Forever and A Day
It was a beautiful night, the sky a flawless midnight blue that glistened with a tapestry of stars. The cool wind was a perfect counterpoint to the balmy summer's night and as the breeze wove it's way among the assembled guests it carried the heavy, luxuriant scent of the thousands of blossoms that populated this glade.
Even the music was perfect; romantic, light, filled with hope. A future unfolding in every gloriously sentimental note. The betrothed couples stayed close to one another, bound by the contented arms they wrapped around each other, as much as by the formal words they had spoken earlier.
It was a perfect setting for a romantic event and Kathryn Janeway, Captain of Voyager, an implacable enemy and no mean diplomat wanted desperately to be somewhere else; because she could remember only too well how it felt to be that in love. She hadn't wanted to attend at all but a number of her crew had been captivated by the idea of the group engagement and the party to celebrate it and she hadn't been able to think of a plausible explanation for her absence.
There was no pressing ship's business to claim her attention, Voyager's two week sojourn here had left the ship well stocked and its systems operating at peak efficiency. Their hosts had been kind and generous, more than one battle weary soul had found a few moments of peace and rest here and she had wanted to thank them for that. Knowing there was no way they could ever repay all that the welcome had given them. She just hadn't planned to express her gratitude by agreeing to attend the most romantic event in their social calendar. If she hadn't been acutely conscious of her own loneliness before, well she was now.
It was unmitigated torture and every kind enquiry she had endured, from either their hosts, or worse still her own crew had made it one hundred times more painful. If she had to be here surely it was better to let her sit, unnoticed in the background? Where she couldn't ruin the mood. But they had been determined to draw her out, into the festivities and only her continued, excruciatingly polite rebuffs had won her any freedom to sit in the shadows and try not to think about how it felt to love and be loved.
She was being self-indulgent and bitter, she acknowledged ruefully. Where was the grace and dignity with which Starfleet Captains were supposed to conduct themselves with, even when they were personally unhappy? Screw grace and dignity! It wasn't going to keep her warm at night or whisper comfort to her when she wanted to cry, nor was it going to speak words that made her insides turn to liquid. Yes, well that was the problem wasn't it? She'd always been drawn to the unobtainable - it had served to push her on, made her try harder, but this time it wasn't going to work. This time all her efforts were focussed on not obtaining what had once almost been within her grasp.
She had to leave now, the emptiness was burning inside her, there were tears in her eyes and she would be damned if she would cry in front of her crew. Besides, she knew from harsh experience that when the melancholy claimed her what she needed was a bath, a glass of brandy and to cry herself to sleep.
He hadn't been watching her, much. And he certainly hadn't been one of the many who'd wasted their time trying to tempt her to take part in the festivities. But Chakotay was kicking himself for not helping her to find a reason not to attend, he'd been wrong to listen to those people who'd told him she'd welcome the party. One look at her solemn, too vulnerable face had told him what a colossal mistake he'd made.
But really, he seemed to be the only one who'd noticed how tragically unhappy she was in these surroundings. Everyone else seemed willing to believe that she was a little quiet but otherwise having a good time. Several senior Ministers had told him how much they'd enjoyed talking to his Captain. His response had been to smile and to change the subject.
He'd noticed how she had gradually negotiated her way to the fringes of the gathering, that a single glass of sparkling wine had stayed on the table with her for several hours and that she'd scarcely taken a sip from it. He wanted to go over to her, tell her there was no earthly reason why she should continue to put herself through this, if she was really finding this as difficult as he suspected. But instead he'd navigated the party, keeping her in his line of sight at all times, conscious that the sensuous mood had gone to his head and his heart and there was little chance he'd be able to talk to her without revealing far more than he wanted to.
So he watched, unable to wrench his attention away, but unwilling to get any closer. When he saw her stand and start to weave her way through the other guests he exhaled in relief, she was obviously calling it a night. He would have let her go without speaking a word to her, certainly that was what he had planned. But at the last moment, she turned and looked back at the party. Damn. The moonlight and her dark dress leant her an ethereal quality that was normally entirely absent from her persona. She was too beautiful a woman for him not too look at and when her expression was this naked and this vulnerable she could take his breath away.
She had almost made it to the beam out site when he caught up with her, when his raspy, urgent voice spoke her name. Of course she'd seen him in that final moment, of course their gaze had locked and the night had blazed with the fire of unspoken feelings until she had walked away. 'Kathryn.' She turned, her face more composed than it had been a moment before, 'are you all right?'
'A little tired and emotional, nothing that won't be gone by the morning.' Her disengenuousness was an effective weapon against him, she'd learnt that a long time ago. But he was getting better at seeing through her half truths, or perhaps he'd seen too much in her expression.
'You looked upset.' He accused.
'Well, it was a more difficult evening than I anticipated, I could have done without the reminder that I'm tired and old and lonely.' The lightness she'd tried to infuse into her voice betrayed her and instead her words were as brittle as glass and they shattered as soon as he reached for her and pulled her unprotesting into him.
'You aren't old,' he said quietly, 'and you don't have to be tired or lonely.' She didn't have the energy to argue, instead she breathed in his comfort, letting him cradle her in his arms without worrying what would happen if someone saw them. 'Why won't you let me help you Kathryn?'
She backed away from him then cupping his cheek with her trembling hand. When he saw her tears he wished he hadn't asked, he hadn't wanted to cause her more pain. As recompense he kissed them away softly, pulling her back into his arms as though if he couldn't see her red eyes he could forget that he had made her cry.
'Do you trust me?' She asked, against the strains of a symphony of strings surging to a triumphant climax.
'Yes.' That was a more unconditional answer than she deserved she knew, and once again she untangled herself from the safe haven of his arms.
'Then you do understand that I don't behave this way to deliberately hurt you? It has to be this way Chakotay, I can't be in love with you and get the crew home. It's a straight choice the ship or you, and I've chosen the ship.' He started to say,
'It doesn't have to be that way,' but she silenced him with her fingers to his lips.
'Yes, it does, for me, here and now it has to be like this. It has to be you or them. I can't be the Captain I need to be and give you the love and attention you deserve and I can't settle for half measures either.' He wasn't surprised that for her it had to be all or nothing, he'd known that about her for as long as he'd known her.
'Don't I have any say in this Kathryn?'
'No, I'm sorry you don't, because you'd persuade me to try, I know you would and it would be doomed. We'd make a mess of it, or I would.'
She closed her eyes, not wanting to see his face, but he drew her back to him again and pressed a light kiss onto her eyelids as though he were blessing her. 'You know I'm never going to give up on you,' he breathed with a softness she was sure she'd never forget.
'Chakotay,' a plea.
'No, that's my choice and you don't have a say. One day this will be over - and Kathryn, when it is, no matter what happens we will be together.' Their gaze, met and locked, there was a promise in his eyes, one that would have to sustain her through the darkness and the loneliness to come.
Releasing her he touched his fingertips to her cheek, just once, and then rubbed his thumb over the curve of her lower lip, memorising her. She took a step away from him, heading finally for the beam out site, but his words stopped her. He was gazing at one of the newly engaged couples who were holding each other close, moving slowly to the music, clearly without hearing a note of it. They looked content, at peace. 'I'd give almost anything to be that free for one night,' he said.
'So would I,' she whispered, not looking back to see if he heard her.