He wonders where she is. What she's doing. At warp four, by now, she should just be passing the halfway mark out of that forsaken, spiritless expanse.
He wonders if she did it with her sanity intact. Considering the effects of solitary confinement, the net sum of what she'd subjected herself to by disappearing alone in a class two shuttle for nearly four years, the doctor doesn't think so…but he prefers to have faith.
She's always in the back of his mind, living in his thoughts. Yet the date makes thoughts of her even more poignant today; he knows it as he sits motionless in the reading chair that had once been hers.
There's still the chance she can catch them. If she maintained herself, if she planned well enough, she could have come through it. It wasn't necessarily a permanent goodbye. That is what he tells the crew, reminds them of constantly when they clamor at him, still, that they've abandoned her. He tells them to have faith in her, because going back for her is impossible at this point…and with the burden of the wellbeing of the entire ship on his shoulders now, he can't give the order to double back for her. He simply can't, which makes their only remaining option to believe in her super-human ability to accomplish things most people can't. That is what he tells himself, and to hell with sharp, niggling doubts to the contrary.
In some ways, she's more daring than he is. She always was. That could be called recklessness, any number of things. He calls it daring, admirable innovation. She might take chances, especially with only herself to worry about, that he can't.
They've just passed the Devore expanse. He regrets he couldn't negotiate passage through it, but he believes it was the wisest course of action to bypass it, considering. He thinks she might've chanced it. Possibly, she'd have talked her way into crossing it but with three telepathic passengers…he'd taken the initial refusal at face value, ordered Tom to circumvent the entire vast territory. The borders are unstable, and they've been in several skirmishes with small warring factions for the past year and a half. They've lost three people, but he still firmly believes it was best to avoid the Devore, not to try and smuggle telepaths into their violently xenophobic space.
But her alone…
Maybe. It's possible. If she could get passage through the Imperium, she could go a ways toward catching up to them. He clings to that, even as he clings to the cover of Dante in his whitening fingers.
He's moved into the captain's quarters, but he hasn't packed all of her things. Many of them, yes. Protocol, propriety has demanded that he clear out many of her belongings to make room for his own. But some things he hasn't been able to bear to pack away and let gather dust in some hidden corner of a cargo bay. Doing that with everything would be an admission he isn't prepared to make.
His first captain's log had nearly made him vomit. Moving here…about the same. Yet, guilty as he feels for living here, a selfish part of him is now glad he does. This is where he feels her presence most strongly. Occasionally, he thinks he catches a hint of her scent, the ghost of that half smile. Here, he can hear her voice most clearly as she argues with him. Teases him. Tells him to have faith.
"I have it, Kathryn," he tells her softly as he stares out at the viewport, scanning the stars for things he knows he might not ever see. Like her shuttle, pulling up alongside them, preceding a triumphant hail announced in Harry's eager voice.
He's taken it hard, her decision and subsequent, abrupt disappearance from their lives. They all have. He fights the tendency for bitterness over her choice, her unthinkable actions, to form in the rest of them. He fights it in himself. That he'll fight to the day he dies. For her sake, he will.
Does he forgive her? He isn't sure. He knows he misses her, with a keen pain that cuts as deep as any loss he's ever experienced. At the time, he'd never been so angry at any one living being before. For weeks afterward, he'd seen red. He'd been terrified. Yet the only way to get back to her, with that vortex imploded, was to circle all the way back through the expanse. With her presumably setting course through it…they'd have missed each other entirely. And even if they hadn't…Voyager was capable of stockpiling the resources to cross the expanse once…not twice, to double back through it once reaching the other side. He couldn't do it. And she wouldn't have come out on the same side as they had, either, quite possibly.
They'd lingered a few months anyway. Tried to come up with ways to wait for her, to stay back until she could catch them. Conflict with the region's ruling forces had made it impossible. They'd been forced to move forward, to keep going. Not knowing if she would make it through, much less be able to catch up to them.
He glances down at the coffee table that sees more tea nowadays than coffee, at the holo-reading of a depressing book he'd never read until he'd found it locked in her desk over a year ago. Why a dog-lover of any century would have it, he wouldn't have understood if it hadn't been for the inscription over the casing, signed "Mom". According to the lettering, it seemed to have been her father's. Which meant it was now one of her most treasured possessions and made sense. It had been a hell of a tear-jerking story, one he hadn't appreciated initially. Now, with time, he thinks he might.
He thinks of happy endings. Of whether Voyager will see one without her. Of whether there's a chance she can still find hers or if her decision had made their finding one together, the way he'd always hoped they might, impossible now. He thinks how the book would be so radically different if written in their century…of how the only real difference between tragedy and comedy is timing.
Timing. If they somehow, some way, manage to get theirs down perfectly, even at this distance…
He prefers to have faith. She's going to come home to them. It may take a few years for her to catch up, but she's going to come home.
He has to believe she will. He has to believe that this time, there's a happy ending to their story. Because if he doesn't…then, there's nothing left to hold onto but the book cutting painful ridges into his palm as he fruitlessly searches the stars streaming by outside the viewport for any sign of her.
Kathryn always manages to pull off the impossible. She will this time too. He's sure of it. Their story, Voyager's story was destined from the outset to end happily, and it will.
It has to.