Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated it is owned by CBS/Paramount
Summary: Takes place during Hunters. How the letters from the Alpha Quadrant affect and influence the command team.
This isn’t really how I’d normally preface a fic, but I had a definite mood board for this one…these are two of the kinds of images I had in my head while writing:
Rating: Universal. Bordering on PG, maybe...
Optimism could be a very dangerous thing, Captain Janeway reflected moodily as she stared out of the large viewports in her ready room. Usually looking out at space was calming; she had always liked that the view was a vast emptiness that at the same time encompassed the sum of billions of worlds, cultures and concepts. Casting her eye over the scattered expanse of the cosmos usually excited her imagination and her work allowed her to explore her natural curiosity in a practical context, but today the comfort that that thought usually offered was as distant as the writer of the letter on the padd she held loosely in her hand. The euphoria that had manifested itself at the first hint of contact with Earth since they had become stranded in the Delta Quadrant had turned bittersweet, and as she stood silently at the viewport her outlook soured until she turned away in disgust. There was nothing to focus on outside and, where normally she would have formulated something in her mind, there was a flat grey slate that had been wiped clean by the words on the padd.
Kathryn began to read through it again. Mark's letter had begun sweetly enough. She wondered how long he had spent writing it – if he had written it in a single draft or agonised over the words and changed things around so as not to appear too familiar – and how it compared to other letters he had sent her. When she tried to think of his typical writing style, though, she drew a blank and couldn't actually recall the specifics of any written messages he had sent her beyond "I got you the dog toys/gardening materials you asked for". Maybe he was too practical. He certainly got straight back to business as regards his love life, she thought spitefully and immediately regretted it. Kathryn's eyes travelled to the end table beside the long sofa in the ready room. Nowadays there was a vase with flowers and a small stone sculpture on its surface but, as beautiful as the stone carving was, she could never quite appreciate it fully because she had always felt touched by guilt that it had replaced Mark's holophoto years ago. At that time she had told herself that it was too painful to look at his image every day and perhaps that had been true once, but it hadn't been the case for a long time. When she had been on her way to read the letter – probably not ten minutes ago – she had felt nervous and jittery, but not quite in the same way she had when she and Mark were together. The knots in her stomach didn't really begin to approach the pleasant butterflies of years gone past and they had only tightened after she finished reading, because it was the end. Regardless of whether he had consciously done it, the end stretched beyond the closing paragraph and his signature and effectively signalled the demise of their contact, as well. That much was clear; the letter was polite and friendly, but there was a measured distance in the tone and it was clear he didn't expect a response. During their second year in the Delta Quadrant Kathryn had worried when she began to realise that the strained grinning face in the handful of holophotos she had of him was the only image that sprang to mind whenever she thought of him. She had often teased him about the frozen, unnatural expression, he would only reply with a laugh that he would never be photogenic...and now the way he really looked came to her only after some thought.
Mark hadn't even occurred to her when the decision was made to stay on New Earth a few years ago. There hadn't been a last night on Voyager to consider everything she was giving up in having to spend the rest of her life there: she had returned to Voyager after the away mission, fallen ill after her duty shift the next day and she was hardly aware of anything until she woke up on the planet's surface along with Chakotay and was informed of the situation. After that the practicalities of transferring command and preparing for a long-term stay on the planet had taken up all of her energy and the concept of the real Earth was secondary to her objective to research and find a cure for their virus so they could leave. After that possibility was effectively destroyed by a storm that rendered all of her equipment useless, she felt cut loose and wandered in the woods for a few hours the next day, feeling her inclination flapping in the breeze without anything to ground it. The rest of her life on a planet with no prospects was daunting when she had never had any absence of goals to work towards. As a young child she had been determined to master simple mathematics, and when she grew older she aimed for Starfleet Academy. Then it was about completing her training, then moving up through the ranks, exploring space...and then it was about traversing an uncharted region with the ultimate target of Earth hovering in the distance when there was nothing interesting immediately in the vicinity. Kathryn had struggled with the concept of living without purpose and slept little that night, contemplating if she could consider herself to really be alive when at that point there was – literally, lying in the pitch-black room – nothing to focus on. She lay not feeling the blankets arranged around her, imagining herself slipping into nothingness, the image dissolving when she heard a stir in the next room...
Perhaps she too had been too practical, Kathryn reasoned. At some point she had grown too accustomed to putting thoughts of Mark out of her mind whenever they arose. That seemed the best way to deal with it all – think about it later when it's easier to bear, when time has passed...when the wound wasn't as fresh. It was easier to bundle everything up and stash it away out of sight, and it would only surface now and then to tug at her heartstrings unpleasantly when things happened, when Earth seemed too far away – or someone got too close.
Down in Engineering, Chakotay wanted to disappear. Fade away, pass through the bulkheads, evaporate into soundless space and forget all about this awful day. He was completely unprepared for the volume of devastation contained in the few scant paragraphs of his letter from Earth and somehow speaking with B'Elanna was even worse than the first time he had read it. In relating the news to her he had to retell the tragedy, watch its effect on a dear friend and attempt to answer the questions she flung at him with more intensity and feeling than he had ever seen her demonstrate. Her disbelief, her anger, her incredulity and her grief were so deep that he almost felt he had to personally account for all that had happened when he was barely aware of all the facts himself.
"...they may not have been model Starfleet officers, but they were good people, Chakotay! They fought for what they believed in, and they were willing to give up everything for the sake of it! They were oppressed; we were turned upon by our own people because we had the courage to stand up for what was right! Honesty, bravery, morality – how could they be punished for that with their lives?!"
'I KNOW!', Chakotay wanted to bellow back at her, wanted to cover his ears and yell to drown out the way she put into shrill words everything that was hurting him and more. It was too much to have this external torrent of emotion bombard the torment he already felt on the inside and he could hardly bear to even look at B'Elanna, knowing that as usual everything in her heart was working its way across her brow, spouting from her lips, dripping down her cheeks...
He could scarcely recall seeking out and talking with the other former Maquis members. There was more indignation, more tears, more anger and it was as though every rebel's voice that had been silenced forever was brought to life again through the reaction of his crewmembers. As much as Chakotay respected and admired the former Maquis, he began ever so slightly to resent the hot-headedness apparent in so many crewmembers that led them to direct their responses to the news at him, a messenger riddled with countless bullets and arrows that drained everything from him.
Chakotay was alone with Kathryn in her ready room after the end of the next torturous shift. She managed to worm the truth out of him without even trying when she commented vaguely that most of the crewmembers were elated about the letters they were receiving. He rattled off the news he had received in a monotone and watched her raise her hand to her mouth in shock. She had then stretched her arms about his shoulders and held him close for a second or two, whispering an 'I'm sorry'. He was caught completely off-guard by the quiet response and squinted a little against the rushing feeling that overcame his senses.
"How are you bearing up?" She asked, surveying him critically.
Chakotay opened his mouth to speak, and then stopped.
"You're the first to ask. I don't know," He said finally.
She spoke to him softly about it and for the first time he felt as though he could begin to work through the experience and handle his response to it. They ended up lying head to head on the sofa in her ready room, as they occasionally did while working out complex agreements or speeches. Knowing that she was lying inches behind him, he was able to talk freely without looking for something in her expression and there was something intimate and yet quite innocent about their proximity to one another.
"Should I speak to B'Elanna about it?" Kathryn asked after a few moments of silence.
"Maybe not yet. She's throwing herself into work at the moment."
"She asked me if she could take over the letter processing while Seven of Nine regenerates," She mused, "I could tell something was troubling her."
"Didn't you receive a letter?" He asked.
There was a pause.
"...later." Kathryn murmured, shifting slightly, "I can hardly believe the news about the Cardassians' ally and the scale of the war in the Alpha Quadrant. I mean, it sounds crazy, but I had a little trouble comprehending that time had passed back in the Alpha Quadrant. When I think of home I imagine it as it was four years ago, and I didn't even realise it."
"A lot has
happened in four years. Look at us."
"Mm...back then my orders were to find your ship and arrest you."
"Back when we had a cause to fight for."
"The cause wasn't laid to rest..."Kathryn reminded him quietly, "Chakotay, if you want to organise a memorial or something with the other former Maquis, you don't need to ask for my permission."
"Thanks," he murmured faintly.
After a few
minutes of silence Kathryn was about to ask a question when she realised that
Chakotay's breathing had turned very deep and regular. He had fallen asleep. She
got up, shook him awake gently and they rode the turbolift together. At the
doors to her quarters Kathryn watched Chakotay plod down the corridor, and once
inside she reached for the nearest padd and tapped out a short message to relay
to his room reminding him she was there if he needed anything. Previously she
had recalled the way Mark rarely wrote to her, whereas barely a day went by
where Chakotay and she didn't write something to each other, whether it be a few
paragraphs recommending a holonovel or a one-sentence comment on the daily
special in the Messhall. It was as normal as her morning coffee, and just as
welcome. She couldn't conceal the news about her letter forever, but it wasn't
fair to relate the ending of her relationship with her old tennis partner after
his letter had been so tragic.
Not that her letter had exactly been news, she reflected with a hint of sadness, it was just a confirmation of something she already knew.
You've won this round, Mark, she thought, One-nil to you.
Fifteen-love, a voice in her head corrected automatically. Once upon a time it would have been Mark’s teasing guffaw, but not anymore.
And maybe the score was nothing as regards her and Mark, but there could still be love...
Once Chakotay had read the message and sent a quick thanks in response his thumb hovered over the keypad, wondering why she had been so reluctant to talk about her letter. Communication between them was so easy – even when they were on away missions reports would be submitted with personal messages attached. The one instance where they hadn't been able to work through something with words had been years ago on New Earth, the night she wasn't able to sleep:
She had gone back through to the living area to talk to him, but they had been unable to resolve anything. He couldn't speak frankly – choosing instead to relate something through a story – and she hadn't been able to respond at all beyond tears and a clammy hand clasp. The day after they had set out to survey the woodland surrounding the shelter. Kathryn was acting not quite like her usual self – he had half expected her to be a little different around him, but more than anything else she appeared lost in thought. After the second time he had asked her a question and found her staring into space with a slight frown, he suggested they break for lunch. The sun was bright and the air was touched with humidity after the storm. The grass was a little damp and Chakotay plucked two tiny flowers that looked a little like daisies before lying down on the blanket they had brought.
first," Chakotay said finally, stretching his arms over his head, "About last
Kathryn blinked and looked over at him from where she was kneeling.
"– I didn't mean to create any tension between us. It just happened. You asked."
She relaxed visibly and shook her head a little.
"I wasn't thinking about that." The corners of her lips raised slightly, "Well, I was – but not in the way you think."
He craned his neck to look at her. She was tracing shapes in a patch of soil with the stem of one of the flowers.
"I hadn't really accepted before yesterday that we'd probably be here for a long time. I'm still not sure I can. I've been used to technology and science my whole life, so without that...the basics get in the way." Kathryn paused.
"I saw you looking at me the other night," She said, the low tone of her voice doing nothing to dispel the weight of her words, "We've been away from home for over a year now, and then we're faced with the prospect of the remainder of our lives with only each other. It's a long time...is it just biology?"
"Chemistry." He moved a little closer to her on the blanket, ever more aware of the heat in the air, "But there's a difference between 'I need you' and 'I want you'."
"I need you," Her whisper grew hoarse and she leaned over, "I need to know I'm still alive."
The flowers were wilting already; Kathryn threw hers aside.
"Are you surprised?"
Chakotay forgot if he had answered or not, because she was the one who was surprised when he reached up and stroked her cheek. It wasn't anything he could have put into words if he had tried – there was just the dizzying warmth, her hair trailing over his skin and the gasps and sighs that were enough to express more than fifty letters could, even when fifty was represented as L...
It was something that Chakotay was thinking over when she finally did tell him about her letter. She was obviously affected by the news, but she had held eye contact with him so intensely that he had the feeling she was looking for his response. It was classic Kathryn – he had recognised it in her personality from the day she had dragged him onto the Holodeck to teach him to play tennis. Something would happen, he would approach her and somehow she'd sock the ball straight into his court. This time, though, there wasn't the opportunity to reply or discuss it at length before they were called back to the Bridge, and there were other things on his mind to occupy him before he could see her again.
approached him after the short memorial gathering he led with the other former
Maquis crewmembers. To go from being peppered with angry questions to wringing
out more emotion over the deaths of his friends left him feeling more exhausted
"Thanks for arranging it. It was..." She trailed off.
"I know – there's not much to say now."
"I almost fought with Tom over it. We're all one crew now, but I felt like nobody would understand what those events meant to us."
"The memorial was the Captain's idea – or, at least, she suggested it to me.”
She shot him a look of surprise, but said nothing.
“She read over the notes for the speech I made and reminded me of things I hadn't even thought of." He paused, pondering over the way he and Kathryn had worked over the details of the kinds of things he could say.
B'Elanna dabbed at her face with a tissue – she doubted anyone had left the gathering dry-eyed.
"She's good with things like that," She commented thoughtfully, "Somehow she manages to see things in me and bring them out before I can think of how to say them."
It was Chakotay’s turn to look down at his friend in surprise.
"We probably weren't the only ones to get bad news," B'Elanna murmured.
"No." But not every piece of bad news means a bad outcome, he thought vaguely.
"I'm going to go to Astrometrics," She said bluntly, "That data stream's got to still hold some good news for somebody."
He patted her back as she left and stood for a moment thinking over what she had said about Kathryn. She was a good communicator, but then there was this issue of her backhanding some issues as though her lips were sewn shut on the matter. There had been echoes of it on New Earth, notably when she had deflected the question of their becoming closer with the idea that they were attracted to each other on a purely physical level. They had never mentioned the experience, but perhaps this development – or lack of – regarding her ex-fiancé would loosen the tight wraps the subject was under. And when she was ready to talk about it, maybe it would be his chance to return the volley and settle the score once and for all.
wasn't able to approach the matter of her letter again until after their brush
with the Hirogen had ended and he was able to talk to Kathryn over a coffee.
Despite all that had happened, she was cheerful enough, if a little guarded.
"...It wasn't really a surprise. Still, it made me realise that I was using him as a kind of safety net; as a way to avoid becoming involved with someone else."
It was true – a net with a securing rope that had stretched halfway across the galaxy. Over the years the rope had been fraying, or possibly she had been unravelling it herself without even realising it, and then Mark had cut the bindings neatly and she was left free.
"It's not like I would have had the chance to pursue a relationship, even if I had realised I was alone."
"...to my thinking, you have plenty of time."
"Plenty of time..." She had wasted enough time already, she thought regretfully.
shifted her legs and lay down on the sofa. Chakotay did the same at his end, but
overshot slightly and his head was next to hers, fitting neatly into the
L-shaped space next to where her shoulder met her neck. They lay there for a
few moments without speaking.
"The other day you said there was a finality to your letter,” Chakotay said finally.
"Mm...there was nothing to reply to, even if it had been possible. We never wrote to each other, anyway. It was nothing like you and me...why do we write to each other so much?"
Chakotay shrugged; she felt his shoulder nudge the top of her head.
"You can't reread a call over the com system."
She smiled and turned her head towards him. Perhaps once she would have been embarrassed to be so close...now there was nothing holding her back; no sensation that she was straining against an overstretched line.
"The safety net – it's gone now," She murmured – a revelation as much to herself as to him.
"All the events that have unfolded over the past few days – it's all because of the letters. An ancient communications array and an archaic means of passing information..."
"And I was holding on to the past." All that she wanted to say came more easily now and there wasn't anything to tie up her emotions and keep them at bay. There was an energy flowing between them and the air seemed to spark with possibilities.
"Whatever happened to the time when we used science to solve a predicament?"
Kathryn paused, thinking of the humid afternoon on New Earth. She was aware of his breath on her cheek, the closeness of the atmosphere and his body...
"When you spoke of our 'chemistry'? That wasn't science – that was semantics."
"Letters,” She sighed, and felt him shiver, “Too little action. Is it just chemistry?”
Chakotay swallowed hard.
"I want you." He touched her face tenderly.
"The letter I never sent."
She leaned over and met his lips, the motion awkward while they lay inverted like two segments slotted into a jigsaw. It wasn't an odd concept, because she already knew they fit together and there was nothing left to puzzle over. The strings of the net restricting her had come undone and fallen away, the rules of the game had been broken down and there was finally room for the actions that could speak more loudly than so many words and letters exchanged between them…
- End -
Additional notes: This story was written for Kathryn J. as part of VAMB's Secret Santa exchange 2010. I hadn't completed any fics for a while and I sort of turned on this one towards the end and struggled a bit to complete it (I find editing/tying up and finishing off difficult enough without constantly thinking 'this is crap...', as was the case here, hahaha), but I'm at least glad I managed to get it finished. Thank you for reading!