Mostly a Memory
Oh, it's hard being married to one of the 'Voyager legends'. It's hard. They're an institution unto themselves; a family of strangers, bonded together by conflicts and stories set thousands of light years away.
For the most part, it doesn't intrude onto our life. Tom has made a life for himself here on Mars. I sometimes think it's not what he wanted, or maybe even needed... but I think that he is happy. He still works for Starfleet, it's how we met. But with the children and the house we both took desk jobs. We're about as civilian as you can be, and still wear that red and black. It's the way we want things.
He's moved beyond being a 'Voyager legend'. He worked hard at distancing himself from it. He doesn't pilot any more, not since Voyager, although lately he has been taking our oldest daughter up in the shuttles. No, he's a PR man for Starfleet. Voyager is a thing of the past.
It's been almost twenty years since Voyager returned to Earth. The decade they spent in space is mostly a memory. There are the occasional specials on the newsfeeds. Some are kind, some are trashy. Some are brutal.
This month has been a hard month, for that very reason. A holovid is being released, hailed as the most accurate biography of the Voyager crew. There's so much hype, you would think that they had just returned home. It makes the kids uncomfortable, hell, it makes me uncomfortable. The sound-bites are ghastly, the promo lines are trashy.
THE MADNESS OF VOYAGER they scream. The usual theories are put forward: that Janeway was a paranoid megalomaniac with self-destructive tendencies; that Neelix was paralyzed with panic attack disorders; that B'Elanna was bi-polar...it goes on and on. This one is supposed to be the 'comprehensive biography of the Captain of Voyager, and the burdens that drove her mad'. We've *all* heard them before.
I don't know how much is true.
They don't talk about it. Any of them. In the gatherings I've been to, the crew will invoke her name with a smile. "We were all a little crazy out there" they will say, or something to that effect. If it was true, they don't show it. She was just The Captain.
The release of this holovid is eating at them all. It has even brought Chakotay out of seclusion, to issue a brief statement condemning the directors. A tactical error, I could have told him that, it gave the vid more publicity than a room full of latinum.
I had been hoping tonight that we could forget about it all. I had sent the kids off to Tom's sister, we were supposed to have a nice romantic evening. I booked some space at a restaurant Tom used to work in when he was kid. The stories he tells me are fantastic; of this bumbling adolescent waiting on tables and looking down dresses. I thought it would be nice.
It was. We chatted through drinks and entrees, he made me laugh so hard that I snorted my wine through my nose. It's a terrible habit I have. It was only when I turned to motion for a waiter, that Tom says softly, "I don't believe it."
"It's her. It's the actor in this new holovid. The one playing Janeway."
"Where?" I spin around to where he is looking. It was very eerie, she looked a lot like Janeway. I turned back to Tom. "Do you want to go, Tom?"
"No, no. Let's just finish dinner. Just ignore it."
I suddenly felt angry. It's already intruded... he pushes a glass back and forth in front of him.
"Honey, are you sure don't want to go?" I ask again. He looks up and smiles.
"No." He takes my hand. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to sulk. It's-"
"-Lieutenant Paris?" We both look up. I can't believe it. It's her. "I thought it was you."
"You what?" Disbelief.
"I wanted to come and tell you how honoured I am to meet you. One of the Voyagers! It was such an honor to play Kathryn Janeway. I know you were close..." Tom sits in silence, at a loss for words. In a different situation, I would have laughed. I've never known my Tom to be at a loss for words. "Playing the Captain was my once-in-a-lifetime role. I really feel connected to Kathryn, and her persistence."
"Her insanity, you mean."
"I don't think of it like that. Kathryn was... she was dedicated."
"Really?" Tom smiled, a horrible smile. "Well I'm sure she would have appreciated your sentiments."
"My name's Helen Datrel. It's so wonderful to meet you." She holds her hand out, and Tom stares at it like it were a phaser.
"I know who you are. I just can't believe that you would have the audacity to approach me." She looks a little shocked at his words as she pulls back her hand.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Lieutenant. We certainly didn't mean to upset anyone with this holo-"
"-you've taken my life...our lives... and put it on a holodeck. You'll forgive me if I pass on the social niceties." His voice is rising, and people around us have stopped to stare. I wonder if I should interrupt.
"Maybe when you see the holo...." She tries again. I feel a little sorry for her.
"You know *nothing* about what happened out there. You are passing a moral judgment on things you can't possibly understand, Helen. I hope you remember that when you're accepting your Galactic Award."
"I'm sorry." She mutters, backing away. I am almost ashamed at the ferocity of his anger. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I'm really sorry."
"You don't even know what you're apologising for, lady." He focuses his gaze on her.
"Tom, come on." I tug his arm. "That's enough. Let's get out of here."
"I just wanted you to know...." She persists. "How wonderful it was...to be her...I thought you would understand."
Before he can say another word, I slide my hand on his cheek. "Ssh, Tom. That's enough." I turn to the woman. "Please, leave."
She apologises again, and Tom sits across from me, shaking his head in anger. I don't know what to think of it, of him. I'm so unused to this side of him.
We sit in silence for a few moments, and the people around us gradually start talking again. A waiter brings a bottle of water to the table, most probably as an excuse to see what I'm saying. I wait patiently for him to leave.
"I am so embarrassed Tom." I whisper carefully. "You want to tell me what the hell that was about?"
He says, stonily, "I'll get your coat, Dia. I don't want to stay here anymore."
Tom fumes the entire way home.
"You realise you're now going to be in the Inquiry tomorrow, don't you?" I remind him, slightly mad. The children hate it when Tom is in the news. "I can't even imagine the headline on this one."
He groans and looks out the window. I can't help it, I smile. He looks beautiful in half darkness.
"I'm glad she's not around to see this." He speaks to the window pane.
"This isn't the first time someone's said this Tom." I said, trying to give him perspective. "Why are you getting so upset?"
He begins to say something and then stops. I study him. Our transport makes the familiar turns towards home. Something sits uneasily with me; my question is probably more astute than I realise. We *have* heard all of these stories before. It settles on me. There is something else.
"What is it?" I ask.
The transport stops outside our home. The driver gets out, and opens my door. I smile and shake my head. "We have it, Soli. Thanks for your help."
I turn to Tom again. "What is it, Tom? You're the one who normally laughs this whole nonsense off."
"It's different, Dia."
"It's just different." He says, in a tone that belongs to another group of friends.
I've never been able to figure out their relationship. They were both Fleet Brats, and I suppose there was probably childhood infatuation involved on Tom's behalf. From the stories he's told me, I know he thinks of her in some sort of redemptive light... but it's more than that. The simultaneous paradox of redemption and damnation. From time to time, he speaks bitterly of her; of the demotion, of her rules and regulations.
There was something else.
He speaks, and the transport settles around us. "I got a bootleg from DS12 last week."
"And? Is it *that* bad?"
"It ... " His pale fingers play with the release buttons on the transport side console. "It shows me with her. Together. On shoreleave, for one night. It's terrible...tacky music, moonlight dancing. Professing our mutual love and burning desire for each other. Beach scenes. Very B-grade, Dia."
The moment I start to laugh, I wish I hadn't. He's not laughing with me. This is the something wrong...
"Is it true?" I am confused.
He shifts on the seat, to face me.
"Yes. But not... not like that."
* * *
I left the mainland by a sea vessel, a small one, and it took an hour to get to the diving site. I had been looking forward to the trip all day, the Commissioner had promised that the underwater ruins of the city were virtually untouched. I hadn't been scuba diving for years; for the five years on Voyager, and then a few before that. It had never been a particular passion, but at the moment the idea of something new, something completely sensory, was absolutely appealing. I had been working hard for months now, the whole ship had. All work and no play, as the old adage goes. This was the first shoreleave that we didn't limp to, that we could afford. I intended to use every moment of it.
It had really been that busy. The last time I can remember really talking to B'Elanna had been just before my demotion. I think we were trying to connect on some base level, instead of just skin on skin. She was stuck in Engineering today, and she didn't seem to be particularly disappointed about that. I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't either.
From the moment I first heard about the underwater ruins, I had been angling to get there. There was some sort of reception planned in the morning for the bridge crew but the powers willing, it would only take a couple of hours and then I would be free to explore.
As it happened, the powers were willing, and I managed to get out of the reception in under two hours. The planet didn't allow site to site transports except in authorised cases, so I had to make with the local transportations. By the time I *finally* got to the site, I was beginning to wonder whether it was worth it.
Of course, an hour and a half later, when I was taking the underwater platform down below sea level, it was a different story. The sea vessel had dropped me off at the first site, suited up in my oxygen carrier and wet suit. It was slightly unnerving, being lowered to the site. Like a descent into another world, almost.
It was beautiful.
There was a flashlight attached to my mask because it was too deep for the sunlight to pass through the water and light up my surroundings. Every time I turned my head, a different direction was lit up. Animals skittered back and forth across my path; some swimming from the light and some towards it. I looked down at the small screen they had given us and tried to memorise the route that was set out.
The ruins were apparently a mystery within themselves. They were only discovered a century ago, when the society had developed the technology that had enabled them to travel that far into the ocean. It was a city collapsed below sea level, apparently a sudden event because things were trapped in half motion. As I moved through the water, I saw chairs that were overturned, machines with doors open. I was amazed.
The light on the screen that they had given me flashed, telling me I had strayed off path. It was a very surreal moment. Every kick of my ankle sent me further ahead. I closed my eyes at one point and just glided through the water, knowing that I was passing over the remnants of peoples lives, preserved as it were, in states of half completion.
I pulled myself through the water, swimming on streets that people used to walk through. Swimming above streets that would never be used again. I suddenly, strangely, thought of Voyager. Before they realised we were alive, is this what people had expected to find of us one day? A few over-turned chairs, embedded into the face of a distant planet?
The thought didn't spook me, exactly. As I swum above these ruins, casting a beam over my surroundings, it settled comfortably around me. We all come from nothing, really.
The light on my panel flashed again, telling me that my time was over. I was disappointed, it felt like I had been here for only ten minutes. Nevertheless, I made my way back to the platform, ready to catch a transport to the mainland.
I felt calm, for the first time in a long time. As the platform gradually bought me to the surface, I could see the sunshine through the water. I found I couldn't remember the last time I had noticed that it had been summer. I had a few moments to kill before the vessel came. From my understanding, the small sea vessel had a route between all the various diving spots. It would collect divers from all the platforms and take them back to the island. Kind of like the space buses used in the traditionalist areas back home.
I have to say though, it sure surprised the hell out of me to see Captain Janeway sitting on board, smiling at me.
"Tom." She stood and helped me on deck. "I was wondering whether I was going to see you out here."
"How did you get out further than me?" I asked, putting my pack on the deck. "I raced here!"
"Tom... there are some perks to being Captain, you know."
I shook my head, slightly depressed at the fact that Captain Janeway had broken more rules than I had. I was getting old.
"How far out did you get?" I asked.
"About an hour and a half. I think I enjoy the ride out more than anything."
"You didn't like the dive?" I was curious, remembering she used to dive a lot when she was younger. My dad told me that.
"Oh, when I was younger it was an avid fascination." She shrugged. "The higher up in the command chain I got, the less time I had to throw around all that power I had earnt. The paradox of command, you know."
I groaned, and she laughed again. There seemed to be something quite lovely about sitting in the sunshine, laughing with my Captain. "But not anymore?"
"It was...unsettling, diving through those ruins. It made me think of Voyager."
"Me too." I agreed, as I unstrapped my equipment and let it rest at my feet. "It was amazing out there."
"Yes, it was."
"I felt like I was flying. I'd forgotten what it was like to deep sea dive."
"You sound impressed." She commented.
"Oh, I am. Very. Those ruins were beautiful." I unzipped the top of my swim suit, and let it rest around my waist.
"You didn't find it creepy? That that was the last of someone's life?"
"Why is that creepy, Captain? That they are preserved, for everyone to see and learn? I think it's noble. I hope Voyager finds something like that."
She visibly shuddered. "I don't."
"I was just thinking on my way back up...I don't think I remember a more peaceful place..." I finally sat down on the bench next to her.
"Tom, that's morbid!"
"Why is it morbid?"
"People died down there!"
I couldn't help but laugh at the indignation in her voice. "Give me a break. You're a Starfleet Captain, you know the deal."
She was silent for a moment. "You know, it's strange. For a while now, I keep having these dreams where Voyager is frozen over with ice. I can't explain, it's the strangest sensation." She stopped.
"Like we'd crashed, and we were covered in ice. Not a dream, exactly...more like...?"
"Like...? A vision quest?" It was often I had a conversation with my commanding officers about the paranormal. This was shaping up as one hell of a day.
"No, not like a vision quest. You know that feeling... that saying 'someone walked over my grave'? Like that." She shrugged. "I guess those ruins just reminded me of that."
"Well, I was actually thinking about taking the holo-imager down tomorrow, to make a programme out of this."
"No." She said quickly.
"No?" I looked at her. "Why?"
Her fingers trailed through the water as the boat moved forward. "Let them rest."
I watched the water splash off her fingers for what seemed like a long time, before looking up at her. "Are you unhappy, Captain?"
"Unhappy?" She rolled the word around in her mouth, like an unfamiliar drink.
"I'm sorry. That probably wasn't appropriate."
"Probably not." She smiled. "Has that ever stopped Tom Paris?"
I threw my head back and laughed. The sun was beating down on my skin, it felt so good to be outside. I stretched my legs out in front of me and rested my weight on the elbows. Closing my eyes, I held my face up to the sun. I didn't know how long it was going to be before I got the chance to do this again.
I was vaguely aware of the fact that she was studying me. The hell with it.
"How do you do it, Tom?"
"What?" I squinted one eye open.
"This." She sat back, awkwardly attempting to cross one wet-suited leg with the other. Eventually, she gave up and just leaned back against he boat. I chuckled again to myself.
"There's nothing too it, Captain. Feet out, arms back. Eyes closed."
"Do you do everything with your eyes closed?" She asked, seriously.
"Not everything." I leered, figuring we had seemed to have gone the informal way. She laughed sharply, and it made me grin.
"I need to find a balance." She began, I think more to herself than anything. "Somewhere between where you are, and where I am."
"What's wrong with where I am?"
She didn't answer, just stole a glance at me.
"Ah yes....Ensign Paris, reporting for duty ma'am." I drawled sarcastically. I couldn't help it, although I should have known better.
"I'm not going to apologise for demoting you, Tom." She said, in a tone that told me we were back to business. I sighed and opened both my eyes. So much for the sunshine.
"I'm not asking you to. Hell, I don't want you to."
"Tom..." Her voice was a warning.
"I just don't care, Captain." I laid my cards on the table. "This is all arbitrary. I've never defined myself through Starfleet. I'm never going to be like you."
"I don't want you to be like me. God, don't be like me."
"Enough of the self-indulgent crap, okay? If we're going to talk like this...be like this... it's a beautiful summer's day, Captain. I refuse to pity you."
I don't know what I expected. Some witty remark, a verbal spar maybe. I'm always best on my feet. Instead there was nothing. I mean really, nothing. I looked at her and there was nothing on her face. Not anger, not sadness.
"I'm sorry. That was out of line."
She didn't reply, just looked back out across the water.
"You know what I'd like to do someday, Tom? I'd like to take a shuttle up to the Arctic Circle, and watch the Northern Lights. I've never seen them before...I've always meant to. I don't know why I didn't."
"Well I'll tell you what, Captain. *When* we get home, I'll hire a shuttle and fly you there myself. How does that sound?"
"It's a date." She smiled, and the moment fractured. I suddenly noticed small things about her: her hair, her smile, her tiny shoulders. I suddenly wondered whether she liked to be kissed on her neck, whether I could span my palms across the small of her back. I noticed I was breathing through my nose, and wondered how long I had been staring at her.
"I should get court- martialled for this." She muttered to herself, smiling.
"Sitting half-naked next to my subordinate with not entirely pure intentions." She shot a glance at me, a half grin that sent ripples along my skin.
I rested my arm on her hand, and she turned to look straight at me. And then there was no mistake, she pulled me to her. Her hands on the side of my face, and her lips touching mine... once, twice and again. If there had been other people on board, we would have looked peculiar, sitting side by side in our wetsuits, kissing slowly.
It was different to B'Elanna. It was like... I knew it wasn't going to lead anywhere. That there was no future to this moment, there was no maybe, no promise of flesh. It was totally insular, sad and simple.
She pulled away slowly. "I'm sorry, Tom."
I sat back, my mouth still tingling from her lips. My god, it was....amazing.
"This must be a little embarrassing for you." She said softly, and I hated that quiet voice.
"Captain...I don't think... I can honestly say that I've never been as attracted to someone before." My fingers started playing with hers, until she had gripped my hand. I wanted to be... everywhere, on her. It wasn't lust, I can't explain... it was redemption...absolution. Christ, it doesn't make sense to say it.
"I think...I would like...would you like...?" Her voice lingered off, and she tugged at my hand. It was all the encouragement I needed.
Her lips were on my skin, and my mind was pounding 'this is Kathryn Janeway, this is Kathryn Janeway'. The sun was beating on my back as her hands pushed the wetsuit off my shoulders. I kissed her neck and her collarbone, kissed her throat and felt the murmur that rumbled there. We were on the deck on the vessel, and her body was moving on mine. I felt obscene, like I had never done this before, like I was fourteen and clumsy again.
And then ... christ, I don't know what happened. I stopped. She stopped. And we couldn't get off each other fast enough.
"I can't..." I was trying to get my breath back, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. I was staring at her, watching her chest rise and fall as she drew her legs up to her chest, and rested her forehead of her knees. We were both sitting on the deck of the vessel, side by side.
Most of my life, I have made the wrong decision. To lie to Starfleet, to my family, to my friends. Or I have made the right decision for the wrong reasons...believe me, there is a difference. Like joining the Maquis. Becoming involved with B'Elanna.
I didn't want this to be one of them.
I was scared of so much. I was scared a little by the finality of those ruins, that someday someone would swim above me and wonder...I was scared that we would never get home, or even that we would. I was scared that she would call out Chakotay's name, or Seven. Or even worse, if she would call out mine...
"I'm sorry." I repeated, trying to ignore the taste of her on my lips, and the smell of her around me.
"No. You're right." She stretched a grotesque false smile, somehow, and patted my hand with hers. Her voice was so forced, so happy; a caricature of itself. I went to hold her hand, but it touched mine so quickly I wasn't sure if I had imagined it. If I had imagined the whole thing. I felt utterly and completely useless.
"--You're right, Tom. I'm sorry, too." She picked up towel off the deck, and draped it over her shoulders. "I'm sorry."
And for the rest of my life, that's how I would remember her. Sitting on one edge of a boat, wrapped in a towel, apologising softly. The waves behind her curl into themselves and then disappear.
* * *
When he finishes speaking, there are tears in my eyes. I am suddenly angry at the actor in the restaurant. Irrationally so. Tom had been right, there is no way she could have known, could have understood.
I pull him towards me, and he rests his face in my shoulder. I can't imagine how it must be, to think of that moment blocked and scripted, air-brushed for perfection. To know that people will be simulating the scenario; to know that it will be reduced to a meaningless shoreleave fuck.
He tells me he is glad she is not alive to see it. I know he wishes the same for his friends, his family. Our children.
"I'm sorry, Tom." I say.
I kiss him softly, but I know that - momentarily at least, he is 70 000 light years away.
~ ~ * ~ ~