Never There by Djinn

I lived the last seven years with one goal in mind: to get my ship home, to let my crew finally see the Alpha Quadrant again. If we could just get home, we'd be all right. If I could just get us home, I'd be all right.

I never faltered. I never bowed. I fought, I schemed, and more than once I made deals that caused Chakotay to cringe, protest, or just back away slowly.

I did it all for them...for us. To get home.

And now we're there. And it somehow--a holographic program with all the safeties turned down, but still a hologram. I guess I thought home would feel bigger.

I guess I thought home would feel more welcoming.

I was prepared for the stares. Dark gazes and lighter smiles as I walk down the corridors of Starfleet Command. Some know what I've done, some even avoid me. They've read the reports apparently, although I'm not always sure how they got access to them. I can see it in their eyes though--the judgment. Equinox. The Borg. All the things I've done.

All the questionable things I've done.

But there is welcome too. Owen smiles at me still, and he's read seven-years worth of logs, knows all my sins. I think he's just happy I gave him another chance with his son. And now with his granddaughter and daughter-in-law.

I know that my own mother and sister are thrilled to have me back, even if I don't feel quite as comfortable as they seem to think I should. "Relax, Kathryn." "Quit pacing, Kathryn."

I am still disappointing people by my inability to stop moving. By my need to keep going, to keep pushing.

I miss my Voyager family. For them, at least, the disappointment in me was old and familiar. Worn down like a driftwood log on the beach. My shortcomings didn't cut them, didn't wound them. But my Voyager family is gone, swallowed up by their own families and the friends and lovers they left behind.

The friends I left behind seem few. The lovers I left behind have moved on.

And Command watches me warily, as if I will make trouble for them before too long. We were probably lucky we came home so soon after the end of the Dominion War. No one had any stomach for prosecuting my Maquis crew or for looking too hard at what I'd done to get us home. They were happier arranging parades and fireworks and public appearances. They were happier thinking of me as a hero.

But I'm not sure they do think of me as a hero. Not the ones who make decisions that matter. Like who gets a ship. And who doesn't.

I'll probably be stuck at this desk steering padds full of administrative directives across wood and metal and plasticene, not sitting in a big chair changing destinies.

And I'll hate it. I'll hate every damn minute of it.

I could take leave. I could take seven-years worth of earned leave. Go away, maybe to visit Chakotay on New Caledonia where he is working at the settlements for those who were displaced by the war. But I am still not very comfortable with him and Seven as a couple, even if I let go of the idea of either of them as potential mates long ago.

Or I could go to Vulcan to see Tuvok, but he's just reacquainting himself with his wife and children--and maybe I should wait until we're well past seven years. Seven is such a serious number for a Vulcan male.

I thought of that sometimes. What I would have done if Tuvok's time had come. He was closer to me than he was to anyone else, except for Kes, and later Seven. I would have done it to save his life. To get him home. I'd have done anything. I think I proved that over and over--that I'd do anything for any of them.

To get us all home.

We didn't all get home though. I see them sometimes, the ones who didn't make it. I don't mean I see them in my memories. I mean I see them in my way when I walk down the hall to get to the kitchen or when I'm hurrying down the corridor to the mess. Just standing there, staring at me with mournful, disappointed looks in their eyes. My demons. My judges.

Needless to say, I didn't tell the counselors that I have spectral roommates. I never saw them on the ship, but I see them now far too often. I think they are manifestations of my own disappointment in how this has gone.

Actually, I just think they're ghosts. The Doctor thinks they are manifestations of my own disappointment in how this has gone.

I spend a lot of time with the Doctor. More than I probably should. He tells me that occasionally. "Make some flesh and blood friends. Live a little." But he never sounds very energized around those directives. He's lonely too.

He misses Seven, I think. Even if she is back at Command quite often, she never stops in to see him. Or to see me. She's busy, has her work which she can do on New Caledonia or here. Independent work, the kind she seems to love best. Interesting that for someone who lived in a hive society, she seems most comfortable working alone. Or maybe we made her that way after we pulled her out of the hive. We're to blame--everyone who ever stared at her, who ever made her uncomfortable. Even I was uneasy around her at first, and I was her greatest champion.

I think the Doctor was in love with Seven, but he won't tell me, and I haven't felt like pressing him directly. We talk around it though. And he tries to get me to admit that I miss Chakotay, that I loved Chakotay.

I'm not sure I did. Or if I did at one time, I'm not sure I can ever be that woman again. I've changed. I know it.

The Doctor tries to tell me that. Tries to get me to open up. And sometimes he's successful. Sometimes I tell him what I'm feeling. But usually it's only once he's exhausted me in bed, when I lay sweaty and breathing hard on a holo-bed in his holo-arms, and he uses his holo-psychology on me.

I think he may love me. That should concern me. That should make me nervous. It's no doubt a bad sign that it does not. I go to him more often than I should. I tell him I only come for the counseling sessions, but there is something safe in being with him. Something that is the same as what I left behind. His disapproval is familiar and far gentler than that of the other people I've hurt--and less raw than the disappointment of my mother and sister as they watch me pace in my Terran cage.

I don't love him. I'm just using him. The fact that I'll take him with me if I do manage to convince the right people to give me a ship does not mean I love him.

It just means I'm willing to use him. To get home. To get back to where I was.

He tells me I may never get back to where I was. I'll never be the old Kathryn Janeway--I can't be. Time has passed; she is gone. He says it is the nature of things--he's timeless and he's lecturing me on the nature of things.

I love that he understands me, but I hate that he uses that understanding to needle me, to get under my skin and try to turn me inside out. His understanding is like grasping a handful of stinging nettles. When his insight burns the most, I give him honesty, tell him I am just using him. He never seems to get angry with me when I use the truth as a stick, when I prod him to see if he'll bleed. I've seen hurt on his face. I've seen the same mournful sadness that Chakotay used to wear when I'd hurt him. But I never see anger.

Where do I find these passive men? Why won't they get angry with me? Why do they let me use them?

Or do I find them because they'll let me use them?

The Doctor pointed out that he wasn't my first hologram. But he said he thought I was making progress, since he was the first hologram I couldn't control.

He may be right. Small steps--baby steps even--but I'm making progress. And meanwhile everyone else is racing in all directions while I'm toddling along.

He says I shouldn't worry about being left behind. My mother tells me that the race is over and I won. My sister hugs me and pulls me out to her porch with the lights turned off, pointing up to the stars and telling me to "enjoy the view from here for a while."

The view from here isn't the view I want.

Here isn't what I want.

I guess I just expected more oomph to being here. We made it back.

So what?

I've been reading old biographies of Starfleet captains. It became a hobby when I first started my research to prepare for the Borg. I've gone through my own era, have moved back in time and hit Kirk. Oh, not for the first time, everyone in Starfleet knows the name--knows more than the name. But I was struck by something. Watching the interviews with him taken during the times he'd been behind a desk, I realized this man could be me. His eyes never quite settled, as if he was praying for a new crisis to hit so he could jump away from his desk and be the man he wanted to be. That's how I feel when I look in the mirror. It's how I feel when I anticipate a life in a chair that isn't bolted to a large, powerful ship.

Kirk got his ship back. Time and time again. He got the Enterprise back, the flagship. I don't need the flagship. I don't even need a starship. Give me a mail frigate, I don't care. I'll skipper it to the edges of the universe and back.

Just don't strand me here. Like a beached whale waiting to die while well-wishers ladle water over me to keep me alive.

Let me go. Before I don't know how to swim anymore.

Before I don't know how to pilot the stars anymore.

Before I can touch the ghosts who stand waiting for me now as I head for the holodeck and the Doctor.

I'll find it this time. If you let me go, I'll find home and safety. Because I've figured out that it's not here. It's not on dry land. It's in space. I need to be out there. I have to be out there.

If I can just get out there, I'll be all right.