NOTE: Written for the VAMB "Time On My Hands" challenge. Paramount owns all, I own nothing.
TIME ON MY HANDS
I've never had so much time on my hands.
I am apparently not dealing with it well.
The counselors warned me about this. They informed me – gently, of course – that Starfleet Captains tend to be very driven, goal-oriented beings.
I already knew this.
The evidence is all over my childhood bedroom, from a faded blue ribbon proclaiming First Place in the Lakeview Elementary Spelling Bee and a dusty Jackson Creek Middle School tennis trophy to Valedictorians' Diplomas from Bloomington South High School and Starfleet Academy.
This room is full of trophies, ribbons and certificates, most of them more than thirty years old.
I'm not sure what they mean anymore. I can remember what they meant to me then, of course. If I close my eyes, I can recall receiving each of them. I can see the indulgence in each presenter's smile as he or she handed me the prize, the satisfaction on my Mother's face, the pride in my Father's eyes – when he was there. He often wasn't.
It wasn't really a need for my parents' approval that made me chase those goals, those achievements. I wanted them to be proud of me, of course, especially my Father.
But that wasn't the reason I was so driven. No, if I could win the spelling bee and the tennis tournament, if I could graduate at the top of my class and take the physics prize, if I could become the youngest woman ever to make Captain, it would mean I was good. Really good. The best. It would mean I was worthy.
Of what, I can't even remember now.
And there's the irony.
Constantly chasing ribbons and trophies and certificates, constantly seeking outside validation, caused me to lose inner motivation.
Or, as the counselors put it, I've always been so focused on the next goal – the next prize, the next promotion, the next diploma – that I've never figured out what to do when all the goals are achieved.
I have an insane urge to take off my Admiral's rank and pin it up next to the spelling bee ribbon. I brought Voyager home in one piece, I delivered almost all of my crew to their families, I received my promotion. This should be the pinnacle of my career. Instead, it feels like just another goal I worked hard to achieve. Another outward validation of the kind of I have craved my entire life.
But I have no other goal now, and I feel...lost.
I've been lost before, in ways that most people can't possibly imagine. I have been lost to my family, lost to Starfleet, lost to everything that ever mattered to me.
Now I am lost to myself.
Voyager is back in the Alpha Quadrant. And I don't know what to do next.
Which is why I am sitting in my childhood bedroom, staring at all these ribbons and trophies and certificates, trying to figure out what they all mean to me now.
I'm a little afraid of the answer.
We've been home for a month. The Maquis have been pardoned, the debriefings are over, the promotions have been handed out. We've all been told to take extended leave before reassignment. We've earned it, they say, and we need the time to connect with our loved ones, integrate ourselves into society, find ourselves again.
I thought I would be able find myself here in Indiana, in this house, in this bedroom.
But I haven't. I've found only...trappings. Evidence of what young Kathryn Janeway did. Not who she was.
Who I am.
Who am I?
I'm really not sure anymore.
The Delta Quadrant did something to me.
Chakotay told me as much on the day he left with Seven.
"The years have taken a toll," he said. "On all of us. On you and me." He glanced over to where Seven was waiting with their things, standing over a pile of their bags, their lives, mingled together. Then he looked back down at me with soft, sad eyes. "Maybe someday we'll remember who we were before."
"Maybe," I said. "In time."
He nodded. "Time. We have plenty of that now."
"I suppose we do."
He sighed and rubbed his ear, a gesture so familiar to me I can picture it as if he were sitting beside me now. "I don't know how to say goodbye to you," he said.
"Then don't," I replied.
He frowned at me. "Don't? What do you mean?"
"Don't say goodbye. Just...take your things and go. We'll see each other again."
"Soon?" he asked, and even now I have to persuade myself that the sudden spark in his eyes was nothing more a figment of my imagination.
"I don't know," I answered. "I think I'll go home to Indiana for a while."
"Call me when you get settled?"
That seemed to satisfy him. "Okay, then. Take care of yourself, Kathryn," he said, and turned and walked away.
When he picked up two bags and I couldn't tell which was his and which was Seven's, I was forcefully reminded of the day we left New Earth, of the careful segregation of our belongings before we beamed back to Voyager.
I haven't called.
Neither has he.
A number of people around me, my Mother and sister among them, seem to think that by leaving the planet with a woman barely half his age he has betrayed some agreement between us.
He was in love with me once. He left that in very little doubt. But that was a long time ago, before Riley Frazier and Jaffen and Kashyk and Seven. Before the years took their toll. Before the Delta Quadrant changed us. Before all the dangers and crises and disagreements turned the Kathryn and Chakotay who trusted each other from the moment they met into the Admiral and Captain who couldn't say goodbye.
There was never an agreement between us. There was never even an acknowledgment. By the end, there was barely a friendship.
I miss him. I've missed him for a long time. Years. Since long before his relationship with Seven.
I miss myself, too. Much more than I miss him.
I take a long look around the room, at the ribbons and trophies and certificates.
Then I retrieve the empty box I've brought with me. One by one, I take them all down, all the prizes that represent old goals, and put them in the box, until the walls and shelves of my old room are bare.
The room feels larger, somehow. More open and free. Brighter than it has ever been, too, with a shaft of afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows.
I stand in the middle of the room, empty now, but also filled with endless possibility.
Maybe Chakotay is right. Maybe someday I'll remember who I was before the Delta Quadrant.
Or maybe he's wrong, and soon I'll discover who I can be after the Delta Quadrant.
I allow myself a small smile.
I have a new goal. I won't be able to hang the prize on the wall to fade or leave on a shelf to gather dust for the next thirty years. The prize will be my own self, awarded with pride, satisfaction and indulgence.
I'd say that's a goal worth working toward, no matter how long it takes.
Fortunately, I've never had so much time on my hands.