Disclaimer: Harry Kim, Mark Johnson, Kathryn Janeway, and Chakotay belong to Paramount. I'm just playing with them.
Summary: A few weeks after Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, Harry Kim gets a brief glimpse of the "real" woman who wears the captain's pips and discovers the true depth of her friendship with her first officer--a classic "fly on the wall" story. Sap alert!
A Brief Glimpse
Harry Kim felt as if he'd disturbed a tomb.
When he walked onto Voyager's bridge one month after the ship had been placed in dry dock, he could hardly believe how dramatically everything had changed. The huge front view screen was a dull black rectangle and the normal lighting was shut off, leaving the bridge illuminated by the red out-of-service lights that ran in strips along the floor and at the juncture of the walls and ceiling. The usually colorful wall panels were glossy black, reflecting the dim lights in odd patterns that disoriented him.
Many of the consoles and panels had been disassembled, their guts spread out in an orderly fashion covering the floor from the view screen to the back wall. Narrow paths wound through the parts and allowed the space dock's engineers access the rest of the bridge. Even the captain's ready room had been filled with cast-off pieces of technology, turning it into a "morgue for discarded equipment," to use B'Elanna's colorful description.
Although there were other personnel working on the lower decks, Harry was alone on the hushed bridge, surrounded by ghosts. Out of respect for his beloved ship's death throes, he decided to use a single palm light to accomplish his work and leave the rest of the bridge in darkness. The dry dock engineers were about to study the modifications that Admiral Janeway's future technology had required, changes that Harry had never had time to properly document in his Starfleet records. He'd decided to come in early and refresh his memory before he helped the engineers dissect the console the following morning.
Bathed with blood-red lights and surrounded by a profound silence, Harry had never known Voyager to be so empty and lifeless in his seven years of service. He missed the bustling beep of work being accomplished at the various consoles, the hushed voices discussing the ship's status, the clicks and whirrs of sensors, the throb of a warp engine, all of the thousands of other noises that had surrounded him while working at the ops station. It was no wonder that the darkness and silence reminded him of death and brought tears of remorse to his eyes.
"Might was well get this over with," he whispered as he made his way to the ops station, following the narrow path through the debris on the upper level of the bridge. A dozen ceiling panels had been propped against the railing in front of his console, creating a private cubby hole beneath his former station. He crawled into the cave and began to make note of the modifications he'd made a few weeks earlier.
Twenty minutes later, his work complete, Harry switched off his palm light and leaned against the console. He spent a few minutes remembering all that he'd experienced while serving on the bridge, from the first moments of their catastrophic trip to the Delta Quadrant to the final glorious return home in an exploding Borg vessel. Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought about leaving the ship that had become his home and saying goodbye to the crew that had become his family. It felt right to mourn for them in the dead silence of the empty bridge, as if Voyager was in some way sharing in his sorrow.
He was about to crawl out from under the console when the turbolift doors opened and two people stepped out. Surprised by their unannounced arrival and a little embarrassed to be crying in the dark in his private cubby hole, Harry stayed put rather than trying to explain what he was doing there. Internal sensors weren't functioning, so no one on the ship could detect his location. He figured that as soon as these visitors left, he'd sneak out right behind them.
He shifted slightly and peered through a crack between the ceiling panels at the new arrivals.
"This is what's left of the bridge." Captain Janeway brought the lights up to a nominal twenty-five percent as she strode to the railing and gripped it tightly, obviously as distressed by the bridge's condition as Harry had been. "I imagine they'd like to take me apart like this, too."
"They'll try," the man replied as he joined her at the railing, covering one of her hands with his own. Harry didn't recognize the voice and realized he must be a civilian visitor, maybe one of her friends or a family member who was being given a private tour of the ship. "So this is where you spent most of your time?"
She nodded and took his hand, leading him down the ramp to the door of her ready room. "I spent a lot of time here on the bridge and in there--my ready room, which is now a glorified store room for discarded parts, as you can see."
"You could call it that." She dropped his hand and walked to her command chair, her stride measured perfectly to leave her standing in front of it. "And this was where I sat when I was on the bridge."
The stranger walked past her to the first officer's chair. "Great view. At least, it would be a great view when the screen is active."
"It's definitely worth the price of admission." She sat down gingerly, as if the engineers might have loosened the chair's screws from the floor, and then crossed her legs, as she had always done when on the bridge. "Feels good."
"I'd imagine that after seven years of sitting in it, you've molded the seat to the exact shape of your butt." He sat down in Chakotay's seat with a sigh.
Janeway laughed, a warm chuckle that made Harry smile. "You're probably right."
Harry thought he should cough or maybe drop a piece of equipment rather than continuing to eavesdrop on the captain, but he'd waited too long to do so without looking like an eavesdropper. He considered crawling out through the conference room, only to remember that it, too, was crammed with equipment. At that moment, the conversation turned personal.
"I'm sorry, Kath," the man murmured, so softly that Harry knew he wouldn't have heard a word if the ship had been alive. "I know I've said it before, but . . . I am."
The silence that followed was so fraught with emotion that Harry found himself holding his breath. He could see through a gap in the panels that Janeway was studying the right arm of her chair, letting her hair swing down and hide the expression on her face from the man beside her. When she spoke, her voice was barely audible at Harry's station, even in the silent gloom. "It isn't your fault, Mark. I'd been gone without a word for over three years. I don't blame you for marrying someone else, not when we'd agreed that you should move on if something happened to me."
Harry almost groaned out loud as he realized that this stranger was the captain's lost fiancé, Mark Johnson, obviously here for their first meeting since Voyager's return. He could feel his face grow warm with a blush as he spied on what had to be one of his captain's most personal moments. He wished he could demand a site-to-site transport, or sink through the floor, but he realized that he was stuck under the console for the duration. In light of his predicament, he made himself comfortable and tried not to hang on their every word.
The man resumed talking, his voice sad. "I know what we agreed upon, but you weren't really gone, and I moved on anyway. Of all the people on Voyager, you deserved to have someone waiting for you, Kath. I know how hard you work. I know how much you sacrifice for your crew. And I know I let you down."
"You didn't let me down." The captain sat slumped in her seat, and Harry remembered a day, years earlier, when he'd asked her if she'd ever been in love, ever faced the pain of loss that he had faced when she'd chastised him for becoming involved with Tal. Now he felt like an idiot for saying such a thing to her. She looked up, her eyes shining in the weak lighting. "Anyway, I forgave you years ago," she answered, brushing a tear from her eyes.
"You must think I never loved you."
"I never doubted that you loved me, Mark." She reached across the console and took his hand. "You waited years before finding someone new, and you still have my dog," she managed a weak smile. "If that isn't love, I don't know what is."
"I thought--," he hesitated, unsure of himself. "I hoped that maybe you'd found someone else, too, someone you could turn to when you needed to be held, when the walls were closing in on you. It breaks my heart to think of how lonely you must have been out there."
To Harry's surprise, Janeway stood up abruptly and picked her way through the disassembled pieces of the bridge until she arrived at the helm and examined a few loose sections of conduit that had been arranged upon it. "I didn't let myself feel lonely."
"Kath, you don't have to lie to me. I know you too well, and I know how much you need to interact with people, how much you need comfort and reassurance after a long day on the bridge."
Harry bit his lip. At first, he'd felt sorry for the captain's isolation and had even tried to include her in the crew's activities, but he'd gradually come to accept her preference for seclusion. He'd thought of her as the quintessential Starfleet captain, too well-trained and self-confident to require anybody's consolation or comfort. He'd seen her go through hell and back without a moment's hesitation and without a whimper of pain. She was bigger than life to him, able to face down anything without a second thought, never backing down, never giving up.
She'd never given a hint that she'd missed having a private life, and when someone had dared to ask her a personal question, she'd usually answered with a terse and defiant challenge. He remembered that when he'd asked her if she'd ever been in love, she'd put him in his place by demanding, "Your point?" He wondered if she was about to put Mark Johnson in his place, as well.
But this time, the captain sank into the helm's seat and stared at the man she'd promised to marry, her voice choked with repressed emotion. "Comfort and reassurance? I gave those up, too."
Harry was so surprised at her melancholy tone that he nearly gave himself away. He realized that he was being given a rare peek at the private Kathryn Janeway, the one she hid behind the captain's mask. Of course, as a human being, she would need comfort and reassurance, would grieve over her losses, and would shed tears over the disasters she'd endured. It's just that he'd never seen this side of her, not even a brief glimpse.
He pressed his eye against the narrow crack, but found that there wasn't much to see. Johnson was kneeling in front of her, holding her hands and talking to her in tones that were too soft for him to hear. Harry wondered if the captain was crying and wished she were facing toward his station instead of toward the ready room. Johnson had just reached up to caress her cheek when she was hailed by the transporter room.
"Captain Janeway? Mr. Johnson's transport connection to South America is ready."
"Understood." Her voice sounded completely normal as she replied. "He'll be right there."
Harry was stunned. How many times she'd sounded normal over the commlink when she was actually upset? How often had she been distraught, even in tears, when he'd commed her, only to hide her feelings with a voice that revealed only familiar quiet confidence? How many times had she managed to sound as if she were in complete control when she was actually in tears?
"I can stay longer if you need me to. Meredith would understand that you need more time with an old friend."
"No, Mark, that's sweet, but I know you need to get home." She sat back in the chair and looked up at him. Again, Harry wished he could see the expression on her face. "Do you think you can find your way to the transporter room on your own? I want to spend a few more minutes here."
"Sure, no problem." He hesitated, studying her face. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine." She lifted her head, chin held high in her typical no-nonsense pose. "I have a few things I need to think through before tomorrow's debriefings."
He stepped away, reluctant to leave. "Thanks for the tour of your ship."
"I just wish you could've seen her when she was still in one piece."
After a brief goodbye, Johnson picked his way through the detritus to the upper level and entered the turbolift. Expecting the captain to leave, too, Harry pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, and peered through the crack. Janeway was still sitting at the helm, but had turned toward the front of the bridge, her hands spread flat on the console as she stared at the empty view screen.
She seemed small compared to Tom Paris, the pilot he usually observed sitting at the helm, and with a shock of recognition, Harry realized that she wasn't "larger than life" as she'd led them all to believe over the years. In fact, when she let her defenses down, a petite, gentle, and passionate woman emerged from behind her Starfleet facade, and Harry was awestruck by this different facet of her character.
In all the thousands of times he'd seen her on the bridge, this was the first time that she hadn't exuded the quiet and steadfast confidence of a Starfleet captain. She'd always seemed equal to any task, her calm voice and focused determination filling the crew with confidence as she made life-and-death decisions without a moment's hesitation. Was it possible, as Mark Johnson had said, that the real "Kath" deep inside had been just as frightened and insecure as he'd been?
Harry tried to think of a way to make it up to her for not providing her the support and understanding she deserved. Janeway's head was now cradled in her arms as she cried softly, and Harry felt embarrassed, as if he'd discovered her undressed on the bridge. The only thing that kept him from going to her was his fear that she would be humiliated to know that her discussion with her former fiancé had been witnessed.
Just then, the turbolift door beside the tactical station opened, spilling light across the bridge and onto the heartbroken figure collapsed on the helm. Janeway immediately sat up straight and stared at the view screen where she could see the silhouette of a man filling the frame of the turbolift door. She relaxed into her seat as she recognized him.
"Kathryn?" Chakotay paused at the railing overlooking the well of the bridge. "I ran into Mark Johnson in the transporter room, and he told me he'd left you up here."
She kept her back to him as she wiped tears from her eyes with her finger tips. "Chakotay, you always manage to find me at the most inopportune moments."
"Inopportune moments?" Chakotay studied her back. "Or opportune ones?"
"Let's just say you have a knack." She casually brushed her hands through her hair. "I'm afraid that I told Mark a lie." She swiveled in the chair to look up at him. In the semi-darkness, Harry could see no sign of her earlier distress.
"Kathryn Janeway told a lie?" he chuckled softly. "Imagine that."
"I told him that I didn't have anyone I could turn to while Voyager was stuck in the Delta Quadrant." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I didn't tell him about you."
"A lie of omission. I think he suspects that we were close, don't you?"
"Oh, probably. But, he would never understand our relationship."
Chakotay grinned. "I'm not sure I understand it."
"Not many people would. You've always been more than a first officer to me, almost a friend, almost a brother."
"Almost lots of things. Never in my life has 'almost' been such a problematic term. But, you needed someone you could trust, someone you could turn to without worrying about all the complications that come with a relationship."
"Well, Mark would understand that, I guess." She looked down at her lap, thinking. "You know, I've never really thanked you for being such a good first officer. I couldn't have kept my sanity without your support. You listened to me rant and rave about my troubles, kept me from going off the deep end more than once. You often reminded me that somewhere underneath the burdens of command lived a woman who had dreams of a better life. I needed all of that, and more, and you never failed to deliver."
"It was my pleasure." Chakotay moved slowly down the ramp. "Maybe because I'd been a captain of a ship, I knew what you were going through better than everyone else on the crew. And, as I remember it, you listened to my ranting and raving now and then, too."
The electricity in the room was obvious. The tone of their voices was laden with affection, and Harry felt a blush burning his cheeks. If her talk with Mark had been personal, this conversation was much more intimate, a relaxed and unguarded meeting between two very close, very private friends. He tried to think of the last time he'd been aware of the profound connection the two of them shared, and he had to admit that it had been years. Like everyone else, he'd thought the romantic aspect of the command team's friendship had died of neglect. Now he wondered if they'd only learned to conceal it.
The entire crew had been surprised by the brief romance that had developed between Chakotay and Seven of Nine just as Voyager had returned to the Alpha Quadrant. As bizarre as that pairing had seemed, they'd been together at the welcome home reception and a few other times since, but not in the last few weeks. In fact, Seven had started showing up at functions with the captain, the Wildman family, the doctor, and, occasionally, Reginald Barkley, of all people. In any event, the relationship had never shown the warmth and affection that had simmered between the command team. He wondered if the whole liaison with Seven of Nine had been a smokescreen or just another one of Chakotay's brief diversions.
Janeway watched Chakotay walk to his usual chair and sit down, then asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you were taking the day off to look for an apartment."
"I put that off for now. Starfleet called several of us back to look at specific items they had questions about, so I'm stuck at the compound for a few more days." Harry held his breath, hoping Chakotay was unaware of his presence on the ship for the same reason. "When I saw on the transport schedule that you were giving Mark a tour of the ship today--"
Janeway shook her head. "You came by to pick up the pieces."
"I promised I would, you know."
"I appreciate the gesture, but, except for a few tears, I'm fine. I accepted the fact that Mark married someone else years ago." She glanced at the dismantled bridge that surrounded them. "To be honest, I'm more upset by what they've done to our ship."
"Kathryn, you had to know that this would happen. The engineers have to tear the ship apart to understand how the alien and Borg technology worked."
"I didn't realize the process would feel so much like an autopsy."
He grinned. "An apt analogy, but at least in this case they can eventually reassemble her."
"She won't be the same." The captain glanced around the bridge again, her gaze lingering. "Nothing will be the same again, Chakotay."
He shrugged. "Maybe things can be better."
Janeway groaned and gave him a level look. "Ever the optimist. You know, there were times when I wanted to pour a bucket of cold water over your head."
"There were times you did."
They both laughed, and then Janeway moved to her command chair to sit beside him, shifting so that she was facing him—and Harry. "So maybe you can explain to me why I feel so lost now that we're home. This is what I dreamed of and worked toward for seven years. Now we're here, my ship is in pieces, my crew dispersed, and I'm almost sorry we made it."
"It's a classic case of a paradigm shift."
"Paradigm shift?" She made a face, and then thought out loud. "If I remember correctly, a paradigm shift is a radical change in assumptions that brings about a new scientific theory."
"In human terms, it's much more traumatic than that. It's an event that creates an absolute transformation of who we are, what we think, and how we relate to our surroundings. In our paradigm shift, we went from the prospect of another thirty-five years together in the Delta Quadrant to dry dock in orbit over Earth and imminent separation. In one day." He watched as the captain absorbed his words. "In other words, it's change in its most comprehensive form."
"Change. Of course, that's what it is. Being home so suddenly is a terrifying shock--just as much as our arrival in the Delta Quadrant was."
"Exactly. With a dramatic change like this, it's good to keep something constant, something to help us keep hold of our sanity and our identity."
She nodded. "When we first joined our crews, I insisted on keeping Voyager a 'Starfleet' ship, because I knew it would help us handle all the other changes we were experiencing." She studied his face. "Any suggestions on what we should do this time?"
"I have some ideas. Keeping the crew together in a Starfleet compound for awhile is a good start, because the crew has time to say goodbye and readjust to the lives they're resuming. Then, we can set up a Voyager message board, maintain an 'address book,' post public letters and pictures, set up meetings when we have the chance. We might even choose a Voyager rendezvous spot in San Francisco—a place we can go when we're in town—and do the same on the more frequently-visited star bases. We need to do everything we can to facilitate contact with each other as we go our separate ways."
"Excellent ideas, Chakotay. Let's do them all." She leaned across the console, putting a hand on his arm. "It means so much to know you've been thinking about this, too. It's so typical that you anticipate my concerns."
"Years of practice." He chuckled. "And, to tell the truth, I fear change as much as anyone else does." He covered her hand with his own. "I'm surprised your counselor hasn't addressed this with you."
"Are you kidding?" she laughed and made a face of frustration. "We're still dealing with the apparent disregard I have with the temporal prime directive, thanks to the actions of a certain Admiral Janeway from the future and a couple of other little glitches along the way." She gave him a fond look. "Besides, talking to you is the best counseling I could ask for."
"We've had trouble finding time. I've missed you these last few weeks."
"I've missed you, too." She paused and looked down at their hands, and Harry sensed that she was unsure of how Chakotay would react to her next words. "I told you, once, that I couldn't imagine a day without you, and I still feel that way. There have been quite a few nights since we got back that I thought about calling you, just to talk."
"Like the 'good old days'? I wish you would call me like that. I don't know how many times I logged onto the computer to contact you, only to realize that you were in a meeting or some secluded debriefing."
"I'm thinking that the one thing I need to keep permanent in the midst of this paradigm shift is you."
For a moment, Chakotay didn't say a word. Then he murmured, "You're going to be promoted, Kathryn, and admirals don't have first officers."
When she looked up, Harry could see her heart in her eyes. He knew he should turn away and give them the privacy they deserved, but he was totally caught up in their conversation and in the affirmation of love unfolding before his eyes. The captain was almost shy when she responded, "No, not a first officer. I was thinking of a more personal, more cherished relationship."
Chakotay leaned forward and cradled her face with his free hand. "After putting it off for seven years? Do you think we could make it work?"
"I'd like to try, wouldn't you? We're best friends, after all."
"Friendship is a good place to start. My mother always said that it's important to like the person you fall in love with."
"Your mother was a wise woman," Janeway smiled, her eyes glittering with tears. "You know that I like you, Chakotay, but I'm not sure that you know how much I love you."
"You might be surprised." Chakotay wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb. "I like you and I love you, too."
She smiled at him. "You were the only one . . . I could really talk to out there. And as much as I knew we both wanted more--"
"You needed a friend more than a lover." They stared at each other. "Have you forgotten that I promised I'd always put your needs first?" When she let out a tiny sob, he stood up and pulled her into an embrace.
It was a moment of such deep love and affection that Harry was embarrassed to be watching, even though he found it impossible to tear his eyes away. From his vantage point, all he could see was the commander's back as he held her, all he could hear were her sobs and a few mumbled words of reassurance before the room fell into silence.
Harry realized that they were kissing. Janeway's arms were wound around Chakotay's neck as the couple hungrily explored each other, and he could hear their soft moans of pleasure as they embraced. Harry glanced away, wishing once again that he could disappear, even as he wondered how much money Tom Paris would give to be sitting under the ops console at this very moment. The first kiss was followed by several more before the couple separated slightly, keeping their faces close, speaking so softly to each other that he couldn't make out their words. But he knew in his heart what they were saying; he didn't have to hear the words to know.
Finally, Harry peeked through the slit to find them standing in front of each other holding hands.
"I'm so relieved to be talking about this, at last," Janeway said as she smiled up at Chakotay, her voice joyous in spite of the tears in her eyes. "But not here, where anyone could walk in on us. I want to have you all to myself, for once."
"Me, too. I'd invite you to my place, but, as you know, I don't have one, and the barracks are less private than this is."
She chuckled. "Well, I have a place--or, I should say, my mother keeps a small apartment in San Francisco for her visits to headquarters. We could be alone there."
She took his hand and led him around the railing and up the ramp toward the turbolift, glancing back at him with a grin. "I'm thinking we've found an unexpected benefit for getting home early."
"Yeah, at least one good thing has happened." He laughed and pulled her into another embrace while they waited for the turbolift to arrive.
Harry studied them intently, realizing that this bond was something they had put aside and ignored in favor of a more official friendship. Even so, they had been in love with each other for years, and he'd missed seeing it. They all had.
Janeway held Chakotay around the waist and laid her head on his chest in an attitude of vulnerability that Harry had never seen before, especially not while his captain was standing on Voyager's bridge. However, he was charmed by this new facet of her personality--this glimpse of the loving and gentle woman who existed beneath the tough Starfleet hide--and by the fact that the two of them seemed so right together. They boarded the turbolift, leaving Harry in solitude at last.
He unfolded himself from his hiding place and pulled himself to a standing position with a groan. He loitered at his station a few more minutes, giving the two of them time to beam off of the ship before he made his way to the transporter room. He imagined the look on Tom's face when he found out about the new romance between their commanding officers, proud of the fact that, for once, he'd been in the right place at the right time.
But then he remembered how they wanted to keep their relationship private for awhile and felt his heart lurch in sympathy. They'd put off being together for seven years because of their responsibilities to the crew, and they deserved some time alone as they explored this new dimension of their relationship. Besides, knowing the Voyager grapevine as he did, they would eventually get wind the story and would wonder why he'd stayed hidden behind his console like a voyeur while they confessed their love for each other. He wasn't sure he had an answer for that question.
No, he couldn't tell anyone about what he'd seen, but he could look forward to the day that they appeared in front of the crew as a couple. Everyone would be thrilled to see them together at last.
He turned and looked at the disassembled bridge, remembering all the hours he'd spent there serving with the senior staff, teasing and bantering about their misfortunes and successes, mapping out a course through unfamiliar stars, standing as one against hostile aliens, gradually becoming a family under the watchful eyes of their commanders. He could imagine the shadows of his crew mates standing at their posts, smiling at him, wishing him well as they said their goodbyes. By the time the turbolift arrived, he'd made his peace with the past.
Voyager's bridge was once again as quiet as a tomb.