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Can the Lonely Take the Place of You

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Her way of perceiving the world wasn’t different, per say, but her focus was certainly odd compared to most people of her acquaintance.

Her senses were strong and she compiled data in her mind from her observations using them. She had a keen mind for knowledge and appreciated abstract thought and aesthetic concepts, but whenever she made decisions she relied heavily on her own solid hold on the situation through her senses.

Most particularly her sense of smell. She could never say why that sense was the most potent, but her memories and her experience of the world always seemed to be directly tied to what she could remember based on the scents around her.

When she had been small her family used to hike through the forests and she remembered being almost overwhelmed by the smell of the trees, the rain pelting through the leaves, the rich smell of the soil, and the general freshness around her. Despite the fights with her sister or the ache in her legs or the long hours, what she remembered about those times was the joy she found in being a part of something grand and beautiful and full of life.

It was not always pleasant, being gifted with so strong a sense of smell. When she had been a cadet at the Academy she’d spent one semester abroad in Tokyo and while there were many fabulous opportunities and experiences that she remembered she could also recall a small restaurant she and her friends used to frequent and once they’d stepped from the sumptuous smells of rich spices and fresh vegetables into the back alley, she was always hit with a pungent smell of garbage mixed with seafood and it almost ruined the experience for her.

She’d learned to control her senses as an adult by that point, but the first time she smelled anything it was always a visceral moment in time for her and she’d come to both expect and dread anything new for that reason. But there was more to her than just her senses. She was an explorer at heart, a scientist and engineer in her mind, and a leader in her actions.

The first time she’d met him was not under the best circumstances. After all, they were technically enemies, she the pursuer, he the pursued. Together they had been thrown into a situation beyond their control, each losing something precious. They’d agreed to work together and she’d trusted him to that point, feeling her way around his personality and leadership style. Yet, as usual, she’d trusted her senses to bring him more clearly into focus.

He smelled different than most other men she met. She was used to the crisp, clean, almost sterile smell of starships and freshly replicated uniforms, a total lack of originality in anyone. Only in her off hours, quiet moments spent with Mark, was there anything different.

But he - he wasn’t anything like Mark. Mark had been comfortable and clean, like lemon polishing oil and house plants and the soft dusky musk of a dog. She’d grown to love and lean on the memories of that scent over the years. Now she was met with something completely unusual.

He didn’t smell wild necessarily, but there was a dangerous edge to him, wrapped carefully in outlandish ideals, incessant spirituality, and a calm demeanor. His scent was old, like a matured wine, mixed with the outdoors, that scent of the rain washed soil she remembered from her childhood, like rocks baked by the sun, and the tangy smell of sea air, wrapped into a slightly rougher package than she was used to. He wasn’t bland like everything on her ship, he was new, marked not only by his decisions and the mark on his face, but by the way he carried himself and the way he fit into his new uniform, supporting her over his own doubts, molding himself into something new for every situation thrown at him.

In her more fanciful moments she imagined his scent was the tangible manifestation of his tribe’s history and his own story, passed down through the centuries and transforming into something both old and new, always controlled by his firm center, but never without the passion and wildness of a people born under the sun and one with the land.

She didn’t examine her feelings that were excited by his presence most of the time. She had more important things on her mind, her ship, her crew, her goal, and her loved ones back home. She didn’t have the luxury of private speculations and longings because she had so many people in her charge and she had to think of all of them before herself.

He helped her do so and she would be forever grateful for that fact. They were opposites, but they were the same, merging two factions and striving to uphold the needs of both. She couldn’t have done as well as she did without his steady presence, his willingness to question her decisions, his backing of her leadership, his ability to change and lead others to do the same. There were some pitched battles some days, some times when he failed to keep her trust, others where his own humanity overwhelmed his good judgment. She could forgive, though sometimes she couldn’t trust again for awhile. She didn’t have the privilege of throwing people away, but nor did she have the privilege of keeping the counsel of those who would not back her. What kept her coming back to him was his constant way of learning and growing and struggling to keep his old ways from destroying the tenuous link they’d built together.

She didn’t let herself think about him more than that even though most of her days were spent with him by her side. They had their morning meetings over replicated coffee, sharing concerns and ideas and small confidences she didn’t realize until much later. She sat at her command position all day long while he sat right beside her through every catastrophe and ship failure and hostile encounter, giving support and advice and jumping in where needed. Most of their meals were spent together as well, forcing down recipes created by a well intentioned friend, rewinding the day and preparing for the next, often joining with their other officers in the holo deck, shooting pool or playing cards.

She always allowed herself the time spent with them because, though a certain distance and respect needed to be kept, they were all a long way from home and she needed human interaction as much as anyone. A captain that slowly went crazy from isolation would not be advisable in their situation. In this he was her buffer, a link to social interaction, but a diluter of inappropriate relationships.

Gradually she realized that her nights were spent dreaming less about home and the comforts and people there, but about her time spent in the Delta Quadrant and her crew, his scent and presence winding through her dreams like an ever constant thread. More than just her personal realization of being more comfortable with her situation gave her cause for alarm, however. Many of the crew had paired off and she was fine with that provided they did their duties well. Several children had been born and more people than just her seemed to be prepared to live the rest of their lives aboard this ship. Less and less opportunities to get home presented themselves and their many detours and stops for repairs hindered their progress. After several years it became apparent that they would have to address the problem of what to do with their lack of people.

They were in a relatively quiet part of the quadrant having long left the violent Kazon and the obsessive Vidians behind, far beyond Borg space and the predatory Hirogen as well. Neelix no longer had much insight to give them as they were well beyond his borders of knowledge, but it did not seem to be much of a problem as most of their interactions with other species were quiet and peaceful or non-existent. It had been months since they’d met anyone, hostile or otherwise. Their only stops were for repairs and food. The crew was growing restless and yet more content and she knew something would need to change. His words to her from years before began to come more often to her mind and she knew the time had arrived to address their personnel problem.

She spoke about it first with him and then with the other officers. Her conversation with him had been stilted, not at all the usual ease she normally felt with him. The topic was an unusual one, after all, but he had agreed with her assessment and offered to help her prepare a report for the crew. They'd worked together silently, not speaking unless to relate some bit of data. It was only afterwards, in her quarters that night, that she'd realized why she was so nervous and uneasy. The realization hadn't come as a shock, it was just unexpected. She still wasn't sure what to do about it or even what the appropriate action would be, but she knew where to start. Opportunity might have presented her with the very push she needed.

Once they'd made their report to the other officers she surveyed their responses. Everyone was both surprised and yet complacent with the idea because she was not the only person to see the problem facing them. Yet it was still awkward and as they made their plans for how to go about replacing themselves she found herself thinking about possibilities she’d never let herself before.

Once they had hashed the matter over completely and ironed out the details they thought would be questions of concern for everyone she made an announcement to the entire crew letting them know they intended to start procreating in order to be able to have people ready to take over for them midway through the journey should it become necessary.

“I realize this is an uncomfortable and potentially awkward situation for everyone involved. Please be advised that we understand your concerns; we have them ourselves. I firmly believe this precaution is necessary, but it in no way undermines my determination to find a way home before then. We have carefully considered all situations aboard our ship. Please feel free to consult with your direct supervisor or the chief medical officer with any concerns. Know that anyone with medical issues in this area has been taken into account and will not be expected to provide the impossible.

If you already have a partner and wish to reproduce with them, that is a welcome opportunity. We want everyone to feel comfortable choosing who they would like to partner with and even if you don’t have someone at the present time but know of someone, please embrace this situation and use it to your advantage. We would ask that within one week everyone report any pairings you have come up with on your own. After that we will pair people based on medical and species compatibility.

If for any reason there is a religious or deeply personal reason you feel you cannot participate in this, please bring those concerns to your supervisor and have them submit them to me and we will do our best to accommodate everyone’s concerns. Also know that there are options for how this will work. You may choose to reproduce in the normal fashion but you are in no way bound to do so, this can be done artificially. If the child bearing person of the pairing does not wish to do so, we have options there as well. This does not have to happen all at once or we will be inundated with responsibility.

Our goal is not to raise Starfleet automatons capable of running the ship. We are calling living beings into existence and we have more than a physical responsibility for these children. Our goal is to be parents, to be a community, to be a piece of the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, as well as a moving colony looking for our true home. Again, while you will be the biological parents of these children it is a huge commitment to thrust upon anyone, and know that we will do everything we can to help raise these children in a loving and stable environment. It will take a village, as the old earth saying goes. None of us can do this alone and none of us will be expected to. I and my officers are prepared to do our part as well and we are working on facilities that will help us birth and raise our offspring. Thank you for your work and your dedication through this hard experience. Janeway out.”

She ended her transmission and looked at the faces of her officers. They were reassuring to her, reassuring her that she was making the right decision.

“Well, this is one project I’m excited about starting,” Tom said, stretching his arms over his head before ducking a swat from the Chief Engineer.

She shook her head, but was grateful to Tom for breaking the tension in the room.
She dismissed them all, asking her first officer to stay behind.

“What can I do for you, Captain?” he asked.

She paused, standing with her hands on the back of her chair.

“Chakotay, we’re going to be working very hard on all the demands and concerns and downright horror some people will have about our decision.”

“Agreed.”

“I know I can count on you to help me dispel the fears the crew will have.”

His face softened and his voice dropped slightly.

“Always.”’

“When you first brought this issue to my attention years ago,” she said, “I told you that the captain didn’t have the luxury of becoming involved with anyone.”

“I remember.”

“But…I cannot ask my crew to do something I am not prepared to do myself,” she said slowly. “I do have to consider carefully the ramifications of my actions, however. I cannot be connected, however impersonal the process may be, to just anyone on my crew. I am above everyone and I have to maintain that authority. Some might deem it inappropriate but I know that there is only one viable person for me to be paired with.”

She ducked her head and breathed in deeply, suddenly drawing in his scent more than she could remember doing in a long time. When she looked up he was standing much more closely to her.

“Permission to speak freely,” he said. She nodded, her mouth suddenly dry. “If you’re asking me what I think you’re asking me, then I would have to say I agree.”

“You do?” she asked, her relief almost palpable.

“Kathryn,” he said, then stopped, “Kathryn, it’s…important you maintain your authority over the crew, but no matter how close I am to you, I can promise you will not lose my respect of your leadership.”

“I appreciate that,” she said wryly, feeling much more comfortable than she had before.

“I would never ask you to do anything you were uncomfortable with,” he said. “Nor would you me, I know that. And…if our time together has taught me anything, it’s that I want you to be able to count on me for anything.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I do.”

“Strange,” he said, smiling, “when you gave me this position I didn’t think anything of it, but now I’m grateful to you, for helping me to change. I don’t know what will happen once we are back in the Alpha Quadrant, but this experience has made me a better person. It has given me a chance at peace that I was never able to grasp; no matter how much I spoke to my spirit guide, no matter how much I tried to avenge my father’s beliefs. I always failed before you.”

“I worried about that,” she said, leaning in closer to him almost unconsciously, “what would happen when we reached home. I can’t give up my past so easily, my ideals, and we have a seventy five year truce, but now I feel neither you nor I will have to worry about our lives before we got here. I don’t think that makes us miss them any less or honor their memory less, but we’ve waited long enough.”

“Long enough?” he asked, his hand moving slowly toward her face, giving her plenty of opportunity to back away.

“Long enough to have the parts of our lives back that we miss the most,” she said, his fingers grazing her cheek and she pressed against them more firmly.

“Kathryn?” he said like a question.

“Yes,” she answered like a statement.

His lips softly touched hers as an invitation and she opened her mouth to him, head swimming with the idea and the doubt and the feel of it all.

It was not a long kiss, more like a promise of a beginning, his hand still cupping her face.

When they broke apart she looked into his eyes and breathed in fully, inhaling the wholeness of how he smelt and imprinting it into her memory, the wild steadiness of him like her childhood hikes and her away missions and her attempts to find her own spirit guide under his tutelage. Rich earth and clean water and all the things she loved about a starship at the same time.

“I take it we’ll be doing this the old fashioned way?” he asked, his small smile quirking up the corners of his mouth.

“I’d be disappointed otherwise,” she said slyly.

“Then I’ll meet you then,” he said, backing away, none of the feelings of affection and comfort dissipating as he did, but more deference and distance becoming apparent in his posture.

“Dismissed,” she said.

He walked out of the room and she sat down at her desk, feeling sensory overload, but this time when he left her presence the scent that he left behind didn’t dispel, but seemed to linger, clinging to her body and clothes and wrapping around her like an embrace. She didn’t think it would ever fully go away and she was finally prepared to live with that the rest of her life.