“Beijing all squared away?” Chakotay smiles, looking up from the article he’s been reading at the sound of the elevator doors opening.
He knew it would be her: Ms Kathryn Janeway, chief executive in charge of scientific and technological development. She’s almost always the last one out of the building, working long hours and holding her famous multi-hour video conferences with the Beijing and Sydney offices at all hours.
Everyone knows Janeway is a hard ass. She’s also the most captivating woman he knows, even if he doesn’t exactly know her.
“Not exactly, but I don’t think it was going to get any better by continuing the meeting,” she sighs, “I’m sorry to interrupt your reading.”
“Not at all. It’s my job after all,” he smiles at her, appreciating the courtesy even if it is just her being polite, “Besides, the author of that particular article his a blowhard old dinosaur who has no more business being in modern anthropology than I would trying to practice medicine.”
The truth is that many times the few minutes he spends walking her to her car are the highlight of his day.
“Anthropology, eh?” she quirks her mouth sideways in a way that shouldn’t be as charming as it manages to be, “Is that a particular interest of yours?”
“Does completing a doctoral degree count as interest?” he shrugs.
She looks surprised. Of course she assumed he was just jarhead muscle.
“Not a lot of money in adjunct lectureships,” he adds, unable to hold back the desire to let her know he isn’t just a dumb hired gun, “So I work here at night. It was this or military contractors and I left the marines of a reason. What we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan…”
Now he’s said too much, he thinks, cursing his desire to impress this woman who is way out of his league, and his inability to temper his opinions.
“I know what you mean,” she meets his gaze with her own, a sad smile crossing her face.
She doesn’t of course, not the way he does. Her objections to the military interventions going on are academic, theoretical. She doesn’t wake up like he does with nightmares. That is how it should be. Kathryn Janeway is class and elegance. She belongs in the land of theory of the dust and blood of war.
“I didn’t mean to rant at you,” he tries to avoid saying more.
“Honestly sometimes it is so important to be reminded you aren’t the only one who has experienced it, not that I was on the ground the way you were…”
His confusion and surprise be showing on his face.
“You? You served?”
“Air Force,” she tells him, a hint of self deprecation in her voice, “My father was a military man and after he died… I thought I was doing the right thing.”
A major adjustment of his assessment of her is in order. This doesn’t fit at all into the concept he had of her.
“You look surprised?” she laughs, every inch the radiant goddess he’s seen her as, just with more nuance and definition.
“I suppose I am,” he has to confess sheepishly.
“You learn something new every day. I can’t believe we’ve been having these little walks for almost two years and I just now discovered you were an anthropologist.”
They are nearing the part he hates, where she gets in her shiny Mercedes and drives away.
“There’s no reason you would have,” he mumbled, tugging on his ear anxiously.
“Only because I seem to talk incessantly about myself when I’m with you. It’s your fault for being such a good listener!” she teased, her smile extending into the small creases at the sides of her eyes.
“Your life is much more interesting than mine,” he demurs.
The only women who pay any attention to him at this job at all are looking for an uncomplicated piece of tail. He’d glad she’s never put him in that box. He’d rather have his fantasy of Kathryn Janeway than some cheap late night meaningless encounter.
“What time do you get off work?” she asks suddenly.
“Six,” he tells her, unsure why she’s asking.
“I don’t usually start work until seven, but I am up at about five thirty. Any chance I could convince you to meet me for coffee when you are done here?”
Is she asking him out? Taking an interest in a fellow veteran? He isn’t sure of anything except that he is going to say yes. If she wants to step down off the pedestal he’s watched her on, he’ll be the first to offer her a hand. He never thought he’d get a chance to
“A rather good one, Miss Janeway.”
“Please, call me Kathryn.”
There’s a warmth to her hand as she extends it to him. Chakotay feels a spark of hope for the future spring up in him that he hasn’t felt the like of in a long long time. It is as though some part of him is coming back to life that the thought was dead.
He half doesn’t expect her to actually show. She probably got a few hours sleep and realized she didn’t actually want to have coffee with the security guy who walked her to her car every night.
But then she walks in, a coffee cup already in hand as she enters the cafe, like she couldn’t deal with the drive to get coffee without a coffee. Usually she wears neutrals or bright primary color red, but today her blazer is a soft sage color. She’s even more beautiful in the natural light as she steps through the doorway.
“Black coffee, right?” he asks, as she crosses to where he is already sitting at a table by the window, a half graded stack of papers before him.
“It is,” she seems surprised. She doesn’t realize how often his has watched her intern fetch her coffee order.
They both have read hair. He’s never thought to ask whether they are related.
“Phew…” he smiles as she sits down across from him, “That would have been embarrassing if I’d been wrong.”
“So, Chakotay, I know you were a marine. I know you are an anthropologist who spends his nights working security. What else should I know about you?”
From someone else it would have sounded like a job interview string of questions, but there’s something about the playful curiosity of her expression that puts him at ease.
“I’m a vegetarian… ethics not fad diet. I’m a terrible driver so it is a good thing I live in the city now.”
Kathryn squints slightly like she’s trying to figure out whether he’s kidding.
“Enlisting was a way of getting off the reservation, of getting my education, of a different life,” he explains although she specifically hasn’t asked, “Of course once I was gone… well then I suddenly found myself a lot more interested in where I came from.”
He watches Kathryn cup the steaming mug of coffee like something precious as he listens to him and can’t help thinking about what it would be like to sit across the kitchen table with her still sporting bed head rather than a highly styled up do. Whoa there, Chakotay; you are getting ahead of yourself. He had to remind himself.
“I never intended to end up in management,” she tells him in a hushed voice, as though this is also a secret, “I have always hated bureaucracy and preferred getting my hands dirty.”
He looks down at her pale slender hands, perfectly groomed and maintained. Later he will know what she means as he watches her root around in the vegetable beds of their backyard garden. Later he will enjoy the way she leans back against him as he brushes out her tangled mane of thick beautiful hair after a night where she has tossed and turned at night, stressed about work, until he curls up behind her and whispers reassurances in her ear as he holds her close.
Today all he knows is that she is both everything and nothing he ever expected. He does not know that their coffee dates will end up being daily, that they will turn to breakfasts, and then migrate to her house… which will eventually become their house.
“So many vets I meet seem angry, especially when life hasn’t turned out as they envisioned. Not you though.”
He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that he is resentful, just not when he is around her. Somehow, just being around Kathryn, even if it was just escorting her across the parking lot, made him feel more at peace than all of the weekly therapy visits he’s made dutifully since he got out.
“You don’t seem angry,” he points out instead.
“I’m not,” she concedes, “I’m not angry… just restless.”
When they say goodbye she has to dash across the street in a hurry in order not to miss her first meeting of the day, and he looks at the clock and realizes he might as well not bother going to sleep. He has to teach in too short a time. She leans over though, placing a kiss against his cheek, and he can’t bring himself to regret the lack of sleep.
“Same place tomorrow?” she asks, a pleasant surprise. He’s really enjoyed the time they have spent together but he still isn’t sure her intentions. All he knows is that she is worth knowing in whatever capacity she has room for him.
She’s lonely, Kathryn Janeway. That much he has definitely gathered. He can relate, but some part of him wonders if maybe someday soon he won’t have to.