Summary: A birthday story for Malezita. 🙂 After yet another encounter with belligerent aliens, Kathryn has a moment of enlightenment.
Thanks to Kim J for the beta, but again, I’ve fiddled with it since, so any mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Kathryn limped into the Mess hall, stopping just inside the doorway to lean wearily against the wall.
The last of the wounded had been moved to Sickbay and according to the Doctor’s latest report, they would all be fit for duty by the end of the week. Tomorrow she would visit the injured and spend a few minutes with each, thanking them for their bravery and wishing them a speedy recovery – it’s what she always did.
They hadn’t lost anyone – this time – they’d been lucky. But for a couple of the crew it had been a terrifyingly close call. Her chest tightened painfully as she remembered Ensign Farley’s crumpled and broken body lying at the base of the warp core, and young Crewman Fitzpatrick, calling for his mother as he lay crushed beneath a piece of collapsed bulkhead.
Her eyes stung but she choked back the tears and straightened her shoulders before casting her eyes over the scene in front of her.
The Mess hall had seamlessly altered identity yet again – from makeshift hospital to temporary Briefing room. The Bridge and most of deck one were still uninhabitable and although repair crews were busy at work putting them to rights, they would remain off limits for at least another forty-eight hours.
Turning toward the viewport to watch the stars streak past, she gave herself a moment to gather her wits. They were at warp, but only just; however, considering the pounding Voyager had taken, it was a miracle that they had any functioning propulsion system at all. B’Elanna and Harry were responsible for that. They’d managed to scrape together enough pergium and deuterium to get the core up and running again. The holodecks and sonic showers would be offline for the foreseeable future or until they could find replacement supplies of both materials, but it was a small price to pay for the speed they’d needed to escape the Ryngarans.
Kathryn sighed quietly. The Ryngarans – another Delta Quadrant species; nondescript and unremarkable except for their overt aggression and indiscriminate warlike tendencies. They were just the sort of local inhabitant they’d come to know and expect – belligerent in the extreme, intransigent and mindlessly xenophobic, or as Chakotay had said, “The usual.”
Voyager had made the unfortunate mistake of crossing their borders after their hasty retreat from Annari space.
They’d done nothing to provoke the Ryngarans but their mere presence was enough to invite their wrath and before Kathryn had a chance to open hailing frequencies or raise shields, the alien warships had opened fire.
Having missed the opportunity to replenish their supplies because of a misunderstanding with the Annari over the Kralor cloaking device, they had only the barest minimum of everything. Kathryn couldn’t believe their bad luck but it was something she’d resigned herself to as a matter of course. Nothing was ever simple or straightforward in the Delta Quadrant. They’d had to fight, kick and claw every inch of the way home and if she were honest with herself, she was tired of it all – bone tired. If given a choice, she’d curl up in a corner somewhere, sleep for days and happily forget about Voyager, their mission and her responsibilities.
But that wasn’t an option.
So, it was time to suck it up and get back to work. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself away from the wall and made her way towards the table where her senior officers were gathered.
She took her seat and shoring up her reserves, made a slow scan around the table, meeting each of her officers’ gazes. Seven returned her look with a candid one of her own while Harry gave her a small smile. His dark eyes shimmered with regret and apology. He felt responsible – his encounter with the Kralor had been the catalyst for fleeing Annari space – however, he wasn’t to know that the Ryngarans would appear out of nowhere and open fire. She made a mental note to speak to him later to reassure him.
Neelix looked as enthusiastic as always – nothing, it seemed, could tarnish his effusive good humour and no doubt he was prepared with a long list of morale boosting diversions for the crew.
When Kathryn’s gaze lit upon B’Elanna, the heavily pregnant engineer glanced up from the PADD she was reading, her frown momentarily lifting as their eyes met before she gave Kathryn a quick smile and then bowed her head again to concentrate on the data she was analysing.
Tom was next and his eyes sparkled as he gave her a broad grin before excusing himself from the table with the promise to be ‘back in a jiffy’.
She turned to Tuvok. Her dour Tactical officer inclined his head almost imperceptibly but the small movement encompassed so much – deference, trust and support. Kathryn swallowed past the lump in her throat.
Her circuit of the table ended with Chakotay sitting directly to her left. His eyes held hers, infusing her with warmth and strength – his look filled with admiration, respect and love. She took a deep, slow breath, and let that certainty seep into her soul. Too tired to fight the truth, she didn’t shy away, and with an unguarded look of her own, she held his gaze. His eyes widened slightly before he smiled in recognition.
His hand was resting on the table close beside her and she reached across and gripped his forearm. Without hesitating, he covered her hand with his and held it there. It felt so good to touch him, to feel the solid warmth of him through the layers of fabric and know that he was there for her.
Tom arrived back at the table with a bottle of wine and glasses for everyone. Without relinquishing her hold on Chakotay’s forearm, Kathryn raised her eyebrows in question.
Tom shot a fleeting glance to where her hand rested on Chakotay’s arm and gave her the barest of winks before placing a glass in front of her. “There’s nothing but stellar dust for the next couple of million kilometres and I think we need to celebrate surviving another encounter with aliens who, although they tried their damnedest, still couldn’t blast us out of the heavens.”
Kathryn managed a small smile but she couldn’t help giving Chakotay a sideways glance when Neelix leapt from his seat and dashed towards the kitchen, muttering as he wound his way through the tables. “I’m sure I’ve got some leftover cheese perogis and hasplat rolls here somewhere. We’ll make it a party.”
Tom moved around the table, filling everyone’s glass, finishing just as Neelix arrived back with a tray of mystery food. Kathryn had to smile as she watched puzzled frowns turn into grimaces as everyone leaned forward to inspect the garish array of ‘so-called’ delicacies.
With his whiskers puffing out with pride, he gestured towards the tray, “Talaxian surprise. Dig in, everyone; don’t be shy.”
Harry muttered under his breath. “Oh God, not again.”
Stifling a smile, B’Elanna dropped her PADD onto the table before picking up her glass and looking towards Kathryn. “A toast. To you, Captain. Thanks to you and that inspired use of xenon and sirrilium, they’ll be scraping nebula residue out of their injector ports for weeks. We may be dented and a little bit broken but we’re all still here together and stronger because of it.”
Chakotay lifted his glass. “To the captain.”
Kathryn smiled and nodded her thanks. “Thank you, I appreciate your support but I have a toast of my own. To you and the crew. We wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been for each and every one of you. It’s a privilege to be your captain and I don’t say it often enough but, thank you.” Her voice wavered slightly as she lifted her glass and again met each of their gazes. “To the best crew a captain could ever have.”
Chakotay tilted his glass until it touched Kathryn’s. “Salute.”
Everyone reached forward, their glasses meeting in the middle of the table in a series of chiming clinks. B’Elanna nodded towards Kathryn, her eyes darting towards Chakotay for a split second before she smiled, tapped her glass against her captain’s and whispered, “Qapla’.”
Kathryn felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and acceptance. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t realised before now but these people – this odd assortment of beings – had become her family. She’d paid lip service to that concept from early in the journey but it was only now that she realised the truth behind her words. She was closer to most of them than she was to her own flesh and blood.
And she couldn’t imagine a day without them.
She’d said that to Chakotay once and it still held true, even after the Borg, the Void and the Equinox – all instances when she’d failed either in her duty or in her humanity – they were still here with her.
She carried more than her fair share of regrets but as she looked around the table, she realised that the things she had to be thankful for far outweighed those misgivings and mistakes. They might be stranded a lifetime from home but if they had to be here, she couldn’t imagine being with a more inspiring group of people. In so many ways, she was one of the luckiest women in the universe.
A genuinely happy smile spread across her features. It was contagious and although no one knew the reason behind it, they still shared in her joy, their faces slowly breaking into matching smiles.
Kathryn made a decision.
“Harry, I want you start scanning for an appropriate M class planet; we’re going to set Voyager down and take at least a month’s shoreleave while we give the ship an overhaul – Voyager is long overdue for a break and some TLC, and so are we.” She nodded towards B’Elanna. “We’ll need to put together a list of systems that require work and prioritise those. Seven, you can help with that. Speak to all the heads of departments and get their input. Tom, once the Doctor has discharged the injured from Sickbay, I want both of you to look at how we can go about making room for nursery and school space – somewhere close to Sickbay would be ideal – it’s the safest part of the ship.”
She looked pointedly at B’Elanna and smiled. “We need to organise it sooner rather than later.” She then looked up at her security chief and had to suppress her amusement at the expression on his face – emotionless was something of a relative term with Vulcans. “Tuvok, I think it’s time to have a look at our protocols for first contacts. We’ve been caught on the back foot too many times so I’d like you to analyse those incidents and come up with some strategies to make us less vulnerable in these situations. I’ll review them and then make the relevant changes to our protocols.” She could see that he was about to argue, but she held her hand up to forestall him. “I know Starfleet regulations will have to be bent a little to accommodate the modifications but if we’re going to survive out here on our own, we have to start rewriting some of the rules – within reason. Don’t you agree?”
Tuvok knew when he’d been ‘out-logicked’ and she smiled warmly at her Tactical officer when he nodded reluctantly. “Aye, Captain.”
“Neelix, as always crew morale will be your responsibility, but once we’re safely on the planet surface I think you’ll find that many of the crew will wish to camp out or erect small shelters to take advantage of being on terra firma. There are a number of modular housing units in the Cargo bay, you’ll be in charge of distributing those and organising living and eating arrangements. Perhaps an outdoor kitchen might be an option if most of the crew are living off the ship.”
Neelix clapped his hands together and rubbed them with glee. “Talaxian barbeque is renowned throughout the quadrant. I’ll have it up and running in no time, Captain.”
She smiled and nodded her approval. “Thank you.” Turning to her left, she met Chakotay’s warm gaze. “Commander, I’ll leave you to deal with the crew rosters but see if you can organise it so that couples can spend at least a week off duty together. I will need to be here for the first week but then I think we can leave Voyager in Tuvok’s capable hands while we take a break.”
The implication was clear and Kathryn was delighted to see that no one seemed the least bit fazed by what she was proposing and to make her intentions completely clear, she reached across and briefly gripped his hand.
Her combadge beeped. “Sickbay to Janeway. You said half an hour, Captain. There’s a biobed and an osteo-regenerator here with your name on it.”
Her mouth tilted wryly and she shook her head as she tapped her combadge. “I’m on my way, Doctor.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“As you may have gathered, I have an appointment in Sickbay.” She rolled her eyes and then turned to her right. “Harry, let me know the minute you find our ‘vacation’ planet.”
He grinned. “Aye, Captain.”
Looking around the table once more, she smiled gently. “Dismissed and thank you.”
She stood and everyone followed suit, spontaneously standing to attention as she stepped away from the table. Her chest tightened at the generous show of loyalty and respect. She met each of their gazes once more before turning towards Chakotay with a smile. “Would you care to accompany me, Commander?”
Without missing a beat, he crooked his elbow and answered with a sincere, “I would be honoured, Captain.”
She slipped her hand through his proffered arm and with her friends and comrades watching, Kathryn limped towards the Mess hall doors with the man she loved by her side. As the doors opened, she stopped and looked back over her shoulder. They were all still there, smiling in her direction, unwittingly lending her strength and succour by their mere presence. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what the Delta Quadrant tried to throw at them, however long it took or where this journey led them, they were family. And with them by her side, Voyager would always prevail.
She sent a warm smile in their direction and after taking a deep fortifying breath, she strengthened her grip on Chakotay’s arm and stepped into the corridor and her new life.