Disclaimer: Paramount all, me nil.
Summary: When Kathryn is uncharacteristically late for work, her absence has unexpected consequences for her relationship with Chakotay.
When: Set sometime in the fourth season, about 6 months before "The Void".
Author's note: Someone recently told me I was listening to way too much Joni Mitchell. Bah humbug.
"The time is six a.m."
Kathryn's left eyelid twitched ever so slightly. She gingerly pried it open, staring blearily up at her regulation grey Starfleet ceiling. With a short grunt, she closed it again.
"Still grey", she muttered. "What's with Starfleet and grey?"
Grey ceilings, grey walls, grey consoles, grey undershirts. There was at least one starship design engineer out there with serious mood problems. With her eyes firmly shut, Kathryn mused on this for a few minutes. She'd been feeling rather melancholy lately. It didn't help matters when Voyager's surfaces seemed to reflect her gloominess. She didn't even know why she'd been feeling this way. Nothing had changed recently. Perhaps, she thought, wriggling her feet slowly against the mattress, that was the problem.
"The time is six fifteen a.m."
For some reason her grey Starfleet blankets felt unusually comfortable this morning. The warmth of her body was trapped against the length of her skin, and she felt no desire whatsoever to shrug them off and face another day.
"The time is six thirty a.m."
Both of Kathryn's eyes snapped open. Half an hour had passed. How was that possible? She glanced over at her robe, which lay crumpled on the floor beside the bed, and considered reaching out for it. Her right arm, however, was still neatly tucked under the covers, and it seemed such an effort to pull it free. Her gaze wandered from the silky pink fabric to a padd which lay on the carpet beside it. She frowned in annoyance. What was that doing there?
Curiosity won out over comfort. With a sigh, Kathryn slipped out her hand and stretched to scoop it up. With the padd in one hand, she pulled the blankets up over her body again and rested back against the mattress. Ah – the story B'Elanna had lent her yesterday. She'd meant to read it before bed, but had only made it through the first few pages before slipping off to sleep. Star crossed lovers seemed slightly different to B'Elanna's usual fare. It wasn't Klingon, for one thing. It also appeared to be quite modern, judging by the few casual references to technology she'd come across thus far. She pressed a button to scroll the text down a little further. She had plenty of time until her shift started. Perhaps she'd just read a few paragraphs…
Neelix clutched the padd tightly in both hands. For once he had his speech fully prepared. He'd thought about the pros and cons and, perhaps more importantly, had tried to preempt all of Captain Janeway's standard objections. He'd also thought about timing - catching the Captain right at the start of her shift, when no one had had the time to ruin her day yet by blowing out the ODN relays, or crashing a shuttle. When the turbolift deposited him on the bridge he stepped out confidently.
"Captain, I was wondering if…"
Neelix drew up short as Chakotay grinned at him from the First Officer's chair.
"Good morning, Commander." He gestured towards the ready room. "I just wanted to speak to the Captain."
"She isn't here yet."
"Oh". Neelix stood rooted to the carpet, momentarily thrown.
"She's late this morning", Chakotay added.
"She's never late."
Chakotay merely smiled at him. He'd been thinking the same thing, but was hardly going to say so. Kathryn had been acting oddly lately. Even if he wasn't one of her closest friends he would have sensed her recent depression. She tried to hide it, of course, but there was a sadness to her eyes that her tight lipped smiles couldn't dispel. When he'd asked she had insisted nothing was wrong. He'd wanted to push further, wanted to find the right words to work through her defences, but that moment hadn't arrived yet.
"Well, she is this morning. Anything I can help you with?"
After a moment's vacillation, Neelix handed him the padd.
Chakotay's eyes widened slightly, then a wicked grin crept across his face. Life in general had been too serious on Voyager lately. Perhaps this was what they needed to lighten up, if only for a day. And who knew, perhaps a little fun would cheer Kathryn up too.
"I like it," he said.
Kathryn jumped as her communicator chirped.
"Captain? Are you alright?"
It was Chakotay's voice, sounding oddly tentative. Well no wonder, she thought, calling her at this time in the morning. Without taking her eyes from the padd, she reached over to fumble on the bedside table for her comm badge.
"Is something wrong, Captain?"
"Not that I'm aware of. Why?"
"No reason." Chakotay paused before adding, "I was just checking if you were planning on coming in to work today."
Kathryn frowned, finally tearing her eyes away from the text. "This early?"
"It is a quarter past nine."
The padd slipped from her fingers. Kathryn Janeway was never late. She barely slept at night, never mind in the mornings. What would Chakotay be thinking? Kathryn shot one of her trademark glares at the offending padd.
"I said it's a quarter past nine. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine… I just…" Kathryn trailed off as her eyes slid down towards the treacherous padd again. Perhaps this wouldn't be the best time to admit she'd been caught reading a romance novel. "I'm on my way", she finished.
After hurriedly throwing on her uniform and pulling a brush through her hair, Kathryn was ready to stride out of her quarters, when the light glinted on a grey object nestled amongst her blankets. The star crossed lovers. Her fingers twitched involuntarily. She had been right in the middle of an interesting scene. Maybe it would be a quiet morning on the bridge. And B'Elanna might want the story back. It wouldn't do for her to keep it for too long. With these charitable thoughts in mind, she seized the padd and tucked it under her arm.
To his credit, Chakotay didn't ask. To her relief, it was a quiet morning, and she was able to retire to her ready room to continue reading. The echo of raw emotion in the work made her scroll further and further, unable to put it down. By one o'clock that afternoon she had finished the story. Her prints on the padd were barely cold when the doors to engineering closed behind her.
"Captain". B'Elanna glanced up from the warp core diagnostic panel. "What can I do for you?"
Noting that Seven of Nine was working at another console on the far wall, Kathryn moved closer.
"It isn't official business. I'm curious about the story you gave me."
"Had a chance to start it yet?"
"Actually I just finished it."
B'Elanna grinned. "I told you it was an interesting read."
Kathryn glanced again at Seven, who appeared engrossed in the console display.
"Addictive, I would have said."
"I'm glad you liked it." B'Elanna put down her hypo-spanner and selected another tool. "What did you want to know?"
"You could start with who wrote it."
"No idea, Captain. I just found it in the computer library."
Kathryn peered idly at what B'Elanna was doing, while the chief engineer's tool hummed melodically.
"I don't suppose there'd be any more stories by the same author, then."
"Not that I know of."
"Just a thought."
"I can tell you one thing," B'Elanna offered. "It was written by a member of the crew."
"What!" Kathryn lowered her voice as Seven glared at them. What was it about the Borg that made her feel like a misbehaving child being scolded by a school teacher? "Someone on Voyager?"
"The file was entered into the computer about ten months ago. At first I thought maybe someone picked it up during a trade, or on shore leave."
"But it's about humans".
"Exactly. So it must be a new story."
Kathryn's curiosity was well and truly piqued now. "Did you try and find out who?"
"Of course I did. Someone on this ship, writing something like that." Again B'Elanna switched tools, gesticulating for emphasis as she did so. "That's some pretty heart wrenching stuff, Captain. Unfortunately, whoever wrote it also knew how to write encryption codes. There's no way to trace who logged the data into the mainframe." She grinned again. "I could tell you who has read it."
Kathryn knew she probably shouldn't have asked, but did anyway. After all, today seemed a day for precedents.
"Present company excepted – Sam Wildman, Susan Nicoletti, Tal Celes and Chen D'Tada."
"He reads everything."
"That doesn't really help up locate the covert author, does it?"
A thought struck Kathryn then and she glanced quickly over at Seven.
"I don't suppose you've asked for any help cracking the codes?"
B'Elanna followed her gaze, her eyes hardening.
"She does have a way with security protocols."
"So does Tuvok. I'd much rather ask him."
"Of course not."
"There's no harm in asking her".
B'Elana snorted. "She's just as likely to take part in the fancy dress day tomorrow as she is to help us."
"True. I just hate it when I find myself– " Kathryn broke off, her eyes narrowing. "What did you say?"
"The part about a fancy dress day."
"When we received the announcement this morning, Seven said it was an inefficient use of resources to-"
"Hold on", Kathryn's hands flew to her hips. "An announcement?"
B'Elanna eyed her curiously. "Right. The one Chakotay made."
At Kathryn's blank look she added, "You know, Chakotay, your first officer. Tall, dark, handsome, former Maquis fighter, now responsible citizen-"
"Sorry. I assumed that you knew." At the dark look on Kathryn's face she hurried on. "I can see you didn't. That explains it."
B'Elanna shot a quick look at Seven, who was trying not to look as though she was listening, despite the tops of her ears flushing a slight shade of pink.
"Seven and I had a… discussion. She was, shall we say, astonished that you had given the idea your approval."
"That would be because I didn't."
"I can see that now."
"Unless I gave the order while I was fast asleep and didn't…" Kathryn trailed off, realization dawning. "I think I know what's happened here. Excuse me."
As she strode briskly out of Engineering, Seven turned towards B'Elanna.
"It appears the Captain was not appraised of that preposterous idea after all."
With heroic restraint, B'Elanna resisted the urge to break her nose.
"Seven", she said from between clenched teeth, "I have a costume idea for you. How about the wicked witch of the west?"
Seven gazed at her, the cool surface of her face unperturbed. "The west of what?" she said.
It was only two words, but as usual, Chakotay marveled at how much subtext Kathryn was able to mesh into so little space.
"It was Neelix's idea, actually."
"Was it? I don't recall asking you whose idea it was, do you?"
"I thought I'd volunteer the information."
Chakotay fought against the urge to grin, instead casting his eyes about the ready room for a moment, until he was composed enough to look Kathryn in the face.
"Are these trick questions, Kathryn?" He took in her stiff posture and the clearly irritated look in her eyes. Four years had taught him something about how to read his Captain's moods. "Do you really think it's a terrible idea? Or are you mad because I authorised it while you were sleeping in?"
Kathryn seemed to balk at that. When she replied, her voice was quiet. "I wasn't."
"Sleeping. I was just… late."
"You're never late."
"I was this morning."
"I know. That's why Neelix talked to me instead."
"And you just had to make a decision then and there?"
"Kathryn", Chakotay said, moving closer towards her, "you know this sort of thing would never happen on a 'normal' Starfleet ship. But we're not a normal ship. We're not a normal crew. And quite frankly, I think we need this right now."
She eyed him suspiciously. "We need fancy dress?"
"We need to let some tension out. It seemed a harmless way to do that. Letting people turn up to work dressed like idiots, I mean. What's the harm in that? Unless one of B'Elanna's crew gets their fairy wings singed on an overheated conduit."
Her eyes softened but her tone didn't. "And you didn't think that maybe a fancy dress party after work would be a better way?"
"Neelix is always throwing parties. He wanted to do something different."
Kathryn sighed and moved to sit down on the couch beneath the window. He followed her, sinking into the cushions beside her. She was silent for some time.
"Any more objections?" he said.
A few more minutes passed.
"You know, the problem is, this idea is so insane that I'm having trouble arguing against it."
He grinned. "That sounds promising."
She peered at him from the corner of one eye. "Do I have to dress up?"
Chakotay could smell victory. "No. We… I mean I, made it optional. I think most people will though. Possibly not Tuvok. Probably not Tuvok."
"I'm surprised he didn't lodge an objection."
"He did. I have it in writing on one of those padds near my chair."
Kathryn seemed to suppress a smile at that.
"I'd like it if you would. Dress up, I mean," he said.
One eyebrow rose predictably. "Would you?"
"Will you tell me why you were late this morning?"
He couldn't help noticing that she was playing with her fingers, twisting them together nervously. Whatever she'd been doing, perhaps it was related to her recent bout of melancholy.
Chakotay resisted the urge to reach out and cup her chin with his fingers, to lift her face up so he could see her eyes more clearly. There were times when sitting this close to his old friend, talking to her softly, brought back memories of their earlier years together, when their relationship had been more lively, more full of promise. He hated how that feeling had been missing lately, hated how it felt she was slipping gradually away from him. Perhaps now was the moment to start pushing.
"Will you tell me what's bothering you?"
She glanced up at that, her blue eyes flickering across his face.
"No", she said softly.
"Then will you let them dress up?"
She sighed, but her previous anger seemed to have disipated. "Could we agree to leave it out of our logs?"
"I will if you will."
Again Chakotay resisted the palpable urge to run his fingertips across the smooth skin of her jaw. They sat in silence for a few moments more, Kathryn staring down at her lap, Chakotay watching her.
"I was reading", she said suddenly.
"This morning. I was reading, and I lost track of the time."
His lips curved into a smile. "Was that all? I thought it must be something much more embarrassing. Must have been a pretty good book."
"Chakotay", she said firmly, looking up this time, "I forgot to come to work. I forgot to come to work. Me. Kathryn Janeway. Is that not embarrassing enough?"
He chuckled. "I thought maybe you got stuck on the ship somewhere."
"Jammed in a doorway. Or lost, perhaps."
"Me, lost? On Voyager?"
He raised an eyebrow mockingly. "You? Late?"
"Fair point", she conceded.
As she stared absently out of the window, Chakotay came to a decision. He had waited for far too long. "I wish you'd talk to me, Kathryn."
"I am talking to you."
"You know what I mean."
"I wish that I could, but…"
"Why does there have to be a but?"
"I'm supposed to be responsible, remember? I am the Captain here."
"You're not invincible. How responsible is it for you to bottle up your feelings, and not confide in any of your friends?"
Kathryn gave him a weak smile. "See, that's where you're wrong. I am invincible."
He clasped one of her hands in his. "Not forever, you aren't, Kath."
She was quiet for a moment, enjoying the feel of his warm fingers curled around hers.
"If you don't bend a little", he said softly, "one day you'll shatter."
She was silent for a while before replying.
"You know how people get into a mood, depressed and gloomy, but it just seems to stretch on and on? Something wraps itself around their skin and won't let them breathe. They call it feeling blue."
Chakotay noted she was speaking in the third person, but didn't respond, only giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
"Well, I'm not blue, Chakotay. I'm grey."
When she didn't elaborate, he prodded some more. "Is that worse than blue?"
"Blue is a mood", she said. "It's a type of music. It's water. It's most people's favourite colour. It passes."
"And grey doesn't?"
"It's like those damned clouds that won't go away. Every time you look upwards, there they are. Grey is the things that don't change." She glanced involuntarily at the ceiling, flinching slightly. "Sometimes grey sinks into your bones." She gave him a quick searching look. "Have you ever noticed how much of this ship is coloured grey?" When he turned to survey the ready room she caught his chin in her hands. "Don't look. Just tell me. Where's the grey?"
Despite her gloomy words, Chakotay felt his heart beat quicken slightly at the touch of her hand on his face. "Walls", he said, "Carpet. Consoles. Ceiling. Chairs."
"And undershirts", Kathryn added. She ran her fingers down from his chin to his neck, drifting towards the grey turtleneck collar.
"And underwear", he said.
At that her intrigued eyes darted up to meet his. "Underwear?"
"Not every day. But some days of the week, yes."
To his surprise, she chuckled. "I guess I'll take your word for that."
Kathryn dropped her hand from his shirt and sighed.
"I'm sorry. This can't be making a great deal of sense."
"The ship's decor is a little gloomy."
"It isn't just decor, Chakotay. It's-" She wanted to say everything, but somehow that didn't seem right. "It's waking up every morning and staring at the same ceiling, and that not feeling like a good thing. It's sitting in the same chair, and eating the same things, and thinking the same thoughts."
Having the same regrets, she added silently.
"It has been a while since you had a real break. No wonder you're sick of routine."
"Is that your prescription? A holiday?"
"Perhaps just a change of scenery."
She chuckled again, more warmly this time. For some reason, Chakotay's gentle insistence that she talk with him had lifted her oppressive mood. "Oh, I'll be getting that, won't I? When my crew turn up tomorrow in multi-coloured splendour."
"I hope so."
She drew back then, looking at him curiously.
"So… what are you planning on wearing tomorrow?"
"Can't tell you that, I'm afraid. Classified."
"Have you decided yet?"
"Can I have a hint?"
"Not even a tiny one?"
"Nope. Kathryn, if you want to see what I'm going to be wearing, you'll just have to turn up to work."
As he reached for her hand again, another thought struck her.
"Chakotay", she said slowly. "You've always had a way with stories, haven't you?"
He eyed her suspiciously. "Some. Why?"
"Have you ever thought of writing a novel?"
There it was. The slightest flicker of a reaction in his eyes, and she knew she had him.
"Star crossed lovers!" she exclaimed. "You wrote it!"
"I did no such thing."
"Kathryn-" he began sternly.
"You wrote a novel. A romance novel." She beamed at him then, all traces of her foul mood gone. "A really good one, at that."
"I didn't-" He broke off, shaking his head. She had that look of triumph in her eyes now. Triumph, and perhaps something else. "You're not going to believe me, are you? No matter how many times I deny it."
His eyes narrowed. "How did you know?"
"B'Elanna said the files were so well encrypted she couldn't break them. There are only a few people on this ship capable of hiding something from her. There's you. There's Tuvok. There's Seven of Nine."
A rueful grin worked its way across his face. "Mmm. I see your point."
"I just wasn't thinking clearly when she told me about it. It's so obvious now."
"You know", she said, letting out a throaty laugh, "if you'd come up with some silly pseudonym, B'Elanna might not have started investigating further. She mightn't have noticed it was a recent addition to our library. And I wouldn't have been so intrigued by the mystery of Anonymous."
"Are you going to tell anybody?"
Kathryn let her hand rest lightly on his arm, in a familiar, yet different gesture. "How about some incentive?"
Without any further hesitation he kissed her. After all, it was a day for firsts.
Six months later, flying through the most desolate region of space they'd ever encountered, Chakotay turned from the featureless scene by his window. He strolled back to his desk and the latest list of crew suggestions that awaited him. Kathryn had passed them onto him, claiming she was already busy enough with Neelix's last suggestion, putting together a series of evening classes for bored crewmembers. She'd also said she was planning on teaching one herself, though she hadn't named a subject yet. As he slipped back into his chair, his eyes fell on a holo-picture resting in a simple wooden frame. A fond smile lit up his face, and he reached his hand out to briefly touch it.
Kathryn Janeway, radiant in shimmering white, beamed back at him, her gossamer wings spread behind her as she laughed at the camera, and at the man behind it. At her husband.
"Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings
And fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days."
Joni Mitchell ("The last time I saw Richard")
This story has been entered in Anne Rose's Ripples Contest
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