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The moments that change your life are the ones that happen suddenly, like the one where you die.


I don’t know how to handle this.

Marie’s lying in sickbay, goddamn branches out of her side at last, only a few runs with the skin regenerator left. She’s here, and she’ll be fine, and Captain Kathryn Janeway has no idea at all how to handle this. All she knows is that she couldn’t have stopped herself if she’d tried.

She’s certain the crew knows by now. About who she’s brought back with her. About us. Give them some credit, Janeway, you’ve been sitting here all day, glued to her bed.

Marie’s face is pale, still, despite everything the Doctor has hypo’d into her, despite the fact she’s been asleep for the better part of twelve hours now. He’s been silent all that while, after an initial comment on the state of Marie’s teeth, of all things, has gained him her severest glare of all time. Ever. He’s in his office now, safely around a corner, probably monitoring she-knows-not-what, yet she’s certain his eyes are on her, so to speak. I still have to fill him in – not that he doesn’t suspect things. He’s probably already recognized 21st century methods and methodology – teeth fillings, for crying out loud.

When he’d left, she’d taken Marie’s hand. Part of her feels guilty that she waited so long. Part of her isn’t sure she should, even now. Part of her frankly doesn’t care, it’s focused so intently. Fixed on a pale face with closed eyes, willing them to open and laugh and tell her not to worry about stupid things like holding hands, and call her Captain Kathryn for it. They would. Those eyes are eloquent.

God, but I don’t know how to handle this.

The first to come see her had been Tuvok, of course. He’d stood at her side for a long moment, his presence solid if nothing else. She still hasn’t got any idea what he was thinking at that moment, seeing his captain, his friend, cling to a stranger’s hand as if it were a lifeline. Then he’d left, but not without touching her shoulder, and it had damn near broken her composure right there and then. She hadn’t turned to look at him. God, no, she couldn’t have met his eyes then. It had taken the Doctor to make the introductions between him and Ellen, and to soothe Ellen’s shock at meeting her first alien, one, what’s more, who’d summarily proceeded to interrogate her until the Doctor had intervened. No one had quite soothed Kathryn’s shock at seeing Marie’s best friend in Voyager’s sickbay, though.

Ellen had stayed for a while then, too, lingering at the other side of the bed after the Doctor had shooed Tuvok out of sickbay. Treating her wounds had, in his initial assessment, been set aside; she’d been only scraped and bruised for the most part, same as Kathryn, thanks to that goddamned last-minute steering stunt of Marie’s that had the car’s goddamned driver side hit that goddamned tree. When the Doctor had finally tended her injuries, Ellen had seemed a little wild-eyed about how fast they’d vanished, wilder still at how quickly, with dedicated, battle-proven medics and 24th-century equipment, a bleeding, shaking, impaled mess of a body had been returned to something resembling normalcy, too. Janeway’s thoughts shudder away from that memory. Much easier to wonder if Tuvok, or Chakotay, or anyone really, might have found quarters for Ellen, and maybe time to spend in her company, too, to help her acclimatize to her new home. Her new home. Kathryn huffs, a bitter sound. How can she ever forgive me?

Chakotay had been here, too, plainly not satisfied with what he’d heard from the Doctor about his captain’s health, hovering for a few minutes until she’d raised her eyes to his and found a smile for him, dropping both an instant later and not caring what he thought. I am fine, really. If only I knew how to handle this. It doesn’t help that she’s been awake for somewhat over twenty-four hours, apart from two naps in the backseat of a car, well over three centuries ago.

There’d been others in and out sickbay, swishing doors and murmured conversation behind a blessed privacy screen Tom Paris had found. He might as well not have bothered, though; everyone had known what was behind it anyway. The captain, holding hands with the loved one she’d brought from the brink of death, and another universe.

Now she’s alone, finally, blessedly alone, with that self-same loved one, a pale companion, a still, cool hand in hers. The familiar sounds and scents and vibrations of Voyager surround her, comforting in their mundaneness. And such a counterpoint to what’s in front of her eyes. Marie. Marie from Cologne, Germany, born 1979. Brash, cocky, vibrant Marie, so silent and still now.

How’s she going to react when she wakes up and realizes what’s happened? Good God, but I’ve stranded her farther than anyone else on this ship. Because I couldn’t have left her there. Because leaving her there would have meant leaving her there to die; that, at least, is certain, from what the Doctor’s said. And still Kathryn’s worried about how Marie will take this, worried if this will – no, this will change things, no doubt about that. The only thing uncertain is how.

And Ellen. God, Ellen. At least Marie had known about things like starships and galaxy quadrants. Ellen… hadn’t. I really hope someone’s with her right now. And yet she can’t find the energy to lift her hand to her comm. badge, or her voice to the computer, and ask. The only thing she can find energy for is watching Marie’s chest rise and fall, to make sure her loved one is breathing, for all the screens and instruments around the bed.


The ceiling baffles me, what I can see of it without my glasses. And there’s an orange glow in the walls, and a low, vibrating thrum rising through my back, and in my nose a slightly metallic scent. A more familiar one is closer, and a familiar weight on my right shoulder, and a hand curled around mine.

Kathryn.

Asleep in a chair, head on my shoulder, hair hiding her face, a strand moving with her breaths. I ease it away with my left, wincing silently at an unexpected feeling of soreness in my side, and she stirs, just a little, snuggling her cheek into the cup of my hand. Then her head snaps up, eyes wide and almost black. When they focus on my face, I smile at her. I’m not too certain about where we are or what has happened, but I can see she’s frightened, skittish almost, and desperately tired.

The bed is quite narrow, but it’ll take the two of us if we spoon. So I shuffle to the left and to my side, glad to find a rail or something in my back – I won’t fall, so. Hell, but this bed must be high, if she can sit in a chair and rest her head on my shoulder. I tug at her hand when she frowns at my movements. Her eyes turn incredulous, then uncomfortable, and flick to the left, to the right, back to me, and I weakly roll my eyes and tug a little more insistently.

Come on.

With a small, resigned, weary sigh, she climbs onto the bed and settles against me, her body snug with mine, back to chest and knee tucked into knee, my right arm beneath her head and my left around her. Our breaths synch within moments, and we’re back asleep a heartbeat later.


To his credit, Tom Paris is noisy when he rounds the privacy screen, whistling and tapping his tricorder, announcing himself. But he’s too fast, and she’s too tangled, and the look on his face at what he’s seeing would be priceless if the thought of what it actually is he’s seeing wasn’t so mortifying.

His face is back to inscrutable in the blink of an eye as he watches her frantically trying to rise without disturbing Marie. Then the most extraordinary smile crosses his features, and he winks. He winks. Good God – but this is Tom Paris, right? Q certainly wouldn’t take readings so competently. Q wouldn’t take readings, period. Then there’s a sound behind her. Marie is stirring. Crunch time. Get lost, Lieutenant.

Paris, the one officer on this ship who’s almost impervious to her glare, still reads his captain’s face well enough. He lifts the tricorder in his right, a finger pointed towards the ceiling, then the office, to let her know he’ll route the sensor array’s output to his tricorder to monitor his patient, and retreats with a blessedly neutral expression, whistling again to let her know how far his feet take him. Bless you, Tom.

“Kathryn.” The croak is so far from familiar that, for a second, Kathryn feels torn between a giggle and a sob. Countenance, Captain. She gathers all those blasted doubts, the guilt, the goddamn fear gnawing at her, and pushes them to a corner of her mind, closing the door on them hastily and still nowhere near fast enough before she turns round; the amused spark in Marie’s eyes tells her so. And it isn’t helping, either. There’s a ‘Captain’ hovering on those lips, pale and dry as they are, she’s is certain of that, even if she’s stymied to know what qualifier would follow the honorific.

Lips. Pale and dry. “Want something to drink?” Easy deduction.

Marie nods, and Voyager’s captain tries to find her dignity on the other side of the privacy screen. Tom’s already anticipated his patient’s wish and hands her a glass of water, and she turns quickly before he can see her eyes mist up; simple gratitude for a simple glass of water surely shouldn’t upset her so? Then again, the simple act of holding Marie’s head so that the younger woman can drink has Kathryn fighting tears as well.

“You’re back in uniform”, Marie remarks after she’s emptied the glass.

Damn. “Uh… so it would appear.” Her clothes had been too torn, too stained to serve, so she’d replicated new ones, and had ended up, quite unthinkingly, in uniform, of course.

Marie’s eyes are calmer than they have any right to be. “So it would appear that… we’re on Voyager.”

Damn. “That’s… that’s right.”

Marie’s eyes close. Kathryn mutely watches her take a very deliberate breath. Then they open again. “How?”

“You don’t remember?”

Marie starts to shake her head, then her eyes narrow, and she swallows. Looks down at her chest. Touches her side gingerly, frowns, flexes her arm. Looks up at Kathryn again. “How long-” but she breaks off as another thought overrides that question, her eyes darkening in panic. “Ellie.”

Easy, too, this: calm her; reassure her. “Ellen’s alright. The Doctor’s already discharged her, in fact. And you’ve been here for about a day.” Not quite a good answer, that last one.

What!?” Marie looks down and swallows again. “Hell, Kathryn, I mean… holy… Twenty-fourth century medicine, eh? Wow.”

“How do you feel?”

Marie seems to run a little internal diagnostic, flexing arms and legs, moving her head this way and that, then shakes it more firmly. “Incredible. One day?” Kathryn nods. “Unbelievable.”

“Thirty hours, actually – you both slept for a quite a while there; but thanks anyway”, Tom’s rounding the screen, grinning at Marie’s comment. “Sorry, Captain, but there’s some diagnoses I wanted to confirm in person, post-surgery protocol, see. Hey”, he greets Marie, “I’m Tom Paris, Doctor’s assistant. You might want these, I guess.” He hands her two little pods and explains, “contact lenses. Got their specs from the ones you wore when you came.”

“Thanks, yes. I do.” She sets them down next to her hip, then stretches out her hand. “Marie Vey. Pleased to meet you.” They shake hands, and the universe doesn’t implode. Well. Things might turn out okay, after all.


So this is Tom Paris, then. I refrain from telling him I’ve heard of him. Even without that particular bit of information, he seems fascinated, but too… polite to ask too many questions. Every so often, he looks surreptitiously at Kathryn, just as she, every so often, looks surreptitiously at him. Really, if she weren’t so uncomfortable, this would be funny. Maybe I should get used to this. After all, things are going to be egg-shell territory for a while yet.

He runs a tiny cylinder over my side while I put the lenses in, frowns a little, taps commands into something that looks like the tricorder Kathryn had with her, if I remember correctly. Runs the cylinder over me again.

“Miss Vey, if you promise not to over-exert yourself and to return tomorrow for a skin regenerator session, you’re officially released.”

“Released?” It comes out in a squeak. Hell, no, I still don’t believe it. There’d been goddamn tree branches inside me when I’d last looked down, and from what they tell me, that’s been barely more than a day ago. “I mean, I was… I had…”

“Half a tree sticking out of you, that’s right”, he grins, and his words only heighten my nausea. “It punctured your lung, snapped a few ribs, and whatever impact put it there also broke your left leg, gave you a lovely concussion and a nice set of bruises, inside and out.” Well. Nice as it is to know all this… I swallow. He’s good at reading expressions – he smiles at me, solicitously. “Don’t worry, we fixed all that. If you feel up to it, try and sit.”

I fall back on German swearwords when, with his and Kathryn’s help, I do and find I can. Taking a deep breath, I find out I can do that, too. I do feel bruised, but just a little, and while my leg gives a funny tinge when I move it, move it does, and quite readily, too. At Paris’ encouraging nod, I slide from the bed, even, keeping to my right leg at first, and slowly putting weight on the left when he tells me to yes, yes, go ahead, do. Alright, alright. Good grief. Kathryn hovers, meanwhile, arms akimbo for a second, around herself the next, at her neck a moment later.

“Well, it seems to be working nicely enough, doesn’t it?” Paris asks me, and I laugh, my voice a mixture of delight and slightly hysterical disbelief. He snaps his tricorder shut with a nod. “Yep, you’re clear to go. She’s all yours, Captain.”

Oh, how she glares. But at least it helps her know what to do with her arms – crossing them only adds to her glare, but he seems quite unimpressed nevertheless. It takes all of my self-control not to burst out laughing, and seeing his innocent, effable doctor’s smile doesn’t help in the least. He knows exactly what he’s doing. I’ll like him.

“Thank you, Mr. Paris, I will indeed take it from here.” He passes her by and she turns back to me, arms falling to her sides, hands clenched.

“This feels strange”, I voice my thoughts finally.

“You have no idea”, she replies explosively. I do grin at that. “Feel up to walking?”

“Hell, Kathryn, if I weren’t, I’d just get another run-over with that thing of his and feel dandy, right?”

Her mouth twitches. “Probably.”

“Are bare feet permitted on a starship, at all?” I cock my head, truly curious.

“It’ll do.” Now she’s pursing her lips. My manual of her facial expressions is sprouting new pages at a terrific rate. Still slightly uncomfortable, but firmly, very firmly in command mode. Then again, judging by her pacing and the wild look in her eyes when I woke up and she turned around, she probably needs her determination right now. Hell, I do. This is wild, but her steadfastness, her obvious familiarity with everything is helping me, immensely.

I shrug. “Fine by me, as long as we’re not going far. You did say Voyager is quite big, right?”

She raises that eyebrow again. “Depends on your point of view. There are bigger ships than her, some nearly twice her size. But no, we don’t have far to go.”

Then she steps aside and gestures for me to pass the screen, set up for our privacy, I’d guess. Beyond is an open area with three more beds, and a lot more screens, and a small circular office with Paris behind a desk. He looks up and smiles as we pass him by, and I smile back, a ‘thank you’ to his ‘bye’. A sliding door later, we’re in a corridor that curves slightly. Curves seem to be a theme, here. We stop in front of another door, labeled ‘turbolift’.

“Should I be scared?”

“Whatever of?” she asks me as the doors open and we step inside.

“‘Turbo’?” I raise my eyebrows. “Does it go at the speed of light?”

A corner of her mouth quirks. “No, they don’t. You won’t even notice them move. That’s why there are these lights, to let you know which direction you’re moving in.”

“Please state your designation.” The voice comes out of thin air, startling me. Female, pleasant. Slightly bored, or is that just me?

“Impatient today, are we?” Kathryn murmurs under her breath, and I chuckle. “Deck three”, she says out loud, and those lights indeed start to oscillate.

“Voice controlled computer, or someone at a switchboard?” I try to make a joke of it. Hey, smartphones had it, and that was hundreds of years ago, right?

She tsks, but the smile following that sound is proud. “Voice recognition is the least this computer can do. We have-”, and she launches into a description that just passes by way over my head. Something with bio-neural circuitry – wait, I know that one. ‘Neural’ is ‘of nerves’. A nervous system? Would make sense. I have no idea what ‘575 trillion calculations per nanosecond’ translate to, though. A fast computer, I guess.

“Lost you, have I?” That eyebrow is rising again, but her smile is still in place, even if it has won a different quality.

I nod. “When you started talking about gel.”

“Gel packs”, she corrects me.

“Right. They sounded impressive, though.”

“And you don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, do you?” She looks at me askance. The lights stop moving and the lift doors open, giving me time to think of an answer.

“Hey, those figures did sound impressive, and when I think about Moore’s law and the amount of time that’s passed, I shouldn’t wonder if their real meaning isn’t even more impressive than I think it sounds.” My words seem to appease her, at least. We walk down another curving corridor, nicely carpeted as well, and I go on, “I’d like to learn more about it.”

“Don’t push it, Marie”, she smiles that crooked smile again, hand up and pointing at me.

“I do! I want to know what this computer can do. I want to know what this ship can do. I’m just not particularly good with big words at high speed.”

“Hm?” We draw near to a door, and she stops just short of it, again motioning me to pass her by as the door opens.

“Well, hundreds of trillions of-” and then what I see when we step through that door takes my mind of computers completely.

Stars.

Moving.

Moving stars.

Windows, and behind them, moving stars.

In a few quick steps, I’m in front of one, and reach out my hand and touch it. Not cold. Pleasant. And with stars behind them. Moving. I blink. I swallow. I swallow again, blink again, and still there are rainbows.

There’s movement to my right, but I can’t tear my eyes away. Then Kathryn tells me, ever so softly, “Welcome.”


Marie reaches out a hand, eyes still riveted to the stars, and Kathryn takes it. It trembles ever so slightly, but grips Kathryn’s hand firmly, tightly even. They share a blessed moment of silence, then Kathryn’s comm. badge chirps.

“Chakotay to Janeway.” Marie half-turns, eyebrows raised, as the commander’s voice comes seemingly out of thin air.

Eyes apologetic, Kathryn acknowledges it with her free hand. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“The scheduled comm. time with Starfleet starts in five minutes. Admiral Hendricks asked to talk to you first thing.”

“Acknowledged. I’ll be on my way to Astrometrics shortly. Janeway out.” She closes the line and grimaces. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know how long this’ll take.”

Marie shrugs. “I’ll be alright. I don’t feel up to much, anyway.” A dismissive grin. “Just tell me where I can find something to read.”

“Ask the computer”, Kathryn suggests. “You can ask the computer anything.”

“Voice recognition, right?” Marie’s eyes dance. They look exactly as Kathryn has imagined they’d look. The wonder they’d filled with at seeing stars at warp for the first time… it takes all of Kathryn’s self-control not to lose herself in them.

She clears her throat. “Exactly. There’s a replicator over here …” she walks over to its control panel and keys in the appropriate commands, “and now it’ll give you what you need.”

“But I’m not hungry.” Marie sounds perplexed. How- ah. She’d told Marie about replicators when Marie had asked how cooking in space worked.

“Oh, no, no”, Kathryn smiles, hand still on the replicator’s frame. “This replicates anything. Food and drink, certainly, but other things, too – if they’re not too elaborate. Books aren’t a problem, but you could also take a PADD”, she turns and picks up one from her desk, takes a look at the active file, dismisses it, and reaches the PADD over, “and have the computer display text on it.”

“Thanks.”

“So… well. Make yourself at home, and… I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Too abrupt, far too abrupt. “Will you be okay until then?”

Marie nods, shrugs and waves goodbye, for all that she’s standing at arm’s length. “No problemo, Captain. Go ahead and do your job, I’ll be fine.”

Kathryn flashes her a grateful smile and leaves, and doesn’t realize until she’s in the turbolift that Marie’s called her ‘captain’ without any appendix this time.

Chapter Text

When the door closes behind Kathryn, I exhale slowly. So. Pads and replicators, eh? Still, the room’s furniture – a table for four, and a desk; a sofa, chaise longue and easy chair – nothing of it looks too far from familiar. Bluish-grey, much of it, and low lights, although – well. With a starry night out there, you’d need a lot of fixtures to light this place up, wouldn’t you? Pictures on the walls, and orchids all over the place, too, and some other plants I can’t put a name to. Behind the lounger a gramophone, a book on a stand, and a grandfather clock. Five to ten. Morning, or night? I don’t feel tired, but considering how long I’ve slept… There’s an open doorway; it tickles my curiosity. I make my way over there, carpet nice and soft beneath the soles of my feet, then I hover in front of it, and finally put my head through. A bed, not large, but beneath the stars, for crying out loud. And a nightstand. With framed pictures. A regular one, and a really small one – the picture, not the frame.

Curiosity wins out again. I step in hesitantly. I’m quite certain these are Kathryn’s rooms; after all, a guest room wouldn’t be fitted with so many personal items, or flowers, right? So yes, I guess, this is- wait a minute.

“Uh… can you tell me whose rooms these are?” I feel a little silly, talking to thin air, but I’m stunned when there’s a reply.

“These are Captain Kathryn Janeway’s quarters.” The same detached voice we heard in the lift. Turbolift.

I barely manage a ‘thank you’ before my legs give way and I sink to the bed.

It’s true. All of it. Is true. Hearing a goddamn speaking computer state it like that… Hell. She is a goddamn starship captain, and I – I turn to stare out the window – I’m on her goddamn starship. My heart suddenly beats tremolo. I look down at my strange clothing, at my shaking hands, at the stars again, trying to steady my breathing. Then my eyes land on that photo frame.

It’s transparent, all the way through, and slightly arched so that it stands without one of these support thingies at the back. It faces the bed’s head, so I see only part of the picture, but the colors – I know these colors. I know this picture. I pick up the frame. Yes indeed.

It’s the picture I took of her. The very first one, the only one I took during her first – uh, visit? Stay? Whatever. The one I took when she’d fallen asleep on my sofa, and didn’t wake when the sun came up, nor when I perched in front of her with my camera. The one I’ve been keeping a copy of in my purse ever since then – yes, so it’s soppy, but it’s what you do if someone you loved, love, so much, disappears just like that, right? That picture. Complete with the note I wrote on the back of the print, I see when I turn the frame, and now I know why it’s see-through.

Kathryn – sorry to slip out on you, but I couldn’t find it in me to wake you, even though thinking of how helpless you are before your first cup rouses a not-so-gallant impulse or two. *shark’sgrin* I’ve come to love the smell of coffee, did you know that? M

So she’s kept it. I’d realized it had been gone, back when she’d disappeared. Seeing it here, though… It is real, all of it. This is real, and her first visit’s been real, too; neither of both a dream of some kind. It’s one thing to believe there are different universes, to read about them or watch movies about that kind of thing. It was something else already when she talked about them and showed me her instruments and I started to believe she really came from ‘somewhere else’. The future. Another timeline, universe, whatever. Far out, right?

But now, this. A picture I’ve taken with my own hands, in my own apartment, with the sun of my world – I giggle weakly – dappling my beloved’s face. Half a quadrant away, and oh so many years. How many, really?

“Um, can you tell me the date?” Maybe not the most important question, but I have to get my bearings, right?

“The stardate is 54765.3”, the blasted thing replies.

“What?!” There’s a chirruping sound that sounds almost miffed, but no further answer. Alright, Vey, rephrase that, yes? “Can you tell me the date in terms of days and months and years? Oh, and the time?”

“Please specify desired planetary calendar.”

“Wh-”, I stop myself in time. “Uh, Earth?”

“The date according to standard Earth calendar is February twenty-fifth, 2378. The time is oh-nine hundred fifty-eight and thirteen seconds.”

“Scheiße”, I breathe softly. Then something about what the computer has answered impacts, really impacts, and I giggle again, sounding only slightly hysterical. I’ll be four hundred next year. Shit, indeed.

Then there’s a new sound, a propos of nothing. And again, after a few seconds. “Um, what’s that sound?”

“The door chime indicates that someone wishes to enter these quarters.”

Ah. “Well, who?”

“Unable to identify.”

Ah-ha. Got you. But surely there is some sort of… “Isn’t there a… oh, I don’t know, a video interface? Can you show me who’s there?” That sou-, uh, chime, rings out again. “Screw that. How do I open the door, then?”

Again, the miffed sound, then the computer replies, voice calm as you please, “Doors can be opened by vocal command or by stepping into the trigger range.”

“The what? Oh, never mind.” Vocal command, right? “Open the door, please.”

The two panels are barely a foot apart when someone squeezes through and comes flying at me. Arms close around my shoulders in a tight embrace, and my own reciprocate on autopilot, embracing a slim-shouldered body I know so very well. “Leelee.”

Her hands clench into my shirt and for the first time I’m glad about its looseness. “The Doctor told me you were released from sickbay.” She lets go and steps away, running her eyes over me. “I wanted to see you.”

I tug at my shirt’s hem. “Great clothes, eh?”

When her eyes come back up to my face, I can see my jest was not the smartest move I could’ve made. “God, Reeree, you-” she hesitates for a moment, and I spread my arms mutely. She launches herself at me. I stagger backwards and – well, I guess sometimes you’re lucky. We land on that chaise lounge with barely a stumble, and I hold her for a while, until her crying subsides.

“I don’t have any idea where I could find tissues, sorry”, I apologize when she pulls away.

“Oh”, she replies, nose closed, but still quite breezily, “just replicate some.”

“Right. I’ll be right back.” I get up and take a step, then turn back to her. “Did you just say that?”

“I know”, she says with something between a sigh and a giggle that’s about as hysterical as mine has been. “Weird, isn’t it.”

“This is beyond weird”, I throw over my shoulder as I turn toward the replicator again. “This is you, who never read a single work of science fiction, telling me to replicate things. On a starship. In the future. Weird doesn’t begin to touch it.” Then, to the box, “uh, tissues, please.”

“Please specify.”

Now what? I exchange a look with Ellie, who rolls her eyes and shrugs. “Listen, you… computer. Someone’s been crying and they want a tissue to blow their nose. That specific enough?” This time, it gives the happy chirp – I’m beginning to recognize them. Then there’s a whirl of sparks, and they coalesce, and a box appears within the box, a box of – yes, indeed, tissues.

“I’ll be…” I breathe, shaking my head. I mean, 3D-printers, yes, alright, but this?

“Ultra-weird?”

“Weirder.” The box feels solid enough when I touch it, so I pick it up and carry it over. She’s quick to make use of them, too. I steal one for myself and sit down at the head of the chaise longue again, one leg folded beneath me. “We need new vocabulary.”

“We need new identities.”

“Whoa – I’m still me, you’re still you.”

“Yeah, but we’re from another universe. We’re not on file here.” Another giggle, not much more steady than the last. “I could make myself younger.”

I frown. “How… Did you talk to Kathryn?”

My question stops her short. Then she huffs a laugh, and I don’t like the sound of it at all. Her eyes are far away, and I don’t like what whatever they’re seeing does with them, either. “No. To Lieutenant Tuvok. And Q.” She shudders.

My frown deepens. “Tell me?” I ask. She knows it’s not a demand. She knows she can decline, and for a minute, I can see her dithering. Then she sets her chin and her eyes return to here, to now.

Chapter Text

Well. I think I better start at the beginning, right?

We were driving down that pass road, and we couldn’t decide what music to listen to. I in the back seat, Kathryn and you in the front. You were at the wheel and I was behind Kathryn – yes, I know you know all that, alright? I just wanted to… begin this right, you see? Anyway, you suddenly slammed on the brakes. It… my stomach turned, it was so… sickening. I remember looking up and seeing that… tree – alright, fir, whatever – that fir blocking the road, and the mudslide, and I knew, I knew we wouldn’t make it. Instantly. Funny how you know something like that, isn’t it?

Then the car lost its grip. Mudslide, right? Well, we slid, too. For a second I… I thought we would go over the rail, but it held, and then the car started to… spin…

I’m alright, I’m alright. Just let me… get my breath back. God, I’ll never forget… Like a slo-mo movie in my head, you know? Anyway. The car spun and when we… hit that tree, we were almost parallel with it. Your side was. And it… you… God.

You do? Shit, Marie, I’d thought… I mean, yes, your eyes were open for a moment there, but you didn’t respond when… we thought you were in shock. Yeah, I guess so, too. It… God. These branches. You… they… God. I don’t know how Kathryn managed to stay as calm as she did. No, she wasn’t hurt much. No, I wasn’t, either. Shaken, and my chest ached from the seat belt. I remember how she fought with the fastener. Such cursing! And then she went still, completely still, except for her eyes. They moved everywhere, and you could see her thinking, even though I had no idea what about.

And then she said something, and a fucking doorway appeared in the hillside, right next to the road. Arch? Might have been ‘arch’. Hell, I don’t know, Marie. She was making things appear, for heaven’s sake! And then she said something with ‘emergency’ and ‘coordinates’, and next thing I know, the two of you disappear. Vanish. A sparkle of lights, a strange sound and then – nothing but thin air and… and bloody… bloody branches.

What? Hell, Marie, I was damn well freaking out back there, how am I supposed to – you vanished! Right. Right. Give me a second, will you. Just don’t… goddamn smart-ass. Of course it was future technology. Beaming, Lieutenant Tuvok called it. No, I don’t know how it works – I didn’t ask, alright? I really had other things on my – yeah.

Anyway, the two of you were gone, and then someone honks their horn behind me, and I turn around and there’s a goddamn gas truck coming around that corner and I jump out of the car and run towards that door, and just when I reach the rail, something flashes and there’s a guy there, and he snaps his fingers and everything just freezes. A goddamn pause button or something. Shit.

Yeah. Q. How do you- oh she told you about – what? He brought her here? Uh, there? I mean, to our, uh, universe? God, saying this feels so… you have absolutely no idea. So tell me… uh-huh. No – he didn’t! Was she-? Yeah, I’d’ve been mad as hell, too. Talk about ouch. What an ass. What? Oh. Right. Well, he explained things to me. In a way.

Alright, alright, I’m getting there, I’m getting there… so he asks me whether I really want to leave through that door, and I ask why, what’s wrong with it, and he says it’s another universe. And I was like, yeah right, but then I thought, well, he does have a pause button for this universe, maybe he knows what he’s talking about, and… oh for heaven’s sake, don’t laugh. So I was goddamn ill-equipped to deal with such things, the thought had appeared to me, too. Do you want me to continue or not? Well, see that you do.

So he… well, what he said is that basically the doorway would lead to where you and Kathryn had gone, only he called her Ka- yeah. So you know about that, too, do you. Huh. She’s not one for nicknames, right? Yeah, I figured, too. Ah, whatever. Anyway, from what he tells me, it’s the goddamn future behind that door, a goddamn starship, in the goddamn middle of nowhere. Oh, he really painted things in rosy colors, he did. Yeah, I know. Twenty-something years or more to get back to Earth and everything, and when we do, it won’t be our Earth, not the one you and I know. The whole shebang. But, you see, at least…

At least it…

You’d… you’d be…

God, Marie.

I’m… I’m alright. Just… don’t… sorry. Just pass me another tissue, will you. Huh? Oh, the other option. Well. He said that if I didn’t go through that doorway, I’d survive this but you’d be gone, and I and everyone else would think you’d… you’d… oh, Reeree.

Thanks. Good thing it’s a whole box of them, right? Yeah. No, I can do this. It’s okay. Yes, really. Stop clucking.

He said we’d think you’d… died in that crash, died and burned. And we wouldn’t remember anything about Kathryn, and he’d… how did he put it… he’d restore the timeline, I think is what he said. Yeah… ‘shit’ about sums it up, I think.

Chapter Text

I’m dumbfounded. “Leelee”, I manage, finally breathing out. Her eyes come up from where they’d rested on the sodden tissue in her hands, and she tries to smile. “God, Leelee.”

“And then he tells me”, she goes on, right through my thoughts, “to damn well hurry up with my decision. After all, it would only change my life”, she huffs again, even more bitter this time. “Told me if I left, everyone would think we’d both died there, and again, he’d fix it so that no one would remember Kathryn.”

“Thinks of everything, huh.”

“That’s what I said, and he said that’s what being all-knowing and all-powerful meant.” She meets my eyes squarely. “So I chose to come here.”

I open and shut my mouth, trying to find words. “Why?” The question, and its force, surprises me as much as it surprises her.

She frowns. Then her face grows still. Her whole body grows still. She fights for her composure, wins. Those grey eyes I know so well burn into me in a way I’ve never seen them burn before. “Hell, Marie”, it’s an explosion of pent-up breath. “When he said I’d think you were dead, it just… it wasn’t an option, you know?”

I choke. “You… what… Ellie, I know how strong you are. You could’ve taken that. You’ve taken everything, so far. Your parents, Christoph, Robert… don’t tell me you’d…”

Now do you see how that feels?” she asks me suddenly.

“What?!”

“Well, it’s what you always do, you see? You, you… you tell me you’ll be there for me, regardless of… of whatever, and you are! You told me if I’d ever moved to another city you’d come with me, and I know you would have, too. How is this any different?”

“Hell, Leelee, another city isn’t another uni-”

“You couldn’t have chosen between Kathryn and me, right?” I look at her mutely, my train of thought completely derailed. “Back in the Neptunbad, when we had our massages. Shit, Marie, you looked as if the mere thought of having to choose was tearing you apart. And then Kathryn told you she wouldn’t ever make you choose, and… and then you…” she reaches out to me, touches my arm, just as she’d done back then. Oh yes, I remember. “Don’t you see, Marie? I couldn’t have done this to you.”

Run over by a truck. Rug pulled out from under me. Thunderstruck, dumbfounded, stunned. Oh, there are so many expressions for this. Thoughts start to form, dwindle into silence.

How…?

She…

But…

Why? – well, she said… But…

God.

“God, Leelee.” Is this how Kathryn had felt, when I’d offered to come with her? But that had been an offer. This is a choice made, fait accompli. Firmly down one leg of those goddamn trousers. “Leelee.” What do you reply to something like this? How do you thank someone for this sort of thing? Can you ever? “I…” The one thing I feel able to do, I do. I rush forward and wrap my arms around her and… well.

Finding some semblance of composure after an indiscernible while, I pull away from her. “Well. Then what happened?”

She giggles again, the sound still smudged with hysteria. I guess she’s as ready to return to lighter matters as I am. Well, I say lighter. Easier to talk about, anyway. Maybe. “I step up to that door and it opens automatically, and when I turn to look at him, he winks and snaps his fingers again and disappears. And that was that for the pause button, too. God, that truck… I scrambled backwards through that door and… it was… weird”, we exchange a short grin, then she sobers again. “The noise was incredible, parts flying everywhere, and then the whole lot blew up. And I… I sat there, stupefied, watching, and everything that flew through those doors vanished, just… fizzed into nothingness.” Her hands, fluttering, underline her story. “There wasn’t even hot air, or something. Like the biggest movie screen you ever saw, right up close, and somehow not quite, either.” She shakes her head. “And then someone comes around the corner, and the doors close, and she looks at me and says, ‘excuse me, but who are you?’, and… well. I ended up in sickbay in short order, and…”

“And there you found us.”

“Among others. The woman who brought me was about as shocked as I was, I guess.”

“Shocked?”

“Oh, come on, Marie – you do realize you’d been kebab, like, five minutes before that?”

“Oh.” I grin a little sheepishly. “Right.”

“Yeah. ‘Right.’” She rolls her eyes. “Kathryn was so incredibly calm, at least that’s what I thought. Then I got a look into her eyes, when she noticed I was there. Shit, Marie.” She takes my hand. “You’ve got a good one there. A captain, too”, she waggles her eyebrows.

“Two good ones, I’d say”, I reply with a lopsided grin.

She rolls her eyes again, but squeezes my hand. Then she straightens. “And all your bags, too”, she announces. “Oh, yes”, she goes on, to my startled reaction. “You see, when I told… God, I didn’t even ask her name. Anyway, when I told her what had happened, back there in that… corridor, or whatever, she steps up to that door, and it opens, and there’s nothing inside but a room, with grey walls and… thingies, and our luggage smack center, neat as you please. All of it. Every last shopping bag, too.”

“Your laptop, eh?” Her eyes light up and she nods. Oh, how she loves the thing. Hell, she cuddles it, sometimes; I’ve seen her.

“It’s all in my room now, or quarters rather, your stuff and mine. Lieutenant Tuvok asked me where to have it… beamed to, and I figured… well. I thought I’d better take it, instead of telling him half of it belongs to the Captain’s girlfriend, and to let him sort out which half, and decide where to put it. And Kathryn certainly wasn’t in a position to spare a thought on it.”

“Tuvok.” Ellie had mentioned him, hadn’t she? Before she’d started talking about Q. I think I can be excused for forgetting that for a while.

“He asked me some questions when I arrived in sickbay. I guess he had to, seeing as he’s chief of security. He…” she gulps audibly. “At first I thought it was a trick of the lights, you know. His eyebrows. His ears, for crying out loud.”

“He’s Vulcan.”

“Well, I know that, too, now, thanks very much.” We share another grin. “Good grief, Marie. What have we gotten ourselves into? Aliens. Starships. Replicators, and beaming. The goddamn future, and not even our future. Tuvok seemed quite… relieved, if you can call it that, when he found that out.”

“Did he try the war question?”

She cocks her head. “‘How many world-wide wars have there been in your past?’” I nod. “Yeah, he did. Kathryn, too, then?” I nod again. “I thought my heart would stop”, she goes on. “And then he wouldn’t tell me if they’ve had less or more than the two.”

“Kathryn wouldn’t, either.” We both shake our heads for a moment, then grin again at the unexpected synchronicity. “Well, I guess we can find out, later. What else did he ask you, anyway?”

“Well, he took my name and age, raised an eyebrow when I told him my date and place of birth-”

Her tone of voice speaks volumes about his lack of response. “Well, how would you react if someone told you they were born, like, 1648 or something?”

“I wouldn’t just raise an eyebrow, right?”

“Vulcans are like that, apparently”, I shrug. “They let pure logic rule their lives, instead of emotions. Something like that, anyway. I didn’t really believe it when I read about it, either.”

“Read.” Her voice is flat. My answer derails our conversation for another long while, just as my answer to her question what Kathryn’s told me about here, exactly. I’m trying to remember for her, but, truth to tell, my memory has never been particularly stellar. Then we go get my stuff from her quarters (which are a few decks down, and along another corridor). Ellie commands the turbolift, with another giggle, and shows me how to enter a door’s access code, and I grow cold.

“What?” She looks back over her shoulder when I don’t enter her room. Quarters.

“I don’t know Kathryn’s code, and the doors shut behind us, didn’t they? So from what you just said, I can’t get back in.” I slowly step forwards, and her doors shut behind me.

She wrinkles her nose. “Could be, yeah. But you were able to use the replicator.”

“So…?” I look at her expectantly.

“So she might have told the computer that you’re a resident. In which case it opens for you if you didn’t expressly lock the doors.” I look at her. “Lieutenant Tuvok did the same for me in these quarters, only he explained it to me”, she tells me.

“She did enter some commands into that screen at the replicator”, I remember. Then I smirk again. “Heavens, Ellie, here you go again, explaining twenty-fourth century technology to me. Too, too weird.”

“Never thought you’d live to see the day, did you, Smarty?” I blow her a raspberry and she laughs at me. Then I get a tour of her quarters, which are apparently at the bow of the ship, as well – stars streak towards her windows, too, albeit at an angle. They’re smaller – both the quarters and the windows, and yes, indeed, all our bags and boxes are here, up to and including the wine and cheese I bought in Italy. It doesn’t get better than this, does it? Maybe this Q does have a few arguments in his favor.

Laden down with what’s mine, we make our way back to Kathryn’s quarters, after a shoulder-shrugging exchange of ‘well, why don’t we’ and ‘yeah, what the hell’. There aren’t many people about, which I think is odd, considering that Ellie tells me these are areas where people live. Then again, maybe they’re all at work, or asleep? The few we do see cast us odd looks, but at least there’s no one present when we get close to Kathryn’s quarters and start to really wonder about whether the doors will open.

They do.

“Thanks”, I grate when we’re inside and I slowly right myself. Something about not overexerting flicks through my thoughts, and I ignore it. Anyway, Ellie’s carried the big duffel, right?

“Don’t mention it”, Ellie sighs, putting it down. “Now what?”

“Don’t know – hungry?”

“Not really”, she shrugs. You?”

“No. Tired, more than anything.” As if mentioning it has made my body sit up and listen, I have to stifle a yawn. Stretching expansively, my eyes travel the room. Driving home, once more, where I am.

“Well, get some sleep then. You do look as if you could use it.”

“I can’t just… it’s her bed.”

She shakes her head at me. “So take the sofa.”

“I…” I look down.

“Marie, what’s wrong?” Stepping up to me, she puts her hand on my arm. I shudder. “Hey.”

“Ellie, I… you… doesn’t this rattle you, at all?” Her hand drops away, and she heaves a big sigh, suddenly very, very tense. Then she turns away, to look at the stars. Hugs herself.

“Of course it does”, she whispers.

“And we’re getting comfortable here, chatting about quarters and dividing up our bags and… whatever, and…” pull yourself together, Vey. She’s shaking, for God’s sake, and it’s your fault. Pillar of strength, remember? Thirty hours. I’ve been asleep – she’s been alone. So where’s that white armor? “I’m sorry, Leelee.” I put my arms around her from behind, and she leans into me. “So we’re both rattled. And we’re both going to be okay. We’re alive, and among nice people, and who cares where or when this ship is. We’ll be alright.”

“Easy for you to say”, she sighs. “You have this way of making yourself at home anywhere.” It’s not reproach, and I don’t take it as such. She’s just stating a fact, after all.

“And you need your stuff around”, I state another.

She nods and pulls away. “I miss my apartment. My own bed, with my own blankets, smelling of my own softener. My kitchen, and the sound of my fridge. This is all foreign. All wrong.”

We both hold our silence for a while. There’s nothing I can think of to say to that. Reminding her of the alternative – no, I can’t do that. Hell, she’s left her life behind. For me. I won’t belittle that, ever.

“I mean, look at you”, she goes on over her shoulder, voice rising. “Those clothes! Every time I look at you, it’s… not you.” Another deep, shuddering sigh. “And-”

“Leelee”, I interrupt her, catching her hands. “Relax. I’m me, whatever I’m wearing, you know that. This is… a hell of a change. So much, so quickly, and with so little time to take it in, but we’ll…” I turn her around to look at me, my eyes supporting my message. “We’ll be alright, in the end. It’ll be rocky, but we’ll get there.”

She closes her eyes, but not before I can’t see the tears. Still, she nods. “Brave little soldiers, right?”

“Ach, no”, I hug her again, and she returns it. “ Nix bliev wie et wor-”

“-unn et hätt noch immer jot jejange”, she joins me with a roll of her eyes. Cologne Constitution, Articles five and three. Nothing remains as it was, and things have ever worked out well. “I could almost buy that”, she sighs. Then she straightens, breaking the embrace. “Now, why don’t you try and get some sleep on that sofa, and I’ll sit in this chair here and… oh, I don’t know, read a bit, or something.”

“You know”, I swallow. “That sounds terrific.”

Neither of us wants to be alone. And so we end up in Captain Kathryn Janeway’s lounge, two displaced persons from another universe, curled up in the comfort of each other’s company.

Chapter Text

“Tuvok, I’m sorry”, Kathryn holds up her hand in an appeasing gesture, pausing her pacing for a moment when her chief of security walks into her ready room. “I know I’ve left you high and dry back there in sickbay.”

“Hardly.” The Vulcan eyebrow; a study subject in its own right. “The commander and I have already resolved several details of the current… situation.”

“Oh you have, have you?” She looks askance at him. She’s asked him here, leaving Kim and Paris to deal with the search for Friendship One – Chakotay’s left the bridge earlier, saying he wanted to check on something in Astrometrics.

“Commander Chakotay suggested we enter both of them into our database as passengers; much as we did with Neelix and Kes. Miss Will has been appointed guest quarters five zero one beta, and you have already acknowledged Miss Vey as resident of your quarters.” His face is blank; not even a twitch of an eyebrow this time. “I will complete their files at a more… appropriate time; and the database is capable of accepting… peculiar input.” Like a date of birth roughly four hundred years back, and an age of thirty-two. He doesn’t have to say it.

“Tuvok, I…” Damn Q. But she can’t, can she? She brought this upon herself.

“Captain.” Tuvok’s sudden intensity gets her eyes up. “You are aware that the reason Q gave for your absence spread throughout the ship quite… rapidly.” Kathryn suppresses a snort. Of course she is. “There has been talk about it-”, of course there has, “-and both Commander Chakotay and I have paid close attention, both during your absences and afterwards. I would not presume to be privy to every rumor, and I doubt that, if anyone disagreed entirely, they would do so in a way that would reach me or the commander this soon; but the comments I have overheard suggest wide-spread acceptance. In fact, the predominant, if exceedingly… emotional, reaction could be summarized as-” he pauses, raises that eyebrow again, “‘finally’.”

She sinks to her chair, knees weak.

“After all”, Tuvok adds, “Lieutenants Torres and Paris have been married for nine months now and are reproducing, and there are numerous other active relationships on board.”

“Fine”, Kathryn fires, throwing her hands up, then putting her head in them, elbows on her desk. “Fine. I’ll just start sending out the invitations, then.”

Again, that eyebrow rises. “You seem… distraught.”

Her eyes snap up to his face. “Tuvok, I all but abducted her!”

“From the Doctor’s reports, what you did saved her life.”

“Yes, and doing so, I pulled her out of that very life, away from everything she knows, without even asking.”

“Then certainly talking to her now would be a possible solution?” His eyes hold the familiar Vulcan patience at human antics.

“It’s not that easy, Tuvok. It’s after the fact, isn’t it? I mean, I can’t send her back, can I?” She jumps up again, walks around her desk to the replicator, reconsiders – too wound up for coffee, not patient enough for tea – steps away. Starts pacing again, teeth gritted.

“I am… curious, though”, he tilts his head ever so slightly, “as to the reason why you, contrary to the Doctor’s orders to rest, supervise your bridge officers at a task they are more than sufficiently qualified for. Captain.”

Now see here, Mister- “I am not avoiding her.” Arms stemmed into her side, she glowers at him. He just cocks that eyebrow again until she drops her gaze. Damn Vulcans. Especially Vulcans who know you so well.

“You’re telling me to go talk to her right now, in other words.” Again, he doesn’t respond with words, but familiarity works both ways: Vulcan mimics, minimalistic as they are, are quite eloquent if you’ve known said Vulcan long enough. Kathryn sighs. “Alright. Alright. Do contact me if…” she waves her hand vaguely, and the way he doesn’t ask her to elaborate is another testament to their long acquaintance. Instead, he simply nods and turns to leave.

Kathryn’s hand moves up to scratch her forehead. “Tuvok.” He turns around again, and she looks at him from underneath it. “‘Finally’?”

His answer is an eyebrow slanted so sharply that it would give a Human spasms – and there’s a small flare in the eyes underneath it, again only detectable if you know what to look for, and easily denied if questioned. He approves. It’s not enough to ease all of her worries, but… maybe enough to start tackling them.

~~~

Ellen is there when Kathryn arrives at her quarters, curled into the easy chair, looking at the stars. Marie, on the sofa, lies on her side, legs pulled up, one arm outstretched and hanging. Deeply asleep, by the look of it.

“Hey”, Ellen greets her and makes as if to rise.

“Oh, please stay”, Kathryn tells her with a tired smile, walking up to her replicator. “Tea?”

“Thank you, yes.” Ellen returns the smile cautiously.

“Any preferences?”

The other woman shrugs. “As long as it’s not sugared?”

They both look at Marie and smile simultaneously. Three spoons to a cup of hibiscus, that’s how Marie likes it, and apparently, that is as horrendous a concept to Ellen as it is to Kathryn.

Kathryn turns her eyes back to Ellen. “Milk, then?”

“No, thanks.”

“Computer, two cups of Darjeeling, straight.” Turning back, cups in hand, Kathryn catches a twitch of Marie’s arm.

Seeing her raised eyebrow, Ellen murmurs, “She’s been doing that for a while now. I guess she’s dreaming.” She takes the offered cup with a quick smile while Kathryn pulls up a chair.

“How do you feel?”

“Oh, I’m alright”, Ellen answers, breezily and with another shrug. Kathryn throws her a level look. Raises her eyebrow, until Ellen shrugs a third time. “I will be, I guess. It’s… quite a change, isn’t it.”

“M-hm.” Kathryn takes a sip of tee, puts the cup back into her saucer. Stalling. Chin up, Janeway. “I read Tuvok’s report of what you told him.”

“You did?” Then Ellen twists her mouth. “Of course you did. Captain.”

That tone of voice – does it mean something? “Ellen, I… I had to read between the lines, seeing as it was Tuvok reporting, but… you chose to come here, knowing where you were headed?”

Ellen takes a swallow, too. Her eyes stay on the cup, then her mouth quirks again, in a tight smile this time. “I did.”

Kathryn drinks again, too, to help her refraining from exhaling too explosively. Closer than I ever thought friends could be, she remembers Marie’s words about Ellen and herself. Her eyes are drawn to the sofa by a movement, but this time, Marie doesn’t twitch, she flinches, and violently.

Seeing Kathryn’s frown, Ellen puts cup and saucer back on the table. “I guess I better go.”

“No!” Almost too loud. It gets a raised eyebrow from Ellen. “Please. We… never really get the chance to talk much, do we. And you…”

“I was under the impression that you weren’t the talker”, Ellen replies, mouth a-quirk again.

“Well, I’m not”, Kathryn admits. “But… Ellen-”

“Call me Ellie. Please. Everyone calls…” a huff. “Well. They used to, anyway.” She turns towards the stars again, eyes shiny.

Kathryn regards the other woman a little warily, uncertain whether, or how, to offer solace. There’s a box of tissues on the table that seems to have seen quite some action – it’s empty. So she gets up and replicates another, and hunkers down next to the chair Ellen’s – Ellie’s sitting in and puts a hand on the woman’s arm. Yet Ellie’s eyes, when they come around, are dry. Red-rimmed, but dry. “Thanks.” Sincere, too, and about more than a box of tissues. Then, with another small smile, “so what do you want to talk about?”

Kathryn drops back to her haunches, then stretches out her legs and leans back against the sofa. Marie’s hand dangles over her shoulder, twitching again, and without thinking, Kathryn takes it, twining their fingers. Ellie’s smile grows into a smirk, albeit an approving one.

“You’re protective of her, aren’t you?” Kathryn asks, with a quirk of her own lips.

“Well, so are you.” Not much of an answer, is it. Ellie relents when Kathryn gives her another level glance. “She’s too impulsive for her own good sometimes.” She pauses. “You know, when she started seeing you… well, maybe that’s not quite the right expression, but you know what I mean. Anyway, when she told me you might be gone suddenly, and I realized she meant it, I… well. I wasn’t thrilled, you see. I seesawed between trying to get you to stay and trying to get her to…” she drops her gaze, blushing.

“Stay away from me”, Kathryn ventures.

Ellie nods. “You know, she always pokes me about falling in love with the wrong guys, and then…” she retrieves her cup of tea, but doesn’t drink, just sits there cradling it. “Yes, in the beginning I did think you were the wrong one to fall in love with, with that uncertainty and all. And then you were gone, and she hurt so much, and…” Suddenly, her eyes turn wary. “I hope I’m not too… direct.”

Kathryn waves it away with her free hand. “Not at all. On the contrary, I appreciate your honesty.” Even if it’s… painful. She doesn’t say it. She doesn’t need to. “Please go on.”

Another smile, though still uneasy, answers her. “Seeing the two of you together again, I realized that you were serious about her. That it hurt you just the same, and that you didn’t know what to do about it, either. So I… reconsidered, I guess. And then… yesterday, in sickbay, you… when you looked at me…”

“I was terrified to see you there, as a matter of fact.” Kathryn moves slightly forward to retrieve her cup of tea, grimacing when she discovers it’s gone cold. Wordlessly, Ellie gets them two new ones. “Thanks.” Take sip, put cup back on table, get thoughts in order. “When I saw you… good God”, Kathryn runs her free hand through her hair, exhales slowly. “I was trying not to think about how completely I’d yanked Marie out of her life, you see. About how I never even asked, either; and then you turn up in my sickbay. It… floored me. And then the Doctor asked me something or other, and…” and a cup of tea is really a very good prop to hide behind.

“And your chief of security got hold of me.” Ellie sighs, then shakes herself slightly. As if mirroring her, Marie shudders, and tightens her grip on Kathryn’s hand, and Kathryn frowns and cranes her neck to try and see whether she’s woken up. To no avail, though. “Still asleep”, Ellie supplies.

“Thanks.” They share another smile, and a not-quite-simultaneous swallow of tea. “I’m sorry”, Kathryn offers after a moment.

“What for?” Ellie looks truly puzzled.

“If I hadn’t-”

“If you hadn’t”, Ellie interrupts her, “she’d be dead. Oh Kathryn, don’t look at me like that. So you’re sorry for saving her life?”

“If it hadn’t been for me in the first place…”

“We’d both be dead, even so.” Another draught of tea, calm as you please.

“What?!”

“At least that’s what Q tells me”, Ellie shrugs, setting the cup down again.

“Q told you…” Floored again. Literally, too, this time.

“I asked.” Ellie looks down at the cup cradled in her fingers. Her voice is a low murmur when she goes on. “I figured… I mean, if he was omnipotent, he…” Her jaw works for a moment, then she looks up, eyes defiant. “I asked if he could fix things so that the two of you never met. I… figured it would take Marie’s pain away. I’m not proud about it, you see. That’s why I didn’t…”

“Tell Tuvok.” Ellie nods, and Kathryn breathes out through tight lips. “Heavens. Thanks for telling me, though.”

“Really?” Defiance turns into a small, hesitant smile when Kathryn nods.

“I do appreciate honesty. I can take anything as long as it’s honest.”

Ellie’s little hiccup of a laugh wakes a frown on Kathryn’s face. “That’s what Marie always says.” the other woman explains.

“Oh.” A quick, shared smile. Then Kathryn returns to the subject at hand. “So what did he answer?”

“Wh-? Oh. Right. Uh, he said… he said even so, this accident would’ve happened like it did. Figures, I mean, we had this trip planned for quite a while, and…” A resigned sigh. A moment later, resolve returns. See how your chin comes up. “He said I wouldn’t have made it out of the car in time. The front seat belt’s fastener was jammed.”

Kathryn nods, again. “I remember that.”

Ellie inclines her head. “And Marie… well.” She coughs a little, drains her cup. “So the way I see it, we’re better off all ‘round, like this.” Her eyes hold something new when she looks up at Kathryn, something dark. “I haven’t told Marie. As I said, I’m not proud of… I’d appreciate…”

“I won’t tell her.”

“Thanks.”

“Ellie – thank you.” When Ellie arches her eyebrows, Kathryn tries to find words for what she’s grateful for, and fails. Her shaky smile seems to suffice, though, as Ellie returns it after a short moment’s hesitation.

Then Ellie grows serious again. “He asked me to tell you something, too.”

“Oh?” Kathryn answers warily.

“He said… uh, he said not to worry about timelines and the like; you’d see what would have happened if you’d chosen differently, in… time.” Ellie grimaces. “I didn’t like his smile when he said that, you know.”

Timelines. Another headache. ‘If she’d chosen differently’ – meaning if she’d chosen to leave Marie behind? Well, Marie would be dead, wouldn’t she? Why did it always have to be riddles, with Q?

“We’ll be alright, right?” The quirk around Ellie’s mouth is not quite ironic, and to judge by the tone of her voice, that question is more than rhetoric.

Kathryn takes a deep breath. “I’ll do what I can to make it so.” Nothing less than what she’s promised to everyone aboard.

“Well. What more can you ask for, right?” This time, Ellie’s smile is cautiously hopeful.


I wake with a strangled yelp. Someone’s got hold of my hand, and through eyes sandy with wearing contact lenses during sleep, I make out Kathryn’s face, rising to mine, and someone, Ellie, in the background.

“You’ve been dreaming”, Kathryn informs me, and my pounding heart slowly winds down to the point where I can honor that with an eye-rolling smirk. Well, obviously, right? She snorts and shakes her head softly, silent reprimand for my taking things so lightly. Not that I feel I’ve earned it. Takes one to know one.

“And you’ve been holding my hand”, I tease her, and even though it’s only Ellie with us, she blushes. We need to work on this. Or maybe not. She’s too sweet when she’s blushing. Maybe it’s because her skin is so fair… She’s freckled again, from Alpine sunshine, or days spend under Italian skies. I study them. Make a map of them. Commit each and every one to-

“Oh stop already, Marie.” So I do. I even refrain from Captaining her. I won’t stop the corners of my mouth though. She snorts again. Working on it. Right.

“What’s the time?” I ask, to change to something more… innocent.

“Around seventeen hundred, I guess. Hungry?”

“Of course she’s hungry”, Ellie replies before I can, indulgent smirk on her face. “I’ve never known her not to be hungry when she wakes up.”

So we share… late lunch? Early dinner? Kathryn pulls up peanut butter sandwiches – that’s a first.

“This bread…” I shake my head and look at a drooping slice mournfully, “this bread just doesn’t cut it.” Ellie agrees readily; really, she’s as much the junkie as I am, for tasty, chewy, complex German bread. This… fluff… well, it just doesn’t cut it. Kathryn apologizes, murmurs something about not finding time to program things into the replicator.

“At least your chocolate spread was in your bag, Marie”, Ellie teases me. “Think how you’d have missed that.”

“Shit, yes”, I breathe softly, the horrible prospect impacting for the first time. “Still, that jar will be empty in no time.”

“Well, replicate some, then”, Ellie says airily, rolling her eyes, and I have to laugh again at the sheer absurdity that that idea came to her so much more readily than to me.

Then I turn to Kathryn, eyes afire with curiosity. “Can we?”

She nods. “Of course. We need to scan it first, so you better leave a bit-” I snatch my hand away from the jar as if burned, and look at her with wild, wide-eyed anxiety until she laughs, “but yes, once that’s done, we can replicate it to your heart’s desire.”

“Oh joy! Breakfast is saved.”

“And lunch, and di-” Ellie sings, and I throw my balled napkin at her.

“I’m not that bad!” I protest, then tell Kathryn in a far more reasonable tone of voice, “I’m not that bad.”

Kathryn’s eyebrow comes up, I swoon, and then Ellie’s napkin comes flying. Who said lightness didn’t have its uses? We banter away, and it eases my mind. I think it does the same for Ellie and Kathryn, too; neither of us stops the silliness, at any rate. Then we clear the table; but of course a replicator would work in reverse and zap away plates and knifes and other remnants of our dinner. Lunch. Whatever. Cups of tea accompany us to the sitting area, then, and it’s then that talk stops like a motor with a hosepipe in its gears.

Kathryn’s tying herself in knots about bringing me here. Oh, I know her well enough to realize as much from the way she starts to speak and then shuts her mouth again without uttering a single blessed syllable, and from the looks she keeps giving me. And yet, she can’t bring herself to come out and say something about it. Ellie takes about a minute of this. Then she downs her tea, exchanges a long look with Kathryn, and makes her excuses. To her credit, Kathryn doesn’t try to stop her.

When she returns from seeing Ellie to the door, I raise my eyebrows at her and she promptly swerves and gets herself another cup of tea, citing that the last has gone cold on her. I refrain from pointing out mine hasn’t. It’s a different color; surely it’ll hold heat longer, right?

“Better?” I ask easily when she sits down in the easy chair opposite me, finally, tea table and cup two nice barriers between us.

She nods. Her eyes flick this way and that, then return to mine. “Marie, I…” She can’t find words. So help her.

“I didn’t want to take the bed, you know.”

“Hm?” She frowns at me, clearly perplexed.

“When I was tired, just then. I mean… I didn’t want to presume, you know.” And, almost in afterthought, “thank you.”

“What for?” Still at a loss.

“For taking me here, instead of guest quarters.”

That doesn’t really help, either. “But of course I would.” Her frown deepens again.

“That’s not something I would have presumed, either, you see. And I’m glad that you feel I… belong here.”

Her eyes fill instantly, and her jaw works. Set aside those barriers, Kathryn. I reach out for her, my hand bidding her come over. She hesitates for a long moment, then puts down the cup with dignity, rises, and crosses the small space with equal composure. Sits down next to me, and allows me to put my arm across her shoulder, even allows her head to rest against mine. Then, suddenly, she winces and turns away, but not before I can’t see her eyes close in pain.

“Kathryn, what’s wrong?”

“You smell different”, she whispers, and sounds so forlorn I forget all my good intentions to let her set the pace. I pull her close and she slips into my lap and buries her face in my neck, and tangles her fists in my unfamiliar, standard issue, ill-fitting clothing.

I breathe kisses onto her hair. “I’m still me, though.” She’s not crying, but trembling with tension, and her hands don’t ease, either. So maybe we need to get reacquainted? When my lips wander lower on her cheek, she refuses to raise her head. I pull away a little, cupping her jaw, and she relents, although I can feel her muscles work under my fingers. Her eyes are stormy. “I’m still me”, I tell them. “And I still love you.”

She struggles for breath. God, but this is hitting her hard. “But I…” she manages, gulps more than words.

I cock my head. “But you don’t love me?”

“No!” Her eyes grow wild, and it jolts me that it takes her a while to see through my scheme, transparent as it is, really. Her glare, when it comes, is dark, and accompanied by an accusing finger. “You’re evil.”

“Kathryn – you love me, I love you. Everything else is… details.” I kiss her, and she doesn’t stop me. Doesn’t respond either, but hardly has the chance, since I withdraw again immediately to look at her, eyes full of the aforementioned emotion. She can’t see it, though; her eyes are tightly shut.

“Like the detail where I shanghaied you?” She barely gets her teeth apart to speak the words.

“Kathryn.” My voice is carefully composed. I cradle her jaw lightly as if it were a broken-winged bird, I fear for her muscles that much. “Kathryn, look at me, please.” It takes a few moments. Her eyes widen when they meet mine, see what they hold. “You saved my life. Goddamnit, you gave me the stars.”

“I also stranded you here.” Such a grated, tormented statement. Such self-reproach, Captain Kathryn.

“I don’t feel stranded, Kathryn. Granted, I do feel lost, a little, seeing how everything is new to me here. Maybe more than a little, even. But stranded? No.”

“Don’t you miss it, at all?”

That, now. My hands drop to her lap – my shoulders hunch, even, and I can’t stop them, and I hate the pain it wakes in her eyes. “God, Kathryn”, I breathe. “Of course I do. To think that I’ll never see them again…” I swallow. My parents, for all our estrangement. My granddad, with whom I’d grown so close. The girls… My colleagues. My clients, for heaven’s sake. And it’s no great solace to think that they’re all long dead by now, either.

“And… and to think they all think… thought… we’re dead…” It’s sickening. “I wish I could tell them.” Then I take a deep breath, focus on her again, my hands open cups on her thigh. “But. I’m alive. And I’m with you. And if leaving my old life behind is the price for that, well…” Another deep breath, and I take one of her hands in one of mine. “So be it.” It’s not that I’m putting this behind me, just like that. No, it doesn’t work that fast. But the decision, to accept this as the price for my being here, and to move on from there, is the first step; the most important one. The necessary one.

“But you don’t have any idea how… where… I mean, do you even realize-”

“Thirty thousand light-years”, I interrupt her. Of course I do. “A quarter of the galaxy. Twenty-five years, or less, or more.” I shrug, and she stares at the motion in disbelief. “I do realize. You told me, and I thought about it. A lot. And I distinctly remember wanting to come.” That, at least, had been a decision before the fact. One I still don’t regret, either. I sigh when the look on her face doesn’t change. “Kathryn, do you really find the idea of spending the next twenty-five years with me so… disturbing?”

“What? No, I don-” this time, it dawns faster on her. “Marie! Don’t you dare turn this around on me!”

“Why not? You’re moping, Kathryn.”

“I beg your pardon!” I’ve never heard this fired like she does.

“You’re flagellating yourself, and about something I don’t even blame you for. And that’s something I don’t want to see you do a minute longer, much less twenty-five years. So I guess you’d better stop.”

“Or else?” Her smile is grudging, but it’s there.

“Oh, no. Social workers are above blackmail.”

“Huh.” Her huff tells me exactly what she thinks of that grandiose statement. Then she peers at me, head cocked, eyes level. “‘Flagellating?’”

I shrug again. “Weren’t you?”

She shrugs as well, eyebrow raised. Mouth quirking. “Details.” I whoop a laugh. A step, as well, and that one, too, only the first along a long way, but still – we do have all the time in the world, and if we’ll spend it like this, that doesn’t seem too bad.

Chapter Text

Waking up is disconcerting. My arm’s hanging in the air, and I wonder what kind of bed I’m in that offers so little space. Space.

My eyes snap open. Stars. I’m seeing stars. Not Kathryn, though. Then I hear her in the other room. Reacquainted – we did get that. Intimately. The memory and the stupid, stupid pun make me laugh. We sat on her sofa for quite a while, yesterday, and I don’t care if we’ve left dents in the upholstery; I loved every minute of it, every minute of her in my lap, her arms around my waist, mine around her shoulders. Granted, we wriggled a bit to get circulation back into one or the other limb, but apart from that…

She’d shuddered wildly when she’d finally allowed the tension to run from her shoulders, and shed a few tears in the process, but they’d been quiet tears, nothing compared to the crying spell she’d had back in Austria. Still, she’d resented even those few; the corners of her mouth had told me so. Still, I’d kissed them away, wordlessly.

Then, when she’d been calmer, and settling against my shoulder, legs across one of mine, it had been my turn to shake a bit. That goddamn mental image again – God, but I wish I’d kept my eyes shut. But even if I had, there still would have been the pain, and the feeling of wrongness, and the persisting worry of whether there were bits of bark still in my lungs. We laughed about that, shaky both, and she pressed her nose to my temple again. She likes to do that, and I like it when she does, and it took my mind away from other thoughts. Her nose, small as it is, didn’t prevent her from kissing my jaw, either, and I liked that even better. Not well enough, though, to stop me from turning my head and finding her lips with my own.

Hesitant, almost shy, our kiss was, and I had to break away and stifle a laugh that would’ve been more than shaky when I realized that here we were, on her ship, in the future, in another universe, kissing. Of course she tensed right up again, and even though she realized what it had been about, it took a while to kiss the stiffness out of her spine. Good thing that my patience, at least in situations like this, knows no end. It was me who set our pace, nevertheless, my senses wide open to her reactions, judging when to wait, when to advance cautiously, when to surprise her. Hitched gasps were my reward, and a body slowly melting into my arms.

I was delighted when she finally grasped my chin with assertive hands and kissed me deeply. I rejoiced when her shudders gained a different quality, when her gasps changed into those husky moans I’ve come to love so well. And my smile when she rose, in one of her swift, graceful motions, and pulled me up and towards the bedroom – well, you could call it loving, but I guess exultant would be closer to the mark. My grin at the memory of what followed is… wide. Wild.

“Good morning.” Kathryn strides in (she’s a hell of a strider. Strideress? Whatever. She’s good at it, anyway), already in uniform and fiddling with her pins. “You’re in a good mood.” She smiles at me, and I smile right back. I feel like singing. Or crowing. Barring that, like jumping from the bed and rushing her, and mussing her hair and causing that last pin of hers to go ‘ping’ into the corners of the room.

“Marie!” But she laughs, and kisses me back, and we hunt her pin together and I learn that it’s not a pin at all but a pip.

She leaves me far too soon, with a promise to reset her alarm so she’ll have more time with me tomorrow morning, and a list of ‘suggestions’ about what to read if I wanted to. Want to? I hadn’t been joking when I’d said I’d like to know more. I dive into the stuff. Well. First I try to figure out the shower in her bathroom, but what the computer tells me sounds too strange, and I resort to a hunkering ablution in her tub. Dressing in my own clothes – one last clean t-shirt and the one pair of pants left over – feels reassuring and weird at the same time, and I arrange the two Dantes next to the gramophone when, going through my stuff, I find them. I put the digital picture frame on the bedside table, too, next to the other one.

Then I read, and eat, and read some more. The ship, first – Voyager. Intrepid-class. Good names, and a beautiful ship. Hunched and sleek and powerful in more ways than one, and I particularly enjoy reading about the other Voyagers, from the 20th century, although it floors me to read what happened to the sixth one. Had there been six in my past? I’m not sure. There’d been a long series of probes, but hadn’t they been called differently? Ah, whatever. I might find it in my laptop; I downloaded Wikipedia to my hard drive once, for my writing, but I’m loath to power the laptop up until I know when and how I’ll be able to recharge it.

Then I go visit Ellie, who’s got that showering thing down pat – which I realize when I walk into her quarters and the first thing she does is ask me to bring a t-shirt to the bathroom. The sound of the shower sets my teeth on edge, and it’s a relief to leave to hunt for that shirt. Finding an additional, unused sweater on top of it gives me an idea, and Ellie has no objections at all to me borrowing the thing even if I don’t put it on.

Around noon, Kathryn meets both of us in sickbay and introduces me to the Doctor Without A Name, who runs an instrument over my side that starts an unbelievable itch, declares me fit, which I still find hard to believe, and proceeds to see to Ellie, asking both of us to return for an introductory consultation at our leisure. I can’t stop scratching my side, though, all the way back to quarters, until even Kathryn loses her self-control and laughs at me. Ellie, silently suffering from much the same sort of itching in a much more dignified and ladylike manner, is no help at all.

My starship captain has arranged to pull half-shifts for the now, hinting at how the current mission is turning out to be ‘completely routine’, and I couldn’t be more grateful. During lunch in Kathryn’s quarters, she explains and answers our questions as best she can, and invites Ellie to stay for more, afterwards. Some things are, if not simple, then at least straightforward, such as energy-matter conversion: Transporters, holodecks, replicators. Some I accept without needing to understand them, like warp drive. Some I despair about, like understanding stardates, until Kathryn shows me how to set up a PADD (and both Ellie and I can’t stop giggling about how silly that spelling looks until we catch a glare for it) to show both stardate and calendar date, to get used to it.

I learn how to use a sonic shower (don’t ask. My teeth still ache. I’m glad about that tub, I tell you), and how to replicate clothes, a lesson we have to cut short when Ellie starts diving into fashion databases. We learn about and get given comm. badges, and then Kathryn explains the universal translator. Now that’s a hoot. Reading brainwaves and idea patterns and transforming them into English, or Standard, as they call it (instead of hubris, but don’t let’s get started on that) – right. It works, too, even if we look a bit like dubbed actors in a movie. After thinking it over for a while, both Ellie and I decide to stay with speaking English ourselves, though, instead of letting the UT translate our German. After all, it is ‘Standard’, even if it’s not our native language.

We spend a delightful hour trying to teach the UT the accent of Cologne and other variations of the German language, while Kathryn, with hers offline so as not to miss the fun, gasps with laughter at our antics, and has us laughing with some accents of her own – she’s good at that. We grow solemn, though, when Kathryn explains that German is, for all intents and purposes, a dead language.

“But Kant?” I ask, imploringly. “Schiller? Brecht? Einstein?” She must know Einstein, right?

“Don’t tell us they’ve slipped into obscurity”, Ellie joins me.

“Oh, they’re still important, still being discussed, brought on stage, talked about. Of course. But rarely in the original. During my academy years, there were a few… specialists who’d read Einstein in German, but…” She shrugs her shoulders apologetically, lifts her hands with that elegant twist.

“Great.” Ellie scowls. “A dead language, read by geeks.”

When Kathryn frowns at that, I explain, “Ellie’s a linguist, for German and English. Among other things.”

“I didn’t know that”, Kathryn replies, eyebrows raised. “I studied languages, myself, you know.”

“Did you?” Ellie sounds delighted. “Which ones?”

“Oh. Uh, exolinguistics, mostly. Alien languages”, Kathryn clarifies, which explains her initial hesitation, too. It sends the two of them into a heavy session of discussing, comparing, and extrapolating, and my grasp of Latin leaves me stranded after a while. I mean, I’m fine with ‘syntax’, and I can work out what ‘phonology’ means. But ‘semiotic autopoiesis’? ‘Morpheme’? I find myself nodding off, until Ellie pokes me sharply. “Ouch!?”

“I said how about dinner?”

Now that sounds better. “Food!” I’m all for it. For everything that would change the subject, really.

“I told you. Mention eating and suddenly she’s firing on all cylinders again”, Ellie laughs at Kathryn, who smirks at me.

“Well, excuse me”, I scoff and get up, stretching expansively.

“Why don’t we go have dinner in the mess hall?” Kathryn asks suddenly. Seeing Ellie’s puzzled face, she elaborates, “A place to eat and relax for all the crew. Like a café.” Our eyes light up. “Only with less choices”, Kathryn amends quickly.

“Sure”, I shrug, and Ellie nods.

It isn’t far to go. Down the corridor, one deck up. Don’t they have stairs here, though? I try to remember the blueprints and maps the computer showed me, but don’t recall any. Ah well. Walking along another corridor, Kathryn seems to have second thoughts about this visit, though. “It might be… crowded”, she says dubiously. “Our current mission is… ah… quiet.”

“Boring?” I smirk. Well, why shouldn’t a mission be boring, even out here? You can’t have excitement all the time, right? And of course people flock together when they’re bored… ah. “People might welcome a diversion, then.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of”, she mutters, not quite under her breath.

“I won’t make a pun about making a bespectacled spectacle of myself, so.” I’ve foregone contact lenses today when I realized I’d be reading such a lot. “Unless you’d rather I’d refrain from making a spectacle rather than making a pun.”

She’s about to roll her eyes at me, I’m certain of it, but at that precise moment, there are steps behind us. I’ve never seen her pull herself together so sharply. Again, it would be funny, if it weren’t so worrisome – relax, Kathryn. Her turn to see who it is starts out as a whirl, and slows when she catches herself. Two people in uniform come towards us; gold and red – I’ll have to read up what the colors mean. One of the two, I recognize.

“Tom Paris, if I remember correctly?” I smile at him, and he reciprocates full force.

“Got it in one. Nice to see you up and about, Miss Vey.”

“Oh, do call me Marie, please.” Miss Vey is too odd, on top of all of today’s oddities.

He nods. “Tom, then.” An easy grin, a wince when he gets poked by an elbow. “Oh yes, please allow me to introduce my loving wife, B’Elanna Torres.” Her glare matches Kathryn’s in intensity, but her body language is different. Watchful. A little possessive, with a hint of a fierce emotion that I think might qualify as love. Wife, alright. And just like that, her glare is gone, and she shakes our hands with an amiable smile. She’s alien. Klingon, I remember, with a Human father. And small. Smaller than Kathryn, even – from Kathryn’s words I’d imagined her taller. At least I manage not to stare at her forehead.

I, in turn, introduce Ellie, and while we’re establishing a first-name base, all nice and friendly, I happen to glance at Kathryn.

She’s fidgeting. Playing with her shirt’s neck – no, with her pips, for heaven’s sake, and when she notices me noticing, her hand moves further back and rubs her neck. Smooth. I suppress my grin, though. This is her territory. Her uneasiness.


Tom and B’Elanna. Of all the people they could’ve run into, they’re the best option, but still, Kathryn is tense. Tom’s manner is easy-going enough, and he did react very graciously in sickbay, that first day. Nevertheless – first names. She can’t sit around when they’re ‘Tom’ and ‘B’Elanna’ and ‘Marie’ and ‘Ellie’, and insist on being ‘Captain’, can she? It’s only when Marie throws her a glance that Kathryn notices her hand is fiddling with her pips, and she’s not very convinced that her subsequent maneuver to safe face has worked. But Tom is chatting with Ellie, and B’Elanna regards her husband with a hint of danger in her eyes, so no one’s really paying attention to what Kathryn does. So maybe she has managed to pull it off.

“So you decided to try Neelix’ take on dinner, did you?” Tom’s grin includes all of them, this time. “Well, I figure no introduction to life aboard Voyager is complete without it.”

“Oh?” Marie’s answering grin is a mix of delight and worry.

“Oh, usually it’s palpable”, B’Elanna tries to reassure her. “Come on, let’s go inside or we won’t find a table.”

“B’Elanna, we’re with the captain. We don’t have to worry about a table”, Tom explains with a patient sigh.

The Chief engineer throws Kathryn a quick, blushing look. “Right. Sorry, Captain, I, I didn’t…”

Kathryn waves it away with more confidence than she feels. “Don’t worry, B’Elanna, I’m officially off duty. Except for securing a table for five, of course.”

“Six”, Tom says quickly when Kathryn turns and they all start towards the doors again, “Harry’s coming, too, he’s just briefing Culhane on his ideas for improving search parameters.”

“Six, then”, she throws over her shoulder as she strides into the place, quickly ascertains that one of the large tables is unoccupied, and steers towards it. “Good evening, Mister Neelix.”

“Welcome, Captain! And good evening, Lieutenant Torres, Lieutenant Paris, and… oh, you must be the guests I’ve heard so much a-” he catches himself too late. Grapevine indeed. Kathryn hates how she starts to blush, even more so when Tom stifles a laugh at the Talaxian’s obvious, two-hands-across-the-mouth discomfort. She quickly makes the introductions, grateful that both Ellie and Marie are well-mannered enough not to stare at the be-whiskered, dappled alien. Of course they would be, Janeway, try and relax, will you?

“So what’s for dinner, Mister Neelix?” Marie, charm stops pulled out as far as they’ll go, listens and nods to what he’s listing, then, just as amiable, admits she has no idea what he’s talking about, and follows him to the kitchen with every sign of excited enjoyment when he offers to explain, bless her.

“So I hear you’re from Earth”, Tom turns to Ellie. “Where from exactly?”

The dark-haired woman dips her head and frowns, and Kathryn feels her foot twitch to kick the man, but Ellie catches herself quickly enough. “Uhm, Germany.”

“Germany! Never been there, myself. I was stationed in France for a while, but…” He shrugs and spreads his arms to indicate that somehow, he hadn’t managed what would probably have been a wonderful visit.

Harry’s arrival saves Tom from putting more feet in unsuitable places (or getting kicked in same), and there’s another set of introductions, and yet another when Marie arrives with Neelix, carrying platters of an indefinable yellow-reddish stew.

“Alright, then, this lovely dish”, she explains, sounding for all the world like she’s not really convinced, “is Fera- uh…”

“Feragoit goulash”, Neelix cuts in, “a feast fit for such an illustrious table, and such a coincidence that I was preparing it today! It’s famous in-”

“Twelve star systems”, Tom, B’Elanna and Harry intone simultaneously. After a startled moment, Ellie and Marie join their laughter – this kind of teasing is universal, after all. Even Neelix is grinning gamely.

Conversation runs remarkably easy, in fact. Of course, every officer is expected to handle himself or herself small talk-wise, but it’s more than that, and when Marie expresses her excitement about starships and warp speed, and her three officers start to explain starship propulsion technology, Kathryn turns her attention to the goulash, certain that the conversation is firmly on safe terrain.

“Biking, Captain? Oh, I’d kill to see you on a motorbike.” Or is it? How the hell did they get there, of all things? Tom’s eyes dance merrily, Harry is blushing, bless him, B’Elanna looks torn between mortification and wrath at her husband’s enthusiasm, and Marie’s face is far too composed for comfort. Ellie is seeking refuge on her own plate, apparently.

“Mister Paris, I’d say it’s more a case of you being killed”, Kathryn dead-pans, and, exchanging a pointed look with B’Elanna, adds in a low, dangerous growl, “one way or the other”. Laughter. Thank goodness. She only hopes that-

“Oh, but you took a picture on Sunday, didn’t you, Ellie?” -too late. Marie weathers the glare without so much as a flinch, though.

“Miss Vey, I’ll have you know that I consider all pictures taken on our… vacation strictly confidential, if only for the sake of my helmsman’s health.” Marie’s eyes sparkle with amusement. Kathryn can hear the snort the younger woman is suppressing.

“Aww, Captain, you can’t do that to a man”, Tom moans, collecting a twin set of glares with a grin and a wink.

“We could take a trip in a car, though, on the holodeck, couldn’t we?” From the sly glance Marie throws Tom, they’ve talked about his obsession, and Kathryn suddenly finds herself wishing she’d paid more attention to the conversation than to her plate. What other mischief…

“Sounds brilliant”, Tom agrees readily, elaborating how B’Elanna and he have booked two successional holodeck timeslots in an hour and are more than willing to share, which might be true for him – but B’Elanna seems curious about what he’s planning, and in the end, even Kathryn agrees to come provided they stay away from anything requiring a special outfit to use. Ellie, eyes rolling but amiable enough, and Harry, intensely curious, decide to join as well.

Chapter Text

Kathryn is quiet over breakfast; she was quiet yesterday night as well, when we came home after that holodeck experience, except for her rush when she finally discovered the books. I’d love to know what’s going through her mind. I have my suspicions, in fact, but if they’re true, I guess it’s too early to ask her; from the stoniness of her eyes, I know she’d clamp right up if I’d mention it outright. So I try a different track.

“Can you tell me anything about the current mission, at all?”

Her attention turns from the coffee cup she’s been contemplating so intensely, to me. “Oh… um, we’re searching for a probe from Earth. It stopped transmitting data over a century ago.” God, but I have to get used to this. ‘A century ago’ to me means horse-drawn carriages, not space probes. “And people back home-”, this, too. Thirty thousand lightyears: ‘back home’. Right. “-are speculating it might be around here somewhere.”

“It’s not a Voyager, though, is it? I mean, one the Voyager probes”, I clarify when she frowns.

Her mouth quirks. “No, it isn’t. No probe without warp drive could have made it this far.” She holds up a hand when I open my mouth. “The occasional encounter with a wormhole aside. No, the one we’re searching for is called Friendship One, and it was launched shortly after Earth’s first successful warp flight.”

“Friendship One?” I smile. “Did it carry a record, too? ‘A present from a small, distant world’?” I do know that much.

“In a way it was nothing but”, Kathryn answers, her smile approving now, instead of mildly amused. Huh. “‘We, the people of Earth, greet you in the spirit of peace and humility’”, she recites. “‘As we venture out of our solar system, we hope to earn the trust and friendship of other worlds.’ I like what it says about us. Retrieving it…” her eyes lose focus again, as far away as her smile.

“Sounds terrific”, I agree with a smile of my own. “Thanks for telling me about it.” She raises both eyebrows. “You could have said it’s all classified and you’d have to shoot me if you told me”, I elaborate with a shrug.

I’d aimed for a laugh, or even a smile, but she sighs, pursing her lips ever so slightly. “There will be missions like that, you know. Not ones where I’d have to shoot you, certainly-” up goes her eyebrow, and I grin, “-but missions where I can’t tell you what’s happening, or where I have to know you’ll…” her face is very serious by now, almost wary. “You read that list of alerts and what people have to do in case of each of them.”

“Two, actually – one for crew and one for civilians”, I reply, refraining from peppering my answer with a ‘yes, ma’am’ – this is too important. Don’t tease, Marie. She needs to know; you need to reassure her. “Obey crew commands, withdraw to or stay in quarters or designated shelter areas, see attached list – I know what we civilians are supposed to do.” I shrug again. “Figures, too. I understand that you can’t have me underfoot, or answer my questions all the time.”

“You do?”

She seems surprised. My turn to roll my eyes. “Oh come on, Kathryn, give me some credit.” She tilts her head in acknowledgement and apology, and I go on, bold enough now to crank the ‘tease’ dial a little, “You can safely assume the following, Captain Kathryn: just because I don’t ply you with questions doesn’t mean I’m not interested. You know how curious I am, and anything you’re willing or able to share will be greatly welcomed. I just think it’ll be easier if I don’t ask you what you did today every time you come home. As for things you can’t tell me”, another shrug, “well, don’t.” A grin. “I’m a social worker. People not telling me things is something I should be able to deal with. And second, while we’re at it: I want to pull my weight. As soon as I can, with whatever I can do. Counseling, cooking, counting things in storage rooms. Whatever.”

She smirks at that. “Is there a third?”

I nod, eyes very serious in spite of her smile. “I’ll stay from under everyone’s feet as much as I can.”

She stares into her coffee cup for a while. “Thanks, Marie.”

I grab my chair and scoot over to her. We’re not sitting at opposite ends of her table – haven’t done so back ho- at my table, either; it’s something I just don’t like. And I’m at her side more quickly, like now, and that’s good. I even dare to take her cup away. It’s the second one; I feel quite safe. I fill her empty hands with mine, waiting until she meets my eyes. “Kathryn – I’m very aware that I’m new here. I don’t know my way around the ship, or the people on it, but I’ll learn. I do know how to be a new kid in town, well enough – please, trust me on that. And trust…” I take a breath. The memory of yesterday, of her face in the corridor when steps sounded behind us, of her fingers at her neck, of her eyes – “trust yourself, and your crew. We’ll be alright. We were alright yesterday, don’t you think?”

“You certainly charmed Neelix and Tom”, she concedes, voice still tight.

“Hey, I can charm anyone”, I boast, jokingly. “I charmed you, didn’t I?”

Still she doesn’t relax. Instead, it’s she who changes track on me. “You called this home.”

“I did?” I search my memory.

“You said you didn’t want to ask me what I’d been doing every time I came home.”

“I did.”

“So you…” her breath hitches.

I squeeze her hands, slender fingers clenched around mine, and she looks at them, as if she’d forgotten about them completely. “This is your home, and you took me here, and asked me to stay. That makes it home to me, as far as I’m concerned. If that’s okay with you”, I add.

She is silent for a moment. “Are you… can you really adapt so quickly, Marie?”

“Captain Counselor?” I ask with a crooked smile, but her gaze never wavers. “Home”, I roll the world around on my tongue. “Home is two-fold, isn’t it? It’s a place where you feel safe, and people you feel comfortable around. I don’t know so much about the ‘feeling safe’ part yet; I’ll have to understand more about starships for that. On the other hand, you’ve come this far, haven’t you?” I smirk, and she rolls her eyes. “But as to people – I’ve got my best friend with me. And I’ve got you.” I kiss her fingers. Catch her eyes, and grin, just this side of shit-eating. “And I’ve got myself. I’ve always felt comfortable around myself.”

She snorts a laugh, and disentangles her fingers from mine to cup my jaw, a quicksilver touch that’s gone almost as soon as it registers. Affectionate, still.

“You know”, she tells me, rising to put her cup back into the replicator, “there are some things you can safely assume, as well.” She turns back to me, leaning against the wall, arms crossed, eyes unreadable. “One – I’m thinking of you. Situations might arise where I have to put that thought aside, to concentrate on getting us through – still.” I nod, mutely. Doesn’t need a social worker to understand this, does it? Roles, again, and she’s asking my blessing. How can I not give it? “And two”, she continues, with even more seriousness in her eyes, “I’ll always tell you as much as I safely can. Please trust me on this.”

“Of course”, I answer, seeing her ‘serious’ and raising her a ‘solemn’ of my own. Then, I echo her, “Is there a third?”

She sighs. Looks away, and back at me. “I’ve kept working hours that were even crazier than yours, for seven years now. I’m constantly being badgered by my second-in-command and my CMO-”, Chief Medical Officer, my memory supplies, the Doctor Without A Name. I shush it. “-about taking better care of myself”, she takes another deep breath. “I can’t promise you that, any more than I can promise it to them. I’m Voyager’s captain. This is my crew, my responsibility. My first priority. I can’t…” her eyes seek something in mine, then she sets her shoulders. “I won’t set that aside.”

“I don’t think you should”, I agree, and see her shoulders loosen again, fractionally. Her choice of words rings deep. She could have stayed with ‘can’t’. I could have responded with ‘could’. She didn’t, and I didn’t, and that’s a solid thing to build on. Trust and honesty, that old, old circle.

Again, she takes a deep breath before continuing, but she does seem a little more at ease. “Thank you. And having said that, and heard that, I want you to know that I’ll try… I’ll try to be home. I want to be there for you to feel comfortable around.”

And that touches me even more deeply.


The search for Friendship One is still amazingly uneventful. Kathryn approves of Neelix’ request for another Talent Night tomorrow, Harry is busying himself with developing ever more efficient search patterns, and Tom’s grateful for every change in course they come with. Chakotay had retreated to his office yet again, reviewing the monthly crew reports – not that he’s desperately needed, but Kathryn misses his presence. And there’s a PADD on the console between her chair and his, ominously threatening despite lying there quite innocently – her first draft for this week’s message home.

She should, Kathryn knows that. She really should tell her mother about Marie. She should tell Phoebe, too; Gretchen Janeway knows not to show Kathryn’s messages to her sister, nor talk to Phoebe about what’s in them, so Phoebe needs to be told separately. It’s not a case of sibling rivalry; Phoebe and Kathryn are too far apart, in too many aspects, for any of that – no, it’s a matter of discretion, and Gretchen respects her eldest daughter’s need for privacy as meticulously as Marie has. Which brings Kathryn neatly back to the subject of her message.

“Mr. Tuvok, I’ll be in my ready room; you have the bridge”, she says, deciding with a snap, and rising and grabbing that PADD. She’d swear it looks smug.

First order of the day – replicate a cup of coffee. She can’t conceive of tackling this without a cup of the black ambrosia. Rounding her desk, she takes a sip-

“Janeway to Vey” sounds very, very odd. It takes a while for Marie to answer, too.

“Hey there!”

Kathryn raises her eyebrows. “‘Hey there?’”

“Is there a regulation about how…? Oh, wait, I have it – Marie Vey here, what can I do for you, Captain?” Marie’s laugh is a warm peal over the comm.

“I could have been contacting you from a briefing, you know.”

“True.” Marie does sound chastised, but only for a moment. Then she goes on, “Maybe we should devise a code or something, so that I know in which capacity you’re calling.”

“First name, last name?” Kathryn suggests. “If I call you Marie, it’s personal, if not-”

“God, Kathryn, don’t tell me you’ll ‘Miss Vey’ me.”

“Well, unless a better idea presents itself”, Kathryn shrugs, lips pursed. “You called me Captain.”

“You noticed.” Dry amusement.

“I was amazed that the world didn’t end.”

“I guess Miss Vey will have to answer to Captain Janeway, then”, Marie sighs. “I’ll remember it.”

“Thanks.”

“Not for that”, Marie offers one of her favorites, a literal translation from a German colloquialism, apparently. “Well, what can I do for you, Captain?”

“Uh, something personal, in fact.” The younger woman chuckles, and Kathryn joins her. “My coffee…”

“Oh! Yes.” Just about as smug as that damn PADD’s look has been. The PADD that’s lying on her desk, in fact, silently admonishing Kathryn for procrastinating. “I’ve been experimenting, you see, with Ellie’s and Neelix’ help, and a replicator, and… what was it called? Um, a… pattern scanner.”

“You know, if I hadn’t just tasted the result, I never would have predicted that something palatable might come of an experiment with parameters like that.”

“Gee, thanks.” There’s a grin in Marie’s voice, though.

“But how did you-?”

“The tin of coffee we brought, a replicated caffettiera, Neelix’ stove. Hey presto – coffee. We tried different ‘parameters’”, Kathryn can hear the inverted commas slipping into place, and smirks, “until Ellie said it tasted really good, then we scanned it, and I took the liberty of asking the computer to provide you with this next time you ordered coffee. It’s been about… oh, ten minutes that we’re finished?”

“But you need-”

“Access codes for that, yes”, the shrug is almost audible, too. “Neelix’ code worked. We even managed to keep the change restricted to your account; I didn’t think it would be a good idea to introduce myself with a ship-wide change of how coffee tastes. People might’ve been quite upset.”

“Indeed.”

“Are you?” Now she sounds apprehensive.

Kathryn laughs. “Good heavens, no. This is good. Far better than anything I’ve had.”

“Good.” And just like that, the grin is back. “So what are you up to, up there? Found the probe yet?”

“No”, Kathryn sighs.

“Do you want me to look out of the window, to help?”

“Would it keep you from more important things?”

“Like perfecting coffee, you mean?” Marie chuckles. “As a matter of fact, I’m switching between a warp drive schematic and a book called ‘Hey! Hey! Little Ship!’ at the moment. Got both from B’Elanna this morning.”

“‘Hey! Hey! Little Ship!’? I read that!” Kathryn gasps, laughing again. “When I was six or seven, as I recall.”

“Well, it does go into warp drive a bit, and B’Elanna said it was as good a place to start as any. She’s planning to read it to her daughter at the earliest opportunity, just to keep Tom from converting her with his ‘flyboy stories’, apparently.”

Kathryn is still shaking her head a minute later, at the whole conversation. Up until now, Kathryn’s quarters basically ceased to be when she left them, and popped back into existence nanoseconds before she returned. Oh, sometimes she’d wonder if she’d watered her orchids – a quick flash of worry when meeting Tuvok’s eyes, most of the times. But to think that, now, her quarters are home to someone else, someone who’s on her own agenda, reading at Kathryn’s desk, receiving visitors, conspiring with crew members to tweak her coffee formula… someone her mother should be told about. And yet she can’t perceive of a way to tell her, or how to even start.

Mom, I’ve found someone – her name is Marie and she’s from Earth. No.

Mom, Q sent me to twenty-first century Earth, but not our Earth, and… No.

Mom, I’m in love, and she- no.

Quite apart from the fact that the circumstances alone would fill several letters, Kathryn isn’t quite sure how her mother would react to the fact that the ‘someone’ Kathryn’s found is a woman. It’s a first, and she’s bound to be surprised, even if she’d never batted an eyelid about Phoebe’s having a girlfriend or two. And Phoebe’s steady with a man now, married with children, even, and how strange it still feels to imagine her younger sister… it doesn’t matter that she’s seen pictures of her niece and nephew, either.

Losing Justin and her father had meant that Gretchen had lost her husband and prospective son-in-law at the same time, and coming to terms with these two, or four, sets of grief, had been… difficult. On top of that, Kathryn can’t forget how bad she’d felt, still does, even, sometimes, for being so self-centered, trapped in her grief. Then there’d been Marc she’d spilled her guts about, two times, once happy, once… not; and afterwards she’d endured her mother’s (and sister’s) merciless teasing about that ‘handsome Maquis captain’ for months – granted, Gretchen had toned that down when she’d realized that nothing was happening between the two, and had, after that, reacted very graciously each time Kathryn’s told her about being in love, but still, this is a first, isn’t it?

‘You never considered yourself gay.’ Ellie had said as much, way back when, and it had been true then, and somehow it still rings true now. Always, when Kathryn had looked for love, it had been the male half of the population she’d considered. And it had been Marie who’d made the first move, hadn’t it? And what a move it had been, too. Kathryn blushes as she remembers what had happened afterwards, then pulls her thoughts away. She is serious about Marie, Ellie had been right in that, too, just as serious as she’s been in every relationship. And this is a relationship, is love. It’s just – feeling your heart flutter, having butterflies in your stomach, yearning to touch, see, hold; all that is perfectly familiar, but having it happen with a woman, that’s new.

If only there was someone she could talk this over with. Marie – most certainly not. Tuvok – no, this is not a question for a Vulcan, is it? Seven- oh, good grief. She’d have to speak with Seven about this, and soon, but the questions would flow the other way, wouldn’t they, and as things stood now, she wouldn’t even have answers. Chakotay? Chakotay is… busy, isn’t he? But maybe…

She taps her comm. badge before she can think twice. “Janeway to Chakotay.”

“Yes, Captain?” he answers instantly.

“Do you have a minute or two?”

His answer sounds a bit resigned, but he’s in her ready room a minute later, sipping the herbal tea she’s replicated for him.

“Commander, I…” no. Best keep ranks out of this. “Chakotay, it’s… this is a difficult situation, isn’t it.”

“Is it?” His eyes are serious. At least he knows what she means.

“Well, yes. I mean, Tuvok has pointed out that we have several active relationships on board, as he put it, but…”

“But you’re the Captain.”

Well, so much for keeping rank out of this. “I am. And yet… and yet I’ve been asking myself whether… whether I can’t…”

“…be a woman, too?”

She throws him a level glance, mouth a-quirk. “Oh, very well put.”

He raises his cup in salute. “Thanks.” Takes a sip, and goes on, “I’ve been asking myself the same thing, you know.”

“You have?” That’s unexpected. Something starts to shift, and Kathryn does not like the feeling.

His eyes darken over the rim of his cup. “For quite a while, in fact. For the better part of five years, off and on.”

She stares at him, mutely. Five years. Oh, she knows what he’s alluding to. And the unspoken agreement was that it would remain unspoken, wasn’t it? Setting his cup down on its saucer, Chakotay looks at her in a way Kathryn can’t reconcile with what she knows of him. It rattles her. Here she is, turning to him for answers, and all he does is throw even more doubts on the state of things. Her chin comes up. “Commander-”

“No. Kathryn, don’t.” He raises his hands to interrupt her and she glares at him.

“Don’t what, Commander?”

“You started with a personal question, and now you’re pulling rank on me, all of a sudden, just because you don’t like the direction of my answer? You’ve told me once that as captain you’re allowed to leave certain things unsaid, but that was years ago, and we’re friends now, at least that’s what I…” he breaks off, setting his teeth.

“What you…?”

“Nothing.” It’s almost a bark, and he won’t meet her eyes.

“Like hell it’s nothing!” she fires at him. “If you have a problem, Mister, then I suggest you have your say.”

“Fine!” he replies, just as angrily. “Fine. From the beginning, you’ve kept me at arm’s length, and I understood your reasons for it, and I respected your decision. And then we had a chance to get closer, and we did, and I let myself hope. And then Tuvok appeared with a cure, and we returned to normal. Only I…” He clenches his jaw again. “I understood what you did when Kashyk was aboard. I understood what happened with Sullivan, with Jaffen. I’ve tried…” Again, he breaks off. His eyes are burning into her, and it takes all her will to stand her ground.

“And now?” His laugh is a nail across a blackboard. “Now Q drops someone in your lap and suddenly everything’s supposed to be different. Suddenly everything’s just swell. You sit at her side for days. You take her into your quarters. You spend your off-duty time with her. Spirits, Kathryn, I…” again, his mouth snaps shut on whatever he wanted to say. His hands clench and unclench. Then he laughs again, no more humor in it than before. “She’s not even pretty!”

“You’re way out of line, Commander”, Kathryn snaps at him.

“Am I? Or are you?” He doesn’t give an inch. “What about your responsibility to this crew, then, Captain?” He spits out the rank. “What will you choose, if you have to choose between her and the rest of us?”

“Whatever else I might be, I’m still your Captain, Commander, and this conversation is over. You are dismissed.” He continues staring at her for long enough that she’s beginning to wonder if she has to call security. But then he nods curtly, whirls around, and stalks out the door, leaving her behind, fuming.


I’m on the holodeck, in a place called Chez Sandrine, a Marseillais café Tom’s told me would be running open this afternoon, even though he’s still on duty. The hostess tells me Tom visits here regularly, as do a lot of crewmembers. There are people in uniforms and people in normal clothes around, but I really couldn’t say who’s real and who’s not – I think Sandrine is probably a hologram, but I have no idea about the rest; it’s fascinating. A guy at the pool table tries to persuade me to a game, but I decline; social worker I might be, but I know my limits – the youth center triathlon (table football, pool, darts) is quite beyond me, always has been.

There’s a man in a golden uniform who introduces himself as Tarik Ayala and is delighted when I dust off the bit of Turkish I still remember. I finally work up enough confidence to ask him who’s real and who’s not, and he laughs and introduces me to more crew members; Samantha Wildman with her daughter Naomi, a line of spikes across her forehead and a lot of questions behind that, Todd Mulcahey, calm of demeanor and quick to laugh, and Mark Yosa, a little shy but very attentive.

Naomi is shocked to find out that I don’t know about pips and uniform colors, and solemnly teaches them to me by means of the grown-ups around the table, complete with Maquis and Starfleet variances and their significance. Keeping on that path, I manage to ask more questions than they can ask me, even though Naomi proves quite the expert.

“What’s that you’re wearing?” she points to my face.

“Glasses”, I reply, and take them off to show her. “My eyes aren’t very good. If you put them on, you’ll see things just about as well as I see things when I don’t wear them – but be warned: it’ll probably make you dizzy.” Naomi squeals when she realizes I’m right, peering around the room, trying out different angles.

“Your eyes really aren’t good, are they?”

“Naomi.” Samantha sounds scandalized.

“It’s alright”, I shrug, and tell her daughter, “no, they aren’t. I can’t even see Sandrine’s face clearly anymore, or tell whether she’s looking this way or at the door.” I hold out my hand, and she returns my glasses to me, and I return them to my nose.

“Why won’t you-”

“Naomi!” her mother admonishes her. “You remember I said you could come if you behaved yourself. Asking people too many questions is not well-mannered, you know.”

“But she does!”

“Naomi Wildman!”

I smile at flustered Samantha. “Naomi, you’re right – I did ask a lot of questions, and I’m glad that you’re all patient enough to answer them. But the things you’ve been asking me, about where I’m from and what I did there… see, I guess you’re not the only one to want to know, and when I tell you now, those who don’t know will probably be envious.”

“I could tell everyone – unless it’s a secret.” Naomi’s eyes grow round at the idea. Rounder when another idea hits her. “Or you could tell people at Talent Night.”

The round explodes into laughter, and then everyone explains to me about Voyager’s not-quite-regular get-together, and Naomi pipes in that Neelix is planning one for tomorrow, oh, and you have to come, everyone will be there and that way they surely won’t be envious.

“Why not?” I grin, a plan already forming in my mind. Then the doors open and an angry figure in red storms in.

“Commander!” Ayala calls out to him – Chakotay, then? Both suspicions are confirmed when Ayala introduces us; one: this is Commander Chakotay, no first name, and two: he’s really quite incensed. His eyes, brown like mine underneath a facial tattoo, bore into me, and I try to figure out what I might have done to him.

“Why don’t you pull up a chair, Commander?”

“Thanks, Ayala, but not tonight.”

“Don’t worry, Commander Chakotay, I’ve already answered all the questions Marie had”, Naomi pipes up, to another round of laughter.

He doesn’t relax. “I doubt that, Naomi, but thanks for being a good host, nevertheless.” Amiable enough, but still, he’s tense, and it slowly seeps into the others.

He makes to turn away, and I slowly stand. “Commander.”

“Yes, Miss Vey.”

“Don’t leave on my account. I should be going back to quarters; I’ve got some homework to do.” At my elbow, Naomi giggles, but he retains his dark looks.

“Maybe you should be going back, yes”, he says slowly, and my breath catches for a moment. He meant it exactly the way I (and everyone except Naomi) have understood it, I’m sure.

“Commander”, Ayala offers, gentlemanly, “I think-”

“Stay out of this, Lieutenant”, Chakotay replies without taking his eyes off me. “This is something between Miss Vey and me.”

“Well, begging your pardon, sir”, you have to hand it to him, the man’s got guts, “then it should be between Miss Vey and you.”

“You’re right, Tarik”, I agree, walking around the table and towards the entrance, nodding my goodbyes.

“Avoiding this conversation?” Chakotay calls out after me.

I turn back to him. “Disinclined to have it here, sir. Very willing to continue it somewhere more appropriate.” I cock my head at him, question and challenge. No the best way not to antagonize someone who’s already angry – he can’t refuse, and he knows it. But Tarik’s right – this really should be private.

~~~

When we enter Kathryn’s – our – quarters, he looks around with gritted teeth and jutting chin. I’m here on purpose, though. He needs to see that I’m here, and here to stay. There are enough cues; two discarded jackets, one uniform, one not, hanging on a chair back, my laptop on the little table in the lounge (Tom’s offered to find a way to recharge it, by the way, but I think he’s more interested to get his hands on an ‘authentic piece of ancient technology’ than helping me), the pattern for my tea in the replicator, when I go to get some. He reclines my offer to replicate him something, too. Does take the easy chair when I sit down on the couch, though, as if to push home the fact that he’s feeling free to do so. I know I’m walking a fine line. I’m flouting my status under his nose (well, we both are), and it’s exactly my status that he’s angry about. But then again, it’s exactly my status that we have to come to terms with. His anger, though, the silent way in which he’s seething, fleshes out another suspicion, though, a much older one, from Kathryn’s tales of him.

“For how long have you loved her?” Bull’s eye. His jaw works so severely that I find myself looking for more body-language signs that he’s about to lunge at me. “I’ve been there myself, you know.” Takes one to know one. Again.

“You’re living in her quarters. I don’t see-” Got him. He could have stalled, he could have denied everything, but he doesn’t, and it gives me the opening I need.

“Oh, not with Kathryn. No…” I let my eyes grow distant, and soft. “I fell in love very deeply, years and years ago. And I knew from the beginning it would never work out, and yet I stayed, and it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Giving emotional support in crises, putting up with relationships, consoling after separations, all of that. Being a friend when I wanted to be…” I wave my hand about with a small, bitter smile, “…so much more. When I would have been so much better than the rabble chosen ahead of me.” I sigh, returning my focus to him. His eyes are still dark and hooded. “It hurt like hell. And it kept on hurting, no matter how easy it became to be a friend instead of something else.”

“Well, getting away from it must have been a relief then.” His words are acerbic, but I hadn’t exactly expected compassion, had I.

I tilt my head slightly. Let him make of it what he wants. Then I change track. “You’re angry that she went for me.” Instead of you, but I swallow that.

He hears it, still. “You don’t even fit!” he erupts, in voice and in movement, exploding out of the chair and towards the window.

“I don’t?”

At least he turns back to me. Then he starts picking out the points on his fingers “You’re too young. You’re not Starfleet. You don’t have the slightest idea what we’ve been through all these years! You’re-”

“…no match for her?” I interrupt his diatribe. “Not able to understand her, or give her what she needs, what she wants? Not good enough?”

“Yes!”

“And you would be.”

He does manage to stop the next ‘yes’ that’s already on his lips, I’ll grant him that. “She would have to judge that”, he says stiffly, in the end, turning towards the window again.

“I think she has.” I say the words softly. The meaning itself is harsh enough.

He stares at the stars for a long time, jaw working furiously, then whirls and leaves the room without a backwards glance. I drop my head to the backrest and run my hands through my hair. Then I close my eyes and exhale a long, long breath. Un-thought of, surely, but, come to think of it now, certainly not unexpected. Hell.


“How did you know?”

Marie doesn’t jump at Kathryn’s voice. Kathryn figures the younger woman has noticed her uniform jacket; taken off upon entering her quarters, flung over a chair’s back as usual. Coming in after the row with her second-in-command, Kathryn had retreated to the bathroom, where she’d sat on the edge of the tub, not running a bath for the longest time. Then, the door. The conversation had been loud enough to carry, and Kathryn can’t help wondering for whose ears Marie has said what she’s said.

“That he loves you?” Marie smiles lopsidedly, eyes still shut, head still tilted backwards. “Takes one to know one, right? Don’t tell me you hadn’t realized?” And with this, she raises her head to look at Kathryn.

“I hadn’t realized that he still…” It troubles Kathryn. “It hurts him.”

“‘Fieri sentio et excrucior.’” This time, it’s not even a smile, but a grimace on Marie’s face as she recites that Latin poet’s heartbreak. Kathryn winces, remembering the poem. ‘I can feel it happening to me and endure excruciating pain’. “He does hurt”, Marie goes on, “and he will until he lets it go, difficult as that is. From what I understand, it’s been a long time coming.”

“Hm?” Kathryn walks over to her, changes course at the last instant, and sits on the end of the chaise longue.

“Well, from what you told me, you had other relationships before me, but never with him.”

“Well…” Kathryn’s shoulders hunch involuntarily. She should have told Marie this before. Nothing for it – tell her now. So she does. About Chakotay and her, stranded on an uninhabited planet with not much hope of ever getting away, and how she… he… how they didn’t… It’s irritating how words desert her again. Her eyes plead for Marie’s understanding, relieved when they’re answered with a nod. “And then Tuvok returned”, she goes on, “against my orders, but he’d found a cure, you see, and suddenly, we were Captain and First Officer again, not Chakotay and Kathryn.” Kathryn can’t suppress a sigh, full of regret, and Marie’s breath hitches. Damn. And just like that, the younger woman’s lips curl up in a small smile. How can anyone be so goddamn confident? Trying to avoid further thought along those lines, Kathryn asks, “You think he hasn’t let go, then?”

“Have you?” Marie’s eyes are serious.

A sudden insight makes Kathryn’s heart beat. Whatever Kathryn did or didn’t do on that planet is far less important to Marie than the answer to this question. Can it be… can confidence be so simple?

Well, has she? Kathryn thinks about it for a while, then nods. “It was difficult, though, I won’t deny that.”

Her honesty wins her a nod and a smile. Then Marie grows serious again. “And did he have a relationship afterwards?”

Kellin. The thought of… Kathryn sighs. “If you can call it that – very long, complicated story. But that was almost two years later, and for my part, what I felt wasn’t jealousy. I hurt for him, because it didn’t work out, but… I never would have yelled at Kellin the way he yelled at you right now.” She sets her chin, angry at the memory. She’d been mortified when he’d laid into Marie like that. The fact that he’d called her ‘not pretty’ had been… dismissible as an angry outburst, but what he’d accused Marie of… The younger woman starts to wave the concern away, but Kathryn holds up her own hand, stopping her. “You are… he was wrong, with what he said.”

“No, he wasn’t. I am all that.” Kathryn’s eyes flick to Marie’s, startled, and are greeted by a slight smile. Then Marie starts picking out the items on her fingers, and Kathryn is certain that she’s imitating Chakotay’s very gesture. “Not Starfleet, nine years younger, and without a true idea of what the last years must have been like for all of you. True, all of it.”

“He said we didn’t fit, and that is wrong.” Then Kathryn narrows her eyes and points her finger, at another memory that had frozen her. “And you said you weren’t good enough for me.”

“Well. I certainly didn’t say that because I believed it.”

The words reverberate for a moment. How can anyone… Good grief. But she’d known, hadn’t she? That Marie was so… full of herself? In a way, it makes things easier, too. Still, it’s damn exasperating, and Kathryn rolls her eyes ceiling-wards, and gets a grin in answer. Then another memory tugs at her thoughts and she tilts her head, focusing on it. “I think I understand better, now, why he was so upset about Jaffen.”

Marie sobers up, too, at that. “That was the man you were with when you didn’t know who you were?”

Kathryn nods, lips pursed. “To think that Chakotay…” He’d been… had he been jealous? He’d been different, afterwards, that at least is certain. How it must have… hurt him. Not it. She. She’s hurt him, and he’d withdrawn, and she can’t blame him. Her eyes focus on Marie again. “Why did he hold on to this, if it’s as painful as I think it is?”

Marie takes a deep breath. “Well, first off, I can’t speak for him, right?” Of course she can’t. Kathryn nods. “Generally, though, it depends on how deeply you love. How close you are, and how much you hope. And…” Marie’s voice dwindles, and her eyes shift. Then she squares her shoulders and looks at Kathryn fully, again. “And how good you are at deceiving yourself. You know: ‘It might pay off, one day. One day, she’ll see.’”

‘One day, she’ll see.’ Kathryn looks at her fingers, knitted together in her palm. Had he thought that? Had he hoped for it? “I never wanted this”, Kathryn breathes softly, when she can. “I was relieved when I realized that he and I were able to work together so well, back at the beginning. It was a… bonus, to have a rebel captain turn out to be a capable, reliable, willing second-in-command. An unexpected gift, when that working relationship turned into a friendship. When we were on New Earth”, she can’t help a smile at the designation, at the memory, but after a heartbeat, it turns troubled. “Something new was there, sudden-” But it hadn’t been sudden, had it? It had been there for a while, under the surface. They’d never acted on it, never allowed themselves to, but that hadn’t meant it hadn’t been there, had it? “Just like that, things were… shaky. I was comfortable with his calling me Kathryn… it is my name, after all, and it had been me who’d asked him to. The way he looked at me, though; the way I looked at him-” suddenly Kathryn’s eyes snap back to the present, anxious.

This time, when Marie waves it away, Kathryn’s too relieved to protest. “I’m not jealous of something you’ve put behind you.” Marie’s shoulders don’t move, but there is a shrug in her voice. She does sound sincere, reassuringly so.

So Kathryn goes on, “That was new. The way we looked at each other. Before, we’d been on solid ground. Suddenly we weren’t, not anymore. And that’s exactly what…” she breaks off, but the words she doesn’t say ring in the air between them. Exactly what’s so dangerous about mixing up roles like that. Fraternization. Oh, she remembers how her heart had grown cold when she’d realized how easy it had been, how welcome, to lean into his hands when he gave her that back rub. And then he’d told her this transparent ‘legend’ of his, and her heart had fluttered, and that had frightened her even more. She’d held back, though.

And he’d made it clear that he’d been content to wait for her to take the next step. And she’d never… maybe she’d been unable to make it. And then Tuvok had called, and she’d… yes, for heaven’s sake. A part of her had been relieved that Voyager’s arrival had saved her from deciding. “You can’t go back anymore”, she goes on softly, and Marie nods. You’d think she was Betazoid, for all the understanding in her eyes. Then again, she was a counselor. Social worker. Same difference, was it? “I don’t think we could have gone back, if we’d moved further”, Kathryn says, even more slowly. “It was difficult enough as it was; and now it seems he…”

“Hasn’t managed to get back on that solid ground as well as you have.”

Silently nodding, Kathryn remembers something else. “You were talking about Ellie just then, weren’t you.” Not a question at all. A shrug and a smile are her only answer, but they suffice, don’t they. “Does she know?”

“I suppose.” Marie seems to remember something of her own. Her eyes grow tender. Full. Almost overwhelmed by something. Then she exhales softly, and looks back at Kathryn again. “We’ve never talked about it”, she goes on. “Some things are too… fragile to talk about, like touching a butterfly’s wing, you know.”

Kathryn nods. “I know.” Oh, she does. “But you have found… a way?”

“Yes. Still, every so often, something happens that makes it necessary to find a new one. It’s worked, though, so far.”

Like hearing one has voluntarily followed the other to another universe? No, she can’t ask Marie that. So Kathryn sticks with, “How?” It’s the more important question, anyway.

“How as in ‘how did you do it’, or as in ‘how can Chakotay and I find a way’?” Marie tilts her head, apparently truly curious.

It startles Kathryn, but only for a moment. “You’re saying we need to find our own way.”

“M-hm.” Humming her answer, Marie changes from the sofa to Kathryn’s side.

Kathryn debates briefly, then leans against her. “You know, this is why I chose sciences over the humanities.” She’s smiling, but quite serious nevertheless.

“If A then B?” She can hear Marie smile, too. The younger woman’s arms move in around Kathryn, reassuring in how familiar that feels by now.

“Exactly. Compared to emotions, even quantum mechanics seem predictable, you see? You think you know someone, you build on that knowledge, and suddenly, they say or do something and everything… wobbles.”

Marie laughs. “‘Wobbles?’”

“Well”, Kathryn hedges, blushing. “You know.”

A kiss on her temple tells Kathryn that Marie does. “Things are wobbling, indeed, but I don’t think they’ll come crashing around our ears.”

“Where do you take this confidence, Marie?” Worse – why does it feel so beyond her to be just as confident?

“I guess it’s why I chose the humanities over science”, Marie quips, a grin in her voice. “It’s easy for you to be confident that antimatter in large amounts, right beneath our feet, is a good idea. It’s easy for me to be confident that people are people, and that, apart from a few bad apples, people are mostly inclined to care for one another.”

“Are they?” Oh, how she’d wish to be so sure of that.

At least her tone of voice wins her another kiss, to the cheek this time. “Don’t ask me for empirical evidence. It might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy, even. But, by and large…” the pause is just that little bit too long. But then Marie sighs, and smiles. “Yes. Yes, I think they are.”

Chapter Text

“Captain.”

“Seven! Good to see you”, Kathryn takes a sip of coffee, reveling in its new taste, and puts the PADD with her second drafted message back on her ready room desk. “Do come in – what can I do for you?”

The young woman stands perfectly erect, hands behind her back, as usual. In everyone else, this would look supremely uncomfortable, and to everyone else, Kathryn would offer a seat, but she knows Seven feels more comfortable both standing, and standing like this. “I’m aware that Voyager has taken on two passengers, one of which is… on intimate terms with you.”

Good thing that sip is already down. Kathryn carefully puts the coffee cup down to gain some time before answering. “That would be one way to put it, yes.”

“I am… curious as to why you chose to pursue this… relationship, when you ended the one you had with your co-worker on Quarra.”

You and everyone who knows what happened between me and Jaffen, I shouldn’t wonder. “It’s not that easy, Seven. If I hadn’t brought Marie here, she would have died. Under other circumstances, I might have… acted differently, but as it was, I…” she waves a hand vaguely, trying to find words. “I couldn’t.”

“What exactly were the circumstances under which you brought Miss…” Seven tilts her head with a silent request.

“Vey. Her name’s Marie Vey.”

“…Miss Vey here, then?”

Either the rumors haven’t reached her, or Seven’s decided not to listen to them. Either way, having the question asked flat out is better, Kathryn thinks for a second, until she realizes she has to answer it. “We had an accident, the three of us. Marie was critically injured and unconscious; the only solution was to return to Voyager, but I couldn’t wait for her to regain consciousness and discuss matters.” Such dry words. She still doesn’t quite feel right about the whole matter, either, and having to explain it to Seven… ‘Feeling apprehensive’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

“She and I have something in common, then. We are both here because you decided it was necessary.”

Kathryn does a double-take. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but in a way, you’re right.”

“I don’t understand, though, why you continued this relationship after you brought her here, when you ended the relationship with your co-worker upon regaining your memories. Surely the same restrictions apply.” The words come out in Seven’s usual dry way, and for a moment, Kathryn wonders whether there is a file called ‘vocal expression eight zero: puzzlement’ in there somewhere. Just for a moment.

“Yes and no, Seven.” Time for another sip, and another mad search for the right words. “For one thing, Miss Vey will not be under my command, really; much as Mister Neelix or yourself. If Jaffen had come aboard, he would have been part of the engineering team, and expected to follow Lieutenant Torres’ orders, and ultimately, mine. I understand Marie wants to assist this crew, too, but as an… advisor, rather. She’s a trained counselor-” a quick look confirms that Seven is familiar with the description, “and has offered to work as such. In this capacity, she will report only to the Doctor, and that chain of command doesn’t involve me.” It’s a weak argument, Kathryn knows that, but sooner or later, the question is going to pop up, and it’s what she’ll try to get away with when it does.

“This would seem an argument against judging this relationship by the same standards as your relationship to Jaffen. Yet you have expressed that there are also arguments in favor.” The angle of Seven’s head never changes.

“Of course they are.” Kathryn waves her hand, oblivious, for a moment, to the cup of coffee she’s still holding. It’s empty enough not to slosh, thankfully. “There are a lot reasons why a relationship isn’t a good idea for a commanding officer.” She drains the cup and puts it down on her desk. Better not risk anything. “Most of them arising from the fact that, as much as we’re both grown-up and professionals, we’re only human, too. Our emotions could be distracting for me, or my…” which word to choose, which word to choose… Girlfriend? Good God, no. Lover? But Marie’s more than that. Kathryn finally settles on, “partner, disabling one or both of us from serving with full capacity. If we have a public disagreement on something, it could be detrimental for crew morale or command authority. And a severe fight could ultimately lead to an end of the relationship, with possibly even graver repercussions.”

To this, Seven nods. “I perceive the problem. Surely at least the risk of losing command authority is… unacceptable, is it not?”

Kathryn smiles at the frown on Seven’s face. “Seven, we live our lives taking risks. Nothing worthwhile is ever gained without taking a risk.”

“And this relationship is worthwhile enough to you to risk compromising your capacities, crew morale or even your authority?”

“That”, Kathryn sighs, “is the one question I’m not completely resolved about.” She briefly wonders whether it’s been a smart move to confess that, but it’s out. On, Janeway. “There are quite a few unknown factors in there, aren’t they? Are we both adept enough at relationships to pull this one off? Can we adapt to the new roles we’ll be playing, can we keep them apart from the other roles we have? Will we manage to solve conflicts well enough to remain fully capable of doing our jobs? I haven’t known Marie for very long. On the other hand, you can know someone for years and not be able to answer those questions. In the end, it’s a matter of trust.”

“Trust.” ‘Five two: neutral, bordering on doubtful, with a tinge of insecurity’?

“I’ll have to trust Marie to make this work, just as she has to trust me to do the same.”

Seven nods, but retains her frown. “Nevertheless, I still do not understand why you did not terminate your relationship. The gain from it does not seem to outweigh the… insecurities involved.”

“Oh, but it does.” Kathryn gets up and steps around her desk, until she’s in front of Seven. “Do you feel you gain from our friendship?”

“I do.” She does. Such a simple statement. Kathryn smiles at the Ex-Borg warmly.

“So do I, Seven. In so many ways. Yet when we severed you from the collective, many of the same questions applied – would we be adept enough at integrating you? Would you adapt to your new situation, or was I exposing you to unbearable cruelty? Would we, all of us, overcome the conflicts arising from your presence? Could we trust you?”

“You did.”

“We did. To our mutual benefit.”

Seven tilts her head in agreement, and her eyes warm, in that almost imperceptible way of hers. “Indeed. In hindsight, I would perceive the risk to have been… acceptable, in view of that gain.”

Kathryn swallows, throat dry, eyes… not so. “Thank you, Seven. I don’t know if you fully understand how much this means to me, but… thank you.”

The door chimes.


“Come in”, the familiar voice calls out, and the look on Kathryn’s face when Ellie and I step into her – what did Chakotay call it? – her ready room is familiar, too. I’m certain she’s completely forgotten about the time, and the fact that there’s someone in here with her consolidates the suspicion. Walking over the bridge has been a bit… rattling, what with Chakotay in its center, but his behavior has been professional enough.

“Oh, Marie, Ellie, I’m sorry”, she says quickly, trying to cover her surprise. “Do come in, please – this is Seven of Nine; Seven, this is Marie Vey”, I nod, Seven nods, and, while Kathryn introduces Ellen, I try not to stare too much. Kathryn has told me about Seven, back in Cologne; quite a bit, actually, but she’s failed to mention how breathtakingly beautiful she is. And the bits of metal visible across her eyebrow and at her ear only add distinctiveness. I swallow. Kathryn’s eyebrow is up, and – hell, when Seven raises her eyebrow, too, that metal arch goes right along. Hell and heaven in a tangle.

“Pleased to meet you, Seven of Nine”, I manage.

She tilts her head, hands clasped behind her back. Another one for minimal expressions, then? “The captain has told me about your origins.” Her voice is beautiful, too. Holy Aphrodite. “It sounds… intriguing. I hope you’re adapting adequately.”

Strangely put, but… I share a quick look with Ellie. “I guess we are, thank you.”

“Seven, I’m sorry to cut our conversation short”, Kathryn holds out both hands, “but I’ve promised both of them a tour of Voyager. Maybe you wish to accompany us, though?”

“That would be acceptable.” Again, a strange way of putting it, but Kathryn smiles unconcernedly. I suppose this is Seven’s usual way of talking, so.

We step back out onto the bridge, and Kathryn explains the stations. I nod and smile at Tarik, Harry blushes when Ellie smiles at him – oh dear – and Tom grins at all of us, including Seven. Tuvok doesn’t smile, but looks ready to test us tomorrow on what we’re learning – so: his station is tactical, to the far left of the topmost level, next to the turbolift we came up in. To the right of those doors is the master systems display, with Tarik in front of it, hands clasped behind his back. On this huge schematic of Voyager, Kathryn briefly points out where we’ll be going on our tour, though I’m sure this display is far more than just a map. Next to it there’s another set of doors, leading to a briefing room. Then, Harry’s station: ops – I barely suppress a laugh at that name. Yes, well, calling it ‘operations’ would take far too long, I certainly agree. It’s at the far right of this level, and we take the few steps down to the center of the bridge, with two very comfortable-looking chairs. Captain and Commander, Kathryn explains.

Smack center in front of them is the largest station of all, conn (for flight control, apparently) with Tom on a sliding chair, a science station to his right and an engineering one to his left, currently unmanned. Tom’s as easy-going as he was when off-duty, but firmly on top of all his screens and buttons. Seeing his ease and knowing that B’Elanna is in charge of the engines he controls does wonders for my sense of safety. There’s a large window in front of him, but right then, he tells us that it’s not a window at all but a screen, currently displaying ‘live action’, but also capable of showing sensory readouts, or greatly magnified portions of space.

Kathryn waves his offer of a demonstration away, though, and we move back up to the turbolift, Seven shadowing us silently, hands clasped behind her back.

In the lift, I sneak a look at her. She’s been hovering a step behind Kathryn all the while, and we’re standing next to one another right now. What Kathryn’s told me, back in Cologne, about the origins of this member of her crew has made shivers run down my spine, and what she’s then proceeded to tell me about this particular Borg’s strife to regain her individuality and sense of self has woken a lot of curiosity in me.

Ellie’s never heard of the Borg, of course, and has eyed the metallic parts on Seven’s face with interest for a moment, then shrugged them away – probably as body jewelry or something. She’s been more taken aback by the blonde woman’s way of talking than her face, I’d say, or maybe she’s envious of her beauty – well, I sure am, at a certain level. At the moment, Kathryn’s explaining the turbolift’s workings to Ellie, though, and I look at Seven again, and see her looking right back at me.

“You’re curious about me.” Her voice makes it something between a question and a statement. Her head is tilted, though, so I choose to interpret it as the former.

“I am, very much so.” Then, not much more than a shot in the dark, “so are you, aren’t you?”

She appraises me silently for a second, then nods. “Correct.”

I grin at her. “Maybe we should get together sometime, then.”

“After this tour?” Her metal… implant?- arches.

“I’m seeing Neelix after this, to prepare for tonight’s Talent Show, but maybe tomorrow? And seeing as you’re curious about me, maybe you should come to that show, too.”

“Are you planning something, Miss Vey?” Kathryn asks, turning around with both eyebrows raised.

“Indeed I am, Captain, and Miss Will here right along with me. It’s been Naomi Wildman’s idea, though.”

“Naomi Wildman often has good ideas”, Seven offers, and I give her a smile for that unexpected bit of help.

“I’d say this qualifies as one of them. Don’t worry, Captain”, I add, taking a closer look at Kathryn’s face, “it’s just so people can get to know me. Nothing spectacular.”

“I’ll see to that”, Ellie pipes up.

Kathryn smiles tightly. “Well, I guess I’ll have to come see it, then, won’t I?”

I tilt my head at the same time that Seven does, even though our faces carry different expressions – mine, amused agreement, hers, even more curiosity. Still, the timing is good enough to startle Kathryn. I suppress my grin, but not the sparkle in my eyes.

Engineering is quietly efficient, too. Kathryn runs a good ship – people snap to at seeing the captain, but they’re not afraid or nervous. I’d say she comes here often enough to be a familiar sight; her detailed knowledge of the room and its stations confirms that quickly. B’Elanna is proud of everything in view, and hearing both of them talk and explain further eases my anxiousness about antimatter in such large amounts, so close. They even try to go easy on the vocabulary.

Ellie isn’t impressed. Truth to say, she’s not really interested in technology, or the future, never has been. But she listens attentively enough, and B’Elanna and she are on good terms since our holodeck trip. Still, I’m glad when Kathryn keeps this short – more so when I realize how much more both she and B’Elanna could have laden us with.

I like the aft lounge. Seeing the streaking stars converge to a point behind us is… soothing, somehow, almost hypnotic, and reminds me of my favorite place to sit and muse on normal ships – the stern, as far back as possible or allowed, dangling my legs over the waves, ideally. It’s virtually empty, too, and Kathryn explains that most people meet in the mess hall instead of here. She does greet the one person present warmly, though, introducing him as Crewman Mortimer Harren, specialist on theoretical cosmology. And mild introvert, too – he barely looks up at us, much less shake our hands. He does acknowledge Kathryn’s presence readily but seems to have a disliking of Seven, to judge by his body language; I wonder what story might be behind this.

It’s a far shorter ride to Astrometrics than the one from the bridge to Engineering has been. The room reminds me of nothing so much as a planetarium. This is Seven of Nine’s realm; her body language states that as plainly as the way Kathryn defers to her when the Ex-Borg takes over the explanations. Her beautiful voice is not as dry as it has been – she sounds almost enthusiastic, telling us about how she integrated Borg and Starfleet technology and found a quicker course to the Alpha Quadrant. Then she calls up an image of Voyager’s current course, explains the search pattern and Harry’s improvements to it, and I start to appreciate why Tom’s console is so complicated – plotting a starship’s course is serious business.

Overall, Voyager is beautiful. Her interior arrangement, her color schemes, the air of efficiency that’s palpable wherever we go – granted, we’re with the boss, but still, this ship is working. And the people seem genuinely pleased to see Kathryn, too, and even direct some hesitant smiles at Ellie and me. This truly is a family. One with unusual members, certainly, but also one with a very strong sense of cohesion and companionship, up to and including the captain; I do get the odd appraising look every now and then, but as I’ve told Kathryn – I know how to be the new kid in town. And Ellie – Ellie can charm anyone; I bet she could charm even Harren if she wanted to.


Talent Night. They haven’t had one for the longest time, and it was a good idea of Neelix to schedule one for tonight, Kathryn thinks, walking towards the mess hall. Nevertheless, ever since Marie’ announcement on the turbolift, Kathryn’s felt apprehensive. She, herself, is not entering with a contribution tonight, thank goodness – although preparing something might have taken her mind off things.

As it is, it’s taken a talk with Chakotay to do that. He’d been surprised when she’d asked for a moment, after their shift had ended. He’d set his teeth, though, and offered his quarters, and he’d been a gracious enough host. She’d repaid this with refraining from beating around the bush – no point in it, really; they both would have to come to terms with having Marie aboard, and the sooner the better. She hadn’t revealed that she’d heard the conversation between Marie and him, but she had appealed to his professionalism as well as their friendship, hoping to salvage both.

In the end, Kathryn thinks, they might have found common ground to go on from again. Only time will tell how well this ground will hold, though, much as she’d appreciate quicker certainty. As to how he’ll be reacting to Marie… time. Patience. Kathryn sighs. She’s not good at patience, is she. Never has been. Marie’s claimed to be good at winning people over, and yesterday’s evening in the mess hall, and on the holodeck, has been… a test, a chance to see that, but still…

The conversation with Chakotay has taken longer than expected, so now Kathryn’s running late, slipping into a seat right inside the door, behind the counter. Neelix is on the small raised stage, saying goodbye to Bronowski carrying an accordion. Then he steps to the stage’s left and grabs another folding chair to add to the one already standing there.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, he calls out, fiddling with getting the chair straight – Kathryn wonders whether it’s his usual clumsiness or an attempt at getting people to laugh. If it’s the latter, it’s working. “After this beautiful foray into American folk music – I really loved how some of you sang along, you know, reminded me of my own home – I’m happy to announce our two new arrivals, Miss Marie Vey and Miss Ellen Will – welcome, welcome”, he calls out as Marie and Ellie hit the stage, putting his arms around both of them.

“Now, Miss Will and Miss Vey have an interesting contribution to tonight’s show – why don’t you tell us about it?” He turns to Ellen, but it’s Marie who answers, and his baffled face elicits another laugh. Neelix certainly can do baffled better than anyone on this ship, can’t he.

“We’re quite aware that a lot of people are curious about us, so we thought we’d do a twenty-questions number tonight.”

And just as Neelix has fully turned around to face Marie, Ellen continues, to more baffled turning, and more laughter. This certainly is choreographed, but people don’t seem to mind. “We’ll answer twenty yes-or-no questions you’ll put to us. Any question’s allowed, although we kindly ask-”

“-that you’ll allow us to answer ‘save me’ if the question warrants it. In that case”, Marie grins at a disappointed groan from Tom, “we’ll grant the questioner one open question.” That seems to get approval from the crowd, and there’s even a smattering of applause when Neelix cedes center stage to the two of them. Kathryn’s impressed. She’s been aware that Marie is confident, but it’s one thing to be a good talker in a circle of friends, quite another to do play a crowd from a stage.

“We’ll take turns answering, and if we answer your question with a yes, you can pose another; if we answer no, it’s the next person’s turn. But”, Marie, settling into her chair, looks down at the front row over the top of her glasses, and Kathryn realizes Naomi’s sitting there, fidgeting excitedly, “after the third yes, it’ll be the next person’s turn, as well. Sorry, Naomi”, she says with a quick apologetic grin, pushing those glasses back up her nose, “but you see, this is supposed to be for everyone.”

“It’s alright”, the youngster answers, “but can I have the first question?”

“Sure”, Ellie shrugs and smiles at her. “Go ahead.”

“Is it true that the captain saved your life?”

“Yes”, says Marie.

“Do you love the captain?”

Marie throws Ellie a quick glance, head tilted. “Do you want to answer that?” She gets a swat for that, and people laugh again. “Oh, alright, then.” A smile blooms on her face that is nothing less than brilliant. Kathryn’s breath hitches, and she’s glad she’s at everyone’s back. “Yes.”

“Does the captain love you back?” Marie’s grin turns comically helpless, and then she calls out, “save me”, with imploring gesture and explosive sigh, and to more laughter. Kathryn can’t help wondering if they’ve scripted this, too, but how could they have? Naomi is all of six years old, if precocious. “Naomi, I really can’t answer that, but maybe the captain will, if you ask her.”

Ellie smiles at the kid, too. “Do you want that open question now or later?”

Naomi thinks for a while, then answers, “later. I did have three questions already.” Samantha Wildman smiles lovingly at her and, to judge by how Naomi sits up straighter, her quiet words to her daughter are praise for thoughtfulness.

Someone else raises a hand, and stands up when Marie acknowledges him. “Ensign David Ashmore, Miss – I wanted to ask… Is it true you are from Earth?” People fall quiet, immediately. Earth. Home.

Marie looks at Ellie. “One of the difficult ones…” They both turn to him, but it’s Ellie who answers. “No, Mister Ashmore, not the way you probably think we are.” Her smile offers a more in-depth answer, though, and wins a delighted grin from the ensign.

Another hand rises, then several. “You, sir, ah – Mister Carey, wasn’t it?” Ellie smiles at him and Kathryn wonders how she knows his name, but then, Ellie’s been spending time around the ship already, hasn’t she?

“Right, miss – do you really come from the twentieth century?”

The two women on stage look at each other, grin and nod simultaneously. “Yes.”

“Can you prove it?” He says it with a laugh, and there’s more laughter when Marie joins in, then grabs her handbag which she’d stashed beneath the chair.

“Sir, I can”, she answers, rising and walking to the edge of the small stage. “Technically, this is more than a ‘yes’, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me…” she rummages around, then holds up something small and rectangular triumphantly. “Here, that’s my ID stating my date of birth – don’t mind the picture, every ID picture is horrible, isn’t it? Naomi, can you – thanks. Yes, go on, pass it around…” she grimaces, to more laughter, and Kathryn can follow the ID’s course by the craning of necks, and even more outbreaks of amusement.

“You’re from Germany?” someone bursts out, apparently astonished.

“Yes”, Ellie answers him, and immediately, he shoots another question.

“Were you in the war, then?”

And suddenly, it’s silent enough to hear a pin drop. Ellie and Marie look at each other, faces very serious.

“If you mean the Second World War, no. We were both born after that”, Ellie says, nodding to where Marie’s ID card is still making the rounds.

“Two generations after the war, in fact”, Marie adds, looking at the speaker intently. “Mister…”

“Rowski. Crewman Abraham Rowski.” Kathryn recognizes the name. Engineering maintenance. Low-key, until now.

“Mister Rowski, I hope you’ll bear with me when I answer your question with a little more than a simple yes or no.” He nods, curtly, and Kathryn can see more bobbing heads. Of course people know Germany’s role in World War II, and not only those who have been in the Hirogen simulation.

“My grandfather was a soldier in the war, and a prisoner of war in Kazakhstan for five years after the war ended, but I didn’t know him then, of course. When I was old enough to talk to him about what I’d learned in school, he was… he seemed almost relieved to speak about those times. I’ve never known him to say a bad word about anyone, whatever religion they had or wherever they came from. He had neighbors from Russia and from Turkey and he liked them; they got along well.” She takes a deep breath.

“I have no idea why he followed Hitler. I didn’t have the courage to ask him, and I regret that to this day. I have no idea why so many people did, to tell you the truth. I’m not denying what my grandfather’s generation did – nor do I want to belittle it. It was the most atrocious crime in human history, and I’m ashamed it was my country that did all that. If you’re wondering whether we, Ellie and I, are xenophobes, or racists, or something like that – well.” She smiles a little ruefully. “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar, und alle Menschen sind gleich vor dem Gesetz – human dignity is inviolable, and all persons are equal before the law. That’s what I grew up with, forty years after the war ended. I’ve always considered myself a human rights activist, too, but I’ve guess even that could be considered speciesist, here and now, and I’m not. I’ve read about the Federation Constitution and about the Vulcan IDIC principle, and they’re both something I can subscribe to.”

“So can I”, Ellie adds gravely.

“I realize this is a difficult subject”, Marie goes on, “and I’m more than willing to answer any question I can – but maybe another time would be more appropriate to that, yes?”

Rowski nods, and people murmur for a bit, then silence falls. The mood seems on the verge of dropping completely when Tom shouts out.

“Do you like Neelix’ food?” A titter of relieved laughter runs through the room, and Voyager’s cook preens a little, standing next to the stage.

“Oh, not fair”, Marie laughs.

“Yes.” Ellie looks at Marie’s raised eyebrows, surely not the only set in the room, Kathryn would wager. “Well, I do”, she shrugs, and people laugh when Neelix mouths a ‘thank you’ to her.

“Is it true you’ve never been in space before?” someone else pipes up, and just like that, things are back on solid ground. Marie teases Ellie for being space-sick, and confesses to a fascination with starships, and Kathryn realizes it doesn’t sound ingratiating but true. Yes, they can sing, no, they won’t sing tonight, but maybe at the next Talent Night, Marie teasingly suggests to Ellie, who scowls at her. No, they don’t play a musical instrument, and no, they haven’t heard Klingon opera yet. Yes, they’ve been to the holodeck, and yes, they liked it a lot. There are more questions, but Kathryn doesn’t really listen, intently concentrated on the way the audience reacts to the two women on stage instead. They’re taking to them. There’s laughter, and ease, and sympathy in the air. Something in her relaxes a little.

“That’s been question number twenty, folks”, Neelix calls out after Ellie has, much to Tom’s delight, confirmed that she is an expert on twentieth century movies, theatre and television, and there actually is a moan running through the room.

Then Marie calls out to Naomi. “You still have that open question, if you like.”

“Oh! Yes – um… what do you do?”

“As in, for a living?”

“Yes.”

Marie looks at Ellie questioningly, who nods. “I really am… was… well, I am an expert on movies and so on, and on languages, but I don’t know if you need those things much, on a starship. Still, I’d like to help, with what I can do.”

“Neelix can help. He’ll find something, I’m sure”, Naomi says confidently, and her godfather preens again.

“And I…” Marie stops for a breath, and a squaring of shoulder. “Well, I studied and worked as a social worker – that’s what you’d call a counselor-” there’s a muttering in the crowd, and Marie grins a self-deprecating grin. “I hear you”, she laughs, arms spread. “Don’t worry; I don’t like compulsory counseling, probably about as little as anyone does, really. But if anyone wants to”, she shrugs, “I’ll be there to help. Quite probably in a storage room- sorry, cargo bay, somewhere, counting bolts or something.” This time, people laugh with her.


Talent Night continues with three crew members acting in a sketch, quite funnily, too, apparently, but I’m too wound up to pay much attention. I always am, after facing a crowd, strangely enough. I don’t have much stage fright beforehand, but afterwards… my hands shake too much for the tea Neelix is handing me, and trying to find a place to put it down, I spot Kathryn, at the back of the crowd, and surreptitiously make my way over during a bout of applause.

When I reach her, putting my cup on the counter she’s sitting behind, she squeezes my hand. “Cold!” she gasps, quietly, and I chuckle.

“Nerves”, I explain, equally silent. Then I step around her to look at the stage, content to leave my hand in hers for warmth even though it means our linked arms are wrapping around her. She seems a bit uneasy, but when people fail to cry out, or even snigger, that the captain’s cuddling in the back row, she slowly relaxes into the embrace. When, at the end of the sketch, I move my other arm around her to applaud in front of her stomach and she doesn’t even take notice, I take it as what it is – another step.

Chapter Text

He comes to our quarters the next morning. I know they met yesterday, before Talent Night (where I haven’t seen him, but that’s his discretion, isn’t it?). Kathryn hasn’t told me what they’d talked about; not yesterday night, nor today at breakfast. When the chime had sounded, Kathryn had barely left for the bridge, and, seeing him standing there, hands clasped behind his back and stiff as a stick, I wonder if he’s been waiting for her to do so.

“Commander. Do come in.” I offer him a seat, which he takes, and a tea, which he declines. Just like last time, a treacherous thought whispers. I pointedly ignore it. “What can I do for you?”

“Miss Vey, I…” He looks down on his folded hands, then up at me again, eyes frank if not friendly. “I wanted to apologize. I was out of line.”

“You were honest. I appreciate that.”

“I was also wrong.” He dips his head.

“Commander, I-”

He holds up his hands, wincing. “Please – Chakotay. This is entirely personal, after all.”

I cock my head, and when he meets my eyes this time, they hold something that encourages me to smile. “Marie, then. Please.” He nods. “I do appreciate what you said. And if you don’t mind a little frankness from my part-” he bids me go ahead with a wave of his hand, “I’m sure you’re not the only one to feel protective about the captain. I guess I’ll have to prove that I’m good enough for quite some time, yet.”

“Oh, I don’t think-” he tries to wave that away, too, but I interrupt him.

“Oh, but I do.” I pause. Then I grin. “I do think a little frankness might speed that up, though.”

He raises an eyebrow, and his mouth quirks. “Yesterday’s session was inspired, I’ll grant you that. Oh, yes, I’ve heard about it already”, he explains at my surprised expression, “grapevines are very short on starships. And it did go down well, from what I’ve heard. Though there are a few people where too much frankness might get you a bloody nose – but you already met B’Elanna, didn’t you?”

My grin returns at the memory of our holodeck race. “Yes. No bloody noses, although I believe I came close when I let Tom overtake us.”

He frowns for a moment, then his eyes light up. “Racing on the holodeck?”

I nod. “In twenty-nine horsepower cars.” The frown is back, and I elaborate, “very small engines. Plucky, though.”

“Who won?”

“That one? Uh… Tom did. Then people changed around, and…” well, nothing for it, right? In for a penny, in for a pound, as Kathryn would say. “He taught B’Elanna to drive, I taught Kathryn, and they had it out between them.”

He actually chuckles at that. “I would have given a lot to have seen that.”

“Well, we’ll reserve a seat for you next time, if you like.”

“Count me in”, he grins.

Small talk it is, a beginning it is, but our clash still weighs on me too heavily. “Listen, um, Chakotay”, I address it. He tilts his head and purses his lips – such lips, too – thrown off course by my change of tone. “Frankness, yes?” At least that gets me a smile, if a confused one. “I know how important you are to Kathryn. And how important she’s to you. I… I don’t want us to fight. I think we don’t need to. In a way, we share some goals. Well, one, at least”, I amend when he raises an eyebrow skeptically. “We both want her to be happy, don’t we?”

He doesn’t answer straight away. Then, he looks up at me, a challenge in his eyes. “I guess we do.”

“Well, why don’t we do just that, then?” He opens his mouth as if to speak, and looks at me, very levelly. His gaze speaks volumes. Still. “Chakotay, you’re someone for her I can’t ever be, nor do I want to.” Which translates into ‘I’m no threat’, and I hope he understands what I’m aiming at. “You can make her happy in ways that I can’t”, I go on, and suddenly he shakes his head and snorts, and when I realize the possible undertone of my last statement, I… Well. Sometimes you have to be thirteen all over again, and giggle about things like that. It does take another iota of pressure with it, that laughter.

I sigh, feeling bold. “I’ll have to spend the rest of the afternoon calming the orchids again, I suppose.”

“Huh?”

“Well, the first time you were here, you-”

“-yelled”, he nods, alighting to where I’m going, “and now I’m producing innuendos where none were intended.” I nod, head tilted sideways, still fighting for a straight face. Well, there’s no denying it: he had done both. “They aren’t used to yelling or innuendos?” he deadpans. Does it better than me, too.

“Not from my quarters”, I say, eyebrows and hands raised, a picture of innocence. “And I haven’t been here long enough to have them cry on my shoulder and tell me what they really think about the Janeway Death Glare.”

“They look alive and well”, he replies, with a perfect rendition of a worried, dubious glance over the specimen in the room.

“Maybe they’re glare-proof?” I tap a finger against my mouth.

“We should ask Tuvok. He grows them for her.”

“The secret of being glare-proof…” I breathe reverentially, then shake my head. “No. Things are shaken up enough as it is. We can’t have glare-proof people aboard on top of that. She needs to set us quaking in our boots every now and then.”

I’m only half jesting, and I know he gets the undercurrent. He nods, slowly. “True.” There’s a sparkle in his eyes that I like. This is more than small talk; much more than a simple apology, too. He’s reaching out, and I like his sense of humor. “You don’t quake much, do you?” he asks me, and I shrug.

“I do have one or two secrets up my sleeve.”

“You do? Care to divulge one?” His eyes are afire with curiosity and laughter.

I lean towards him, voice lowered conspiratorially. “It’s a trade secret. Not easy to pull of either; different, but no less efficient.”

“How so?”

I don’t answer, but lean back, cross my arms, and carefully compose my features into my most professional, calm demeanor, complete with tilted head and patient, encouraging smile.

After a moment, he shakes his head, then starts chuckling again. “Spirits save us. I’ve heard about your profession.” I give in and grin, and he huffs, smiles dryly, and runs a hand through his hair. “You know, we could have used someone of that ilk over the years.”

“Oh, I don’t know”, I shrug, irreverence sneaking into my grin. “You all seem stable enough to me. But then I’ve only been here for what – a week?” Then I grow serious again. “But, you see, I know about roles, and group dynamics, and authority. And I realize that the situation is a minefield, and that there’s… quite a disaster potential inherent in it.”

He nods, slowly, as serious as I. “A social worker would, I guess.”

My answer is something between a shrug and a nod. “I know Kathryn’s purpose is getting this crew home. I realize the significance of that, to her, to you, to everyone; I know something of the sacrifices you’ve made for this, too. I… well, I can’t speak for her, but I don’t want her to compromise that, not for a… personal concern like having a partner aboard. Personal isn’t the same as important, after all.” I look at him intently. Again, his nod is slow. “I can’t promise I won’t upset people – I mean, simply coming here has shaken things, right?” He smiles a little ruefully, and tugs at his ear, and I go on, sparing him an answer, “I do know how important command structure and authority is in an environment like this, and I know how not to compromise them. In fact… well, truth to tell, Commander”, and that’s on purpose, this use of his rank. Kathryn’s told me that what I’m about to ask is part of his job, after all. “I’d like to offer… to do what I can. I want to pull my weight. I realize that it depends on people accepting me in the first place, but I wanted you to know that… I’m not a stowaway, or… or content to be the Captain’s Woman.” He grimaces at that name, but it could be worse. He could have grimaced for himself, and he didn’t. “I have some talents”, I go on, “and if they can be of use here, I’d like to… employ them, if not as counselor, then in any other fashion we might find.”

He nods, and I can see the wheels already turning in his thoughts. Then he smiles. “Miss Will has already made a similar offer. It’s much appreciated, and I’ll see what I can do to help that along.”

I incline my head in thanks, and he gets up to leave. When he’s almost at the door, I call out for him. “Chakotay.”

“Yes, Marie?” My given name from his mouth for the first time feels like a big step indeed. I swallow.

He hasn’t turned fully around, so I tell his back, “I intend to make her happy.”

His head is turned enough for me to see his eyes close briefly. I can see his jaw work, too, and finally, he does turn back to me completely. I meet his eyes squarely, and hold nothing back. Not my wish to befriend Kathryn’s friend, not my love for her. Not the seriousness of the intent I stated just then. “I don’t expect anything less, Marie.”

~~~

It’s far past midnight when she finally comes home.

We’d been orbiting a planet – I’d been glued to the windows even though it hadn’t been a beautiful one, wrapped in whirls and whirls of clouds as it’s been. Still – a planet! I’d been thrilled. Then, there’d been the red alert klaxon, and a ship-wide message from the captain that we’d be entering the atmosphere, and to expect being shaken up a bit. Quite an understatement, as it turned out. Shimmering orbs of something had left the ship and exploded in front of her bow, rocking us with their shockwaves, and then the clouds had cleared, revealing something far more ordinary – oceans, landmasses, green, blue, white, grey. A miracle, still, because familiar as the sight had been, it had been… alien, too. All the wrong shapes, and wrong colors in wrong places. Then the klaxon had ended and Voyager had left, and still she hadn’t come home.

I’m in bed when she slips in, waking me. She apologizes the instant she notices, and her voice sounds… odd, when she does. I’m fully awake at once.

“What’s happened?” I ask her, overpowered by – well, it’s not curiosity, foremost. Anxiety, rather, at how she sounded just now. I prop myself up on my elbow to look at her, what little I can make out.

In the light of stars streaking by, almost familiar by now, I can see her jaw set and her nostrils flare. Her eyes are two pools of darkness, the way she’s arranged herself on the bed, arm beneath her head. I wish I could see what they hold; anger, sadness, something else entirely? As it is, all I know is that they stare straight up, and that I have to wait until she tells me.

She’s silent for the longest time. “A crewmember got killed today”, she answers finally, and her voice tells me far more than her words do. I keep my silence and the space between us, difficult as I find it. But she’s virtually projecting a wish not to be hugged, or comforted in a like manner.

“Just because someone with a grudge…” she falls silent, grating her teeth. “Joe Carey has a wife, on Earth. Two sons, too”, she goes on. “In any other circumstances, we’d be heading towards them now, to bring his body to them, to explain, in person, what happened. Now I have to talk to them over a goddamn comm. link. A counselor will be there at their end, I guess, but still, it feels…” again, she breaks off, her mouth and chin sharp lines in the silvery starlight. Then her fist hits the mattress, hard, and comes up to her mouth an instant later, to be bitten.

“Joe Carey”, I say quietly. “Ellie knew him. He worked with her on her laptop.” I’d been meaning to join them with mine, time allowing. “I’m sorry.” I don’t like the words; too often, with too many people, they sound like a phrase. I hadn’t known Mister Carey; now I never will. I have no doubt that he was a good man; all I know of him is that Ellie’s said he’d been as friendly as he’d been skillful. But she’s a good judge of character, and my commiseration is correspondingly sincere, and I try to get that across to my captain.

Again, it takes a while until she pulls her hand away and turns her head to me. When she does, I can see the trace of a tear disappearing into her hairline. Her hand, teeth marks quite visible, comes up to trace my eyebrow with slender fingers, then runs a strand of my hair between them, plays with it. All the while, her eyes are hidden in darkness. I know when she closes them, though, by the way her brow knits. Then she sighs a silent sigh, withdraws her hand, and turns until she’s facing away from me.

I can still see the tension in her shoulders and the back of her jaw, though. I start to trail my own finger across her neck, where her hair bares it, and am rewarded with an involuntary shiver.

“Don’t-” she begins, but her voice, powerful ally that it usually is, deserts her.

“That’s what I was going to say, you know”, I tell her gently. “Don’t.” I kiss her shoulder lightly, and she flinches a little. “Don’t shut me out. Don’t think you have to do this alone. I’m here if you want me.”

“What if I don’t?” She sounds choked.

I chuckle, truly amused. “Well, I guess I’ll still be here, unless you’d rather I sleep on the sofa, or bunk with Ellie, or something.” Then I place another kiss, on her trapezius this time.

“Marie, you…” another kiss stops whatever she’d been trying to say. She shudders more strongly. “Please…”

“Please leave you alone?” I hazard. “Hardly.” My fourth kiss finds the base of her neck. “Hold you?” Her nod is barely perceptible. I only feel it because my lips are still touching her neck, really. It takes a bit of shuffling, but in the end, we’re spooning, my left arm beneath her head, fingers of my right entwined with hers.

I have no idea whether she slept that night. My guess, though, is that she didn’t.

Chapter Text

“Chakotay to Janeway.”

I think it’s been a good thing that Kathryn’s been working mostly from our quarters for the last few days; she’s slowly letting go of her anger and guilt at Carey’s death, slowly recovering from the bleakness her conversation with his wife and kids has woken. I like to think our being together soothes her; the two of us, sitting together, working together – well; I’m not working, I’m learning about Starfleet protocol and regulations, but anyway, the two of us spending our time like this, comfortable in each other’s company, is slowly getting familiar, and frankly, it’s good for both of us. She’s even asked me yesterday, jokingly, whether I’d ever thought a captain’s job would entail so much paperwork, and I’d simply raised my eyebrows at her, laughter sparkling in my eyes. How am I supposed to know what’s part of a starship’s captain’s job?

“Go ahead, Commander”, she responds in her usual fashion.

“Captain, we had a ship on long range sensors; damaged or low on energy or both – they were limping, at any rate, and very erratically, too. We offered help, but they didn’t respond; instead, they hid in an asteroid belt of a nearby solar system. I don’t like to leave them just like that. We’re outside their hiding place now; they aren’t responding to our hails.” Chakotay’s report is intriguing, and I find myself listening in, and thinking along. Oh, Kathryn’s has kept her promise about telling me things, that’s not the problem – it’s me who’s too curious, too impatient to wait until I get told what’s going on.

“I’m on my way”, Kathryn answers, tapping her comm. badge and rising from her desk.

“Maybe they’re afraid”, I muse, leaning back and stretching.

“Hm?”

“It sounds as if they’re afraid. A damaged ship might mean they’ve been in a fight, or they’re fleeing from something. If they’re flying erratically, maybe they’re not used to the ship, don’t know how to handle it.”

“I thought as much.” Kathryn’s smile is a little indulgent. “But you heard Chakotay say he’s offered help when he hailed them.”

“What if they can’t understand him? From what I’ve read, the UT doesn’t always work.”

“So what would you suggest?” she asks me, pausing just inside the door’s trigger range.

“Non-threatening posture”, I answer immediately, “and if we could somehow offer assistance in a way that they don’t feel they’re putting themselves in danger to accept it, that would be a way to gain their trust.”

“Social worker’s answer, hm?”

I shrug, “that’s what I am. And I coaxed enough frightened people out of hiding places-”

“Well, get up, then, Miss Vey”, she interrupts me, “you’re coming with me.”

I look at her, stunned for a moment, then I jump up.

~~~

“Status”, she demands, stepping onto the bridge and taking her seat. A few surprised eyebrows welcome me, but they’re back down quickly as people snap to the command. Trying to keep out of the way, I step next to Harry’s console, not quite sure where to go.

“Our last sensor readings showed twenty-seven life-signs on the ship, several of them quite weak”, Harry replies. “We can’t get clear scans ever since they flew into that cave; I haven’t tried a multiphasic scan yet, though.”

“Tactical analysis showed their energy readings very unstable; it is uncertain for how much longer they are going to have life support”, Tuvok adds. “There is a low-level energy field pervading the asteroid. Maybe they draw power from it – their system’s configuration seems… eccentric. I cannot say, in fact, whether the field originates from the asteroid, the ship, or an interaction between the two. It does prevent us from scanning, so we cannot precisely determine what kind of aid they might need.”

Kathryn purses her lips, tapping her fingers against her chin. “Is there any way we can help them?”

“Not until we know what they need. As long as they keep their quiet, there’s no way of telling what they’re up to, either. And I don’t think it would be a good idea to beam something or someone over unannounced”, Chakotay answers. Kathryn nods.

“I think so, too. Miss Vey”, she beckons for me to step forward, “has suggested that the strangers might be scared of us.” She turns in her chair to look at me. “Any ideas, then, how to coax them out?”

“Can I see where they are and where we are?” I ask.

Harry taps a few commands, and the screen changes to a schematic of Voyager, the asteroid field, and the strange ship in the big asteroid in front of us.

“We’d seem to be blocking their escape route”, I say, quite to myself, but Tuvok answers immediately.

“Correct, Miss Vey.” Are Vulcan ears better than human? “We do not know whether they are hostile or friendly, yet, so safety would suggest this course of action.”

“Well, if they are friendly but frightened, moving out their way could reassure them they can leave anytime they wish.”

“Do we want them to?” A security chief’s answer. Well, people can be running away out of fear or out of a bad conscience, right? If running away is what they’ve been doing.

Can they get away? I mean, once they’re past us, are they faster than Voyager?”

Harry pipes up, “not with their energy readings.”

“And not the way they’ve been flying”, Tom adds.

“So there wouldn’t be harm in moving aside?” I go on.

Tuvok looks to Kathryn, who simply cocks her head, eyebrows raised expectantly. “No.”

“Do it”, she answers, and Tom’s fingers fly over his controls. The schematic shows the change after a moment; Voyager backs off slowly and gracefully, and the strangers’ ship completely fails to make a run for it.

“Has there been any indication that they’ve understood our hailing at all?” She flicks her hand at the ledge to her right and I sit down, one leg folded beneath me for cushioning.

“Are you thinking the UT isn’t working, Captain?” Chakotay asks.

“Happened before”, she shrugs. “Maybe it’ll take a while, maybe it won’t work at all. Keep hailing them, Mister Kim; maybe they’ll catch on.”

“Aye, Captain”, Harry responds.

“How about your other idea, then, Miss Vey? How would you try to win their trust?”

“They’ve got weak life signs and low energy reserves, you said?” Standing up again, I see Harry nod. I slowly pace, tapping a little melody against my lips. “We could try... their ship’s smaller than Voyager, right?”

“Much smaller”, Chakotay replies, “about a fourth our size.”

“So we appear a threat by sheer bulk. What if we went smaller? If you speak to a frightened child, you hunker down, right?”

“But we can’t make ourselves smaller”, Harry replies.

“We could use the Delta Flyer”, Tom says, echoing the idea in my head – well, nearly. I’d been thinking shuttle, not Flyer. “Fly in to them, see if we can make contact that way.”

“Captain, we do not know whether these strangers are frightened indeed. They might be hiding for other reasons. The Delta Flyer would be extremely vulnerable.”

“They haven’t fired a single shot so far, Lieutenant”, Chakotay says calmly. “I don’t think they could, even if they wanted.”

“Yet a creature who feels threatened can respond more ferociously than it usually would.”

“True, that”, I second the Vulcan. Kathryn looks at me, eyebrows raised. I shrug and spread my hands briefly. It is true.

“And that’s why you’ll be leading the away mission, Tuvok”, she commands. “Try and see whether they’ll respond, but get out at any sign of trouble. Tom, you’ll fly, and I want the Doctor on the Flyer, too, in case they really need medical assistance and agree to let us help them. Miss Vey, you’ll go with them.”

I swallow. Being on the bridge, okay, that has been exciting, but leaving Voyager? Well, in for a penny… I nod. “Yes, Captain.” Protocol lesson already paid out, I guess.

~~~

The Delta Flyer seems so frail, leaving Voyager's shuttle bay, but the view is amazing. Asteroids zoom and loom, depending on size, and Tom seems in his element, weaving through them. The Delta Flyer’s control consoles cracked me up when I saw them. Joysticks! Good grief, as Kathryn would say.

“Plot a course that avoids appearing hostile, Mister Paris”, Tuvok tells him when we draw near the huge asteroid with the cave the ship has taken refuge in. “Put us in a position near the entrance, but neither inside it nor blocking it. Then we will try hailing them again.”

“Yes, sir.”

A sudden thought strikes me. “Who’s hailed them before?”

“Commander Chakotay and Ensign Kim”, Tuvok answers, head tilted.

“Maybe… I’ve known the pitch of voice to make a difference. Most people… I mean, most humans will judge a female voice to be less threatening than a male one, for example. Might not be true here, but…”

His eyebrow rises when he catches on to my meaning. “Are you experienced in first contact situations?”

“With frightened people, yes. With aliens? No. Haven’t gotten that far in my reading, see; I’ve been covering shipboard behavior, mostly.” God, I’m babbling, aren’t I? Tom’s mouth quirks up slightly. “What do I have to consider?”

“At the beginning, keep your words simple”, Tuvok replies immediately, eyebrow cocked, “for the sake of the Universal Translator. Do not aggravate the other party, and do not give away technological details.”

“Well, small chance of that”, I say dryly.

“When in doubt, or when I signal you, end the conversation so that we may confer.” I nod.

“We’re here.” My pulse jumps at Tom’s words. He taps something into his console, waits for its chirp, then gives me the thumbs up.

I swallow. First contact, eh? Well, nothing for it. “This is Marie Vey, speaking for the starship Voyager. We are here to offer help. We mean no threat, no harm. Please answer.”

The line is silent for a while and I repeat my message when Tuvok’s nod tells me to. Then, “incoming message, audio only”, Tom reports.

“Put it on”, Tuvok orders, and a strange sound comes from the speakers. Piping, and rustling, and clicking. Fairly musical, somehow. Then, suddenly, interspersed with words.

“…need. You who fraa-iech for the Voyager, tell us, are you enemy?” There’s a sound in there that doesn’t get translated, but the meaning seems clear enough from context.

“I did not understand the first part of your message, but we are not an enemy. We mean no harm”, I repeat, “we’re here to offer help. Do you need help?” Even when you know they do, people like to have a say, don’t they.

The singing sounds… different now, a higher piping. Desperate, maybe? “Many wounded Friiell”, the sound is shrill and remains without translation – their name? “Many wounded, too many dead. Help. Yes.” A pause, more rustling sounds. “Please.”

“We are four people aboard this ship. One of us is a doctor who may be able to help your wounded. Would you allow him to help you?”

Rustling, piping, clicking. Discussion? Distress? “Yes.”

“We still can’t beam over”, Tom says softly, under his breath, “but there seems to be a large space at the stern of the ship. Might be a cargo bay, maybe we can dock there, or fly into it, even?”

“Friiell ship”, I try to imitate the shrill, fluting trill, “would you allow us to fly in to you? Or do you want to come out to where we are? How can we get to you, to help?”

“We must stay. Not enough energy to move. Too many, too many…” a sad low whistling that’s not translated, then a few clicking sounds. “You who sing for Voyager, will you come inside?”

Tuvok raises his eyebrows, pointing from me to him and back to me. He wants to talk about this, first.

“You who sing for the Friiell ship”, I answer slowly, “I need to speak with the others with me, to decide. I will tell you in a short while. Will that be acceptable?”

“Yes.”

Tom taps out some more commands, closing the line. I take a deep breath. First contact. Wow.

“Mister Paris”, Tuvok says calmly. I have no idea what he’s asking for, but Tom does, apparently.

“The readings I’ve been getting are more detailed than the ones we had before, now that we’re this close. It seems reasonable that they’d be even clearer when we get inside that asteroid. So far, sensors confirm that they are low on energy; they’ve landed, even. If anything goes wrong, I can have us out there in a wink before they even power up their engines”, Tom adds. “And no one who wants to try something nasty turns off their engines. On the other hand, that energy field is affecting our communications systems more strongly. I don’t think we’ll be able to contact Voyager from inside that cave.”

“They didn’t sound threatening, though”, the Doctor adds, to a double nod from Tom and me.

Tuvok nods. “Please open a channel to Voyager.” He waits while Tom does, then goes on, “Captain, Tuvok here.”

“What do you have?” Kathryn sounds a little impatient, and I hide my smile.

“We successfully made contact with the aliens. The Universal Translator seems to have difficulties with their language, but it is adapting. They have told us about wounded and dead, and have powered down their engines. Since we cannot beam in, Mister Paris has suggested we fly in to try to see whether we can dock or whether they have a bay to land the Delta Flyer in. I think this would be an acceptable course of action, even though we will, in all probability, lose the comm. link once we enter.”

“I agree, Mister Tuvok; do it. Work on establishing communications as well as giving humanitarian aid, though; I don’t like not being able to talk to you. I’m giving you six hours until I want you to report, from inside that asteroid or out.”

“Yes, Captain. Tuvok out.” He turns his calm gaze on me. “Tell them, Miss Vey.”

~~~

The cave inside that asteroid seems claustrophobic and crowded, with both the Delta Flyer and the Friiell ship – Srisri’s Dancer, as we’ve learned – inside. The damage to the ship’s hull is plainly visible; scorch marks and tears and gashes, and one large, badly twisted strut hinting at something that was there once but is gone now.

“The hangar door is to your right”, the Friiell ‘singer’ calls out via the comm. link. I still have no idea whether it’s a male or female I’m talking to; the UT is no help, either, having chosen a neutral pitch to represent the Friiell’s voice. I don’t have any idea about his or her role on the Dancer, either. ‘You who sing for…’ sounds so… formal, like a title. In a way, this is exciting.

Tom flies us in smoothly, there’s a hissing of repressurization, and then a wide door opens and I see the Friiell for the first time. I slam into one of the Delta Flyer’s bulkheads in my haste to get away from the sight.

“What is it?” Tom asks me, eyes solicitous.

My mouth works, but I can’t get anything out. Hell. Bloody, bloody hell. They’re tall, tall as humans and several times as wide, and here’s me, phobic of spiders. I grit my teeth. Face your fear, then, Vey.

“You who sing for Voyager, do not be afraid.” The UT is fluent enough by now to transmit the Friiell singer’s solicitousness, at least, if not sex.

I frown. How can he or she know? “Empaths, probably”, Tom supplies in a whisper, “like telepaths, only with emotions, not thoughts. Maybe thoughts, as well, though; you never know.”

Taking a deep breath, I try to find words in a brain reeling with adrenaline. “You who sing for Srisri’s Dancer, I… I am sorry. My fear is irrational. It is not… you personally, nor your people I am afraid of; you sing well.” True, too, and it sounds better than ‘you sound nicer than I’ve ever thought spiders could sound’, right? “I will… try not to be afraid”, I go on, “please be patient with me.”

“We will.”

“The atmosphere is breathable”, the Doctor says, looking at his tricorder, “and I detect no pathogens. You’re clear to leave the Flyer.”

Again, I take a deep breath, pulling myself up. Tuvok nods at me, then releases the hatch.

~~~

“Captain, we have successfully made contact with the Friiell. Miss Vey, Mister Paris and I are returning to Voyager presently while the Doctor has asked to stay behind, tending to wounded individuals.”

“Sounds good, Tuvok, and faster than six hours, too. I take it you haven’t found a way of direct communication yet?”

“Not quite, Captain. We’ve installed a transceiver at the cave’s mouth that allows us to communicate with the Doctor’s comm. badge, but Srisri’s Dancer’s transponder array is damaged and its range severely limited. It might be compatible with our technology, but finding a common link was beyond both Mister Paris’ and my abilities. Miss Vey has suggested that a repair crew might be able to help, and the Friiell have given us license to send one to Srisri’s Dancer.”

“Sounds even better. I’ll have B’Elanna assemble a team.”

“Um, Captain”, I add, “the Friiell are arachnoids; females seem to scare them. The Dancer’s crew is exclusively male, and they have expressed… distress at discovering the away team consisted of members of both sexes. When they learned how to discern male humanoids from female, they responded better to the males as well, although it did help that I had developed a… rapport with See-srt, their captain, beforehand, via comm. link. He told me that with Friiell, the male has a higher pitched voice than the female, and that my hailing them made them respond at all. Lieutenant Torres might want to consider that when choosing people to come over.”

“Acknowledged, Miss Vey. I’ll tell her.”

I slowly lean back into my seat and close my eyes. God, what a terrifying two hours it’d been. See-srt, he who sings for Srisri’s Dancer, had taken every consideration of my fear, and his solicitousness had translated itself to his crewmates. They’d been anxious, still, but on the other hand, the fact that they’d been able to sense my fear had actually calmed them down. I shouldn’t have been surprised – if they’re usually scared of females, a female scared of them would bolster their courage, right? Then my memory coughs up the way they looked all of us up and down. Mammaries, eh. I suppress a laugh – it would have sounded quite mad, I’m sure.

Then I’d had to explain that, even though I ‘sang for Voyager’, I was not in command – See-srt clearly was. There’d been another frightened titter when I’d explained that Voyager was in fact commanded by a female, and had quite a lot of female crew members, and that it might be possible that some of them would be part of a repair crew. Several of them had danced back and forth a little in distress, then had visibly restrained their reaction when I’d blanched. The jerkiness of a spider’s movements has ever been what I’ve been most repelled by. See-srt had asked me whether any female coming over would be as ‘small’ as me. When he’d gone on explaining that he was concerned whether they would fit the corridors since Friiell females were usually significantly larger than the males, I’d swallowed and tried to think happy thoughts. Thinking back on it now, I wonder whether he might have been wanting to add ‘and as frightened’ to his question.

They had indeed been attacked, mere hours before we’d hailed them, by a ship of people who the Friiell ominously called Darkness Singers, an enemy so dreaded that See-srt had barely been able to think of the fight, much less describe it. Even to Tom’s and my five human senses, the Friiell’s terror had been palpable; Tuvok had blanched and closed his eyes for a moment. The Doctor had been oblivious, treating wounded after wounded – burns, broken limbs, injuries in every form. Srisri’s Dancer had lost quite a few people in that fight, among them the only trained pilot, apparently, and had gotten away on a hope and a prayer. Neither of us had managed to get more information than that.

Tom had recorded much of what another Friiell had coaxed out of data storage with his tricorder, expressing his frustration with the incompatibility of our equipment quite vocally. His ire had seemed to amuse the Friiell next to him, and that had been a basis for bonding, apparently – not only did the Friiell weapons officer introduce himself (as Srchreet, which Tom had given up on pronouncing after a few tries, settling on Skritt with the Friiell’s blessing), but he’d also admitted to sensing emotions, something inherent to his species and sex. From what he explained, Friiell females projected, males received emotions, but he’d refused to go into greater detail, tapping his legs in what we knew, by then, to be anxiousness. He’d quickly changed topic, to how he could sense Tuvok’s and Tom’s emotions, even though they were male, but not the Doctor’s, and the conversation had landed somewhere else very quickly after that. “But he doesn’t have mammaries”, Srchreet had said, to two chuckles, one indignant ‘well, really’, and a stoic Vulcan Look.

Hearing their story, communicating with them so easily after getting used to their mode of speech and their body language, and, most of all, sensing and seeing their anxiousness, had made me lose a bit of mine. Nevertheless and even now, sitting on the Flyer that’s speeding me away from them, I’m still shaking, flooded in adrenaline, tense to the point of screaming. My fingernails dig into palms, to create an outlet other than tears.

“Miss Vey.”

My head snaps up. “Yes, Lieutenant Tuvok?”

“You seem distressed.”

“I’m fine.” Tom chuckles, one short snort of laughter. “I am”, I insist. “This is simply my body getting rid of the fear. I know the process. It’ll pass. So, I’m fine.” I try to get my teeth far enough apart to sound normal, too.

Tuvok looks at me, appraisal in his eyes. “I could teach you a meditation technique to help calm your mind, if you want to.” God, I could hug him. I simply nod, instead. “Imagine a lamp, burning with a single flame…”

I’m good at imagining. When we’re back on Voyager, I’ve almost stopped shaking.

~~~

I haven’t been in the briefing room before; Kathryn has motioned me to a chair I suppose is the Doctor’s – he’s still on the Dancer, but has been reporting via the transceiver we left behind. An appalling record, indeed – of a complement of over thirty, almost two thirds have died, and most of these not from any visible injuries, either. To judge by basic arachnid physiology and what he’d found in front of him, they’d died from fear, he’d said. Tension had risen around the table at his words.

“So basically, these… Darkness Singers could be back any moment, to finish what they started”, Kathryn, pacing, arms on her hips, comments Tuvok’s subsequent report on our tactical status.

“That is a valid assumption”, Tuvok nods.

“We have no information about the part of space the attacking ship headed to”, Seven adds, “nor does the description we have so far fit any species the Borg know about.”

“Yes, but you never heard about the Friiell before, either, did you?” Kathryn asks.

“No.”

“Well, if we assume the Friiell are frightened for a reason, then our best bet would be to help them get afloat again, see them to somewhere safe, and then get out of here, ourselves. If we don’t meet these Darkness Singers in the process, well, so much the better, but if we do, I want to be prepared. Tom, you, Tuvok and Seven will go over the data you recorded and come up with tactics to fight them; B’Elanna, I’ll join your team trying to find a way to interface with Srisri’s Dancer’s computer directly, both to get more information and to figure out how best to repair the ship.”

“Captain”, Chakotay begins, but her hand stops him.

“Commander, I want you out here looking for any signs of danger, or possibly assistance. Let’s see if we find someone ready to offer refuge to the Friiell, or more help. Take Voyager out of the system for full long range sensor scans as soon as we have a comm. link established, but don’t send out messages. We don’t want to draw those Darkness Singers here, do we.”

“Captain.” She looks at me, head cocked, when I speak out. “The Friiell are… scared of females.”

“So you’ve said.”

“When we told them that a woman commands Voyager, they were… nervous. Very nervous.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Are you telling me I should go incognito so as not to frighten them out of their skins?”

“I don’t think that is called for, but they can sense emotions. All of us going over should try to… to emit… innocuousness”, I say with a discomfited grimace. Really, if someone had told me this morning I’d be warning Captain Kathryn Janeway, not to mention her half-Klingon Chief Engineer, not to scare a bunch of oversized spiders, I’d have laughed at them, but part of me still is, after too little meditation, trembling with the aftermath of fright.

“Well, they’ll have to make do with us if they want our help”, she says with a lop-sided smile. “Seeing as the Doctor will be busy and Tuvok and Tom will be staying here, you’ll be going back with us, then, as a familiar face, to reassure them we’re not scary.”

“I’ll instruct my team”, B’Elanna adds with a slight smile of her own, “we’ll be even, if it helps – three of my men to the three of us.”

“Can’t ask better than that, I’d say.” Kathryn stands. “We’ll start right away. Dismissed.”

~~~

See-srt stands his ground when we step from the Flyer. I can see his eyes flick to everyone’s chests, but the only indication of any emotion on his part is a single tap of his first left leg.

“See-srt who sings for Srisri’s Dancer”, I greet him by his full title, stepping aside for my next words, “allow me to introduce Captain Kathryn Janeway who commands Voyager.” She smiles when she passes me – I’d confirmed that the Friiell had seen and understood the gesture when we’d been there the first time when she’d asked me on our way over. See-srt’s bow to her is even lower than the one he greeted me with. I introduce the rest of the team; Torres, Vorik, Ashmore, and Mulcahey. Then the repair team leaves for the computer stations, where several Friiell stand ready to work with them.

“She who commands Voyager, and she who works Voyager’s engines – they are smaller, but not as frightened as you are”, See-srt notices, standing a bit apart with me. “I do not wish to be disrespectful”, he adds, sensing my surprise, “I am merely… curious.”

I smile at him. It’s getting easier, too. “They probably are, I guess. But I don’t think the two facts are connected. As I have told you, my fear is irrational – sometimes this happens with humans; sometimes they are afraid of something for no reason at all.” I try to explain phobias as best as I can; the UT is still not working perfectly, and it seems the concept is quite foreign to See-srt, or maybe to all Friiell.

“So there are small arachnids where you come from, and some of them are dangerous to humans, but you fear all of them, regardless? The harmless ones, too?” He snaps his pincers, a gesture of surprise, and I shudder involuntarily. His torso rolls to his side in a passing imitation of how Tuvok cocks his head, and that, at least makes me smile – something he’s been aiming at, apparently, since he then lowers the front section of his body. He can’t smile, but this… dipping is the Friiell equivalent, I’ve learned.

“It sounds even more brainless when you know that not a single really dangerous species of arachnid lives in the area of Earth I grew up in. Everyone kept telling me they were more afraid of me than I of them, too, but until now, that’s never helped me.” Irony goes over well with Friiell. See-srt dips his front very, very low – a human would be laughing, I guess.

“I am not afraid of you, Hree-Fey”, his sound-alike for my name. No lips, no M, right? I suppose I don’t say his name quite the way it’s supposed to, but, hell, I can’t even pronounce Kathryn’s name the way she does. “I have to admit, though, it is… disconcerting, to see females work alongside males.” A tap of his left front leg again. “I suppose they must work, too, but… no male has ever seen them. We do not usually interact, you see. It is better this way.”

“But you-” I break off, but my curiosity seems eloquent enough. He dips his front again.

“We mate. Yes. It is an honor. And more than that.” He trembles a little, his body bobbing on his long legs. Gives off a soft fluting, the Friiell equivalent of a sigh, I guess. “I have heard Srchreet tell you about our… empathy, you call it, yes?”

“Yes.”

“We need it to mate. The Courtship Singer – the female ready to mate – approaches the Chosen male and projects her desire to him, and it… transcends his fear. He cannot help but answer her call, even though it means his death. As the female then bears a lot of offspring, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does… we sing powerful songs about it.”

“That’s… different”, I manage. I mean, even I have heard of spider species where the female devours the male after mating, but the idea… I swallow, and See-srt tilts his torso again, to ease my mind. I really appreciate his solicitousness, and wonder whether he can tell.

“Yes”, he answers, without me having to ask at all. “Your emotions are… easy to read, to me. There’s one, though…”

“Go ahead”, I offer when he doesn’t complete his sentence.

“When you look at her who commands Voyager. It’s powerful, and a little… frightening. Almost…” He hesitates, and I smile at him, trying to, well, emit my openness. “I have never heard the Courtship Song, no one alive has, you see. We sing each other stories of how it must be like, but no one knows.”

“Because those who hear it die, right?” He clicks his pincers once, a Friiell nod. I smile. “We don’t do things that way. What you sense is-”, I smile, and call it up to let him sense it. It’s easy, too, when I look over to where my captain stands. “-love; an emotion of… affection. It exists in a wide variety of forms, such as friendship, or the love for offspring, or the love for a mate. In that instance, it usually coexists with a wish to mate. Mating isn’t lethal for humans, though, males or females. I would not wish to inflict something lethal on her, on the contrary.”

“And she does not… return that emotion?” I tilt my own head, now, and he elaborates, “I have not sensed the same from her.”

“Yet”, I smile. “You see, even though we do not sense someone else’s emotions the way you can, we can tell by other factors. Maybe a situation will come when you can sense her, too, and thus, know what I know. Right now, she’s too concentrated about what she’s doing. It would not be appropriate to think about other matters.”

“That sounds very appropriate, indeed”, See-srt says quietly. Well, he’s a captain, too, after all. “Yet there are many odd things about what you say. Human females mate with one another? Do you reproduce that way? Then why would you have males? And you feel affection for your offspring?” Then he dips very, very low. “We’re truly different. And yet you help us, even though you, Hree-Fey, fear us. It is remarkable, really, how you keep on going on despite your… phobia.”

“Well, overcoming fear is important, isn’t it?” Then something clicks in my head. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t. Not the kind of fear that…” my thoughts race. “Those Darkness Singers – they’re Friiell females, aren’t they? Only they don’t sing a Courtship Song to you, they sing of fear, so much so that you die from it.” He jerks. “I’m sorry”, I say instantly, “I didn’t want to…”

“You are correct.” His voice is strangled. “We don’t know why they do. There have been songs, before we left, about… females who…” he breaks off, tittering and frilling. “I never believed them. Surely no female would… how would they reproduce? What would be the point?” He flutes again – a sigh. “So we set out anyway, and Srisri’s Dancer traveled far. We found many songs, of wondrous things, and then we encountered them.”

“A ship of females who project fear.”

He clicks his pincers again, calmer now. “We tried to guard against it, but-”

A whoop from B’Elanna interrupts him. “Captain, that’s it! We’re in! Kahless, but this is… incredible.” A second later, five humans and five Friiell are huddled around the console she’d been working on. Good thing that space on Srisri’s Dancer is so… spacious.

“Look at them, you who sing for Voyager”, See-srt tells me. “Seffchrett has been against your coming back, and now he’s right alongside your people, your mate, even. He has overcome his fear”, he adds, flaring his pincers and bristling his fur. A moment later, he apologizes, “I’m sorry. This is… I am proud. This is how we express that.”

“I’d appreciate a warning, next time”, I shudder, then grin at him, and he dips low.

“You shall have it, Hree-Fey.”

~~~

“So their computer has a neural interface?” Tuvok’s question reveals his fascination. Kathryn has called him over for a briefing, seeing as See-srt wouldn’t fit aboard Voyager. Additionally, Friiell don’t sit, apparently, so they don’t have chairs, so we’re sitting in a large, oval open space surrounded by tires. They did bring in some cushions for us, though, covered with the softest fabric I ever touched. One of them had bristled (remember, Vey: pride) a little in response to my amazement, and See-srt had explained it’d been his silk the cover had been made from. I’d swallowed, at that, but managed to smile at the Friiell.

“It’s a complex network of bio-sensors, rather”, B’Elanna explains. “The Friiell are able to work certain systems with neural transmitters they emit from glands on their front legs. They don’t consciously control those, but they can control their thoughts well enough that it amounts to the same thing – all of them, but some are better trained than others on certain ways of thinking.”

“We lost the two members of our crew most adept at flight controls and combat”, See-srt affirms, “and it took a while for Jeeraich to learn how to pilot Srisri’s Dancer. I have some experience at working shield and weapons, but I was…” He bobs, then straightens. “I am he who sings for Srisri’s Dancer. The ship’s safety, the safety of its crew, is my responsibility. I sang. I had to.” Even I can feel our party’s perplexity at this. “Allow me to… demonstrate.”

A few other Friiell click at him furiously, but See-srt stares them down. “They have helped us, and they need to understand, to help us further.”

Then he… sings.

The sound starts low, as low as no flute I’ve ever heard. Maybe more like an… organ. Tuvok sits up straighter, and B’Elanna frowns – well, all of us do, but Tuvok’s reaction is the most pronounced of all of us. Then See-srt’s song gains harmonics, and when he begins to tap out a beat with his hind legs, all Friiell present shiver, in unison, and start to sway in time. It looks like they’re dancing, but a simple answer like that doesn’t fit See-srt insistence that this is what a Friiell captain does, nor the look on Tuvok’s face. It’s as close to awe as a Vulcan can get, I suppose.

The song dies down after a moment, and the Friiell shake themselves a bit and titter amongst themselves. “Do you… understand?”

“A group meld”, Tuvok says, in his calm, dry voice.

“Yes.” See-srt tilts his torso in a mirroring of how Tuvok’s head turns to his side, and I don’t bother to suppress my smile; See-srt, every Friiell, really, will sense my amusement anyway. They share it, too, apparently. “One mind in control. One who sings.”

“And a host of legs to do the work”, Kathryn adds, wonder in her voice.

“Yes.” Then See-srt dips, just a little. “Would you like to learn to do things that way?” Kathryn looks perplexed for a heartbeat, then she laughs. I’m amazed. He’s dipped – laughed, joked – with me, but with our captain? Then he wriggles his left, hindmost leg at me, imitating another dip with it, and I laugh out loud. Someone else might have raised an eyebrow, but he can’t, can he?

“Let’s get back on topic”, Kathryn says, with a quirk of her own mouth. “How do we repair Srisri’s Dancer, then?”

“The asteroid’s energy field has replenished our need, and the wounded have been treated by your doctor”, See-srt answers. “What we need most, now, is learning how to work Srisri’s Dancer well enough to get home. Jeeraich, Srchreet, you’ve worked with helm controls most, who of you will take the place of Shirreif?” He starts assigning his crew to stations, Kathryn does the same, staying behind despite the Doctor’s admonishment to get rest, and then the rest of us take our leave.

~~~

The morning after next, I join Harry in the Delta Flyer on his last trip to the Srisri’s Dancer. Repairs and training complete, the Friiell are ready to take off, and we are to transfer Tuvok and Tom back. Well, Harry will. I’m along for a more personal reason. I’d asked Harry to take me on this last transfer run, wanting to say goodbye to See-srt, and to thank him. I’m carrying something for him, too, as token of my gratitude. I can only hope he’ll like human music, at all, but Bach’s Mass in B minor and the Toccata and Fugue are what I think comes closest to what he sang for us. I only hope it won’t hypnotize him, or send him into a feeding frenzy, or something.

When I tell him, his underside almost touches the ground. Then he bows to me. “Truly, Hree-Fey, you are different. This has been a meeting that will resound in song for years to come. Females who fear males, and overcome their fear. Females who mate with other females. Females who carry only one offspring at a time!” So he had discovered B’Elanna’s condition, had he? I grin. “Will you do me the honor of standing at my side when Srisri’s Dancer starts to dance again?”

“I guess I can do that”, I shrug, craning my neck to search for Tuvok. “Will all four of us stay aboard during take-off?”

“He who protects Voyager has suggested it, for possible corrections and further training. Until now, everything has been… theoretical.”

“I see. Well, I’ll be honored to be at your side, See-srt, and see your ship dance once more.” I cock my head. “Is there anything I should do, or not do, for protocol? Or for luck?”

His UT voice sounds amused. “We rub legs for luck, usually, but…” he stops short at my discomfort, “I will not ask you to do that.” I smile wanly.

“Janeway to See-srt”, the familiar voice rings out.

“I hear you.”

“There’s a ship coming in. Our sensors have just picked it up. Readings indicate that it might be the same one you encountered.”

Just like that, the mood turns. You don’t need to be an empath, or a specialist on arachnid body language, to tell. “The Darkness Singers.” The Friiell’s captain’s piping is very high.

“I’m afraid so.” Oh Kathryn, why that choice of words? It only heightens the tittering that’s going through the Srisri’s Dancer’s command central. “We’ll engage them, and try to keep them off you long enough so you can make a run for it. Tuvok, I want every Voyager crew member over here as quickly as possible.”

“We have to stay until the ship’s out of the cave, at least”, Tom says immediately. “They don’t have any real, practical experience of fighting. They need our help, Captain.”

“Mister Paris, I’m sure Tuvok’s and your lessons have been more than sufficient, and I don’t want you to get separated from us. I expect everyone to board the Flyer and come over here, on the double.”

“Acknowledged, Captain. Srisri’s Dancer, out”, Tuvok answers, with a glare at Tom. Kathryn’s been right – he’s good at it.

“Well, gentlemen, let’s get going, then”, Tom calls out to – a room of Friiell statues. No one moves. Even See-srt seems paralyzed. The Darkness Singers can’t be in range yet, can they? I look at Tuvok, who shrugs imperceptibly. No telling.

“See-srt”, I call out. He doesn’t acknowledge me, doesn’t move a muscle. I remember how much it had upset him just to talk about the Darkness Singers. Remember how, at close range, their song had killed Friiell males. Fear. So potent, with or without reason.

“No”, I say softly, then, more confidently, “no.” They are empaths males. I am female, and they can sense me. Well then, have them sense something to stiffen their spines, or whatever. I might not be able to fly starships or handle a transporter, but this, I can do. Courage. Strength. Boldness. I call them up easily. My body straightens, until I stand fully erect, shoulders and chin high. “We will not be afraid.”

“She who sings for Voyager. Are you singing?” See-srt’s voice is a whisper. He’s trembling – that, at least, seems to be universal.

“She cannot sing, as you sing”, Tuvok answers. “She is no empath.” Then he looks at me again. “But there is another way.”

~~~

We shoot out of the cave’s mouth, Srisri’s Dancer, battered and bruised, the Delta Flyer in its belly. It’s taken us a while to set up, but now we fly. Now we dance.

Tuvok’s unusually warm fingers are on my face. I don’t feel them. See-srt, at the Vulcan’s other side, sings – I don’t hear him. My eyes are fixed on the screen, where sleek Voyager hangs in space, motionless, without… phaser fire, or photon torpedoes, Tuvok’s thoughts supply. It would seem humans are… sensitive to the Darkness Singers, too.

We are. I started to sense them as soon as we left the cave, an oppressive wave of black, roiling fear, threatening to engulf us all, promising… death.

No. Again, I straighten, and I can feel See-srt’s song change subtly with the echo of my defiance. His presence at the edge of my mind is strange and familiar at once. His sense of purpose, of humor, of responsibility. His… otherness. Still. My emotions feed his song, and his song feeds them to his crew, and Tuvok… Tuvok bridges the gap.

And now we fly, right into Darkness’s stare, Srisri’s Dancer a living, singing shield between fear and the ones I care for.

Chapter Text

“Oh, how she sang”, See-srt’s voice rings out. “How we sang! She pushed them back with her steadfastness, she wielded defiance like a blazing firebrand, and it made them recoil in fear for the first time in their lives! Oh, how it gave us courage, and you, too! Courage to blast them to pieces! Such songs we shall sing of this!”

“What – happened?” Kathryn manages to press out. ‘Drop shields, and transport two directly to sickbay’, Tuvok had said. And See-srt’s ‘she’ can only mean one person, can it? B’Elanna Torres, the only other female to have been over on the Friiell ship, is accounted for, has been down in engineering even before Srisri’s Dancer left the asteroid. Marie – but how? Maybe it’s Kathryn’s tone of voice, or maybe her emotions, that finally get through to her fellow captain.

“They singled her out”, he answers, a lot more subdued now. It sounds… ominous. Kathryn’s eyes close involuntarily. God, please… “When they realized what she was doing”, the Dancer’s captain goes on, “the Darkness Singers… concentrated their song on her.” For a moment, only furious clicking sounds from the speakers. Kathryn wishes they had video communication, but the Dancer’s comm. array has been irreparable, irreplaceable. Audio will have to do. “You know how glass will shatter when you find the right frequency and… focus?”

“Good God.” Kathryn is grateful that she’s sitting down.

See-srt can’t know… they don’t know love, Marie had said, on their way back, after Kathryn’s visit. Marie… close that door, Janeway. Close it, Goddamnit. “Before Tuvok pulled from our bond”, the Friiell captain says softly, “he seemed… hopeful that he could help.”

“Can you tell what happened to her? Anything that could help us treat her?”

He flutes, mutedly. What did that mean again? Sighing, was it? “I do not know what they did to her”, he sounds very distressed. “I think it was what killed my crew members, but she who sings for Voyager is not Friiell, and not male. Were she, I think she would be dead, as well. As she is none of the three, I have hope.” He’s silent for a moment. Then, “we will resume course for our homeworld presently. I will try to contact the healers there, and we will go through our own databases. Anything we learn, we will send to you immediately.”

“Thank you”, Kathryn says, tonelessly. See-srt clicks his pincers once and closes the comm. link. “Commander, match the Srisri’s Dancer’s course for the time being. Is the Delta Flyer back?”

“Yes, Captain. Tom is on his way to sickbay, as well”, taking one look at her face, Chakotay quickly adds, “to help. Everyone’s back aboard. There’s no sign of other ships in the vicinity.” He doesn’t say it, but seven years do make you a telepath, sometimes. Go to her. Kathryn swallows.

“You have the bridge, Commander.”

~~~

“Report!” Oh, the blessings of structures. They keep you going, even if the ground has shattered underneath your feet. Kathryn purposefully ignores looking at the back of sickbay, where Tom and the Doctor take care of a prone figure. Again.

“Captain”, Tuvok looks wan. Shaken. Protocol comes to his aid, too. “We experienced… dread when the Darkness Singers came close enough. It inhibited the Friiell from taking action. Miss Vey was able to shake it off, though, and her resolve… helped the Friiell, though not enough to man their stations and defend themselves. So we… entered a mind meld, and then I melded with See-srt.”

Kathryn frowns. “You bridged their minds like you did for Seven and me?”

“Not quite. I was not consciously present in the link you and Seven of Nine shared. I was present in this link, though. My control… was part of it.”

“But what did you do?”

“The Darkness Singers were trying to subdue us with projected fear. We… stood up to it.” Seeing that this wasn’t enough, Tuvok adds, “The Friiell needed courage, and determination, and Miss Vey had that. She called up very strong emotions, too.” He pauses. “Defiance. Affection, and caring. I added tranquility, and my knowledge about mastering fear. See-srt communicated both to his crew via his singing. It enabled them – us – to function.”

“Like a shield…” Kathryn breathes. Tuvok tilts his head, then nods, once. “See-srt told me”, Kathryn goes on, “that the Darkness Singers singled her out when they noticed.”

“That is an apt description, Captain.”

Kathryn balls her fists to keep from screaming at him. “Tuvok, I really need more than that.”

“They concentrated their efforts on her, seeing her as both as the focus, and the weak link of our defense.” He pauses. “They were right about both. Lacking Vulcan mental discipline, she was not prepared to withstand their assault for an extended amount of time, although she faced it with remarkable tenacity. By then, though, both Voyager and Srisri’s Dancer had been able to attack the enemy with physical weapons.”

Kathryn shudders slightly, remembering how inundated in fear she’d been, faced with the Darkness Singers. How Srisri’s Dancer had inserted itself between Voyager and the attacking ship. How, suddenly, the fear had dissolved like clammy cold clouds in sunshine. A shield, indeed. They’d all shaken themselves like dogs, literally, and then had gone for the foe. It hadn’t even taken much, in terms of phaser fire. What a joke. What a cruel, cruel joke.

“So while we were firing at them, they did… this? What did they do?” This to the Doctor who’s finally come over, looking grave.

Tuvok answers first, though. “They broke through her defenses. I had tried to convey certain shielding techniques to her, hoping to help her.” He lowers his eyes. “I failed.”

“Tuvok…” she breaks off. There’s nothing she can say, is there. “Doctor.”

“Basically, it’s a panic attack that’s gotten out of control”, the Doctor replies. “Her amygdalae are firing away as I’ve never seen it; her brain is being flooded with adrenaline and noradrenaline. Their levels are so high that they’ve suspended her cognitive functions completely, in fact, and I can’t seem to get them down, no matter what I do. I can’t say, though, if the level of neurotransmitters is the cause or the result of what these… Darkness Singers did, or if it’s something else entirely. Telepathic or empathic attacks are rarely-”

“Doctor,” Kathryn interrupts what threatens to become a long-winded treatise on a topic that really doesn’t interest her now.

“Ah, well, yes”, the Doctor changes track. “Miss Vey is running on instinct now, the classic fight-or-flight response. I’ve tried suppressants, stimulants, every method in the book – several books, actually – to bring those levels down, but they don’t seem to work. I really don’t want to put her into an artificial coma, either-”

Kathryn’s mouth drops open. “She’s awake?”

“No, Captain. I have managed to sedate her, but I’m afraid that’s not a cure for the problem itself. I don’t even think she should stay sedated for long; if we can’t get the neurotransmitters down…” He doesn’t go on, but Kathryn gets the picture. Noradrenaline, adrenaline – handy in a pinch, but you want them out of your system afterwards. “Fear is a learned response”, the Doctor continues, “and yes, it can be mastered, but not while sedated. I would suggest a combination of medical treatment – as soon as I find a way – and a… well. Ironic, isn’t it, that I would usually direct such a patient to a counselor. Vulcan techniques might help, but…” he looks gravely at Kathryn, as if he can see how she’s fighting not to run away, “she needs someone she trusts, a familiar presence, familiar surroundings.”

“Doctor, she’s on a ship that’s tens of thousands of lightyears from what she knows, she’s been here for barely two weeks – I don’t think anything here qualifies as soothing or familiar.” Kathryn hates how acerbic she sounds, but how can she not, when she’s responsible for all of it in the first place? “In fact, Miss Will is the most familiar sight we can offer, isn’t she? I think she would-”

“Captain, I think you are underestimating several parameters of the situation.” Tuvok’s voice, calm and low, stops her train of thoughts.

“I do?”

He looks slightly uncomfortable, and it takes a while before he goes on. “Please understand that, under any other circumstances, I would not divulge this. Things learned in a mind meld are considered a… sacred confidence. Nevertheless, if Miss Vey is to recover, I agree she needs support. Miss Will certainly is a long-time friend to her, and including her in the treatment is a sensible addition, but Miss Vey will need your support, too… Kathryn.”

Her given name. She grits her teeth, clamping down on her own private fight-or-flight reaction. He’s right, after all.

Tuvok’s eyes are infinitely patient when he goes on, “Feeling guilty is a human response which, I can assure you, is entirely unwarranted. Miss Vey does not harbor a grudge, as the saying goes, for how she came to be aboard. And she has taken great care to impress upon me that her decisions to stay on Srisri’s Dancer, to enter the meld, and to fight the Darkness Singers, have been entirely her own. I concur with her worry that your sense of responsibility would have disabled your capacities otherwise.” His voice is almost gentle, by now. “Kathryn. You are very prominent in her thoughts. And in her… emotions. In fact, it has been one of the things that gave her the strength to withstand the attacks as long as she did. It is only reasonable to conclude that your presence would be… beneficial for her recovery.”

They both look at her so expectantly – what else can she do? Close that door, and get going. “Can we take her to my quarters, Doctor? That would be the most familiar place.”

“I could set up sensors to monitor her, certainly. Why not the holodeck, though – recreate where she lived before she came here?”

“I really don’t think I could do that accurately enough, Doctor. And if it’s not accurate…”

“You’re right. That would be detrimental.” He huffs. “Doctor to transporter room – prepare for a medical site-to-site transport, on my authority. All of us, from sickbay to the captain’s quarters. Transport the person lying on the bio bed to…” she glares at him before he can say anything that could cost him his head.

“Bristow here, Doctor”, the ensign responds, “I got you. Ready for transport.”

“Energize.”

~~~

“The doors are programmed not to open when Miss Vey approaches, Captain.”

She stops her pacing. “Thank you, Tuvok.”

“I’m ready to wake her up, Captain.”

“Do it, Doctor.” Her voice has never sounded so ghost-like to Kathryn.

A hypo hisses. Limbs twitch, eyelids, too. And with a strangled moan, a head shoots from the bed, eyes wide. There’s no laughter in them, no understanding, no teasing. No recognition. Only naked, blind panic. They flit between the four persons around the bed – the Doctor, Tuvok, and Ellie. And Kathryn. Left to right, right to left, faces, bed, door, they don’t stop anywhere, don’t alight, don’t even linger. Kathryn has seen that look before, in dogs, in horses. In humans, too, and that has been sickening enough. In her lover’s eyes, it kills her.

When Kathryn steps forward, voice low, to try and soothe Marie, and the younger woman scoots back into the bed’s corner, as far as she can go, it kills Kathryn.

When Ellie tries, with that sweet, silly nickname, and Marie hides her face behind her arms, it kills Kathryn, and probably Ellie, too.

When Tuvok – Tuvok! – reaches out for Marie to offer another meld, and she pulls back even further, her frightened little whimper kills Kathryn.

When they all draw back and Marie makes a run for it, and her flickering eyes fail to find any familiarity in the living room they’ve shared every day, only terror at finding herself in a room without exit, it kills Kathryn.

She dimly hears the Doctor explaining the sensors he’s set up and the hypo he’s leaving, dimly hears Tuvok’s offer to explain her absence to Commander Chakotay, dimly feels Ellie’s hand on her arm. Her body nods and smiles and thanks them, quite without – what was it? Cognitive functions?

She’s alone with Marie now, alone with a shell that looks like her lover, but holds nothing but terrified, panic-ridden instinct. Marie’s backed into the corner behind the chaise longue, shoulders pressed into the wall, flinching at every movement, every sound.

Scents, the doctor had said, and that the olfactory sense was powerful at reactivating memories. And going on with a quiet routine, to let Marie get used to her presence again. Ellie’s left a quick, scrabbled list of scents she’d said Marie liked; that goddamn chocolate spread, of course, and strawberries, and raspberries, and roses. Well. Kathryn sets the replicated bowl of strawberries on the floor, at arm’s reach if Marie would move them, and retreats to the sofa with a cup of tea. From where she sits, she can just make out the younger woman from the corners of her eyes. Non-threatening posture. Marie had said that, not so long ago, in this very room. Memory is a sharp-edged weapon, sometimes.

For a moment, she debates to pick up La Divina Commedia, but it sits too close to where Marie is cowering, and really, it’s not the best subject to read, either, right now. There’s a book on the coffee table; one of Marie’s, Kathryn supposes when she picks it up. Marie must have replicated it; Kathryn’s certain it hadn’t been among the things Marie had unpacked. She recognizes the style of the cover art, at any rate; this one sports a mass of blue-skinned, red-haired, scowling men, and a china shepherdess in their midst. She sighs. Might as well; the last time she’s read some of these, she’d liked them. They are captivating, and might just…

There are parts there that have her almost in tears, but chapter thirteen kills her all over again.

And then she knows. And does not open her eyes, but her mouth.

~~~

The door chime makes Marie flinch back to her corner, but the fact that she does flinch back at least means that she’d relaxed before. In any case, Kathryn chooses to interpret it that way. Her voice is quite hoarse when she calls for the door to open, and she takes heart from how Marie doesn’t try to run through it.

“I’ve brought you another list”, Ellie says, a little sheepishly. “I thought maybe music might help, too, you know? Her taste is different from mine, but I think these might work. I’m sure they’re on her laptop.” Then she notices the book in Kathryn’s hands, and her eyes light up. “You’re reading that to her? Oh, that’s genius, Kathryn!”

“I thought it might help.” Kathryn has to clear her throat before going on. “Tea?”

“You think I should stay?”

Kathryn nods, slowly. “You’re her best friend. I don’t think anyone or anything defines as ‘familiar’ more than you do. And the Doctor’s said that Marie would profit from a quiet routine. I think the two of us taking tea qualifies.”

Ellie’s eyes fill, suddenly, and she reaches out her hand. “Kathryn, I’m-”

“Ellie”, Kathryn interrupts her, eyes shut tightly. “Please, don’t…” She takes a shaky breath. “Don’t say anything. Just… stay. Please.” When her eyes open, they’re apologetic, and meet understanding in Ellie’s.

It’s Ellie who nods, this time. Then she turns to the replicator, gets two cups of Darjeeling, returns to the sofa. Putting the book aside, Kathryn takes a sip, then another, letting the Darjeeling’s warmth spread through her. Trying to let the silence that spreads out from the two of them be just as warm. After a while, there’s movement, and the sound of strawberries being eaten.


I wake up. I remember waking up before this, and the fear that came every time (how many?). It doesn’t seem so bad, this time. I remember music playing, soft voices talking, a voice reading. I remember long, quiet times, smelling of strawberries, or this or that perfume. I remember how these things gradually began to feel familiar. Now, slowly, the room comes into blurry focus (glasses, bedside table; my hand grabs them instinctively), becomes something I remember I know, with or without glasses. Remembering feels new, and familiar, and strange, as does the room. Something is missing. Someone. A voice, a scent.

Kathryn.

“Kathryn?”

She doesn’t answer. She isn’t here, nor in the room beyond this one, I see when I walk over, disconcerted all over again by the way my body wants to slink along the wall instead of walking normally, disconcerted by how there is a pillow, and blankets, on the sofa. They weren’t here before I… the memory wakes a shudder, and I turn from it.

“Kathryn”, I whisper. It sounds small, in this – living room, I remember. Stars beyond the window, moving towards me, dizzyingly. Stars. Starship. Voyager. Remembering the name is remembering its shape is remembering flying out of a cave to see it hanging into space, opposite-

I back away, and hit something, and there’s a crash, and a sharp pain that cuts my shins. I don’t notice it. There’s a keening cry in my ears, a terrible, terrible sound, almost drowning out the sound of a door, swooshing open. When I whirl, something cuts the soles of my feet, and the pain and the panic blur what I see, more than my myopia. Hands clasping around mine make me cry out and shrink back, resulting in more pain. I barely hear a voice (Kathryn?) before I begin to dissolve, and I cry out again, scared of getting lost.

~~~

I wake to the sight of her face, this time, surrounded by orange, familiar at once. She tells me something I don’t really listen to, about a doctor healing cuts on my feet or something – the sound of her voice is far more soothing than what she tells me, at any rate. I dimly remember…

“Did you read to me?” I interrupt her, and her eyes grow soft instantly.

“Yes”, she whispers. I close my eyes. If that memory is true, then all the others… darkness rises, and I drown.

A cold sensation on my neck, palpable even through the panic, and then, darkness reigns.

~~~

A voice calls me, inside my head. I desperately try to hide, but how can you hide from something in your head?

~~~

“I can’t do this.” Her voice, so brittle. Kathryn, I try to answer, but my body doesn’t obey. Fingers clench around mine, let go, touch my face. I flinch – I can’t help myself. A hitched intake of breath, and the fingers disappear.

~~~

I wake up, alone. Don’t ask me how I know. Disconnected images from my latest nightmare still burn in front of my eyes, and my arms are outstretched, reaching out for someone, anyone, to hold me, hug me, tell me it’s alright, but I am alone. There’s that keening sound again, and this time I realize it’s coming right out of my own throat, and I wrap my arms around me and hold myself while I cry.

It takes a while.

“Computer, time.” Quite without thinking – it seems I’m used to this.

“It is oh-two hundred thirty-five.” The goddamn dead of night. A shiver runs down my spine when I realize the disembodied voice is familiar, too.

I get up, slowly – I’m aching all over, and I feel terribly weak – and walk across to the doorway, just to see an empty sofa. Why had I expected blankets and a pillow there? And where-? “Computer, locate Kathryn Janeway.” This, too, comes from my lips quite readily.

“Captain Janeway is in the captain’s ready room.” Ready room – soft turquoise furniture, stars beyond that window, too. She’s told me she’s slept up there, off and on, in times of crisis. That she might do so now – the thought hurts. As does another memory – ‘I can’t do this’. Had she really said that? More memories make me dizzy. Did I really-? Has this…? God. I discover other disconnected puzzle pieces and try to make sense of them, but with every bit that does, my horror grows. I sink to the easy chair and bite my hand to keep from vomiting, bite until I draw blood. This time, when fear comes for me, I let it. I’ve woken up each time, haven’t I?

Still, going through it takes a while, too.

‘I can’t do this’ – how horrible it must have been for her, living with terror-ridden me. I have no idea how long she’s been at my side. She’s read to me, hasn’t she? I remember her voice. I remember shrinking into myself, too, at shadows, at arms reaching for me, fingers on my cheek. Had they been hers? Must have been; although – Ellie has been here, too, hasn’t she? I remember her voice, too. But Kathryn – God, how it must have hurt her, me flinching from her touch. I’m certain, quite certain, that I wouldn’t flinch if she reached for me now, but how would I tell her? She’s not here. She couldn’t bear to be here, so she left, and I…

“I need you, Kathryn.” There is no answer to my whisper. I hate how broken my voice sounds, even if I’m the only one who hears it.

~~~

She comes to our quarters in the early morning. I’m in the easy chair, still, hugging my knees, in those soft sickbay clothes that work surprisingly well as pajamas. The lights are off – I don’t feel ready for daytime illumination yet. She comes in, stops a few feet into the room – must have seen me, I suppose. I don’t turn around.

“You’re awake”, she says, after an indiscernible while.

“Yes”, I whisper.

She slowly draws to my side. “How do you feel?”

I huff a laugh that sounds almost real and completely false. “Fucked up.” She flinches.

“Marie, I-”

“I understand.” I really do. I sigh. “I understand.”

“Stop that.” It’s her voice that doesn’t rise beyond a whisper, this time.

“I can’t”, I apologize.

A sigh. “I know.” Her shoulders crumble. She flops down into the chaise longue, covers her face with her hands. Runs them through her hair until they cup her neck. Her movements are so beautiful to me, so full of elegance – strange how I notice, in a moment like this. Strange, too, to realize that this time, she’s… I’ve seen her hug herself, and I’ve seen her hold herself apart, refusing an embrace. Emitting that refusal like a palpable thing, too, empathy or no. This time, it’s quite the opposite, and for both of us. We both yearn to be held. We both need to be held. Her next words slice through me like knives, though.

“I can’t go on like this, Marie. I can’t.”

“Like what?” She averts her face. “You’re not… Kathryn, you don’t mean…” I inhale sharply, through my nose. “Don’t tell me you’re ending this.” I feel sick to my stomach. This is more than a nightmare, this is a goddamn déjà vu. But for the language, almost the same words, too.

“What else is there, Marie?” Her voice rises. “I’ve fled from my own quarters, damnit. Because I couldn’t bear…”

This time, I laugh at the fear that’s rising. Prolonged exposure will do that, sometimes. “And the only solution you see is nixing this? Dumping me? Don’t give me that, Kathryn, you’re braver than that.”

“Maybe I’m not.” I’ve never heard her like that. Hollow. I can’t do this, memory repeats unbidden.

“Well, then I’ll be brave for both of us.” Fuck this. I won’t. Won’t! I take a deep breath. Set my chin. “I won’t”, I tell her.

“You won’t what?”

“I damn well won’t let you end this.” My voice sound rough on the words. “Us. I won’t.” You’d think I’d lost my defiance, doing what I’ve done, considering the price, but it seems I haven’t.

“Marie, it takes two to-”

I release my legs and lean forward, cutting her off forcefully. “No it doesn’t. Not if I refuse to let you give up. Shit, Kathryn, life isn’t always like this. Granted, I could have lived without these last… days, but things like that don’t happen on a regular basis, do they.”

“I don’t think I could face even one more situation like this.” Her voice is still choked, and she won’t meet my eyes.

“Who says you have to?” I fire at her.

“Who says I don’t?” she gives right back.

“So neither of us knows”, I spread my arms, then point one of them at her. “That’s far, far too little to end something like this on, Kathryn. I will not let you close that effing door. Any other – fine. But not this one.”

She presses the back of her hand to her mouth. Looks at me, finally, lips twitching, that goddamn curtain back in her eyes. “Sometimes a safety catch is a sensible thing, Marie.”

“Goddamnit, Kathryn – love is not sensible, it never was. And you know as well as I do that you let go of that safety catch quite a while ago.” She turns her head towards the window, and I can see her jaw work. “Don’t you see?” I go on. “You’re all in, Kathryn. We both are. Forget about pennies or pounds. We’ve jumped right off that cliff, hoping the wind will catch in our wings. That’s frightening. Of course it is. To me, too.” I soften my voice for my next words. “But I will never give up that hope, Kathryn. Hope beats fear, in the end. And just think of how we’ll fly, Kathryn. We can do it, too.”

“What if…” her voice drops away, but I know what she’s afraid of.

“I have hope enough for both of us. Trust me on that. Please. Just a little while, while we work through this.”

Kathryn is silent for a long while. Then, “I wasn’t there when you needed me.” I frown. How-? “The Doctor set up sensors to monitor you”, she explains, “and I set them to alert me when you woke. I also left a comm. link open.”

I raise my eyebrows. “A baby phone?”

“God, Marie, please.” Her hand is up at her hairline, and again I can’t help but think how elegant her gestures are, how beautiful she is, starlight illuminating her face. Even if she doesn’t look at me.

“Well, wasn’t it? You heard me, then?”

“I did”, her answer is toneless. “And I couldn’t… my feet wouldn’t move. Marie, I can’t tell you how sorry…”

“You know”, I tell her when she doesn’t go on; “sometimes it happens. Sometimes you need someone to be strong and they can’t give that. That’s what I meant when I said I understood.”

She sobs, once, a choked heaving, sounding almost exactly the way I sounded when I had the root of my hand between my teeth, fighting not to throw up.

“Kathryn.” Among everything else, I find my love for her.

How can you be so-” again, she stops with a hitched breath.

I get up and stand in front of the sofa, and look at the stars. “It’s the way of the world, isn’t it? Romance tells you that the white knight always rescues the damsel, galloping off with her pressed into his muscular chest, or whatever. But people don’t work like that. Sometimes they feel strong, sometimes they feel weak. Sometimes they want to be held, and sometimes they’re the ones who hold. Sometimes, capacity coincides with need, and everything is fine. You need me and I hold you; I need you and you hold me. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out so nicely. It’s the way of the world.” Turning back to her, I see eyes narrow with pain and guilt.

I go on, even more gently, “People don’t work like that, Kathryn, however much they want to. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re here now, aren’t you?” I walk over to her. If her feet won’t move… then maybe I can. I kneel down next to that chaise longue and put my head in her lap. Her hands find my back after a moment, erratic, as if uncertain what to do. It’s less than an embrace, certainly, but I can live with that – I’m certain she’s giving me all she can give right now. I wrap one arm around her hips, the other I leave curled in front of me; through it, through everywhere we touch, I can feel her sob again. Another moment later, small, twinned taps on my pajama top tell me she’s crying for real, now; playing with my hair, and crying.

“I’m not sure this will work”, she says after a while.

“Well, that’s progress”, I reply, straightening in time to see her baffled face. “A moment ago, you were sure it wouldn’t”, I explain. “I never bought this ‘all you need is love’ stuff, anyway.” More perplexity. Good. “Patience is important, too, you know. And a willingness to understand.”

“I’ve never been particularly patient.” That twist to her lips is a tad self-deprecating, but that’s progress, too.

“You’re stubborn, though. That’s an asset, too.” I pull myself up to sit next to her. “Between your… uh… persistence”, that, at long last, draws a smile, “and my patience, we’ll do this. You’ll see.”

She closes her eyes. “When?”

“Holy stopwatch, Kathryn, you really are impatient, aren’t you.” Her eyes fly open at my tone, my words. “You know”, I go on, still slightly teasing, “until now, and not counting these last few days, we’ve spend somewhat more than seven weeks together – seven weeks! And you know what a rollercoaster these weeks have been.” I slip my arms around her waist again, leaning slightly against her. “Give it a few weeks more, and you won’t think of safety catches any more, unless in terms of… what do you call your ray guns again?”

She swats my arm, then pulls me near in the same motion. “Compression phaser rifles.”

“You sound incredibly sexy when you say that.” My voice sounds muffled, she holds me so close. Not that I don’t clench my arms around her, too.

“God, Marie, you’re-”

“I know.” I inhale her scent deeply. It reminds me of… oh, I don’t know. My attention is wandering, anyway.

~~~

Coming over to the bedroom has broken our kiss, but that’s fine by me – I don’t want to rush this. I undress her slowly, partly because of just that intention, partly because it takes me a while to figure out how to get her out of her uniform, partly because I’m still weak from – I can’t believe it’s been three weeks. Three weeks! Don’t think of this, now. I’ll only start to cry again, and I don’t want to. I want this. I want her. My Kathryn. My love. And she goes along, her smile almost shy when I set aside each piece of her uniform carefully and finally shrug out of my own… garments, her embrace welcoming when I turn my attention back to her. There’s wonder in her eyes, and love, and obvious desire, but she seems content to let me love her, and that’s exactly what I mean to do. I need to feel her. Need to see her, touch her, taste her – need to reaffirm who she is to me. I want to worship her beneath the stars, and I don’t give a damn how corny that sounds. I set about it as expansively as I can, kissing down and up her arms until she buries her hands in my hair and practically shoves my head towards her breasts, then lavishing attentions on them until she writhes and, again, pushes me further down, then working my way past her pelvis quite innocently until I reach her feet. And still she lets me, and God, how I love her.

Kissing my way back up again, I slip between her legs. She opens readily for me, which wakes a grin wicked enough that I’m glad her eyes are closed. I certainly won’t close mine tonight, not for a second. I spend a few long, loving moments just looking at her, naked on softly shimmering sheets, arms framing her head. God, but she is beautiful. Starlight is cool light, but the way it illuminates her body is more inflaming than candlelight has ever been. It highlights the goosebumps I’ve raised, paints the curves of her belly and navel in blue, silver, anthracite. Her breasts are rising and falling heavily with each breath she takes, nipples rose-tinged paleness surrounded by skin that seems almost white. I know they’d be hard as marbles if I touched them, such an intoxicating contrast to the softness of her breasts. Her head is thrown to one side, tendons taut, another sharp precipice of darkness; but it comes up to look at me when she realizes I’m hovering. Her eyes are in shadow, but she can see mine clearly enough, and what’s in them. By everything I hold holy, I love you, Kathryn.

The grace and strength with which she rises to meet me is breathtaking. Our kiss hums with promise and reassurance, for all that we barely touch – she’s lowered her weight to her elbow again, her other hand at the nape of my neck; I hover above her, my arms next to her shoulders, one knee between her thighs with plenty of space to spare. For a fleeting moment I’m sorry that I can’t bury my hands in her hair, cascading freely as it is, bronze-kissed shadowy splendor. By now, I’ve seen pictures of her wearing it longer, and she looked stunning with it open, but I love it even better this way; she looks much more… accessible this way. Younger, too, not that I care. Hell, I’m the one with white in her hair, aren’t I?

My arms hold me up as my mouth trails down her throat, dips into the hollow at the bottom of it because we both love when I kiss her there, and leaves marks on the silver, supple, soft skin of her breasts. Her head is thrown back in abandon, and that in itself would be superbly beautiful from where I look up to see it, but with all colors faded by starlight, it’s art. She makes an urgent sound when my lips close around her nipple, and her fingers at the base of my neck clench almost painfully into my curls. I pull my arms in, switching my weight from hands to elbows to help her support herself, my fingers splayed across her shoulder blades while I caress her breasts. My hands stay there when she sinks back to the sheets, slide down to her ribs when I move towards her center again, my lips following the curve of her belly to her navel. I love holding her just above the waist, feeling her ribs and diaphragm move with her breaths, erratic and deep. I also love how my own nipples, rock hard as they are, graze the insides of her thighs, and what that sensation does to her. I still her writhing with my elbows, brought in from her hips to her thighs, putting my weight on her pelvis. She complies, but desire pulses in her like an electric charge, has her body taut as a spring. And still she’s nowhere near release, not if I can help it, anyway.

I drop to my stomach, leaving my arms free to rest on her thighs, and my head level with her sex. There’s a soft fuzz there, just starting to curl, and I remember how stunned I’d been when she’d explained, weeks and weeks ago, how people can stimulate or discourage hair growth with the push of a button now. When I touch my cheek to it, reveling in its suppleness, she groans, a low, almost angry growl. I reply with a soft chuckle, and feel her hands cupping my head again, trembling with the effort not to push me to where she wants me. It’s all the reassurance I need: she wants this, but she wants the slowness of it, too. My lips curl in another dangerous smile. I feel drunk with power, drunk with the scent of her arousal, and for a moment, I indulge, diving in and taking a long, loving lick of her labia.

She almost jumps out of her skin. She does arch off the bed, but I hear nothing but a hiss of indrawn breath. I’ll make her cry out yet. I go a bit easier now, licks and nips and teasing kisses here and there, completely erratic, until she groans again. Maybe I’ll try and see whether I can make her plead, too, the way she does with me sometimes, wicked woman. She’s still trembling, a kind of tenseness I like enormously. Her taste is… salty and potent and ensnaring, and I indulge until she wriggles, which I take as invitation to slip a finger into her.

Again, she arches, but I know it’s still nowhere enough to bring her release. No, I’m stoking this fire slowly, lovingly, still very much without rhythm or any other form of predictability. I know the exact moment when she chooses to give in to that, too. She still quivers, yes, but she makes no attempts to get me to do this or stop that any longer. She’s let go, of anticipation, of wishing, of thought. She’s in the moment, completely, and completely in my hands. By choice, barely an hour after she was ready to end our relationship for fear of the unknown.

Love wells up inside me, so powerfully that I wonder why it’s still dark around us – by rights, the room should be blazing. Here Captain Kathryn Janeway lies, her hips cradled in my arm, my mouth on her most intimate parts, my finger even closer, and has just let go control. Oh, how I honor that. How I flick and move and kiss and stroke, touching her breast lightning-fast, with two slick fingers that imitate my lips while I suck on her nub in the same fashion, bringing them back down instantly to slip inside her again and press just there… I do indeed worship her, strum her like an instrument, building layers atop layers of different sensations, rhythms, paces, until, with a rush of heat and wetness and a strangled cry, she starts to come and I don’t let up, I keep her on that wave on purpose, because I aim higher tonight, quite on purpose, too. Every nerve of hers is firing, and ready for more input, so input I do, with mouth and tongue and fingers and weight, still alternating, varying, unpredictable, not that she’s coherent enough to even try.

I know we’re getting closer when a different kind of tension rises in her, starting simultaneously in her legs and stomach, her muscles clenching around the two fingers I have fluttering inside her. It takes her whole body, until she’s gasping incoherently, little frightened sounds that tell me she’s never been here before. Held tightly by her thighs, I croon words of reassurance, invitations to trust me, not knowing whether they register at all, whether they’re even loud enough to. And I don’t know whether it’s those words or a decision she’s making on her own, or a mixture of both, but after a moment, her gasps change again, in pitch, in intensity, in urgency, and she relaxes, more than she ever has before, and on so many levels, too.

Released, my mouth returns to her wetness, sucking and pressing and nibbling, aided by my thumb. My two fingers probe more deeply inside her than ever, while my other arm holds her firmly around her waist, hand splayed on the small of her back. She responds with a husky, hitched growl when I slip another finger in and spread them, slowly, filling her while I move in and out. And then my pinky, the only one left over, sneaks between her cheeks to press gently down, and that growl, instead of fading like it usually does when she comes, rises to a roar. Her limbs start to thrash. She bucks underneath me like a wild thing, and even though I’ve anticipated that and keep up working her with fingers and tongue, suddenly my smallest finger, slick with her juices, slips into her tight ring, something I hadn’t intended at all, but apparently, the one thing that sends her over.

She comes apart completely, and I get lost in it. It’s quite a while later that I start to wonder about the quality of soundproofing on starships, and whether someone (Chakotay, my memory whispers) is in his quarters next door. It takes far, far longer for her to come down to a point where she can wonder about anything at all. I cradle her all the while, stretched out next to her, humming snatches of songs, caressing muscles that ripple with aftershock, until her hand comes sluggishly up to my face.

“What-” she mumbles.

“Seen stars?” I grin, and… well, she doesn’t roll her eyes, she’s too dazed for that, but all the tell-tale signs are there. Unbelievably smug as I feel, though, nothing can daunt me; heavens, her roar is still in my ear. My quiet, silent Kathryn. I try not to think of it as symbolic, the way she’s let herself go tonight, but I do feel it’s a step.

“I’ve never-” another, belated shiver runs through her and she gasps. “I’ve never felt something like this.”

“That”, I kiss the bridge of her nose, “should be unlawful.”

“Good grief, Marie, what you did should be unlawful”, but she laughs.

“So fine me, or whatever it is you do.” I’m far too happy, far too intent on kissing her face all over, to mind.

“Haven’t come that far in your reading about protocol yet? On starships”, she explains, voice serious but eyes dancing, “you get thrown in the brig.” Then she snorts a laugh, and plants a quick kiss of her own on my lips. “But I guess I’d have a hard time explaining that.”

“Noise pollution?” I chuckle wickedly.

“Oh sh-” She freezes. It takes a lot of will for her to unfreeze again, and her eyes, when they do roll at whatever she’s thinking about, are quietly fatalistic. “Too late to worry about that, I guess.”

I nod, still grinning, my worry confirmed by her reaction – I do so not care. “I’d have thought soundproofing had developed more than that, in three hundred years.”

She mournfully shakes her head. “God. God, but they teased so much when Tom and B’Elanna…” she bites off the words, but oh boy, do I get that. My grin widens again, and she sighs, “But B’Elanna’s part Klingon, right?”

“Maybe you’re part… uh… lioness?”

She laughs again, the one guffaw, head thrown back into the pillow. I take the opportunity to nip at her throat, just beneath her chin, a truly delectable bit of skin.

She growls. “You leave a mark there, I will through you in the brig.” My lips pause, close enough to transfer my chuckle to her skin. She pulls my head up. “God, Marie, I…” it’s sweet how words fail her in situations like these. Her reaction even sweeter – how she scowls at herself, and then, resorting to body language, rushes to tell me. How eloquently she does, too. Yes, this is a step. Another one.

And falling asleep in someone’s arms never felt so right.

Chapter Text

Marie, hey, Marie – oh, it’s wonderful to see you; so good to see you’re better. Come in, come in, sit down. How do you feel? God, you had me frightened. Kathryn, too; I don’t know how she’s done it.

Tea? Chocolate? Alright then. One cup of hibiscus, three sugars, one cup of Darjeeling, straight, please.

There you go. Now tell me how you really feel, Mary-Jane. Oh, come on – I know how you hate spiders – oh alright, fear, then.

You sure? You’re still looking awfully pale, you know. Yeah, I’ve noticed – you’ve lost weight, too, and quite a bit, haven’t you? Ah well, you’ll never know what things are good for, right? Hey, sorry, sweetie, I meant that… not a good one, no? God, I’m sorry.

What? Oh, rubbish, Marie, you weren’t yourself. There’s no need to apologize, really there isn’t. Well, of course it’s shaken me to see you like that, but I understand, and so does Kathryn. Marie, don’t cry, now, don’t cry.

I know.

I know. I’ve been there, most of the time, haven’t I? Hm? Oh, you want to know… well, yes, certainly. The Doctor said you shouldn’t be alone, that someone should always be there to look after you, so we did just that. Either Kathryn or I were at your side at all times, except that one time when… Yeah. Tuvok was there off and on, too, to try to reach you in a mind meld. Not that you’d let him even touch you, at first. You shrank away from the Doctor, too, when he wanted to give you a hypo, so he explained to Kathryn and me how to administer them in his stead, just in case. You needed them, too, every once in a while, when the fear became too much.

Yeah. You know, I have considered that, too – they need a nurse, don’t they.

Anyway, the medical treatment and… and what we did, seemed to help. Oh, we read to you – yeah, me too. I’d never thought I’d read those books, you know. Yes, yes, the things you do – oy! Come on, that was too good to pass up, wasn’t it? And when we were both there instead of only one of us – of course we took turns. We both had to sleep, and Kathryn does have a starship to run? There’s been some altercation with Tom – he got a speeding ticket, apparently, and – heh, yes he did. Should have heard B’Elanna laugh. She and Harry teased him something dreadful.

And then Seven and Chakotay were stranded on that planet, but Kathryn didn’t tell me much about that. That was why she wasn’t there that day, you know. She was called to the bridge, and I had just gone off to bed and she didn’t want to wake me. She told me afterwards that she’d set sensors to monitor you, hoping that what happened wouldn’t happen. She was mortified, for days.

God, yes, she does take this hard. As I said, I don’t know how she did it. The Doctor practically had to order her to get some sleep, otherwise she would have spent all her off-duty hours watching over you. They almost came to blows over her coffee intake, too. I thought it was inspired of her to say you liked the smell of it. Yes, good one, wasn’t it? Heavens, Reeree, she loves you. It’s visible in so many things – the way she looked at you when you slept peacefully, or when you had nightmares. The way her breath hitched when-

Oh Marie, please don’t cry. Now, now, sweetie. It’s over. It’s alright.

No, we’re still alongside them; See-srt – is that how you pronounce his name? – he was so anxious to know you’re better, so we’ve been escorting them to their home planet. No, it’s no detour, just slower going, apparently. Yes, they’ve been destroyed. Oh, I guess you’ll be able to speak with him, but are you sure you want to? Good grief, Marie. Yes, I understand, but… hell.

I’ve come to see what you love in her, too, you know – oh don’t look at me that way, of course I meant apart from the obvious. But… when one of us read you stories, or the computer played your music… the soft songs, you know, the soothing ones. I made a list, at first, but she took off from there, and added some of her own, saying you’d listened to them together. Annie Lennox – yeah, k.d. lang, too, how do you-? Oh, of course, silly me. Anyway, that song, Simple, almost had her in tears, I could see that. I thought it must have had a deeper meaning for the two of you – I should have realized you’d have listened to music, back in your place. Soundtrack of your love, huh? I should have known. A lot of other songs did the same to her – so sweet. I started to pretend I didn’t notice after a while. But, you know, every time, every time, Kathryn would lift her chin and go on. Every time. You’re both like that, you know. Strong. She likes your music, did you know that? And your books. Yeah – finally someone who does, eh? Oh, come on, you know how I meant that.

Oh, something completely different – I found that sweater I borrowed you. And the iso chip inside. How, how did-? Pattern scanner? Oh, that thing we used to fix Kathryn’s… yeah, I get it. Okay. Okay, so that got you the formulas for detergent and softener, but still – they don’t have a Laundromat here, do they? Don’t tell me you had B’Elanna build – what? The holo- oh, of course. Gee, Marie, you’re sweet, do you know that? Hm? Oh, of course I’ll use it – replicate the stuff, then grab my laundry and go to the holodeck? I can do that, I guess, when I get a timeslot for it. God, you’re so sweet. Yeah, scents are important, aren’t they? Thanks, Reeree. Now, don’t. We won’t cry, neither of us. We’ll be grown-up and relaxed about this, and we’ll be fine.