DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Trompe L'Oeil

by Djinn

"I gave it up years ago. I only drink tea now." The old woman muttered as she paced deliberately around the room. She seemed to be acting something out. "It's a synaptic transceiver. It allows me to pilot a vessel equipped with a neural interface."

"Hey, Happy Birthday. What a crappy place to spend it though." The man walked into the room and turned to a younger woman watching the monitors. "What's she doing now, Lena?"

"The same thing as yesterday. And the day before." Her voice caught.

He glanced at her. "What is it?"

"Janeway was a legend, Todd. Seeing her like this is just so sad."

He nodded. "Yeah, I thought so too. But you get used to it. Pretty soon she'll be just another patient."

"I doubt that." She looked at the monitors and watched the other woman move restlessly throughout the room. Lena hadn't even been born when Voyager had reappeared in the Alpha Quadrant, but she knew all about the ship and the crew. How they had been due a hero's welcome. The Fleet had planned parties and interviews. But then suddenly, everything was cancelled. No explanation, no reports, nothing. It was as if Voyager's return had never happened. And most people never knew why. But she did. She knew it too well. Had heard the story from the man that had been there when it all happened.

-----------------

"Voyager, we're ready to beam over for inspection." Captain Paul Brinkman paused as he waited for Janeway's reply. He still couldn't believe she had made it home. With nearly a full compliment of crew, and even some additions. His report was going to be one for the record books.

"Voyager awaits your arrival, Captain."

Brinkman nodded to the officer at the transporter. A moment later he and his team were aboard Voyager. The captain stood in front of a security detail. He nodded to her, said wryly, "Captain Janeway, I presume?"

"In the flesh." She stepped forward. "Captain Brinkman, it's good to see you again. I know your people must be eager to start the inspection. These officers will be happy to act as guide, assistant, anything you need. I think you'll find Voyager in interesting shape." She gave him a wry grin. "We've made quite a few modifications."

He grinned back. "So I've heard." He turned to the team. "Proceed with your assigned sections. I'll be working with the Captain."

They both stood formally until the others left the room. Then he heard her turn to him. "Paul." Her voice was the same throaty whisper he had always loved.

He took in her appearance. It had been nearly twenty years since he had seen her. Her hair was flecked with gray; her skin no longer had the tautness of youth. But she fairly crackled with energy, with the vitality he remembered from their days together at the academy. And their nights together later. They had been close friends when they were young, and he had been one of the few she had been willing to lean on after Justin died. He had reached out to her and she had reached back. And they had gone further than he had ever imagined they would. For a while.

"Katie." Protocol be damned, he thought, as he pulled her into a hearty hug. "God, I've missed you." She felt warm and real and he found himself blinking back tears.

"I've missed you too." Her voice was harsh.

He realized she was probably unaccustomed to letting her guard down this way. "I can't imagine how hard this has been for you."

She burrowed into his arms. "I'm not sure I could even begin to tell you."

Her body against his brought back sensuous memories, but he also felt the need to protect her, to keep her safe. This woman had been his friend for far longer than his lover. He would do anything for her.

"You heard about Mark?" she asked sadly.

"Yeah. He held on as long as he could to the hope that you would come back. But eventually he had to move on." He thought of Mark Johnson's face when the other man had told him he was giving up. The thought of abandoning Kathryn had been overwhelming, but Mark had needed to reclaim his life. Brinkman had done his best to convince him he was right.

"Are you still with Carla?" Janeway's voice pulled him out of his reverie. He tried not to grimace. "No. I'm an eligible bachelor again."

She smiled. "I'm sorry. And I'm glad. She wasn't good for you."

He laughed, amused as always at her unrelenting dislike of his former wife. "She left me for a rich Ferengi."

"Oh, get out." She punched his arm.

"Ok, just someone better looking."

"Impossible," she grinned. She gave him a speculative look for a moment then her expression turned to business. "You ready for the grand tour?"

"I am, Captain."

"Then let's go." She led him out of the transporter room. "First stop, the bridge."

----------------------------

He sat with her in her quarters, relaxing after dinner with a cup of rather strong coffee. Their tour had taken hours. He had been amazed at some of the changes she and her crew had implemented in the ship. It was a testament to engineering ingenuity, technology beyond his comprehension existing side-by-side with familiar equipment held together by little more than spit and baling wires.

As they traveled over the ship, the thing that had impressed him the most was the undying loyalty and affection he had seen in each and every crewman's eyes as they had interacted during the tour. From the bridge crew to the most removed decks, he hadn't met a person that didn't seem to truly love Janeway.

It was amazing really. A mixed fleet and Maquis crew. One that had merged and worked together in a way the two had never managed in the Alpha Quadrant. But it wasn't just the Maquis that she had invited into her family. She had reformed Admiral Paris's son, allowed a hologram to explore his sentience, and provided a home for several aliens until they were ready to move on. He felt a pang of sorrow as he remembered her face when she had described Seven of Nine and her death. He knew from personal experience how hard that was to live with. You had to forgive yourself. But this was one death that seemed to haunt Janeway beyond her ability to forgive herself. She felt guilty, she had told him, that she could never make it up to Chakotay, the former Borg's husband. He had met the man on the bridge. He did seem to carry a terrible sadness with him. But it couldn't all be her fault. She had taken on too much during her terrible quest to get home, had found it necessary to shoulder every burden. But she didn't have to anymore.

He realized she was staring at him. "What?"

She looked into her cup. "I was just remembering how you saved me."

He shook his head. "We saved each other, if I remember correctly. Robert had just left me and I was so depressed."

"We needed each other." Her eyes lifted, met his.

He couldn't quite fathom her expression. "Yes. And I loved you, Katie." And he still did. But the love he felt for her was not the kind that could sustain a relationship. Sex had helped them both heal. But ultimately they had agreed to let that aspect of the relationship go. Both had moved on to other people.

"As a friend." Her voice held no criticism. "It's been a long time, Paul. And we're best friends, aren't we?"

"Of course we are." He saw the strange expression again. "Time doesn't change that sort of thing."

She nodded. When she spoke, he could barely hear her. "I'm so lonely."

"Of course you are, Katie. No one should ever have to bear what you have."

She got up and walked slowly to the viewscreen. "I think I'm lost."

He joined her, stood at her side, their shoulders touching. "No you're not. You found your way home."

She turned to him suddenly. Tears were bright in her eyes. "I don't cry, Paul. But yet I'm crying. I don't admit to anything ever being wrong. But I'm telling you that it is." She looked down. "I don't ask for help." She trailed off.

"But you're asking me?"

Her head slowly rose. She moved the step it took to bring her body against his. "I'm asking. Please, Paul? Make the loneliness go away. Just for a little while? Give me a place to belong."

He looked down at his friend, this woman he loved so much. She was hurting. He could help. It wasn't even a question. He took her hand in his and nodded.

Without a word, she led him into the bedroom.

------------------------------

"These are all the logs, Paul." Janeway said as she finished typing in the access codes. "There are some additional logs I've appended. Tuvok's, Chakotay's, Torres'." She punched in one more number. "This is something Neelix made for us. A guide to the cultures that we came across and a lot of information on those we didn't but that he had interacted with before he came aboard. He really was an amazing asset."

"You miss him?"

She grinned. "Him, yes. Leola root, no."

"I'll take your word for it." He was happy at the ease he felt with her. He had been afraid that their night together would lead to awkwardness between them. But if anything she seemed more comfortable with him. It had been a strange night. She had been alternately morose and amorous. Sometimes cuddled in his arms crying over names and references he didn't yet understand. Other times rubbing against him in total abandon.

She seemed to read his thoughts. "I hope you don't regret what happened?"

"Never."

She gave him a sad smile. "I don't either."

As she began to walk away, he remembered something she had mumbled as she slept fitfully in his arms. "You talked in your sleep last night, Katie. You kept saying 'catch'. Catch what?"

She turned, considered the question. "I can't imagine what that means. Probably nothing." She grinned at him as she moved to the bridge door. "Or maybe I was reminding myself what a catch you would be.

He laughed then turned to his work. He was deep into the logs when his comm badge sounded.

"Hidalgo to Brinkman."

"Brinkman here. What is it Commander."

"Sir, are you alone?" His exec sounded troubled. Her voice was strained.

"Yes. I'm in Captain Janeway's ready room."

"I'll be right up."

A few minutes later, she walked in from the hallway entrance. At his look of surprise, she nodded to the bridge door. "I thought it better that Captain Janeway not know I was here."

"Why?"

Hidalgo sat down heavily in the chair across from him.

"Teresa, what is it?"

She didn't speak. Just handed him a pad.

He read the information, then looked at her in shock. "This is impossible."

"I know, Sir. But I can prove it." She got up and walked to the hall door. "Come with me?"

He glanced down at the pad again.

Hidalgo's voice was firm. "I know she's a friend, Sir. But I'm not wrong."

He rose and joined her at the door. As they left the office, several crewmembers walked by, smiling broadly at the strangers.

"Happy lot, aren't they?" Hidalgo's voice was sad. "I didn't notice at first. I mean it's to be expected that the crew might be pleased when their ship gets home after ten years away. But everyone is like this. All the time."

"Not everyone," Brinkman replied, thinking of Chakotay.

"Ok. Not everyone. Not the command crew. Not Janeway's favorites. But these," she gestured at some ensigns. "The supporting cast. They all have the same reaction when they see me."

"I don't believe it."

"Dammit, Paul." She thrust her tricorder angrily into his hands. "Take a reading."

He scanned the hallway ahead of them. The ensigns that he knew he was seeing with his own eyes had no life signs. He stopped walking.

"See what I mean?" She saw him struggling with the truth. "I didn't want to believe it either, Captain."

"What made you check?"

"I was in engineering. Talking to Torres and she...I don't know...sort of skipped. It was really weird. So when she walked away to get a report for me, I did a quick scan. And I was shocked, Paul. As shocked as you are now."

"Nobody in engineering is real?"

"Or in security, astrometrics, even on the bridge."

He thought of the woman he had spent the night with. How could she not be real? "But Janeway is just like I remember her."

"That's because she's real. She's the only one on this entire ship that is though. The only one."

He could feel his expression harden. "Then she's got some explaining to do."

"I think there is someone else you should talk to first. Someone that knows what really happened here."

At his nod, they set off down the corridor.

-----------------------------

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"Hello again, Doctor." Hidalgo's voice was warm.

"Ah, Commander. I see you are a woman of your word." The hologram turned to Brinkman. "You must be Captain Brinkman."

"An EMH."

"Yes." The doctor smiled sardonically. "The only hologram that is really supposed to be serving on this crew." He began to check the monitors. "Ah, just as I suspected. The degradation is getting worse." He looked at Hidalgo. "Lost two more since we last talked. Carlson and Wildman." He looked sad for a moment. "Goodbye, Naomi."

Brinkman joined him at the panel. "My exec says you can tell me what happened?"

The EMH's eyes were surprisingly gentle. "She's a good woman, Captain. Despite how this must look, she really is a good woman."

"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" Brinkman knew his voice sounded harsh.

The EMH ignored it. "It started when we arrived on Deliyunh. The planet was a beautiful place, lush and peaceful. It was ringed by a series of moons, all just as lovely and only a few inhabited. The Deliyunhi were both technologically advanced and spiritually evolved. They had somehow found a way to combine the two into a powerful defense mechanism to the point that even the Borg left them alone. It was the first truly safe place the crew had rested since they were lost." He paused for a moment as if remembering, then continued, "We were welcomed with open arms. The Captain allowed shore leave." The hologram shook his head. "That was probably her mistake."

"When was this?"

"About one point five years ago. You have to understand, this ship had been going for years. Captain Janeway had found some ways to cut off a decade here or there, but the voyage was still going to stretch on for much longer than anyone could even believe. The people were tired. And the Deliyunhi offered them a home. A place to settle. A place to live in peace, total peace. It was a sirens song that they didn't even want to resist." A chime sounded on the panel and the EMH checked the read out. "So much for Mr. Paris. No more help for me in sickbay, I guess. Not that I really need much help with only one patient."

"They all stayed on the planet?" Brinkman thought about that. "They just left her here? Alone. On Voyager?"

"Oh, they asked her to stay. The Deliyunhi let them settle on one of the moons. There was plenty of room for all of them. But she wouldn't do it. Wouldn't hear of it. She said she was going back to the ship. I think she expected them to join her. But they didn't. Only I stayed with her." The EMH paused, took a different tack. "You have to understand how things have been between the crew and Captain Janeway. She...changed during this voyage. Became obsessed with getting home. Nothing else mattered. Not her health. Not the crew's happiness, certainly not her own. The objective was to get home and Kathryn Janeway was going to do that, no matter the cost."

Brinkman looked sadly at the panel. "And she did it."

"She did. Had to create the holograms first, distribute the emitters. She didn't spend much time on most of the crew, but the hours she devoted to the bridge crew, Neelix, Seven." His voice choked up a bit. "They took longer. And she kept tinkering with their programs. But she could never get them right. Because they didn't change, they didn't grow. They weren't like me you see. Hadn't been created by specialists, just by one lonely woman. They were there to help her run the ship, but she tried to rely on them for company. She found she could make them new by adjusting their programs. I saw her do that to Chakotay when Seven disappeared." Again his voice changed. "Seven. She was special. The Captain worked the hardest on her, allowed her to use more energy. She was almost as sentient as I am. But that power usage had a cost. She was the first to degrade."

"Then are you in danger?" Hidalgo asked worriedly.

"I was programmed to run off the ships stores in an efficient way. I am fully independent from the holodeck. The ones that the Captain made, they were draining the ship's power through the holodeck. The failsafe programs began to delete them when the drain got too large." Another chime sounded. They all looked this time. "There goes Tuvok."

Brinkman tried to make sense of it all. "So for over a year, she's been running this ship with a bunch of holograms. No other living person?"

"That's right. The mission was unchanging even if the crew had checked out. And she had been right all along. We did find a wormhole. Got through it with minimal physical damage. Although the cost to the ship's energy stores was high. That's why the degradations have become so frequent."

"When she found the wormhole, Doctor. Why didn't she let the others know?"

The doctor looked uncomfortable.

Hidalgo answered for him. "She's not quite stable, Captain."

Brinkman looked at her in dismay.

The EMH nodded. "I'm afraid the Commander is right. Some of the time the Captain is quite aware of the nature of the crew. But other times, she truly does seem to get lost in some sort of fantasy. Right now she believes that Seven died on an away mission. And that Chakotay and Seven were married. She doesn't remember reprogramming him. She also has trouble keeping track of time. She is often confused about how many years she's been lost here in the Delta Quadrant. Sometimes she thinks we just left the crew. Other times it seems as if a decade or more has passed. I've tried to manage her condition, but she is a difficult patient to treat."

Brinkman thought of the parties that were being planned in her honor. The parades and interviews that were already scheduled. The fleet ships had gone ahead to prepare everything, while he had stayed behind to conduct this review. He would have to contact Admiral Paris. This had to be stopped before it spiraled completely out of control.

He looked at Hidalgo. "Have your team finish the rest of the inspection, Commander. Just act for now as if the holograms were real." He looked at the EMH. "I mean..."

"I know what you mean, Sir. No offense taken."

Brinkman walked to the door. As it opened, he turned back to the hologram. "What is catch?"

"Cach is a Mayan word that means to break apart. It's what Chakotay named the moon they settled on. He never wanted to forget that their new home came at the cost of the destruction of our family."

----------------------------

So the parades had been quietly cancelled. Families had been notified. Ships had been dispatched through the wormhole and back to the survivors, most of whom were thriving on their new home and had no intention of returning. Only the most determined journalists had chased the story and even they lost interest when several other crises had demanded their attention. Star Fleet had been able to spirit Captain Janeway away while they evaluated her.

The doctors had been hopeful that her return to Earth would improve her condition. But it had only seemed to make it worse. The stories she spun for the officers that interviewed her became more and more fantastical. In her mind, her Voyager family had stood by her. They'd passed up opportunities that were too risky, avoided the Borg, done the right thing. In her mind, she'd seen Paris and Torres have a child, lost Seven. As they tried to treat her she drifted further into her own world. Finally she had been moved to a Star Fleet mental health facility.

A buzzer sounded softly. Lena hit the switch. "Yes?"

"Guest for Captain Janeway."

Lena hit the lock and watched on the monitor as Admiral Brinkman entered the room. He came every week. Had not missed a visit in the 25 years that his friend had been confined here. He sat down in the chair and watched as Janeway paced.

Lena waited till Todd went on break a few minutes later, then hit the audio so she could listen to the Admiral and the Captain. There were two different conversations underway.

Janeway was muttering. "I'm not saying the Borg aren't dangerous. But from my perspective, they're 30 years behind the times."

"I talked to Chakotay today. He says that everyone sends their best. And Seven called from Tau Omicron. The nebula there is proving as fascinating as she thought it would. She is planning a trip back to Cach soon."

She did not react to the name of her crew's new home. "Mr. Paris, alter course to enter the aperture at coordinates 346 by 42."

"Mark's dog had three pups. Mother and babies are doing fine. He said one of them really looks like Bear."

Janeway ignored him. "I didn't spend the last ten years looking for a way to get this crew home earlier so you could throw it all away on some intergalactic goodwill mission!"

"My checkup came back normal. I have to exercise more the doctor said, but otherwise I'm in perfect condition for a man of my age."

"Just enough...to bring chaos to order."

"Our daughter is 25 today, Katie. She's so beautiful. Looks a lot like you did at that age. Do you remember when you had her? We didn't even know you were pregnant until you began to show. I was so worried about the baby's health, but she's turned out just fine. I know you'd be so proud of her."

Lena heard Todd returning from his break. She quickly turned off the audio.

Brinkman stayed with Janeway for another hour, then Lena saw him rise. She got up quickly. "I'm going to lunch," she told Todd.

The Admiral was coming out of the Captain's room just as Lena passed. She slowed and walked him to the entrance.

Once they were outside, Brinkman paused and rubbed his eyes as if in pain.

"Coming every week must put a strain on you," Lena observed. "Why do you do it?"

He looked at her and shook his head. "Because a long time ago she asked me to help her. So I'm trying to." Then he put his arms around her and pulled her close. "And for the same reason you are working here. Because we love her."

Lena just nodded.

"I wish you had known her, Lena. She was the most amazing woman I ever met."

Lena took her father's arm. "Why don't you tell me about her over lunch."

"Not much of a birthday lunch for you. Hearing an old man talk."

"Sure it is. " She kissed him on the cheek. "Tell me how she was when you knew her, Dad. Before the Delta Quadrant. Before Voyager."

As they set off down the street, he laughed and said, "Did I ever tell you about the time she reprogrammed my replicator accesses so that no matter what I asked for it gave me mashed potatoes?"

Lena laughed. "Yes. But tell it to me again."

FIN