Kathryn finally managed to enter Chakotay's dreams again, to her relief. They talked like the friends they'd been before, and Kathryn was so happy she snuggled into him, much to his startlement.
She could now see why Q thought they were lowly mortals. Chakotay's reservations seemed pointless. "What are you doing, Kathryn?" he said.
"Showing you I love you."
"Kathryn, this is just a dream – "
"Doesn't matter," she told him. Then she kissed him.
"Kathryn – "
"Shhh. I didn't get to do this when I was alive because I was foolish. I'm not wasting this opportunity now – "
"Kathryn, I can't take advantage of you – "
"I'm dead, not drunk."
He didn't complain after that, though when he woke up, he felt slightly disturbed – no matter how light he otherwise felt – that he'd just been intimate with a ghost. It didn't feel right.
It's okay, she told him. We won't do it again. I just wanted to know how it felt…
But he said nothing. Rubbed his eyes, instead…
Kathryn reached out again. Stressed. Tugged on something – felt a glitch. Something sticking out. She pulled, then…
Chakotay looked up as a liquid cylinder formed in the replicator, then splattered to the ground. He blinked, standing up. He walked over.
It's okay, she said. We won't do it again. I just wanted to know how it felt…
He looked up.
Did you hear me? She said.
Maybe I'm just imagining it… he thought. She could sense his lower thoughts dweling on what she had just said – he thought he just made her voice up.
But then he wiped his finger on the brown liquid in the replicator and tasted it.
"Coffee," he said. A small smile appeared on his face. "Black."
Now, there was no doubt in his mind.
She was surprised she had been able to tweak the replicator – and then realised that she had little trouble staying on this plane, now. She could feel her humanity again. She walked with the crew (startling Tal Celes, who inexplicably felt a cold breeze through her) sat on her chair in the bridge (making Chakotay demand to turn environmental controls up, though everyone else said the room was actually quite warm), stared at the viewscreen when it came up. She spend most of the time in the holodeck or in "her" quarters, drifting around.
One day, she felt a loss. She knew she was bound to the ship, and when a crewmember died, she could feel them long before she saw their spirit – but nobody had died. She'd… lost something.
She found out that afternoon that the Talaxian was gone. Her beloved Neelix. Left with some other Talaxians. She felt the blow to her heart. She'd really hoped he would stay with her, with her ship…
She almost was her ship, now.
She grew strength again. Had fun flickering the lights on the bridge whenever Chakotay walked on – much to the Crew's amusement. It got to a point where Tuvok would greet her before Chakotay, and when he did that, she flickered the lights again. It came easily with practice. The other ghosts who came by occasionally thought she was being totally insane and pointless, but she liked doing it.
"Like the captain said," said Chakotay, smiling, after the second flicker. "At ease."
Morale boosted by her presence. Some were sceptical that ghosts existed – whenever she was around Crewman Marks, for instance, she could sense what felt like a dampening field around him. She tried to get in his dreams to show him that she really was there, but she couldn't, because he didn't believe.
Why is this? She asked.
She was not surprised when her father answered. Her humanity snickered at his tendency to barge in like that. The afterlife is what you believe it is, he said. If you do not believe in spirits, you do not become one.
You must have believed even a little. He does not.
Much to Kathryn's frustration, she couldn't even flicker his lights or touch a thing in his room.
The mess hall was different. Kathryn had tried for a while to create a hologram of herself, but it was as if her spiritual hands were too large and clumsy to get the intricacies of doing such a thing, and once she grew bored, she moved to the mess hall. Much to the indignation of the new cook, and the delight of Naomi Wildman, Kathryn enjoyed moving pots and pans around when nobody was looking, and sometimes even turning the stove on. She stopped after Naomi once burnt herself on it, but kept up the moving of pans.
She missed her Talaxian.
Then, one day, things changed. An old woman that looked like her mother appeared on the screen, and Kathryn blinked and tilted her head in her human form. Chakotay looked stunned.
It took a moment for Kathryn to grasp what was being said. Something about a pulse, and Klingon ships – and a huge rift in space closed. Voyager beamed the woman aboard. Explained who she was – Admiral Kathryn Janeway, from the future, to bring Voyager home.
"Now where is the captain?" she said.
"I am the captain," Chakotay tilted his chin up.
"I demand to know what is going on."
Kathryn didn't like her future self. Not at all. She bristled, and the lights flickered.
Chakotay smirked a little. Your future self doesn't give your present one any credit, he thought at her.
The lights flickered again. Chakotay gestured to them. "There she is."
"What is the meaning of this?" said the Admiral, icily.
"You're in the wrong timeline," said Chakotay. Kathryn could feel him struggle a little to talk, though it had been years... "In ours, you're dead."
The Admiral didn't leave, unfortunately, and sat at the head of the table in the briefing room like she still owned the place. "No matter which timeline it is, I'm creating a new, separate timeline regardless," she said. "Otherwise I wouldn't exist. Anyway, what happened to me?"
And Chakotay told her.
The Admiral frowned. "But in my timeline there was an alien creating an illusion that I was dead!" she said. "It showed on the tricorder - the Doctor was down there and helped me fight it, along with Chakotay."
"There was no alien entity present in the captain," said the Doctor. He rose his eyebrows and sat back in his chair. It was difficult to know what the Doctor was thinking, as he didn't have thoughts in the way an organic being did, but from the look on his face it was clear he didn't like the Admiral much either. "I should know, I'm a hologram."
The Admiral frowned. Then she looked up. Kathryn felt a lingering sadness as she cast her eyes around the room... "Where's Seven?"
Chakotay blinked at her. "Who?"
"Seven of Nine. Annika Hansen."
"Seven of Nine?" said Chakotay. He frowned.
"That borg from a few years ago?" said Harry Kim. When everyone except the Admiral continude to frown, he went on. "That time one of the crewmen tried to make a pact with the borg, remember?"
"Of course," said the Admiral. "If I was dead by the time we met her, then she would never have regained her humanity…" She steepled her finger, looking pained, but covered it quickly. "Strange, that you ran into her, however. If I didn't make that pact with the borg, we wouldn't have ever met her..."
"Pact with the borg?" said Harry Kim, then went quiet with a deathly look from Tuvok.
To Kathryn's surprise, she felt the Admiral's pain. She suddenly saw that the Admiral had seen this Seven as a daughter…
"I was so hoping to see her again," murmured the Admiral.
"The Prime Directive requires you do not tell us of the future," said Chakotay.
"My future would have never happened to you anyway, if your captain's dead," said the Admiral. "And good riddance, I say – "
Suddenly, the temperature dipped.
"I think you offended her," said Tuvok, as a cold breeze went through the room.
Be careful, Edward's voice was so far away as Kathryn bristled. Don't submit to anger too much, or you'll go down a plane.
But Kathryn was already struggling to bring herself back up. The room warmed again, the breeze died.
"Big whoop," said the Admiral. "I'm here to – ow!"
The crew blinked at her.
"I thought something pinched me," said the Admiral.
"Correct," said Tuvok. "I think you have offended her greatly."
Only Kathryn could detect the faint whiff of amusement in Tuvok.
She watched, as plans and arrangements were made. As Admiral Janeway went around wreaking havoc by telling people that there would be casualties. Pushing down the morale. If Kathryn didn't have more strength than usual, she would have sunk back to her old plane. Instead, she took to following the Admiral around – plainly she couldn't be trusted. Whenever she sensed the Admiral about to do some more damage, she gave her another pinch or a cold breeze.
"Ghosts," the Admiral finally said as she retired to her borrowed room one night. "Do not exist."
But Kathryn knew she was lying to both of them – after all, if the Admiral were a true sceptic, Kathryn wouldn't be able to harass her. She answered by flickering the lights again – something which made the Admiral give a low hiss.
"Fine," she said. "You exist. Just leave me alone."
Kathryn would have stopped her from sleeping, but decided that an even more irritable Admiral was the last thing Chakotay needed. Instead, she skimmed over the Admiral's dreams that night. She felt saddened, upon learning of Tuvok's senility – she'd already known of his disease a few days now – and Chakotay's death. How he'd grown to love this "Seven" and married her, and been widowed far before he should have.
Huh, she thought, pouting a little in amusement. He's twice her age. Dump me for a young, blonde bimbo, why don't you!
The Admiral heard her in her dreams, and it took a tour down memory lane – another New Earth dream, though Kathryn learned her feelings for Chakoay had died a painful death upon hearing of his involvement with this "Seven". It had hurt her, when she'd found out. And for once, Kathryn felt a pang of sympathy for the Admiral, and decided to pay a visit.
"What are you doing here?" to Kathryn's shock, the Admiral had become quite talented when it came to lucid dreams, and realised she was dreaming the moment her younger self had appeared.
Kathryn blinked at her. "Excuse me? I'm here to tell you to stop harassing my crew."
"I'm taking them home."
"And throwing multiple tantrums while you're at it," said Kathryn. "You've done nothing but make things miserable for Captain Chakotay and Commander Tuvok – "
"They haven't been obeying me!" the Admiral fumed. "They want to destroy the borg – "
"And I want to as well, even if it means taking longer to get home," Kathryn tilted her chin up. "What happened to me, that I became a selfish old biddy like you? What happened to serving the greater good?"
That caused the Admiral to blink at her.
"Chakotay has made this decision knowing I would have supported him," said Kathryn.
And then, sick of her, she faded from the old woman's dream and watched it turn back into her planting tomatoes as Chakotay watched with a smile.
Kathryn had expected the old woman to be so stubborn that a few fancy sentences wouldn't move her – but it did. It struck a chord, and when the Admiral woke up in the middle of the night, she moved to the deserted mess hall.
"Coffee," she said to the replicator. "Black."
It materialised. Sipping it, the Admiral moved to a chair, and sat down, looking out at the stars going by at warp speed. "I don't believe I ever gave this up," she murmured, glancing to her cup.
And then an idea struck her.
"Admiral to the Captain."
A groan told her that Chakotay had been asleep. "Yes?"
"Turn Voyager around," said the Admiral. "I have an idea."
It was genius, thought Kathryn, watching in pride as it unfolded. As the Borg came down with their own version of food poisoning ("Must be something you assimilated." Kathryn couldn't help but feel so proud of her would-be future self), and Voyager raced through the transwarp corridor. She almost felt like the ship was alive, and thrilled and thrummed eagerly as she watched from the bridge. She was dying to flicker the lights in excitement, but couldn't afford to distract the crew now.
Explosions racked space. Voyager spilt from the transwarp corridor. Bewildered Admirals appeared on the screen, and Kathryn felt so happy – the crew buzzed with energy as the Admirals came up on the viewscreen, with excitement, and from the corridors and stations of the ship echoed cheers of a magnitude of joy that Kathryn hadn't felt since the angel visited her. In her excitement, one of the consoles short-circuited, a light blew, and the others flickered wildly.
"Calm down, Captain, calm down!" laughed Harry Kim, then he himself punched the air, making the spectre give a silent laugh. "YES!"
The Admirals blinked at him from the screen, and Kim flushed. Tuvok looked at his dead console critically.
"It'll be in my report, Admiral," said Chakotay with a smile.
And so, Voyager went home.
They brought out the large ramp in the docking bay that the builders had used once upon a time, especially for a traditional exit. The crew assembled. Walked down. And Kathryn watched them from the ship, smiling, as they laughed and cried and flew into the arms of their long lost friends and families.
Chakotay glanced towards her. "I can feel you there, you know," he said.
I'm proud of you. Kathryn felt her father's ghostly hand touch her shoulder. She glanced up at him, both of them in their living forms, and smiled.
Chakotay walked down the ramp, and slowly, Kathryn followed. She saw the stars streaked across the sky above. Saw the sky, and the full moon again. She felt tears again, too.
We're here. We're really here.
And she looked around one last time, as her father approached her, as the light that waited for them grew brighter. Saw Admiral Paris with his granddaughter. Saw Harry Kim with Libby. Saw B'Elanna with her father, clutching each other as if they'd never let go. Saw her mother, with her tear-streaked face, saw her sister Phoebe, talking to Chakotay.
Chakotay looked towards the ramp again. His eyes could not see her, but she knew he was looking for her. And, quietly, he gave a salute and a smile.
She smiled back, so gently. And at last she turned and took her father's hand.
And then she went home.