Summary: 'Caretaker' went a little differently.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Ayala
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Star Trek universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for the Merry Month of Cohen 2023 collection, A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes. Inspired by Leonard Cohen's Traveling Light.
Captain Kathryn Janeway is unused to failure and even less used to giving up. She seethes, feet planted on her bridge and hands on her hips. If a glare had the power of a phaser, the Kazon on the viewscreen would have a hole scorched right through his chest.
It’s a tragedy that they were too late to save Ensign Kim and the Maquis woman – an hour earlier, maybe two, and their crewmates might have been rescued before they staggered to the planet’s dusty surface, only to be met by Kazon fire. It’s worse that she was forced to order the Caretaker’s array destroyed and with it their only chance of returning home.
Worst of all, the behemoth that collided with the array has come about and is targeting weapons on Voyager.
“You have made an enemy today,” promises the scowling gorgon on screen.
“Jabin, if you would just –”
But Captain Kathryn Janeway never finishes that sentence. A rocket of orange flame collides with Voyager’s hull, and amidst the cracking and booming as the ship comes apart, she can only cry out for damage reports.
Power conduits hiss and acrid smoke burns her eyes. Her ship groans. The pained cries of her crew surround her, ghouls in the darkness, until a falling beam knocks her, blessedly unconscious, to the deck.
She tries diplomacy at first, good Starfleet officer that she is. So sure that the right combination of logic and flattery, the right tilt of her chin, will have these Kazon meekly taking her to her ship.
She cannot, will not believe, despite what they keep telling her, that her beautiful ship is now just sheared-off hunks of duranium and ragged conduits floating in a soup of particles and antimatter residue.
And bodies. So many bodies, and parts thereof, that when one of the Kazon guards (smiling widely, malevolently, enjoying it) takes her to the viewport and shows her, she can’t grasp it. Her mind slips away from it. But after that, diplomacy falls silent.
“We have to steal a shuttle,” she announces to her fellow captives, back in their cell when the after-image of a destroyed Voyager no longer burns behind her eyelids. “It’s our duty to escape. To find other survivors and – and go home.”
The Maquis captain exchanges a glance with his crewmate. Ayala, she thinks his name is. He is, as far as she knows, the last of Chakotay’s crew to survive the Kazon attack.
And the last of her crew still breathing was never really hers, despite his uniform. But like a good Starfleet officer, Tom Paris asks his captain if she has a plan.
“I saw them tractoring one of our shuttles into the cargo hold,” she tells him. “It might be spaceworthy. We’ll use it to escape and join the others.”
“Others?” Paris asks.
Tuvok, she thinks. Surely if anyone survived –
“The rest of my crew,” she says aloud. “Maybe we can still salvage Voyager. Maybe there’s a way to contact Starfleet –”
“Don’t you get it? It’s gone,” the Maquis captain, who also has no ship, growls at her. “There is no Voyager, and Starfleet isn’t coming for you. You’re as alone as we are,” he waves an arm to encompass himself, his silent crewmate, and the perpetually imprisoned Tom Paris, “and every bit as screwed.”
The vessel Captain Kathryn Janeway has mentally christened Behemoth departs the debris field where the bodies of her former crew float forever in space.
Three weeks later it deposits her, along with the Maquis captain, his ever-silent crewman, and a grim Tom Paris, on the surface of a desolate planet. There are Kazon with rifles, and rust-streaked metal structures, and people of different species operating machinery, heads bowed under the indifferent gaze of the Kazon guards.
Captain Kathryn Janeway squints against the glare of twin suns.
“Where are we?” she asks a guard, even though she knows it will earn her nothing but the blow of a phaser rifle’s butt. Spitting blood and sand, she pushes tangled hair from her eyes and glares up at him.
The guard must be feeling talkative. “This is Labok, where we mine dilithium to trade for water. You will work or you will die.”
He hauls her to her feet and waves his rifle in the direction of a makeshift hut.
“Welcome home,” he chortles, and she turns away from his stained teeth and callous words.
Captain Kathryn Janeway has never known exhaustion like this; Starfleet endurance training was a stroll in the park in comparison. She’s strong, and she’s used to pushing her body past recommended limits, but she was not built for this kind of manual labour.
The slaves sleep on dirt, rise in the dark, toil until late in the evening on scant mouthfuls of food. Every day is the same without end.
Her Maquis companions seem to cope. Captain Kathryn Janeway doesn’t know if it’s because they’re built that way – vigorous and broad – or if they’re simply used to a life of hardship.
Tom Paris keeps up with them, though she watches him grow thinner, his mouth pinched and pale, his eyes … She turns away from his eyes. She’s not responsible for the shadows she saw there when she first met him, but now that she’s put new clouds in the blue …
The captain should have gone down with her ship.
I’m traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright
My fallen star
She counts the dead in her sleep.
All one hundred and forty of them, in alphabetical order. And then the names of each Maquis, which she asked Chakotay to teach her. Then backwards, then by department, by species, by Starfleet service number if they had one.
She is determined never to forget.
She lies on her pallet and counts the dead, and her dreams are heavy.
Kathryn knows self-recrimination is pointless and irritating because the others have told her as much. She can’t help indulging in it anyway. Her guilt is as familiar as a worn blanket, and keeps her warmer.
Her fingernails, once kept manicured, are flaky and ragged now. She bites at them, rubs the edges between her teeth, trying to smooth them. She has grown used to the tangles in her hair and the grime caked into her clothing; even to the scant privacy in the miners’ hut. But her hands, her nails … She hadn’t realised she was so vain about them.
She trades a day’s food for a sanding-board from one of the other slaves and spends an hour shaping and smoothing her fingernails with it. The Maquis captain asks what put the smile on her face.
Kathryn doesn’t think he meant to be cruel, but she stops smiling.
Ayala gets caught in a machine that crushes his torso and tears off his left arm. It takes him just minutes to die. He cries out, prays in several languages, calls to the wife and children he left far behind, to the crewmates he will see in the next life.
Kathryn never even learned his given name.
His name was Miguel. Chakotay says it when they hold a funeral, of sorts. Kathryn listens, rapt, to the tales Chakotay tells of Miguel Ayala, of missions and friendship and a loving, laughing family. She had no idea the Maquis captain had such a gift for storytelling.
She can hear the longing in his voice when he talks about Miguel, about his other lost crew. Kurt Bendera and B’Elanna Torres and Seska.
Maybe he’s the last of the Maquis. Certainly he’s the last one in this godforsaken quadrant.
He’s so very alone.
Before she can think about what she’s doing and what it means, Kathryn reaches over to take Chakotay’s hand.
Kathryn skims her palm over the curve of Chakotay’s shoulder. The bones are sharper now, sinew standing out against the muscle. His face is turned into the curve of her neck, his cheeks bristled. His hand slips between her legs.
She closes her teeth lightly around the prominent knob of her wrist bone, a reminder to stay silent as he touches her.
Sometimes Kathryn thinks he’s about to say something they’ll both regret. A tenderness blooms in his eyes, and she takes it for the warning it is, and she deflects or attacks or flees.
Inevitably one night the warning comes almost too late. “Kathryn,” he says, intense and low.
“Don’t say it,” she stops him. “I can’t.”
The light fades out of his expression, and he nods and moves away.
“All right,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
She looks up at him, drawing the thin blanket around her shoulders. “Don’t ever say it.”
I guess I'm just
Has given up
On the me and you
She speaks Miguel Ayala’s name, silently, into puffs of clouded breath on the night air. One more name on the long, long list she keeps already.
It’s been long enough now that Starfleet must have declared Voyager lost. Maybe there’s a monument somewhere in San Francisco that bears a manifest of names to match the faces in her dreams. Minus the Maquis, of course.
She doesn’t want to add any more names to her list of the dead, but she thinks it is inevitable that she will.
The weather turns cold again. Janeway feels it in the creak of her bones, the gnarl of her fingers, the way it’s harder than ever to rise from her pallet in the dull grey of dawn.
Is it easier to rise when she’s spent the night with her back pressed to Chakotay’s warmth, or does that make it even harder?
He’s different with her now. Restrained. Sometimes he seems cold and opaque. Sometimes she thinks she could peel back a layer and find molten fury beneath.
Something between them has fractured.
He has changed, but then so has she. It would be impossible for her to be the same woman she once was. When she was a captain.
She stops crawling onto his pallet beside him at night.
Janeway’s fingernails are bitten raw now. The sanding-board has long since worn to uselessness.
She is hungry all the time, and tired. Bone-tired.
She no longer gravitates to Chakotay, but they still keep a watchful eye over each other. The Kazon guards are easily bored and prone to pitting one slave against another for sport. Or hectoring one until that victim snaps back, which gives the guard an excuse to beat the luckless slave himself.
Neither Janeway nor Paris is particularly adept at not rising to that bait, and Chakotay has stepped in more than once to take the beating for them.
Janeway wonders if she and Tom Paris would have survived as long as they have, had Chakotay not been captured with them.
Still, she and Chakotay drift further apart, until they have nothing to say to each other. Nothing that means anything, anyway.
He stops telling stories of the Maquis, and rarely mentions Ayala’s name.
She stops talking about escape, about rescue, about returning home.
He stops bringing her gifts – an extra morsel of bread, a ragged comb or smooth rock.
She curls up beside Tom Paris on his sleeping pallet and warms her back against his chest, bending her neck so that Tom can turn his face against it.
And then, one afternoon, Chakotay dies. Curls over upon himself as he’s dragging a yokeful of rocks up an incline, face grey, clutching his chest. Crumples right there at her feet.
Janeway stares down at him and wonders what she should do.
Then she steps around his body and continues trudging up the slope.
After Chakotay’s death, Janeway and Tom Paris grow inseparable. Her opinion of the Kazon guards’ intelligence takes a slight uptick when the guards notice this evolution and make it their new sport to drive the two apart.
They send Paris to ore processing.
Nobody who works in ore processing has ever lived very long.
As for Janeway, she’s dragged from her pallet one grey morning and brought before a Kazon she has never met before.
“I am Maje Culluh,” he introduces himself. “I hear you once commanded a starship.”
“I have something that used to belong to you.”
A tap on the console before him flickers an image onto a wall screen. But if Janeway had hoped to see a familiar face (Tuvok), she’s disappointed. She’s looking at the interior of a cargo bay and the recognisable shape of a Starfleet shuttlecraft. The Cochrane.
Culluh leans forward to get her attention. “You’re going to repair it for me.”
I know you're right
About the blues
You live some life
You'd never choose
She adds Chakotay’s name to her memorial manifest. It should hurt her more than it does, but it’s difficult to imagine anything hurting much these days. She wears her numbness like armour, like a cocoon.
It only hurts in her dreams, where he’s so close and so alive. Where they all are. So alive.
She has trouble, these days, these nights, remembering the names of every one of her dead crew.
The Cochrane is badly damaged. It needs new nacelles, a new warp core. The EPS relays are a scorched and tangled mess. She has to completely rebuild the guidance system.
Sometimes Maje Culluh makes a surprise visit to the cargo bay.
“Haven’t you finished fixing that yet?” he’ll ask impatiently.
“It takes time,” she always says.
Tom coughs constantly now. Sometimes he spits blood. She pictures the black dilithium dust eating into the pink whorls of his lungs, choking him, turning him necrotic from the inside out.
In the end, though, it isn’t a disease that kills him.
There’s a new guard, one who’s taken an interest in her. She can handle him; she’s gotten better at letting the small assaults and insults roll off her back, and she doesn’t really care what they say to her anymore. What they do to her.
Tom isn’t so sure. He doesn’t like it when she leaves the hut alone, not when Rulat is around. He won’t let her go alone to get food and water, even though she can see how badly it costs him to give up the inadequate rest he’s allowed.
She doesn’t want his sacrifice – she’s taken enough from him already. And inevitably, it’s the sacrifice that kills him.
Rulat lays hands on her, and while she’s deciding if it will cost her more to shy away or submit, she hears a bellow, plaintive and fierce like a day-old targ, and Tom Paris’ fist cracks a blow on Rulat’s knobbly skull.
The Kazon is astonished at first, and Tom gets the chance to lay a spindly fist deep in Rulat’s belly. Rulat’s oof of surprise shakes her out of her stupor and she grabs at Tom, trying to push him behind her, trying to shield him.
She fails him now as surely as she has failed all the others.
Rulat points his phase-pistol at Tom Paris, who straightens to meet his death head-on, and fires.
The guards make her bury him.
“I’m starting to think you lied to me, Captain Janeway.” Culluh enjoys addressing her by her former title; there’s little else that torments her anymore. “Perhaps you can’t get this shuttle spaceworthy after all. Is that it? Are you incompetent, or just lazy?”
“It takes time,” she says.
In truth, the Cochrane has been spaceworthy for weeks. She’s kept the hull deliberately patchworked; Culluh is brighter than the average Kazon, but even he is easily fooled by appearances.
She just doesn’t know what he intends to do with her once she’s no longer of use to him. And so she waits. For a clue, an alternative, a chance.
And one day, incredibly, it comes.
She has used every trick in her book (and some she remembered from Chakotay’s Maquis tales) to stay hidden from the Kazon since her escape. She doesn’t know or even care where she’s going, but she keeps the Cochrane’s nose pointed roughly in the direction of the Alpha quadrant.
And then one day, months after she left Labok, sensors light up: neutrino emissions.
It’s a wormhole.
She doesn’t even think twice. Just barrels through it, uncaring where she’ll end up or if she’ll be crushed like a bug in the swirling event horizon. She blurts out the other side with her shuttle none the worse for wear, into open space dotted with stars.
She runs the scans four times before she believes her eyes.
Or her ears.
“This is Federation Starbase 54 in the Neubilian sector to the Starfleet shuttle,” comes through loud and clear on the comm system. “Do you require assistance?”
There’s a strange sound in the shuttle’s cabin. It takes some time to realise it’s coming from her. She’s laughing.
“Starbase 54 to shuttle,” the voice repeats with an edge of insistence. “Identify yourself.”
“This is Captain Kathryn Janeway, formerly of the USS Voyager,” she husks. “I’m home.”
She is transported to the starbase, greeted at gunpoint and escorted to their sickbay. A white-coated medic extracts a vial of her blood, then holds it up to the light and shakes it.
“Just making sure you aren’t a Founder,” he explains when she raises a questioning eyebrow.
“You’ll find out.”
She is taken to Starfleet Medical on Earth under heavy security, where she is put through more rigorous testing before being interrogated. Finally, having satisfied them that at least if she’s lying she’s doing it consistently, she is released into another kind of custody.
A dark-eyed Betazoid stares at her sympathetically and asks her about the Delta quadrant. About being stranded, about losing her ship, about captivity, about the deaths of everyone she was responsible for.
She sits in a comfortable chair and says nothing.
“I can see we have a lot of work to do here,” says the counsellor.
“The war is going very badly for the Federation,” an admiral says in lowered tones. “Far worse than is generally known. Starfleet Command believes defeat is inevitable.”
She doesn’t know why they are telling her this, or what they expect her to do with the knowledge.
“We think you’re ready for a new command,” another admiral tells her. “And we need captains like you. Captains with experience.”
“Captains like me?” she scoffs. “It’s because of me that my crew are all dead.”
Her medals are heavy as a noose around her neck. Her uniform chokes her.
An admiral shows her the specs of a Centaur-class ship, as proud as though he’s displaying his children’s holos.
“She’s yours, Captain Janeway,” he announces, beaming. “Congratulations. You’ll ship out to the Bajoran sector in two weeks. Get you right in the thick of the action.”
What if she just … left?
But if the road
Leads back to you
Must I forget
The things I knew
When I was friends
With one or two
Traveling light like
We used to do
I'm traveling light
She meets a Ktarian scrap dealer in a bar three planets left of Risa, and trades him her medals for a broken-down shuttle.
She’ll take a circuitous route, make it look like she’s a civilian, or a merchant at worst. She rigs a cloak and a holo-filter to help her avoid Starfleet patrols. She’s a deserter, after all.
It will take her several months to reach the Neubilian sector. With luck, the wormhole will still be there, somewhere, to take her back to the Delta quadrant. It’s as good a place to be lost as any.
Or she’ll die. Maybe she’ll encounter a wayward Orion or Cardassian, or a rogue Jem Hadar fighter. Maybe the warp core in this two-bit shuttle will explode.
She doesn’t much care either way.
She watches the news feeds from the Federation, and when she can get them, from Cardassia. There are so many dead now. So many lists. She couldn’t remember all the names even if she tried. Even if she wanted to.
Her sleep is untroubled by dreams.