A/N: This is set during "Basics: Part II" and focuses on the working relationship between Harry Kim and Kathryn Janeway.
Music: Epiphanies – Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica Season 2 OST)
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
When he first signed his application to Starfleet years ago under the haze of a thousand expectations, he had never expected this.
To be stranded thousands of light years from home, and worse yet, to be deserted on a barren planet after their ship was seized by a hostile alien race that gave no care to their future well-being. The temperatures on this planet are less than forgiving, burning the air to a blaze against his skin. He's already been told not to push himself, but hours under this sun make perspiration an unavoidable evil of this new world.
The Captain leads their group, her hair disheveled and flying away from her usual sleek bun. Despite whatever toll the preceding chain of events may have had on her, she remains the headstrong leader that he has come to know her as over the course of the past two years. She makes it clear that the expectation for rescue is paramount; she doesn't give up on anything easily. He shares the Captain's confidence, hoping against all odds that Tom's shuttle made it through the blockade in order to gather help from their Talaxian allies.
He doesn't want to believe in the worst case scenario because he's already dealt with one of the worst ones in his career, and having to deal with abandonment on a planet thousands of light years from home is not something he wants to consider in the long term right now.
After trekking through the desert for long hours beneath a scorching sun, they find a sheltered entrance leading into a series of gullies with a slight overhang. The Captain leads them in, raising a hand to prevent a rush by people eager for even a flicker of rest after the ordeal they've been through. They have yet to discover whatever threats this planet has stored away in its Pandora's Box of mysteries, and Harry is the farthest thing from keen to find out.
They set up camp in the best way that they can, but with next to no resources, it isn't exactly easy. Food is less than plentiful, and even what they manage to scrounge from the bowels of this planet's ecosystem won't sustain them for long; yet Harry feels the need to keep searching, and it's only when B'Elanna gives him a rather terse warning accompanied by a harsh bout of Klingon that he agrees to head back to camp. The sun has already set by the time they make it back, and Harry finds Chakotay kneeling over a piece of wood, attempting to start a fire. Harry sets aside the Ostrich-sized eggs and prickly cucumbers as B'Elanna passes him some water.
That's when he learns about Hogan.
He nearly chokes on his water as Kes tells him about what happened, but still swallows it down past the cramps in his throat. There's something in her eyes that troubles Harry, but he doesn't dare to ask because he's sure that there's a glimmer in his eye that would trouble anyone if they looked hard enough. It's there in all of them; the fear that this planet will become their home now.
He looks briefly over to the Captain, who's by Chakotay's side now as he throws aside the tools he was using to try and ignite the dried wood. He watches them for a moment, and then looks away in slight embarrassment; he's not supposed to be privy to the activities of his superiors, but in conditions such as these, it will be hard to keep any interactions between their respective parties.
He overhears something about kindling before the Captain motions for him to come and join them by the pile of petrified wood.
"Harry, find some sharp stones; we're gonna make some kindling," she said with a pat on his shoulder.
He looked back at her, slightly confused. "Captain?"
"Hair, "Chakotay said, changing Harry's focus for a moment. "It's something my father once told me. When a harsh winter hit and they couldn't ignite a fire, they had some of the people of the tribe cut off pieces of their hair to use as kindling."
"Chakotay," the captain interjected. "Find some other crew members with long hair to add to the kindling," she told him and he moved off accordingly.
It only takes him a few moments to find a suitable rock, worn into a fine point at the one end, and return back to the fire pit. He's surprised to find the Captain perched on a rock when he returns, and that two other women from the crew have already arrived in order to donate a piece of their hair to the fire.
Janeway turned to the Ensign and reached for the bun still coiled at the base of her skull. "Might as well get started; there's no point in wasting time," she muttered as she pulled the remaining pins from her hair.
"Captain, are you sure about this?" he asks, partially blurting it out before he realizes how it sounds.
She turns to him, with her classic decisive gaze pinned on him. "Without question, Harry," she says calmly. "We have to make whatever sacrifices it takes in order to survive here," she pulls at her long hair, which runs past her shoulders. "After all, it's only hair," she adds with a weak smile.
She settles herself next to a large rock and flips her hair onto the rough surface, setting her face against the stone and facing away from him. Harry takes the sharp rock and reaches for a piece of the Captain's hair, noticing its soft feel before setting it back on the stone and moving the sharp end of the rock in his hand over her hair.
He tries to make the cuts even and not jagged, for when uneven edges make contact, there is friction. He knows intuitively that friction produces heat, which under the right conditions can produce fire, and it's no secret that fire can wreak havoc on even the mightiest of things.
He's only ever tried to appear as flawless as possible in the eyes of Captain Janeway, and he wonders if that is the cause of some of his fumbles over the past two years. There are times when she's reprimanded him for a minor stumble, other times made it known how valuable he is as a part of the crew. He knows that perfection is unattainable, as are many of the desired things in life, but he refuses to believe that the acceptance of limits should shape the course of his life.
A few hairs fly away, the ends split by the edge of the stone and Harry stifles a curse; he hopes that she'll never notice. He presses the rock a little harder against the strands of her hair and the piece comes free, the other edges cleanly cut.
He passes the hair to someone else who throws it on the dried wood and kindling that Chakotay is still working on. Once the captain's hair joins the rest of kindling a bit of smoke unfurls from the pit, and after a moment a spark ignites, blooming open into flames a second later. Harry sees smiles of relief appear on various faces around the fire, including one on Captain Janeway's. The pale moonlight catches her features at a strange angle from Harry's perspective, but her smile seems to soften some of that harshness.
Harry leans back against one of walls of the gulley, its sheer face stretching up to blend into the murky night sky. Captain Janeway moves away from the group only moments later, already fiddling with her hair. Harry thinks that he should have offered to help her in some way – offered to tie it back for her, perhaps – but when he sees Chakotay move to her side he knows that his help is not needed. With a few quick movements Chakotay has the captain's hair woven into a simple pattern against her skull with the remainder trailing down her back. Harry sees her reach back and run her fingers over the style before turning to Chakotay, whispering a few words to him that Harry can't hear, and then giving him a soft pat on the shoulder before moving off on her own.
Harry quickly shifts his gaze away from their spot and back to the fire. He can't help but peek at the slight smirk on Chakotay's face as he heads back to the fire.
As he closes his eyes and wills some sort of sleep to come, Harry thinks that imperfection may not be preferable, but in this life, sometimes it makes things a little more interesting.
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