by Delta Story
Author's note: This story presumes that a lot of things did *not* take place during the Voyager's DQ years... and assumes several other events *did* happen. ;-)
* "'I left everything I had ever known without a backward glance in order to involve myself in the most passionate love affair of my life... Starfleet.'" - Christie Golden, from Chakotay's story, 'Seduced', found in "Tales from the Captain's Table" *
I had just been promoted to captain and assigned to Voyager, to take her out again after all the wounds and scars from her Delta Quadrant years had been healed or at least camouflaged. But before I assumed my new role, I had to undergo a sort of 'initiation' into the upper ranks - I had to make an appearance at Cap's bar, to tell a tale around the 'captain's table'. Only then could I fully join the ranks of Starfleet's leaders.
So I told my story. It was almost a hundred percent truth - all but that last sentence. Yet that's the one quote everyone remembered. At that time, only one other person knew that this was not the precise truth. It wasn't true then, nor had it been for a long time. And it certainly isn't now. Maybe it's time for everyone to know.
We knew how it would be from almost that first moment we met, when our eyes glared defiantly, each of us daring the other to take the first step. Our initial compromise, faced with the horrors of the unknown of the Delta Quadrant, set the stage for the story to come. Rather than incarcerating my crew and me, you embraced us. Even in defiance of your own crew, you named me as your second in command.
I remember my first fumbling negotiations with you. I pled for immunity for my crew and myself. Much to my surprise, you readily agreed, even stating that our two crews would be equals. If they proved themselves to be trustworthy for the rest of our journey back, you pledged to speak favorably in our defense upon our return, even though you could not make any promises about any subsequent Starfleet actions. I stood silent, wondering if this were a ploy, a Starfleet trick, mentally weighing the options.
Our eyes never broke contact, almost as if whomever blinked first would lose. But deep within you, I already could see the determination and forthrightness that would always be you. I extended my hand.
"Agreed," I said, and you nodded your assent with a mysterious smile. It was that look... that touch... that moment... that changed our lives forever.
Our handshake transmitted more than an agreement; it spoke silently, electrically, of a promise... the beginning of something we knew we could not stop. Our hands lingered in the sealing grip, our fingertips seeming to caress, as they slowly pulled apart. In that instant, we knew that our lives would be forever entwined, in ways far removed from the political circumstances within which we found ourselves.
Crew assignments took several days of bargaining and trade-offs. But the final roster was one that we felt would work well, with a good blend of skills and personalities. Actions and charge of duties had to be made quickly; the ship was in desperate need of attention and repairs, and that was top priority on our agenda. For fourteen long hours, we went from deck to deck, listing and prioritizing actions and jobs: repair of the anti-matter injector, so that we could get the warp drive back on line; finding and welding the hundreds of minute hull breeches on five decks; recalibrations in stellar cartography; repair of the duranium shields on the port nacelle - the list seemed endless!
We personally oversaw people to their assignments, cautiously sensitive to any friction or bad blood that might surface among the teams. Oh, there were the usual uncertainties and grumblings of new and old working together, but at the conclusion of our rounds, we couldn't identify any obvious personality conflicts. Finally satisfied that major problems were being attended to and that there appeared to be reasonable stability within the ranks, we returned to the relative peace and quiet of your ready room.
You slowly ambled over to the replicator, your body wearied by the physical and emotional strain. You nodded for me to have a seat on the sofa, which I willingly did - I felt the length of the day, too. "Would you care to join me in a cup of coffee?" you smiled at me. A nervous laugh and you continued. "I must warn you -- it's quite a weakness of mine."
"Thanks; don't mind if I do," I sighed.
"And how do you like yours?" you asked. Your body swiveled in a single smooth move; you gazed at me, your eyes filled with a question of an entirely different nature.
"I like mine sweet... very sweet," I answered, responding to both questions.
You laughed nervously. "Why am I not surprised? As for me - I'm a purist... straight forward, non-adulterated black coffee." You called up our requests and the steaming mugs materialized.
I walked over to you as you picked up the two coffees. You handed me mine. "It's not as good as the real thing; but, out here, I guess this will just have to do."
My hand trembled as you handed me my mug, our fingers touching briefly with the exchange. I tried to smile back, making the attempt to keep the conversation light, to ignore the burn of your touch. "Oh, I don't know. Who knows? This just might be the real thing, and what we left behind may be the illusion."
We each took tentative sips of the hot beverage, testing the waters as it were. We stood there, saying nothing, just looking at each other, savoring the taste of the moment. Then, without a word, I took the mug from your hands, and placed it, along with my own, on the nearby table. My hands, warmed by the mugs, cradled your face. I leaned down towards you.
You looked up at me, your face flushed with anticipation. Just before our lips met, you drew back with sudden hesitancy, your words barely audible. "Do you think this is wise?"
"Probably not," I said, shaking my head slowly just before I kissed you.
All of that was long ago - fifty, sixty years? I am forgetful now as to the exact number, even though I remember every exquisite detail of those days - a wisp of hair along your face... a rough fingernail... a change in your lipcolor. When one must keep a secret such as ours, time means nothing; memories mean everything. That time of our beginning as one... I can remember it all.
Only six weeks during all that time gave us any time to really be ourselves... weeks that we thought might be forever. But perhaps that gave us the time to live a lifetime, to know each other as we had hoped it would always be.
Of course, fate had other plans for us. First, a rescue and a resumption of our professional status quo, a need to sublimate all that we had shared on that lonely planet, never the opportunity to reach out to each other in solace and comfort during lonely nights, never the time to hold each other in more than a passing pat or hand clasp, for we had pledged to each other a physical as well as a professional chastity.
Just when we had begun to acclimate to our self-imposed guidelines, we visited the Nechani homeworld and you experienced an awakening of your spiritual side, faced with questions that could not be answered by your beloved science. The gentleness and sincerity of these people, the Nechisti, opened up doubts for you, had you pondering the validity of life outside of the practical and real.
Upon your return from the planet, following your extraordinary experience with saving Kes, you sought my wisdom in helping you comprehend the event. You even brushed aside the doctor's 'explanation' that denied the spiritual side of your ordeal, knowing that there was more to it than enhanced body chemistry. In helping you understand, I made the analogy of faith being like our pledged love for each other. How did we know it was real? What tangible basis did we have? We couldn't say why it happened - how two divergent personalities such as ours found completion in each other; it just did.
"Your actions on Nechani were given out of love... the love you have for Kes. Can our love be anything less?" I pulled you close with my question, taking in the scent from your freshly washed hair, luxuriating in your radiate face, equating all with a new you.
You put your arms around me, drawing me into your softness, willing me to be with you. "Our love is even more," you whispered. "I would be willing to risk my life every day for you."
"You do already," I smiled at you. "Every day we are together is a gift from the spirits, and every day I thank them for bringing us together."
After a moment of contemplation, you pulled away, your eyes full of fire, bright with the spark of a sudden idea. You grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the sofa in your quarters, your smile gleeful with purpose. You kissed my fingertips, your eyes pulling mine into your soul. "While we're still in orbit around Nechani, I want to go back down. With you."
Horror washed across my face as I thought I read your meaning. "No, Kathryn - you can't do that! I won't let you risk going through the force field into the shrine again to prove your love for me!"
Your face lit up with laughter. "No, no! I do love you - and yes, I would go through the entire experience again to prove it to you if you asked - but I have another idea." You leaned into me and kissed me, then pulled back a bit and clasped your hands in your lap; your laced fingers became your focus as you spoke again. "Chakotay, we know what we mean to each other, and, if we had remained on New Earth, I know that our relationship would have progressed out of love and friendship and even necessity." You looked up at me momentarily, your smile a quirky little grin. "Well, all right - we did let things get a bit out of control there. But, we didn't know, did we?"
You studied your hands again. "But now - we don't know what life holds for us on our journey back to the Delta Quadrant - will we get home tomorrow? Will it be within our lifetimes? Will we even make it back? My experience on Nechani has led me into this admission of mortality, if nothing else - the mortality of all of us aboard, the infinitesimal blip that each of our lives is in the universe."
You drew in a breath and looked up at me, your words soft and hesitant. "Chakotay, I want our relationship - our love - to mean something... something other than our daily existence and faithfulness to duty. While we are here within Nechisti space, among these people of such love and understanding, I would like for one of them - one of the brothers or my guide, Shemistra - to give us a blessing to be together... to be as one." You paused, your eyes looking deep inside me. "I would like for you to marry me."
I fell back stunned. My mouth tried to speak but the words wouldn't form. You placed two fingers on my lips and shook your head. "Shhhh; don't say anything. I know that this comes as quite a surprise to you - it does to me, too. But, all of a sudden, it seems so...logical." You smiled and your face glowed with the peace of your decision, no longer pinched and torn by uncertainty.
The implication of your words still knocked at the door of my heart. Did you truly mean this? I dared not breathe or blink, thinking that it would destroy the moment. "Chakotay?" you asked softly. "Are you all right?"
I jumped up with a whoop. My hands flew to your waist and I picked you up and swung you around in delirious joy. "Kathryn, my dear sweet Kathryn - no, I'm not all right. You've blown me away, into a thousand million pieces and I'll never be the same again."
You squealed your own surprise and delight, throwing your arms around my neck, your legs flying free in wide circles. You covered my face, my neck, in kisses. We both laughed as the centrifugal movement drove us into collapse, our minds and our bodies reeling. Fortunately, the sofa was close by and cushioned our descent from the frenzied flight. We lay there, silent and motionless, our emotions dazed into sudden stillness.
"Are you certain?" I finally managed to murmur.
Your hands ran over my face, tracing the lines of my tattoo - fingertips warm and soft. "Chakotay, I know that in our hearts we have already made such a commitment. However, one of the most important things I learned through the ritual and challenges on Nechani was that, even when we have all the facts in front of us, something else must be done to bridge fact with faith, to empower us to grasp the picture beyond our finite minds. Of course, you know and understand this already; but there's something that has only now penetrated this closed mind of mine - we need a ritual... a ceremony... to bond us irrevocably with the intangible. Because of this, I want to go through a rite to sanction our love."
I wrapped you in my arms, drawing you so close I could feel the rush of your heartbeat. "Just when I think I'm beginning to understand you, Kathryn Madeleine Janeway, you come up with something that defies comprehension." I kissed you in thanksgiving for your enchanting Irish capriciousness. Only the need for air caused us to pull apart. "I guess the days of no-fraternization protocol are over, aren't they, because I for one want to shout across the entire galaxy that we are..."
Your face clouded over, as you became serious. "No... no," you said, shaking your head decisively. "We mustn't... we can't. As much as I want to join you in proclaiming our love, we must continue to keep this to ourselves. Starfleet must never know..."
"To hell with Starfleet!" I burst out, anger rippling throughout my body. "Starfleet has never actually forbidden marriage between two officers!"
"No, they haven't," you concurred. "However, given the unique situation we're in, with the need for a chain of command on this ship for the morale of our crew, I don't think it would be wise. Even though we no longer have the dichotomy of Starfleet and Maquis, the crew has come to see us as mirror command voices, two different personalities and temperaments, two different counselors, if you will. If they knew we were married, they would no longer have this freedom and, I believe, see it almost as a political move... a power play."
"And would it be?" I asked, suddenly afraid myself.
"Never," you smiled with a promise. "Although I may find it difficult to remember myself at times which role I'm playing - captain or spouse."
"Oh, I'll help you along there," I pledged with a kiss. But the gravity of your statement continued to weigh on me. "But how long will we have to be covert with our love? I don't want it to be forever."
You eased off the sofa and took my hand, pulling me along after you. "As soon as we feel it's right - and I'm sure we won't have to wait long."
You hit your comm badge, smiling. "Harry, please contact the magistrate on Nechani for me."
"Is there a problem?" the young man's voice asked.
"Not at all," you answered. "Just need to check with him regarding a few... loose ends of our visit, that's all."
Still in a besotted stupor with your proposal, I agreed to your terms.
The Nechisti magistrate waited for us at the entry of the sacred caves when we beamed down. "Your request is most unusual," he stated somberly. "I'm not certain how the brotherhood will react, nor can I speak for them." He ushered us into the dark confines of the entry area. "I have not discussed it with them; I wanted to wait until you were with me."
"We understand," you answered. "But hopefully, your presence will add weight to our petition."
Suddenly, without being summoned, three white-robed Nechisti brothers stood in front of us. The tallest one, their leader, spoke. "You have returned, Kathryn Janeway. Do you seek further enlightenment through another challenge?"
With deep respect, you bowed your head to him. "I learned much during my time with your people - and I also have learned much about myself. Because of this, much has been revealed to me about matters beyond human comprehension." You took my hand in yours before continuing. You palm chilled mine with cold sweat; your hand shook within my grasp. "I bring to you my friend and colleague - you met him before and know him to be a good man, a man who values the presence of the spirits in his life."
The tall man looked at me, his eyes studying me but also emitting love and understanding. "Yes - you are Chakotay," he said warmly. "I can feel your connection with us." He turned towards me. "And I can feel his love for you, Kathryn Janeway. I felt it earlier when he came back with you, for the final challenge."
"That's why we're here," you continued, your fingers now squeezing me tightly. "We love each other and seek your blessing on our love; we would like you to join us as partners in whatever ritual you have."
The robed man became somber. "You do not have such a ritual in your culture? You cannot do this aboard your vessel?"
You lowered your head, obviously embarrassed by his question. I managed to intervene. "Yes, we do - but such a ceremony can only be done by the captain... and you see the difficulty with this situation."
He smiled for the first time. "Ah - that would make things awkward." He stretched out his hands, placing one on a shoulder of each of us. "We do have such a ritual, although it is usually requested by the parents of those who wish to be bonded." His eyes danced. "But, I would presume that it would be a difficult step in this case." His hands squeezed us slightly. "We do not take such unions lightly. Once made, it is meant to exist as long as you draw mortal breath."
You glanced at me before your whispered your response. "It is the same in our world, too."
"And it is something that both of you desire?" he posed.
"More than anything," I answered, looking at you for any last-minute doubt. You nodded, your eyes glistening with misty promise.
He looked at us in silence, assessing the validity of our feelings. "I sense that you are expressing your true feelings for each other; it seems that your love has existed for a long time and is not just a passing irrational emotion. I would be happy to perform the ceremony for you, but you do understand that there is some preparation for it?"
Your eyes opened widely as you dropped my hand. "Like my preparation for the challenge?" you asked.
His face softened with humor. "Not really - although for a lifetime commitment, perhaps we should institute such a period." He continued with a smile. "No, but we do require some time for you to reflect individually and to be adorned properly."
We looked at each other - we were dressed in our uniforms; we had not brought other clothes with us.
He responded to our apprehensions. "Do not be alarmed; we will provide everything that is needed." He reached out for my arm and directed me towards one of the other men. "Chakotay, you will go with Brother Horechi. Kathryn, Shemistra will go with you to your preparation place." The benevolent guide from your earlier visit suddenly appeared by your side and took your arm. "Are there others from your ship that you want present at your ceremony? We can alert them as to the time and place of the event."
I looked at you, wondering if you would renege at this point in time, allowing at least Tuvok to witness our joining. But you remained resolute in your earlier decision. "No; we wish to do this alone," you answered firmly.
"As you wish," he said. "When Brother Horechi and Sister Shemistra deem that you are ready, we will proceed." He nodded and our respective guides led us away into separate chambers off the main part of the sacred cave.
Your later description of your preparation meshed with that which I experienced. The room I entered was small compared to the vastness of the cave entry. Sconces with thick candles filled the area with light. The scarce furnishings consisted of a low bench beside a sunken pool and a smaller area surrounded by heavy curtains. The air hung warm and humid, but not unpleasant. There seemed to be music softly floating throughout, yet I could not identify an exact instrument or a precise melody.
Brother Horechi spoke for the first time. "You must rid yourself of your former life. You will remove your clothes and enter the pool. There, as you let the waters wash over you, you will meditate about what has brought you and your partner together and why you wish to make your commitment."
He led me to the bench and helped me get undressed. I sat as he pulled off my boots, then he offered a hand for me to stand and we removed the uniform. I stood in silent nakedness, feeling uncomfortable in my vulnerability. But he showed no embarrassment as he helped ease me into the pool.
Warm scented vapors spun around me as I lowered myself into the swirling waters. The sensations quickly swept me into another world, as if I were on a spirit walk. Everything around me fell back, disappearing into the nonexistence of reality, erasing time and place in my mind.
All I could see or think about was you, my wonderful Kathryn. Images of you tumbled within me, lit with color, blazing with your beauty. Laughing, crying; serious, winsome... you were all at once. Your touch infused me with love and desire; your lips sought every inch of me, anointing and devouring me... worshiping me. I reached out to you, only to have you whisk away into the mists of my mind. With pixie-like glee, you reappeared, running around me, teasing me as if in a game of blind man's bluff. The air smelled of honeysuckle on a lazy summer day; your being tasted rich and ripe, fresh picked peaches and strawberries.
Suddenly, the images shifted and all became dark and chaotic - Voyager under attack, our bodies battered and bleeding; harsh words punctuating the air with sharp recrimination, biting and tearing into our innermost beings, the comforting fragrances of earlier replaced with vitriolic bitterness that burned more than lungs and skin. Specters of evil swooped in and around us, visions of enemies and evil past and future, coming between us and taunting us.
Yet we still reached out for each other. Through the spiteful words, the divisive actions, the separations - we managed to find each other, to fall into each other for strength and love.
I heard someone calling my name. I took a deep breath and turned towards the sound; the mists disappeared and I saw Brother Horechi standing by the edge of the pool, his hand extended towards me. "Come, Chakotay. The waters have cleansed you and your mind is at peace. It is time to welcome Kathryn into your soul." He guided me out of the pool and wrapped a large towel around my body, which suddenly felt cold.
My head still spun from the proliferation of sensations from my time in the pool; I didn't even know how long I had been there. But time no longer mattered - only being with you mattered. The visions had not all been easy, but they assured me that we would always be together, whatever life brought us.
I didn't even realize that Horechi and another of the brothers had clothed me in a white robe similar to their own. The material seemed finer than the homespun fibers of theirs, and there were fine threads of gold spun into it.
Horechi's fingers traced my tattoo and he smiled. "I see the spirits have already blessed you; you will not need much more anointing." He dipped his fingers into a deep slate blue pigment and he painted something to mirror my own tattoo on my right temple. "A symbol of unity," he responded to my unspoken question.
"It is time," he finally said, stepping back. "Please follow me."
My steps faltered as I realized no one had told me anything of what was to come. "What is next? What am I to do? What do I say?"
"You will know," he answered. "We will guide you in your actions and words."
Still unsure, I shook my head; I always liked to have an idea of what was expected.
Horechi sensed my anxiety. "Do not be concerned, Chakotay. All is in readiness and you will know what is required." I could do nothing more than accept his vague explanation.
I trailed him by a few respectful paces as we exited through a door into yet another chamber in the cave. The room was larger than the room with the pool, but still smaller than the entry area. The walls appeared to be covered with delicate fabrics that fluttered in a gentle breeze. Again I heard but didn't hear music - it was like tinkling bells just within hearing range, muted bird songs in the distance on an early summer morning. The room was brightly lit, but I could not see any sources of light; it was as if the room radiated from within the vaulted walls and ceiling. In the center of the room, the leader of the brotherhood (strange; we never learned his name!) stood by a large flat stone edifice about two meters in diameter and a half-meter in height. A small golden bowl filled with water and two brushes surrounded a large crystal orb in the middle of the stone.
A slight sound of motion from behind me broke my contemplative examination of the stone table. I turned and saw you enter with Shemistra. I gasped sharply - never have I ever seen you so beautiful. You glided in, your movement fluid and graceful. Your hair framed your face, falling into thick tresses, encircling you like a halo of amber and gold and red, your face soft and radiant. Like me, you wore a simple white robe, its fabric floating yet defining your womanhood. Smoky blue lines adorned your face and I held my breath as I realized that it was a mirror image of my tattoo and markings.
But it was your smile that branded itself into my heart. It reached out across the room... across the years... across the galaxy... and emblazoned itself into me forever, never to leave me. Memories of that smile have healed me and consoled me, promised me eternal love and compassion. Even in the darkest moments, that smile has led me and will continue to do so.
Like most weddings, the actual proceedings are a hazy dream to the principle participants - it was no different for us. For my memories to be so sharp in recalling the preparations, having you beside me... cognizant of what we were doing... most of the words and actions became a jumbled blur of recollections, with only certain images and memories clear in my mind.
We were helped up onto the rounded stone platform and instructed to kneel on opposite sides of the crystal orb. Our hands were placed onto the orb's surface, which suddenly came alive with muted images of our lives tumbling within its sphere; somewhere in the distance, I could hear Shemistra and Horechi recounting our meditative visions. How did they do this? Do I remember their words being almost exact replications of each other?
The senior brother joined us on the stone platform. He picked up the bowl of water, giving it to us each in turn, as we took turns dipping our brushes into the water and painting over the markings on our faces. At the conclusion of this act, he instructed us to each sip of the contents of the bowl. His words told us that the act pledged the merging of our lives and souls just as the paint from our faces swirled together in the water.
Our attendants climbed up onto the stone and helped raise us into standing positions. They bid us to join hands over the orb, which radiated with a profusion of colors, bathing us in an ever-changing rainbow of hues and motion. They stepped away and the bath became real as water showered onto us, washing away our individualities, merging us into one. I recall feeling as if we were walking in the rain, soaked to the skin, allowing the events to lead us into a joyous new world, laughing and smiling and happy as children.
As we beamed at each other, Shemistra and Horechi divested us of our clinging wet robes. We stood before each other naked and exposed, another symbol of our new beginning. The brother prevailed upon us to remember our visions, to learn from them and to be sustained by them; that just as we now beheld our physical nakedness, so we had seen each other's naked souls in our visions. In neither instance had we turned away, nor should we in life. We recited words he gave us to pledge this promise. He placed his hands around our joined ones, proclaiming that our lives were united now and for the eternity of our souls.
With our vows made, Shemistra and Horechi helped us down from the platform and led us separately back to the preparation chambers, where we dried off and dressed again in our uniforms, just as we had been when we beamed down.
We rejoined each other in the original entrance area. The three brothers who first met us were there. The senior priest gave us a final benediction, smiling with his farewell words:" Go - live and love in blessing and peace."
We beamed back to Voyager in a silent awe - we were married.
How did we manage our secret? It was difficult, but never during the next five years of our journey did anyone see anything other than a fond relationship between their captain and first officer. Oh, I'm sure there were some whispered stories, furtive words of innuendo, but nothing was ever said. Our public appearances together slowly became more frequent, and, whether on duty or off, reflected a growing and caring friendship. Soon, this was the accepted opinion of the crew.
Our time alone was usually brief; at first it almost seemed that we avoided being in each other's presence, for fear of our feelings becoming public. We never lived together on the ship, and we tried to manage it so that it never appeared that we were alone together, although we did find places for those rare moments. It is difficult to believe, but the sites of most of our private times turned out to be the places where it was expected for a captain and first officer to sequester themselves to analyze the operations of the ship: ready rooms, briefing room, a cargo bay, shuttlecraft dock, even a deserted sickbay with the EMH deactivated.
But our favorite place was a small forgotten storage area on deck eleven. The deserted area provided us with much-needed privacy, and I even managed to set it up with a force field, keeping it sequestered from the ever-vigilant scans of security. We salvaged a few furnishings from vacant quarters, and added personal touches that made it "our" place... twenty square meters that became our haven within the tempest; a solitary confinement shared by two, imprisoning us yet freeing us. Hardly a day's cycle went by that we didn't find ourselves drawn to this sanctuary, allowing us to bask in the heaven we had found.
The visions of Nechani had much truth in them, for over the years, our sorrows frequently overshadowed our happiness. Our strengths became our personal enemies at times, ripping us apart in ways that we could not mention to or confide in others. Yet, in the end, we always managed to make some sense out of the madness and make our amends, frequently finding ourselves stronger than before.
And we got Voyager home.
With Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, I assumed that you and I could at long last reveal our secret. But we decided to wait until after all the debriefings and reports and meetings so that our relationship would not overshadow or taint any decisions. By the end of those first few months, we found ourselves inextricably locked into new paths and new careers - directions that put us directly into Starfleet's spotlight... and back into our clandestine closet.
Nechisti marital visions... hidden rooms on Voyager... promises to always be there for one another... we buried all of them deep towards the back of the top shelf in that closet. Early good intentions became lost in the different directions into which we were being pulled. After about a year or so, we decided that if we were to remain in Starfleet - and each of us was too stubborn to accept anything other than this - that we would live our lives apart. We moved into two separate worlds, which slowly became two divergent universes.
Our agreement was mutual and amicable; there were no hard feelings, no recriminations. We did what needed to be done in the Delta Quadrant, and now we were doing what was necessary in the Alpha Quadrant. As our burgeoning careers allowed us to be together, we met socially. Upon occasion, we even allowed ourselves some private time. In those rare moments, occasionally a small flame flickered from the old sparks, but neither of us dared to stoke the embers into the fires of earlier years.
Our lives drew farther and farther apart. We each developed new circles of friends, new interests. At the end of my Starfleet career, I migrated to the Suvin planet system, where, at long last, I could follow my archeological studies. Even though my body wasn't as young as it used to be, I became engrossed in the wealth of research yet to be done on these history-rich planets.
Our communications became fewer and more infrequent, so it was no surprise when I had heard nothing from you for two or three months. I just presumed that you, like I, were following your remaining dreams with your usual energy and enthusiasm. I thought about you just about every day, and felt that we still had that special ability to know how the other one was doing.
But that gift must have slipped away, just as you began slipping away from me. Instead of hearing from you, it was a haggard Tom Paris who contacted me. The minute I saw his face on the monitor, I knew - there was something wrong with you.
Our friend's voice cracked and became feeble as he told me the news - that you had been diagnosed with Iverson's syndrome, that horrific debilitator that destroys the muscle even as it leaves the mind intact. Even after a century of knowing of the disease, no cure has been found. And now, after all our lost years, I find out that this cruelest of killers is ravaging you, that you were diagnosed two months ago and have succumbed to it rapidly. Tears began to slide down Tom's face as he told me that you had asked for me - and that you told him and B'Elanna our secret of all these decades... that during your bouts of agonizing pain, you call my name and reach out for me.
I don't even remember thanking him for contacting me; I don't remember arranging transportation or the long journey back to Earth - it was all in a daze. It seemed to take longer to make that trip than it did for Voyager to cross the Delta Quadrant. All I know is that I am here now, with you where I should have been all along.
As I look down upon you and reach out for you, even as you grow colder and weaker, the memories of those times and the years that followed overwhelm me - those days and years filled with passion and sorrow... secret delights and unfathomable fears. I cry the tears for both of us - tears that your broken body cannot shed - mourning our lost possibilities... our lost lives. Yet your smile and your weakened voice whispering my name, joyfully recognizing me... loving me... absolve us of our broken promises and fractured lives. Here we are - at last free to share the love so long buried from the world... here, at the end.
I reach out and touch you, trying to will my spirit into you, hoping to heal and restore you, to give you... me... us... strength for just one more day.
You are now - as you always have been and always will be - my Kathryn, my captain... my friend and my love... my wife.
~ finis ~