Kathryn leans back in her desk chair and groans as she stretches out, rubbing at the seemingly interminable knots in her shoulders and upper neck. She has been here for the better part of the afternoon and it is now long into evening. Molly has kept her company the entire time, sleeping softly at her feet. The dog stirs, sensing her new movement, the change in her demeanour. She opens her eyes briefly and, deciding all is well, lowers her head to her paws and goes promptly back to sleep. Kathryn smiles indulgently and bends down to pet Molly’s head, briefly scratching behind her ears. She’s been a little off lately. I really need to make the time to take her to the vet for a check-up before I leave. Kathryn makes herself sit up straight, rubs her hands vigorously over her face and tired eyes. Pulling her computer closer to her, she attempts to convince herself that she can manage a few more hours work. She is distracted, unsettled by the image of the undeniably honourable man, whose eyes seem to bore into her from her computer screen. It’s like he’s challenging her to catch him, but the more she reads about him, the more she sympathises and understands, the less she feels inclined to do so. She could not, would not, condone some of the Maquis actions along the DMZ, but if she’s being honest with herself, then well, she has to admit to being more than a little bit on their side.
She has her own traumatic and unpleasant history with the Cardassians. She knows all too well what they are capable of. The lengths they’re willing to go to for information, the violence with which they defend their territory, the pleasure they take in the casual brutality with which they enforce their power. She had been incandescent with rage and more than a little afraid for the soul and future of the Federation when she learned that they had signed the Treaty of 2370 with the Cardassians: a treaty that resulted in the reinstatement of the demilitarized zone and the Federation agreeing to cede a number of their colony worlds to the Cardassian Union. The Federation had offered the colonists no help or support, other than relocation. As far as Kathryn was concerned, they had effectively washed their hands of the whole situation and left their former citizens to rot. Many of those colonists were the descendants of the native peoples of Earth’s North and South American continents and she had been deeply disturbed and disappointed at the ignorance and the alacrity with which the Federation had coldly set in motion a repeat of one of the greatest tragedies in humanity’s dark and troubled past. And all for the sake of a short sighted and, at best, tenuous peace that could not last. Mark – who had always held some ambivalence toward the Federation and the ethically and morally dubious nature of the realpolitik required to keep 155 disparate worlds functioning as one –agreed that it was unconscionable, but said that he was not surprised.
Then, just under a year ago she had learned that Owen had helped to mastermind the whole damned thing. She had been so livid she hadn’t known what to do with herself. She’d broken her mother’s antique teapot; throwing it against the nearest wall at the height of her pique. She was supposed to have been meeting Mark for dinner. So she had cleared up the teapot, pulled out a dress and matching shoes from her wardrobe and was just about to get in the bath, when her feelings of anger and betrayal had overwhelmed her, transmuting into the kind of pain and fear that she had never thought to experience again. It had been like a physical blow to the chest and it left her breathless and panicking on her bathroom floor, reliving the rape and torture she had endured at the hands of the Cardassians thirteen years earlier. A bored counsellor at Starfleet medical had later informed her that she had experienced a ‘dissociative episode.’ That was the clinical term for it, but that didn’t begin to convey the level of terror she had felt in those endless minutes. Afterwards, she had sat sobbing on her bathroom floor for what felt like hours before Mark had come to find her. He had wrapped her in the safety and security of his strong arms and broad chest and held her tightly, whispering her name into her hair, followed by his mantra of ‘It’s ok now. You’re ok’ until, at some point in the early hours of the morning, she had just stopped.
She’d said then that there were some things she would never be able to tell him. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she couldn’t. They were classified and he didn’t push. That was ok, he’d told her. He’d known that going in. So she’d told him what she could and because he knew her and loved her deeply, and because when it came to her, he had powers of empathy bordering on the Betazoid, he’d filled in the blanks. So many years had passed. So much had happened since the Arias expedition and her time as a young science officer on the Al-Batani. But she would never forget. She didn’t want to. Certainly she would never forgive. If Owen Paris could, then he was a better person than she was. Her anger was a source of strength to her. But over the years it had become a vengeful, cold, calculating and righteous fury and Kathryn wonders how similar her feelings are to those of the Maquis ‘Terrorist’ that she is being sent to capture. And what if, on top of all that, it had been your home, your culture, and your people who were being handed to the Cardassians on a silver platter. What then? Wouldn’t you have resigned your commission too? Joined the Maquis, fought for your people, done anything, tried anything to keep them safe? Yes. She thinks. In an instant. Well...possibly...and possibly not. Starfleet to her core and more of a coward than anyone believes her to be, Kathryn isn’t sure that she would have been brave enough.
Her eyes flit to the window and out over the San Francisco skyline. It was starting to get dark. She was hungry. She needed more coffee. Her head hurt. There was still so much work to do. Coffee... She can smell coffee. Before she can turn around and follow the smell, a large mug appears beside her hand. “One obscenely large cup of freshly ground, freshly made, very real, dark Italian roast of expensive and mysterious provenance...” Mark announces proudly from behind her chair. Kathryn gratefully takes the cup from him and interlaces her fingers with his. “Oh...you have no idea how much I love you right now.” Kathryn brings the cup to her nose and inhales the aroma before taking a sinfully long sip. She’s almost moaning into her cup and Mark can’t keep his eyes off her. She turns the simple act of drinking coffee into an erotic art. The sight and sound of it makes him half hard with wanting her, but he needs to get her to eat and take care of herself. That kind of thing will have to wait until later. He grazes his lips softly over that perfect spot on her neck and hands her a small pack of tablets “...and...some good, old fashioned ibuprofen for the headache you probably have right now...” She moans in delight and relief as his hands massage her shoulders. “Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes...” His fingers slowly work up her neck before finally pulling the pins from her long auburn hair, which he sends tumbling over her shoulders as he massages her skull. “...Which you are going to eat, with me, at the dining table, like a civilized person instead of at this desk. There will be wine and very possibly – if I can find them –there will be candles.” She nods in agreement. She’s not sure what she’s agreed to exactly. Her eyes are closed, her head’s thrown back and right now she’d probably agree to anything he asked of her. Which Mark thinks, is probably just as well. “Oh...that feels so good.”
“Umm...Kathryn? Are you even listening to me anymore?”
Her eyes flutter open. She quirks her lips in that sorry/not sorry way she has and responds “Umm...I heard something about dinner, and wine...that I’m working too hard...and that there’s nothing I have to do that can’t wait until morning.” She raises her hand to caress his cheek. She so dearly loves this man. “See? I was listening. Would you believe it if I told you that I am actually starving?”
“Really? Will wonders never cease?”
Mark’s lips return to her neck, moving over her jaw line before he captures her lips in a kiss that starts off slow and tender, until Kathryn opens her mouth to his. Her free hand cups the back of his head and pulls him closer, encouraging him to deepen the kiss as she quite deliberately sucks on his tongue. The angle is awkward, she wants more, and any moment now she’s going to spill her coffee all over her jeans. Reluctantly she breaks the kiss, abandons her coffee and enfolds herself in Mark’s arms. She loves the way that – when her feet are bare – he seems to tower over her. She loves the solidness of his broad chest, and how tiny she feels by comparison. She loves how he’s staring at her right now. She loves how he’s touching her as if the sight of her breasts in a ‘fleet issue tank top are the sexiest thing he’s ever seen. She thinks she should be ashamed at just how much she likes it. Really Kathryn! Such uncaptainly thoughts. But here, in his arms, she isn’t a Starfleet Captain and she really can’t bring herself to care.
His hands trace the outline of her breasts before wandering down her sides and over her arse. When he uses his grip on her to lift her and he grinds his pelvis into hers, a small undignified gasp escapes her throat as her hips follow his lead and her lips renew their attack on his mouth. “Kath...” There is the whisper of her name across her lips, the faint tickle of his breath on her neck as he buries his head in the dip where neck meets collarbone, and he breathes of her deeply. All chivalrous thoughts of dinner are forgotten as Mark pulls her more securely against him and encourages her to tighten those glorious legs around his waist. He intends to have her on her desk. It’s such a powerful symbol of her authority, her intensity, her passion and conviction in everything she does. To him, the thought of fucking her on it is quite the serious turn on. Kathryn’s bottom hits the desk and he takes a moment to look at her: her breathing is erratic, her hair hangs wildly around her shoulders, and her chin is tilted in defiance. There is a look of challenge settling on her features as she plants her hands behind her and uses the leverage to roll her hips against his hardness. The deep blue look of arousal in her eyes is knowing. Oh yes. He thinks She knows exactly what I’m thinking. Knows exactly what’s got me so turned on. And more than a small part of her is turned on too.
Mark wonders a bit at that before deciding that it makes the whole erotic tableau he has created just that little bit hotter. He cups her through her jeans, pressing the seam hard against her clit and she bucks into his hand. “ahh..mmh..” Mark loves every single one of Kathryn’s repertoire of guttural little noises and the way they escape her mouth unbidden: sometimes in amusement, sometimes in joy, more often than not in frustration. But he especially loves the distinctive octave evoked by her passion. Her desire for him. He loves that he can make her feel this way. Just as Mark moves to unbutton her jeans and Kathryn feels the first glide of his fingers underneath her panties, he catches a glimpse of the man who seems to be staring out at them from Kathryn’s computer screen. Kathryn gasps as whatever momentarily took Mark’s attentions away from her disappear and she feels the full force of his desire, his love for her, return in the way his mouth greedily consumes hers, demanding but not dominating as she feels his thick fingers teasing at her opening, playing in her wetness, before moving upwards; his fingers all too lightly grazing her clit. She returns the kiss with equal fervour; nibbling teasingly at his lower lip, her hand snaking under the waistband of his jeans and boxers to press her hand firmly against his cock. Kathryn is herself, momentarily distracted by the sensation of Mark tracing the shell of her ear with the tip of his tongue and does not immediately register the sound of his voice as he roughly whispers “Kath...there is an extremely handsome man glaring at us from your computer screen” into her right ear.
When she abruptly stops moving against his hand, removes her hand from his pants and unfurls her legs from around his waist, he knows immediately that his words have registered and that for some reason, he has said quite possibly the worst thing, maybe the only thing that could have killed the heat of her desire for him in this moment. He had meant for it to turn her on. Maybe coax her into a little fantasy, a little role-play about how she’d enjoy it if he and the darkly handsome man in the photograph made love to her together. She’s usually more than keen on that kind of thing. She enjoys the fantasy of watching Mark with another man and he has always loved the play of hearing those dirty pretty words falling from her perfect mouth as he goes down on her. But just like that, all traces of desire have gone from her expression and the Captain’s mask has slipped into place. She reaches for the computer and slams down the lid, perhaps a little harder than is strictly necessary. Kathryn takes a deep breath as if to collect her thoughts, readying herself for the storm that she is trying to conjure up to deflect Mark’s attention, but knowing full well that he very rarely takes the bait.
“You shouldn’t be looking at that.”
Her voice is low and cold: very matter of fact, but with just that edge of misplaced anger. It’s the only thing about her mercurial nature that really ever seriously worries Mark. He tries to reach for her, offering some comfort, some apology for whatever it is that he’s done or said, but she shies away from the touch of his hand on her cheek.
Mark is torn between being slightly amused and feeling faintly ridiculous that Kathryn is using her ‘crisis command’ voice, while he still has his hand in her knickers. He removes it with as much grace as he can muster in such an awkward situation and moves his body away from the cradle of her thighs. “I’m sorry...I was just...I mean I thought you might...like...” Kathryn’s eyebrow arches, just daring him to continue, while the death glare she’s levelling at him tells him he’d do better if he just shut up.
“Oh...I know what you thought...”
He can’t work it out: there’s some anger there about something, sure, but now she sounds more than a little bit amused. Mark sighs in confusion and backs off further, trying to give her some space. The tips of his fingers are coated in her wetness and he isn’t quite sure what to do with his hand. Kathryn notices and rolls her eyes at him, pulling a few tissues from the box behind her, before hopping down from where she’s been perched on her desk.
Mark stares at her for a second before taking the offered tissues and wiping his hand. He is more than a little disturbed by her ability to see even this deeply intimate situation as something that can be solved with a problem/solution/implementation command grid. He thinks about making a joke but decides that he’s probably in enough trouble already and that now really isn’t the best time. “Thank you” he replies trying to sound contrite...for what exactly he still doesn’t know. He watches as Kathryn efficiently shimmies her jeans back to her waist and buttons them up, gathers her wayward hair into a ponytail and twists it into a loose, messy bun. She returns to her desk, straightens it out, pops two pills out of their plastic and downs them with a large mouthful of lukewarm coffee, that makes her turn up her nose and shudder at the unpleasant sensation of cold, acrid coffee hitting the back of her tongue.
And that might have been the end of it.
She’s already backing off. He’s already half-forgiven for his inappropriately suggestive or possibly ill timed words. But he isn’t willing to let it go. He holds her gaze evenly and won’t look away. She sighs and lowers her shoulders, dips her head in acknowledgement that she has perhaps over-reacted a little. Not that she’d ever admit it out loud. “I’m sorry Mark. It’s my fault. It’s not classified. There’s no harm done...but, if I don’t want you to see, then I shouldn’t be leaving files open and computer screens on where you can see them, should I?” She pauses as if she’s thinking, trying to find the right words. “I guess...I guess it’s just that I’m still not used to sharing my space with someone.”
Oh she’s a good actress, excellent really, but Mark’s not buying it.
“It’s got nothing to do with that and you know it. You wanted this. You chose this. I’ve been here for three weeks and it’s been amazing. We said we’d give living together a trial run before you left for DS9, and work out the rest, maybe set a date when you get back. And I know, I know, you find it hard to be around people before a mission, but I’m not just people!” He sighs and shrugs, runs his hands through his thick grey hair. He pauses. Maybe to emphasise his point. Maybe because he knows that he needs to calm down. “Having said that, you also know that if you really need space, you can ask me for that.” He is trying to convey to her that such a request wouldn’t hurt him, wouldn’t be a big deal. Even though the thought of it does hurt him. Even though it would be a big deal. “I can go back to Indiana for a few days.” He knows she’s not unhappy with their new living arrangements. They’ve both been exceedingly happy over the last few weeks. Sure, they are both extraordinarily busy people, with overly demanding careers that leave very little time for romance. But if it should ever appear to anyone on the outside that they inhabit this shared space as little more than roommates or that their cohabitation is not much more than a comfortable convenience then they would be entirely wrong.
“Did I say that I wanted you to go?”
Kathryn is close to tears and he can’t fathom why. He can count on one hand the number of times he’s ever seen her cry and even then it’s only ever been over things that would break most people. Kathryn presses the balls of her fists to her eyes. Stopping her tears before they begin through the sheer force of her will and for a second Mark is reminded of the painfully stubborn and lonely little girl he knew her to be growing up. “No...” She whispers, reaching for him and he takes her hand. “I don’t want that. I want you here. Always. You know that.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” His smile is reassuringly sincere, if a little confused.
Mark knows that this goes much deeper than either their living arrangements or her deeply ingrained fear of abandonment. He knows her so well, he can read her like a book, well...he can, most of the time. He knows she hasn’t been sleeping and that’s a sure sign that something’s wrong and that she’s found a way to blame herself for it. She’s been stressed and anxious and distracted for days. He’s come to expect a certain distance from her before she sets out on any major mission, and the launch of Voyager and her mission to The Badlands certainly qualifies. But still, there’s more to it. She hasn’t said anything but he thinks Tuvok might be missing. He’s noticed more than the usual number of calls to Vulcan. A couple of letters to T’Pel laying around, when usually their contact is limited to a holiday greeting card and best wishes for a prosperous new year. He can almost put it together now. There’s something about him, something that connects Tuvok’s disappearance to the handsome man on her computer screen and whatever her mission prep has thrown up that has her so deeply disturbed and doubting herself. And he knows that the only way to know that something, the only way to find a way to help her, is to ask the question and not let her deflect or stall in her answer.
“Who is he Kathryn?”
He deliberately keeps his voice calm and mildly curious as if he’s idly prompting one of his undergraduates to expand on their discussion of a key philosophical principle. Yeah, she’s not buying it either. She knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Mark...leave it alone. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Who is he?”
“I said leave it. There’s nothing you can do and I can’t talk about it anyway.”
“Can’t? Or won’t? You said it wasn’t classified.”
“Some of it is.” She shrugs, conceding his point “Most of it’s fairly common knowledge.”
They’ve been down this road before. And as much as he can do without ever being reminded of the utter helplessness he felt that night –when there was nothing to be done but hold her tightly, let her tell him what she could and reassure her that she was safe and that no one was ever going to hurt her like that again – he is somewhat relieved to remember that he did help her then, and nothing that she’s facing now could ever be as bad as that.
“Ok...then, can you tell me who he is?”
She sees no reason not to tell him. Chakotay’s name and face, along with a number of other wanted Maquis terrorists, have been all over the news for months now. Still, she knows she’s fidgeting with her hands too much and staring too intently at her painted toes to make Mark believe that it’s no big deal. “His name is Chakotay. He’s the leader of the Maquis cell I’ve been trying to track down. He’s ex-Starfleet. A Commander. ..no...was a Commander.” He can see she’s struggling and he tries to comfort her by running his hands up and down the tops of her arms.
“I still don’t understand. Do you know him or something?”
“No.” She shakes her head “He’s a little older than me. We weren’t at the academy at the same time. Command track, military tactician all the way. We’ve never had cause to run into each other...”
“Not until now, anyway.” He finishes for her.
“No” she nods, lowering her head again “Not until now.” Mark lifts her chin gently, making her meet his eyes. “So then ...the problem is?” She’s searching his eyes for something...whatever it is she doesn’t find it and she tries to pull away from him. He holds her fast. “Hey...” he brushes a loose lock of her hair behind her ear, he speaks softly, quietly, afraid that she’ll try to bolt again like a frightened deer. “Hey...Don’t do that. Don’t pull away from me. You know you can tell me anything. You know that.”
“I...” Kathryn’s whole body tenses. She’s trying to make herself be still. She’s trying not to run. “Maybe...Maybe I don’t think he’s a terrorist. Maybe I think he’s a good and honourable man, doing the only thing that’s left for him to do in an impossible situation. And maybe...if I were in his shoes, I’d be doing the same thing. And maybe I think the mission I’ve been chosen to head is wrong and I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to catch him. And I can’t help thinking that the Federation and this...treaty, and the Starfleet that’s doing its dirty work, isn’t the one that I’ve worked my whole life to be part of. I don’t know what this is...but it isn’t...it isn’t what I signed up for.” Her voice cracks on the last sentence and there are tears brimming and threatening to escape from her eyes again. “Oh Kath...” Now it’s starting to all make sense. It’s finally happened: after all she’s been through, after all this time, something has destroyed her righteous and childlike faith in Starfleet and the Federation and it’s breaking her heart. Mark takes her in his arms and hugs her tightly. “Kath...I’m sorry. So sorry” She looks at him, her tear stained face momentarily puzzled by what it is he’s apologising for. She shakes her head and smiles through her tears “No. It doesn’t matter...about earlier. It was a nice thought really...just... bad timing.”He can’t help but grin at that.
“Ok...but that’s not why I’m sorry. Well...I am about that too, but that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry because I thought this might happen one day. But I never wanted it to.” He takes her face in his hands and kisses her forehead. “ I’m sorry your faith is shaken, I’m sorry you’re hurting like this.” He hugs her tightly again. He’s unwilling to let go of her and Kathryn stays willingly. They stay like that for long moments, taking comfort in each other’s arms, but Mark can’t leave the question hanging over them unasked and unanswered for long.
“What are you going to do?”
He watches her pace around the room in her bare feet; a hand on her hip, her eyes wild and angry. She is a sight to behold and for a moment he’s terrified about what she might do. “Kathryn?...You aren’t thinking of...” When she whips around to face him, he thinks he’s gone too far. Questioning her honour right now is like rubbing salt into her open wounds. “What? Resigning my commission? Joining the Maquis? Perhaps you’d like to come with me?”
“ Well...if they all look like Mr. Chakotay I might consider it, but I can’t imagine what they’d want with an old philosophy professor.” Her head snaps up and he catches the flare of warning and exasperation in her eyes. “Mark...this isn’t funny.” He folds his arms across his chest and tries to get her to make eye contact. “Isn’t it?...Just a little bit?” She rolls her eyes at him and continues to pace. Mark tries again: “So?..”
“Nothing. This isn’t my fight...so...nothing. Carry on. Obey Starfleet. Follow orders. Complete the mission.” It does not escape Mark’s attention that they aren’t her orders or her mission anymore.
“And what about you Kath? Not the Captain. You. What will you do?”
He thinks that maybe it’s shocked her that he’s asked such a question. Does it surprise her to know that he has that separation between the Captain and the woman so clearly defined in his own mind? She shrugs it off.
“ I’ll be fine...It’s not like i’ve never had a broken heart. I’ll get over it. I have before.”
When he looks up at her, her smile is sad and a little bit cruel.
And Mark thinks Yes. But barely. Just Barely Kathryn. I remember what that was like and how it took another piece of you every time: the Cardassians, the shuttle accident, your father and Justin, Owen Paris and his petty betrayals.
“And Tuvok? Will he be fine too?”
It is another way of asking the same question, and it’s a way of calling her out on her own petty cruelties without pushing her too far.
“Honestly? I don’t know. And that’s the classified part. I really can’t talk about it.”
“Yes.” He grins and takes her hand, lacing their fingers together and pulling her in the direction of the kitchen. “Come on...come sit with me while I finish cooking dinner, and we can ‘not talk’ about it some more.”
Kathryn lets her head rest on his arm and sighs deeply. None of this can be solved tonight. It’s unlikely to be settled in the next few months or even years. She doesn’t know what to do about any of it and there are other things about her orders and their destination that just aren’t sitting right with her. She can’t quite explain it, except to say that it all feels just a little bit...off.
“Yes. I think I’d like that.”
She can’t tell Mark about all of it. But he is here. He steadies her. He is willing to listen to her. He is here for her and she can’t imagine that a day will ever come when she won’t want him by her side. She has never doubted him or his love. Even when she has doubted herself. And that has made all the difference.