After tossing and turning for what seemed like forever, Kathryn Janeway finally settled on her back, unable to sleep. She stared up at the ceiling and sighed heavily. Nothing moved. She thought back to her home on Earth, on the outskirts of San Francisco, and her bedroom there. It was situated at the front of the house and throughout the night, the lights from passing hover cars danced across her ceiling, testifying to the ongoing lives of others outside the walls, no matter what the hour.
Here, only the stars streaked past her viewport, hiding the secrets of what lay ahead in the surrounding darkness and whispering the eternal question of 'would the next race they encountered be friend or foe'?
Finally she surrendered, giving up on the idea of sleep. She pushed herself from her bed, grabbed a pair of sweatpants and shirt and headed for the mess hall, needing to escape the suddenly too familiar walls of her quarters.
The mess hall was mostly in darkness, only a night light from the kitchen area providing a dim illumination. Kathryn firstly sensed and then saw that she wasn't alone in her nocturnal wanderings.
B'Elanna sat up when she saw her captain, some of the liquid in her cup spilling over the rim. "Captain…."
Kathryn raised a hand and moved over to the other woman. "I'm sorry to disturb your solitude, B'Elanna. Would you mind…?" She waved towards the other sofa.
B'Elanna shook her head, wiping at her leg where her tea had spilled. "Please do. And you're not disturbing me, Captain."
Kathryn dropped down opposite her Chief Engineer. "Please…call me Kathryn. I need to hear my name…" She instantly seemed to regret her slip.
B'Elanna saw a rare chink in the armour of her commanding officer and her concern showed. "Are you OK?"
She smiled and nodded. "I'm fine. Sorry, B'Elanna…I think I'm just a bit homesick."
B'Elanna smiled softly. "Kathryn it is then…." She looked sadly at her captain. "You miss Earth."
Kathryn sighed. "Yes, I do. Mostly though I miss family and friends…my home…" She dropped her head to the side and studied the younger woman. "What about you? What has you here at this hour of the graveyard shift?"
B'Elanna laughed slightly. "I couldn't sleep…and for once it's not down to Tom's snoring."
Voyager's captain laughed along with her. "Is he that bad?"
B'Elanna leaned forward and put down her now cold tea. "I'm surprised the entire ship can't hear him. Let's just say that if we could get him to snore in Morse Code, we'd have been in contact with Starfleet years ago."
Their laughter fell away after a few moments and they were silent for a time. B'Elanna sighed and looked over at Kathryn. "You know something? I envy you your homesickness. Does that sound awful?"
Kathryn frowned at that. "I don't understand."
B'Elanna shrugged. "Well, you kind of have to have a home in order to be homesick."
Kathryn closed her eyes a moment. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I didn't think…"
The half Klingon waved her hand dismissively. "Please…don't. I'm fine with it now. Really. My home is here…my family is here…on Voyager. I don't have family waiting for me on Earth…well, not really. Not the way others have. Your family is waiting for you."
Kathryn sat forward. "Maybe you should think of it another way. As I see it, I have family waiting…but you have family waiting to be discovered."
The other woman frowned slightly and considered that. "Maybe. I hadn't thought of it that way."
Kathryn shrugged slightly. "Maybe you should. You also have in-laws. I know the Paris family well and despite the problems Tom and Owen have had, I know they'll welcome you with open arms, along with their grandchild."
B'Elanna sighed and leaned forward also. "I hope so. I'd love that." She studied her captain a moment. "Anyway, you have family on the ship too. We're all family here. The friendships and relationships we've made out here will endure. They keep us going."
Kathryn smiled at that but B'Elanna didn't miss the sadness in it. "It's a little different for me, B'Elanna. You have your husband and a baby on the way. You've made friends with the crew…" She let out a long breath. "You say you envy me my home… Well, I envy you your friends and your relationships with the crew."
B'Elanna was shocked. "They love you. You have so much respect from them…"
Kathryn shook her head sadly. "That's all for their captain. They don't see me. Only the uniform and the four pips. When you're the captain, they all stand back." She waved a hand in the air. "It's hard to explain. I'm not sure you could understand…"
B'Elanna smiled at that. "You know, I understand better than you think." She saw the faint disbelief on her captain's face. "It's true. It was like that at first for me…maybe even harder." She smiled and shook her head as she remembered. "In Engineering, I was the Chief…Captain of Engineering, if you like. They all reported to me and saw me kind of like you. I was 'the boss' down there." She sighed. "So, they stood back."
She shrugged now and smiled sadly. "On top of that, I wasn't Starfleet. I was Maquis…the terrorist and murderer. Many didn't think I even deserved to be on the ship, much less Chief Engineer." She raised a hand when Kathryn went to speak. "Kathryn, you had their trust from the start. It was automatic. I had to fight to earn it."
Kathryn smiled at the memory of that time. "I was so proud of how you did all that."
B'Elanna played with a fingernail. "I did it…but I had to do it over time. They saw me relax off duty and they got used to it…got used to me. It took a while but they finally accepted me and learned to respect me…as an engineer and as a person. They got to know me."
Kathryn nodded slowly. "And now…?"
"Now…it's fine for the most part. It's never going to be 100% but it's close enough for me." B'Elanna smiled at that.
Kathryn just leaned back and shook her head sadly. "That wouldn't work for me."
That was met with a firm shake of the head. "You're wrong with that, Kathryn. Of course, it would work. It would just take a little time for them to get used to seeing more of you…especially off duty."
Kathryn shook her head. "No. It doesn't work that way when you're a captain." She stared off at nothing in particular. "It's not their fault really. I remember seeing it from their side…looking at my captains and thinking how aloof they seemed. You didn't make friends with your captain…out of fear that they'd think you were sucking up…or out of fear also that your fellow crewmembers would think the same."
She dropped her head and stared down into her lap. "When I became a captain myself, I saw the other side…how you HAVE to keep a certain distance. There's a line you can't cross." She smiled sadly at the look on the other woman's face. "Oh, come on, B'Elanna…you must see it. You have to agree with me."
She didn't. "No, Kathryn….I don't see it. Especially out here." She leaned forward. "It's only lonely at the top if you let it be. You talk about that line you can't cross and there's some truth in that…but…" She raised her index finger. "There's nothing stopping you walking up to that line and standing at it…allowing others to walk up to their side of it and meeting you half way. You can reach across it and so can they. They need to see your hand first though. They won't come to you because…for one thing, it wouldn't be proper for them…and also they're too afraid and in awe of you to make that move. They need to see you give your permission. And before you say it, I don't mean fear as much as respect."
Kathryn didn't seem convinced. "How could I do that?"
The answer was ready and waiting. "You should socialize with them more…let them see you…"
Kathryn shook her head. "B'Elanna, I can't socialize with them. It's not fair to them. They need their down time. They can't relax with me around. I've seen that too many times."
B'Elanna sighed sadly. "Can I be totally honest here with you?"
Kathryn nodded her permission. "Please…"
"You may not like it…" She was giving her an out.
Kathryn smiled softly. "Go on. I think I need to hear this."
The other woman folded her hands in her lap. "OK." She took a moment to compose her thoughts and then launched into what she wanted to say.
"I know I said earlier about us being family out here…and we are…but it's not always enough. This is family in the present, and the future in many respects. Mostly though, we've no connection with each other's past and that's hard. I imagine it's especially hard for you so you need to take it a step further to compensate." She watched Kathryn closely, trying to gauge if she was going too far. She saw sadness but also acceptance. "Can I ask you a very personal question?"
Receiving Kathryn's silent permission with a nod of the head, she continued. "Kathryn, are you lonely?"
The look of deep sadness on the other woman's face answered that, yet she instinctively tried to deny it. "There are 150 people on this ship. How could I be…?" She stopped, the caring look on B'Elanna's face giving her the courage to be honest. "Yes…sometimes… often… Pathetic, isn't it?"
B'Elanna smiled kindly. "No…not at all. There could be 150,000 people onboard and it would still be possible to be lonely."
Kathryn looked towards the kitchen, the light from there leaving half her face in shadow. "I often have trouble sleeping. I lie awake analysing it…reliving our time out here and…" She looked back at B'Elanna. "It scares me at times how close I've come to being killed…how often that's happened." She shrugged. "I think about how my luck won't hold out forever and how I'll have little or nothing to show for it all…"
She licked at her lips. "Most of the time when I'm out and about, it's fine. But then I return to my quarters and they're empty…and then the walls start to close in and…" She stopped and seemed to realize her words. She sat up. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I don't know where this is coming from. I've no right to…"
B'Elanna reached over and squeezed Kathryn's hand. "Tom would say it's the 03:00 syndrome. There's something about this hour of the morning. The 'wee small hours of the morning' he calls them." She smiled at Kathryn as she let go of her hand. "You know, we've a lot in common, Kathryn Janeway. We're two strong women. We think alike and work alike. We're responsible for our people and we take that very seriously. We're also…" She hesitated. "I'll come back to that." She ignored at the puzzled look on her captain's face and pushed on.
"I see two problems here." She sat back a little and cleared her throat. "Firstly, we need to get you out and about more…mixing with the crew. I know what you said before but..." She sat forward. "Just listen to me a minute. This crew loves you. They really do. They care deeply about you. They also respect you and nothing will change that. Were you to dance naked on the holodeck, they'd still feel that way."
Kathryn laughed. "OK…I'm not doing that…"
B'Elanna bit the side of her mouth, pretending to hide a smile. "Oh, I never rule out anything…" She laughed a moment and then became serious again. "What I'm saying is that they'd love to see you more…outside of duty. They'd love to get to know you. They want to see you happy and not so cut off from them. I know many of them…myself included…worry about you being lonely."
She let out a long breath and continued. "Kathryn, you need to do this. They need it too. The first time will be a bit uneasy but in no time… Look, they'll forget you're there. Yes, they put on an act when you're around but they won't be able to keep that up for long. They'll get so used to you being there and they'll let their hair down and become themselves again. I know this for a fact because that's the way they were with me."
Kathryn took her time to digest all that. B'Elanna could almost see the wheels turning in her mind as she mulled it over and imagined the likely outcomes.
Finally, Kathryn looked across at B'Elanna. "What was it you were going to come back to? What's the second thing?"
B'Elanna smiled at that. "I was going to put my big foot in it and go for broke." She drew in a deep breath. "I was saying that we have a lot in common…including…being in love with our true soulmates…" If she thought her captain would be angry or embarrassed, she was wrong.
Kathryn held B'Elanna's eyes and then smiled softly. "And they love us in return." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "I know how rare that is, B'Elanna. I'm not a complete fool." She shrugged, suddenly lost for words.
B'Elanna supplied them for her. "You've cut yourself off from him too, haven't you? Cut yourself off from what could be…"
The answer to that was clear on the face of Voyager's captain. Rather than push her anymore, B'Elanna made a decision. "Take this or leave it, but I pray you'll take it." She sat forward a little. "The Hallowe'en Ball. Don't just come for an hour or less, the way you usually do. Come with Chakotay on your arm. Stay for the evening and have fun with your people. Hell, dress up if you want. Most people are. We can all make fools of ourselves together."
Kathryn saw the chance that was being offered before her. She thought about her empty quarters which always awaited her when she left the holodeck early, how she sat in the dark or tried to sleep early, knowing everyone else was still enjoying whatever event was taking place. She thought about the disappointment on Chakotay's face every time she turned him down. She let her mind look at the years which stretched ahead of them on this journey, the worsening loneliness which awaited her if she continued as she was.
She didn't need to say anything as she reached her decision. B'Elanna's wide smile told her the answer had already been revealed. "He loves you deeply, Kathryn. You do know that."
Kathryn smiled with a misty look in her eyes. "Yes, I do know. And I love him as much."
B'Elanna felt a warm glow fill her. "I'm honoured that you confided in me, Kathryn. Just make sure you tell him now, although I suspect he well knows it."
Kathryn smiled to herself. "I'll tell him. I promise." She sighed deeply and contentedly then stretched and slid to the edge of the sofa. "B'Elanna, thank you for this…for tonight. I hadn't realized…or had forgotten just how much I missed talking to another woman…to a girlfriend, if I can be so bold."
B'Elanna smiled her thanks. "I'm honoured that you can see me that way."
Kathryn looked down at the table a moment. "Having a girlfriend…apart from having a friend…it kind of reinforces my femininity, if that makes sense. It's easy to lose that when you're a captain. It's a role that's really genderless and you can lose yourself in it."
The other woman nodded her understanding. "I miss it too." She laughed slightly. "Don't get me wrong. Tom is my best friend, but there are certain things only another woman can understand…and I don't just mean the physical stuff. Besides, it's no different for him and other men. They need their male friends too."
Kathryn nodded at that. "I guess we all do." She stood slowly. "Well, B'Elanna…you've made a friend tonight…whether you wanted one or not."
B'Elanna stood also and moved around the table. Without thinking about it or asking, she reached for her new friend and hugged her. "I'm honoured to have you as my friend, Kathryn. I hope you'll never regret it."
Kathryn hugged her back. "I know I won't. Thank you, my friend."
B'Elanna pulled back and smiled. "So, I'll see you both at the dance tomorrow…" She frowned and then smiled. "Tonight."
Kathryn gave her a smile which B'Elanna hadn't seen before. It was filled with life and hope for the future. "Oh yes, we'll be there." She laughed and then uttered the line which had united girlfriends for centuries. "My only problem now is figuring out what to wear…"