Note: This one is for Lori and Jerie. The pairing was their idea and as Lori says, I'm incorrigible.
It was because of what he said. He lowered his voice, tipped his head towards me slightly and then said, "It must have been hard for you."
I stared at him, biting down on my lower lip. In the background, voices faded into indistinct murmurs, punctuated by the occasional clink of glass and silverware.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like for you. To be all alone out there," he continued.
I wondered what he must think of me, staring at him like a gap-toothed fish.
"You understand," I said, almost in surprise, even though I shouldn't have been. My voice quivered just slightly and then I recovered my composure. He looked at me intently, those intelligent eyes narrowing just a bit. "You know what it was like?"
"Better than you think," he said. His voice was calm, evenly modulated, and his strength drew me in. His hand brushed against my thigh and I realized I couldn't remember the last time someone had touched me.
No one saw us when we slipped out. It had been my idea to leave so we could continue our conversation in private, but I could tell he was relieved by our early exit.
"I understand that too," he said, confirming my observation. "The attention. Congratulations, Captain, you're a hero." But his voice was tinged with cynicism and as we walked through the dark streets of San Francisco, I wondered about this man, about whom I only knew about from laudatory Starfleet press releases and gushing news articles.
"You're not what I expected," I told him finally as he entered the security code to his townhouse.
"What did you expect then?" he seemed amused. The door swung open and he stepped aside to let me pass. This type of chivalry, yes, that was indeed expected from Jean-Luc Picard.
I shrugged. "Not you, that's for sure."
"If it makes you feel better, Captain-"
"Kathryn," I emphasized my name, hoping in a way to bridge the formality of rank between us. After all, he had one pip more than me adoring his collar.
"Kathryn, then." Picard switched on the lights. I didn't say anything, but at that moment, I fell. There is something about the Traditionalist style of living that has always appealed to me - a throwback to my childhood, I suppose. "As I was saying, Kathryn -" he laid stress on my name - "you aren't what I expected either."
"Few people ever are," I said quietly. I stood in the middle of his living room, taking in the wall shelves covered with leather-spined novels and the large, comfortable sofas covered in a red velvety material. A piano stood in the corner, a light sheen of dust covering it. The floor was covered with a rich oriental carpet in warm shades of dark blue, burgundy and brown.
"Would you like something to drink?" Picard asked. Already, he was pouring a rich red liquid into a wine glass. He held it up. "Merlot. 2370. A fine vintage, the last from the Pesiach Vineyards. The Maquis laid waste to the planet shortly afterwards." The sneer in his voice was audible.
"They weren't our enemies," I said. How many times had I repeated this same phrase in the past few weeks? "The Maquis, that is. They were simply fighting for their homes."
Picard poured himself a drink. "Your Maquis crew served you loyally for seven years. I don't see how you could say anything differently. But you understand, my perspective is different, of course."
"Of course." My throat felt dry, scratchy.
"You can't fault loyalty," Picard said slowly. He held out the wine glass to me. "Even from terrorists."
My hand trembled as I clutched the wine glass. Picard looked at me expectantly, and swallowing hard, I sipped the wine. "It's good," I said finally.
Picard stared at me. "That's all you can say?"
I shrugged. "Dry, full-bodied, fruity... Sorry. I don't consider myself an expert on wines."
Picard indicated the sofa. "Shall we sit?"
I edged to one side of the sofa, he directly opposite from me. I watched the muscles in his jaw as he sipped the wine, watched the way his eyes fluttered slightly and then, the slight shudder as he inhaled deeply.
"I guess you like it," I observed wryly.
"One of my vices," he said. "Other than Risa, of course." This last statement he said with a sly grin.
I put my wine glass down. "You've been to Risa?"
"You sound disbelieving."
"Forgive me." I got up. "You don't seem to be the type."
"Nor do you."
"Hmmm..." I said. I stopped directly in front of him. "That makes one more thing we have in common."
Picard's fingers curled around my wrist as he pulled me down to his lap. One hand snaked its way behind my neck, pulling me close.
"They must have needed you so much," he said quietly.
I couldn't stop myself. I kissed him.
In the morning, I rolled across the bed, the crisp linen sheets tangled between my legs. I stared at the man lying there. Jean-Luc Picard, the legendary captain, the epitome of self-control and dignity, the very persona of culture... damn. I closed my eyes.
"Did I wake you?" his voice was scratchy with sleep.
"No," I said, startled. I raised myself on one arm. "Do you think they missed us at the reception? After we left?"
Picard glanced at me amusedly. "Do you really think that reception was for you?"
"You really know how to make a girl feel good," I told him. I fell back against the pillow. "I was just wondering."
"I meant what I said last night," Picard said quietly. He rolled towards me, his hand cupping my right cheek. His touch was cool, but soft. "To captain a starship is truly a solitary experience."
I stared into those clear eyes. "Yes." I didn't dare to say more, not without allowing those emotions, bubbling so close to the surface, to break through finally. Picard readjusted his position slightly, drawing me close to him.
"I know all about you," he said confidently.
"You do?" I couldn't help but smile at the tinge of arrogance in his voice.
"You're an open book, Kathryn Janeway," he said. My name rolled off his tongue deliciously and I leaned in to place a gentle whisper of a kiss against his cheek.
"My mother warned me about that once," I mused. "She told me that anyone could tell what I was thinking just by looking at me."
"That is true," Picard said thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose I know what happened."
"You do?" Try as I might, I couldn't keep the cynicism out of my voice.
"You fell in love," he said softly. "With someone on your crew perhaps?"
Once again, my lower lip betrayed me. "Perhaps."
"I know about that unnecessary emotion as well," Picard whispered. He stroked my cheek lightly, pushing away a curl of hair. "Don't worry, I won't pry because I sense that it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. And now, as a consequence, Starfleet will assign you a to a deep space mission. But I suppose you requested that posting, that it wasn't quite involuntary?"
"Yes. News travels fast." I shifted my position slightly. "I guess I thought..."
"You wanted to get as far away from Voyager as possible," Picard said. I shivered.
"How do you do that?" I asked softly. I ran my hands down his back, relishing in the feel of skin against skin. "How do you know what I'm thinking?"
"I was a captain once," he said. His lips were warm against my neck. "I agree with you. Escape is an attractive option."
"Yes," I whispered. I pressed my face into the curve between his neck and shoulder. "But I didn't think it was-"
"Yes." I stretched slightly, curving myself against him. "But it's more than an escape," I said. My fingers curled into a fist reflexively. "I'm starting over."
"I thought that might be the case," Picard said. He looked down at me intently. "I've wished for a new beginning myself."
My breath caught in my throat. "You?" It seemed impossible to me that Picard could want anything less than the glory that was lavished on him. He seemed to wear his honors - his reputation - like a second skin, his elegance and dignity permeating every pore of his body. And I desperately wished I could carry myself with the same rectitude as Jean-Luc Picard, but I knew, oh I knew, how far away - how desperate - that longing was.
"Yes." He looked pensive. "But it is impossible when you are considered a legend."
And I knew, from the tone of his voice, that it wasn't arrogance that caused him to say this, but more simply the stating of fact.
"I wish you well," he continued. His fingers were gentle against my collarbone. "But it won't be easy."
"Many things are hard," I said sharply, "but in the end I survive. That's what I do. I'm not going to be cowed by anyone or anything."
"You can't surrender to emotion."
"And people - their motives, you cannot dismiss those. Allowing yourself to get close to them, it can be fatal."
"I understand," I said, an edge of frustration and exasperation creeping into my voice. "You think I don't understand all this? I was a captain - the only Starfleet captain in the Delta Quadrant and I survived. And I did it following Starfleet regulations as best as I could, even though I did command a ship full of terrorists as the purists call my Maquis crew members. I'm not an ingenue, Admiral."
Picard stared down at me, his expression hard, almost cold and unfeeling. And then suddenly, his aquiline features softened and relaxed.
"They didn't miss you last night," Picard whispered. He curled a strand of my hair around his finger. "I'm sorry."
I closed my eyes as his breath warmed my skin.
~ the end ~
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