Escorted by an armada of the Federation's finest ships, Voyager sailed through the peaceful space of the Alpha Quadrant. Finally home, the crew gathered on the holodeck to celebrate their return, saying goodbye to the ship which had been their home for seven long years.
With the absence of Neelix, the party details fell to Tom. Not content with just a 'we're home' theme on their final night aboard, he'd scoured the databanks and discovered an old Earth holiday called Halloween which coincided with the day.
With energy conservation no longer a problem, he sought and received permission for everyone to replicate a costume for the occasion. Each crew member was issued with a list of choices on what to wear.
The result was a mixture of witches, ghouls, mummies, bats and assorted 'creepy creatures', as Naomi called them, all approved by the organizer before the wearer could attend.
The holodeck setting was a large barn, festooned with string after string of coloured lanterns and fairy lights. Carved out pumpkins containing candles sat on every available surface. Tuvok had inspected the setting when he learned of the candles and insisted the holodeck safeties were double checked and backed up before the security officer was satisfied. A fire onboard would not have looked good on the doorstep of Earth.
With Tuvok on the bridge at his own insistence, and Voyager mainly on autopilot, all but a skeleton crew gathered for the celebration. Within a half hour, the party was in full swing.
Kathryn stood back and studied her crew in astonishment. She hadn't really been in the mood for a party and was only here now because Tom had insisted on her attendance, informing her that the crew would be disappointed and upset if they didn't share the evening with their captain. He'd smiled and told her he had their permission to drag her there if necessary.
She stood quietly in a corner now and watched everyone, shaking her head at some of the costumes. Tom and B'Elanna were nowhere to be seen, but she saw Harry. He was dressed in a full body, tight black suit which had a skeleton painted onto the fabric, making him look like a walking bag of bones. Glancing over the assorted ghosts, some simply covered in a white sheet with holes for eyes and mouth, her eyes fell on the Doctor. He wore a full wizard costume and was in his element. Seven for her part, was a witch of sorts and looked totally uncomfortable dragging a broomstick around with her. Kathryn could almost read her thoughts about the 'irrelevance' of the entire evening. The cutest sight though was Sam and Naomi dressed as pumpkins, little and large.
Two bats danced by before her and she stood a little further back. They smiled at her. "Evening, Captain. Love the costume." She smiled and nodded back at them then sighed, her whiskers tickling her face. She reached up and adjusted the half mask she wore over her eyes. "Damn thing." She rolled her eyes and looked down at her own attire, muttering to herself. "You're a cat, Kathryn. How did you let yourself get talked into this one?"
She only intended to stay a while to 'put in an appearance' and mingle with the crew for a while. She had her excuses all lined up, citing the amount of work she had to get through before their arrival, and how everything needed to be in place, all logs checked and all reports finished and filed.
She looked to the side now as she sensed someone standing beside her. Her eyes widened and she couldn't help the small smile which curled her lips. Chakotay wore a long red cloak over a red body suit, and carried a long fork. He was in full make-up, including two horns stuck to his forehead.
He looked Kathryn up and down and smiled also. "Captain…" He laughed when Kathryn continued looking at him. "I'm a devil."
Kathryn nodded and fought her smile. "Cute, Commander. I could have told you that a long time ago." She shook her head as she looked out over the barn. "Look at them all. This is stranger than most sights we saw in the Delta Quadrant. Maybe we should have dressed like this every day out there. We'd have scared even the Kazon in this lot."
She looked around and saw Chakotay watching her instead of the others. "What?" She rolled her eyes. "Yes, I know. And before you ask, I'm supposed to be a witch's cat."
Chakotay smirked. "I guessed that already. I almost stood on your tail."
Kathryn glared at him and reached back to snatch up the offending appendage which was fastened to her backside. "I've already fallen over this thing three times. It's a damn nuisance."
Chakotay took a sip of his drink to hide his amusement . "I seem to remember a breed with no tails. Manx cats, I think. You should have come as one of those."
Kathryn twisted her 'tail' around her wrist. "I was given this. I didn't exactly have a choice."
Chakotay realized she was serious and smiled sadly at her. "Not enjoying yourself? Tom will be disappointed."
Kathryn shrugged and scanned the crowd. "Where is he anyway?"
Chakotay looked around and then pointed towards the bar. "See that vampire over there? The one with the fangs and black cloak. Steer clear. He's bitten the necks of half the female crew, and he's working his way through the other half." He hoped some banter would chase away the depressive mood she seemed to be in and get her into the swing of things. He forced a laugh. "Mind you, B'Elanna will do more than bite him later if he keeps this up."
Kathryn didn't even smile at his joke and his own smile slipped from his face as he looked at her sadly. "You'd really rather be anywhere else but here, wouldn't you? You only attended and dressed up to please the crew." He saw her eyes through the slits in her mask and the sadness there stunned him. "Kathryn…"
Before he had a chance to say more, a 'spider' appeared before him. B'Elanna was in fine form and grabbed for her former captain. "Come on, Chakotay, you horny devil. You haven't lived until you've danced with an arachnid."
Chakotay glanced at Kathryn to see a smile on her lips. "Let me guess. There was an 'accidental' mix up with the synthahol." She nodded to herself and reached for her own glass on a small table next to her. "That may not be a bad idea."
Before Chakotay could respond to that, B'Elanna pulled him onto the dance floor, her four extra 'legs' almost strangling them both. Almost immediately, the Delaney twins, in the guise of zombies, joined in, making escape impossible.
Chakotay went through the motions but something about Kathryn's demeanour bothered him. He looked back to where she'd been standing but there was no sign of her. His eyes scanned the holodeck and finally he spotted her leaving through two large wooden doors at the rear which he knew led to a pasture. He also noticed that she'd refilled her glass.
He finally managed to extricate himself from several intoxicated ladies. He left the main barn area and followed Kathryn outside. He scanned the pasture and eventually saw movement down by some trees, and headed in that direction.
She stood alone, leaning on some fencing and he watched as she drained her glass. She jumped when he came up beside her. "Are you following me?"
He studied her carefully. "Just worried about you. Are you all right?"
Kathryn merely shook her head and continued studying the trees. "I should be working on those reports and getting our logs in order."
Chakotay leaned on the fence beside her. "Life isn't just about work, Kathryn."
She sighed. "Someone has to do it. They have to be completed before we reach Earth."
Chakotay looked more closely at her. "And what about time for you? You need to adjust to all this as much as the rest of us."
She shrugged that off. "I'm fine." She placed a hand on the fence and pushed herself away from it. "Well, I have those reports and I'd better relieve Tuvok. I'll see you in the morning."
Chakotay studied her for a moment and sighed. "How long are you going to allow yourself to be so alone, Kathryn?"
She laughed at that, but the sound had a ring of sadness to it. "I'm facing weeks, maybe months, of debriefings. It'll be far longer for me. I'll be too busy to think straight, and I'll hardly be alone."
Chakotay moved closer to her. "Define alone, Kathryn. You've been on a ship full of people for seven years, but you've still been alone a lot of that time. By choice, I might add. How will this be any different?"
He placed a hand on her arm. "Kathryn, we're home. Not just the ship and the crew, but you too. It's time you realized that and let the captain go. It's time to be Kathryn again."
She pulled from his grasp. "Tuvok has bridge duty. He's waiting for me to relieve him."
Chakotay blocked her exit. "You'll be the same person there as you are here unless you change. You can't run away from yourself no matter how much the location changes." He reached out and gently touched the mask she wore. "Tonight you're just wearing a different mask."
Kathryn pulled back and lowered her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Chakotay smiled sadly. "You can change the words, Kathryn, but the music still sounds the same unless you rewrite the entire song."
She looked away. "I think you've had too much to drink, Commander." She turned her head and looked at him when he reached for her hand and took it.
"Kathryn, most people do one of two things when they're lost or hurt. They pretend it isn't happening and try to hide from themselves and cover it up…or they run away from it. It takes a very brave person to do neither."
He saw the pain his words caused. "Kathryn, what's wrong? Talk to me. You've been more withdrawn than usual the past few days, and you've knocked back a few drinks yourself tonight. That's not like you. What are you so afraid of? We're home. No one is facing any charges."
She moved away from him before he could say more and her voice took on a hard edge. "I still have work to do. Besides, we're in the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay, not on Earth. The journey isn't over yet."
Chakotay's voice hardened too. "Except for you that time will never come. There'll always be some other reason not to let go. Don't delude yourself that you'll find time to be yourself again when everyone is home and settled. The way to hell is paved with good intentions."
Kathryn glared at him. "They're my responsibility."
They glared at each other until Chakotay sighed heavily. "God, Kathryn, I don't want to fight with you on our last night onboard. I'm just scared for you."
Kathryn's expression softened slightly. "I don't want to fight with you either, Chakotay." She looked around her and shook her head. "I've had enough fighting to last me a lifetime. I've fought every single day for the past seven years…every day…every hour…every minute." She looked back at him and he saw tears in her eyes. "I fought to get this ship home…I fought to get my crew home…I fought to keep them alive…" She looked down at her hands. "I didn't always win those fights."
She looked back up at him, a faint anger replacing some of her tears. "But I still fought on, Chakotay. I fought to just get out of bed in the morning…to stand upright on the bridge and face down races who wanted to wipe us out for no other reason than the fact that we were there. I fought to keep going every Goddamn second." She advanced on him, her anger building.
"You tell me we're home. Well, maybe you are, but I'm not. Not yet. I have to keep fighting for just a little longer. I have to face debriefings and I have to see my crew embrace their loved ones. And I have to face those whose loved ones I left behind."
She reined in her emotions and swallowed. "So no, Chakotay, I'm not home yet. Then…only then will I be home."
She looked down and studied her empty glass and pulled her shoulders back. "Now, if you'll excuse me. Enjoy the rest of the party, Commander." With that she turned and walked towards the exit.
Chakotay watched her walk away and would have laughed at the sight of his formal captain in her costume had the moment not been so serious. He shook his head and couldn't resist a parting shot.
"Will you ever be home, Kathryn? Are you going to hide forever?" If she heard him, she showed no sign of it.
Debriefings took two weeks for the crew, four for the senior staff and seven for the captain. At the end of his four weeks, Chakotay and the others were physically and emotionally drained.
He'd seen Kathryn occasionally, buzzing around her crew, making sure everyone was looked after and reunited with family and friends. He knew she also spent long hours with the families of those lost during the journey. The effect of it all showed deeply on her face. She'd lost weight and her hair and eyes appeared constantly dull. He'd never seen her looked so tired.
On several occasions he tried speaking to her, but he could see she only had one agenda and was focused on that alone. She was polite with him and he thought he saw some kind of struggle in her eyes when she looked at him, but as soon as she felt herself slipping, the mask would go back in place and she'd excuse herself and rush off to the next meeting.
His own obligations to Starfleet over with, Chakotay wearily walked away. He was undecided about his future and knew he wanted to take at least the six months issued leave to decide the rest of his life.
He didn't see or hear from Kathryn over the next month, despite leaving numerous messages for her, and that fact tore at him. Finally B'Elanna persuaded him to visit Headquarters and inquire about their former captain. She waited outside for him and finally saw him come towards her. His body language told her what she didn't want to know.
He sat down beside her and sighed. "Well, that's it. She's gone." He shook his head when B'Elanna frowned. "She finished debriefings four days ago and was given six months leave. The same as the rest of us. She left no forwarding address or at least none that they'll give me."
B'Elanna tried to offer hope. "Perhaps she just needs some time to herself. I'm sure she'll contact you soon."
Chakotay stood up and shook his head. "No word from her in over a month, B'Elanna. No goodbye. Let's face it. I've lost her."
B'Elanna had no answer for him. She feared for her old friend as much as he feared for himself.
Chakotay climbed the steps to his new home and sighed wearily as he keyed in his entrance code. He stood in the open doorway for several minutes and tried to quell the feelings of sadness and loneliness he felt.
He turned as he heard someone walk up the path behind him and saw a young man carrying a small parcel. "Commander Chakotay?"
Chakotay nodded as the man climbed the steps and handed the packet to him. "Can you acknowledge receipt please?"
Chakotay frowned as he pressed his thumb print to the padd and muttered his thanks to the receding back of the young man. He remained on the porch as he studied the delivery for a moment before opening it.
And then he felt his heart beat faster.
Inside the box, lined in red velvet, lay four pips and the mask Kathryn had worn that last night on Voyager. A sheet of paper lay folded in the lid.
He recognized Kathryn's handwriting immediately.
"I have no more need of these. Do with them what you will."
Sensing he was no longer alone, he looked up and saw her, standing nervously at the gate. There was no uniform. She smiled timidly, and her face showed her fear that she'd left it all too late, that he may not want her anymore. He saw the fear of rejection.
He understood now, and realized that he should have known all along. Kathryn Janeway was that rare kind of captain. She couldn't have rested until every last member of her crew was safely tucked up in bed so to speak.
He placed the note back in the box and closed it. And then the smile that would never completely leave his face again began. He slipped the box into his pocket as he descended the steps and walked towards her. Stopping in front of her, he opened his arms. "Welcome home, Kathryn."