"You've got to be joking." I look at Chakotay and Tuvok in surprise. "We've been back on earth for less than a month and you expect me to go gallivanting—"
"Perish the thought, Kathryn," Chakotay, my former first officer said with what he must deem a persuasive smile. "Nobody would ever suggest such a thing."
"And," I continue as I'm still appalled, "we're not even through the entire set of mandatory debriefings by Star Fleet headquarters."
"True." Tuvok looks at me with his usual calm, slightly acerbic gaze. "And nor are we under house arrest. As far as I am aware, we are not prohibited to socialize with our former crewmembers either."
I huff, shoving my fingers through my hair, regretting it immediately as I've started wearing it in a twist. I deftly put the loosened strands back into place while I glare at the two men, I consider my best friends. "Never knew you were one for parties, Tuvok."
"Normally, no. This is, however, the first time in since we disembarked that we will all be together in one place. We do not know when it will happen next time. The crew will bring family members and friends if they choose to. So can you."
I cringe at spending more time with mother and Phoebe, my sister, right now. I have had my fill off reunion tears for a while and I feel awful for even thinking that. "Very well. You are both beasts. I can't very well not take part since you put it that way." But, oh, how I want to just stay home at my temporary accommodations and read, drink coffee, or red wine, and perhaps watch some entertainment on the large screen. I'm fucking tired.
"Good." Chakotay bends and kisses my cheek. I can't help but flinch. Seven years in space, trying to get our crew back to the Alpha Quadrant, and he at the most massaged my shoulders once. And now kisses on the cheek. It doesn't sit right with me, but I make up for the flinch by giving him a broad smile.
"What time is it? And where?"
"It's at the Nocturnia. A shuttle taxi will pick you up at seven." Chakotay starts walking toward the door before I have time to berate him for already having arranged everything, assuming, obviously, that I'd accept.
"Fine." I say goodbye and close the door behind them. Sighing, I return to the living room area and then enter the bedroom. I'll have to vacate this apartment in a few months at the latest, but by then I shall have had time to find a permanent home here in San Francisco. Mother wants me to go on a prolonged hiatus and stay with her in Bloomington, but the notion of living in the traditionalist area where I grew up, gives me shivers. The contrast between deep space and Indiana is too staggering. San Francisco and Star Fleet headquarters are a happy medium, I suppose.
I walk over to the replicator and boot the screen for garments sitting next to it. Browsing through evening wear, I find myself staring at the choices. Does fashion really change so much in seven years? The dresses are made of thin filaments, very slinky, and hugging the body far too tight for my taste. I'm not thirty-nine anymore. I'm a seasoned forty-six-year-old, battle weary, and space weathered woman. That last stunt we pulled, thanks to my ops ensign, Harry Kim, when we stalked a Borg ship through their corridor leading to the Alpha Quadrant and then blew the entire array of wormholes up, took a toll. It was getting back home or die trying.
I return my focus to the dresses. After scrolling down the patterns, I stumble upon some garments that seem less insane. More my style, if I remember what that is as my uniform is all I've known for the last seven years. A cream colored, form fitted caftan over emerald green, flowy trousers, granted, both made of that new filament fabric, looks all right. I let the replicator print them after my specifications and measurements. I've lost weight since we returned, which the Doctor pointed out only yesterday when I ran into him at Star Fleet medical. I was there to visit B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris, as I'm the godmother to their newborn daughter. As my former chief engineer and helmsman, respectively, I've come to respect and like them. Seeing them with their baby told me I loved them fiercely and it threw me so much, I had to cut the visit short. I blame the debriefings. Everything was fine, I was fine, before they started to poke at my every decision-making process, my actions…my potential breaches of protocol. The last week I've felt to raw.
I take a sonic shower only because I know if I hit the aqua tub, I'll stay there and cancel everything. The tone in the shower makes the small hairs on my arms and legs stand up. I clench my teeth until the computer declare me sufficiently clean. Ridiculous.
Donning the outfit, I examine my appearance. I barely recognize myself. Letting my hair down, I shape it the way I've kept it for the last few years. There. More like myself, at least on the surface.
Checking the time, I realize I have an hour until the taxi arrives. I sit down at my computer and decide to add to my after-action report while I wait.
- xx XX xx -
The Nocturnia appears to be a well-chosen venue, I decide as I step out of the taxi. When I turn to pay, ID chip in my hand, the young driver merely shakes her head no and says' it's been taken care of. Chakotay, no doubt. I walk toward the entrance and in under the sparkling awning that give the ground a starry appearance. Something I actually approve of; you can never have enough stars.
Music plays softly as I go through the door where a man in purple uniform greets me with a smile. "Welcome, Captain Janeway. Your party is on the penthouse floor. Turbo lift two will take you there, sir."
"Thank you." I walk toward the lift and find the door open. I step inside and just as it begins to close, a slender arm dressed in something dove-gray and sparkling, pushes through, making it hiss open again.
A tall blond woman joins me, nodding very briefly in my direction, but paying more attention to the bag she places at her feet. She wears her hair in a soft twist with blond locks framing her face and caressing her neck. The gray outfit turns out to be a catsuit, hugging every part of her slender, yet voluptuous figure. As she straightens, she gives me a quizzical look.
"Penthouse?" she asks, her voice a sonorous alto.
"Yes. Yes, of course." I clear my throat. "Computer, penthouse floor."
As the turbo lift begins whisking us up the hundred, or so, floors, I try not to stare at the amazing beauty before me. Full lips painted a dark mauve, blue eyes the shade of the lake at my childhood farm, and alabaster, flawless skin.
"Are you going to the Voyager party as well?" I ask politely.
Ah. Not very talkative. "Me too." I groan inwardly at how stupid that sounds. I have been out of commission when it comes to civilian niceties.
"I am aware, Captain Janeway." The woman regards me coolly.
"You know who I am." I'm not entirely comfortable with fame. Not at all, in fact.
"And you are?" I as pointedly, a small annoyance now brewing in a barely visited part of my mind.
"Annika Hansen." No proffered hand to shake, no smile. This woman looks entirely indifferent.
"Friend or family of a crewmember?" I'm not sure why I keep asking her question, but the words are out before I can stop them.
I blink. "This is a private gathering for just that purpose.
"I am aware."
Gods, can she sound stiffer? I shrug and return my focus on the small screen that lets me know we're at the eighty-eights floor. Within a few moments, the door opens, and we step out. Annika Hansen wheels her bag behind her as she strides down the corridor next to the venue. I look at her disappearing for a while and then I want to kick myself. A stranger, dressed as if going to a party, bringing a bag. Voyager's crew, not entirely conventional as we are a motley crew of Star Fleet officers and former Maquis resistance fighters, or, as some of the admirals at Star Fleet would insist; terrorists. The woman could be out for either group if she belonged to one of the disgruntled factions, or a physically altered Cardassian. The war with the volatile Cardassians are over, but the threat exists in small pockets of persistent fighters.
I hurry into the ballroom where tables are set along the perimeter and the center cleared for dancing. A band is playing on the stage in the far-left corner. My people and their loved ones are scattered among the tables and some are dancing. I look around, spot Chakotay together with a dark-haired woman, and make my way over to them.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay kisses my cheek again and is just about to introduce me to his date, or relative, when I interrupt him.
"We could have a situation," I say, my eyes scanning around us. I then look back at Chakotay whose smile has vanished. He does the same thing, lets his gaze travel around the room, his arm around the woman's shoulders. More protective than romantic.
"What's going on?" Chakotay asks.
"A woman that doesn't belong here was in the lift with me. She was hauling a fairly large bag, which concerns me. We're hero to most after our return, but there are some that hate us."
Both men go rigid. They know me well enough to not second guess me without reason.
"Where did she go?" Tuvok's hand went automatically to his side, reaching for his phaser. His frown at being unarmed was as much as he let his annoyance show.
"Into the corridor to the left of the lifts as we stepped out. She's blond, easily six feet tall in her hells, dressed in a grey, sparkling catsuit—what?"
"Like her?" Chakotay says and points behind me.
I pivot, wishing for a phaser, when I see the woman from the elevator. She's centerstage, in front of the band, and a microphone is descending from the ceiling. "Oh."
"I don't blame you for being jumpy, Kathryn," Chakotay say, smiling gently now. "We've been through a lot and our nerves are frayed after the debriefings."
"I'll say," I mumble, feeling utterly ridiculous. "I don't relish being off my game."
"You're not off it enough, I would argue." The smooth voice behind me make me sigh.
"Thanks a lot, Tom. Not helping."
"Gorgeous girl," Tom says easily. "Don't tell B'Elanna I said so. She's torn enough between not wanting to leave Miral and desperate to be with us."
"Tell her we'll stop by as soon as she has time for us. At least the senior crew." Chakotay places a gentle hand on my back. It irks me that he treats me as if I'm made of expensive porcelain from centuries ago, but I merely smile at Tom and nod in agreement.
"Let's find our table," Chakotay says. "I think it's the one closest to the stage over there." He points to the left of the stage.
Of course it is. I walk and fell his hand fall away and it's a relief. I really need to sit down. No. I really need to go home. I take a seat, making sure I have my back against the wall. It gives me a good view of the room and, I admit, the stage.
The young woman turns to the man by the grand piano and gives him a curt nod. The band ends the current melody and start an intro, this time a very different sound. The light in the room dims and a spotlight is directed toward Annika. She seems to transform before my eyes as her hips begin to sway to the suggestive beat. Her movements are classy, and sexy in an understated way. She grips the microphone hanging from the ceiling and pulls it toward her—and begins to sing.
It's like a sucker punch. There's no other way to describe it. Her voice, indeed alto, caresses each syllable and tone like they're her lovers. Every word is sung with such conviction as if she means them. I don't recognize the song, but that's hardly surprising. Seven years is like dog years when it comes to the entertainment business. I usually listen to classical music, but in Annika's case, I'd be willing to make an exception.
The song ends and the next, a faster number, starts right away. I sit transfixed, unable to take my eyes off the grey, sparkling apparition in the spotlight. And then she looks right at me. I doubt she can see me with the spotlight shining in her eyes, but she still nails me to the backrest of the chair, and I can hardly breathe. Song after song, faster, slower, bouncy or sultry, push against me and I begin to tremble. Eventually, I can't take it anymore. I get up. "Excuse me." Perhaps they just assume I'm going to the ladies' room, but I make another turn and head for the door leading to the large balcony.
It is surprisingly warm outside, and I realize that at this height, they have to use environmental technology to ensure safety and comfort for the guests. I walk up to the railing and as I grip it, I feel the faint, gentle buzz from the protective forcefield. Not like the one in Voyager's brig that can sear the skin of your fingertips if you press against it long enough.
After a few moments I start to relax. Nobody else it out here and I greedily inhale the fresh air. The sky above me is not as star filled as the space I'm used to observing through Voyager's viewports, but it's still beautiful.
"Hello." A now quite familiar voice makes me jump and I swivel to see Annika Hansen stand a couple of meters away.
"Hello. Done singing?" I commend myself for sounding as calm as she.
"I am. It was only meant to be a short gig." She walks slowly toward me and for a moment I think perhaps she's trying not to startle me, but that's of course ridiculous.
"You have a lovely voice," I say and turn back to the view again. Annika comes up to stand beside me, resting her lower arms against the railing. If she's bothered by the buzz from the forcefield, she doesn't let on.
"Thank you." She shifts and now I feel her arm brush against mine. "I directed my focus toward you," Annika continues.
My heart starts racing again. I cannot fathom what's going on and why I'm responding this way, or rather my body, I tell myself. Yes, I haven't had the chance for much intimacy aboard Voyager, but to feel like a nervous teenager is ridiculous. "And why is that?" I ask, forcing myself to sound, well, if not indifferent, then at least very matter of fact.
"You intrigue me."
"I get that a lot after coming back." I snort. She's just one of all the Voyager groupies we've all encountered.
"May I call you Kathryn?" Annika nudges me more deliberate.
"Sure." I turn toward her, leaning sideways against the railing.
"I thought this evening was going to be like most nights." Annika mimics my position. "Until I rode the elevator up with you."
"And what happened during those few minutes to change things?" I know I border on sounding scornful, but she makes me damn nervous.
"I took one look at your and knew I couldn't wait to kiss you."
Whatever I thought Annika was going to say, that sure wasn't it. "Excuse me."
"Kiss you. But do not worry. I will not." Annika tilted her head and her beauty is so overpowering, I fear I might have loved it if she had decided to act on her words. "Perhaps you get that a lot too?" Annika raises an eyebrow.
"Actually, I don't." I'm too self-aware that I need to clear my throat. "Thank you for the compliment—if that's what it is?"
"No." Annika's single-syllable word makes me flinch.
I shrug. What can I possibly say to that?
"Do not be offended." Annika shows the first signs I've seen so far of being unsettle, albeit very subtle. "That is not my intention."
"Then what is your intention, Ms. Hansen?"
"Annika. Please." She slides her hand forward along the railing and it ends up on my bare lower arm, which erupts into goosebumps. "I know my own reactions, my feelings, and giving superficial compliments does not suffice. Normally, this does not happen to me. Nor do I ever act in this unconventional manner."
"Then what do you do?" I stare transfixed at her slender hand that holds on to my arm, her thumb creating tiny circles against my skin.
"I keep to myself. I mind my business. Sing to support myself while working on my academics." Annika eyes me cautiously.
"You're a student?" Now I'm more intrigued than nervous, but I'm still jittery over her hand against my arm.
"Star Fleet?" Now that would be quite something.
"That was a while ago. I am working on my academics to qualify for the Daystrom Institute's science entry exam." Now Annika laces her fingers with mine. "And before you think I will try and make you use your fame and write a letter of recommendation for me; it is not true. I have already the endorsements I need." Her conviction makes me think perhaps she is telling the truth.
"And singing at parties?" I don't comment further.
"To help support myself in the meantime."
"I see." I really don't, but she's clinging to my hand, or it feels as she is since she's holding on so tight. Or is it my holding on to her?
"So, you see?" Annika looks between my eyes and my lips.
"Not really," I say and have to smile.
Annika doesn't return the smile, but she steps closer. "My desire to kiss you is out of character and that is enlightening in itself."
"If it is, I'm still in the dark." I want to hide my face at my bad pun, but what can you do? I step closer to her and look up at her beautiful face. "Why don't you just kiss me and get it over with? I mean, you'll either be cured of what attraction you might have felt, or…" I shrug.
Annika's lips descend on mine and I know instantly that I've made such a mistake. I whimper against her lips and she wraps a strong arm around my shoulders. Such soft, damp lips she has. She presses them firmly against mine and I hear her breath catch and begin to tremble. I can't breathe at all and I'm barely aware of my arms going up around her neck. I part my lips under hers and Annika moans as she slips her tongue into my mouth.
We kiss for an eternity. Over and over, as soon as we pull back to catch our breath, we are pull back toward each other by some strange anomaly. I push my hands up her front and pull her closer. Wrapping my arms around her neck, I live for these kisses, for feeling alive…and, oh Gods…wanted. I carefully pull back half a centimeter and try to focus on Annika's eyes. They're darker than before and for some, strange, no, baffling, reason, I know it will be hard as hell to let her go.
"Kathryn," Annika whispers. "Don't let go."
I close my eyes where I stand in her arms.