Leave Her Wild
Summary: “Maybe I love her so deeply because she is still, after all these years, a mystery I can’t solve.”
Characters: Mark Johnson, Kathryn Janeway, Julia Paris, Phoebe Janeway
Codes: Janeway/Johnson, Janeway/others
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Helen8462 once told me “I would pay real money to read a Mark story by you. Seriously. If you ever want to write something for me, make it be that. I don't even care what it's about, he could be picking his nose on a park bench and I'd be happy.”
I restrained myself from nose-picking, but this one is for you, comrade.
Love her, but leave her wild.
“He is kind of a dish,” Phoebe cocked her head to the side, “well, if you squint, anyway.”
Kathryn shifted uncomfortably beside her. “Shut up, Phoebe. He can hear you.”
She was right. I could hear every word, even though Mrs McWilliam was still droning on about this year’s corn crop. My hearing has always been excellent, and Phoebe’s voice has a way of carrying even when she hasn’t downed three glasses of champagne.
“But what do you see in him?” Phoebe lowered her volume a decibel or two. “He’s so serious and dull, and his idea of a romantic getaway is a weekend at the Symposium of Logical Humanism. He’s such a Vulc, Katie, and I bet he’s a complete bore in bed too.”
“Phoebe!” Kathryn hissed. I kept my expression neutral as she swivelled to glance at me over her shoulder. Turning back, she whispered, “For your information, he’s kind, generous and extremely intelligent. And he has excellent manners, unlike some people I could mention.”
“Uh-huh.” Phoebe smirked, undeterred. “How about the other thing?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” Kathryn said tartly, “but there’s nothing boring about Mark in bed. And that’s all I’m going to say, so don’t bother asking for details.”
Phoebe’s snickering followed in her wake as Kathryn stalked away from her sister’s side. I could feel the tips of my ears flushing red, but when Kathryn linked her arm through mine and smiled up at me, I no longer minded.
“Hey,” she said softly, then turned to Mrs McWilliam. “Would you excuse us, ma’am? I need to talk to Mark.”
I let her lead me out of the ballroom and onto the balcony. The evening was chilly and I put my arm around Kathryn’s bare shoulders. “Thanks,” I murmured, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.
“You mean you weren’t fascinated by Maisie McWilliam’s never-ending lecture on the best way to harvest sweetcorn?” She grinned at me.
“No, but that’s not what I was thanking you for.”
I didn’t reply, but Kathryn sighed and wrapped an arm around my waist.
“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “Phoebe’s a bitch. Don’t pay her any attention.”
“She’s just protective of you, and she doesn’t understand what you see in me. It’s okay,” I rolled on as Kathryn tried to interrupt. “It doesn’t matter what she thinks. I only care about how you feel.”
Kathryn turned in my arms, her hands clasping behind my neck. “Then let’s go home so I can show you how I feel.”
It took us another twenty minutes to do the rounds of the room saying our goodbyes. I made it a point to congratulate Phoebe and her new fiancé, Marshall – it wouldn’t do to alienate the woman I hoped would one day become my sister-in-law.
And I’d told Kathryn the truth: aside from the fact that she was important to Kathryn, Phoebe’s opinion was far down the list of things that mattered to me.
I’ve always been relatively unconcerned with others’ feelings toward me; it’s not in my nature to take insults personally. A good thing, really, considering I was viewed as weird for most of my childhood years. And as an adult, I’ve dedicated years to the study of philosophy: examining ideas objectively, investigating their nuances, theorising, drawing methodical conclusions. It’s made me quite a successful man in my field, but my need to uncover the minutia of every mystery hasn’t always stood me in good stead in my personal life. I’ve been called cold-hearted, dogged and intrusive, even, I’m afraid, by the people I love.
Not Kathryn, though. She’s always seen through me; she pierces my armour of intellect and curiosity and I’m laid bare to her. If only she was so transparent to me.
Kathryn is a woman of secrets. There are facts I know about her – she is dedicated to Starfleet, she is fiercely loyal to her friends, she is scientifically inquisitive. There are her less tangible quirks: she’s a child of the twenty-fourth century who’s fond of nineteenth-century novels; an insomniac who can only nap in a bubble bath; a playful lover with an Irish temper.
And then there are the things I can only guess at, because she won’t tell.
Maybe I love her so deeply because she is still, after all these years, a mystery I can’t solve.
“God, am I glad to get out of those heels.”
Kathryn leaned in the bedroom doorway, resting her hip against the jamb and rubbing the arch of her foot. I looked up from my seat on the bed and reflected that, as always, she took my breath away. Lamplight spilled from the passageway behind her, outlining the graceful curves of her body and burnishing her hair.
“What?” she smiled, catching me gazing at her.
“Come here.” I stood, holding my hands out to her, and she walked into my arms. Without her shoes she was tiny, dainty; barely reaching my chin, my hands easily spanning her waist.
I knew from our occasional sparring sessions at the gym, though, that in hand-to-hand combat she could kick me into next week. She’s a steel fist wrapped in satin. Just another of the contradictions that keeps me in thrall.
Sometimes, though, I wish she were a little more predictable, a little less wild. And that she needed me even a fraction as much as I need her.
“Hey,” she murmured, tipping her head back to search my eyes, “you’re quieter than usual. You’re not still bothered by what Phoebe said, are you?”
“No,” I said honestly. “I’m just missing you already.”
“Oh, Mark.” She traced the edges of my open shirt collar, fingertips light against my skin. “I expect this is going to be a milk run of a mission. And I’m not leaving for another eight days.”
I let my hands slide downward over the silk of her dress, cupping her bottom. “Let’s make the most of it, then.”
She likes to cuddle after we make love.
Draped across my chest, one leg flung over my thighs, she traced small meaningless patterns on my chest. I could feel the soft puffs of her breath on my neck and hear her small satisfied sighs as she wriggled into the most comfortable position.
These are the times I am most certain of her love.
Her breathing was evening out and I could feel her limbs relaxing into the first mists of sleep. But I had something on my mind.
“How long is your mission supposed to last?”
“A couple of months, I guess. Maybe three.” Her voice was drowsy and slow. “It depends how much data we gather. The cyclic pulsar” – she paused to yawn – “the pulsar is throwing off more gamma rays than any we’ve seen before. There could be any number of uses for that kind of energy output.”
“And the Billings is the only ship being sent to survey it?”
“Yes. There’ll be escort vessels nearby though, seeing as we’ll be so close to the Cardassian border.”
I deliberately kept my voice neutral. “Like the La Paz?”
Tension seeped back into her limbs and I felt the flutter of her eyelashes against my collarbone. “I don’t know. I haven’t checked the ‘fleet movements yet.”
I kept silent, because anything I said had the potential to start the kind of conversation I knew she would not want. The kind of fight that neither of us could win.
But Kathryn is nothing if not courageous.
“I’m sorry,” she said so quietly that at first I thought it was merely a sigh. She levered herself upright, our skins unsticking, and raised her eyes to mine. “Mark, I’m so sorry.”
“I know you are, Kath,” I said. And I curled a hand around the back of her neck and pulled her close to kiss her.
I didn’t want to waste our last week together fighting.
She has cheated on me numerous times over the years, and each time she comes home to me and confesses her sins. Each time I forgive her. And every single time it breaks my heart.
Before I can forgive, though, I study my rivals.
The most recent was Robertson Carver, captain of the La Paz; a tall, broad man with expressive eyes and skin like ink. His service record painted him as a brave man, decorated many times for valour in battle. I heard on the grapevine that he was known to be a bar-brawler, but I could see the appeal he held for Kathryn. He was dashing, handsome and charismatic, and we couldn’t have been less alike.
Before him was Lieutenant Commander Aziz bin Ghali, a security officer on the USS Firebrand, who was later killed at Wolf 359. Like Carver, he was a big man, well-muscled, with soulful dark eyes.
There was a Betazoid woman she met at an astrophysics forum on Risa. To my knowledge they never saw each other again, but I found a photograph of them sitting together at the conference table. She was willowy, dusky-skinned, with hair like a shining jet waterfall.
And before her, a nameless man she met in a bar on Starbase 204. I have no way of knowing what he looked like, but if I had to guess I’d picture him tall, wide-shouldered, dark of hair and eyes.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this time, this mission, would be different. If she’d stay true to me. If there was anything I could do to stay at the forefront of her mind when the next attractive man or woman caught her interest.
If I’d been a little less territorial, a little more able to accept the woman she was, I’d have spent those eight days before the mission wrapping her in all the love I had to give, instead of allowing my own doubts and fears to cloud them.
Maybe then she wouldn’t have lied to me.
A few months ago, I escorted Kathryn to one of those interminably stuffy Starfleet functions – we had an agreement; she attended my black-tie events and I attended hers – and I wound up standing by the buffet table, glass of warm champagne in hand, making what I thought was idle conversation with an impeccably dressed older woman.
Idle, I thought, until she oh-so-casually inquired as to whether Kathryn and I would ever set a date for our wedding.
“We aren’t engaged, Mrs…?” I raised my eyebrows politely.
“Call me Julia,” she waved a diamond-encrusted hand. “And, my goodness, what are you waiting for, Mr Johnson? She’s quite a catch, you know.”
I caught Kathryn’s eye; she was across the room with several admirals in dress uniform, and she sent me her curling half-smile. Her gaze flickered to the woman beside me and the smile dimmed perceptibly.
“I wasn’t aware you knew her,” I offered.
The woman gave a tinkling laugh. “Know her? She’s like a daughter to me. Well, to my husband, at least.”
In my profession, one must have the ability to weigh clues and evidence, to theorise and draw conclusions. Sometimes those deductions coalesce from a seemingly random assortment of clues.
“You’re Julia Paris,” I realised.
“That’s right.” Julia tucked her hand into my elbow and led me over to the bar. “Whiskey sour, please. Mr Johnson, what will you have?”
“Mark,” I corrected her. “The same, thank you.”
“I take it that your lovely fiancée – sorry, girlfriend – has mentioned me,” Julia said. She spoke without any kind of inflection, but her eyes were sharp.
“Of course. She’s always spoken very highly of both you and your husband.”
It was a lie, and I’ve never been particularly good at lying.
“I’ve been married to Owen for thirty-seven years,” Julia mused as the server placed two chilled glasses before us. She raised hers in elegant fingers, swirling the liquid. “So allow me to offer you some advice, Mark. Over the next twenty, thirty, fifty years, if you marry Kathryn, you’ll come to understand that you haven’t just made your vows to her. You’ve made them to Starfleet.” For a moment her eyes flickered and she looked terribly sad, but the emotion was gone so quickly I couldn’t be sure it was genuine. “And Starfleet always comes first.”
“I have every respect for Kathryn’s sense of duty. And I’d never stand in the way of her career.”
Julia smiled. “Of course not. But you and I will always be outsiders, Mark. ‘Fleeters have a code that nobody can break, not even their spouses. I’m not talking about keeping intel classified,” she raised a hand, seeing I was about to interrupt. “I’m talking about the bonds they form when they’re out there in space, light years from their loved ones, sometimes fighting side by side. It’s something you and I will never fully understand.”
“I’m not sure I see your point, Mrs Paris.”
“My point,” she sipped her whiskey, “is that out there, when they’re grieving the loss of a comrade, or lonely, or simply bored, they have nobody to turn to but each other. And if they’ve been through something terrible together – something that we could never comprehend – it changes them. Only another person who’s shared such an experience can possibly relate.”
“So they turn to each other,” Julia said, a raw edge in her voice. “For comfort and consolation, and to remind them that they’re alive.”
Her blue eyes were laser-sharp. Looking into them, my world tilted, and everything I’d so blithely accepted about Kathryn’s relationship with Owen Paris shuffled like a deck of cards.
“Well,” she said, an airiness returning to her manner now that she’d conveyed her message and devastated me in the process. “You’re an intelligent man, Mr Johnson, and it’s clear you love her very much. I wish you all the best.”
And she downed the rest of her drink, patted my hand and left me standing there with a knot in my chest that I couldn’t shake loose.
“I thought you were supposed to be on leave all week.”
My gaze followed Kathryn as she exited the bathroom, uniform still half-unzipped, and perched at the vanity table to begin pinning up her hair. “I was,” she mumbled, voice distorted by the hairpins clamped between her teeth, “but Admiral Nechayev wants me at a mission briefing in Marseiile. I’ll only be gone overnight.”
“But we only have two days until you ship out, and tomorrow night is your mom’s birthday party.” I knew I sounded whiny, and I pushed aside the bedcovers in frustration. “Can’t you transport home tonight?”
“I’ll be in meetings until late, and I’ll have to brief my team first thing in the morning.” She pinned up the last complicated coil of hair and reached for her lipstick. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in time for Mom’s party. I wouldn’t leave you to deal with Phoebe on your own.”
I came up behind her and rested my hands on her shoulders. “Damn Starfleet,” I said, only half-joking. “Sometimes I think they screw with their officers’ vacations on purpose.”
Kathryn’s brow crinkled momentarily – a sure sign of her irritation – but she kept her tone light. “Love me, love my job.”
Starfleet always comes first.
But we weren’t Owen and Julia Paris. We were different. We were good together, Kathryn and I, and we’d beat the odds.
“Marry me,” I blurted.
Kathryn’s hand jerked, smudging her mascara. “Damn it,” she swore.
“Well, that’s not exactly the reaction I was hoping for.”
Her mouth was tight and she avoided my eyes in the mirror, fiddling with the tube of mascara. “I’m sorry, Mark – you just surprised me.”
I let my hands slip from her shoulders. My proposal may have been spur of the moment but the intent behind it was not, and I was deeply hurt. “I guess that’s a no.”
“Mark,” she pleaded as I moved swiftly into the bathroom and closed the door, but she didn’t knock, and by the time I regained control of myself, she had gone.
When she commed me that night from her hotel in Marseille, I could see that she’d been drinking. She’d obviously showered – her hair was damp and she was wrapped in a bathrobe – but even the steaming mug of coffee she held before her hadn’t sobered her completely; her eyes were heavy-lidded and her speech exaggeratedly careful.
“How was the briefing?” I asked, determined to return us to an even keel.
“Fine,” she answered. “I went to dinner with some of my team.”
She slouched in her chair and the voluminous robe slipped slightly, exposing her collarbone. My gaze was riveted to it.
“Mark,” she said softly, leaning in, “yes.”
My eyes met hers. “Yes … what?”
“Yes, I’ll marry you.”
She smiled, but it was tentative and wary.
“We can announce it at the party, if you like.”
My heart was thudding in my throat. “I’d like that,” I managed.
“Me, too.” Her smile broadened. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I answered automatically. “Good night, Kath.”
The screen went blank. And I sat there staring at it, still seeing the finger-shaped marks of bruises on her pale, delicate collarbone.
Gretchen didn’t mind being upstaged at her own birthday party; in fact, I don’t think she’d ever hugged me so frequently. “Two engagements in one week,” she crowed. “Kathryn never could stand to be upstaged by her little sister.”
I was slapped on the back and offered hearty congratulations by any number of grizzled old admirals – all, it seemed, friends of the family. I was offered jocular advice on becoming a Janeway by Kathryn’s cousin Siobhan and had my cheek pinched by Aunt Martha. Even Phoebe threw her arms around me and kissed me soundly on my unmolested cheek.
Escaping outside for a brief respite, I heard the click of heels and turned to find Julia Paris.
“Mr Johnson,” she said smoothly, resting her elbows on the balcony railing.
“Mrs Paris.” I faced away from her.
“You’d better get used to this, you know,” she remarked after a short silence. “You’re part of the family now, and this family is Starfleet through and through.”
“I know what I’m getting into, Mrs Paris.”
It wasn’t really a question, but I answered it anyway. “Yes, I do. And I’m very happy.”
“I’m sure you are,” she said, and then she rested a hand on my arm.
I looked down at her in surprise and read sincerity in her eyes.
“I wish you all the best, Mark,” Julia said softly, and then she walked away.
That night, while Kathryn was showering, I unpacked her overnight bag from Marseille. Stuffed into the bottom of it was a crumpled black wad of fabric that had once been a dress. I had never seen it before – Kathryn usually wore quite conservative clothing, and this dress was short and as tight as a bandage. She wouldn’t be wearing it again, though; one of the straps was broken, and there were stains on it that I didn’t care to identify.
I tossed it into the recycler. What did it matter, what that dress had seen? It belonged to a wilder time, a secret place, and it had nothing to do with me. It had nothing to do with us.
I knew exactly what I was getting into. I knew that she was mine.
And I loved her, secrets and all.
Note: This story coincides with Chapter 5 of Reclamation.