Title: Unbreakable

Author: Abbey

Fandom: VOY

Rating: R

Archive: Yes

Part: 1/1

Disclaimer: Paramount. Not me.

Codes: J, OC

Summary: A lower decks perspective on Janeway as an ensign. A companion piece to Putting the Bitch On. Thanks to Djinn for the beta!

Today I heard that Captain Janeway's ship was lost. I try to imagine her face at the moment she realized that something had gone very wrong. It's not hard to envision. Her eyes would narrow, like they always did when she was angry, or convinced that something was not going the way it should. I don't think about her dying, her ship exploding. It doesn't seem right, even as much as she tested me when I knew her.

Janeway commanded a section of my deck during my fifth year in Starfleet. She was an ensign, not long out of the Academy. I was sick of drifting through star systems alone, of wondering where my next meal would come from. So I joined up, and they made me a computer specialist.

When we heard about the new ensign, we expected some lost kid with a shitty uniform who jumped out of his skin every time a superior addressed him. Not this girl with hair pulled back taut against her skull, with sharp eyes and a gravelly voice.

"She acts like she fucking owns the place, Schimdt," my buddy Matt said. "She's been here what, two weeks? What does she know? I can't fucking take it!"

Matt was steaming because she'd ripped him a new one over the placement of emergency gear within our section. So, it hadn't been exactly up to specs, but it worked for our location, and the ensign before her had understood that. Janeway, however, was unimpressed and decided to lecture Matt on the necessity of ship-wide uniformity in life-saving measures in front of the entire section.

We'd never had an ensign come out swinging. Never had one who snapped at us when we didn't come to attention immediately on seeing her, never had an ensign who inspected not only our computer systems but their residual readings, not only the toes of our boots, but also the heels.

I don't know why I tried so hard for her. Maybe I'd always been a masochist, or maybe I wanted a challenge. All I know is that when I saw Janeway, I stood straighter, walked quicker, and thought more sharply. And I guess that was her plan. Within several months our section was winning little ship-wide awards for excellent performance. I went to bed after each shift exhausted, dreading whatever she'd ask me for in a few short hours. I was working hard, not fucking around anymore, and I was prouder than I'd ever been.

I initially thought that I'd be the only one on our team who would want to please this girl, who was willing to suck it up for those rare moments when her face would relax and she'd smile deeply at us, a slight dimple working its way up her left cheek.

I was by no means the only one to embrace her philosophy, but there were holdouts, and more commonly, those who just didn't care. Mike's main interest was in pooling rations for real alcohol, and he'd tell any new arrivals to our deck what a bitch the section leader was, how she was pushy and abusive and didn't understand how things really worked in Starfleet.

"She's a bitch, but she gets things done," his roommate would yawn, and turn for his quarters and a few hours of sleep.

Over time, I might have grown to hate her and the stress she put me under. The little things—never being able to drop rank, submitting reports earlier than other departments, running more tests, more drills. The times she would chew me out for something that I had not been informed of, something that I had no control over. But I didn't. She left for a short mission a year or so into her tenure, and I quickly remembered how bored and listless I became when nobody was there to prod me into productivity.

There were rumors, of course. That she'd been reassigned, that she'd been intel all along. I didn't pay a lot of attention, just played a lot of cards and met my girlfriend from two decks down in between computer maintenance sweeps. Carla was a pretty girl, but more than anything, she didn't mind my friends, liked sex, and wasn't offended by anything the guys in my section said. She could drink Matt under the table, and we considered her one of us.

When Janeway returned several weeks later, there were rumors of imprisonment, torture, all kinds of things we couldn't confirm. Mike had heard that she and some hardass lieutenant upstairs were getting it on.

"Who would want her skinny ass?" Mike asked, turning to Carla. "You remember that training exercise we had planetside, with the communal showers? What does she look like? Any tats?"

Carla laughed and nearly spilled her drink. "Ensign Janeway? She'd never get one. Sorry guys. She's little, but pretty. Fairly unremarkable. Though I remember thinking that her shoulders are wider and stronger than her uniform lets on."

Mike wanted more details, but he hadn't gotten Carla smashed to the point where she'd chatter about Janeway's tits. Which was just as well. I didn't feel right talking about her body like that when she'd just come in from what was largely rumored to be one disaster of a mission.

When Janeway finally arrived back on deck, Matt called the section to attention. She stood before us, and scanned the assembled group warily.

"At ease. I want a semi-circle around me. We have to set some things straight." She looked the same as always; her face was the same blend of determination and hawkish vigilance that I'd come to know so well. "I was gone for an intelligence gathering mission carried out by this ship's commander, Admiral Paris. During that time, I was captured and imprisoned by Cardassian forces. A successful rescue of the team of which I was a member was made, and well, here we are. I trust that everything ran smoothly in my absence. I want reports no later than 1830 tonight."

That was the most she ever said about it publicly. She didn't change. Hell, I expected a change. I expected her to be kinder to us, or harsher, or just angry at the universe that it had had to be her skinny body that was presumably tortured and raped. I expected her to break. I know I would have. The closest I ever saw her to losing it was in the supply room a week or so later. I walked in for some new power couplings, and saw she was already there, clutching a stack of padds, breathing deeply, her eyes nearly closed.

"Sir," I said softly, "everything all right?"

"I'm fine, crewman. Getting my bearings. Just tired. "

"Sir, we were worried about you, sir," I said, which wasn't strictly the truth, but I couldn't damn well say that I had been worried about her.

A small smile passed across her face, and she put her hand on my shoulder, which was a rare display of affection, coming from her. "I appreciate it. I thought about coming back to you all. It kept me motivated." She bade me a good evening, and left the room, for where, I didn't know.

At the time, I was frustrated that she'd hide behind rank and be so strict about keeping distance from us, even when doing so didn't serve to benefit anyone. It took me a few years to realize that was the reason she was the one with her own room and striping on her sleeves. She kept things from us that would otherwise be borne by a group easily exhausted by the burden of certain knowledge. We insulated her from exactly what went on below her, and she kept us from the more frightening truths that came from the top.

I didn't have much time with her after her capture. A couple of months later, there was a battle planetside, and shortly after that engagement she was promoted to lieutenant and left my daily life for good.

I remember the confusion of that battle—the planet's strange-colored atmosphere, my inability to see the enemy across from us. I remember that we moved into position behind a clump of rocks, I remember her voice hissing "fire to kill" as we scanned what we believed to be the Cardassian detachment in front of us. It was frighteningly like love, trusting her not to put innocent blood onto my hands, my soul. I couldn't see anything, I knew nothing.

I was blind, I was groping for my phaser, and her voice was all I heard. When I came to, I was jostling up and down, the ground swimming and bouncing in and out of focus. My side burned, and I screamed, screamed until I heard Janeway's voice in my ear, right against it, saying that I was shot, that the transporters were offline, that she was carrying me to the contingency casualty collection point. I then saw the blue and black sling of cloth on my arm, and when I looked down, Janeway's sweat-covered tank top, and her chest rising and falling to the rhythm of her steps.

"Sir, I can walk, sir," I said blearily.

"No, Schimdt. Stay awake for me. Keep talking. Tell me what you were doing before we got here. Tell me about your Parrises Squares team. But you're not walking anywhere."

"Okay, sir," I said, resting my head against her neck, noting in my delirium the texture of her hair, her breath. "They're having a bad season. How much longer, sir?"

I saw her six years later on DS9. She was at a bar, nursing a tall drink.

"Sir!" I called, moving in to sit next to her.

She smiled heartily and put down her drink. "How are you, Schimdt? I heard about the wife. Congratulations."

She seemed calmer, softer somehow. Her hair wasn't pulled so tight against her head, her eyes didn't rove the room as if searching for some hidden explosive, and she seemed to be wearing a little makeup.

"Whiskey for the gentleman," she told the bartender, and then smiled at my incredulous stare. "Don't think I didn't read your replicator logs as an ensign. I knew a lot about all of you by the time I left that position."

"Thank you, sir. I didn't know you'd kept such a tight watch, though I suppose I should have guessed it, sir."

"I did. But I've mellowed a little. It's 'Commander' now. And 'ma'am' works too."

"So how's the new job, Commander?" I asked, playing with the new title, thinking of how far we'd all come.

"It's wonderful. I had a rough couple of years after I left our little section. I like to think that they made me better. The closer I get to having a ship of my own, the happier I get."

"You were one hell of an ensign," I said.

She smiled, maybe a little sadly. "You don't know how much I doubted myself, how much fear I lived with, how much I worried over what persona to show you all. Hell, half the time I didn't like the personality I adopted on the ship. I was only rarely the person you saw."

"For what it's worth, I never doubted the act, Commander. You seemed unbreakable. I'd have followed you anywhere."

Now, I'm in a different bar, a lower decks dive, and there is concern over those lost on Voyager, and some commentary regarding the ship's captain. There's a particularly drunk guy a few tables away who's pretty vocal with his opinion.

"God. Janeway. What a nightmare. They give her a brand new ship and she can't even drive it through the Badlands. She ruined my brother's career. Said he attacked her. They couldn't prove anything, of course, but they put him on every shitty detail this side of space. What a bitch."

I don't want to start something with the man. I sit back and wonder where all my friends are, make a mental list of where they're serving. They're all safe, I think. I remember the days I called Captain Janeway "my ensign", as if calling her my own increased my power, gave me some sort of stake, some kind of ownership in the madness that went on around me.

I think of the last time I saw her and know that she's past the years where she became something other than herself to convince us of her worth, to be taken seriously. I hope the others realize what she gave up, what her position entailed, what it still does, if she's out there, somewhere.

I sort through my memories of her, most of which involve her being angry or demanding or incredibly brave, and know that she was those things for many reasons, most of which concerned my survival. She was a bitch, but she was my bitch, and that means everything to me.