Home. Whatever that means. Earth? Indiana? Starfleet? Mom and Phoebe? Voyager…? That was home and I didn't even know it. What's the old saying? Something about things or friendship being like the sun and how you never miss it until it's gone. Yes. That's it. How true.
My favourite tree. Familiar and strange all at the same time. Sitting here with the hot sun making patterns on my dress through the leaves. Scents so familiar and long forgotten surround me.
I can see the house from here, bits and pieces, like a half-completed jigsaw puzzle. Mom is singing in harmony with the birds and bees although she's unaware of it. And I smile. This is home too, although it's home from my past. My future home remains a mystery.
I look down at the padd in my hands and shudder. The words on this padd speak to me from beyond the grave and yet…
Did she die? Did she exist at all? My future self or… I smile slightly. Time paradoxes. I can almost feel the headache coming on. I activate the padd and read.
How strange to write to myself. Enough of that. Time is short.
I'm hoping this will reach you although from my current location that may well be doubtful.
By the time you receive this, if you receive it, I will be no more. Stop that now. No emotions and no regrets for us.
I made it. The Queen lives but hopefully not for much longer, although her death will mean my own but oh…what a noble cause.
Time. It's short.
I need to tell you this. You've encountered this evil before so I don't need to paint too detailed a picture. I just know you haven't learned from it. We both saw the Queen for the evil she is but we connect her only with the Borg, the hive mind, the drones.
Kathryn, I want you to think about this. Think carefully and learn from it. You and me – we're one. Past and future, but one. And now I know that we're more like the Borg Queen than we'd ever want to believe. Does that shock you? I hope so. Think about what you've become. Think about what I became. One being. Head of a collective. Single minded and tunnel visioned in our ambition on their behalf. Sacrificing everything for the good of that collective in order to get them home.
Think about that, Kathryn. Sacrificing everything. And you know we did. Despite what I already told you about my life, you'll make the same mistakes. We're more like the Queen than we want to accept. Denying ourselves for everyone else, but in the end, alone. Always alone. Do you know how lonely you can be in a crowded room?
What are you doing while you're reading this? Still on Voyager? I pray not. If my prayers have been answered – yes, I became more spiritual in my old age – then you're home. Of course, home will be Indiana with Mom and you're still alone. Am I right?
Kathryn, the only thing I can give you is my fervent hope that you learn from these words. You, we, choose a very lonely and sad existence. I can't change anything now but you can.
Go to him. Do whatever it takes. Claim him. God, rape him if you need to but make him understand how much you love him because I know he loves you too. Just don't waste another minute.
That's it. My words from beyond or wherever.
I can hear her coming back and our destiny awaits us.
Kathryn, please…live for us both. Erase my mistakes.
God bless and live long and prosper. Find love with Chakotay for us both.
I lean my head back against the bark, well aware of the tears which stream from my eyes. I whisper on the breeze to her.
"Thank you…the sacrifice you made for us all." And then I can almost hear her reply. "Don't let us down… Go to him."
I quickly wipe at my face and push my hair back. I slip the padd into the pocket of my dress and with practiced ease but a little less speed and agility than my youth, I climb down from my tree. I run for the house, seeing Mom look up in alarm. She calls to me.
"Katie? What's wrong?" I skid onto the porch and stop just long enough for a cryptic explanation.
"Nothing…I hope. If I'm not too late… She told me and I'm finally listening…" Mom frowns for a moment but in her eyes I quickly see her answer her own question.
"I think I understand the 'not too late' part. I'm sure you'll explain the rest if and when you want to…" I nod quickly and lean over to her, kissing her tenderly on the cheek.
"Mom, I love you. You're the best Mom anyone could have had. I should have told you that more…" I see her old eyes fill with tears.
"Oh honey. You've told me that every time you look at me…every card and gift…" She sniffs softly. "It's still lovely to hear it though." She stands a little straighter. "Now, go get ready. Go to him." Her words echo those of my older self. I nod eagerly.
"Wish me luck, Mom."
She smiles lovingly at me and then waves away my concerns. "He'd need to be brain dead to resist you. I met him remember? I saw how he looked at you. A mother knows these things. Now go…" I don't need to be told a second time.
An hour later I'm standing outside his apartment, my earlier confidence beginning to desert me, replaced by doubts and fears. I raise my hand to knock and then drop it. I curse my own hesitancy and turn away a moment. My hand goes to my pocket, feeling the padd still there and I turn back. As I raise my hand a second time, the door opens and I fall forward.
Chakotay catches me and breaks my fall. I look up into his face and panic all over again. Words desert me.
"Chakotay…I…" I know my mouth is opening and closing like a fish. 'Not a very attractive start, Kathryn'. He eases me back and looks down at me.
"I wasn't expecting to see you…" Oh God. He has someone with him. I'm too late. I look down at my hands and mumble an apology.
"I'm sorry. I should have called first. I'm disturbing you…" I turn to leave but his hand on my arm stops me.
"You're not disturbing me. I'm delighted to see you…just surprised." He's still staring at me and I actually blush, something I haven't done since girlhood. He smiles now, amused at my embarrassment but not mocking me. "Kathryn…?"
Suddenly I spur myself into action, drawing on the only part of the captain I'll allow into my life now. I push past him and into the living room. I turn to face him and watch as he closes the door behind us. He stands and waits, instinctively knowing to let me speak. I reach into my pocket and pull out the padd.
"Please read this." I hand it to him and he takes it.
He activates it and I see his shock. "From the Admiral? Where did you get this?"
"She somehow managed to send it to me. I don't know how she got it out. It was waiting for me on my terminal when we returned to Earth."
He nods slowly. "That must have been very risky but she was an extremely resourceful and intelligent woman. If anyone could have found a way…" He crosses to a sofa and sits, glancing at me once before beginning to read.
It takes everything in me to stop myself from pacing as he reads. It's a long-ingrained habit I badly need to break. I can't take my eyes off him and I know he senses my stare but he continues reading. Finally, he finishes and I hear him sigh deeply but I can't see his eyes to read them.
"From Kathryn Janeway…to…Kathryn Janeway. Harry would be amused…"
He looks up at me slowly and I freeze. Somehow, I imagined he'd smile or laugh at least or better still jump up and hug me to him. Instead he just stares at me for the longest time as I feel myself crumble inside. Just as I'm about to flee, he speaks.
"You may resent this question…perhaps even hate me for it, but I have to ask." I nod slowly, tacitly giving him permission. He takes a moment, perhaps rehearsing the words in his mind. He takes a deep breath.
"Kathryn…do you love me?" I open my mouth to finally speak those three little words but he continues. "I mean, are you here because you love me or because you're terrified of being alone for the rest of your life? You bring me this…" He holds up the padd. "You bring me this warning from your future self… Had you never received this, would you still be here now?" I stare at him for a moment then close my eyes. I draw in a deep breath, hoping to gain some strength or mental courage from it. When I open my eyes again, he's still staring at me.
"Chakotay, I know how this looks. I must come across as a desperate, middle-aged woman, petrified of being alone in her old age…terrified of becoming the older self I came to know. You've every right to ask me this." I sigh and sit down in a chair facing him.
"The contents of that padd are the reason I'm here right now. I read the message only this morning but Mom and Phoebe were there with my nieces. I read it again this afternoon on my own and it terrified me. Oh, not for the reasons you think." I shake my head. "Am I afraid of a lonely old age? No…not afraid. I would dread it but if that's to be my lot in life, I'll have to accept it. Could I accept life without you?" I sigh deeply. "That does terrify me." I sit forward. His eyes never leave my face and he hasn't moved a muscle.
"I would have come to you but it would have taken longer. Why? Because I'm a damn coward where my heart is concerned and you know that. I almost fled before I even knocked on your door earlier." I stand now, the lure of pacing impossible to resist.
"I had so many fears when we got back but the debriefings took over for a while. Once that was out of the way, I was left alone with those fears. Were you with someone else? Did you still love me? Would you still want me? Had I left it too late? I fumbled around, trying to work up the courage to come and see you, praying that you might come to me even, terrified that you would and I'd mess it up." I'm wringing my hands now.
"I read her words this afternoon and it was the kick in the backside that I needed." I laugh. "My older self. I think I saw my mother in her and she terrified me. She was right though. I had…we had…become like the Queen. I became like Ransom once too but you brought me back from that…even though I fought you." I stop pacing a moment and the silence in the room eats at me. I start again.
"I don't know why I couldn't just say this to you before but… I mean there was Seven and the possibility that the two of you were…maybe still are and… For so long I only saw the crew… Oh, I know they needed looking after but they didn't need their hands held all the time. Maybe I just needed to feel needed but in doing that, I lost myself." I sigh deeply. "Well, my chicks have flown the nest and I have to let them go. It's time for me now and I pray for us…if you'll have me…" Suddenly my courage deserts me as my doubts and fears begin to crowd in on me again. I look at him, so afraid of what I'll see. I still can't read his eyes and the last vestige of courage leaves me.
"I made a mistake. It's too late and you've moved on and…" I turn and almost run for the door. The padd…I have to have it. I turn back to snatch it from his hand and collide with a brick wall. Once again, he grabs me to stop me from falling. I look up into his eyes.
"I haven't moved on. Now…one last time, Kathryn. Do you love me?"
I don't think. I just answer. "I love you. I loved you from almost the first moment I saw you. I loved you long before I ever thought about being alone for the rest of my life. I loved you when I was still in love with another man…engaged to be married to him and believed I would get back home to him, knowing I loved another. I loved you when I had no right to love you…" Any further words are cut off as he pulls me to him and his mouth covers mine in a bruising kiss. I surrender to it, glorying in the strength and power of it. Everything else flees my mind as I moan deeply in the back of my throat and cling to him like a drowning woman.
Hours later, lying beside him, my head on his chest, I listen to the steady beating of his heart. His hand strokes my arm and he chuckles.
I smile. "You put up some fight."
Silence follows for several moments.
"Kathryn…?" I can't move and don't want to. "I love you too…"
I snuggle closer to him and I know now. I know where home is. Home is where the heart is and for me, that's right here in his arms. Now I'm home.