Disclaimer: see previous part.
I'd met her in the Uffizi, or rather she had found me. I was trying to sketch, not very successfully. I wasn't happy with anything I'd worked on, couldn't concentrate, even the scratching noise of my pencil on the paper was irritating me. When I looked up, frustrated, she was already drawing me.
When she realised she'd been caught she had the grace to look abashed, but only for a moment. Now that I know her better I recognise in her the person I had become as the captain. There is a difference, since in Maddie it is natural, a faith. There is no question of her being anything but single-minded, a crusader, nothing will ever distract her from the need to paint and draw, there is nothing she would not sacrifice to that. With me it was circumstance, necessity. I became that focussed because I had no choice, I had never intended to be entirely absorbed by my career. I never really believed that it was possible to have it all, without making sacrifices, but I thought I would find a balance.
Her opening remark to me was, 'I didn't expect to find Starfleet's blue eyed girl sketching in the Uffizi,' which took care of the question of whether she had recognised me. I wasn't feeling sociable.
'I'm trying to get some peace and quiet, do some thinking.'
'It seems a strange place to choose.' I considered that, not really sure, even now, what had brought me here.
'It's off the beaten track.' She nodded, acknowledging the point and then seemed to dispense with the issue of why I was here, in favour of,
'I'd like to paint you - will you be in Florence for a while?' That was the last thing I wanted.
'I'm trying to keep a low profile.'
'Why?' Momentary interest sparked behind her assessing eyes. 'You aren't in trouble are you? On Starfleet's most wanted list?'
'Not exactly - I left, they'll want an explanation, try to persuade me to stay.'
'And will you be persuaded?'
'I don't know.' She wasn't easily dissuaded, she said,
'I still want to paint you,' and I had the feeling I would have a fight on my hands to prevent her. One of the things I was tired of doing was fighting.
In the end we managed a compromise, I knew I had to get out of the hotel I was staying in. It wouldn't take Starfleet very long to work out I was using Justin's money; I needed somewhere anonymous to stay - and Maddie had an apartment on the outskirts of Florence, an apartment with an empty couch.
It's a little soul destroying to be viewed entirely as a subject for a painting. To Maddie I had no existence, no purpose other than to be painted by her. My problems were secondary, to be sorted out at some point when she had all the sittings she needed. In some ways I envied her, to be so sure of who and what you are, but I'll be honest, she scared me to death as well. That wasn't who I wanted to be, I wasn't sure if it was too late. I used to think I was determined, obsessive even, but I had nothing on her, she hardly noticed every day things if they weren't connected to something she wanted to paint.
I'd been in Florence for over a week before Chakotay turned up and I hadn't sorted anything out. I didn't even know why I'd left San Francisco. I hadn't been planning to leave, it had been a spur of the moment decision. I hadn't been happy about some of the things that had happened since our return when I went to see Mark, but my plan was to stick around, try to sort out how I fitted into the scheme of things. Starfleet were talking about extended leave and even some sessions with a counselor before my next posting, so I thought I'd have time to sort myself out.
But when I saw Mark, his wife, their daughter - it hit me; that that happy little girl could have been my daughter, that life could have been mine and I realised that I had no idea how to carry on, what to do next.
I still don't, I mean what do you do for an encore when you've been to the Delta Quadrant and back? Was I supposed to settle down to relative anonymity, continue climbing the ranks and just forget that I had been the one making all the decisions, carrying al the responsibility for so long? I don't know, I can't see myself in the future doing those things and I didn't want anyone to witness me floundering. A quiet exit seemed much more dignified somehow.
I should have known they wouldn't let me go, should have known they'd send Chakotay; that ghost of yesterday and almost, after me. Seeing him in the Uffizi like that was just another reminder of the person I had become, the person who had allowed herself to let him go, who'd stood on the sidelines and watched while he was happy with someone else.
I have this image of he and I, meeting up at 'Fleet dos every five or ten years, that electric attraction still crackling between us, but tempered by time and other relationships, both of us and everyone else, wondering why we had never really got it together. Of course that is an image that requires my future to lie with Starfleet and nothing is certain anymore. Ironic, I once thought that Starfleet was the only given in my life. At the moment I don't feel as though I belong anywhere, I feel cast adrift, albeit by my own hand. I thought getting away would give me a sense of perspective, it hasn't, I'm still confused and I'm lonely as well. I'm as far away from home as I was in the Delta Quadrant, only there I had people around me, here I have no one and the only person who is here, I'm going to send away.
Starfleet were not amused to discover that I'd come so close to finding their missing captain only to lose sight of her again. Admiral Paris had giving up trying to explain away her absence and had passed the whole matter - including her resignation, over to the Executive Committee. I knew I'd have more trouble persuading them to allow me to keep searching for her and predictably when I checked in Admiral Ka'breth told me that I was expected back at HQ in three days, with or without Captain Janeway. They were still anxious to contact her, but they were prepared to wait for her to contact them. If she did not then they would assume that she had made her wished clear when she had submitted her resignation.
I wasn't holding out much hope that I would see Kathryn before I had to leave, I made my daily visits to the artist's stall more out of habit than anything else, and two days running I was disappointed, she hadn't been in touch about her sketch book. I decided that she had either given up on drawing or had found a way to buy a new one, that she wanted to stay out of sight more than she wanted to get it back.
On the last day I decided to hand the pad over to the stall holder, in case she managed to get in touch with Kathryn after all - it had been my near constant companion for the last few days and I would miss it, but I couldn't countenance holding onto it. I'd also decided to try and buy the sketch of Kathryn in the Uffizi - a kind of keepsake. It wasn't what I wanted, but the consensus seemed to be that I wasn't going to get what I wanted. But she was there, I saw her as I crossed the square, she was standing beside the stall, its owner nowhere in sight, fiddling with a couple of sketches. From a distance she looked more tired than she had the last time I'd seen her and I was immediately sorry that my presence had seemed to add to her troubles. She must have sensed me, been expecting me perhaps because as I walked cautiously towards her she said,
'It's all right Chakotay, I won't run this time.'
'Good.' Even to my ears my voice sounded a little shaky, 'what's going on Kathryn?'
'I wanted to ask you to leave me alone, let me work this out myself. I'll talk to Starfleet Command, stop hiding, but I do need some time and some peace and quiet to think.'
'I wasn't aware that you were being denied that.' She smiled an enigmatic smile that I didn't recognise and said softly, 'I know you're angry with me.' The automatic denial froze in my lips as I realised that she was right. 'Of course I'm angry with you, I've been frantic since I found out you'd disappeared, I thought I was never going to see you again! I even went to see Mark.'
'I'd like to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.' My anger had gone, cooled as soon as it had poured forth.
'I'm leaving today, I've been recalled - are you coming back with me?' She frowned and I knew what her answer would be before she spoke the words.
'I can't, I'm not ready yet. I may never be ready.'
'What happened?' She raised a hand to her hair, scraping it away from her face.
'I thought you knew, or guessed? I thought home was a place Chakotay, not a state of mind and now I know different. I don't know who I am anymore.' I took a step closer to her, touched her arm.
'I know who you are - would you like me to tell you?' She shook her head and although I couldn't be sure I thought I saw her blink back tears.
'I don't want you to lie to me, tell me what you think I want to hear. It would be so easy to let you help, too easy. I think it's time I let you go properly, it isn't fair on you or Meredith, this hold you and I seem to have on one another.' I was jubilant that she had at last admitted that this hold was mutual.
'There is no Meredith and I, she isn't who I want to spend the rest of my life with.'
'Oh Chakotay,' I'd dreamt of hearing her say those words, but not like that, upset and disappointed, 'I'm in no fit state for a relationship like that.'
'Then I'll wait.'
'It seems to me we've been here before.' She was right and last time I had given up, allowed her to push me away, found someone else to hold at night while my heart had cried out for a woman I couldn't have.
'I won't give you up this time, I'll wait for as long as it takes.'
'And if I never change my mind?'
'I would rather have the shadow of a hope of a life with you than a life with anyone else - there's nothing that you can say to change that.' I thought she'd still try somehow, but instead she rubbed her head tiredly and said,
'Do you know what Starfleet offered me as my next assignment?' She'd caught me off balance, the change of subject seeming to come from nowhere.
'A promotion to Admiral and a place planning strategy in the Dominion War.' I was astounded, it was a huge promotion. 'Do you know why they offered me that? Because they though if I could spend six years lost in the Delta Quadrant without getting too close to my crew, I would be able to plan missions which could send hundreds to their deaths for the greater good, without losing much sleep. I don't know if I am the person they seem to think I am or not and until I find out I can't be around any of the people I care about.'
'Kathryn, I know it wasn't like that,' she closed her eyes at the gentleness of my voice, or perhaps at the sound of the denial she hadn't been able to issue herself, 'I know how you struggled, what you sacrificed and how much it cost you.' When she opened her eyes again her lashes were wet with the tears she wouldn't allow herself to shed.
'Thank you,' she whispered.
'What are you going to do?'
'I don't know, I'll work it out, decide if I really want to resign or not.'
'Whatever you decide I'm your friend, I want you to be happy.'
'That's what I want as well.' In a rapid movement that caught me completely off guard, she stepped close to me and kissed me delicately on the cheek. 'Go now Chakotay, before I give into the temptation to ask you to stay.'
As I watched Chakotay walk across the square the little voice in my head which seemed to represent all of my fears and insecurities was loudly insisting that I call him back; that I let him help me, let him love me even. I have to admit my heart had lifted a little at the knowledge that he and Meredith were no longer together - but not enough. I suppose I'm proud enough and stubborn enough to want to be whole if I go to him. At the moment I am still trying to work out what I want to do now, and I know that I'm not in a fit state to embark on a relationship - especially one that could only be serious.
But I did decide it was time to come out of hiding. I contacted Starfleet, let them know where I was, asked them to suspend my letter of resignation for now. I got in touch with my family as well - I'd been so concerned with my own problems, my future that I had not realised how cruel of me it was to disappear like that. I'd been missing for all of this time and then within weeks of my return I had vanished again - I hadn't thought about how worried and hurt they must be.
I don't think my mother truly understood why I wasn't coming back; just as I don't think she and my sister realised how out of place I felt in their lives. Six years of people, places and events is a lot to make up - I'm sure the 'Fleet counselors had told them it would take time for us to readjust, but they still believed I could come home and be just Kathryn again. I don't suppose anyone warned them that 'just Kathryn' was the one person I didn't know how to be anymore.
Maddie kept on painting me and kept refusing to let me see the portrait, mumbling something about 'when it's finished,' I doubted if she really cared what I thought about it, especially since she considered my efforts at best amateurish.
Since my location was no longer a secret I decided to find a place of my own, Maddie's sofa was giving me backache. I was looking for an inn outside Siena - for old times sake, but it was the tourist season and anywhere even remotely picturesque was booked solid. Then I realised that I literally had nowhere to live and that feeling of rootlessness was probably contributing to my feeling out of place. Voyager had been my home, whether I wanted to acknowledge the fact or not - but that was about people and circumstance, I wanted a place of my own, a place I could hide out in if necessary. Time to find somewhere to hang my hat.
Siena is smaller, quieter, less self-conscious than Florence, the way of life their seemed slower, peaceful, just what I was looking for. I found a small apartment, on a road full of small shops that led nowhere in particular. I could get fresh bread, fresh coffee, pizza through the day and that was enough to be going on with.
It wasn't anything special, living room, bedroom, bathroom, a kitchen full of gadgets I couldn't use that made me smile and imagine Chakotay here. But the patio doors in the living room opened onto a balcony with just enough room for two chairs and a small table. I'd taken to sitting on my balcony, sipping wine and watching the sunset, a sunset I could finally admit I had never expected to live to see.
I'd changed. I don't think I really realized it until I saw my new home, good career officers for the most part live within easy reach of Starfleet headquarters. If I went back I would be living in Italy - not a long journey by any means, or at least not physically, but it wasn't exactly the done thing, I wouldn't be on top of Starfleet the way I used to be - six years in the Delta Quadrant had made me unconventional, I wasn't exactly sorry.
Time passed - I read, sketched a little, walked around Siena and the surrounding countryside. I was waiting for something to happen, a blinding revelation that would tell me I had made my decision, learnt who I was at last. Of course it didn't happen that way, although there was a day, when things changed.
It began straightforwardly enough. I awoke mid-morning, feeling rested, relaxed and a little amazed at how easy it had suddenly become to sleep late. I wandered over to the kitchen for some fresh coffee and then stood on the balcony, looking down at the bustling little street while I savoured the smell and taste of real coffee. It wasn't until I went back into the living room that I noticed the message light blinking on the terminal, I had got used to being left alone. Two messages awaited my attention, the first an official invitation from Starfleet to attend a party being held in honour of Voyager's return, the other was from Tom Paris.
'Captain,' he began formally and then ruined the impression by grinning suddenly and saying disarmingly, 'you're probably wondering how I managed to get your address, since it's the best kept secret in Starfleet right now. I did try to get B'Elanna to wheedle it out of Chakotay, but he claimed not to know, so, well, I'll own up, Harry and 7 hacked into central records. Please don't be angry, we only did it because we wanted you to know how much we'd like to see you at the party next week. We miss you.' The message terminated immediately, leaving me to contemplate his words.
I wasn't going.
It was too soon, I wasn't ready to face them all again, to take on that identity. If I did I wasn't sure that I would ever find my way out and I didn't want to loose the part of me I was just beginning to discover again, the part who could lie in bed and not worry, and who could sleep for a whole night without having bad dreams, or waking up every hour on the hour to check her ship was still all right.
My thoughts were distracted by a thumping at my door, I was cautious at first, wondering who else had tracked me down. But then I asked myself what I was worrying about? That it was some Admiral about to order me back to duty, I'd faced worse. I was more worried that it was someone I cared about, come to tell me to stop hiding and pull myself together - I wasn't sure how I'd respond to that. The point was moot anyhow, because with the next round of banging was accompanied by shouts and I recognised the voice - Maddie.
As soon as I opened the door I realised something was up, I'd never seen her like that before, she was flying, she was so high she could have achieved orbit herself. 'Are you always this hard to wake up?'
'I wasn't asleep, I was trying to decide if I wanted to see anyone.' Water off a ducks back, my remark didn't cause her to as much as bat an eyelid.
'Well, you'll want to see this.' She pulled a large canvas into the room after her, 'it's finished.'
I wasn't sure I'd drunk nearly enough coffee yet to be confronted by Maddie's view of me. I'd seen what she was capable of, how accurate and perceptive the judgements of her art were and I didn't think I wanted to know what she thought of me. 'Maddie,' I began, not certain I could explain my doubts to her,
'What's this? The woman who brought her crew home from the Delta Quadrant afraid to look at a portrait?'
'Perhaps I'm afraid what the portrait will show me.'
'You shouldn't be - sometimes what we are searching for the most, is in the last place we'd look.' She pulled the covering off with dramatic flair as I'd known she would - and I steeled myself.
The Captain stared back at me, hands on her hips, chin stuck out, a look of determination and defiance on her face. She stood in the centre of what was evidently the Bridge of a Starship - but she wasn't alone. In the corner of the painting there was another figure, leaning nonchalantly against the wall of the Bridge, a secret, faraway smile playing across her lips as she gazed at her double. She was out of uniform, wearing a pretty dress, her hair down, trailing around her shoulders - she looked so relaxed there was a lump in my throat at this image of myself.
'I didn't imagine her,' Maddie said quietly, looking at the second figure, 'you should take a look at yourself some day - she's right there, waiting for you to relax and forget about having to be in control every moment.'
Maddie left, I don't know when, I'm not sure if she was there when I started to cry or not, the tears rolling helplessly down my face as an emotional dam I'd been holding in check for six long years burst with a ferocity which would have shocked me if I'd been capable of being shocked by anything anymore. I cried for everything, for Mark, my family, the ones who hadn't made it back, for friends we'd met and lost along the way. I cried for who I'd had to be, the decisions I'd had to make and would make again in the same circumstances. And then finally I cried for myself - the person I'd been, the person I am and the sheer relief of realising that I could cry. That I wasn't a monster.
I wasn't in the mood for a party - this one in particular. It was stuffed to the gills with Starfleet brass and the only thing making it bearable was the opportunity to catch up with people I hadn't seen in the last three to four weeks. It's a strange feeling - after living hand in glove for so long - suddenly not to be around the people you have become accustomed to. I even found myself missing Neelix the other day, not his cooking, just him.
B'Elanna caught up with me and accused me of brooding in a corner - sulking was probably a more accurate description of what I was doing. I wasn't exactly being welcomed with open arms by Starfleet and the one person I really wanted to see quite evidently wasn't going to show.
I'd been avoiding B'Elanna since coming back from Florence, she wanted to know all about what had happened between Meredith and I, and where I'd got to when I wasn't on the vacation I'd planned to take. This time she had me cornered and I knew I was going to have to confess.
'So, what's the story with you and Bambi?' They'd never got on, B'Elanna and most of the senior staff had never quite given up hope on Kathryn and I.
'There is no story - Meredith and I decided, together, to call it a day, that's all. Relationships do end B'Elanna, not everyone is as blissfully happy a you and Tom.' She didn't even dignify that one with a response, moving in for the kill with the smoothness of a born predator she said,
'So, where were you if you weren't with Meredith?'
'I went to see the captain.'
'You said you didn't know where she was!' It was too complicated to explain how I had tracked her down, and that I didn't know precisely where she was staying. So I just said,
'B'Elanna, let's just leave it shall we?'
'Let's not. First she disappears, no explanation, nothing, just one day she's there and the next day she's gone - everyone is worried about her, even Tuvok. Then you vanish as well and I'm just finding out that you were with her, but you're as miserable as sin and she isn't here. What the hell is going on Chakotay?'
'I wish I knew.'
'That's not an answer, is she coming tonight?'
'I don't know, I doubt it. Look, she needs a break, some time for herself, after all she's done I think she's earned the right to,' I didn't get any further since there was an audible gasp from all around us followed by a split second of silence. I looked up and what ever I had been just about to say was completely forgotten.
'Oh Gods,' B'Elanna supplied the exclamation but it was more or less on the lines I was thinking, I was at a loss for words. Leave it to Kathryn Janeway to make an entrance.
Everyone was stareing at her, as I'm sure she'd known they would be. I recognised her stance, her smile from a thousand occasions when I'd seen her rise to a challenge. She was doing that now, as always, supremely well.
What was different about this occasion was that she looked absolutely breathtaking. The blue dress she was wearing was immaculately cut, even from across the room I could see that it was tight enough to skim every curve of her body and that the heavily beaded bodice had a plunge neckline, which seemed to be showing just enough cleavage to be on the safe side of dangerous. I'd seen her dressed up before of course, she had one or two dresses she wore for formal occasions on board Voyager, but those outfits were appropriately conservative and the one thing the dress she was wearing tonight definitely was not, was conservative. It had just reminded everyone else in the room that the captain who had returned Voyager from the Delta Quadrant was also a beautiful woman. I wasn't certain it was the kind of dress an aspiring admiral or even an ambitious captain should be wearing to an official function, Starfleet does not like it's officers to be too noticeable, let alone cause a stir simply by arriving. But I loved it and I loved the woman who had the audacity to walk into the party of the year wearing it.
Beside me B'Elanna watched a barrel load of dignitaries descend upon Kathryn and then turned her attention to me, her comment was,
'Close your mouth Chakotay, you're drooling.'
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