His wife of three years wakes him before the alarm, shaking him gently out of a deep sleep.
She’s six months pregnant. And it’s been an eventuality hard come by. He’d waited too long, and grieved too long, and been furious for too long, and the energy it took to look and love again had been impossible to muster. Now, that he’s here with a pregnant wife and the start of a family, the reality feels delightful, and fragile.
Her hands are curved gently round her abdomen, protecting the swell which is quickly becoming a bulge, as she sits on the edge of the bed.
There’s an emptiness to her voice when she speaks, and it is a disconcerting sound.
It takes a moment to understand, and a lifetime to process.
When she goes, after he says nothing into the expectant silence, he rolls over. Molly is on the floor at the side of the bed and she looks up at him with old, doleful eyes.
He knows it’s absurd, but she feels it too.
“I didn’t think I’d see her,” he says to the animal, “Never mind you.”
Then the words come to him, Antiphanes nursing him awake and into this world, and he nearly laughs. It stings his throat, and it is bitter.
I trust only one thing in a woman: that she will not come to life again after she is dead. In all other things I distrust her.
He doesn’t laugh though, he just stares at the dog.
He tries to avoid it, but it’s everywhere. The Federation news plays it on a loop, blazing images of success and clips and soundbites and her, all set against triumphant orchestrations that blare from every news outlet.
It’s quite a victory, if it’s not viewed as a death.
Grief shirks itself much quicker than success, and it’s easy for people to move on when there’s pragmatism. And anger shirks itself too, but a lot of it still lingers in his blood.
Times Square is heaving with it, images of her face flashing up across the holo-boards that guild the edges and fronts of the gargantuan buildings. If he doesn’t move, he’s going to stand still forever.
Every time he runs the risk of seeing her, in that continual loop that follows him all the way down Fifth Avenue, he dips his head.
When he arrives at school, the students are abuzz with the speculation and conjecture of the fantastical. They don’t settle in his 9 a.m. lecture and they whisper, holocells hovering in fingers behind hands.
He cancels his 12 o’clock.
The students don’t know, but his colleagues do and they, in contrast, are silently respectful, speculative about his feelings and his reaction. When he enters the kitchen, fusses over the replicator, they hide the PADDs they’ve been reading and analysing. They’re anthropologists, philosophers and studiers of human behaviour; this is the kind of thing that makes their year.
It’s the thing that’s destroyed the last seven of his.
He can’t say why, because it will open the box he’s kept closed for so long, so he pretends it’s because he grieved her.
He pretends not to notice their pity too, and he doesn’t want to speak about it, so it suits him when they pretend they don’t want to either.
Their gentle, concerned, and morbidly curious looks are as irritating as they are discomfiting.
He got this job not long after she was declared dead, and he’d kept his photograph of her on his desk long after that. He thinks, now, it was probably just for show that he did it.
The day passes with Voyager hovering over everything.
When he walks through the city again, nothing has changed from the morning. Well it’s dark, and there’s rain.
So now her face is emblazoned by a crackling thunderstorm.
Shakespeare used thunder to signify evil, he thinks, and he laughs.
When he gets home that night – he stayed until it was only himself and janitorial holograms, fidgeting over paper work he couldn’t concentrate on - Carla meets him at the bottom stairs of their apartment, even though it’s raining. Her face is set solidly, and he knows something’s wrong.
“Molly died this afternoon,” she blurts, hands turned up helplessly as her belly protrudes in between.
He just shrugs and slides past her. He doesn’t ask what she did with the Setter’s body. It seems to matter very little now.
When she eventually goes to bed, - like a boy sneaking illicit materials (the comparison doesn’t escape him in its aptness) - he switches on the screen and watches the coverage, rewinding it past and over and through and back to that face.
It was Diogenes who said love comes with hunger.
At one point the holo zooms in on her, and he flinches at the image. His appetite wanes.
Behind the smile, just under the surface of the mask she’s wearing, there’s nothing.
Her eyes are dark, relentless, somewhere else entirely.
He orders the computer to shut down in a frantic whisper, terrified of what he’s seen.
Real Kathryn, he thinks, it’s been seven years since I’ve seen you.
He doesn’t actively choose sleep. It chooses him, and it’s fitful and terrifying.
Every time the com bleeps over the following days, he hopes and dreads in equal measure. He has no right, and he isn’t sure what he’d do, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it anyway, or that he doesn’t hope she might gather the courage to contact him so he doesn’t have to harvest any.
But Kathryn likes men to chase her, not the other way around.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Phoebe asks three days later, from the living room in Indiana, tears of joy still lingering around those unsettlingly familiar blue eyes.
She’s in debriefing, he learns, but it won’t be long.
Time doesn’t matter, and neither does the return. Because that’s not the same woman who left seven years ago, and she isn’t coming back to the same world.
“It is,” he lies.
Phoebe doesn’t even see it.
“She’ll be in touch soon.”
He knows that’s a lie, but it soothes every party involved.
Aristotle comes to him, and he nearly lets a cruel smile onto his lips.
She is also more shameless and false…
Tell her I’m sorry, nearly slips out from behind that smile.
But it wouldn’t be entirely true. Nor would it be a lie either.
Every night, when Carla goes to bed, he watches the coverage religiously.
She’s eight months now, and her back curves so she walks oddly with her pelvis pushed out and her feet apart and it makes him wonder what she would look like if she’d carried his child – it had been part of their plan in a vague, ‘when my career is settled’ kind of way and he questions whether she said it because she thought it was what he wanted to hear – and it makes his chest ache, empty and heavy all at once.
He surfs the stations, glimpsing the stages of the story as it’s weaved into the public conscious and the myth of the Federation.
The original docking at DS9 is less frequent than the stock footage. It was badly organised and slapdash anyway. Now it’s the welcome party at ‘Fleet H.Q. in San Francisco, where she’s wearing dress uniform and standing on the massive marble platform erected over the Bay.
He notices the same things every time, in the same sequence – and as if he hasn’t noted it just twenty-four hours previously -, which happens this way: her hair is shorter, she’s gained weight on her hips but her shoulders are narrower, her eyes are blank. Her jaw is hard. Her mouth is arrogant. And she’s erotically cruel looking.
Rand, he thinks: sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers.
And the Maquis is right behind her, just slightly to her left, and there’s barely an inch between their bodies.
This man looks like Justin in an indistinct way, and he’s built a little like Mark himself if slightly taller and just a little younger looking. Dark, brooding, hulking but graceful.
And that’s enough for Mark to wonder how long it took her because if watching Janeway – and mildly envying those in her orbit, and patiently hovering to enter himself - had taught him anything over all the years, it was the kind of man she was attracted to.
Rumi, now, as his groin twitches: The way you make love is the way God will be with you.
There’s a godlessness to all of it now.
He wonders if she took the same amount of time to cloak herself in black, to miss him, to grieve him, as he did her.
But he already knows the answer.
He knows her, and knowing her is to understand what doubt can do. It gets under his skin, rippling into his consciousness, and niggles at him with a bridling truth: not long at all.
It wouldn’t have taken her long at all.
He halts the holo on her face as she turns her jaw towards the dark man behind her and he says something and she laughs.
Her First Officer laughs with her. It’s as vague as it is stinging.
He wonders if he ever occasioned that kind of response from her. Then he realises he doesn’t know. While he’d always loved her laugh, he didn’t know that he’d ever elicited it. He’d loved it as a consumer, not as a creator. And he had to earn every grain of affection from her, even if it was a slight chuckle.
The time was quick for them once they were rent apart, settling and dissolving what had gone before as quickly as acid. When she was so many billions of stars away death was working on both ends of their relationship, edacious as it ate its way towards the vacuum of nothing between them now.
And he wonders if you could even call it love, even back then.
There was a connection in their relationship which translated to satisfying fucking, intellectual conversations and separate apartments. There was a resolution to settle, and be alright, and entertain themselves and think how to make the other involved in whatever they had, knowing it took very little to do so.
There was a carelessness to it. And they were good at careless. They were good at fucking, and pretending, and being careless with the feelings they were supposed to have for each other.
He’d happily settled into that, and she’d needed something that wasn’t the loss of Justin, and it had suited.
Can he say it was love? Perhaps it was, but it wasn’t the verb. It wasn’t being in love. It was love in a disparate way. Cold climate.
Unless they were in bed. When they were in bed, it felt better than love.
And it isn’t that with his wife now. He’s alright with that, because while he may not have been the love of Kathryn’s life, she was the love of his and he hadn’t really realised it. Or he had. And that was why she hurt him so much.
She’d already had hers, he’d thought, with the brutish Justin, and he’d been content to be the one after because that’s what adults did.
Now he wonders, not with jealousy but with a sore detachment, if Justin hasn’t been relegated too by this tattooed renegade. He wonders what the sex is like.
And he lived with second best, knowing that, as long as he could have some part of her.
He’s taken what she gave him – commitment, a belief in him – or at least what he could provide - and the quiet resolution to move forward – and given that to Carla.
He hasn’t told his wife, but she knows and she’s gracious enough to accept it. She’s nothing like Kathryn, and he can’t decide if he finds that off-putting or if he loves her for it.
Sometimes it’s both.
“Come to bed,” she says from behind him, in the early hours, breath loose because she’s carrying so much weight.
He stands and does as she asks.
Aeschelyus dances across his conscious as be falls into a fitful slumber: ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’
Awful grace. And multitudinous lies.
It takes a while for the story to die down, but it eventually does and Times Square moves on and there are rumours of holoprograms and novels and it becomes a little more comfortable because it becomes mythical. Her face pops up from time to time, and on the cover of Life she is posed like a pretty piece of steel with the other man just at her back.
Her eyes are blank. Or dancing. He studies the image for so long that he starts to doubt himself.
The call Phoebe promised hasn’t transpired, and its absence feeds the relief he feels. And since her return, Phoebe hasn’t been in touch.
Spinning right out of her orbit.
His daughter is born on a cold winter’s night, in between Christmas and New Year. He tells Carla she did a brilliant job, and it’s true, and when he holds the baby he thinks he might have found the real love of his life.
They take her home, and life goes on.
So when he goes back to Indiana one warm day in April, he’s shocked when he stumbles, unprepared, straight into her on the road between their respective family homes.
He’s carrying the baby strapped to his chest and wandering in the gentle heat and breathing in the fresh air and cooing at her absently. He’s thinking about Plato’s Republic.
He likes the idea of bringing his daughter here, away from the intensity and technology and abrasiveness of New York. A weekend is what they need, and it’s spring, and life feels more real here.
Every child who was traditionally raised in these kinds of communities always has that, despite how much they might fight it.
A small Irish Setter bounds up, no more than a puppy, and waggles happily at his feet, churning up little plumes of dust.
He doesn’t recognise the voice, a man’s voice with humour and irritation and irony as he calls the pup’s ridiculous name, and so he pays no notice because the baby starts to fuss. He is so concentrated on her that it takes a moment to realise who’s speaking to him.
It’s a fraction deeper than he remembers, but that might just be decaying memory or the need to preserve the right to believe she was something she wasn’t - and included in that is the delusion that she used to speak more gently.
But she didn’t. She was always hard.
He looks up, startled into silence. Here’s a ghost, he thinks, for an absurd second.
She’s not smiling but she’s not sad either. She’s blank.
She’s standing, feet slightly apart, hands loose by her sides in which she carries a useless dog lead. She’s out of uniform and her grown hair is lying over her shoulders. The weight is gone from her hips and her body is in better shape. She looks good. She looks beautiful. She looks dangerous and cruel.
Her eyes though, her eyes are alive.
Maybe he was just lying to himself.
He can’t decide if this hurts more. Then he simply decides not to think about it.
They don’t embrace: the puppy and the baby and that man are in the way. And it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway.
“Sorry I haven’t been in touch,” she says after what feels like a pause of hours, where the silence of the road seems instantly disastrous.
He shrugs and doesn’t know what to say. The sun suddenly burns and he wants the shade more than anything. He wants to hide. He wants to run. He wants to destroy her.
The baby has gone quiet, feeling the tension in his body and reading it with the dexterity that is only in the possession of infants and innocents.
“You were busy.”
She nods then motions to the softly smiling man with her hand.
“This is Chakotay.”
That pause happens again and he sees the man step nearer her, and it’s so gentle and obvious that Mark admires him. He likes him for it. He resents him for it.
This man is here to protect her, from emotional and physical blows. Doesn’t he know that Kathryn Janeway needs protection from no one, and nothing?
Then he realises that’s a lie too. And that makes him ache.
“Let’s have dinner tonight,” she says, and then suddenly shy, in that calculated way: “If you would like. If that’s okay?”
“That’s okay,” he says, though he doesn’t know if it is.
“Carruthers, seven p.m.?”
He nods and smiles and he’s already wondering if he’ll stand her up. He can see she’s wondering that too, but she’s too proud to say. Or she just knows he won’t be able to.
“Tonight then,” she says and bends to scoop up the puppy to her chest.
The creature licks her face as soon as she draws it in, the underside of her chin and her jaw, and she laughs deeply, huskily, despite the solemnities which seem to be proceeding over this reunion.
She’s careless, and it hurts.
Mark watches her smile, her glittering irreverence as if he doesn’t know it. And he doesn’t, not really. She laughs because she can, and it’s selfish.
De Sade now, the master of all that is masochistic: One is never so dangerous when one has no shame, than when one has grown too old to blush.
Rage smothers him.
Then in a morbid curiosity which he knows will damn him, his eyes slide to the First Officer - to Chakotay who needs no other introduction save for the tattoo and the utter dedication that lingers in every limb of the man - and he sees happiness written plainly, in the most standard and common tongue in which it can be rendered, all over his face as he watches Kathryn Janeway.
Mark Hobbes Johnson used to smile like that in her presence too.
There’s no doubt in that. In fact, it’s the most honest he’s been with himself.
He leaves the farmhouse under the auspices of an icy silence. Carla isn’t jealous, but she isn’t settled with his going either.
He doesn’t know that he cares a great deal how his wife feels.
He doubts the same reaction is occurring in the First Officer, a mile away, in the large and homely and lingering-coffee of the Janeway stead. He wonders when Gretchen stopped sending brownies over but he doesn’t ask his mother, it seems too sore.
His mother is jammed somewhere between nostalgic approval and fear. They liked Kathryn because they thought she was just right. The only reason they thought that was because she had come from down the road, been in ‘Fleet, and played the game of dutiful daughter in law beautifully.
If he destroys their illusions, he might destroy his own.
His father just buries his head in a book. They nursed him through her death and his fragility must have been terrifying, and his anger even more so, so his parents don’t know what to do.
They’re not the only ones.
But she asked, and he complied. He has no other excuse.
He’s early, she’s late.
That hasn’t changed.
It’s a sharp little contusion when she sheds her coat to reveal her uniform – and, even if Kathryn shed her skin, he reckons her very insides would be scarlet and black. As calculated a decision as this costume is, it leaves him feeling this was a colossal mistake.
She orders a vegetarian dish – he doesn’t ask why – and he overcompensates with a steak that could choke a bear. He wants to show her he’s different from her in every way. It seems necessary.
He orders a bottle of wine and she smiles and tells him her taste in booze has grown vastly since she had to improvise in the Delta Quadrant. He loved irreverent, wanton, demanding Kathryn. He loved her loosened to the point that everything she’d wanted would spill forth.
He doesn’t know if she’s trying to show him how she’s superior, or how she is worldlier and experienced, or simply making conversation.
She does drink the wine, but slowly, painfully. She doesn’t want to lose control of anything here. There’s no chance of that with Kathryn.
“Antarian cider,” she informs him over her light starter, “Is delicious. Chakotay –“
Maybe his face falls, or he grimaces, but she stops talking and he stops chewing.
She simply stares, defying him to say anything.
“My wife’s called Carla,” he says, as if that somehow excuses it.
“I’d love to meet her,” Kathryn says, and she means it.
Or does she?
“Did you give up on us very quickly?”
It comes out just like that as he asks, the language and the tone of it tentative and treading gently as if she hasn’t literally stared death in the face and found it wanting.
She takes a drink slowly, lets her eyes close as she breathes in and bolsters herself to answer.
“Not at all,” she finally whispers.
He doesn’t believe her, so he waits out an explanation he’s afraid won’t come.
“I didn’t pursue a relationship out there, not until after your letter…” she shrugs. “After that I tried. There was no time and I was in command, so very little ever went beyond a dalliance. I…”
There was never time for anything.
De Sade once more: Truth titillates the imagination far less than fiction.
She trails away, in a literal and metaphorical sense.
He believes her. She must have been frustrated beyond reason. Because, his memory reminds him as it pushes her from her pedestal, she had quite the appetite.
“You moved on,” she answers his unspoken apology or she dredges up his guilt. “And I’m happy for you.”
“Did it hurt?”
She looks sharply at him.
“Not as much as it would have, no. Four years into it I had-”
“If only emotionally,” she answers honestly, despite knowing it will hurt but well within her rights to answer truthfully.
She knows how to twist daggers. But so does he.
That was why they ended up together, in the end. And why they’re apart, at the very end.
He knows now she’s gone, satisfying his desire to know if anything was left, and so he buries her for a second time, then he gets to know her again.
They order dessert, she has coffee, and they reminisce about old times. She calls him ‘Hobbes-Johnson’ and he tells her about the baby. She smiles when he speaks about his daughter, but sadness lingers around the lines that have started to gather at the corners of her eyes. She talks about Voyager, about her Talaxian friend and her blunt Borg.
At midnight, when they have to finally settle the bill so the restaurant can shut, he finally feels able to ask her.
“Your First Officer-”
“Is my best friend,” she interrupts as she shrugs on her coat.
This time, she’s lying.
Well, he hadn’t expected much more than that.
When the call comes from Gretchen, with the cruel request that borders on insanity, he curls onto his knees and sobs the moment the call ends.
Is this the second, the third time, or the fourth?
Her death is endless. And it gets him every time, even if he thinks it won’t.
Carla doesn’t cry with him, she can’t, but she books him a shuttle to Venice.
It was Euripides, he recalls as he steps off of the boat and onto the edges of Venice, who said:
The gods have sent medicines for the venom of serpents, but there is no medicine for a bad woman. She is more noxious than the viper, or than fire itself .
There’s something torturous about being the man to deliver this, and he curses Kathryn for leaving this to him. He’s spent a long time cursing Kathryn.
It feels good.
For minutes he stands just watching the broad, large back draped in camel coat. A dark hand holds a mirror, and the other holds a box size enough for an engagement ring.
He thinks she can be tamed, this naïve Maquis.
Then again, maybe he’s the right ring master.
Then Mark laughs quietly. There’s no ring master for a viper.
And the viper’s dead again.
When he finally taps him on the shoulder, long before he tells him, Chakotay already knows. The mirror shatters onto the cobbles of St. Mark’s Square into millions of shimmering, deadly pieces. Scattered like stars, like atoms, never to come together again.
She loved the stars. She loved challenges she couldn’t mount and men she could. And she loved destroying things.
Then the big, swaying man lurches forward onto him, a groan of despair that is visceral and ferocious rattling from his mouth.
Mark clutches him, and feels the pain from a distance. He’s standing seven years in the past, a naïve man who thought a three week mission and two weeks more were all that stood between him, her and the altar.
Maybe the only thing she’s truly spent long enough to fall in love with is death.
He was a liar to think that was all that stood between them.
“I’ve done this before,” he says uselessly, almost casually, to her First Officer. “You’ll survive it.”
The other man doesn’t speak for a long time, and when he does, it is with a pain so tangible that it propels Mark into the present.
“I’ve done it before too.”
He isn’t lying.