She leaves the ship alone…playing to perfection the part expected of her. She walks down the gangway then stands proud and erect…posing for the reporters…the smile and wave measured…not too much…not too little.
And the people cheer…always needing a hero. 'The Darling Of The Delta Quad'…a headline probably invented in some small office months ago to match this event. They stare at her…enchanted by her smile…the same smile that will beam out at them from the news vids over their breakfast in the morning and they'll invent a life for her…imagining they know some part of her…understand her…tell all who'll listen that they were there the night Voyager landed.
How little they know of the woman behind the uniform…her armour of red and black. And what do I know? She's leaving me…being taken from me by unseen faces with dizzying rank insignias.
The people clamour around her now, trying desperately to share something of hers rather than their own ordinary mundane lives.
And then the top brass show up. Uniforms and hangers on…sharing the glory vicariously…bathing in the limelight…those still needing to win elections and those grasping one last ray of the light before oblivion claims them.
She's no longer mine…or ours. I feel I've lost her as surely as I've lost myself and yet I worry more that she'll lose herself.
Three weeks. Three weeks they've kept her from me…from us. Three weeks which have seemed longer than the seven years we were out there. And I can't let them see what her absence does to me…can't let them see the terrible pain this separation causes…like something constantly gnawing away inside me.
And the endless questions…asked by men who can never understand many of the answers we have to give…have no comprehension of what we endured out there. Their ignorance is not their fault, but their lack of consideration lies at their own feet. This crew is tired. They're stressed and lost. Home has become an unknown room furnished by only the occasional familiar item. They yearn to be with their loved ones…friends and family who can reconnect them to this planet they once called home.
Naomi Wildman…a child…showed them the way with her child's frame housing her adult's wisdom. Words spoken loudly…reporters and admirals bearing witness. "What did we do wrong? Why are they keeping us in prison? I want to see my daddy." Who says one small voice can't be heard above thunder?
And so the crew of Voyager finally come home…pardons handed out…plaudits and back pay given…slaps on the back in the full glare of publicity…milking it for all the PR they can.
But one is still missing and my fear grows that she won't want me anymore. I lie awake at night and imagine…the good and the bad. I dream of her…when awake and asleep. These weeks with them will turn her. She'll forget me…forget our promises made so long ago. She'll turn to them now and not me. And then I imagine her running to me…wanting me and needing me…whispering those promises to me…keeping them as I hope she will.
All I can do is wait…and pray.
They called me tonight. They told me she'd been 'excused'. I prefer to say 'released'. No warning…no one advised who could meet her…ease the transition. So she left alone…faced 'home' alone. With no reporters present, why bother with anything else? Nothing to be gained by those in power.
The facts are unknown. She apparently wandered across campus and made for the first familiar place she knew. A small coffee shop she'd frequented in her cadet days.
The waitress informed security and the medics that she ordered tea then seated herself in a corner booth where she sat for long minutes just staring at the beverage. With tears staining her face, she stood shakily, took one step and then collapsed.
So I sit beside her bed now and listen to the quiet rhythm of her breathing, my own almost synchronized with it. She's peaceful now…the brief storm of earlier past, when between choking sobs she told me of the angel in her teacup.
I saw the young medic frown, his mind grasping for details from the psyche rotation he did in medical training. He stood back though and wisely let her speak.
"I thought you'd gone."
"No one was there. I looked for you."
"They didn't tell me they were letting you go. I'm here now."
"I found the coffee shop…remembered it. Ordered tea…to give me a part of you."
"You didn't drink it."
"No…the angel was there…"
"The angel in my teacup."
Peripherally I see the medic advance but he stops quickly when I send him a warning glance.
"I felt so alone…scared… I couldn't stop crying."
"You're home now. It's all over. You're with me. You're safe. It's time to rest now."
I feel my strength return. I need to tell him. I need him to know about my angel. Yet he frowns…not expecting my cryptic words. Do I understand myself?
"It was the tea you see…and the angel. I had…and tears…they blurred and…and the steam from my cup. She took shape. It wasn't tiredness…weariness…nor hallucination. Not imagined either…not a trick of the light…my tears and the steam. She was there and she rose up to smile at me…through the steam from the cup…suddenly she was there…her wings…gossamer…"
She breaks then…completely lets go and all I can do is hold her as the storm rages. She needs this…to let all this out…to finally be Kathryn the woman once more. I see the medic reach for a hypo and shake my head. She doesn't need that…not yet anyway. She needs to let this out…cleanse her body and soul of what the past seven years have held and inflicted on her.
Only when she has nothing left do I ease her back and let the medic take over. The drug is in her system before she realizes his presence and for just a moment, she fights it. Only when I tell her I'm not going anywhere does she surrender. Now I'll sit and wait. I'd wait for her forever.
I feel my hand in his. He's still here. After all these years, he's still here…waiting on me…waiting for me…keeping his promise to stay by my side. And I've never given anything in return except a vague promise many years ago. I have the greatest gift before me…asking little in return. I turn my head and meet his eyes.
His face hides nothing…his soul laid bare, and I've never had such power as I have at this moment…power over another. I could crush him with a look…a few words… or I could make his spirit soar. Does he know? Does he understand that he holds the same power over me? He could shatter my heart into a million pieces…scatter it on the wind. Smash it and leave it fallen and broken.
"Will you still have me? Do you still want me?"
I never questioned Kathryn's angel. I accepted her words. I don't know what she saw that night but I don't question it. I just believe it.
She doesn't know…is unsure…doubts what she saw….doubted her own sanity for awhile. She occasionally dismisses it as the figment of an over tired mind or an active imagination…perhaps simply the delusions of an emotionally drained woman.
But I believe that in her weakest moment, Kathryn's angel came to her to guide her and comfort her…to lead her home.
And she is home. We both 'retired'…settled in this house overlooking the bay where we raise our family.
I believe in Kathryn's angel now. I believe she's with us because I've seen her too. I saw her in Kathryn's face on our wedding day as she made her vows to me…and I saw her in the face of our son a year later when he was born…and our daughter's face fourteen months after that when she joined us. I see her every day in the faces of my wife and children.
Now I see her everywhere. I just have to know where to look.