Balance

by M

This is my second story; it was written for the Picnic Prose Prize (PPP) contest. I had no plans to enter the contest until I saw the pictures for the categories. One pic is of a hammock suspended from a bent palm on a sunlit, peaceful lagoon beach. This story idea popped into my head, wiggling about saying "Write me! Write me!" and so I did. Of course, it was contest deadline time,(that is how I saw the pix, I was looking for something to read), so I had to rush. I owe great thanks to my beta reader, Kat, not only for the beta work, but for doing it quickly and at extremely short notice.

NEW AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written a handful of years ago. I wasn't until later that I began to date my writings, so I only know this was my second attempt at a story. I am only just now getting around to posting on the few "Voyager" stories I have written, but am leaving the original notes.

BALANCE

"Damn! Damn! And DAMN!" All these years in the Delta Quadrant and Captain Janeway could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she had given in to childish displays of temper. Now, certainly, the entire bridge crew had heard the crack of the PADD as it flew into the wall of her ready room.

Drawing her formidable inner strength to bear, she wrestled her emotions back under control and exited the ready room, only to meet Commander Tuvok on his way to her, no doubt in response to the recent noise. Ignoring the mild questioning look in his eyes, the captain informed him, and the rest of those on bridge duty, that she would be planetside, taking shore leave on this last day before "Voyager" resumed the endless journey back to the Alpha Quadrant. Entering the turbolift, she called for deck five and left her staff wondering about the noise, her destination and her mood.

Though maintaining outward control, she still fumed inwardly as she gave her destination to the transporter officer on duty and stepped onto the platform.

"Energize," she commanded, maintaining a viselike grip on Chakotay's PADD containing the coordinates, part of her wishing it were the commander's neck.

Damn him! He had needled and cajoled, teased and threatened, used the dimples and the piercing eyes, and guilt. She had not needed to endure most of that. "You will love this spot," he had told her eagerly. He had scouted it himself and checked with the local authorities, she would be undisturbed. "Swim, read, swing in the hammock, take a nap. Run naked on the beach, if you want. No one will bother you. Kathryn," he held up his hand in warning when he saw her about to protest, "you have 'missed' the last two opportunities for shore leave. No, official functions do not count. You can not function at warp 10 for months on end without a break. You need this! You know it." He paused. "And, you promised." This he had said in a lower, deceptively calm voice. The voice of a man who is powerful. A man who is mentally, physically and spiritually strong and knows it and expects you to know it as well. The voice that Kathryn had privately dubbed his 'sensual terrorist' voice.

He had gone then, leaving her standing at her desk fully coiled. She had kicked her chair, cursed her ire heavenward and finally taken it all out on a stray PADD from her desk. Damn him! She did need to take some time; she knew it and she dreaded it.

The tingle of the transporter subsided and Kathryn knew instantly that Chakotay was right, she would love this spot. She had materialized in the shade of trees so like the palms of Earth that she had to look twice to be sure there was any difference. The sand under her feet was brilliant white and the clear, azure sky was so like home it made her heart ache.

Damn him, anyway.

She was on the shore of a clear lagoon, off a large body of water. The sand was abutted on one side by lush, tropical type plant growth and on the other by volcano-like rises. In every direction, there was nothing artificially made, no other person to disturb her. She was alone, as promised.

Feeling the warmer temperature, Kathryn removed her uniform jacket, folded it and placed it on the hammock she found, also as promised, suspended between two "palms". Sitting gently on the edge of the hammock, she removed her boots and socks, and following long years of habit, rolled the socks before placing them into the boots. After rolling her pant legs to mid-calf, she rose and strode off toward the water's edge.

She followed the easy curve of the shore, her stride easing to a walk as some of her anger burned off. Stopping, she let the pleasantly cool water swirl about her bare feet as it pulled away from itself, only to slide back with the slippery ease of satin sheets on a bed. It must be low tide, she thought, bending down to pick up a handful of the smooth, water worn pebbles near her feet. Standing straight, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

It was not the smell of an Earth beach, there was no salt in this water. It was more the scent of a lake. She thought of Lake George. Opening her eyes, she drew back her arm, then snapped it forward, releasing a pebble to skip across the water till it was slowed and dove under. Just as she had learned to skip stones on Lake George. She remembered fierce contests with her father and the first time she had beaten him at it. She remembered sailing on Lake George. The light, the air, the water here were so much better than on a holodeck. Kathryn's mind pulled against the ever present restraints.

Damn him, she hated this!
Suddenly standing rigid, her anger surging again, she pulled back her arm and lunched all the remaining pebbles toward deep water. Turning her back on the water, she began to move toward the lush plant growth. At first her step was strong and sure, until she began to notice the way her feet scrunched in the damp sand. Slowing a bit, her vision cleared and she began to notice the details around her. The bits of this and that mixed in the sand. The sand, not a blanket of white, but the billions upon billions of particles in various shades of white and silver. The way the sand dried as she moved closer to the greenery. As it dried, it warmed, and then cooled as she reached the shade. She heard the rustling of the breeze in the bushes and perhaps from small creatures therein. Taking a few steps up a path, her eyes widened at the riot of color before her. Blossoms larger than her hand, some larger than both her hands together, their shapes reminiscent of Earth's Bird of Paradise and Cana Lily blooms merged into one. The small smile came to her lips of its own accord, her demeanor softened, and she felt her mind slide out of its well known bonds. Kathryn pressed her face to a blossom and took in its scent, allowing it to wash into her senses. Her heart and soul followed the flight of her mind.

Kathryn was accustomed to acknowledging sensory input: the sounds of her crew, of Voyager herself; the aromas from Neelix's kitchen; the first taste of each cup of coffee; the feel of her ship's engines; music she played while reading; the plants in the airponics bay; facial expressions; but all these usually filtered through her mental constraints. Now, she stopped fighting and allowed the assault on her senses to overtake her, her mind in hopeless flight, trailing behind.

She knew this feeling, the wonder and joy, the pleasure. She reached out to touch all that she fought so hard to contain: her hopes and fears, her losses and her desires, and pleasure built to passion. Home, duty, future, fun, intimacy, plans, family, Voyager, release, responsibility, desire, Chakotay. Passion became pain and drove her to her knees and Kathryn was unastounded to find the tears on her face.

"Damn him," her plea was whispered with no sincerity.

She knew this feeling, too, the deep sadness girded with despair. She had felt it permeate her being more than once before. Once begun, there was no fending it off, no holding it back. The only way out was to go through it. Sinking to sit on the path, Kathryn wrapped her arms about her knees, held herself together and allowed the emotions to course through her.

Knowing what to expect did not make it easier. It never got easier. Each day she woke and made the choice: duty over self. Some days were better, some worse. It was not only those things she was not allowed to do or to say; it was the iron control required to enable her to sublimate those things. Captain Janeway was a strong woman, she depended on her mighty will to keep her going and, once she had focused on course of action she was able to maintain her focus for the most part. No one, though, was able to sustain such rigid control over thoughts and feelings and actions without suffering some consequences. Typical consequences included becoming detached, disinterested, hardened, disconnected, insensitive. Captain Janeway knew the dangers of developing such attributes, the dangers of even seeming, in the eyes of her crew, to develop such. And, of course, Voyager's unique situation just exacerbated the dangers. But, like holding one's hand in a painfully taut fist, finally releasing the grip was difficult. The fingers were unresponsive, moved in slow, uncontrolled motion, unable to respond to the brain's commands until the blood flow resumed and the muscles loosened.

Thus it was with the heart and mind.

These things Kathryn Janeway knew and accepted, but the release never came without the price. It was not the release that she dreaded, but it was never easy to force herself to experience that accompanying pain. It touched every part of her, each time it would sear its brand onto her soul. The pain might subside, but the brand would remain.

The worst was past, Kathryn gradually became aware again of her surroundings. The same surroundings which had triggered this cathartic interlude. She arose, leaning a bit on the solid stick she had clasped in one hand. Taking a few shuddery breaths, she gently caressed the petals of a nearby blossom and appreciated its scent before heading back toward the open beach.

Sometimes it would be some small thing that could spark a lesser release; a visual stimulus, a certain word, perhaps. An evening spent brooding in the solitude of her quarters would be enough to evince the necessary change.

Other times, she found herself realizing that too much time had passed away without some such occurrence and she would discover it to be more difficult to reconnect with herself.

Just prior to stepping onto the stretch where the sand became damp, Kathryn lowered herself to sit facing the water, laying the stick beside her. This beautiful place was just the sort that could evoke the responses. She knew this about herself and she suspected that Chakotay knew it also. It was perhaps the greatest reason she so often resisted shore leave. Even knowing in her mind the welcome outcome, it was difficult to choose the pain.

She closed her eyes and smiled, knowing that, this time, she had been forced to make the choice. The anger that had been ignited was now replaced with a calm. She had once again been tempered in the forge of life and was stronger for it. Kathryn tilted her head back, allowing this planet's warm sun to bathe her. She had an apology to make, thanks to express. She would enjoy finding just the way to express it. There was always so much she could not express. How she loved this man, Chakotay, who cared for her needs as he had promised to do so many years ago with his fabricated legend. The greatest pain was always from the things she could not give, or accept from, him.

As the sun moved higher in the sky, Kathryn began to feel the trickle of sweat between her breasts. She cursed herself, now, for storming off to fulfill her promise to take shore leave without proper preparation. Her uniform, even the few pieces she still wore. were not ideal for the locale. She longed to submerge herself in the cooling water. Chakotay had mentioned running naked on the beach, but that was not Kathryn's style. Reaching under the uniform tank top, she released the clasp of her bra and removed it, slipping each strap off separately and then pulling it out from the bottom of her shirt. Standing, she quickly opened the closure of her pants and slid them down her legs to liberate each foot in turn. Picking up her stick, Kathryn walked to the water's edge wearing the snug, grey tank top and black, silky, high cut underpants. Standing on the wet sand, she turned again from the water and put the stick to the sand, dragging it across, writing in the sand above the foam line. She finished and stepped back to admire her work and smiled a radiant smile. Planting the stick in the sand, she turned and ran into the water 'til it rose about her knees, forcing her to slow. She continued to a depth that would allow her to swim and executed a neat, shallow dive and began to swim out from the shore.

Reaching deeper water, she turned to follow the shoreline and swam vigorously for tenor twelve minutes before doing a flip turn and heading back toward where she had entered the water. Rolling over, she moved with a lazy but firm backstroke, occasionally looking to shore to locate her stick standing sentinel on the beach. Floating for a while. Kathryn watched a group of flying creatures circle and spin in the sky above her. Then, closing her eyes, she allowed the water to lull her with its rhythm and embrace. God, she loved the water, it held such power for her. Her first experiences exploring other worlds were as a girl, diving in the waters of Earth. Donning a breathing apparatus and flippers she could enter a universe vastly different from that in which she walked every day. The creatures were different, the structures, even the movement was different and she reveled in it. She craved the challenge and discovery. The same curiosity drove her in her daily life and, in part, had led her into space.

The water was more, though. It soothed and cradled and invited her beyond herself. Immersed in a large body of water, Kathryn could feel herself become part of something eternal. Even as it touched her skin, she sensed herself expanding out and connecting with the vastness of creation. She felt herself being an elemental part of it all. Traveling through space, investigating a stellar phenomenon, exploring a new world was the same. In a late night conversation, she had once told Chakotay that water was like tangible space.

Floating there on her back, Kathryn smiled at the memory. Seeing his doubtful expression, she had shared some of her feelings and thoughts about it. Chakotay had listened, making a rare comment of understanding, welcoming this new insight into Kathryn's psyche. He had teased her, later, saying that perhaps this explained her affinity for baths. Remembering it now, Kathryn realized that Chakotay was like the water. He could soothe her and challenge her. He could cause her to examine a part of herself she did not know well and he could inspire her to connect to something far beyond her experience. He would surround her and support her and she had to be careful of any possible dangerous undertow. He could be like a great ocean with unmapped currents or like a warm bath. With him, she was at once more herself and yet part of something greater than herself. As the water caressed her skin, she let these thoughts caress her mind. Moving with languid strokes, Kathryn approached shallow water. She had no chronometer with her, but knew that with her earlier actions and the time now spent swimming and reflecting, she had been planetside between three and four hours. Touching her feet to the firm sand, she walked out of the water, stopped to retrieve her bra and trousers and ambled toward the oasis of shade under the trees. Shaking off the sand, she draped the clothing over the hammock rope. At the base of the tree sat a 'fleet issue food stasis carrier. She had not noticed it earlier and briefly wondered if it had indeed been there when she had arrived.

Grateful for this promise of sustenance, she reached to open the carrier. Immediately she saw it contained 2 beverage containers. Smiling, she opened the first and found cold water which she tasted at once. Upon checking the second container she was rewarded with the wonderful aroma of coffee, or at least something close to it. Setting the hot drink aside to enjoy later, she investigated the rest of the contents. Removing a crisp cucumber sandwich, she closed the carrier, sitting on it to eat the sandwich and drink the water. She finished her light meal and, thus refreshed, settled into the hammock laying her head on the folded uniform jacket hoping for a nap while her underclothing dried. Lulled by the breeze, the gentle sound of the distant surf, and the sway of the hammock, sleep came quickly. Another reward of the earlier catharsis.

Nearly an hour later, Kathryn woke slowly without the customary jolt to alertness. Finding her impromptu swimwear was indeed dry and noting the sun's low position near the horizon, she enjoyed one luxurious stretch and rolled out of the hammock. Running her fingers through her nearly dry hair, she briefly wished it were long again and that she had the pins to hold it in the familiar bun for at lest a semblance of order. Ah well, at least the uniform was constructed so to be none the worse for the treatment it received, no use to worry over the disarray of her wild auburn locks.

Taking efforts to keep as much sand as possible out of her clothing, Kathryn dressed in the red and black uniform. Having used the food carrier as a seat while brushing the sand from her feet and completing the uniform with her socks and boots, Kathryn stood and once last time let her eyes study the land and seascape around her. Yes, Chakotay had been right, she had loved this spot. He had been right, also, that she needed this time. She wondered if he truly had any idea how much she had needed this shore leave and why she dreaded it.

Enough of that, she shook herself mentally. Her Captain's restraints were all firmly in place again. Firmly, but not smotheringly so. She once more carried the mantle with ease. She lifted the food carrier in which now was also packed the PADD she had held when she had beamed down. She knew, of course, that Chakotay had left the carrier here for her. The least she could do was return it to Voyager and clean it out. Besides, the beverage container of hot coffee was still inside waiting for her. Prepared once more to guide Voyager on the journey toward home. Captain Kathryn Janeway stood straight and called her ship requesting transport back aboard.

She smiled when, not ten minutes after she entered her quarters, chuckling over the attempts of crewmembers to cover their reactions to seeing her a bit disheveled, her combadge was activated by the voice of her first officer.

"Chakotay to Captain Janeway."

"Go ahead, Chakotay" she acknowledged the call.

"Kathryn," he switched from his 'official voice' in response to her use of his name without the rank and the smile in her voice. "I just wanted to check on your status; I wouldn't want Voyager to leave orbit without you."

"Thank you, Commander, I do appreciate your concern." she teased in return, reading between the lines. He wanted to check her status; he had known she had gone planetside, had very probably checked the coordinates she had used to see if she had followed his advice. He wanted to know how she had responded to it and if she had forgiven him for his earlier insistence that she go. She hoped that he would read between the lines as well.

"All part of the job, Captain." his voice smiled in return. "If you are back aboard then, I will let the bridge know we can break orbit as soon as shore leave departure protocols are completed." What this told her was that he would take care of any last minute details, he would check to be sure she had not left the food stasis carrier behind, she could continue to relax until her duty shift in the morning.

She acknowledged this and then, "Chakotay, when you have finished, how about joining me for a late supper? We can replicate something light, my treat, and put our feet up during dessert." Her hours of shore leave had been wonderful and he had no need of forgiveness. She looked forward to seeing him.

"I'd love to. I'll need about ninety minutes to wrap things up."
"I'll expect you then, Kathryn out." she closed the link. She would have time for a cup of the coffee while she cleaned herself up.

Chakotay informed the bridge of the ship's schedule and walked with a light step to the transporter room. Materializing at the site he had recommended to Kathryn, he looked quickly around. He noted without surprise that the food carrier was no longer there. It had not been there when she had first transported down; Chakotay had left it with orders that it be transported to the captain's location ten minutes after she left the ship. He had himself transported to nearby coordinates shortly after the encounter in the ready room.

He had scouted the site, as he had told the captain, and he had known that while his location allowed him to remain secluded, he would have a view of the beach and general area around the coordinates he had provided her. He had felt the need to be sure she was all right. Upon his arrival, he had seen her standing still at the water's edge with something in her hand. Suddenly, she had flung whatever she held out into the water. He watched as she turned and moved away from the water toward the path below his location. Quickly moving farther back from sight, he had waited and offered up a silent plea to the spirits that she would turn from her course. Damn, he should have expected her to explore her surroundings rather than simply relax.

She had stepped from the clear beach, taking a few steps along the path. Chakotay had seen the moment she had spied the blooms and smiled at her reaction. He had then quietly observed, frozen, unwilling to risk the sound of moving away and unable to call for transport undetected. His heart had wrenched as he saw and heard the despair overtake her. It was only knowing the damage it would do at this point if she found he was there that made him able to resist going to her, and so he had stayed and felt the tears slide down his own face.

He was flooded with relief when, having quieted some minutes before, Kathryn had risen and cupped one of the blossoms in her hands. He had seen the calm look on her face as, with eyes closed, she had breathed deeply of the intoxicating scent and the vise on his heart had eased a bit more. Grateful that she then returned to the beach, Chakotay expelled a silent sigh. She would be okay, but this shore leave would be a solitary respite. He saw her stop short of reaching the water and sit briefly before standing again. When she reached under her shirt to remove her bra, he knew it was, without doubt, time for him to leave. He found himself unable to resist the temptation, though, and continued to watch as she slipped out of her uniform pants. He smiled and let his eyes appreciate the sight as she moved to the water. He wondered what it was she marked in the sand before planting the heavy stick upright where she stood. Seeing her then run with abandon into the water and begin to swim, his smile grew to a grin. By all appearances, Kathryn was back. He would confirm this later when he spoke to her, but he expected he would find the balance restored between Kathryn and Captain Janeway. He could return to Voyager with his mind at ease.

Now in the evening, back at the site, Chakotay had one goal in mind. Moving to the shadow of the foliage, he walked up the path to the spot where Kathryn had stopped that afternoon. Using the clippers he had carried with him for just this purpose, he proceeded to cut several of the exquisite blooms. With one hand full, he straightened and lifted his other hand to his combadge to call for return transport to Voyager, but stopped. His gaze was toward the beach and in the fading light of sunset he could see the stick Kathryn had left standing near the water's edge. Curiosity drew him onto the beach and toward the sight. Careful to avoid the water as it rushed in with the coming high tide, Chakotay looked down to the sand and was stunned. His breath caught as there he saw the three words Kathryn had impressed into the water hard sand. Though they were fading under the onslaught of the tide, he could still clearly read the first two and enough of the third to know what it said. He had earlier had slight feelings of trepidation about his plan to gather some of the blossoms he had seen Kathryn admire and take them along when he met her for dinner. Now he knew he would not want to arrive without them. When he contacted the transporter room and requested return to Voyager, his soul soared ahead of him. As the transporter tingle began to catch him, he knew that the tide would wash away the words, but he had seen them and their imprint would be forever on his heart, soul, mind and memory, never to be washed away. Kathryn might never know that he had seen them, though he hoped one day he might tell her, but he would always know.

Deserted once more, the beach was bathed in the glow of evening and the water took back to itself the words in the sand:

"Kathryn loves Chakotay".

END I hope you enjoyed the story. It did indeed win the contest.