(A/N: Star Trek: Voyager belongs to Paramount. Also, this is just a story, not a religious/spiritual statement or whatever, so shush and enjoy! This'll be in two parts.)
They were going home. She'd made a promise, and even dead, she intended on keeping her promises.
It amazed her how tranquil the afterlife was. She expected herself to be bored sick, but it was the tranquillity that soothed the boredom, kept her biding her time. On some days, she paced the empty hallways of Voyager, her comrades rendered invisible by the spiritual plane. On others, she patrolled while incorporeal on the physical. Most of the time, she walked without them. On this plane, the colours were greyer. Far duller. It was easier, on the spiritual plane - going on the brighter physical took energy she didn't know she needed, or she'd slip lower. She vibrated with it, she could feel it, and the quicker she vibrated, the more she could see or hear her crew. It was her life force, and she'd always felt it while alive, but had never noticed it. It was like the heartbeat of the afterlife.
The Light was waiting for her to cross over, but she always ignored it.
The first weeks had been horrible. She'd watched the crew mourn. Watched some lose hope. Watched Chakotay spend hours in the dark mess hall, watching the stars rush by outside. She felt her human aspects more strongly, then, but as time went by, she became a spirit instead of human. Started patrolling instead of watching. Started... drifting.
Days passed, rarely changing. Sometimes something exploded, and Voyager bucked and wheeled through the vacuum of space. Often the stars that whipped by at light speed slowed. Sometimes the anxiety of the crew was so great she could feel it even from the lower planes. Sometimes felt such joy from them that she could visit them again and not be drained of energy.
She learned most of this on her own, stretched and tested her limits. Her father had appeared to her, to guide her to the Other Side, but she hadn't gone, though often she saw the ever-patient Light from the corner of her metaphysical eye. She'd made a promise to her crew, she wouldn't go. For a while, he stayed, watched and tutored, letting her make and fix her mistakes. She learned that ghosts were not omnipotent – they only had so much energy to expend, or they sank into the lower planes where the negative entities dwelt. She learned quickly that the best way to save energy while on the human plane was to go into the form of an orb, for a bizarre reason none of them knew.
Of course, in the early days, she'd been in despair, trying desperately to comfort her shattered crew - but messing with the holodeck controls had been a mistake. She'd expended so much energy that she couldn't return to the human plane, even as an orb, for weeks. Not until morale of the crew inexplicably boosted, and they gave out positive energy like rays of light. That day, she watched a party on the holodeck, smiled, and walked among them once again.
When they were happy, she could be with them.
She knew she could go to Earth in this form, faster than even Transwarp. That didn't take much energy. Moving on a plane never did. It was being in the right plane and appearing to other people that took energy. Trying to appear to Kes had taken far more effort than even the holodeck had...
Energy. How she hated how little she had! But as Kathryn Janewy was wont to do, she prodded, pushed and tested her limits, used as much as she could afford to experiment and learn so she could find a new way. She learned a lot - learned that moving things, even causing the smallest of breezes, cost more energy than she could afford to use. That the most sensitive of those on board Voyager could see her out of the corner of their eyes only if they believed, but never directly.
But one day, Kes finally saw her. While the battle with the Borg and what Kathryn would later learn was species 8472 raged on, Kes's powers had multiplied. She'd looked directly at Kathryn. Saw her, as Chakotay struggled to rush her to an escape pod before she destroyed the beloved ship. Before the Ocampan could tell him. But Kes had saved Voyager - propelled it far from 8472 and borg space.
There had been many casualties from that battle.
Kathryn had greeted them all. Shown them all to the Light, as her father had before her. Told them all the same thing, I will see you all home before I cross over – whether that home becomes the Other Side or Earth. She even met a borg, once, the spirit of a troubled ex-human whose name had been Annika Hansen. Kathryn read her energy - she'd been a borg ever since she was a child... poor thing. Helping her cross over had been most difficult. Sometimes Annika felt into such confusion and despair that she dropped to a plane below even the physical one. But in the end, she'd made it.
Sometimes older crew members – from when the Caretaker had drawn them into the Delta Quadrant – came over to see how Kathryn was doing. Talked to her. But after a long while, when she'd given up on showing the living she was there, she'd preferred to walk alone.
Days and nights blended together, weeks and months and years. On this plane, there was no way to tell the passage of time, except for the replacing of gel packs, the destruction and repair of consoles, and the programs on the holodeck. Sometimes she could hear the dim, far-off murmurs of her crew at work, their footfalls creating a tiny rhythm that soothed her. Sometimes she saw swimming images that blended together in swirls of movement. Sometimes she saw the occasional head turn in her direction, staring through her, as if they'd felt her there.
After a while, she suddenly felt the urge to move on from her unremarkable existance. Nothing triggered it – just one day, after the tide of time became so fluid she wouldn't have been able to tell how much time passed if she'd even cared, she just decided to try again. She went to the holodeck, prodded at unresponsive controls. Snerked when she walked in on Torres and Paris taking advantage of a stolen moment in the turbolift. Drifted near Tuvok while he meditated, shared in his serenity. Went with Chakotay on spirit quests. He always saw her, but only glimpse. Kathryn didn't have the energy to show up and talk at the same time, and didn't want to disappoint him too much.
So, instead, she settled for dropping in on his dreams. There, his life-force vibrated even faster than her own, and she was able to meet his level easily. Though she had to go up to meet the physical world, the thrum of it was far slower than any spirit's, and cost energy, after all. She could skip that plane, but dwelling on it was harder.
In his dreams, she smiled and danced and laughed with him again, and he woke refreshed and with a smile. Once she'd even kissed him, in a dream about New Earth. She just played along with the dream, barely thinking. It had been a long time since her brain had felt alive, since she'd done much more than go with the flow and watch over Voyager, and so it never struck her to tell him about any more.
Until, in one dream, they sailed on a lake and he looked up and saw the white orb of the full moon.
"The full moon," he said. "I'm dreaming."
Kathryn blinked at him. "Oh," she said. "That's right, I forgot."
He looked at her, then. "It's been so long. You…"
"Died," said Kathryn. She then smiled, and she felt her own vibration increase, and the dream became bright and happy as the moon faded and the sky became the brightest blue. "It's okay, Chakotay. I'm okay."
"You've been gone for years," he murmured. "Yet I still dream of you, all the time."
"You're dreaming now," she said. "But I'm really here."
"You're just my subconscious."
"Do you really believe that?"
He looked at her, for a long moment. "It doesn't feel like other dreams," he said.
"I've been in a lot of your other dreams," said Kathryn. "The real me. Sometimes your mind does conjure me. But in this one, I'm so much happier, so you can feel it too. Sometimes, I forget we're dreaming too."
He asked questions, and she answered. The dream seemed to last for eternity as she told him of how she'd tried to communicate with him, how her father, Edward Janeway, had guided her. How Vorik had once sworn he'd seen her in the corner of his eye, but had not told anyone because it was "illogical". How B'Elanna was pregnant with Paris's child, but didn't know it yet. She had felt the baby's energy for precisely one week, three days and fourteen hours.
Of course, as all mortals do, Chakotay – Captain Chakotay, she'd learned, though he would always be Commander in her heart – woke up. High from the vibration of the dream, Kathryn found she could keep in his plane with ease, watching from just above the foot of his bed in the form of an orb as his eyes blinked awake.
He groaned, "Computer, time."
"Two hundred hours and eleven minutes," said the Computer's voice. Kathryn thrummed to hear it. The light grew brighter. As usual, she ignored it.
Chakotay swung his legs out of bed, and she felt the sluggish soup of his thoughts before they suddenly sharpened – he'd realised he dreamed about her. And to her shock, she saw his eyes moisten.
He really missed her, then.
He sucked in his breath, and moved to change clothes. Though Kathryn had mistakenly glimpsed her crew in various stages of undress several times, she was in alive-mode enough to vanish into the empty hallway for a few minutes to give him privacy. Moments later, he emerged.
She followed him down the hallway, into the turbo lift. Of course, no longer bound by the laws of physics, she had to move herself down with it. (She'd once asked her father why her spirit didn't move at warp nine, but he told her that since she was bound to the ship, when she stood still, she really was still, in some way her ectoplasmic brain couldn't get around.) He passed through the bridge, deserted except for Kim working a late shift and the co-pilot, and into the ready room, where he booted up the computer.
He intended to verify some information, his thoughts told her. She didn't dip herself in them – merely observed them as one observes a river going under a bridge. She was satisfied by how calm they were, in contrast to how hers had been while her heart had beaten. She wished she could swim in them, but then, as if he'd heard her, he thought dimly how spirits could sometimes read minds. It was so quiet, but he felt slightly – so, so slightly – disturbed by this. She "smiled", and let him be, opting to watch over his shoulder as he accessed her file.
His eyes brimmed with tears when he was confronted with her picture again, though he made himself tilt his head up and look her picture in the eye. He clicked around…
"Edward Janeway," he murmured.
So it wasn't just a dream, his thoughts said. His thoughts ventured places – the New Earth dream, which had a very distant part of his mind twitching in embarrassment at the thought that she might be knowing what he thought – the other dreams he'd had with her in them. She watched as he mentally filtered through each dream he'd ever had of her – to her chagrin, he'd actually forgotten a lot of them – and correctly identified which had really had her, and which hadn't.
Then, to her dismay, his thoughts changed tack. Perhaps she told me her father's name and I just subconsciously remembered.
No! she thought, and watched as he turned off the computer, and the lights, and returned to his bed.
But he didn't hear her.
Her disappointment banished her to the spiritual plane for what might have been a few weeks, or maybe longer, or shorter. She felt dimly aware of Chakotay's dreams, at times, in the muddle of the many other dreams that occupied the ship, and watched. He grew lucid in several a night, but however much he looked, he couldn't find her, and neither did she feel like relieving him. Sometimes his subconscious created a Kathryn Janeway for him – but he could always tell that Janeway was a fake.
Much to her amusement, sometimes this Janeway seduced him, which would always end with him flailing out of frustration in his bed and waking up. One night, he woke up in despair. Touched his fingers to his cheeks and found them wet. Why doesn't she contact me again?
She felt her humanity brush her, then. He was crying, and she could relieve it. He'd been suffering – but it hadn't occurred to her to talk to him again. She'd, quite honestly, seen no need to, but her humanity reminded her of the early days of her death. She remembered watching them exist without her, feeling agony that she couldn't contact them. She remembered watching Chakotay suffer. Feeling the loneliness of the spiritual plane, even when her father was there...
So she tried again.
To her shock, Chakotay's subconscious expectations blocked her from his dreams, however much he yearned for her. The shock brought the sensation of tears to her own consciousness, though she had long abandoned her Janeway form. The days of wandering the corridors, she realised, had long passed, and she'd merely existed since then. She'd been dissolving...
She tried and tried again and again to go through his dreams, and she watched him grow worse. Even when B'Elanna's pregnancy was confirmed, Chakotay did not improve – he couldn't remember what Kathryn had told him. Distressed, Kathryn could do nothing more but follow him on his plane as an orb, gripping his plane as much as she could bear to, stretching herself…
What happened if her energy ran out? Where did her energy come from, anyway?
She could see him now from behind, as he wandered to the turbolift on the way to the bridge. Vorik strode past him – and stared at her. Kathryn stopped, confused.
And so did Chakotay. "Ensign? What is it?"
Vorik blinked at her – then that familiar look came onto his face. The one that went straight through her. "Nothing," he said. "I just thought I saw something, Captain, but it is not possible."
Chakotay looked at him for a long moment. "Are you sure?"
Vorik's sharp eyebrows slanted into a frown.
Tell him! begged Kathryn. And, ever so slightly, she could feel her words brush his thoughts. And he thought, perhaps I should mention it.
"I thought I saw a ball of light," said Vorik. Perhaps not. Nonetheless, it's too late. It is not right to torment him, but... "with the deceased captain's face on it, but I was mistaken. Perhaps I should report to the Doctor."
"I think you should," Chakotay inclined his head. "Better to be safe, after all."
The Vulcan nodded, and turned around and breezed in the direction Chakotay was headed. But Chakotay stood still for a long moment.
Perhaps she's really…? No, cannot be possible… she's dead, if ghosts were real, she'd have contacted us by now…
Only then did she realise that her death had almost shattered his faith. Vision quests had meant little to him since. Chakotay started walking again, and Janeway dipped into her inner eight year old and said, I have contacted you, stupid.
He cannot hear you, said her father's voice. She felt his presence grow from nothingness and drift nearby. She remained for a moment, letting Chakotay go on ahead, and vanished back to her plane.
She decided to don her "Janeway" form again, and stood in the empty hallway. She felt her father's presence condense into his form. Why can't he hear me? she said. Vorik could see me!
Vorik is particularly sensitive and was caught off guard. Her father didn't "speak" – he merely thought at her, and her mind translated them into words. A living, human habit, developed from the human brain's inability to interpret spiritual information directly. Chakotay cannot hear you because his despair is too great. If he were open, and in tune – a state most humans can only achieve in sleep – he would have heard you.
She felt unsettled, and rose back to the human plane, reforming as an orb. She didn't need to say goodbye to her father – no such things existed in the spirit world, though the new ones that had passed over still clung to the tradition of the living. She took a shortcut through the floor to the bridge, where she found Chakotay coming out of the turbolift.
And saw an ensign with a holocamera, and all of the senior staff.
"What's going on?" he growled.
"Why, Captain!" said Neelix. "It's a photograph for this year! Didn't you remember? Our seventh year in the Delta Quadrant!"
Seventh year?! Janeway felt shocked. Had it been so long since she died? Since the shuttle crash had claimed her life?
So many experiences lost... for the first time in a long time, she felt saddened. She'd missed so much... I want to live again.
Chakotay seemed to grit his teeth a moment – a sight which made Janeway droop with despair so much she almost fell out of the plane – then answered levelly, "No, I had forgotten. Alright, let's get to it."
Commander Tuvok sat in Chakotay's chair, a sight which made Kathryn's heart ache – so long ago, she had seen her Chakotay sit there instead, the chair in which he belonged – and Chakotay in hers.
Though, she thought, I suppose it's his now.
The rest of the senior staff, the doctor included, assembled behind them.
As the ensign fiddled with the holocamera, Janeway decided to join in. For old time's sake. They wouldn't see her, but what the hey. She thought only for an instant before she stood next to Tuvok, part of her going through the railing behind them, and lifted two fingers behind his head, grinning impishly at the camera as the ensign held it up and pressed the button. She'd always secretly wanted to play a prank on Tuvok, but left it to Harry and Tom before now.
She felt her mood rise. Old time's sake, she thought, humanity creeping back to her. She could feel joy again. Feel like she was part of the bridge again, and not a nomad of the corridors. The ensign frowned, pulling the holocamera from his eye and staring at the viewscreen in shock.
"Uh, Engineer Torres," he said. "I think there's a malfunction here, an image seems to be superimposed – "
"Let me see," B'Elanna moved from her place and beside the ensign. "What seems to be the – "
Her jaw dropped.
"B'Elanna?" said Chakotay.
"C-Captain," she looked up. She burst into a grin. "You have to see this!"
Chakotay stood up and strode towards them, taking the holocamera –
Then he looked up, and stared straight at Kathryn. She blinked.
"Oh my God," said B'Elanna. She followed his gaze. "She's – I suppose it could be a previous picture superimposed with this one, like Ensign Morris said, but it's been years – "
By then, Neelix was beside them and looking at the picture. Out of curiosity, Kathryn followed. In it, she could see a mist behind Tuvok, but in that mist, her own, unmistakable form, the two fingers – and that impish grin. She could feel the turmoil that was Chakotay's shock, B'Elanna's contrasting blank mind, and Neelix's excitement. "It must be the captain!" said Neelix. "When I researched Earth when I first came to Voyager, I found some twenty-second century photographs of what were believed to be spirits, and they appeared in a very similar way to the Captain, though some were in the forms of orbs."
"What… is she doing?" only Tuvok seemed calm, though Kathryn could detect a faint whiff of confusion.
"She's giving you rabbit ears!" said B'Elanna, before she burst into laughter. Kathryn could feel a dam breaking, and a flood of relief and joy, which strengthened Kathryn's hold on the physical universe.
Only Chakotay was conflicted now, staring at Tuvok's now-empty seat. "She's really here after all…" he murmured.
She skimmed his thoughts – he wanted, yearned, needed her to show herself. Only then did it hit her how much he truly loved her – and not just the way a first officer should love his captain, or a friend should love his friend. It made her form smile, and she desperately reached out towards the lights that shone above…
She could feel her father's warning presence. She struggled. She had to give them a sign… but nothing happened. Nothing budged. Her energy drained away, but she gave a last, strained burst -
And the lights flickered. And the mystified joy her crew felt was enough to make up for the energy she'd lost.