Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events. Just the story.
Author's Note: Set in the aftermath of season 5's "Extreme Risk." Each chapter written in a response to Laura W's "Time on My Hands" ficlet challenge on VAMB. Each opening sentence is a variation of her prompt, "I've never had so much time on my hands."
The Time Between
I've never forced so much time on her hands.
She needs it, I know that. Healing takes time, and she's not going to find it barking orders in Engineering. Or is she?
It frightens me to think of what she's been doing for the past five months. Alone and broken and too numb to know the difference between staying alive and flirting with death, she endured five months without any of us thinking something was wrong.
How could I have let this happen?
I thought I was doing so well, holding us together with a little help from Neelix and the occasional beam-down to a friendly planet. Everything was fine and dandy, moving right along and functioning with an efficiency even Seven would emulate.
And then this happened—has been happening—and I'm suddenly left here in the ashes of my illusion with nothing but the future to console me. Because heavens know, the past is hardly comforting.
Why did it take me so long to notice? A week is understandable, two weeks are tolerable, but five months? Unacceptable. Inexcusable for all of us, but me most of all. How could I not have noticed something was wrong? Was I so blinded by my goal of getting us home that I let my chief engineer slip through the cracks of my concern? I can't accept that I didn't notice her reticence, her closed-off expressions and the absence from crew functions.
But I did, and that's the problem.
Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. Tom tells me he only noticed in the past few weeks. If she can fool Tom, she can fool anybody. But I'm the Captain, and I can't let my crew make excuses for me. I cannot. It's unacceptable.
I can't stop thinking about her, about the holodeck simulations and the brutality that flashed before my eyes when Chakotay and I reviewed them. Cardassians twice her size, river rapids capable of killing a Nausicaan, shuttle dives that ran the risk of ripping apart tritanium hulls—it sickens me to think that she had to turn to this to know she was still alive.
When did it start? I asked Chakotay. When did she become this desperate?
His answer was a knife to my gut.
One day, he said. One day, and she was gone. Lost in her fracturing, leeching strength from blood and broken bones and pain, hungry pain.
Are we really that incapable of consoling her? Are we truly that horrible of a family, that we didn't notice when one of our dearest members fell victim to depression? Because she was a victim. A savaged, brutalized, and spirit-broken victim.
I'll never forgive myself for what happened to her.
And perhaps that's why I've ordered her off active duty, so that I can make up for all those weeks I never watched her, never cared enough to touch her and see her wince when my hands hit a bruise or aggravated a fractured bone. Five months, and I just let her die that slow, terrible death of desperation. Alone. Looked over. Forgotten.
I won't forget her anymore. Not after what happened. I've sworn I'll watch her for the next two weeks, and the best way I know to do that is to keep her away from Engineering. At least here, in my ready room, I can watch her pace the floor of her quarters and rake her hands through her hair. At least this way I can witness the caged quality to her movements and know that she's all right, that she's still here, with us, and not bleeding out in a holodeck somewhere.
She'll never be alone again. Not after what happened.
But she is alone, Kathryn, that voice inside my head says. You've taken away her friends and subordinates and forced her off active duty—wrenched from her the one thing that matters most to her in this life. She's more alone now than she was twenty hours ago in that holodeck where Chakotay left her to grieve. What are you doing, confining her to quarters? She's not your prisoner. Let her go, Kathryn. Let her go. She'll heal. It just takes time.
Yes. It just takes a little time.