Summary: Kashyk discovers that beauty, like truth, is just an illusion. A post-Counterpoint AU. Or is it?
Characters: Kashyk, Janeway
Codes: Janeway/Kashyk, Janeway/Chakotay (implied)
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS owns this universe. Or does it?
In the moment that she realised all her manoeuvrings had been for nothing, that I had won and intended to claim my victory, she was perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen her. Her pale skin flushed with rage; her unusual eyes locked onto me, searing her fury into my leather hide. Her mouth trembled, and I wanted to kiss it again, to wring her concession from her wordless lips.
But it was not the time for such things. Not yet, at least.
Prax escorted her back to her bridge – my bridge – and she walked directly to the chair that had once been hers. I stopped her, jerked my head at the oaf’s chair, relegating her forever to the role of adjunct, of property. Of concubine. She didn’t understand that yet, but she’s an intelligent woman. I’m sure she suspected.
She would come to understand Devore custom quite well in the days and years ahead.
She asked me to spare her ship and crew, and it was the first time I ever saw her beg. She would not plead for her own life, her own freedom. Only theirs.
I liked that about her, even if I didn’t understand it. Nobility and self-sacrifice are not traits my people embody.
I told her I’d consider it, and quirked an expectant brow at her. The implication was clear, and she didn’t hesitate; she simply moved to my side. There was no expression on her face as she turned to face her erstwhile crew. The oaf, of course, showed enough emotion for both of them.
“Kathryn,” he choked. “Don’t do this.”
As if she had a choice.
“You have your orders, Commander.”
We returned to my ship and I allowed her to watch as Voyager was released from our tractor beam and slid silently away. She stood beside me. Her face showed nothing, but I could feel her trembling.
At first, when we dined in my quarters, I kept a guard present. It wasn’t so much that I was suspicious of what she might do – I knew, as long as her ship was within reach, she wouldn’t risk the lives of her crew – but that I wanted her to understand that she would never be alone again. That her autonomy, her freedom, her very life as she’d known it, was finished.
I noticed that the presence of Prax disturbed her more than any other guard, and so he was our most frequent companion. He would stand, stolid and dour, staring into nothing as we ate, and it unnerved her far more than the barely-contained leers or contempt my other men showed her.
She is not a woman who is used to being ignored.
I didn’t force her into my bed. Those first few weeks, I had her brought to my quarters only for dinner and a glass of wine, after which I would politely stand as Prax or another guard took her arm to escort her back to her room. It confused her, I could tell; what did I want her for, if not for sexual release?
But I wanted so much more than that. And my ship was barely three months into a tour that would take us almost the entire length of the Devore Imperium. We had plenty of time.
She stood at the viewport, a barely-touched glass of wine dangling from her elegant fingers, gazing out at the swirl and play of colour. The kolyan kolyar.
“You once tried to make me believe you were watching the infinite spirals for the last time,” she said quietly as copper and scarlet and blue washed across her exquisite face. “And now I’m the one who’ll never see the aurora borealis again.”
I moved up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She stiffened; I pretended not to notice. “I hope these are not too poor a substitute.”
She was silent for a while. “They’re still beautiful,” she answered, finally. “But not all things of beauty are to be coveted. Or trusted.”
“Are you telling me I shouldn’t trust you, Kathryn?”
She turned to face me. “Should I trust you?”
“You should,” I answered. “I received word earlier today that Voyager has passed through our borders without incident. I kept my end of the bargain, Kathryn.”
She searched my eyes.
“Dismiss your guard,” she said.
That night she stayed in my quarters, and from that moment on, she never left.
Sometimes, when I return to my quarters at the end of my shift, I find her curled up in a chair, her alien brow furrowed as she painstakingly reads books in the Devore language. Children’s books, at first; then as her grasp of the language improves, novels, scientific studies, even technical manuals. Once, my tone ever so slightly derisive, I asked her if she was educating herself so that she could hold her own in polite society. She placed her finger between the pages and closed her book, her eyes cool.
“Has a gaharay ever truly been welcomed by Devore society, Kashyk?”
“No,” I replied. For a fleeting moment I wished I could give her a different answer. But melancholy and regret are useless emotions, and so I ignored them.
Sometimes she’s waiting for me in bed. She wears the lingerie I’ve had made for her – Arubian silks, Teharan gossamers, in shades of copper and scarlet and blue – or, sometimes, nothing at all. On those nights we rarely speak. Sometimes, afterwards, as I lie panting with her skin pressed against mine and her face turned from me, I wonder if despite the desperate carnality of our physical acts, she is more unknowable than ever.
Sometimes I find her standing at the viewport, and I wonder if she’s seeing the stars of the Imperium or those of her far-distant home.
It doesn’t matter. This is her home now.
When, after almost a year, we return to the Devore homeworld, I provide her with her own house. This is enough to raise eyebrows in the upper echelons of the Imperium. I am questioned, thoroughly, by the Emperor’s judiciant, but my answers are satisfactory and I am simply advised to keep my gaharay out of sight and under control.
My wife’s reaction is less forgiving, and I am forced to divorce her. It causes a minor scandal and there are whispers, for a time, in corridors and dining rooms. But, as with all scandals, it dies down.
Kathryn plants vegetables in the gardens of her house, and her attendants – lower-class Devorans, bred for servitude – tell me she spends most of her hours outside, dirtying her hands in the soil. It is not a pastime enjoyed by upper-class Devoran women. When I ask her why, she remains silent for a long time. I have almost tired of waiting for her answer when finally she raises her eyes to my face.
“It’s the only thing in my life that feels real.”
I visit her more frequently. I bring her books and vellums and paints and seeds, which almost make her smile, and luxurious gowns and jewels, which do not.
Months pass, and Kathryn’s garden sprouts and grows. Her paintings begin to cover the walls of the house: alien starscapes, a sunset over a rocky mountain ridge, a field of some kind of tall golden crop that stretches as far as the eye can see. Sometimes I ask her about them – where is this mountain, what is that field of waving golden stalks – but she shakes her head and tells me they are simply things she sees in her dreams.
I ask her why she never paints people, and she shrugs, and tells me she tries not to dream of them.
My deserved promotion, thanks to the scandal, is not granted, and I am sent out into space again. Kathryn comes with me. She spends her days in my quarters, reading, painting, staring at the stars. When I return in the evenings she never asks me how my day has been spent. After a time this begins to frustrate me.
One evening I drink a little more wine than is my custom. We have finished dinner – she eats sparingly, though whether from habit or because she doesn’t care for Devoran food, I have never bothered to ask – and we have retired to the long sofa beneath my viewport. Her face is turned to the stars, and for an unguarded moment I read longing in her eyes.
She has never looked at me that way – the way I know I look at her – and it angers me. I put my glass on the table with a snap that turns her attention to me.
“Do you know what I did today, Kathryn?”
She doesn’t respond, simply watches me with her blue-grey, alien eyes.
“My teams stopped a Kirovi transport vessel and performed a standard search. They found three telepaths hiding in an access conduit.”
Her eyes are focused on me now, sharp and cold.
“We impounded the vessel. Its crew will be relocated to a work camp for contravening Devoran law. The telepaths …”
I trail off, allowing a small smile to curve my lips. A pulse beats in her pale throat.
“They’re a family,” I tell her. “Father, mother, daughter. The father will be executed, the mother likely sent to a brothel on one of the outer worlds. She’s quite attractive, though; she may catch the attention of some powerful man and escape that fate.”
Kathryn’s eyes are desolate. “The child?” she asks, her voice quiet.
“Ah. The child.” My smile widens. “She’s perhaps nine or ten; too young to survive prison. She will most likely accompany her mother.”
Her throat works. “Kashyk, please.”
“Are you asking me for something, Kathryn?”
“Yes.” She rises from her seat, kneels before me. “Don’t sentence her to that life.”
“What would you have me do with her?”
“Let me take care of her.” Her fingers twist into mine. “Please, Kashyk. She can live with me. You can alter the records, make your superiors believe she died.”
I consider it. “She will have to undergo a purge.”
“Mental resequencing. To neutralise her telepathic abilities.”
That disturbs her, but she nods. “I understand.”
“Very well, then.”
It’s neither the first nor the last concession she has wrung from me.
The girl’s name is Avelene; Kathryn says it’s similar to a name in her ancestral language that means ‘longed-for child’. She’s small and whippet-thin like most of her species. Her eyes are dark and too large in her narrow face, and her hair is dark as well. Had she Devoran ridges instead of delicate patterning over her nasal bone, she could almost pass for a child of my own.
But when Kathryn looks at her, I don’t believe she’s seeing a child that could be mine, but one that could have been another man’s.
Avelene is a silent child. This is not unusual – telepaths often feel no need for the spoken word – but Kathryn believes her silence is due to trauma. She tells me that Avelene needs psychiatric help, schooling, friends. It’s preposterous and impossible.
But somehow Kathryn manages it. She befriends the doctor I have engaged to care for their physical needs – he is the son of a Devoran father and a gaharay mother, and is both sympathetic and susceptible to blackmail – who produces a therapist for the child. Kathryn herself takes care of the girl’s education. As for friends … it happens gradually, but several months after Avelene comes to live with Kathryn I begin to notice that sometimes, when I visit the house, I can hear the laughter and conversation of other children. Kathryn tells me they are the son and daughter of one of her attendants.
I toy with the notion of bringing my own sons to meet the girl.
It’s preposterous. And impossible. And yet I find myself, in my spare moments, thinking of Avelene. I have no daughters of my own, and although I have never felt the lack of it – I have three fine, strong sons, after all, and it is better to be male in Devore society than it is to grow up to be a woman – I wonder sometimes if I would have liked to have a daughter.
A year after the girl comes to live with Kathryn, I invite her to join us at the dinner table. She is eleven years old now, and although she is still less talkative than other girls her age, when she does speak her words are intelligent and measured. She has blossomed; in a few years she will be beautiful. It occurs to me that my reputation is not the only reason I must keep Avelene’s existence a closely-guarded secret.
I begin to understand that Kathryn was right to save her.
When I take Kathryn to bed that night, I am gentler with her than I have been before.
A little under a year later, Kathryn gives birth to our first child, a daughter she names Taya. It’s the Devore word for ‘gift’, but in the depths of my heart I understand that this is not the reason she chose it.
I choose to overlook it, and am rewarded when, eighteen months later, our son is born and she names him Kolya. “For the infinite spirals,” she tells me, her voice softer than I’ve ever heard it.
It bathes clean my blackened heart to know that there is something of beauty that she treasures from those days when I first fell in love with her.
Perhaps, after all this time, she loves me too.
When Taya is five and Kolya three, I return from a lengthy period in space and am called to the house by the half-breed doctor.
Kathryn is dying.
“A disease I’ve never seen before,” he explains. “It must be native to her species. Perhaps she has always carried it.”
She sits on the edge of the bed, her brow furrowed in annoyance. “I’m fine,” she snaps, dissolving into harsh, hacking coughs. Blood patterns her lips in crimson and she wipes it away.
Fear drags the colour from my skin, and I drop to my knees beside her, begging the doctor to save her life, much as she once pleaded with me to save Avelene. The doctor is embarrassed by my fervour. He tells me her death will not be quick. There will be plenty of time to put our affairs in order.
We don’t make love that night. Instead, I curl her up in my embrace and whisper my plans to her. I will marry her and legitimise our children; I will adopt Avelene and give her my protection. I will find other doctors, better doctors, ones who can cure her. We will run away, take our children and leave the Imperium.
She listens in silence until I stop speaking, and then she turns, wrapping her arms around me and resting her cheek against my chest.
She drifts into sleep, and I imagine that her dreams are beautiful.
“You lied to me.”
I glance over her shoulder at the freeze-framed image on the viewer. It takes a moment or two to recognise the oaf; his body is wasted, ribboned with old sores, his hair white.
It’s the surveillance video from the cormalite mine on Drava V.
“Where did you get this?” I demand.
Kathryn is shaking. Weeks of illness have leached the flesh from her bones, but her eyes are unchanged. They are fixed on me, grey as the leaden clouds that precede the snows on Mount Lehar, and filled with rage. So much rage.
“You lied to me.” Wasted muscles tense beneath her skin and she springs at me, her fingers curled into claws, drawing dark blood from my cheek. I catch her hands easily, hold her still while she rails at me. “All these years… I’ve lived in this house, eaten your food and slept in your bed, borne your children…”
Her hands grip my tunic, and I can feel her heart flutter wildly against my chest.
“And he’s been in that hellhole, beaten and starving … and my crew! Where are my crew?”
She breaks off into impotent sobs.
“There, there, Kathryn,” I soothe her.
“I’ll kill you,” she gasps between laboured breaths.
If she wasn’t so weak, I believe she would. I lift her carefully, carry her up to her room, lay her on the bed. The half-breed doctor hovers nervously in the doorway.
“The spirals,” she mumbles as I bend to kiss her on the forehead. “Nothing but illusion. All lies…”
Her eyes drift shut, and I beckon the doctor into the hallway.
“How long does she have? And be truthful, Doctor.”
“A few weeks.” He shrugs helplessly. “A month, perhaps.”
Long enough; even dying, Kathryn Janeway is a force to be reckoned with. “She will need to be purged. Arrange it.”
“Are you certain this treatment is necessary?”
Avelene’s limpid, dark eyes are fixed on me. I don’t understand the pity that shines from them.
“It’s our best option at this point,” I hear the doctor reply.
“It seems barbaric.” The voice is male, and although I know it, it’s not right. It doesn’t fit. I frown.
“I’m under orders.”
Avelene’s hand is cool as she lays it against my forehead. “Very well, then,” she says, but the voice is not hers – deep, masculine. “Proceed.”
A sharp pain lances through my temple.
“It’s all right,” Avelene soothes, but when I focus on her I see Kathryn’s blue-grey eyes. Kathryn’s smooth russet hair, untouched by the silver that has begun to stripe it these past few months. Kathryn’s face, pale and unlined as the day I met her.
“Kathryn,” I croak through a throat dry with confusion. “What happened to Avelene?”
“Avelene?” Kathryn asks, a wrinkle appearing in her brow.
It’s not her voice.
I know that voice. It’s – it’s –
“It’s not working,” the doctor says. “I’ll have to increase the frequency.”
Pain again, and colours burst behind my eyes in swirls of copper and scarlet and blue that paint themselves on Kathryn’s pale skin. Infinite spirals. I reach to touch her, but my hand won’t move. I’m – bound. Restrained.
“What the hell is happening here?” I roar.
“Please, sir, calm yourself,” the doctor urges. He glances over his shoulder at someone. “The treatment is working.”
“Good.” The man the doctor addressed steps forward, his features coming into focus through the agony in my head.
Prax. I blink, shake my head. What is Prax doing here? I left him on my ship months ago, before I came home to Kathryn, to our children.
We impounded the vessel. Its crew will be relocated to a work camp for contravening Devoran law. The telepaths…
But we never impounded the gaharay vessel. The telepaths escaped, and I let her go.
Kathryn. Avelene, Taya, Kolya. It’s the only thing in my life that feels real, but it isn’t real. They aren’t real.
My head hurts.
“Kathryn,” I whisper. “Kathryn, where are you?”
“I’m here, Kashyk,” she murmurs, laying her hand against my face. “Just as you’ve always wanted.”
“Sir,” Prax says loudly. “The woman isn’t here. You’re in the Imperial Medical Centre. Do you remember?”
“He’s lying,” I tell Kathryn. “Isn’t he?”
She smiles at me. “What do you think?”
Are you telling me I shouldn’t trust you?
“You were attacked, Inspector,” Prax insists. “We stopped a Brenari vessel. One of their crew assaulted you telepathically. He blamed you for the imprisonment of his brother’s family.”
They were hiding in the extraction tank of a refinery vessel. There was a child, very young. A girl. I lifted her out, and she thanked me.
Let me take care of her. Please, Kashyk. You can alter the records, make your superiors believe she died.
I had done that, altered the records, hidden the girl somewhere safe. Hadn’t I?
Pain flashes across my mind in patterns of scarlet and copper and blue, and I can’t think. I can’t think. Prax’s hand is on my shoulder. “Please lie back, Inspector. Let the doctor do his work.”
“What is he doing to me?” My voice is weak, barely a groan.
“The telepath attempted to resequence your neural receptors. The doctor is applying a neuroleptic charge to counteract the damage.” Prax’s normally impassive face frowns deeply. “You’ve been comatose for almost four days, Inspector.”
Prax leans in, his voice low and confidential. “The gaharay vessel from the Alpha quadrant exited our borders several months ago, sir.”
I shake my head, groaning at the bright agony exploding inside my skull. Kathryn, our children, Avelene. The house with the garden full of vegetables and the strange alien landscapes hanging on the walls.
Not all things of beauty are to be trusted.
The doctor grunts in satisfaction and moves back, scanning me. The pain begins to recede. I blink away the spirals of colour, and open my eyes into my dull black-and-grey reality.
“Will he recover?” Prax demands.
“I believe so, sir.” The doctor is a half-breed, I see now; unusual, particularly for a military doctor, though not unheard-of. “Your Supreme Inspector made the right call, no matter how barbaric my treatment may have seemed.”
“Welcome back, Inspector,” Prax ventures.
I sit up on my hospital bed, testing weakened muscles and uncooperative limbs, and look around. As I expect, I see no russet-haired alien captain, no dark-eyed telepathic waif. Only Prax, whose concern for me is rather touching.
The walls of this room are sterile white, but the window is uncovered, and outside in the night sky I see the first faintly coloured spirals of the kolyan kolyar.
I turn my eyes away from it. I have had enough of beautiful illusions for one lifetime.