by a man nearly half a century younger than her, but genuinely -- suspiciously -- interested in her. The ballroom, all gold and crystal for the evening as Starfleet has spared no expense, is crowded with officers and dignitaries; the bulk of the guests are hovering somewhere between the bar and the buffet, effectively closing off the exit to her.
"It's quite an achievement, Kathryn," Stockton says. As he leans towards her, she catches a whiff of his cologne -- something spicy and musky, an utterly cliché and forgettable scent.
Janeway self-consciously touches the small exposed area of skin between the high neck of her evening gown and where some loose strands of white hair have claimed freedom from her bun. "I'm not old enough for a lifetime achievement award," she says. "And isn't that something they give to holodeck stars or programmers who have never quite gotten enough accolades during their career? I'm not ready to be put on a shelf yet, Bill."
"There's no need to sound defensive," Stockton says in a cloying tone of voice. "Accept it for what is an: an honor for everything you've accomplished."
Janeway nods, the motion a little dizzying because the champagne has gone to her head. It's a cruel, cruel reminder that she is indeed 90 years old and she cannot quite hold her alcohol as she once did. But, she thinks, as she glances down at her slender fingers, she'll be damned if she surrenders to age.
"Besides," Stockton says, "Starfleet is always looking for a hero and Voyager is a great story. Practically myth now. I still remember how excited our instructors at the Academy were when Voyager returned." He lifts his glass towards Janeway. "Take credit where it's deserved, Admiral."
"It's been more than 40 years," she says, suddenly realizing the man standing in front of her had been in grade school when Voyager departed on its mission to the Badlands. "I'm not one to rest on my laurels."
"No one said you were, Admiral, no one said you were. I've been reading up on some of your recent accomplishments. I'm very impressed with the new trade agreement you negotiated between Cardassia and Bajor. Somehow you managed to take into consideration both sides and the weight of history and come up with something that could quite possibly work. In fact, I know it's forward of me, but I'm new to the admiralty and I would really appreciate it if I could spend some time learning the ropes--"
She's no longer listening. Just past Stockton, Janeway sees B'Elanna standing just a few meters away, dressed in brown velvet trimmed with green satin. B'Elanna doesn't smile, but lifts her glass slowly in Janeway's direction. Janeway inhales sharply and audibly, but before she can move, B'Elanna vanishes into the crowd. Janeway sips her champagne, the crystal flute shaking ever so slightly in her grasp.
"Is something the matter?" Stockton asks.
"I thought I saw someone."
"Oh? Anyone I know?"
Janeway shakes her head. "Someone who served aboard Voyager." She silently dares him to ask her for details, and Stockton, his cheeks ruddy with excitement and champagne, doesn't fail. "My chief engineer," she answers, the barest hint of irritation in her voice. She thinks about leaving it at that, but somehow, discipline fails her. "I thought I saw her."
"Maybe you did. Is she here?"
"No, not likely." She considers offering an explanation for B'Elanna's absence, and then decides against it.
"I did notice that many of your senior crew aren't here. I imagined that the Borg girl you rescued, she of all people, would be here tonight. I've read so much about that, it would have been nice to see some of them here this evening." He frowns. "I remember hearing rumors about an estrangement--" he pauses, quite possibly realizing he's about to overstep his boundaries.
"Nothing like that," Janeway says softly. She's getting more sanguine about it, but every now and then, she hates how rumors, now that there is hardly anyone left to correct them, have become part of her history. "Quite the contrary." She puts her hand to her head. "Bill, it's warm in here and--"
"Shall we go outside?"
"No. You'll stay here. *I* will go outside."
"I'll be fine." She gently places the empty champagne flute on a passing waiter's tray. "Thank you for the conversation, Bill. It was delightful."
Somehow, she manages to make it through the gauntlet of people with nods and smiles, and the occasional "Good to see you again." She realizes that even though this night (in theory) is about her, the guests are just as uninterested in her as she's in them.
Out in the fresh air of the San Francisco night, she inhales deeply. There's a ribbon of chill in the night wind, and she pulls her wrap tightly around her shoulders. From this angle, the ballroom behind her, she can see the Golden Gate Bridge, lit up against the eggplant-colored sky. There are no stars tonight, no moon, but it matters little in a city where darkness never truly falls.
She walks along the path towards the gardens edging the bay. The last time she saw Chakotay, three years ago now, they walked these very paths. He told her he was happy on Betazed, that the archeology dig was going well and his latest find would be published in Archeology Today in a few months.
"You should come out and visit," he said. "I'd like to show you around."
"A vacation *would* be nice," Janeway said lightly. She turned her face up to the sun, feeling the full force of warmth on her skin. Just a few days ago, it had been cold, windy and rainy, a weather pattern that had fit her mood perfectly. "It's been so long."
"And it hasn't gone unnoticed." Chakotay stopped in his tracks. "I'm -- *we're* worried about you."
"I'm fine. You and Seven can step down from red alert." She didn't bother hiding the annoyance in her voice. He was no longer her first officer, but sometimes he still acted like he was. He was coming from a good place, she knew, and the fact they weren't as close as they once were was a symptom of distance, that ever convenient scapegoat. He cared about her still, and for that, she needed to be grateful. True friends were always few and far between these days. She put her hand on his forearm gently. "I appreciate you coming all the way from Betazed."
"Do you want to talk--"
"Right," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He started to walk away from her and she quickened her step to catch up. "Communication wasn't ever something we did well, was it?"
"I wouldn't say that."
"Come to Betazed, get away from San Francisco, get away from all this--" he pointed towards Starfleet Headquarters. "You haven't been at home here in years, and I suspect the only reason you stayed was because of Jean-Luc." He looked at her, his eyes dark and serious. "We start a new excavation in six weeks. Seven will be back from Boston by then. You should come. Or come earlier, if you'd like and stay as long as you can."
"Maybe after the conference with the Bajorans and Cardassians. After all I've done to renegotiate their trade agreements, I can't possibly miss that."
"Good." Chakotay reached for her hand, clasped it warmly between his. He brushed his lips lightly against her cheek, warm, soft, gentle and maybe even a little innocent. "We look forward to seeing you."
She never went to Betazed, even though she did book her ticket on a shuttle. On this evening, she can't even remember what the reason she used, and she'd like to blame her age, but she knows better; she was looking for an excuse, however insignificant, to stay close to the place she had learned to call home. Three months after that last walk in the Starfleet gardens with Chakotay, she received a short message from Seven of Nine informing her Chakotay had died of a rare hemorrhagic fever. The memorial service, Seven said, would be on Betazed, as Chakotay desired. Janeway found the round-trip ticket to Betazed she'd bought and then put it to the side. She'd already buried one man she'd loved, she wasn't sure she could do it again.
Now she leans her weight forward on the palms of her hands, staring down at the ripples in the water, shades of black and navy blue. She wonders if anyone has noticed she's missing from the ballroom; she wonders if anyone cares. It would have been different if Seven or B'Elanna had been able to make it, but B'Elanna is still on Qo'noS with her children and Seven's in Boston, caring for her terminally ill aunt. Their absence, mostly a result of grief both past and impending, fills Janeway with an intense loneliness.
"I must stay, of course," Seven said in a video call the previous week. She looked haggard, drained, her hair loose around her face. With some alarm, Janeway noted the streaks of grey, the spidery web of lines edging out from Seven's eyes. It was with horror Janeway realized even Seven of Nine was no longer young. "I am sorry, Admiral."
"I understand," Janeway said.
"I would have liked to see you receive your honor. It is well-deserved and overdue." There was a pause, a hesitation. "I have missed you, Admiral. It has been too long."
"Next time you are in San Francisco--"
Another pause, a hesitation. Janeway felt a slight chill; she no longer knew what to say to her former protégée as the things that held them together in the past -- Voyager and Chakotay -- were both now gone. She thought about asking Seven how she was feeling, whether she had finally finished resolving Chakotay's estate. These were the things they now shared. She thought about telling Seven how the loss of Jean-Luc was nothing short of a blow to the gut, but over time she was learning to breathe easier again and the moments of longing were now fewer and further between. She wanted to tell Seven she understood so well that time didn't heal loss, but rather made it easier to bear. You survived the loss of your parents and Chakotay, you'll survive this too, Janeway wanted to say. But none of those words came easily to her lips. So she fell back on what always seemed to work in the past. "I'm proud of you, Seven."
"Thank you. I appreciate that. And Admiral, again, congratulations on your award." And with that, Seven signed off.
Now on the evening of the gala, Janeway keenly feels the absence of the two other surviving members of Voyager's senior crew. She understands why they aren't here, but all the same, she misses them with an intensity she has never felt before.
She turns to see Admiral Stockton there. She bites her lip. "Bill."
"I know you didn't want to be disturbed--" there's an awkwardness in him she finds curiously endearing.
"No, stay," she says, and she reaches out her hand. He takes it and stands at her side. "You must hate these things as much as I do."
"Sometimes, but as I've mentioned before, I'm new to all of this pomp and circumstance. I'm used to spending my days on the bridge of a ship, not behind a desk. It'll take some time before I get the itch of exploration out of my blood." He grins boyishly at her. "But I'm learning and understand these types of functions are important to my career, no matter how painful they can be to get through. So I apologize for my statements earlier, but I am trying to learn the ropes, and you, you I've always emulated. If I can accomplish half of what you have, I'll be a happy man."
"Just do good," Janeway says softly.
"As you did."
"No, no, not always," Janeway answers. "I have regrets. You will too."
He laughs uneasily. "Remember, I'm new. Don't make it sound so dire."
"It's not. It's both the most exhilarating and painful experience you will ever have."
"Admiral," Stockton says with sudden alacrity, "I came out here because I owe you an apology."
"For assuming, for not thinking. I'm sorry. I'd no idea there were so few Voyager survivors left. I checked with a friend because I found it curious none of them were here, and she told me everything. I'm so sorry."
"From the senior crew, we three remain. The Borg girl, as you call her, my chief engineer whom I thought I saw in the ballroom, and myself. The rest--" Janeway shakes her head. "We were somehow invincible in the Delta Quadrant, but once we came home, I don't know what happened. Time and circumstance caught up to all of us." It's nothing short of cruel, Janeway thinks. She never expected to outlive nearly all of her senior crew.
"Do you want to talk about it?" He sounds so sincere, so endearing, but if there's a crucial lesson Janeway has learned in her seventy years or so in Starfleet is that there are no true friends in the ranks. Chakotay and Jean-Luc (and even Owen Paris), they were among the exceptions.
"No," she says.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No, but thank you for offering. I'm fine." Janeway turns back to look at the water. "I met Jean-Luc Picard at a party quite like this one. We were in a room filled with people, people who wanted to know me, to have a story to tell at their next cocktail hour. So many people, and I never felt so alone." Janeway presses her hands more firmly against the stone wall. The rocks cut into her flesh. She lets up on the pressure. Her hands may not look 90 years old, but they no longer regenerate as smoothly as they once did. "We can put people on planets with very little in the way of atmosphere, but somehow, we haven't mastered the art of devising a truly entertaining reception. When you're in that room, it's as if there's a life beyond the walls that's going on, a life that you're missing."
In the silence that follows, Janeway tips her head back, closes her eyes. She can see them, unchanged in memory: Tom, Harry, Chakotay, Tuvok, the Doctor, Neelix. It's been years since the Doctor was accidentally decompiled during a routine matrix upgrade and the Bendii Syndrome claimed Tuvok over the course of several exhausting and horrible months. But on this night, they are as clear to her as if it has been only minutes since their last meeting. She imagines Neelix is still fine, though it has been years since she's heard from him; her last three messages went unanswered. She even envisions B'Elanna as a young woman, Seven as she was when she first came aboard Voyager. She sees Jean-Luc separate from them; the life she lived with him they were never a part of.
She regrets now that because of a last-minute mission to Qo'noS, she wasn't at the commissioning when Harry received his first (and only) command. She did attend his funeral and accepted, on his parents' wishes, his posthumous medal of valor. She attended the first decade's worth of birthdays for the Paris children and then slowly faded out of their lives, until Tom was killed in a shuttle accident during a routine training mission. In the aftermath, there were all sorts of stories about Tom's past, about the 'incident' from his Academy days, and whether the accident that killed Tom had indeed been that. B'Elanna had taken the children and gone to Qo'noS.
"I need to get away. Joey and Miral, they don't need to hear all of these stories about their father and I'm tired of the reporters camped outside of our house. I need to get away. I need to get *them* away," B'Elanna said shortly after Tom's funeral.
"If there's anything I can do--" mentally, Janeway ran down the list of people she knew in Starfleet Security. With Tom's background and lineage, she was sure she could get a security detail for his family and home, but B'Elanna didn't want to hear it.
"I'm not staying here in this circus. If you can get us on a diplomatic shuttle, something more comfortable than a Klingon freighter, not for me, but for the children. They shouldn't suffer." B'Elanna paced, her fingers clenching and unclenching into fists, her arms tight with tension.
"There's a mission to Qo'noS. It leaves in a few weeks. I can get you on that ship," Janeway said. "B'Elanna--"
"I'm fine. I will be fine. We'll be back soon."
That was nearly thirty years ago and despite Janeway's repeated offer of transport back to Earth, B'Elanna and her children never returned. There's been only a handful of communications between them since, most recently B'Elanna's polite refusal of the invitation to the Starfleet reception due to a recent operation to replace a hip joint. The lack of communication is nothing personal; time and distance have that effect on everyone.
"Admiral," Stockton says. "It's getting cold. We should go in."
"You go. I need a minute."
"I feel bad about leaving you--"
"Don't. You wouldn't
be the first." The words slip out without thinking. Janeway turns slowly.
"I'm sorry. You didn't
"You should come inside."
"I will." Janeway manages to hide her impatience. She is after all a ninety-year old woman, an admiral who has traveled to all four quadrants, negotiated important agreements, made first contact, and she'll be damned if she'll let herself be treated like a child.
Alone again, she walks down the cobblestone steps to the water's edge. She steps in about ankle deep. The water's frigid. The first time she'd done this, Jean-Luc was with her. He stood several meters away, watching her.
"Don't go too deep," he said.
"The currents are strong. They'll drag you under. You have a tendency to get in over your head without realizing what's happening."
"I'll be fine." She didn't look at him, and was in fact mildly annoyed with the man for even presuming he could command her to do anything. At the office, he might outrank her, but she wanted to believe in these private moments, they were equals. She took another step. The water lapped at her shins. She waited for Jean-Luc to say something and he didn't. She turned to face him. "I won't go deep," she said.
"You should move in with me," he said.
"What?" Janeway whipped around so quickly, she nearly fell backwards into the water. The invitation was so startlingly inelegant and unexpected that she was unsure of how to respond.
"It makes sense. You stay more often at my place than your own and after two years in your apartment, you've yet to hang a single picture. It's a transient lifestyle, Kathryn. You require something close to permanence. I'm offering you that now." Jean-Luc held out his hand. She took it and he pulled her close to him. "You should live with me."
And like everything else that had happened to her after Voyager, Janeway went with the flow. She didn't think too hard, too deeply, or even feel anything when she answered. She said 'Oui', because she knew it charmed Jean-Luc when she attempted (badly) to speak his language, amused him greatly when she tried to pronounce the guttural 'r' in other French words. For him, she tried as she'd never tried before to make a man happy. She thought if she tried hard enough, he would actually believe she loved him. Or maybe it was something she was trying to convince herself of.
Realization only came later when she stood by his casket. He died quietly and peacefully of nothing more serious than having lived more than a good century of life. She stood by his casket and accepted condolences, muttering 'thank you'. She didn't feel like conversation, not that day, not that night, nor the ones that followed. She found Jean-Luc's absence in her life disconcerting, as if there was this fragment of her life that had rolled just out of her reach. She spent more time at work, thinking that perhaps she could replace one need with another.
"I'm fine," she said when B'Elanna asked, and when Seven offered to visit, Janeway turned her down. She was, after all, Kathryn Janeway. She survived the Delta Quadrant and she would survive this too.
A large wave of water hits her just above the shin. She's freezing now, and she knows her circulation isn't as good as it once was. Her shoes and the hem of her dress are soaked and covered with mud. She has no idea what her hair looks like; despite being severely wrestled into a (she hopes) classy bun at the nape of her neck, she's sure the evening's wind has had its way with it. She feels nothing like the evening's honorary. Looking as she does, there's no way she can go back into the reception. In the morning, she'll plead age and exhaustion. With some effort, she ascends the steps back up to the gardens, clutching her skirt in her left hand, her right hand on the railing for support.
She's halfway to the transporter pad when she hears a familiar voice call her name. Janeway stops.
"Admiral." Seven fades in and out of sight, ghostlike, as she approaches. She appears exhausted, dressed simply in a blue top and matching slacks. She carries a bag over her shoulder. "I apologize for my lateness."
Janeway swallows hard. "Your aunt Irene--"
"I will return to her in a few hours." Seven closes the distance between them in a few long strides. "You should not be alone on this night."
Janeway glances towards the water and shakes her head. "I haven't been alone," she says softly. She places her hand lightly on Seven's forearm and isn't surprised when there's no substance there. "But I'm glad you here." She glances towards the ballroom windows and then back at Seven. "I know a place where we can get something to eat and you don't have to call me 'admiral'. What do you think?"
"I do require sustenance," Seven says, but there's no edge to her tone. Janeway doesn't look back as they leave Starfleet grounds. She knows she's left nothing and nobody behind.
~ the end
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