Title: Ceremonies of Innocence
Author: the stylus
Contact: thestylus@hotmail.com
Series: VOY
Date: 25 February 2001
Rating: PG-13
Codes: J, P
Summary: Paris thinks about the price of things.
Disclaimer: No one really owns anything.
Archive: You betcha. Just please let me know.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Author's notes at end

Ceremonies of Innocence
There are easy kinds of heroism. I know this as well as anyone. My father has a Starfleet Medal of Honor which he displays in his office so that anyone who comes to see him is immediately aware of its presence. I remember the ceremony they held to award it to him, full of important figures in dress uniforms with the bars of the admiralty proudly displayed. "Hero" was a word that was used quite freely that evening. A small part of me hated him for the ease with which he would have abandoned my mother and me, but I simply accepted that living with a hero was not always the easiest of things. Years later, even when I couldn't bring myself to love the man who was my father, I did have a grudging respect for the Admiral who had put his life between the natives of a strange world and the men and women of his away team.

In the Maquis it was not so different. Sure, there were different rules. The Maquis were less civilized than Starfleet because they had no choice. Guerilla tactics leave little room for gentlemanly conduct on the best of days. But there were still heroes; most of the people I was with, in fact, were heroes in one way or another. I'll always remember T'Ruk. Not many Vulcans joined the Maquis. As a rule they aren't the type to join guerilla uprisings. Perhaps the illogical nature of the situation is a bit disconcerting. But T'Ruk was convinced that it was equally illogical for the Federation to allow its citizens to be placed under Cardassian rule--and from what I could gather he had never been much of one for tradition, anyway. He was logical, but he wasn't dispassionate; his anger was legendary. He always managed to use that emotion for something, though, to channel it into creating a brilliant plan or to glean information. And when he finally died, jumping in front of a phase-disruptor blast during a raid on an outpost, he seemed almost peaceful. He knew that by taking the brunt of the discharge in the chest he was giving the rest of us time to escape. It was angry and logical and wonderful. When we spoke of him later we knew without saying it that he was a hero.

My father and T'Ruk were heroes. I do not doubt that. But theirs was an easier kind of heroism, the sort born out of moments of greatness and instinctual acts of self-sacrifice. It is the kind of heroism people like to hear about. Over the vidfeeds of the news, the picture of a scrubbed, beaming Owen Paris receiving Starfleet's highest commendation restores people's belief in the ultimate goodness of the Federation and its citizens. They feel better about themselves because of what he did. Hell, sometimes I feel better about myself because of what he did. In that instant, when he offered himself in exchange for the lives of his team, Owen Paris was a hero. Whatever he did outside that space of time, I suppose he always had that to hold onto.

But seven years in the Delta Quadrant taught me more than I ever wanted to know about courage. When we first got there--for the first few years, even--there wasn't a crewmember among us who didn't harbor somewhere deep the belief that we would be home the next day, or week, or month. Each wormhole, every subspace distortion, each new race: we looked at them all as potential transport back to the Federation. It was unfathomable that a Starfleet ship (albeit half-Maquis) would fail to get home. I'm not sure what it was that changed our minds. Perhaps it was nothing but the day-in, day-out wear and tear of living hand-to-mouth for so long. At some point it was easier to let go of the real hope, easier to let Home be a nebulous, far-away concept because it didn't hurt so much that way. We managed to mostly forget life before Voyager, and those who did speculate on a return did so infrequently and quietly. It wasn't giving up, exactly, but it allowed us to go on.

I don't suppose it ever occurred to any of us, however, that the Captain might have given up on Home, too. Her determination never showed any signs of flagging, and we were all more than willing to accept that at face value. It was too difficult otherwise, because then we'd have to admit to her humanity and most of us were ready either to canonize or to commit her-- both, some days. Saint and demon: she was both for us. But, oh, gods she was human, too. We let ourselves forget that. I think it was the one unpardonable treason the crew committed against her.

I didn't realize it until he was gone. I tell myself that if he had been there, it might have been different... But I don't really think I believe that. And to be honest, I'm not sure what I would change because to alter anything would be to lose something--then and now. Chakotay would be the first one to point out that his death was part of all that followed it: the good and the bad. After he died on the surface of Kel'tar III in the ion storm, I learned what it feels like when a ship mourns. She said it, speaking in that even voice at his memorial service. Something to the effect that the hull was weeping its frozen tears as stars. She always had a way with words. I know I missed him; and I knew other people missed him. I held B'Ela as she cried--Harry, too. A lot of the former Maquis wept... and just as many 'Fleeters. I never saw the Captain cry, though. And I knew, instinctively perhaps, that she had really done her grieving long before his death. She carried that grief no differently after the accident, but I was more attuned to it.

It went farther than Chakotay. I know that now. She had grieved it all: the burden of command in that Quadrant which was inescapable and unbearable. She grieved it every day we survived out there. And I think that it was only her ability to endure that let us get home, in the end. I don't know if you can fly a ship on willpower, but I wouldn't put it past Kathryn Janeway. Well, willpower and caffeine. People said later that the Delta Quadrant broke her, although they said it quietly and not without some compassion. But they don't know. Even the career 'Fleet officers, the ones who think they have seen all the galaxy has to throw at them, even they cannot understand.

Those of us who were there know, at least in part. We know what it is like to be prey, to be constantly hunted, to never have a safe place, to always be looking over your shoulder and straining to see what lies ahead. After a few years, we had such a hard time accepting hospitality because we had been betrayed too often. It was easier not to trust. We know that much about the Delta Quad and its burdens. But I'm not sure we will ever understand what it was like to be the Captain in the midst of all that, especially a captain who really cares about her crew. Sprits know, there are some four-pippers who would space you as soon as look at you if you get in their way. And others who only tolerate you so far as you help their promotion to the next level. Some of them are great tactical officers, or brilliant scientists, but they would have been lousy Delta Captains. Whatever else she was, the Captain wasn't like that. Looking back I realize that sometimes even when I hated her it was for that reason. She cared about us enough to assume the responsibility so that we could be freed from it and have something outside of ourselves to rail against. From the Caretaker on it was Kathryn Janeway bringing that ship home--her pips and all the allegiance that is due them couldn't have done it. One captain in a hundred couldn't have done it. She did, though. I think the only one she surprised was herself.

There was a huge press conference when we got home. One of those silly reporters asked her what she had missed most about Earth and I saw her hesitate a fraction of a second then reply, "Coffee." She smiled that brilliant smile and the room erupted; the reporters were putty in her hands for the next two hours. They'd have written anything she asked them to write and she knew it. I think she used that to help in her fights to liberate the Doctor and Seven and the Borg kids from the bureaucrats and the desk types, since she'd argued all the Admirals out of so much as reprimanding the Maquis.

But she left Starfleet. That surprised a lot of people, including Harry. I suppose that we had all gotten so used to thinking of her as Captain we didn't remember that command was a career choice people made, not who they were. It didn't surprise me, though. Not really. Tuvok and I talked about it one day, sitting at Headquarters filling out the last of our paperwork. There was no way for her to tell Starfleet what it had been like out there, no way for her to convey the kind of decisions she'd had to make. I don't think at that point it even mattered what she'd chosen in most cases; that she'd had to make the choice at all had been enough. There are certain people who can play God and have no crisis of conscience about it. The Captain wasn't one of them... and I thank the spirits for that.

It ate at her. I think we all realized, at least in part, the magnitude of it in the Void. We were all left alone, to some extent, with our thoughts; and inevitably when you spend that much time wrapped up in your head, you start to wonder how things might have been different. I remember one day early in our trip through that damn expanse I was sitting in the mess. B'Ela and I had been fighting again and she'd stormed off to be with her warp core after some pretty colorful Klingon invectives that I was going to have to look up in the database. Sam and little Wild wandered in to get some dinner, chatting animatedly and I remember thinking that it was nice that at least a couple of people were enjoying themselves. They went over to Neelix, grabbed whatever the fluorescent special was and sat down to eat. Routine. I went back to the padd I was reading.

But in the middle of the meal I remember the sound of metal hitting the molded tables and I looked over to see Wild in tears and Sam looking helpless--I think she'd slammed her fork on the tabletop. And then she started yelling; it was the first time I'd ever heard Wild raise her voice, and I certainly never expected to hear and outburst directed at her mother in the middle of the mess. But she screamed, "I won't be quiet and eat! I'm tired of always having to be quiet! You're always busy. Everyone's always too busy to play with me. And..." she sort of trailed off, but by then she had everyone's attention, "I'm tired of always being scared," she finished more quietly.

I was pretty sure Sam's heart was breaking; I was getting that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with Neelix's food. Sam hustled Wild out of there with everyone giving her understanding looks over the girl's head. It wasn't anything that any of us hadn't wanted to say ourselves; we just tried to hide it. As I thought about another perfectly ordinary day that had gone bad, I happened to glance around, just trying to gauge the general mood. She was sitting in the back corner, tucked away in the shadows so that the crew never noticed her, staring out the viewport at all the nothing we were passing. This was a couple of days before she stopped coming out of her quarters altogether. One of those Captain instincts must have told her she was being watched, because she turned to meet my eyes with her level blue gaze. For just a moment, I saw the utter despair in her eyes; I knew she was blaming herself for Wild's childhood, for the fear and the uncertainty and what it was like to grow up with it. Then she blinked: drawing herself in, straightening her backbone, settling into impassiveness. And it was gone. But that look in her eyes burned itself straight through to my retinas; and there were times I saw it when I closed my eyes at night.

I thought about that night the day Starfleet announced her resignation. She went quietly, without really saying anything to anyone. She just disappeared for a couple of months, leaving Starfleet with her letter and the task of announcing to the Federation that its newest hero was shucking off the mantle. Wild rumors flew, everything from her abduction by vengeful Deltans to her promotion to head of Starfleet black ops. But she sent a recorded message to Tuvok a couple of weeks later and he was thoughtful enough to get in touch with B'Ela and me. She left of her own accord, he assured us. No, he didn't know why. And no, he wouldn't speculate.

Occasionally a good paper on some sort of applied-quantum-physics mumbo jumbo appears in one of the big scientific journals with her name on it. At least, B'Ela tells me they're good. The only physics I'm interested in is the stuff that lets me fly faster and turn tighter without shaking my shipmates to hell.

She got married, too. To a lovely, willowy Vulcan who was nothing like anyone from Voyager. There was no ceremony, so it saved us the embarrassment of not being invited. But I saw them once, walking the streets of San Francisco. I think there was a conference in town that she was presenting a paper to, and maybe a part of her didn't want to pass up a chance to at least see the city again. It really is a beautiful city. The Vulcan was at least a head taller, and she had her hand on the small of the Captain's back. Nice. Like she was watching out for her. They're going to make it. So are B'Elanna and I, I think. We've discovered again that we actually like each other-- and not just for sex.

Whole weeks go by now and no one mentions her name. But if I close my eyes, I can still see her face in the mess that day. Her new wife has never seen that-- or has she? I think about it, sometimes, when I'm at 'Fleet functions and she comes up as a topic of low conversations. People always talk about quietly, like they're ashamed of her or of themselves. They talk about how she's never been the same. "Lost something," they say, implying that she couldn't handle it anymore. "Still a formidable intellect, of course," they say, "but a bit...unstable. Really rather sad. So much potential. One of the best we had, once." They shut up when they notice me, though.

They gave us all medals when we got home. She doesn't know I know, but I had slipped out of the ceremony as it was winding down to get some air and clear my head. I saw the Captain slip out, too, a minute later; but I was concealed by the corner of the building and the afternoon shadows. Her dress uniform was all lines and angles and she had that military bearing as she came out into the bright sun, squinting a little after the artificial light of the auditorium. She held her hand up to her eyes, turning side to side like she was expecting someone; but no one came. She must have waited five minutes, and still no one. Finally, she walked over to where someone had stopped in the midst of planting a row of roses and crouched down. Her back was to me, and I retreated behind the corner when she straightened up and headed back inside.

Some minutes later, Boothby came back. He found the medal when he bent over to put his gloves on, tucked inside one of them. In the sun, it was brilliantly golden and he studied it awhile, holding it in front of his beaked nose before slipping it in his pocket. I moved back toward the door and caught my eye, just holding my gaze and then let me go. I never told anyone, but I suspect he still has that medal. I wonder if her new wife knows this, too. Or if she ever wonders.

Today I am thinking about calling her. We have a daughter a few hours old, who cries so loud I'm sure already that she's her mother's child. But what I really want to tell her is that I've never been happier than I was in the Delta Quadrant. Or couldn't have been this happy without it. I don't think she wants to hear that, though. Out there, nothing was impossible for her. Maybe that's why she had to walk away.