Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it. I've no memory of who said those words but they haunt me. I never thought that my dream could become my nightmare yet that's the way it's turned out.
For the last seven years, the only thing I allowed in my life was the goal of getting my crew home and now I've achieved that goal but what a price I've paid for it. I wonder if I'd have fought so hard if I could have known then how it would all turn out for me but even as I have this thought, I know with certainty that I wouldn't change it. They're home and that's all that matters. For me, left now with nothing, I have to accept that I'm not important in all this. There's always a price to be paid and my life is that price and now I have to just accept that and try to move on in some way, despite the fact that the road that lies ahead of me is filled with nothing but pain and darkness.
I lost him along the way and yet when I really think about it, I know that I let him go. My choice. The need of the many outweighing the need of the few or in this case the need of the two, maybe even the need of the one.
He waited as long as he could, I know that, but in the end even he gave up on me and if I'm honest, that's as it should have been. No man, not even him, can be an island and so he sought from someone else what I was unable to give him. I know only too well the pain of an empty bed each night, what arms empty of a child can do to a person and I know now that loving him meant not inflicting that pain onto him also.
I married them and it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I gave the ultimate performance that day, fooling them all. I fooled the entire crew, except maybe Tuvok, but bless him he never said a word to me, just let me tacitly know that he was there for me. For a time, I believe that I even fooled myself but in the end I know that all hope died in me that day and now only an empty shell exists. I move around, I function and do my job well but my desk probably feels more than I do.
A week after his marriage we found the wormhole that took us home and I wonder does he wish he'd waited, but torturing myself this way gets me nothing. We couldn't have foreseen what was ahead so I leave that train of thought alone.
I've only seen him between debriefings and even then we were surrounded with Starfleet, denying us any moment together and perhaps that's as well. I don't believe I'm strong enough to face him, to be that close and hold back my tears, my feelings. The only good thing now is that no charges have been brought against any of the Maquis, that they're all free to go. That's what he is now. Free to go. Free to go on with his life and free, I hope, of all the pain I caused him. I really do hope she brings him the peace and happiness I never could. He deserves that.
He leaves, they leave, tomorrow for his home. He turned down all offers with Starfleet, opting instead to return to a home world that badly needs his help in rebuilding itself. I hope he can also rebuild himself there.
They offered me 'Admiral' and I told them this morning I wouldn't be taking it. I've been 'Captain' for so long, I can't be anything else and I know that being a captain is all I have left of him and I find myself clinging to it. I've also refused to take another ship. I never want to go into space again – too many memories, too much pain. Every moon or nebula would remind me of him and I can't take that.
I'm taking a desk. Me. The explorer. I pray that getting bogged down in boring reports will dull my senses and kill off this pain. I truly have nothing left now. They informed me of my mother's death almost as soon as I set foot on earth again and agreed to keep the matter private until all the others had left, until he left. I don't need his pity. Phoebe met with me briefly but there was nothing there. I think she blames me for mom's death, for the pain my missing years caused her. We were never on good terms but now we're strangers. Mark is happily married with two lovely children and a jealous wife so even a passing friendship isn't possible there. My family, my only family, were on that ship and now they're gone, seeking a place for themselves back on this planet, trying to find footholds that will hold them, something that will secure them to this new life.
I wander around my childhood home, touching items that no longer remember me. Everything I touch feels cold as ice, unfamiliar to me, and I look to the only comfort I have and yet also the greatest source of pain. I look to the stars and I remember, remember what part of me wants to forget and another part of me wants to ingrain on my very soul for all time and so I stand in this dark room and gaze at those stars and I remember what never was, what never could be and finally I let the tears fall and the pain totally engulf me.
I stand at this window and gaze at the stars and I remember. I know I should be lying with my new wife in the other room, looking to the future and not the past, but tonight, my last night on earth, I need to do this, remember what was and let it go.
I know I deserve this, this future and these dreams of a family and home. I've waited too long for them and yet now that they're within my grasp, they're not what I expected them to be. Laura loves me and I know I love her but Spirits forgive me, I can never love her the way I should, never love her the way I love another, and I feel sad at that, feel guilty that already I'm betraying my marriage vows, even if only in my thoughts.
I, no, we, leave tomorrow for a new life. I still can't get used to saying 'we' or 'us' and maybe that should be a warning to me but I ignore it. At least on Dorvan I can work towards something, build something and make a difference, have a purpose again and a man needs that.
I gaze back at the stars and wonder what Kathryn's doing at this moment. Is she sleeping, or like me, is she looking to a past that never held any hope of a future? I pray she finds what she's looking for, that she finds some peace in her life. I know I'll never have that but I'm going to go down fighting for it.
He's been gone six whole months. He's only been gone six months. I can't decide which pains me the most.
One day blends into the next for me now and I go from work to sleep and back again. I occasionally see Tom and B'Elanna around Headquarters but they've stopped asking me over for dinner now. There are only so many refusals and excuses I can make before the message sinks in. I hope they understand but seeing a cosy family set-up with their children playing happily on the floor would cause me too much heartache. I can't witness what can never be for me and while I'm constantly sorry to hurt them, I just can't face that.
I made a decision last week and acted on it the next morning. I handed in my resignation to Starfleet and not one person objected or tried to talk me out of it. I know at this stage that they'll be as happy to see the back of me as I'll be to leave. I've let them down, I know that. Refused to be what they wanted. They expected the perfect Starfleet captain, the returning heroine, someone they could wheel out at all their functions, someone to make them look good. What they got was a dead woman, a robot who arrived on time each morning, worked non-stop through the day and late into the night and then disappeared for a few hours only to repeat the whole process the next day. I've become an embarrassment to them and they're at a loss as to what to do with me. They suggested everything from counselling to leave but in the end, even they gave up on me.
I finish today and I'm letting the house go now too. There are only ghosts there now, one of which is my own. Life put one final kick in at me though and God forgive me but it passed over me completely. Phoebe is gone. An elderly admiral, falsely sympathetic in his manner, came and informed me that my sister had drowned in the sea off Australia where she'd been living, a boating accident of sorts. I think he was grateful that I showed no reaction to his news, not wanting to deal with a woman falling apart in front of him. He quietly informed me that she'd already been buried, a boyfriend or someone who had no idea of how to contact me and then he quietly left, grateful that his task was done.
I've bought a cabin in the mountains and I plan to live out the rest of my days there. I've told no one where I'm going or even that I'm leaving at all and I want it that way. Starfleet seems content to keep the matter quiet also. I want to finally let go now and rest. I've had enough of pretence, trying to be what others want of me. I want to quietly slip away and disappear, fade from them as I've faded into myself.
Six months I've been here. I still can't say 'we' and that troubles me.
My work keeps me busy. There's much to do here, so much to be rebuilt and the Federation supplies the funding for most of it, which I suppose I'm grateful for. The war left scars, some of which may never heal but I keep trying anyway. The rebuilding needed has given me a purpose I never thought I'd have again and it feels good to be making a difference. I'm helping to build a future here. I just wish I could demolish the past.
My thoughts constantly stray to Kathryn, despite my best efforts. I heard she'd been offered the rank of admiral and a new ship and I pray that she's happy with this. I heard also that she'd seen Mark and I hope she settled things there and that her family are a comfort to her.
I keep in touch with Tom and B'Elanna from time to time but they never mention her to me, either out of respect for my feelings or hers. I don't ask and they don't tell and it's comfortable that way. It's become almost an unspoken rule when we speak. The present and the future are safe but the past is a forbidden area.
Six months I've been here but time has no meaning for me yet I know today we've been home a year and last week was his first wedding anniversary.
I do little now and find it strange that someone who once couldn't sit still for ten minutes at a time can be so inactive, but I've nothing to do and no one to do it for. I know I've sunk into a deep depression but I care little. Some days I don't bother getting up and at night I tend to sit on the porch and just stare at the stars and they mock me. I can almost hear them laughing at me, calling me all the fools they can and I hear voices, voices of the long dead and almost forgotten, the ones I left behind out there, the ones I failed to get home.
There are times I wish I had the guts to just finish off this existence I pretend at, but there'll always be a part of me that feels that taking life, even the miserable one I have, is wrong and so I continue, doing this the long, slow and painful way. The only company I have here are the small animals that inhabit these woods and I actually talk to them, even to the trees at times but they can never hold any answers for me.
Tom and B'Elanna came here yesterday. I can't imagine how they found me and I don't know who was more shocked, them or me, but I saw the pity in their eyes when they took in my appearance. I've let myself go and I know it, me who was once so fussy about my appearance, always the 'smart pressed uniformed, every hair in place' captain but that woman died a long time ago and in her place is this shadow.
I was a bad host, having nothing to offer them but they seemed to have anticipated this, having brought a picnic with them. Later as Tom took their children for a walk in the woods, B'Elanna sat for a long time just looking at me and then finally spoke.
"Well, I guess now I know for sure."
I looked at her and she answered the question on my face.
"You did love him after all, didn't you? You still do."
I turned away quickly, trying to hide the tears which came, tears I thought had long since dried up but nothing escapes this woman. I felt her hand on my chin and she pulled my face to hers. If I expected sympathy, I'd have waited an eternity.
"You bloody, stupid woman." That stopped my tears and got my full attention.
"You heard me right. Gods, Kathryn, what have you done? Look at yourself. I'm sorry if that sounds terrible or cruel but… Gods, woman, have you really looked at yourself recently?"
I mumbled something about not having a mirror but this only made her angrier.
"Who are you? You're not the Kathryn Janeway I once knew but then of course that woman was left behind in the Delta Quadrant, wasn't she? The body came back but she's still there somewhere, lost amongst the stars. I don't know who the woman was who stood on the bridge as we came in sight of earth but it wasn't Kathryn Janeway. I don't pretend to have known you fully, details of your life or anything, but I know the woman and she's not here. That woman was strong and proud and she'd have given her life for her crew but this woman before me… She paused a moment and then smiled sadly. "But then…this woman DID give her life. I see that now. She gave her life for what she thought was right, for a man and a crew she never understood."
My tears were in full flow and words refused to form in my mind yet alone reach my lips but B'Elanna seemed to know my questions as well as she knew her own answers.
"You didn't understand us. We wanted nothing more than your happiness but you never saw that. Getting us home was your only purpose and as noble as that was, there was always a greater purpose but you never saw that or perhaps never wanted to see it. Happiness always comes first and it always will in life, but you, Kathryn, you were always punishing yourself, denying yourself what you think you denied us and you were wrong. Yes, we're happy to be home, but we were as happy there, just as long as we were all together, as long as we had each other. That was all Chakotay ever wanted either."
My head snapped up at the mention of his name but this was one subject B'Elanna wasn't going to be put off.
"Yes, Kathryn, I dare to speak his name. You denied him and more so, you denied yourself. Kathryn, you've been on a massive guilt trip for the past eight years and it's time to let it go. All you achieved in doing out there was hurting us as we watched you, hurting him by driving him away but mostly hurting yourself to the extent that you now practically cease to exist. I know all this adds to the hurt and I'm sorry for that but this needs to be said. Kathryn, he loved you beyond his own life…"
I finally found my voice and for the first time in months, feelings stirred in me. "Don't you think I know that, how much I hurt him? That's why I had to let him go. I wanted to let him in but if I had, I'd never have gotten that ship home. That was all I could think about. Had I let him into my life, I doubt I'd have made it to the bridge every morning, let alone back to Earth. B'Elanna, I am what I am. It was my fault we were stranded out there and my job to get everyone home but I even failed there. I know I got most of you home but I still left some of you behind. I didn't deserve to be happy out there and I don't deserve to be happy here. He's better off without me. I had to let him go."
I couldn't continue but I saw the pity on her face, pity and helplessness. She leaned over and wiped some of my tears away.
"You're letting go all right, already have let go. I can see it with you. Don't do this, Kathryn. If you care anything for the memory of what was, don't do this. The dead are at peace. Why can't you be? You failed no one but yourself. I know and knew them all and not one of them ever blamed you for us being out there and we all knew the risks. Kathryn, eating this food is a risk. Walking down a flight of stairs is a risk. All of us took that risk on ourselves, the risks of space. None of us would have been there if that decision hadn't been made long before you ever knew any of us. Think about that and think on this also. Think about HIM. It would kill Chakotay to see you like this."
Panic set in with me then and I grabbed her hand. "Promise me, please. Don't tell him where I am or anything about me, please. Let him be happy. I've never asked anything of you, but I ask this, please."
B'Elanna reluctantly nodded her agreement and we were quiet for a long time as she silently tried to comfort me in any way she could but I think she knew she was failing miserably.
Eventually, she told me that they knew about my retirement and about my mother and sister, having finally heard about them from Tom's father. For some reason, as if to compound my pain, I told her about Mark, although I felt no loss there.
In the end, we slipped into a silence on it all. We both knew there was nothing more to be said and later when they were leaving, she embraced me and it was the most tender hug I've ever received. She took my face between her hands and almost seemed to be memorizing the image before her, as if she believed she was looking at me for the last time, trying also to reconcile my face with what it had been to what it was now.
"Please eat something, Kathryn. Starving yourself is wrong. If not for yourself, for us, all of us…"
I forced a smile, trying to reassure her. "I'll be fine."
We both knew it was a lie.
I think of her now constantly and in my mind she's happy, settled, with hopefully a good man and maybe even a child. I can't think of her any other way. I pray she found someone who can be there in the night for her, someone who can hold her when the ghosts of the past visit, the ghosts of the ones we left behind in the Delta Quadrant. I know her and I know they visit her and I wonder where she wanders to try and escape them.
Last week would have been my first wedding anniversary except we never got that far. I guess we both just stopped trying. Having a child might have helped but we found out eventually that Laura could never have children and while I was devastated, she accepted it well and I think now that perhaps she was content never to have a child. We tried for a while to keep going, more out of a sense of obligation and a reluctance to admit failure but there was just nothing there anymore and so quietly we both admitted defeat and in the end it was a merciful death to something that should probably never have been born in the first place.
My work here is almost done and I dread that. Tom and B'Elanna keep in touch but I still haven't had the courage to ask about Kathryn. I also haven't told them that my marriage is over. I have to visit Earth in two weeks time and maybe then I'll call and see them and perhaps at that time have the guts to ask about the woman who, even in her absence, refuses to let go of my heart.
Tom and B'Elanna haven't been back thanks to my efforts and I think they finally realize that I want it this way. They tried and failed with me and they know it. I hide things well when they call but even they can see the weight I've lost. The Vid screen can only hide so much.
I try and force some food down but appetite and hunger are a distant memory and I just don't care anymore. I know my weight has dropped to a dangerous level and most days now I can hardly drag myself out of bed, my legs almost refusing to hold up what little weight there is. Occasionally I manage to get as far as the porch and sit and watch the stars. Chakotay is with me constantly now but not in any way that's comforting.
I find myself wondering who will find my body and pray it's a stranger. I drag myself back to my bed and something in me tells me that I won't rise from it again and I know that I'm ready to let go, that I have been for over a year.
I've been on earth over a week now and only just managed to finish all the meetings I had to attend.
I finally gathered the courage to call Tom and B'Elanna and they were over the moon to hear from me. Sitting here in their comfortable living room, a part of me cries to see their happiness and I play with their children, hiding the pain in my heart. They deserve this, not the tears of a man who feels created by life.
Finally, when the children are tucked up for the night, we talk and I tell them of my life and the end of my marriage but I can't read their reaction. They tell me how sorry they are but there's something unsaid.
I finally ask about Kathryn, expecting my images of her life to be confirmed and I watch their faces as they look at each other, almost seeking permission of the other to speak and I feel fear stir in me. Had something happened to her, surely they'd have told me, despite our unspoken agreement.
B'Elanna surprises me and asks a question. She asks if I still have feelings for Kathryn. I don't hesitate, surprising myself at my frankness and tell them that I never stopped having feelings, never stopped loving her.
I see a silent agreement pass between them and finally they tell me of Kathryn's last year, the loss of her mother, her sister, Mark in his way, her retirement and then her letting go, her self-imposed exile and their fears for her.
Something takes over inside me and within minutes I'm on my way, beaming to I know not what but praying every second.
It's still early evening and I walk towards the cabin. There's no answer to my knock and I wonder if she's out walking. The door opens as I turn the handle and I enter a room, devoid of the living touches of anyone. Absent mindedly I open presses in the small kitchen area, noting their near emptiness and a nagging feeling grows in the pit of my stomach. I check the replicator and note that it hasn't been used in a few days. A stray thought comes to me that perhaps she's gone away for a while but then I realise that the door would have been locked. I notice another door off this room and slowly approach it and open it. This room is dark, the curtains drawn despite the evening sun. I cross and open them, vaguely aware of a shape in the bed and as light floods the room and I turn towards the bed, the breath stops in me. I'm at her side in a split second, almost afraid of what I'll find. She appears asleep and I gently stroke her cheek. Her skin is like ice and my heart pounds in my chest but then she stirs and her eyelids flutter open. I see the blue eyes I thought never to see again, the ones that haunted my dreams but in those dream visits, her eyes were shining and full of life. Before me now all I see is a deadness. They're unfocused and carry an almost glazed over look. I tear my gaze away and pull the quilt back and can't believe that this could be the woman I remember. The frail, skeletal body I see can't belong to the living. I call to her and she mutters words I can't understand so I lean closer and manage to make out what she says.
"knew you'd come…your image…come to me at the end…tell you…love you…"
I run outside and arrange transport for help I pray won't be too late and return to her. I gently lift her and gasp at how light she is. I've held children who weighed more. I call to her that I'm really here and to hang on but I see her eyes close and now I'm more afraid than ever. I'm shouting at her to hang on as I feel the beam of the transporter take us and then she's being taken from me and I stand there, more afraid than I've ever been in my life.
The darkness is a comfort but suddenly I feel a touch on my face and then there's light so bright and then his face. I see his lips move but I can't hear any words. I knew his image would come to me at the end, willed it to be that way but suddenly a fear starts in me. What if he can only come to me at the end because he's here also, dead also. I don't want that. I want him happy and living but oh what a comfort to see his wonderful face again. I love him so, even now. I still love him and I wish I'd told him. This image before my eyes, such love in his eyes but it can't be for me and that's how I know he's not really here. I tell him, my only chance to ever say the words to him. I try desperately to raise my hand to his face but my body refuses to obey the commands of my mind.
I feel the light fading now and I fight to hold on to his image but it fades. The light is dimmer now and the darkness claims me again. After so long wishing for the darkness to come, I now want to fight it but I don't have the strength any more.
I look across at Tom and B'Elanna holding each other and I know their guilt but I'm in no state to comfort them. Time passes but I don't know how much. Our own EMH is here, not caring that this is outside Starfleet's remit. I watch the staff come and go and I gain a new respect for them. I watch others here, arriving and leaving. Some will leave this place with new life and others will leave a life behind them and I wonder what the end of this long night will bring for us.
The light is back but I can't see his face anymore. Everything is white and I wonder if this is the afterlife we heard about. I see other faces and they also wear white and I find myself thinking they must be angels. I feel myself lifted and moved and then I'm lying still again then pain, sharp in my hand and then my arm, like needles. I feel someone press something onto my chest and hands touching me and I don't understand any of this. Suddenly I see a face I know, our Doctor smiling down at me and once again I see lips move but I can't understand any words. I feel myself lifted again and the room spins around me and then I'm moving again. No, something else. What I'm on moving. I feel another sharp pain in my other hand but I thought there was no pain here. The pain of losing Chakotay still remains though. Even in death there's no peace for me. I feel pain in my other hand again and then a coldness almost like liquid entering me then something else being pressed onto my chest then my neck but my mind refuses to work anymore. I'm so tired and once again I feel the darkness coming closer and this time I welcome it. He's not here anymore.
I'm suddenly aware of Tom and B'Elanna standing up and I look up to see our Doctor approach us.
I barely hear his words and they slowly take on meaning to me. I grab at these words, disjointed in my mind. 'Dangerously malnourished', 'neglected herself for so long', 'dehydrated', 'failure of kidneys and liver', 'internal organs almost shut down', 'heart weakened', 'no will to live', 'not fighting', 'another few hours would have been too late', 'sit with her', 'maybe some way will hear'.
I find myself following the Doctor and I see a gurney of sorts pushed into a room. I see Kathryn lying on it and then they're lifting her small, limp form onto a bed, attaching wires, monitors, tubes and then the soft sounds confirming the presence of life in some form.
A chair is placed beside her for me and now nothing else exists for me outside of this small space and I don't think anything else ever will again.
The darkness is not as kind as I'd hoped. I prayed for eternal nothingness or at least peace of some kind but my pain still haunts me. I can't see him anymore but I imagine I hear him, his wonderful voice so soothing. He's calling me, calling my name but I don't know where he is and I can't find him in the dark. I try and call back but I can't. Maybe this is hell. Maybe this is what I deserve for losing so many lives.
Four days and she lies here so still and pale. They've told me she's improving but I can see no outward signs of it. I talk until my voice fails me but I push on.
It's getting brighter again and I can still hear him. I fight to open my eyes and he's there. I want this dream to end and yet continue forever. I hear him say my name and feel the touch of his hand on my face but I know it's not real. Death is so hard for me to understand and I wonder again if he's also dead. He must be to be here but I don't want that for him. Please God, let this be a dream, let him be alive.
I see her eyes open and the confusion there. I try and explain what I hope she can in some way understand.
"You're at the hospital. We got you here in time. It's going to be all right. Spirits, Kathryn, I love you so much. Fight this, please. Stay with me."
He speaks to me again, words here and there. I can't understand.
"Hospital… Got you here in time… Going to be all right."
What's he saying? I understand so little. Is this madness or a dream or a wish? It must be because he just said what he'd never say.
"I love you."
Please God, let this cruelty end. I feel my tears and can't understand how you can cry in death.
Fight what? There's no way to fight death.
"Stay with me."
God, I want nothing more but I don't have the strength.
"Chakotay…I love you."
Did I think that or say it? Does it matter when he can never hear it? I feel myself sink back once more and try to fight it but this foe is stronger than I am and I lose.
Did I hear her right, that she loves me? She said it before I know but.. She said my name. I see her fight to stay with me and I see her lose the battle. Spirits, let her know this is real and not a dream. Let her fight this, fight to stay with me.
It's light again. Not as bright as before but still lighter than the darkness I was in. He's still here but I don't know where here is. Soft. I'm lying on something soft and there's something warm around my hands. I try to move them and then his face is before me again. I hear him better this time and I finally understand that this isn't death. Oh God, I'm still alive and he's here but why and how?
"I love you."
He said it again but it can't be and yet as if he sees my doubt he tells me once more, tells me he's here to stay, again that he loves me, that we can be together for all time, his marriage over. It's too much, too quickly and my mind struggles with everything but I slowly understand and I feel my tears again and all I want to do is touch him and hold him but I've no strength and suddenly, as if he reads me, I feel him lift me and hold me to him and I feel I'm finally home for the first time in my life. I breathe in his scent and drown in the feel of him. He lays me back down but continues touching me, my hands and my face and I tell him again that I love him. I feel my exhaustion and this time I'm terrified of the darkness in case I lose him in it again but he sees this also and tells me to sleep, that he'll be there when I wake up, that everything is all right and I'm suddenly not afraid anymore. I feel my eyelids droop but I can still feel him hold me and I let go and for the first time the darkness brings peace to me.
I press down the last of the soil around the tree I've just planted. I still find it so difficult to believe what the last two years have brought, especially the last year. I finally found Kathryn only to believe I'd lost her again but she came back to me. I look to the porch of the house we bought just ten months ago and I watch Kathryn, my beautiful wife, as she sits nursing the son she gave me just five days ago and my heart swells. My vision blurs as I pour water around the base of this tree, the tree I planted with the placenta of our son beneath it. This is his tree. It'll grow with him and watch over us all and the generations yet to come.
My Kathryn came back to me, gaining strength daily and our love, which had never died, grew stronger also. We married while she was still in the hospital and moved in here shortly afterwards.
When Kathryn told me she was pregnant, I worried constantly that her body wasn't ready for that so soon but she surprised all her doctors and as I look towards them now, I know I'm the richest man in the world.
I can't believe what's passed these last two years. As I nurse our son I look to the garden and see Chakotay plant the tree that'll survive us all and that feels right somehow.
Last night we did something I'd read about, an old African tradition, I think, but that matters not. Chakotay and I took our son out into the garden and held him up to the moon and the stars and our Creator and told him…
"Behold the only thing greater than yourself."
I never believed in much before, either the Creator I was raised to or Chakotay's Spirits and I don't know which is right or wrong but I know it doesn't matter. I now believe that there is something or someone greater than all this and for the first time I feel great comfort from that.
A year ago I stared into the deepest, darkest abyss that it's possible to look into and I came out the other side into a light beyond anything I thought possible. When you do that and live to tell of it, when you gain the love and happiness we now have, you have to believe in something greater than yourself.