General disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek, more's the pity, but no infringement is intended by playing with their characters.
Note: This was written for the VAMB 2012 Secret Summer exchange. And big thanks to QS for once again putting up with me and being my beta!
A Guy like Me by Cheshire
You don't know me, so don't even try to figure out who I am. I'm nobody, and even people who do know me would say they don't. They're not scared of me or nothing; it's just that no one wants to admit that they ever had something to do with a guy like me. Come to think on it, they might be a little scared of me.
Yeah, I'm that kind of guy, and this is that kind of place.
And if I'm nobody and this is the kind of place where a person like me is likely to be found, imagine my surprise when I see her walk in. People would lie to your face to say they didn't know me and those same people would lie to your face, claiming to know her. She's my complete opposite. One of the most familiar and unforgettable faces in the universe right now.
Not that I care. Nothing she did affects my life, and honestly, I can't say I even believe all the hype. Nobody can do what they say she did. No way.
But that doesn't stop me from watching her as she moves past me. Smart girl, she keeps an eye on me too, but for all she knows I'm out cold. Head tilted back, supported by the wall, jaw slightly open and keeping my breathing even, it's exactly what I want her to think. She can't see through the coverings I keep over my eyes to tell if they're open or not. Hailing from the dark side of my homeworld, I don't like the light, even in a place as dimly lit as this one.
When I show no interest in her, she decides (correctly I might add) that I'm not an immediate threat to her. Settling herself against the far wall, she takes a seat. She looks tired, a little disheveled maybe with the corner of her upper lip beginning to swell. Guess she's been up to some fun before coming here. But even still, she looks calm – proper, even. That alone would make her look out of place in a joint like this, but she's also a curiosity. I don't think it would take much to make her a regular. An entirely different lifestyle sure, but still, I think the possibility is there. And I would know.
I close my eyes, content to grab a few minutes of the rest she obviously thinks I'm taking, but it's not long before the door opens again. She looks quickly at me and I shuffle around a bit, the noise enough to bother me but not enough to "wake me". More importantly though, we both watch the new guy joining our quiet little corner of the room. Her muscles relax in recognition before mine do as I watch the man step carefully past me, moving towards her.
There's a lot of people in the universe that would pay a lot of latinum to be in my shoes right now. Well, probably not my shoes exactly, but here I am, minding my own business, sitting within shedding distance of Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway. Throw in a Kirk and Spock and I'd have a stacked deck.
"Would you care for a drink?" he asks, offering her the simple glass he holds in his hand. I'm impressed; it actually looks clean. Perks of being famous, I guess.
She seems amused by his formality given our location, but accepts the offered drink and gestures for him to join her. "Is this the part where you ask, what's a girl like me doing in a place like this?"
It's certainly the question I would ask, if I cared.
"No, no," he demurs, rubbing his fingers along a scrape on his bald head. "I was thinking more along the lines of, all the gin joints in all the world-"
"I had to walk into yours?"
"Something like that," he admits.
I'm going to assume they are making some sort of arcane Terran reference because they both seem far more amused by the exchange than I would have thought it required.
"Technically speaking," she pauses, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with her thumb, "I was here first."
With only a tip of his head in her direction, Picard acknowledges her point. He picks up the dirty, half crumpled flier that I had seen in her hand when she walked in. Frowning at it, he tells her, "This is all Beverly's fault. She enjoys dramatic flair."
I'm pretty sure I know what the flier is. I've seen them all over every spaceport within twenty parsecs of here, not to mention all the flashing vid screens, screaming out the announcement on every public transport in the sector.
"You don't enjoy flair?" she asks, managing to keep a straight face.
"The Enterprise provides enough drama for me without my having to go and look for it."
I roll my eyes, careful not to let any other expression show. He sounds like he's as stuck-up and strait-laced as I always imagined.
"And here I thought you were a born explorer, Captain," she chides him. "Perhaps I have you pegged all wrong."
He holds the flier up, forcing her to confront it. "Not for this sort of theatrics."
**Two Captains! Janeway. Picard. One night only!**
**Only one can own the title – Legendary**
It's what I thought it was. Quite possibly the most heavily promoted event since the election of the last Federation President. But if memory serves correctly, and honestly I can't count on that, the event was supposed to take place tonight. Wonder what the two of them are doing here instead. Wonder what the two of them are doing here, period.
Janeway grimaces at the flier as well. "They could have at least used an updated picture of me. I haven't worn my hair in a bun like that in years."
Picard's surprised that's her only complaint. "Did you know that this was what it was going to be about? The two of us comparing stories of our alleged exploits?"
Clearing her throat, she looks away. "I'm sure it wasn't phrased quite that way when I said I would do it."
"But you knew it would be about one upmanship?"
"It was for a good cause," she tries. It's a weak effort on her part, she knows it and so does he, but he lets her slide.
"Yes, well, the good cause part is what got Beverly's attention as well. I'd like to think she didn't know it was going to be this tawdry though."
Tawdry? Really? Who talks like that? These two birds definitely don't belong here.
"Oh, I'm quite sure the members of my crew that put me up to this knew exactly what it was going to be," she admits. "I was more or less hoping that you and I would simply be trading stories, and any natural competitiveness between us would result in an interesting exchange for the audience."
An interesting exchange? People had been drooling over seeing these two on stage together for the first time ever for months now. No one had known exactly what they were going to talk about, but that really hadn't mattered. The crowds just wanted to see them together, ask them questions, snap a holo, get to shake their hand maybe.
"Well, it's not going to happen now anyway." He drops the flier, letting it fall to the filthy floor. "So I suppose it doesn't matter."
Janeway leans back, resting against the grimy wall. "Do you think anyone is looking for us yet?"
"Even if they are," he gestures to our lovely surroundings, "I doubt they'll be expecting to find us in a place like this."
A rueful chuckle. "Sadly, I don't think it'll surprise my crew too much."
He eyes her questionably and with a shake of her head and a wry smirk, she heads off any questions he may want to ask. Obviously, she's spent time in a few more disreputable places – my kind of places – than he has.
They're quiet for a few minutes, obviously comfortable in each other's company, and I start to drift off. This place isn't quiet by any means, but I'm used to the surrounding ruckus and chorus of bodily noises that fill the air.
"We could still do it, you know," she offers, breaking the silence.
She immediately has both mine and Picard's attention. I'm sure he's taking a different meaning from her offer than I am though.
"Do what?" he asks.
"Compare notes." She shrugs, acting almost shy about the suggestion. "Exchange information regarding tactics or encounters. It'd be something to do to pass the time."
"You mean compare missions," he clarifies. He looks at her more closely, and for the first time since he walked in, he actually looks amused. "You think you'll win."
She scoffs, obviously prepared to deny the accusation and claim that's not what she meant at all, but then her chin comes up and her eyes narrow slightly. I've seen broads all across the quadrant try and pull off that look before. That perfect mix of defiance and confidence. Most don't quite manage it, but she pulls it off nicely.
"Of course I'll win," she boasts, raising a single eyebrow at him in challenge. "My crew and I brought Voyager all the way back to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, traveling across seventy thousand light years in only seven years. How will you top that?"
He leans into her space. "If it wasn't for the Enterprise saving the Earth from the Borg, there would have been no home for you to return to."
Her jaw actually drops open slightly, but she recovers quickly. "I went back in the past to 1996."
"I spent time in 1893," he counters then adds, "I've also been to the future."
"So have I."
My eyes are bouncing back and forth between the two of them. It's a good thing they're ignoring me now 'cause I'm pretty sure they'd be able to tell I'm not sleeping.
He pulls down on his shirt, momentarily smoothing out a few wrinkles. "I had my ship taken over by a hologram."
"Ditto," she says, unimpressed.
Scowling slightly, he tries again, "I've had members of my own crew take me hostage."
She leans forward, appearing interested. "Were they brainwashed?"
He smirks, thinking he's got her. "Possessed."
"Oh," she replies, sitting back nonchalantly brushing dirt off her pants. "Mine were brainwashed and possessed. Two different occasions."
I have to admit, the promoters for this meeting of two famous captains had been right. It really is something to see. Too bad they only have me for an audience.
Picard tries again, "I had two members of my crew that were believed to be dead show up alive at their own funeral service."
"My ops officer died and came back to life. Twice."
"I was trapped in a 1940's holodeck program that almost resulted in the death of a crewman as well as botching a diplomatic mission."
"Please," she actually scoffs. "My entire ship was taken over by a species called the Hirogen. They hunted my crew and I in holodeck simulations for over nineteen days, culminating in a battle that included World War Two Nazis, with some Klingons thrown in for fun. And yes, the safeties were most decidedly off."
He flushes slightly, having heard the hard edge that had crept into her voice. She hadn't said it outright, but it's easy enough to figure that she must've lost people.
"Fair enough," he concedes, "you have the better holodeck story."
She nods, accepting the point in her favor, but being only one up isn't enough apparently. "I met Amelia Earhart. It turns out she really was abducted by aliens all those years ago."
He smiles at that revelation before admitting, "I met Mark Twain."
She actually laughs at this and once again I'm at a loss. Not sure how meeting either one of those people is significant, but it must mean something to them.
"I've also had the pleasure of meeting Admiral James T. Kirk, Ambassador Spock, Captain Montgomery Scott, and Dr. Leonard McCoy," Picard adds.
"Now you're just namedropping," Janeway scolds.
He and I both wait her out. I may only be from a dark, backwater planet, but even I know who those guys are. She can't top him on this one, or she would have done so already. She gives it a try though.
"During a mind meld with Tuvok, I spent time serving on the bridge of Captain Sulu's ship, Excelsior."
He immediately dismisses the claim. "A mind meld doesn't count. You didn't actually meet him."
She lets out a huff of air. "Fine. You get a point for that one."
She stews for a minute, probably racking her brain for something else, and I begin to realize how crazy their lives must be on a regular basis.
"I think the Borg Queen had a crush on me before my future self killed her," she throws out without much conviction.
He actually laughs, a low rumbling sound deep in his chest. "Well, I can't say my future self was involved in the incident, but the Queen definitely wanted me as well…before I killed her."
They've both killed a Borg Queen? How many of those damn cyborgs are out there?
She drums her fingers on her thigh. "My entire crew was stuck in a shared dream state and attacked by aliens that lived there."
"All of my crew almost went insane because we couldn't dream at all."
"That's not exactly the same thing," she argues half-heartedly.
"My entire crew was almost killed by a macrovirus."
"What the devil is a macrovirus?"
I'm glad he asked before I did.
"That's what I said too," she allows. "Big giant bug looking things, flying around and infecting everybody on the ship, rendering them comatose. It wasn't pretty."
If he has something to top that, I don't want to know about it.
"Have you ever de-evolved?" he asks.
What the hell kind of question is that?
She actually grimaces. "Oddly enough, yes, I had lizard babies with my pilot – who was also de-evolved at the time."
That's it. It's official. These two should definitely not ever talk about all these experiences in front of people. Ever. Terrans having lizard babies? Nope. Not right. If this event ever gets rescheduled, I'll blow up the stage myself so that it gets cancelled.
"Only two of you then?" Picard clarifies, thankfully skipping over the part about the babies. "Consider an entire ship complement reverting back to their primal selves, and please keep in mind, I had a full-blooded Klingon officer on the Enterprise."
"My chief engineer, who is half-Klingon, had pregnancy hormones."
"Not quite the same thing, I assure you."
I swear he almost shudders, and I don't think I ever want to know what Klingons "primal selves" are like. They're bad enough when they're drunk.
They're quiet for a few moments with Picard sitting smugly with his assumed win, until Janeway sits up, her back straightening and the side of her mouth curling upwards into a smile. "I've got it."
"Q," she says simply.
Picard grunts. "What about him?"
I've heard tales of a strange guy known as Q. Claims to be a genius or something. I thought it was just bar tales. He's supposedly really interested in humans. Can't quite figure them out, I guess. Not a big shock then if these two have drawn his interest.
"We've both met him," she confirms.
"Have you ever been to the Continuum?" she asks, the smile on her face as wide as I've seen it. She may have the winning hand, but she winces slightly when her grin tweaks the injured side of her mouth.
Picard is enough of a gentleman that he doesn't point it out. Answering her question, he admits, "No, I have not been to the Continuum."
"I have," she responds expectedly at this point. "Twice."
He has to give her a point for that and they both know it, which would give her the lead, but apparently she's going for Dabo.
"Not only have I been to the Continuum," Janeway continues, "I've also met Q's significant other – Miss Q. I watched them pro-create, and I am the Godmother to Q Junior."
To his credit, it only takes him a moment to face the chips on the table against the cards in his hand. She's got him beat, and he folds. "You win."
I laugh at her victory, and they both glare at me which just makes me laugh harder. It's not my fault they didn't realize I'd stopped pretending to be asleep around the time they were discussing holodecks and James T. Kirk. There's not exactly a privacy expected sign hanging up anywhere in this joint.
Maybe it's the reminder of where they are, but for whatever reason, they stop talking. It's fine by me, I don't mind getting some rest in before it really gets rowdy in here. The second sun will be completely down in another hour or so and then the regular crowd will start rolling in like clockwork.
I flex the spines up and down my back, settling them into a more comfortable grooved pattern against the wall, and with a last chuckle at my neighbors, close my eyes.
The sky is beginning to lighten outside with the rays of the first sun, which means that inside here it's finally quieting back down. It's definitely been a loud and rowdy night, even by my standards. The two Terran captains fared well enough though.
Probably 'cause nobody ventured much into our corner of the world. Anyone that wanted to cause trouble with the Terrans would have had to get past me first. The regulars didn't bother trying, guessing by my position I considered them my marks. I suppose I did…I tail thumped a couple of the young ones that got too close. They'll wake up later.
Janeway tried to talk to me a couple of times, but it only took a grunt from me and Picard pulled her back. Smart man. I may not want anyone else to mess with them, but it by no means makes me a social guy. In fact, I almost miss it when, in his quiet voice, he says something of interest again.
"Not to beleaguer the point," he starts, "but in your dealings with Q-" he pauses again as though reconsidering whether or not to voice whatever it is that he'd thought of, but he settles into it and continues, "were you ever confronted with your own mortality?"
Her head comes up as does my attention. She brushes hair out of her face and takes more time than I would've thought necessary to answer. "No," she answers quietly before adding, "not with Q."
"I'm told that when I arrived in sickbay I was dead on the table." He shrugs. "I can't say I remember that part."
She pales. Her voice barely a whisper. "I'm sorry," she says. "But it's probably better that you don't. I remember that part quite clearly, and it's not something easily forgotten."
He waits but she doesn't elaborate so he continues. "Mine started with an away mission."
A short, humorless laugh. "Don't they always?"
"If I'm to believe that it was his doing, Q showed me my life and how it would be if I had made different choices in my youth." She gives him a small frown of confusion so he elaborates. "I have been cognizant for some time now that I had a tendency to be a bit reckless in my youth."
"My security officer called me reckless only a few years ago."
They share a grin at this, and I get the feeling they're both perfectly happy with the label. I got no problem with that.
"Yes, well, I have to admit that after the experience provided by Q," he takes a deep breath in, "I'm much more settled with decisions I made in my youth."
It's clearly a difficult admission for him to make. I can only guess he doesn't like owing one to this Q character.
"So, what about you?"
"Hmmm?" she asks a little too casually.
"I suppose I could be the gentleman here and not press you for details," he allows, "but then I'd also have to assume that you simply don't have a story worthy of comparison."
His dig is just enough to stoke her pride past whatever bad memory she's recalling. "All right," she drawls out, "but only because I wouldn't want you making bad assumptions." The grin she gives him fades quickly. "My first officer and I crashed a shuttle on a planet's surface. I was injured and some sort of parasitic alien lodged itself in my cerebral cortex. I, of course, had no way of knowing that what I saw next wasn't real."
He and I are both listening closely. He asks the question I won't.
"What did you see?"
"Lots of things," she says eventually. "I saw my CMO pronounce me dead. Saw my own funeral. I watched my crew mourn." Picard doesn't press for more details, but she isn't finished. "And, worst of all, the alien made me see someone that I knew to be dead."
He frowns. "To what end? Why force you through such a charade?"
She shrugs, shakes her head. "I was near death and apparently his kind feed on that, convince people to cross with them into some sort of matrix instead of whatever other after life they're supposed to go to."
That alien better never show its face in the Alpha Quadrant. I don't care if it takes the form of all seven of my dearly departed hatchmates; I'll knock its teeth down its throat if it tries to keep me from going to Marosian. I may not be a nice guy, but I know I've earned my seat at the table.
"So, technically you never actually died?" Picard asks, completely straight-faced. "You only hallucinated that you died."
"To the best of my knowledge," she rolls her eyes. "No, I personally have not died."
He nods. "Just clarifying."
"For the record."
I can't help but grin at the growl in her voice. She doesn't like being outdone in anything. Even in death apparently. I wonder what it would have been like for her if she had seen past decisions she'd made and their consequences. Wonder if it would have changed her. Wonder if something like that would change me. I think I would have to see a lot of my past. There isn't just one thing that would affect my life all that much.
"I would assume," she starts quietly, sounding more serious than either of them have all night, "that over the years, you've lost people under your command?"
The question answers itself really and he knows that. "Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. Wouldn't you agree?"
She nods. "What about killing someone on your own crew?" A pause. "Personally, I mean."
"Personally?" he frowns. Takes a breath. Hesitates. "Yes, I have. During a Borg invasion on the Enterprise, a crewman was already being affected by the nanoprobes assimilating him." Another deep breath. "He stretched out a hand asking me to help him. All I could offer was a quick death."
"There was nothing quick about…Tuvix begged me not to-"
The muscles in her neck visibly tighten and her voice strains itself into silence. I can see her blink several times as she clenches her jaw shut against the end of that thought. A swallow and several deep shuddering breaths that oh so slowly return to normal.
"There was a transporter accident, and I was left with one officer instead of two," she finally begins to explain. "It took us weeks to sort out the problem and come up with a way to separate the bio-patterns. During that time, the entity that was the result of a malfunction became…a person of his own. A member of the crew. A member of my crew." She takes in a breath, holds it in her chest for a long moment before exhaling. "I administered the hypospray. I took his life to save two others."
I bet that took a hard heart. At least Picard's kill was in the heat of a battle with no other real choices. I would've thanked him for doing me the favor. I wonder what her crew thought of her choice. I wonder if they even knew.
"I'm sorry," he tells her. No blame. No judging. Which is good, because if he had, I would've had to thump him.
"Me too," she admits, wiping a quick hand under each eye. "Oddly enough, that wasn't even one of the more prickly decisions my review board covered. They were more concerned about my infractions against the Prime Directive."
He grins a little, eager for the break in tension. "Did you break it?"
"Temporal Prime Directive?"
"No com-ment," she answers, a bit of sing-song in her reply.
"All right," he holds up his hands in retreat. "What about…relationships?"
She raises a single eyebrow at him. "Have you been reading the tabloids, Captain?"
Apparently, he has been since he seems a little embarrassed that she asks, but I don't think it's all that crazy of a question. It's been a pretty major topic among anyone who has tuned in at all to the return of Voyager. A born and bred Starfleet Captain falling in love with the bad-boy Maquis commander she was sent to capture. It's the stuff holodramas are made of. It doesn't matter a whit that they've both denied it six ways to Saturn.
"I'm not judging." Picard spreads his hands out. "After all, I'm in a relationship with my Chief Medical Officer, and my first officer is set to marry my ship's counselor. It's been known to happen."
"Yes, well, for the record, it didn't happen. Not out there. Not while we were on Voyager."
She's pretty intense in her denial. Makes me believe her. If she were to say it like that in front of all those cameras that keep getting shoved in her face, people would drop it. I don't get it though. I mean, why not have a little something-something on the side?
"Because you felt like you couldn't be distracted while you were the captain," Picard states quietly, understanding filling his voice.
She nods silently, appreciatively. "There was just too much at stake." She gives him a watery smile. "It's nice to talk to someone who understands."
"You give me too much credit," he argues. "I don't think I could ever understand what you went through out there. I don't think anyone who wasn't there ever could. A captain's burden is unique, but yours was even more so. I don't know how you managed it."
"Sometimes I didn't," she admits to the floor.
"And what about now?"
She looks up. "What about now?"
"You're no longer 'out there', Kathryn." He grins at her. "Plenty of time now for distractions."
"I'm still the captain."
"You've been offered admiral."
Her jaw drops open slightly. "How did you know that?"
"Don't change the subject."
She tries to pout but starts laughing instead. "I guess glaring won't help with you, will it?"
He just looks at her.
"Well," she starts, glancing in my direction, "it's not something we've made public-"
She looks at me again and I look right back at her, not even bothering to pretend sleep this time. The tip of my tail thumps slightly with impatience and one corner of her mouth ticks upward in a grin.
"Yes, Chakotay and I are together. We have been since we stepped off Voyager."
I give her a curt nod. She inclines her head to me in return. Good for her. If I've heard only a fraction of what she's been through, she deserves it. I wonder if I should look up this Chakotay guy and make sure he knows what he's got. She probably wouldn't be pleased about that sort of thing, but then, there's no reason for her to know.
"At least you had the common sense to become involved with someone below you in rank," Picard says surprisingly. "I fell in love with the one person on my ship who can actually give me orders."
"And what about the promotion to admiral?"
"I don't know." She shrugs. "I think Mom would be pleased to have another Admiral Janeway in the family." She shakes her head. "But I just don't know."
"Care for some advice that was once given to me?"
A bit wary, she gestures for him to go ahead.
"Don't let them promote you. Don't let them transfer you. Don't let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship because, while you're there, you can make a difference."
Her eyes have grown wide at his heated speech, and I have to admit it sounded pretty good to me, too. Made my spines tingle. I wonder –
"And who told you that?"
He smirks. "Admiral Kirk."
I bust out laughing and am still chuckling when the door swings open and our trio is rudely interrupted by the protocol droid.
"Prisoner: Picard, Jean-Luc. Terran," it announces in its metallic, clipped voice. "Charges: Public intoxication. Disorderly conduct. Bail posted by: Crusher, Beverly."
"You were drunk?" Kathryn whispers in mock alarm.
The droid continues. "Prisoner: Janeway, Kathryn. Terran. Charges: Instigating public unrest. Disorderly conduct. Bail posted by: Chakotay." The mechanical droid's top half spins back around to face the door. "Follow me for out-processing."
Half chuckling, half wincing, Picard and Janeway help each other to their feet. A long, cool night of sitting on the hard floor causes them both to move stiffly. Just before they reach the door, I stick my leg out, stopping them in their tracks.
I knew as soon as the droid recited the charges what it was that the two of them had been hauled in for, but even knowing, I can't quite wrap my head around it. "The two of you started a bar fight?" I ask, still not quite believing.
They exchange a look and it appears that Janeway is about to deny everything when Picard beats her to the punch. "She started it."
She whirls on him. "I. Did. Not!"
"You didn't like that the bartender said you would lose our upcoming debate."
Her hand settles on her hip. "Disliking a bartender does not constitute starting a fight."
"You threw your drink in his face."
"It was an accident. I tripped over the waiter's foot. He had three of them!"
I carefully drag my leg back out of their way.
"Yes, well, the bouncer didn't seem to think it was an accident." He tugs his shirt down as he moves past both of us and towards the door. It's only now I can see that the collar is almost ripped completely off.
She follows him out into the corridor. "Hitting him wasn't an accident!"
The door shuts behind her, closing before I hear his reply. I let out a low whistle and stretch both my legs back out. I could make a small fortune with the story I could tell about tonight, but who would believe me? I was here, and I barely believe it.
Besides, what happens in a place like this should stay in a place like this. But I tell you one thing, if I ever saw the two of them at a bar while I was out and about, I'd buy them a drink.
I'd buy them a drink and then slip out the back door. A bar fight is one thing, but that's the least of the trouble that seems to follow the two of them around. And their kind of trouble is more than even a guy like me is looking to handle.