I wish for emptiness and sudden light

Summary: “What are you, Jean-Luc? Are you ever putting on the pips again, or are you planning to wander about the galaxy digging up relics and whistling for Starfleet every time you get yourself into a jam?”

Characters: Picard, Janeway, Crusher, Seven, Laris

Codes: Picard/Janeway, Chakotay/Seven, Picard/Crusher, Janeway/Chakotay

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Star Trek universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Notes: References to: TNG episodes 1x09 The Battle, 2x13 Time Squared and 3x26 The Best of Both Worlds; VOY episodes 6x10 Pathfinder, 6x26 Unimatrix Zero and 7x25 Endgame; PIC episodes up to 1x05 Stardust City Rag; Nemesis; and Children of Mars. I’ve used bits and pieces of Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic and Christopher L Bennett’s The Buried Age, but only the bits I liked. Forget about the post-series books altogether.

The title and the quotes at the beginning of each section are from Semicolons by Zubair Ahmed.

 

Rated M

(1)
Wanderer: singing.
The sky is my home.
I throw roses into it
to color it red.



USS Mary Kingsley, Somewhere in the Beta quadrant – 2359

Kathryn moves too close to the quantum field with her tricorder, and light snaps and sizzles and raises the tiny hairs on her arms. A medic on the away team leaps to her aid. Even so, Jean-Luc has to force himself to step back while the medic scans her and pronounces her unharmed.

He is angry with her out of all proportion for what they’re supposed to be to one another.

After the away mission she pilots the shuttle expertly into the bay, curls her half-smile at him and invites him to her quarters. She lights candles for the table and they eat Andorian redbat and drink a rather inferior chablis. He’s quiet, but so is she; her infrequent comments are concerned with quantum entanglement and subatomic containment.

She clears the plates away and leans a hip against his chair, the slight weight of her body making his fingers itch to shape its curves and planes. He urges her down to straddle his lap and kisses her, slowly and comprehensively.

They move to the bed and start to make love, but his restraint is more pronounced than usual and she stops the smooth cant and roll of her hips to sit up, bracing her hands on his chest. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

He tells her that she shouldn’t take such risks with her safety, that she is too reckless, and Kathryn laughs and rolls to her back, pulling him over her.

“My protector,” she coos.

There’s something dark and sour beneath her playful tone, but the arch of her eyebrow weakens his knees and puts a knot in his belly, so he constrains himself to a reproachful nip to her chin and the harsh, quickening rock of his pelvis. She comes quickly, shuddering, all soft gasps and bitten-back moans.

He waits for her to wrestle back the dominant position the way she likes to after her first climax. A smooth curtain of hair slides over her narrow shoulder as she tightens her thighs around him. He grasps her hips, trying to enter her again, but she holds herself away and he twitches as she trails her fingertips across his stomach.

It makes her smile. “Surely the great Jean-Luc Picard isn’t ticklish.”

“No.”

Kathryn squirms downward and presses her lips to the silky skin below his ribcage. “Really,” she teases at his flinch.

“It’s just that…” he hesitates, “I’m not as fit or as young as the lovers you’re likely used to.”

“You’re hardly a fossil.”

“I’m thirty years your senior, Kathryn.”

Her amusement fades. She props her chin on folded hands atop his chest and glares at him.

“Do you really think I’m that superficial?”

“No, of course not.”

“Because you’re the one who keeps bringing up the difference in our ages. I don’t care. Understand?”

Irritation starts to soften the erection trapped between them, and Jean-Luc finds himself wanting to retaliate. “Sometimes the difference in our ages is particularly evident.”

Hurt deepens the blue of her eyes. “Why are you so angry with me?”

“Not angry. Concerned. You were reckless on the mission today.”

“I can take care of myself, Captain.” The slight emphasis she places on his former rank stings, as she means it to.

“I’m not your captain,” he smarts. “If I were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in bed, Lieutenant.”

She flinches at the rebuke, and Picard envelopes her hand in his: an apology.

“What are you then, Jean-Luc?" Kathryn pulls away and fixes him with a cool stare. "Are you ever putting on the pips again, or are you planning to wander about the galaxy digging up relics and whistling for Starfleet every time you get yourself into a jam?”

He recoils, but she doesn’t wait for him to answer anyway. Naked, she storms into the bathroom and shuts the door, leaving him frustrated and not a little ashamed of himself. When it becomes clear that she isn’t coming out again, he pulls on his clothes and beams back to the research ship.

Kathryn is still stiff and scrupulously formal in the briefing room the following morning, so much so that Captain Karapleedeez notices.

“What have you done to my science officer?” she asks Picard when he accepts her invitation to tea in her ready room, and laughs at the discomfort he fails to hide. “Did you think I was unaware that the two of you have become close?”

“I hope you don’t disapprove.”

“That would hardly be my prerogative. Nevertheless, I will further overstep my bounds by cautioning you that I’m quite fond of Lieutenant Janeway and I don’t wish to see her hurt.” Karapleedeez sips Earl Grey and watches him. “Particularly at such a vulnerable time, given her recent ordeals.”

“I have no intention of hurting her,” Picard responds, unwilling to admit he isn’t wholly sure what Karapleedeez is talking about.

He resolves to ask Kathryn about it – after he has apologised to her, of course – but she beats him to that, turning up on the research ship after the day’s work is done. She’s in civilian clothing and her hair is loose, but there’s no hiding the Starfleet posture she adopts without conscious thought: chin raised, feet shoulder-width apart and hands clasped behind her back. Picard hides a smile as he invites her inside.

After forgiveness and kisses, after dinner and wine, she leans against his shoulder on the couch. He can feel her body slackening, head lolling and breathing soft, but he’s too wound up to let the evening end as it has on other occasions, with an exhausted Kathryn curled up in his arms, or laid out on his bed, only to rouse in the early hours and initiate prolonged and imaginative lovemaking. He shifts, startling her awake.

“You asked if I intend to go back to Starfleet,” he says without preamble. “The truth is, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it a lot, particularly since I met you.”

Kathryn blinks the sleep from her eyes. “What are you afraid of?” she asks. Her voice is rough and coffee-soaked.

Jean-Luc is quiet for a long time. “Captains make decisions all the time,” he says eventually. “I’m afraid I won’t make the right ones. No – I’m afraid I won’t be able to make any decisions at all.”

“Oh,” she says with deep understanding.

“You say that as if you’ve just solved a mystery.”

Kathryn gives him a wry smile. “Not exactly. It’s just that I’m well acquainted with that particular fear.”

Picard thinks about the strangeness of asking advice from a woman three decades and many missions less experienced than he is, then shrugs it away; her ability to surprise him is one of Kathryn Janeway’s many attractive qualities.

“Tell me,” he invites.

She twists her hands in her lap, eyes cast down and unfocused. “I had to make a choice, not so long ago. You know my father was killed on Tau Ceti Prime?”

He has the sense that the words scour her throat as she dredges them up from somewhere deep inside. “Yes,” he encourages, because it's evident that her father's death is part of what Karapleedeez was alluding to.

“I could have saved him. Or I could have saved my fiancé. I was there,” she explains, hands twisting and twisting. “I was thrown clear of the shuttle as it sank under the ice, and they were trapped. There was only enough power to transport one of them out, but I refused to believe it … I kept trying to save them both. They told me later that it was impossible, but that I could have saved one of them, if I’d been able to choose.”

When she halts her clipped speech, he takes her hands in his. “A choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

“But one I should have been able to make.” She pulls back, finally meeting his gaze. “Because I couldn’t, they both died. So believe me, Jean-Luc … I understand what you’re afraid of.”

“What would you do if you were back there right now?” he asks her, not to be cruel, but because he needs to know. Because he’s there now, except that his crucible is not the bitter glaciers of Tau Ceti but the fire-lashed bridge of the Stargazer.

Kathryn’s eyes are wet, but her voice is steely. “I’d do exactly the same thing I did then. Except this time, I’d do it better.”

 

*


Their affair has run its natural course by the time the Mary Kingsley is ordered on a new mission. On their last night together in Kathryn’s quarters, Jean-Luc can feel she is already detached, her eyes and mind on untravelled stars.

She stretches out beside him, her fingers tracing pensive patterns on his stomach and chest, and wonders aloud if they’ll ever meet again. There’s no wistfulness in her tone, no sentimentality. He has the sense that it doesn’t matter to her one way or the other.

He finds that he wants it to matter to her. He wants to matter.

“I expect we’ll run into each other again someday, out here among the stars,” he says. “Or maybe we’ll find ourselves serving together.”

Kathryn absorbs his words, then rolls over to face him. “Does that mean you’re coming back?” she asks. “To Starfleet?”

He nods.

“Was it something I said?” she asks him playfully.

“Let’s just say you’ve been instrumental in encouraging me to reconsider my future.”

Her smile is slow and brilliant. “Good,” she says. “I do hate waste.”

She kisses him, and this time when they make love he holds her full attention. It isn’t until days later, after she’s light years out of his reach, that he wonders if she meant that her time with him would have been wasted had he decided not to rejoin Starfleet.

There are far less enticing recruitment techniques, he reflects as he sends off a carefully composed communique to Starfleet Command. And it doesn’t make him any less eager to see her again.
 

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© 2021 by Mia Cooper