(Al)one

by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes: Takes place during Year of Hell. Janeway reaches the end...before the end.
Rating: Universal/G

It had been a long few months; the relatively narrow passage of time had battered away at the bodies and spirit of everyone in different ways. There were those who had lost their lives and those they left behind who lost partners and confidantes. Most had lost their confidence and glided through the corridors as though on castors, eyes staring vacantly as their thoughts were dulled to nothing in the wake of constant destruction. Kathryn saw everything mirrored in those she worked most closely with: Harry no longer smiled readily, Tom's knuckles were always white as though his arms were constantly tense, B'Elanna's features were starting to look distinctly pinched and Seven's face was framed by wisps of lank hair that had escaped from the twist she usually tied so tightly. Others were more obviously affected, like Tuvok, who had shielded Seven from a missile blast and woken up in the dark. It pained Kathryn to see him feel his way through the fractured ship, never able to familiarise himself with a landscape that was changing daily under the assault of the Krenim's weapons.

The days went on and there were more losses, more heartache and more sorrow, and it was always harder and harder to soldier on through the war they were faced with every morning. Kathryn was no longer sure whether the end of Krenim territory was in sight her obsession with getting through was too focused to take notice of anything except that particular moment of time, and she had stopped thinking 'when this is over...' because before she could finish one task, something else happened that required her attention and it was impossible to plan ahead or look back. The ship was breaking apart corridors with all the bulkheads intact were becoming an increasingly rare occurrence nowadays, and as time passed the holes grew wider in the deck plating, the flooring and the heart of the crew.

"...His ship was gone there was barely a mast and a few planks, but he got his crew home."
Chakotay was speaking and Kathryn was gazing at a trinket he had handed her without really seeing it somehow as she tried to focus on the ornate pocket watch her surroundings only grew clearer in her vision. She peered at the gift and only saw past the chain while everything else came into prominence. There were her grubby hands, her shabby uniform with its frayed cuffs, the debris strewn across the scorch marks in the carpet and the wiring hanging from the ceiling in straggly bunches. The look of expectation on Chakotay's tired, dirt-streaked face was almost too much to bear, and Kathryn was put in mind of a flower trying to grow amongst the rubble of a ruined building as she averted her gaze quickly. She had promised herself from the first real battle they had had with the Krenim that she would never cry that they would never deserve the energy demanded of that particular emotional response but now there was a bubbling behind her eyes and a gaping ache in her throat with the effort of holding back the flow of tears. She told him coldly to recycle the gift, keeping her head down firmly under the guise of concentrating on the work she was carrying out.

When Kathryn looked up again he was gone and an uncomfortable silence was left in his wake. She ducked her head back down and concentrated hard on the instrument in her hand, squinting until everything around it blurred and wavered and she didn't have to think about anything but the task she was working on.

Later Kathryn made her way through the corridors, skirting around the occasional pile of junk, and came across some forgotten tools that were scattered around an abandoned repair workstation. She stooped to replace the tools in the kitbox and peered at the ceiling. One of the lights was flickering incessantly and it was beginning to give her a headache. Normally such a mundane task would have been performed in the nick of time by one of the junior members of staff, but now... Kathryn took one of the objects out of the box again and stood on a set of steps so that she might set about fixing the light. As she looked for the catch to release the casing she caught sight of the tool in her hand and hesitated, wondering what had happened when whichever crewmember had been there last. Probably the Krenim had attacked and the officer had literally dropped everything and run to his or her workstation. Maybe the battle had lasted beyond the end of their shift. Maybe the task had been long forgotten. Maybe maybe the officer was dead now.

The air in the corridor suddenly seemed very cold and still and the faint buzz of the light was amplified in the quiet. The endless flickering nudged a sharp pain that was needling in and out of her temple and she began to feel a little nauseous. She hadn't so much as thought about fixing a corridor light for a very long time years, in fact. The longer she stood the waves of sickness grew, and as she felt like she was about to retch she wrenched the casing away and almost dislodged the whole fixture in her haste to find the problem. Some of the circuitry had come loose and she tightened the wiring with a few deft twists. The light stopped flickering, she replaced the cover and stepped down to observe her handiwork. The thud of her boot on the floor seemed much louder than usual, and she realized that she hadn't seen anyone at all in the ten minutes since she'd left the Bridge. At some point in the past she could remember one of the senior staff asserting that it was impossible to keep a secret on the ship there were too many people in a small space. The general atmosphere in the room following the comment had been one of grudging agreement, but she had never been particularly bothered by the fact. She liked the sense of community that was intrinsically linked with the Voyager shipmates even if her status as Captain left her feeling a little detached sometimes, she enjoyed seeing the others interact and bond and she was proud to call them her crew.

Pride was something she had jettisoned quickly when the struggle to keep Voyager afloat had begun. Pride, courtesy, manners she winced as the hurt, angry expression she had been determined not to see in Chakotay's eyes resurfaced once more they had all been thrown aside, bouncing off the bulkheads like so many of her possessions. After the first month she had stopped sweeping up the debris from her shattered belongings, and soon after that she had collected up the few items in her quarters that had managed to survive the onslaught of attacks, bundled them up among the wool in her old knitting bag, wedged them into the smallest drawer she could find and never returned to her quarters. By that point she was constantly on edge and falling asleep was starting to feel like fainting, so it was immaterial to her where she happened to snatch those dwindling hours of blessed unconsciousness. A fallen beam in her ready room had created a crawl space that was more than suitable for the purpose.
That night, however, Kathryn couldn't settle and lay in the confined space with aching limbs and unblinking eyes. It had already gone midnight, and she dimly thought that once upon a time she used to lie awake to watch the chronometer flip over to her birthday and she'd smile to herself in the dark and settle down to sleep, knowing that in the morning her mother would call, she would take a half-day at work, she'd go out for dinner with Mark...Did Chakotay really want her to celebrate the day that she had begun her life when it all amounted?

Kathryn stood before his door and hesitated. Half the consoles on that deck had stopped working and most crewmembers had taken to leaving emergency actuators permanently clamped to their doors to facilitate their release. It was something they had all joked about at first, but then later everything had just stopped being funny. It was hard to see the humour in their situation and more energy than it was worth to force a laugh.

She knocked on the door with some trepidation. There was a scuffle within, then a scrape as the doors were forced apart. Chakotay's face appeared in the gap, looking solemn.
"Can I come in?" She asked, pulling at a tear in her uniform sleeve guiltily.
He stood aside and let her enter. After he had pulled the doors to he looked at her, expression impassive but still retaining an echo of the disappointment he had endured earlier in the day. Kathryn stood and opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come. She began to feel a tightness in her throat and a welling behind her eyes, and she could only think, 'Not here; not now' to will her emotions away from the surface.

"Sit down," Chakotay said simply, and she forgot about trying to suppress tears when he sat down on the floor by a low table. She eased herself down next to him and leaned against the padded surface of something that looked like it might have once been his armchair.
"I'm sorry for earlier. I'm sorry I was so rude. It was a coward's way of saying I couldn't bear to accept the gift. It was such a beautiful gesture, and I don't deserve it."
Chakotay didn't say anything, but gave a half-smile that didn't reach his eyes and patted her hand loosely in a way that told her he accepted her apology but probably disagreed with something still. She looked around his dank quarters, lit by a single soft light salvaged from somewhere. It didn't flicker, but it was about as close to a candle as possible. She was thankful that it provided enough light to allow her to see his expression, but was still dim enough to cloak the worst of the damage if she deliberately didn't look too hard. She let out a breath slowly, concentrating on the small light and was suddenly reminded of Tuvok's meditation lamps. The ability to switch off and quieten the mind was a concept that seemed very attractive to her at that moment.

"Can you help me with a vision quest?" She asked abruptly. Chakotay glanced at her, but she couldn't interpret the look on his face.
"Yes, but it will probably be difficult," He answered carefully, "The atmosphere recently hasn't exactly been conducive to attaining a state of deep concentration." He reached under the table and retrieved his medicine bundle, his movements a little hesitant for reasons she couldn't quite fathom.

She almost wished she hadn't done a vision quest before so that he could guide her fingers to the akoonah and give her an excuse to touch him; to think about something that wasn't primal and instinctive. Sometimes she recalled the days when she would think about him about whether his actions towards her meant anything and whether it was appropriate to respond and it all seemed so trivial and girlish when the previous day she had had to dodge a falling support beam while she worked out how to defend a ship that was rapidly losing functionality in even the most basic systems. Was it really only a few months ago when they would eat together every week and have to recycle the leftovers? These days she had no appetite and only forced down the minimum amount of rations to lessen the hunger pains gnawing at her gut and keeping her awake. The stress was taking its toll and she had already had to grudgingly swallow a couple of vile-tasting nutritional supplements from the Doctor a couple of times a week in the last month, the guilt of having to use the replicator for such a purpose bothering her as much as the growing prominence of her ribs and collarbones in the mirror when she moved.

Kathryn placed her fingers on the akoonah and was instantly swept under by a wave of soundless oblivion. She was vaguely aware of the floor beneath her knees, but apart from that her mind was pleasantly empty as she waited for...something, she couldn't remember what. Chakotay's voice echoed in the quiet space of her mind, smoothly drawing her under to the mental state where she encountered her spirit guide previously. She regarded her surroundings almost lazily, feeling drunk on her enjoyment of the peace that her meditative state brought. She couldn't recall having felt so wonderfully calm the last time they had tried a vision quest, but all too soon she was anxious that the feeling was going to end. Chakotay's voice continued, but she wasn't really listening to the words anymore and she had forgotten about her spirit guide altogether.
"Can I see you?" Kathryn asked, her eyes wide open and searching blindly for his figure to match the voice. There was a pause.
"It would offend your spirit guide if I were to enter your vision."
"Oh." She wasn't sure why she had asked. Perhaps because when she looked down at her hands they seemed so clean. The skin wasn't chapped and the dozens of tiny cuts and nicks that stung when they reopened constantly weren't there. Her uniform wasn't mended twice over or bagging at the knees and elbows, and her surroundings weren't shrouded in the shadowy wake of conflict. Her eyes still scanned the landscape desperately; maybe it was too light for someone accustomed to running in the dark for so long. The colours in her vision muted and swirled.
"Kathryn, concentrate," Chakotay's voice came gently.
"I..." She realised she was looking for something some kind of threat, the danger that was surely just beyond view behind the horizon. Where were the Krenim? Why was she so far from the Bridge?

Her vision went black and she blinked rapidly, but there was still no light. A moment later she opened her eyes and came to realise that she was back in the shell of what used to be Chakotay's quarters, lying flat on her back. The dimness suddenly couldn't hide the blackened, bruised appearance of the bulkheads and her regret settled amongst so many fallen objects.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay's face appeared above her and he helped her back to a sitting position.
"I'm fine. What happened?" She asked, feeling dazed.
"The akoonah lost power. I'm sorry." Chakotay's voice was mechanical, and she couldn't look at him.
"There was hardly enough energy for a minute or two. You can't have been using it for..." Kathryn tried to think back to when they had been able to allocate power for anything but essential systems and couldn't remember. She knew all too well that Chakotay would have been cutting back well before any official announcement to conserve their resources had been issued.
"Can you enter a trance without it?"
He sighed.
"It's possible, but difficult. It takes time and elevated concentration levels."

Kathryn bit the inside of her cheek. She had barely been able to relax enough to sit down in recent weeks and could hardly manage to focus on more than a page at a time of the book she had in her makeshift bed in the ready room. She felt overcome by a mixture of fatigue and disappointment and lay back down again. Chakotay leaned over and lay next to her with his head propped up on his elbow, but she was fixated on the swirling blackness of the ceiling beyond the light's reach.
"You said my spirit guide would be offended, but not that you couldn't enter my vision," She said, hope fading before it could reach her voice.
"I can help a family member or someone I've developed a particularly deep relationship with. We don't have that kind of bond," He said, his voice quiet.
"We don't." We won't, she thought, thinking suddenly of the occasion early on in the year when she had angrily thrown a half-burnt book into the recycler before remembering that a rose he had given her had been pressed into its pages. There wouldn't be any more flowers or dinners or petals drying between the leaves of stories of hope and promise.

"We're not going to get out of this, are we?" It wasn't the first time she had thought it, but had never dared voice it before. It was all boiling down to one thing, but in a sense it had always been that way they were once one crew, and then they were being whittled away one after the other. They had discussed evacuating most of the personnel and operating the ship with a skeleton crew, but it had never seemed real before; it seemed like such a drastic, unnecessary step. It was like when she had gotten her own place after graduating from the Academy and her parents insisted she draw up a will. She could remember begrudging the task at the time, because it seemed like such a pointless exercise 'I'll be dead anyway,' she had complained to her boyfriend at the time, but only now she could see that in some way she had actually thought she would never die. After her partner lost his life in a shuttle accident she moved out immediately, some small part of her afraid that her own selfish assertions had somehow shifted the balance of mortality between them, and it had taken until now to realise that this had been nullified. The risk of death was practically in every waking moment now, and she thought of all the material things that held no value for her anymore, realising that they were nothing compared to the bonds between herself and her loved ones...

Loved ones...
She pulled some cushions across the gritty carpet to act as pillows and lay on her side with Chakotay at her back, feeling him settle his arm over hers, drawing her hand in tightly towards her body and lacing their fingers together. She matched her breathing to his, feeling that if she could bind him to her then perhaps they'd be able to last a little longer. It wouldn't be enough to sustain the shattering ship, but for now it could bolster her to get through the splintering night and into the fractured horror of a new day...

In the morning she felt as though something was about to happen, and had pressed her lips to his softly in the moment before the inevitable red alert warning began to sound. They ran to the Bridge in silence, and later on it was without the slightest trace of surprise that she watched Chakotay vanish before her eyes. It was too much to expect that there could be any extension to their time together already too brief to feel any heat flare between them as he returned her kiss and in that instant he was just yet another part of her life that had been ripped away, with nothing to suggest his presence except some disturbed dust and a vacant command chair that no one would occupy.

Without him she could feel herself start to erode the heartache taking on a literal pain when inhaling toxic fumes tore the fibres in her lungs, and when she insisted they take a stand against the Krenim she saw her subordinates' respect for her start to flake and crumble, reflected in the deadened eyes exchanging significant glances when they thought she wasn't looking. Voyager was losing power and so was she, and in the night she could feel her waist shrinking away from an arm that would never coil round her protectively again; the skin he had warmed had melted and scarred against the heat of the fire she had battled against to restore power to vital systems. The ache of tensed muscles in the evening and the resulting stiffness in the morning blurred into a continuous burning agony, while the hands of the pocket watch slowed to a faltering stop and neither sleep nor tears would come as she clutched one of Chakotay's abandoned, fraying cushions beneath her splitting headache.

On the day when the final plan was formulated, in some dark crevice of migraine she could hear her conversation with him. He had suggested they split up and she had flatly refused, reasoning that they were better off staying together. One crew, one ship...
And then there was...one will, one mind? Only her thoughts were so divided now.

That day it wasn't that the end was any closer than it had been twelve months ago. She had already stretched this finale beyond comprehension one crew on one ship had seemed frightening at the beginning of their journey in the Delta Quadrant and she had never imagined that 'one' on Voyager could be anything but collective, but reaching year one of this battle represented the buildup of time and the loss of everything else, and 'one' now was a single woman on half a ship gliding on a stolen breath. It was the end of the year in the year of the end, and she was one...the last one...the only one
...(al)one.
 

- End -

Additional notes: Once upon a time I vowed not to touch Year of Hell, as I used to watch it obsessively when I was younger and I feel it's been kind of done to death in the fandom. So maybe it's a little odd that I chose this as the fic to finish up after a long hiatus, but I know that the next one I finish will be a bit fluffier so this was a welcome break. Thank you for reading!

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