Disclaimer: Paramount's characters, because in no universe would they would do this.
Author's note: For Lori. Because I owed her and this is what she asked for.
"She's not your type."
Kayva makes the statement without trepidation.
It's an interesting opening to a conversation. The two of us, in my office, surrounded by the trappings of our rank, ostensibly here to talk about diplomatic matters.
"I did not realize that I had asked you for an opinion," I tell him easily. He sits in front of me, the wide mahogany desk separating us. He has come prepared for this meeting with no less than seven PADDs worth of material, all of which he has unceremoniously deposited on my desk. I try to remember when I became a paper-pusher, when had I thought that a promotion to admiral would be better than diplomatic feinting required of a starship captain?
"Everyone is talking about the two of you," Kayva continues, unabashed. I give him what I think is my most stern expression.
"Let them talk," I say.
"I just thought you'd want to know. Admiral-" Kayva leans forward, an expression of concern on his face- "because I know you don't pay attention to office gossip."
"For good reason. Other people's personal lives are none of my business. Or yours, for that matter."
Kayva shrugs. "I apologize, Admiral." He says it in such a way that I know he really isn't sorry.
"Did we have business to discuss?" I ask.
"Yes, of course," Kayva says. He pushes one PADD towards me. "We'll start here, Admiral. The Andorians are requesting arbitration regarding the new tariffs."
I take the PADD and settle back into the seat. As I read the details of the Andorians' complaint, I'm aware of Kayva's eyes on me. The expression on his face leave no doubt about whom he's thinking of. I press my lips into a thin line. I cannot stop thinking of her myself.
I call her Kathryn, she calls me nothing at all. Six months, and she still refuses to call me by name. Somehow, she manages to phrase every comment, every question, in such a way that shows our relationship isn't personal to her; not the way it is to me.
But she lives in my house now. After the first night together - after a particularly tedious Starfleet reception - we had stumbled our way here. She's never left.
She doesn't like the condo in Sausalito that Starfleet arranged for her. It's all lines and geometric shapes, and she doesn't have the time or the inclination to change it. She says she likes my townhouse, with its classical English touches, the hint of French provence, its sense of history. It appeals to her Traditionalist upbringing, she says.
Sometimes, I wonder if she's flattering me, if she's saying the words to please me.
I am the admiral, she's the captain.
Yes, sometimes, I wonder.
Dinner is waiting for me when I get home. Kathryn has become quite adept at the replicator, programming it with increasingly exotic creations. One of these days, she says wistfully, she wants a kitchen, a large kitchen with a bay window overlooking the Pacific. I tell her that I can't see her in that setting and she seems surprised by the comment.
"You're an adventurer," I told her, "in pursuit of a scientific truth, whatever that means to you. I'm not sure you can find that kind of happiness in the kitchen."
"I don't know that I can either," she said. "But I didn't realize that that was the kind of happiness other people wanted."
She always talks of Voyager in the most vague terms. She won't tell me what happened, won't let me meet her former crew. It's in the past, she always says, and this is her new life, her new beginning.
I'm wondering if I'm just a crutch for her, a way of starting something that has nothing to do with emotion.
In that sense we're perfect for each other.
"You look beautiful," I tell her as she passes by me. I hate the way she asks me to sit while she sets the steaming plates on the table. Her hair skims past her shoulders now, its highlights burnished red in the soft glow of the chandelier. She's wearing a black dress today, smooth, flowing, and a simple gold chain around her neck. She looks nothing like the captain she is. Not for the first time, it occurs to me that she is playing a part, acting out a scene in a drama where distant shadows and memories join me as participants. It makes me uneasy and that's not a feeling I'm used to.
"Thank you," she says. She leans over to kiss me on the cheek. The kiss is dry, almost furtive, and she pulls away almost immediately. "Tell me about your day."
"You don't want to hear about my day," I tell her. "It's the usual, meetings from morning to afternoon."
"You really need to introduce some variety into your day," Kathryn says. Her lips turn up as she takes the seat in front of me. Her left hand rests gently on the table. "After all, you are the famous Jean-Luc Picard." Her tone is slightly mocking. "They really should treat you better."
"We don't always get what we deserve."
"Or perhaps we do."
She stares at me intently. "Look at us, two people without a starship.
says we aren't made for each other?"
I put my fork down. "Is that what this is all about?"
Kathryn doesn't look at me as she breaks her garlic bread in half. "I was at Headquarters today and they asked about you." She doesn't define 'they' but I know what - or rather, who - she means. "I don't know what the fascination with other people's personal lives are. Perhaps, they think we're public property." She looks at me now, her eyes bright. "That we belong to them because once we did command starships."
"Or maybe they wonder what I see in you."
"I wonder that myself." The words slip out before I can stop them. Kathryn has made me careless in recent months. I tend to speak more quickly these days, more passionately. I don't know whether to thank her or curse her for this abrupt change in my personality.
"That's easy," she says calmly. "You are reliable, a man of integrity, one of great learning, intelligence. You understand me the way others really haven't tried to. You know the boundaries, you know the restraints. You never push even though you have every right to." She leans forward, her left hand reaching out to cover mine. "You are a great man, Jean-Luc Picard."
"You sound like you're introducing me to a room full of academics," I complain.
"And you? If you had to explain what draws you to me?"
I ponder this question carefully. Her eyes glisten, and I wonder if it has taken her more effort to ask this question than I thought. It occurs to me that Kathryn Janeway is vulnerable in ways I never supposed.
"Some of the same qualities," I say. "You are intelligent, dignified. We share some of the same interests." I smile, recalling lazy Sunday afternoons when we would burrow up on opposite ends of the couch, reading through classic literature, or when we spent hours at the Modern Museum of Art. On those days, we are never at a loss for words. "I have tremendous respect for you."
Kathryn smiles. "Respect. That's an interesting word choice."
She pushes away her empty plate. "Maybe I want more than that."
"Maybe I want what everyone else has, what they can have."
I want to tell her that she can, if she'll only let me. I want to tell her that the choice is hers, that she only has to let down her guard and let me in. But I don't say these things because she starts clearing away the table, ignoring my protests to leave the dirty dishes; we'll deal with them in the morning.
"Let me help you," I say, picking up the main entree dish. She stops me, her grip on my wrist steel-tight.
"I can do this," she says. Her voice trembles. "Please."
So I retire to the living room, listening to the dishes clink in the background.
I ask her one day what she's afraid of. I tell her that if it's space she wants, she can have her pick of starships, her choice of plum assignments. If she wants to be an admiral, she only has to say the word. The promotion had been offered once, she declined it. I asked her then what she had been afraid of.
"Maybe I don't need anything more than what I've already had," she said calmly. "Maybe I had the best command experience of my life and I don't want anything more."
I stopped short of calling her a liar.
Now she stares at me, her eyes unfocused.
"That will have to do," she says finally.
I am frustrated. "What? *What* will have to do?"
Kathryn curls tightly into the corner of the sofa, as if she's trying to put distance between us. The white of her sweater, the black of her leggings, her hair curling around her finely chiseled face - I take this all in an almost deliberate and distant way.
"A new command, a promotion, whatever." She waves her hand carelessly. She looks at me now, her eyes suddenly soft with emotion. "Did you have to choose?"
"Yes," I tell her. My throat feels rough, my voice scratchy. "And no, it wasn't easy."
"I can either be in Starfleet or I can have a personal life." Kathryn's tone is contemplative. She reaches over to run her fingers over the back of my hand. "I'm more used to one than the other."
"You've certainly been trying for the latter," I tell her.
Kathryn nods. "Not so successfully either."
"I wouldn't say that. You've worked hard at it, Kathryn, but I don't think it makes you happy."
She lifts her chin almost defiantly. I sense she wants to argue with me, to tell me that yes, her job behind a desk performing administrivia for Starfleet is indeed what she has always wanted to do. She's gotten so good at lying to me. But then her expression softens.
"It's getting difficult," she says. "Each day, it's harder."
"I know," I say. I lean over to touch her cheek gently. "Don't worry about me, Kathryn. You do what you need to do." It takes a tremendous effort to say the words, but it's worth it; the tension that has lingered at the edges of Kathryn's eyes and the corners of her mouth dissipates.
Kathryn sighs. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I understand."
"I know you do." She looks at me. "Why don't they tell us this in command school? Why don't they tell us that we end up this way?"
"It comes so gradually that you don't realize what it is at first," I tell her gently. "And you accept loneliness as just another part of the life you've chosen."
Kathryn's lips press into a thin smile. "I forget that you have gone through the same thing. And I'm afraid, I haven't made it easy on you." Her hands are warm against my cheeks. "If I ask for another assignment, everything will change."
"But you're ready for it," I tell her. "It's been a year since Voyager came back." Without thinking, I add, "I'll miss you."
She wraps her arms around me. "Nothing can ever compare to Voyager," she says. "I think I've been afraid to try because I don't want to be disappointed. But I also know I can't be here. It's not fair to you and after all you've done for me, I want to be fair."
I hold her, my face buried in the curve of her neck. I don't tell her how much she has done for me, how grateful I've been that she's chased away the shadows of night, the loneliness from the corners of my life. This quiet in my life is not something I've ever admitted to anyone, not even to Beverly Crusher.
We lie together in darkness on our last night together. She's wearing sheer white, a nightgown which leaves nothing to imagination as she straddles my hips. I stare at her as she moves above me, my eyes memorizing every detail of her face. I commit to memory the curl of hair, the sweep of cheekbone, the sharp angle of her jaw. I memorize the way her eyes slightly glaze over as she leans over me, her breath warm against my cheek.
I tell her that she's beautiful and she smiles, a little sadly.
"Tell me again," she whispers. "So I don't forget what this feels like."
I roll her over, my hand on the curve of her breast.
"I'll be back," she says, but we both know she's lying.
"I'll be waiting," I tell her as I lean down to kiss her.
~ end ~
Read the DVD commentary on this story here.
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