Kiaa'meral

Summary: Janeway agrees to an unusual trade with a race of telepathic aliens, and dips a toe into seven possibilities.

 

Characters: Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Seven, Paris

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/other

 

Disclaimer: Paramount's universe; fanfic's playground.

 

Warning: Most of this story could be rated PG-ish, but there's some heavy stuff in a few chapters, particularly Chapter IV. You have been warned.

Rated E

Part III | Happiness

 

The scent of fresh-brewed coffee rouses her slowly from a contented dream, and she stretches languorously, enjoying the rasp of crisp sheets against her skin. Sunlight is streaming into the bedroom through the open window, and she can hear the soft whine of summer bees in the lilac bushes outside.

 

“You’re finally awake,” says a familiar voice, and she turns to the bedroom doorway with a smile.

 

“I hope you’ve brought me coffee,” she teases, and as he holds up the steaming mug she laughs. “I knew there was a reason I keep you around.”

 

He sets the mug on the bedside table and sits on the bed beside her. “And how are we this morning?” he asks. He drops a kiss on her cheek and slides his hand over her shoulder, following the curve of her arm, his hand coming to rest on the swell of her belly.

 

We are just fine.” She answers his smile with one of her own, twining her fingers with his. “Your son has seen fit to spare me his usual morning acrobatics, so far. I may even get to enjoy that coffee before he starts jumping on my bladder.”

 

“Better drink it quickly, then,” he advises, grinning. “Our other acrobat has just about finished her breakfast, and I expect her to come running in here in three, two, one –”

 

Right on cue, she hears the quick-step thunder of small feet along the hallway, and her daughter bursts into the room and takes a flying leap toward the bed, shrieking with glee. Kathryn laughs even as she shifts to avoid taking the brunt of such enthusiasm. “Shannon, be careful,” she remonstrates, pulling her daughter into her arms. She ruffles the sandy curls the little girl has inherited from her father, pressing her cheek against them for the short moment the squirming child allows. “Happy birthday, baby,” she murmurs.

 

The peace doesn’t last long; Shannon bounces up declaring it’s time to open her gifts, and Kathryn takes a fortifying gulp of her cooling coffee and extends a hand so her husband can help her out of bed. He pretends to stagger backwards under her weight and she smacks his shoulder and laughs, and he hooks his arm around her waist as they head into the kitchen.

 

Once the wrapping paper has been cleared away and Shannon is playing happily with her new toys, Kathryn grumblingly takes a shower – she can no longer haul herself out of the bathtub without significant effort – and drifts onto the deck with a book, but the sun is warm and she finds her attention wandering, her eyes closing.

 

“I love you,” whispers a voice in her ear, and she smiles into the kiss he presses to her lips and looks up into eyes that her mind imagines as dark, but instead are blue.

 

“Mark,” she says involuntarily, wondering at her surprise; who else would be kissing her? She blinks it away and reaches a hand up to his face, her fingers idly tracing an imaginary pattern on his temple. “I love you, too,” she murmurs.

 

She has barely had to lift a finger to organise Shannon’s birthday party. Between them, Mark and her mother have done it all, citing Kathryn’s advanced state of pregnancy as their excuse, as though she hadn’t been working at her usual pace up until her leave started last week.

 

In fact, she’s still working, though she’s hiding it from Mark, knowing he’d gently chide her for it. She can’t help it; Starfleet has suffered too many losses in recent years. Too many captains and crews have been lost on active duty, and although she was promoted and removed from the frontlines shortly after she became pregnant with Shannon, she knows that the admiralty has suffered losses as well. Every officer counts in times like these. And so, once the party guests have left, while the adults in the family sip tea in the kitchen and Phoebe’s children chase Shannon in the yard, Kathryn slips into her office to call up her messages.

 

She curls up in the armchair Mark bought her specially to ensure her comfort while she worked through the night, as has long been her habit, activating the PADD balanced on her knee. She scrolls through meeting requests her aide has already skilfully deflected, invitations to official functions and think tanks, situation reports on the post-war rebuilding programs and humanitarian aid excursions, a message from Owen Paris … He looks haggard, devastated. Her stomach twists in concern and she plays the message.

 

Voyager, the ship she’d almost been assigned to command six years ago, has been lost with all hands in the Delta quadrant. Their most recent transmission through the Pathfinder frequency was an automated message sent from a subspace communications buoy. In it, Paris explains, Voyager’s captain, Erika Benteen, describes a battle with an alien species, an attempt to flee at warp, a failure in the navigational system and an uncontrollable descent at speed toward the rocky surface of a moon. Benteen manages to say a few words about the courage of her crew before the message ends – just in time, Kathryn presumes, for the buoy to be launched.

 

She feels tears prick her eyes. Paris is clearly mourning the son he lost, then found, and has just lost again. She is not immune to the personal loss this message brings either; a treasured friend was on that ship. She nearly was, herself. If she and Mark hadn’t already set their wedding date to coincide with Voyager’s maiden mission, Kathryn would have been her captain, and she, instead of Benteen, would have been the one to die leading her crew through the Delta quadrant, instead of counting her blessings at this charmed life she’s living …

 

“What are you doing in here?”

 

She raises her eyes from the PADD. Mark sees her distress and his smile fades. He crouches beside her chair, taking her hand. “What is it, Kath?”

 

“It’s Voyager,” she whispers. “Admiral Paris picked up a message on the Pathfinder frequency. Voyager was destroyed. They’re all dead.”

 

She’s sobbing now, and Mark pulls her into his arms, soothing her with gentle hands on her back. But her sobs don’t quiet, and she can’t seem to catch her breath. They’re all dead, her mind repeats. All dead.

 

“Kath.” She can hear the worry in Mark’s voice; she’s been through terrible losses before, even lost an entire squadron under her command once during the war, but he’s never seen her like this. “Talk to me.”

 

“I should have been on that ship. I should be on that ship –”

 

I’m supposed to be on that ship.

 

=/\=

There are still tears in her eyes when she drifts into consciousness this time. She opens them slowly, blinking the tears away, feeling the last of the sobs racking her body. A hand – slender, pale, human – touches her own.

 

“Captain.” The voice is cool, familiar.

 

She wipes the last of the tears from her face and pulls herself upright in the tub, turning to her tak’aan. “Seven,” she murmurs, forcing her voice not to hitch.

 

“Are you damaged?”

 

“No. No, I’m fine. It was just – intense.” Her hand slides onto her stomach and, finding it flat instead of swollen with life, she feels momentarily bereft. “I was at home, on Earth. I had a husband and a family, and I was happy.”

 

“You would prefer that life to the one you are living now.”

 

Seven is careful to keep any accusation from her tone, but Kathryn hears it nonetheless. “No,” she says firmly, “not at all. I think that’s why I came out of the session. I’d received a message about Voyager being destroyed with all hands, and it distressed me so much that I woke up.” She takes Seven’s cool fingers in her own. “As much as I want those things I dreamed about – home, love, family – it didn’t feel as real as the agony I felt when I thought Voyager had been destroyed.”

 

Seven nods, and her voice softens. “You prefer an unpleasant reality to a pleasurable fabrication.”

 

Kathryn can’t help smiling. “In that we’re alike, Seven. But my reality isn’t unpleasant. Uncertain, stressful and sometimes dangerous, yes. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

 

Seven raises an eyebrow. “I believe I understand. You have forged an emotional connection to Voyager and its crew through close contact and the pursuit of a common goal. It is your collective, in a sense.”

 

“Yes,” Kathryn says softly. “It’s where I belong. And so do you.”

 

She sees the ghost of a smile curve the former Borg’s lips, and then Seven stands. “I am gratified that you appear unharmed. I must return to the ship.”

 

“How long was I out this time?”

 

“Six point three hours. I must return to regenerate and attend to my station. My replacement will arrive shortly.”

 

Kathryn nods, and allows the corners of her mouth to twitch. “Thank you, crewman. Dismissed.”

 

Seven leaves, and Kathryn slides back down into the lukewarm fluid as the Kh’Laan return to the chamber. The hand that touches her forehead this time is male. She hopes briefly that her next vision will be more like the second than the first, and then she closes her eyes.