Q in the Grey
Kathryn looks around her quarters, free at last of Q’s interference, and feels a terrible loneliness. Q’s advances were entirely unwelcome, but they reminded her just how much is missing from her life, here in the Delta Quadrant. She isn’t getting any younger. Before they were stranded out here, it always seemed too early to think about children, after all she had her career to think about. Now, she realizes that she may have missed her opportunity. Even if it weren’t for Mark, who has surely given up hope that she is still alive, she doesn’t have the luxury of devoting her time and energy to something as selfish as having a child while captaining Voyager through the Delta Quadrant.
Not to mention… well, Q may have been clueless as to a lot of things about relationships, but if Kathryn is honest with herself, in her weaker moments she knows there’s only one person she can imagine being the father of her child. It isn’t Mark. He might not have a right to be bothered by Q’s pursuit of her, but if he could read her mind, he would know the truth: a truth she thinks would reassure him. She can’t say that though. It is just one more indulgence she can’t afford.
The door chimes. She knows who it will be: him… always him.
“Come in,” she manages, looking away from the stars and towards the door as it opens, and she finds herself smiling softly as she sees him, “Chakotay…”
“I just came by to…” he begins, maybe feeling a little bit sheepish. They both know why he is here: he is worried about her.
“Check on me? See how I was holding up after the whole Q debacle?” She finishes his sentence, forcing a smile.
Yes, there is that embarrassed grin she loves so much as he looks down at the carpet. She sits down and indicates for him to do the same.
“Am I that transparent?” he asks, hand playing nervously with his ear.
“Perhaps we both are.” It’s true. He always seems to know when she is most out of sorts, even when she thinks she is masking her pain perfectly. “I’m fine, Chakotay. I can’t pretend not to be a little shaken, but I’m all right.”
She knows she probably shouldn’t have said anything, but the moment she called him by his name instead of rank when he entered, she’d accepted this as a personal conversation. Even a captain is allowed to have friends. She wants to get out of her own head, so she hasn’t sent him away. Instead she’s unconsciously encouraged him.
“Do you want to tell me about it? Or should I guess?” He sits next to her, a respectful distance but close enough that she can feel his proximity on her skin, a comforting warmth radiating from him.
“I was just thinking that I probably will never have a child of my own. It’s not like motherhood and getting us all back from the Delta Quadrant would work together, even if…”
She stops right there, realizing she’s said too much.
“Kathryn, nobody on this ship expects you to sacrifice your whole life for us… except you.”
“Even if I could justify the selfishness… what would I do? My dreams of having children involve a partner. It’s old-fashioned, but I feel like children should be born out of love. If I’d just wanted any old child, maybe I could have let Q have what he wanted…”
“You have options, even if you don’t want to see them…”
This time he’s the one who grows quiet. He’s treading on dangerous ground and he knows it. There is a part of her that wants to let him finish the unspoken thought. There is a part of her that wants to say, “To hell with it.” There is a part of her that wants to take comfort in him fully. She can’t, though. She has to think that they will find a way home, not in decades but in years. Otherwise, she is squandering their lives.
“My first priority has to be the crew. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. Hell, I have a whole ship full of people who need me to be their mother.”
“I know it is a heavy burden, but I hope you don’t feel like a single mother when it comes to that.” He is looking into her eyes, face maybe a foot from hers.
They both know what he is promising. Right now, she can’t bring herself to try to put the spectre of Mark between them. Even if she can’t accept his unspoken offer, she wants him to know she appreciates it. She can’t tell him the truth. She can’t tell him how desperately she wishes it were possible to follow up on it. But she can’t lie either, not in this moment.
“Never.” She compromises, “Don’t think I don’t know what you do for them... for me.”
She watches him hesitate, weighing the options available to him in responding to her. They are both on thin ice here. A little push in either direction and they might end up submerged, one way or another.
“Who knows,” he settles on, “maybe we will find a wormhole that drops us back out in the Alpha Quadrant next week.”
It is an attempt to lighten the mood, to be comforting. Kathryn wonders if the unspoken offer would still stand without all of the Delta Quadrant standing between them and the rest of humanity.
“That would change things dramatically,” she agrees, thinking she would still want it to be him. “If I didn’t have to get us home, I might be able to take advantage of those options you mentioned earlier.”
She doesn’t know why she feels the need to say it. It is counterproductive and unbecoming of her situation. She should have said something about Mark, and how maybe he would welcome her home, if he hadn’t already taken the plunge with someone else. Instead, the words that spring out are a confession she doesn’t mean to make. She watches comprehension dawn on Chakotay’s face and hates herself for her own weakness, for her need to see his reaction.
“We are going to find a way,” Chakotay promises, and she isn’t sure if he means a way back to the Alpha Quadrant or a way around the obstacles that keep this thing between them at bay. Maybe it is both.
After all the excitement has died down, Chakotay is left with the reality of what he’s learned. He doesn’t want to think about it, about all his friends, dead. He can’t avoid it forever, though. The Maquis is a thing of the past. He supposes, of course, that he hasn’t been Maquis for quite some time. Still, the brutality of it all. A cruel voice inside of him thinks that at least the Federation has probably finally learned what the Maquis understood all along: the true nature of Cardassia. It doesn’t help, not really. It won’t make everyone he knew less dead.
His door chimes and he wonders who it might be. It is probably not B’Elanna after her reaction, but there are plenty of other members of his former crew that probably need his support right now. He can’t afford to wallow.
“Come in,” he calls, trying to put on a calm face.
He is not prepared for it to be the captain. After his earlier response to her vulnerability, his implied offer, he expected her to keep some distance for a little while. That’s their pattern: get a little too close or too honest and then back away to a safe distance until the moment fades a little. Here she is, though, and he wonders whether her letter really has changed everything for a moment.
“I realize I was selfish earlier,” she tells him. “I never asked you about your letter.”
B’Elanna. Chakotay realizes she must have said something. He doesn’t know whether to be touched that she is here as a result, or frustrated that it is all this visit means.
“What is there to say?” he sighs. “It seems that none of us got any good news.”
“Oh, Chakotay!” The voice is Kathryn the woman, not Captain Janeway. “I’m so sorry.”
She reaches out to him, her hand coming to rest against his heartbeat. Her eyes meet his and he fights the urge to come to pieces, simply to let her comfort him. It would be so easy to dissolve in grief in the safety of her care. It is something he encourages her to do with him, but he can’t bring himself to show that weakness to her right now. Besides, he isn’t sure whether, if he let the feelings overtake him, he’d be able to come back out of it.
“We have all lost people,” he manages lamely.
“I want you to know that I appreciate what you said earlier.” Their eyes are locked, and he can see this is hard for her to say. “It means a great deal to me.”
Hope springs up unbidden in his chest. Even through the grief, she can do this to him with the simplest words or gesture.
“It is the truth.” It is all he can do to not repeat his earlier words. You are not alone. There is plenty of time.
“There are still a lot of obstacles.” She sighs, sinking down on his couch. He sits next to her, taking one of her small pale hands between his large dark ones.
“We have overcome obstacles that seemed well nigh impossible. I am sure that we can find a way to navigate some touchy situations. It doesn’t have to be now, though. I meant what I said about there being plenty of time.”
He wants her inconsolably, but he knows her too well. He knows that she will simply run away from a rash decision made in grief. He doesn’t think he could bear to lose her after getting a real taste of what it would be like.
“I am not sure medical opinion would agree with you.”
He is reminded of a similar conversation they had what seems like a lifetime ago. He is surprised at the forthrightness of what she’s saying. He would never have expected her to openly acknowledge the conversation they had adjacent to the issue of children. They are neither of them getting any younger. He is all too aware that by the time his father was his age, he was arguing with him about his decision to join Starfleet.
“I wouldn’t say it was crunch time yet,” he reassures her. “The offer still stands, though. If it is really what you want?”
He doesn’t say that it is certainly something he wants. He doesn’t say that he too longs to hold a child of his own in his arms, or that in his heart there is only one woman in the universe whose features he imagines mixed up with his own. They can’t even agree on allowing themselves to cross the boundary between friends and lovers. They talk around their feelings, even in moments of relative honesty like this.
“The question isn’t what I want. It is what I can allow myself.”
That is always the question.
“You are the only person who can answer that question, Kathryn… no matter how many times anyone else tells you yes.”
“Chakotay…” she smiles with a tragic sort of beauty. “I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”
She leans in towards him, head coming to rest against his shoulder as her arms wrap around his neck. He gently envelops her in his arms, drawing comfort from her in such a primal way. Human beings are not intended to be isolated in their own little bubbles of personal space. Everyone needs physical contact, whether it is that of friendship, or family, or a lover.
“I’m here,” he whispers. “I’m here when you need me.”
“I know,” she breathes. “Even on a day like today, when you have a far greater tragedy than mine, you are always here for me. What did I do to warrant that?”
“It’s not what you did. It is who we are.” The words escape before he realizes he’s even thought them.