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An Understanding

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Her boots are on the floor by the doorway. Kathryn's uniform jacket has found a chair, but hangs haphazardly. Beverly leaves the clothing where it is and gets a glass of wine from the replicator. It's synthehol but the taste and the feel of it in her mouth is what she wants more than she wants to be drunk.

She thinks for a moment, glass in hand, and returns to the replicator for the bottle. Kathryn will steal from her glass, and tonight they might both need it.

The living room is empty. The late summer rain outside has the bite of autumn in it, lashing the windows of Kathryn's apartment. Beverly's clothes and hair are damp, but she didn't have to walk that far from the shelter of Starfleet Medical.

At an optimistic point in the past, they had a dinner date, but in the end, both of them had to work. Beverly ate, but she can't remember what it was. She hopes Kathryn found the time, but it's just as likely that she won't remember what she ate either, if she even did.

Picking up a PADD and straightening the books on the table, Beverly caresses the leaf of a bleeding heart she brought over as a joke. It's doing well, which is proof that Kathryn's not as inept with plants as she protests to be. Walking past the bedroom, she hears water and smiles. After the chill of the rain, a bath would be incredible and that's where Kathryn must be.

She should have guessed.

Learning in the doorway, Beverly smirks down at the pile of uniform on the floor of the bathroom, then smiles over at the tub.

"You didn't get caught in it, did you?"

Kathryn sits up from the water, happily startled. Her hair's up in a towel and she's almost lost in bubbles. "I was walking down Pike Street. Once I was soaked, running back for the transporter just seemed redundant."

Swirling her glass, Beverly lifts it in an offering. "Malbec?"

"No Chateau Picard?" Kathryn teases, lifting her knee so the water and the bubbles part around it.

The air is heavy and full of lavender-scented steam. It's a refuge in here tonight and when the door shuts her in, Beverly smiles.

"Not today." Setting down her glass on the edge of the sink, Beverly strips off her uniform jacket as Kathryn watches her.

"Cair Caroli five?"

"Trade sanctions turned into food riots. Three dead, eleven injured." Kathryn's tone is bleak and she stares into the water.

Things along the fringes of Cardassian space are still uneasy and everyone's on edge about the Romulans.There are no simple economic decisions and Beverly worries that Kathryn misses science more than she lets on. Keeping the peace along Federation supply chains is hardly exploring.

Beverly slides down the zipper of her trousers and slips them off her hips. Kathryn's eyes run over the exposed skin of her legs and Beverly's warmer already.

"Your heart transplant?" Kathryn asks while Beverly peels her turtleneck and tank away from her skin. She spent most of the day in scrubs; still her uniform feels stale and confining.

"Didn't take. His lungs wouldn't sync with his cardiac rhythm. The moment we took him off respiratory support, he seized. We tried a few more times, but I don't think he'll ever be able to accept an mechanical implant. There's still a chance for a donor organ, but that could be months away." Sighing as she removes her bra and panties, Beverly moves her wine closer, setting the glass on the edge of the tub, the bottle on the floor, and steps into the bath.

Kathryn scoots to the corner, making room for her to get in. The bathtub hardly requires that consideration because it's huge. It's still cute of her, and Beverly's smile brightens.

Beverly stands over her, stepping in slowly. The hot water brings feeling back into her feet in a rush. She didn't know they were that cold, but the heat tingles. Her shudder makes Kathryn smile, and the other woman steals the wine glass.

"It's good."

"I have taste."

"Exceptional taste."

Beverly sits down on the edge of the bath first, and Kathryn playfully nudges bubbles towards her legs.

"Will you keep him in stasis?"

There are no names in their discussion of her patients. His heart, her brain, his leg...they're all here because Starfleet Medical is one of the most advanced medical centres in quadrant, and they need her. She can't say she doesn't like the challenge, or that she ever lets herself give up hope. Hope is the most important thing, still, there are bad days and days when all she wants is to remember that most of the time, she makes a difference.

"It's killing his parents, slowly..." She climbs in the water, letting it cover her belly.

Kathryn's wet hand brushes Beverly's hair back from her cheek, and she grabs it before it returns beneath the surface. They sit there in silence, listening to the whispered hiss of the bubbles. Kathryn's hand is her connection to the world; her forgiveness for not being able to right all injustices of biology.

Eventually she smiles back and squeezes Kathryn's hand before she lets it go.

Beverly has been meaning to ask, but the history of everyone who's come before just hasn't found a way into the conversation yet. "Would it bother you if it was Chateau Picard?"

Kathryn tilts her head and raises her eyebrows. "Should it?"

Flicking bubbles at Kathryn, Beverly studies her face. There's no accusation, only curiosity. "The Enterprise will be here next week."

"Should we ask Jean-Luc to dinner?"

Beverly shuts her eyes, sighing up towards the ceiling. Her hair trails into the water and now she'll have to wash it. "I will."

She can picture Kathryn pursing her lips, and she trails her hand through the bubbles when she opens her eyes.

Kathryn lets her mouth twist into a smile. "I know we've half had the conversation, maybe we should finish it."

Beverly chuckled and leaned in close. The water sloshed a little and Kathryn's legs touched hers. "We might need real wine."

"I have some." Kathryn pointed through the wall with a bubble coated hand. "I think."

"We'd have to get out."

Both of them frown at the idea and Kathryn runs her wet fingers through Beverly's hair. "You have bubbles in it."

"If I wash it, your bubbles will disappear."

"Don't you hate surface tension?" Kathryn sighs and gestures for Beverly to turn around. "I can have more bubbles another time."

"How very-"

"I could dunk you-"

"-Patient of you," Beverly finishes.

"Thank you."

Easing Beverly's head back, Kathryn immerses all of her hair into the water. All the sound vanishes when her ears go under and the water is full of the hushed sounds of her own breath and heartbeat. Shutting her eyes, she looses herself in that safe darkness. Kathryn kisses her forehead, her lips almost the same temperature as the water.

"Cheb was the cutest boy in high school. He was charming, funny, brilliant, but he didn't get into Starfleet Academy, I did, and that was the end of that."

Beverly sits up, water pouring down her head. "If you hadn't been accepted, I bet he would have told you to try again next year."

"Not to worry about it."

"You'll be fine, you can reapply." Beverly rolls her eyes towards the wall and Kathryn laughs behind her head then rubs shampoo between her hands. She starts at the Beverly's hairline, moving down without urgency, her slender fingers strong and sure.

"I dated a few times in the Academy, I had a thing for men with a sense of humour and nice bone structure."

Kathryn laughs again, running her fingers through lather towards the tips of Beverly's hair. "DNA Snob."

"There's nothing wrong with being informed."

Kathryn's hand pats her shoulder. "Rinse."

Beverly ducks the back of her head beneath the surface of the water again and this time the bubbles hiss and begin to disappear. Kathryn's hands follow her down, running through her hair and chasing the shampoo away.

"Jack made me laugh."

"You know, Justin had no sense of humour."

Beverly tucks her hair behind her shoulder and turns around. "You loved him."

"I did. I would have married him and I might have been happy."

Resting her forehead on Kathryn's, Beverly smiles. "I was happy with Jack."

Kathryn's lips brush her cheek. "How about that wine?"


The wine isn't Chateau Picard, but it's a perfectly respectable South African merlot. Kathryn's robe is blue and it clings to her slightly damp skin. Her hair hangs down wet, staining the shoulder. She toys with the stem of her glass, smiling nostalgically. "Justin wasn't even sure if he liked dogs."

"I've never had a pet." Beverly grabs a piece of apple from the plate in the middle of the table. "Nana and I never had the time. I love cats."

"You would."

"Not that there's anything wrong with dogs." The wine is spicy, rich and dark. Beverly sips and then grins at her. She knows what she's in for. "I don't think I'd ever have time for one on my own. The hours wouldn't be fair."

"But a cat might not even miss you."

"A very independent cat." Beverly reaches across, stroking the back of Kathryn's hand. "Jean-Luc's a little like a cat. He knows what he wants, but he keeps to himself. He's independent, reserved. A very good friend whenever I need one, but-"

"There's something?"

Beverly finishes what was in her glass and Kathryn fills it. "We were telepathically linked once. Some kind of neural implants that attuned themselves to our brain waves. We shared our thoughts."

Turning her hand over, Kathryn takes Beverly's free hand and toys with her fingers. "Like a mind meld?"

"I've never...I think it was similar." She fidgets with the rim of her glass. It's cool and smooth beneath her fingertip and it reminds her of Jean-Luc and the night in his quarters where she walked away. "He was in love with me for twenty years. I married his best friend and he fell in love with me."

"And he never said anything? You didn't suspect?"

Beverly releases her hand, then shakes her fingers through her wet hair. "He's a very private man. I-"

Kathryn leans in over the table. "Yes?"

"I knew there was something, but he never went through with it. He never said anything. We were, we are friends and that's all we'll ever be. He met someone four years ago. She doesn't leave her planet much, but he has a lot of accumulated leave. He's happy with her. It's the kind of relationship he wants."

"And what do you want?" Kathryn's eyes flash playfully and she has to be acutely aware of how low her robe has fallen over her breasts.

Beverly lifts her glass and lets her eyes fall to Kathryn's clevage. "I think I have what I want."

"Good."

"Good?"

Kathryn stretches, flirting lazily with a twist of her shoulders that exposes even more skin. "I outrank him anyway."

Now Beverly laughs, and the weight lifts off her chest. "I don't outrank a captain."

Kathryn chokes a little on her wine and starts to laugh. "He'd never fight you for me."

"Would you want him to?" They're both giggling at that thought.

"He'd never have to. I keep the things I want." Kathryn grabs the bottle of wine and refills her own glass. "When we were attracted to each other, Chakotay and I couldn't, not in the Delta Quadrant, not while I was waiting for Mark..."

Beverly leaves her chair, heading to the replicator for bread and cheese to go with the wine. She kisses the skin left bare on Kathryn's shoulder and smiles at the back of her head.

"It wouldn't have been fair to the crew. I couldn't divide my focus." Kathryn's glass hits the table hard.

Beverly sets the bread on the table and wraps her arms around Kathryn's shoulders. "You brought them home. You're the great Kathryn Janeway."

Turning her chair buries her face in her shoulder, and Kathryn sighs before she answers. "He's happy now. Chakotay has a crew to look after. We never had the right timing. He's a good friend."

Beverly squeezes her again before returning to her chair. Lifting her glass, she offers a toast. "To good friends?"

"Good friends."

The glasses clink and Kathryn's cheeks are pink from more than just the bath.

"I don't settle." Kathryn stares down into her glass, watching the red liquid cling to the inside as she swirls it. "I want you to know that you're not-"

"I know." Beverly brushes her bare foot against her leg under the table. "Neither are you."

Kathryn leans in again, the apprehension gone from her deep blue eyes. "I've been offered a survey mission."

"A survey mission?" Beverly tears the bread and hands her a piece. "It's scientific."

"It's a stellar survey. Plasma flares along the Badlands. I think I said yes before I finished reading what it was." She smirks and Beverly eats her bread. "It's only three weeks. I'll write..."

"I'd be pretty upset if you didn't." Beverly can't match that smirk, but she smiles. "There's a botanical conference on Betazed about medicinal plants. I've been meaning to go. I'll be occupied, which should not to be taken to mean that I won't miss you. I'll have something to write about."

"I've always considered you quite literary."

Beverly's eyebrows head towards the ceiling. "Readers aren't always good writers."

"You are."

"Oh?"

"You managed to chastise me effectively for being late in a note. My mother's been jealous of you ever since we met." Kathryn looks at the cheese in her hand instead of eating it. "She wants to meet you."

"Your mother?"

That's a new step. Jean-Luc's one thing, Chakotay's the same, but Kathryn's mother?

Kathryn's gaze has the same intensity as laser scalpel. "Doctor Janeway, the mathematical kind, not medical."

"I'd be honoured." Beverly nods and realises she is touched by the invitation. "Would we...?"

"Oh no, she'll insist on cooking." Kathryn pauses, then relaxes. It was a little difficult to ask and Beverly's touched. "Which is a good thing. Everything I am not, she is, in the kitchen. She'll love you."

"I thought she already did." The offhand comment floats in the air and Beverly almost misses what Kathryn says beneath it.

"I do."

They look at each other, then away. There's the hint of a flush in Kathryn's skin that has nothing to do with wine. Her lips move, but before she can speak, Beverly interrupts.

"I'm not good at saying it. I was, once, but when Jack died I..."

Kathryn's relief lights her eyes. "We can leave it. We have an understanding."

"The best one I've had in a long time." She'll hate that the pillows will be wet, but Beverly lets her eyes flick towards the bedroom. "I like this."

Once on her feet, Kathryn lowers a hand to Beverly to guide her out of her chair. When they're face to face, she stands on her tiptoes and kisses her. The heat in Beverly's stomach is much more than wine.

"So do I."