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When I returned from my vacation she had gone. Literally vanished off the face of the Earth. I couldn't believe it, no one had any idea where she was, she hadn't left a forwarding address, hadn't used any transports, or her credits which meant she couldn't be traced. I couldn't believe that Starfleet had just allowed her to disappear like that. I mean she was only their newest hero, the captain who had returned Voyager to the Alpha Quadrant against all the odds, who had stood toe to toe with the Borg and not been defeated; a remarkable, brilliant, driven woman at the centre of the biggest story of the year. The woman everyone was talking about - and no one could find. Her name, her picture was everywhere, so wherever she was she was doing a good job of staying out of sight - but then I wouldn't expect anything less.
I knew I should never have gone away. I'd had a feeling that something was wrong; some sixth sense perhaps, after all I did know her well, we'd worked together for seven years. I always did seem to have an instinct when it came to her, a feeling that we were linked in some indefinable way. I knew there was something on her mind, something wrong and I still went to Canada.
I owed it to Meredith to try to find out if our comfortable two year relationship could survive the test of Voyager's return, to discover if we had a future together. I knew before I left that it was going to be hopeless. She was beautiful, smart, kind, loving and for two years she had held onto the hope that I would forget about the woman I couldn't have and fall in love with her. It had never happened. We were good together, we enjoyed each other's company, we laughed, we made love; but I didn't love her, didn't fall in love with her and irrespective of what might have happened had we never made it back to the Alpha Quadrant, now that we were here, I didn't want to go on. I couldn't let go of the hope that without the demands of commanding Voyager Kathryn might change her mind.
So after ignoring the issue for several days, during which time it hung around us like a ghost, dogging us at every turn, we finally talked about what we were going to do. We talked late into the night and in the end it was Meredith who ended it, who agreed it was time to stop pretending, to face up to reality. She was crying when I left, I hadn't lied to her by pretending that I wasn't going to Kathryn, she wouldn't have believed me. But when I got back to San Francisco, Kathryn was gone. The only thing she'd left behind was a message asking Starfleet to accept her resignation.
They'd been looking for her for a few days when I showed up. Tuvok and Admiral Paris were trying to cover for her, telling anyone who asked that she'd gone away for a few weeks, hoping they'd find her before her disappearance attracted too much attention. I didn't like their chances the trail was not so much going cold as non-existent. Her family were worried as well, and their suggestions as to where she might be had not yielded up the missing person. She'd been out of touch with her friends for seven years which made her being with them a long shot and Mark Johnson had been contacted but he couldn't suggest where else they ought to look. He had also recommended that they all leave her alone, the, 'she'll come back when she's ready,' approach. But I'd waited seven years for her and patient was the last thing I wanted to be.
I went looking for Mark. Something about his reply didn't ring true - and my only alternative was to start combing the streets. I wasn't quite ready to do that yet, there had to be another way. They had been together for a long time, before fate had intervened; surely he'd be able to give me some idea of where to look? But when I saw him I knew that she'd been there. He recognised me as soon as he opened the front door, I saw the look of surprise that flashed in his eyes, but that wasn't how I knew he'd seen her; it was the cold, tight mask his face settled into when he looked at me that gave it away. As though he knew something of what I'd done, or what I hadn't done.
For years I had envied this man; I'd seen his pictures so often I felt as though I knew him. I'd listened to the way her voice softened when she'd spoken his name, seen the smile that crossed her face when she talked about him. She called him her safety net, admitted something about the true nature of their relationship only when it became clear that it was over. I don't think I had ever really realised how important that element of stability must have been to her, what it had cost her to loose it. Now, seeing him face to face I realised how little I knew about him. I'd heard he was a philosopher, an important one, it was a struggle to imagine Kathryn with someone who by his very nature must dwell in the abstract, who looked beyond the limitations of science, whose aim was to understand why, rather than how. But perhaps there was a balance there they had both needed, or there had been.
'Kathryn isn't here.' A stark response to a question I had not even asked.
'But she has been?' The evasion was obvious - not 'I haven't seen her.'
'She was here four days ago for a few hours.' He seemed unwilling to make the concession, unwilling to allow me across his threshold. I didn't care about that, basic hospitality didn't interest me much at the moment, I hadn't come here to drink tea with him.
'How was she?' Perhaps it was the anxiety which I didn't manage to hide, or perhaps it wasn't in character for him to be so cold and remote. His face softened and he stepped aside to invite me into the house, leading the way towards a cluttered, untidy study, filled with books and papers. Another surprise - I couldn't see Kathryn living like this, perhaps I didn't know her as well as I thought I did, or perhaps she'd been different then.
A huge dog occupied one of the two couches in the study, she lifted her head from the pillow in response to my presence - growling quietly at me until Mark said,
'It's all right Bear,' but she watched me, carefully; as though she was uncertain of my intentions. 'He's a friend, or at least I hope he is.' Mark had gone to stand by the windows, looking out at a well tended garden, frowning about something. 'She was so different,' he said quietly, to no one in particular, the dog perhaps. 'She looked the same, but she was different, burdened. It was disturbing.' Suddenly he turned round to look at me, his voice thick with emotion. 'What the hell happened out there?' I hadn't expected to have to spell it out for him, he might not be Fleet, but he had been around Kathryn for long enough to know the risks.
'She brought a ship and a hundred and fifty crew back from the Delta Quadrant - an unchartered, unexplored part of space - a lot of it was hostile territory. It wasn't exactly a picnic, there were sacrifices, Kathryn made most of them.'
'Was that what you were Chakotay? A sacrifice?'
'Is that what she said?' I asked - stung by his words.
'No - I just wondered.'
'I wanted something that she couldn't give, not and be captain as well. So, I moved on, it was the only thing that I could do. Our command relationship survived, prospered even, but our friendship, well that perished.' Mark's face twisted into a grimace as he said quietly,
'We both gave up on her.'
'It's what she wanted,' I pointed out, not satisfied with my answer. 'I think she was hurt when I began a relationship with another member of the crew, but we never talked about it.' There had been so much silence, I remembered those first, tense weeks when I began seeing Meredith; no one had said anything, least of all Kathryn, but there had been an air of disappointment, as though the crew were disappointed with me.
'Are you in love with this other crew member?' I shook my head.
'We aren't even together anymore - I don't think either of us really believed our relationship could survive being back in the Alpha Quadrant.'
'Because of Kathryn.' When I didn't answer he said, 'do you think she knows you're still in love with her?'
'I have no idea.'
Mark picked up an ornament from his desk, a paperweight made of a crystalline rock, he balanced it in one hand, almost as though he were testing it's weight. 'When she was here - she said something that alarmed me. She said she felt as though she had locked Kathryn away in an attic and left her to starve to death.'
'That's not true!' The denial exploded from me before I had time to think, it was such a horrible image and certainly it said nothing about the woman who had nurtured Harry Kim and Kes; who'd laughed in Sandrine's as she beat Tom and everyone else at pool. Certainly her appearances had been irregular, fewer and fewer over the years. She had never found a way for the two sides of her to co-exist peaceably; perhaps she couldn't, if she were to accomplish what needed to be done; but Kathryn wasn't gone, she hadn't died. I believed that but I was worried to learn that Kathryn appeared not to. 'Did she give you any clue where she was going?'
'I got the impression she was going away to find out who she was, I don't know where she would go to do that.'
'According to Starfleet she hasn't touched her own funds.'
'Well, she won't need to. She'd use Justin's money.'
'Justin's money?' I echoed, a little irritated by his assumption that I understood.
'You do know about Justin?'
'I've read her file, I know who he was, how he died.'
'Well, there was compensation. Kathryn was his beneficiary but she refused to touch a penny, wouldn't even put it in her own account. It was paid into his account and as far as I know it's still there, must be quite a tidy sum by now.'
Starfleet of course had been looking for Kathryn Janeway; they'd have to search again, because I was betting that wherever she'd travelled she had gone as J. Tighe. That didn't help me much, I didn't want to wait for them to try and trace whatever circuitous route she may have taken. I couldn't help thinking that I was looking right at my best shot at finding her.
'You knew her well, before,' I said, seeing the wariness come into his eyes, 'if this had happened before we were lost, where would she have gone?'
'She wouldn't have thrown away her career and run off seven years ago.'
'But if she had?' I persisted, not quite sure where I was heading with this and then he surprised me.
'Italy,' he said firmly and I wondered why I'd needed him to tell me, 'we went on vacation there, the year before... she always said she wanted to go back.'
'She had a Leonardo da Vinci holoprogramme on Voyager, I heard her call it her sanctuary; I think she's in Florence.'
It took Starfleet a couple of hours to trace a journey from San Francisco to Florence, Italy by one Justine Tighe - but by the time they contacted me to confirm her destination I was already on my way. Admiral Paris didn't like the idea of having both of Voyager's commanding officers out of his sight such a short time after our return. He wanted to send Tuvok after her, but Tuvok said he 'didn't possess the necessary attributes to reach the captain if she was in a highly emotional state.' Fascinating, that he would turn down a task I think he once would have accepted, how we have all changed.
It wouldn't have mattered, if they'd tried to recall me they'd just have had two resignations on their hands instead of one. This was about far more than my less than stellar career - the only existence I'd ever found that was even remotely peaceful was by her side and I'd be damned if I was going to let that go without a fight.
I'm told Florence is beautiful, that it's been extensively renovated and now rates as one of the most fascinating cities on Earth - but I'm afraid I wasn't there to site see and I only really remember the sea of faces I searched everyday, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
At first my search had been methodical; Justine Tighe had checked into a small hotel on the outskirts of the city. I went there only to find she had left after just two nights, leaving of course, no forwarding address. Still I was confident of finding her, I knew the name she was using, and I knew my subject. Even after checking all the other hotels in the city, and the surrounding area and drawing a blank I wasn't completely disheartened.
Florence is full of artists and art had been the least captainly thing in Kathryn's life of late, so I started checking studios, to see if she had visited any of them, perhaps even applied to pursue her studies, somehow I thought if she was trying to find out what had happened to Kathryn painting and sculpture would play a part in that identity. But I drew a blank, no one had seen her, gradually it became clear that she had disappeared again.
It had taken three days to exhaust all those possible leads, to have Starfleet ascertain that wherever she was she wasn't using Justin's money anymore. That was when I really started to worry. I spent two days just walking around, trying to spot her in the crowd, I saw so many faces, none of them the one I was looking for and I was beginning to lose hope. I still felt that she was here in Florence, just that she was well hidden and after all, if she really didn't want to be found who were we to interfere with that?
But, then I thought if she really hadn't wanted to be found, why go to see mark, she hadn't needed to do that, their relationship was long over, was it simply a case of unfinished business? Or had she been leaving a clue in case anyone came looking for her?
By the evening of the second day of walking around Florence I was exhausted and dispirited. I was trying to find my way back to my hotel so that I could have a meal and get some sleep, review my rapidly diminishing options after a good night's sleep. It was depressing, a fine, warm evening had brought out a lot of people and everywhere I looked there were couples, strolling hand in hand, or gazing into one another's eyes. I couldn't help imagining what it would be like if Kathryn and I were here together, with everything that lay between us finally put to rest, with nothing to concentrate on but how we felt about one another. I'm sure it would be a romantic destination if you happened to be with the person you loved.
My eyes scanned the crowds automatically now, hardly expecting to succeed anymore, but then I got lucky. Several artists had stalls set out around the square, they made a living out of sketching the tourists and as proof of their competence they set out examples of their sketches for potential customers to peruse, perhaps even buy and I recognised one of them.
My hands were shaking as I lifted the sketch for a closer look, there was no doubt it was Kathryn, I even recognised her expression, that remote, removed look she wore so often, I'd seen her looking like that when she was at the same social event as Meredith and I.
'Do you like it?' I almost didn't hear the voice, I was looking at Kathryn, a reproduction of her but nevertheless the closest I'd got to her for a while. I'd forgotten how she could overwhelm me, made myself forget. I think my knees would have buckled if I'd actually been seeing her in the flesh. 'The picture, do you like it?' The voice was pitched low, but it was gently insistent, tugging at my attention, until I looked into her face.
She must have thought I was a complete idiot, clutching hold of the sketch as though it were a lifeline; unable to form a coherent sentence. I could see amusement warring with concern in her eyes. She had a calm, confident face, tanned as though she had spent long afternoons in the sun. As I looked at her I could almost see her brain translating my face into a series of brush or pencil strokes - I had an impression that she looked at everything like that. The confidence I had detected made more sense now, it was the confidence of someone who knows they are good at what they do and knows to, that this is all that matters. I looked at the picture she had drawn of Kathryn, the fine, clean lines which had depicted compassion, bravery and suffering; the latter something that didn't seem to belong to the woman I was familiar with. For the first time it occurred to be that she might have kept her ghosts at bay for all this time; only to have them come crashing over her now. No wonder she had fled.
'Do you know who this is?' I managed to ask at last, hardly noticing that my voice sounded unsteady and harsh.
'No, but it's obvious that you do.'
'I've been looking for her for almost a week.' She frowned.
'Is she in some kind of trouble?'
'No, far from it.' I paused, wondering how to put this, and then finding myself speaking without having made a conscious decision. 'She just left, without saying where she was going, or when she'd be coming back.'
'Perhaps she isn't coming back.' I couldn't deny that might be a real possibility, especially when I remembered what she had said to Mark, and how she had waited to tie up every loose end before she'd departed. She had dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't' with her customary thoroughness. The struggle we were expecting over the Maquis had not transpired, we'd been pardoned, quietly nut efficiently, there had been no demur about recognising the field commissions Kathryn had awarded and any of us who wanted to remain with Starfleet were welcomed with open arms; even me.
The hardest fight had been over seven - but the Starfleet authorities had no idea who they were dealing with and Kathryn had dispatched their objections with a ruthlessness they were unprepared for; and Seven's future was secured. She would be safe on Vulcan with Tuvok's family. Kathryn had taken care of everyone, just as she always had, she had acted alone for the most part, confiding her hopes and gears to no one and when everything had finally been sorted out, when other people had started to relax, when I had gone away with Meredith, then she had walked away, cleanly, efficiently with the minimum of fuss.
'Perhaps not, but she isn't normally someone who runs away from problems, I just need to talk to her. Where did you see her?'
'She was in the Uffizi, I couldn't resist drawing her, she seemed a long way away, as though she had seen things no one else had, and she's beautiful - that helps.' I sighed, disappointed that this seemed to be a dead end, another dead end - and then she said, 'She's there most mornings, sketching.'
The Uffizi was cold, the temperature controlled so that the work's of art would not be damaged. My footsteps echoed on the marble floor as I walked from room to room. My parents had never taken me to places like this as a child, my ancestors used stories to pass on their history and our art is connected to nature and the land. I couldn't help feeling vaguely uncomfortable, out of place. But it hardly mattered that this would not be my choice of a fun destination for an afternoon out - I wasn't here for cultural enrichment.
I thought I'd find Kathryn easily, quickly - which just tells you how much I know. The museum was huge and the artist who had sketched her hadn't been exactly specific about which room they had been in at the time. Very quickly it dawned upon me that I could wonder around this place for weeks and weeks and never come face to race with her.
And I wasn't as focussed as I ought to be; I'll be honest, the paintings got to me. I wasn't expecting it, I don't know what it was exactly, the images, the reverence, the sense of history perhaps. I couldn't help it, I couldn't help it, I stopped looking for her and started looking at the walls instead. I found the Da Vinci's, of course, tried to reconcile the irascible holo- character I'd met once or twice with someone capable of producing such delicacy. Perhaps I should have brought him with me.
Suddenly, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I shivered, knowing without knowing that she was there. I turned slightly and saw her at the other end of the room, she hadn't noticed me yet, I was well hidden by a large sculpture, the shadows it cast masking my presence.
I took advantage of this and looked at her, she seemed thinner and smaller that the last time I'd seen her, but that Uniform makes a big difference and the summer dress she was wearing now didn't make her seem invincible in the same way. She was holding a sketch book and from the way she was looking around her I guessed she was trying to choose a subject.
I was sure she'd be able to hear the loud, unruly beating of my heart. I'd tried to control this for so long, over two years now, blocked out the vulnerability she seemed to force on me. In the present I wondered how I'd lived for so long without realising how vulnerability equated to peace - or at least it did with her.
Her hair was down, it felt like a lifetime since I'd seen it like that, falling about her shoulders - free. She'd grown it again, taken to pulling it back from her face and twisting it up into a pleat, tucked away, out of sight - another part of her she'd hidden away. I shouldn't have let her do it, I should have kept pushing away at her, shouldn't have turned to Meredith - but I had, it was done and I, we had to find a way to go forward. There had been too many years of silence.
'Kathryn,' as I stepped out of the half light I spoke her name. I'd startled her, the sketch pad slipped out of her grasp and hit the floor with a resounding thump. I'd expected the sound to break the moment, but it didn't; we were frozen in the moment, gazing into each other's eyes, hungry for the contact. Did I breathe? I suppose I must have done, but I don't recall it, I don't recall anything but the depth of the pain in her eyes, pain and knowledge. Standing there it seemed as though she had looked on every horror, known every agony - I wanted to take that away, but knew it was beyond my power to heal her. I wanted to ask her how she lived with that weight and then help her to believe that she didn't need to live, burdened for every hour of every day.
Whatever was wrong, whatever had made her feel as though she needed to be somewhere else - I wanted her to know that we could face it together. I stepped forward, towards her, wanting to finally close the distance between us, to at last sit and talk with no barriers - and as though my movement had awoken her from a dream she did the last thing I was expecting, the last thing I'd ever expected her to do. She turned on her heel and ran.
I didn't follow her, I was too dazed by the fact that she'd run away without even speaking to me. I could hear the clatter of her heels on the floor, but I was too stunned to chase her. So, I walked towards the pad and picked it up gingerly, a piece of her, an important piece and she had abandoned it without a second thought to get away from me.
I held it in my hands as though it were a delicate piece of china and blinked back the tears in my eyes - her actions had told me her intentions all too clearly; she wasn't coming back, she didn't want to have anything to do with me, she'd closed the door on a chapter of her life and had no intention of ever opening it again - even flight was preferable.
I stepped out into the bright sunlight, blinking, momentarily dazed, lost. I was still holding onto her sketch pad - tempted to look, but at the same time not wanting to intrude into her privacy.
I started walking, my feet picking my destination, heading nowhere in particular. All I could think about was the time we'd wasted, all the times I'd said nothing when I'd wanted to tell her how I felt.
'I see you found her.' The voice distracted me, my thoughts had been scattered, dwelling on both past and future. when I looked up I realised that I had walked back to that square, in front of that artist's stall - almost as though she were my only link with Kathryn. 'That is her sketch pad you have?'
'She dropped it, she didn't want to speak to me.' Not seeming especially interested in what I was saying, she did what I'd been unable to, reached out and took the sketch pad from me, leafing rapidly through it, her expression changing rapidly as she summed up each drawing.
'This is interesting.' She stopped, holding a sketch out for my inspection. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't a sketch of Meredith and I, laughing together in Sandrine's, with a few other crew members in the background. 'There's passion in this,'she observed dispassionately, 'real passion.'
'The wrong kind,' I said softly, talking to a woman who wasn't even there, 'all passion spent.'
'Is that what all this is about?' She sounded incredulous, 'her running, your following - because of another woman?' It was an amusing thought, but I could tell she didn't know Kathryn or she'd never have asked.
'No, it's more complicated than that, this,' I gestured towards the sketch, 'is the least of our problems.' I believed that, if I could see her striding along a ship's corridor, where she belonged, being who she was destined to be, at peace with herself - then I could live with being her friend and colleague and nothing more, but I had to find her first.
'You're trying too hard.' My new confidante declared, 'chasing her all over the city - you ought to let her come to you.' I opened my mouth to remind her that was unlikely when she made an excellent point. 'You do have something that she may want back,' and waved the pad in front of my face.
'So, what do you suggest I do?'
'Relax, when she wants her sketch pad back she'll find you.' I couldn't understand why she was so interested in whether I found someone she didn't know. Perhaps I should turn this over to Tuvok, he'd probably track Kathryn down with his usual efficiency. Tuvok, I reminded myself, would be more suspicious of those who offered to help for no conceivable reason.
'Do you know where she is?'
'No, I don't,' she didn't seem affronted that I'd asked, 'I'll put the word out, if she wants the sketches back she should come here, and you should check in with me every day. Come back tomorrow.' She pushed the pad into my hands and turned away, I felt as though I'd been dismissed - but on the other hand I didn't have any other choices.
I watched him walk across the square, made sure he was out of sight before I stepped out of the shadows. 'You lied to him.' I pointed out.
'No. I didn't.'
'You said you didn't know where I was.'
'I didn't know you were standing there when I said that. If he'd asked me if I knew where you were staying and I'd said no, then I'd have been lying.'
'Perhaps - but you don't want him to know where you are, do you?'
'I want him to go back to San Francisco and leave me alone.'
'He's not going to do that, not until you talk to him.'
'I can't talk to him until I've sorted this out myself.' She shrugged, apparently unconcerned.
'I may be wrong, but you don't seem to have sorted out very much so far.' I thought about the sleepless nights, the meals I couldn't bring myself to eat, the sketches that were well executed, but soulless.
'Perhaps I haven't run far enough,' I said quietly.
Continue with "Looking for Kathryn"
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