Home Trials-Part II
by Rose Kira

*** Love is that flame that once kindled burns everything, and only the mystery and the journey remain. ~ Rumi 

*** I had no intention of being seen in my state of exhausted confusion, not by him, nor any other member of Voyager's crew.

He wasn't expected, to be simple. I had done my duty as a captain. There had been the visits to the families of my dead, the brief talks with reunited spouses, kisses to the foreheads of children who had not seen their parents in well over seven years, or never at all. I was there, the support and ballast, guiding those without family or ties back into the lives they had left behind, or new ones. I did not fail in my duty. I was there, until the last crewman stepped away from Voyager.

And then, of course, one came back.

Harry Kim, most of all, I expected to stay gone. He had family, decent, devoted parents, a bolstering career, friends, his entire life ahead of him. He had no reason, no reason that I could see, to return to the husk of Voyager, to the husk of his captain.

Exhaustion does make one blind. So very, very blind.

I felt nude, stripped, when he stepped into the holodeck. I can be informal, of course, I do not rely on uniform or silk on my own time. I reveled in the bare feet, in the simple, unflattering sweats. I also felt stripped, wearing them in front of him, for it was a habit I had firmly put away on Voyager. On Voyager, my time was the captain's time. Captains do not stride through corriders informally. Nor do we rest informally. There is always a line, uncrossed.

He tore through it.

Harry, dear Harry, of all of them, tore through. He did not regret the invasion, by any means. I saw it in his eyes, on his face, as the holodeck door shut. His grip did tighten on the padds he held, but there was no flinch, no abashed blush.

He was no longer a boy.

Contrary to common sense, it really wasn't an aspect of Harry Kim I'd taken note of before.

The holographic fire emitted no real heat, no close proximation to inner warmth. I suspect we made up for it, all very involuntarily.

I spoke, at that point, automatically nudging him into a safety zone, putting what I hoped was the captain's assurance into my welcome. Somehow, by the brief flicker in his eyes, I think that it was a thin veil indeed. He did step in, and in my relief came the stumble, the mistake that bared all. I nearly called the poor man Ensign. 

I've no doubt he has no idea of the expression that flickered across his face, the fleeting anger, annoyance. It was there, and raw. I believe I began to lose focus in that moment, began to search in the bulkheads for conversation, any conversation, to still the abrupt thundering in my soul. There were empty words, silly words, half-hearted, likely misconstrued remarks about promotions and family and duty. He responded promptly each time, watching me, eyes absorbing and disaffected.

He asked me to leave Voyager with him, as he clutched the padds again, hiding their contents from my view. I wondered briefly what business he had, and realized that it was no assignment I had given. Then, on the heels of that, I realized that I was, officially, no longer his commanding officer, nor Voyager's. I didn't belong anymore. 

Even more surprisingly, I found that I was learning, slowly, but surely, that it didn't matter so very much.

I accepted his grip, his escort. My quarters seemed hollow, cold, indifferent, and I no longer missed them, nor the many lonely nights within. 

The bridge was more difficult. Long ago, an age ago, it was a standing joke between Mark and I that should I ever leave Voyager for good, I would take the command chair, or my ready room chair, with me. Mark seemed to understand my connection to the ship, new as she was, and I saw in that last walk through her that Harry Kim did as well.

Somehow, I had found a light in the darkness, and fate help me, I did not want to let it fade out.

Space dock was empty, subdued, and our journey to the shuttle bay was unimpeded by curiosity seekers or Federation personnel, a matter I was vagually grateful for. Our shuttle was, appropriately, one Tom Paris had been overseeing the refitting of. Kim didn't miss the connection either, his face lighting up in as smile as he turned from the pilots seat to glance back at me. "Delta the Second to..."

"I'm due back at Command in..." I checked my chromo half-heartedly, tiredness blurring the numbers. "Half an hour."

"It takes longer than that to land in San Francisco, Admiral." He raised a brow. "You'll be late anyhow, so why not head home for the night?"

"I don't have..."

"You never have introduced me to the mother behind the legend. I had to let you meet mine."

He was determined, I give him that, in the same gentle, no arguing permitted way Ensign Kim had always been. Captain's well being or hell. I surrendered, hiding my smile. "Take us to Indiana, Harry."

"Aye, ma'am."

Somehow, as we landed in the heavy Indiana snows, the heavens only seemed more beautiful from below than they had ever seemed from above.