Disclaimer: See part 1
Author's notes: A big thank you to Andrea and Anne whose insights and opinions helped and inspired me.
after a concept by Claudia and Fabie
Something was not right in her Ready Room. Kathryn noticed this the moment she stepped over the threshold. She was in here often and long enough to notice when something was not the way it was supposed to be, and which she noticed even though she liked changing things in her inner sanctum from time to time. And it was not the stack of padds piling up on her desk, which the various heads of department brought her. Her gaze wandered swiftly across the room and finally settled on a small dish with a crimson and sunflower-yellow peach sitting on it, arranged on a tray together with a knife and napkin.
She smiled. So dear Neelix had picked up on the crew's endeavour to feed their captain. But just how much did they know? The Doctor, Kes, Chakotay and Tuvok wouldn't spill a word about her condition, of that she was certain. Tom Paris -- no, despite everything this just wasn't his style. It was hard enough for him as it was, so why jeopardise everything he had achieved so far by telling their story? The failed attempt at the transwarp flight had affected him enough.
Kathryn picked the fruit up and smelled at the velvety skin. It was a peach, all right, but she missed the aroma of sun-spoilt air in which bees were humming away. The peaches from her grandfather's garden had smelled and tasted like that, and there was nothing she had loved more about summer when she was a child and a teen later. She smiled again, then bit down heartily. Almost instantaneously the sweet juices exploded on her tongue, and some dribbled down her chin, and it was only a quick grab for the napkin that saved the uniform from being stained. This was delicious!
She enjoyed the rest of the peach with her eyes closed most of the time, totally absorbed in this simple pleasure. She wished she knew who had treated her to this so she could say thank you. But when she stepped on the Bridge no one seemed to notice anything or cast her a glance that said "My pleasure". And even later, in the Mess Hall, everyone kept their face straight. Kathryn decided not to say anything if they wouldn't.
Tom, however, sensed that she wanted to say something, particularly with her looking at people as though she expected them to tell her that they had put the peach on her coffee table. But of course they didn't know anything about a peach. He smiled softly to himself. So she had liked the surprise.
He was very relieved about that. The idea for this had struck him all of a sudden the previous night. When she had come to the Paris family home as a cadet, Kathryn had always had a peach or a peach dessert after dinner. Tom couldn't tell why he remembered this small detail all of a sudden, but took advantage of it unashamedly. It might buy him some time to come up with something better. Despite his talk and behaviour, Tom was quite shy when it came to the woman he really loved. It certainly had to do something with the fact that he was afraid he didn't live up to the expectations put in the Admiral's son. What was more, though, he had presented an entirely different version of himself to her, a version which he actually let his father see. This he had to change. He wanted Kathryn to see the real Tom. And if he wasn't mistaken, he had taken a step into the right direction today.
Whoever meant her well didn't leave it at peaches. She also found a bowl of strawberries and whipped cream sitting in her Ready Room, a yellow rose and books about lilies and roses. Kathryn was deeply touched by this caring person, and she wanted to say thank you. But she couldn't do this, she could hardly make an announcement and tell whomever it was that gave her these simple pleasures that she appreciated it.
Appreciated as well as loathed them, because they broke her heart. Apart from the need to say thank you, they evoked in her the desire to have somebody to lean onto, to open up to. Chakotay and Tuvok were her best friends, but she could share only so much with them. As much as she trusted them there were still things she couldn't possibly discuss with them. Her fear, for instance. She was scared to death by the idea of having to raise this child on her own -- once she'd survived her pregnancy. Was she going to be a good mother? She had always wanted to have children. But would she be able to be there for her child as mothers were supposed to, as her mother had been? What if the child --?
And she desperately wanted to share her joys with somebody, wanted to be touched, wanted her stomach to be touched, caressed. She needed encouragement, massages, a verbal slap around the ears, a body she could snuggle up against ...
Some nights, her dreams were filled with images of this man. Usually, this man would be faceless, but once she woke with a start, perspiration trickling down her back and between her tender breasts, heart thumping because it was Tom Paris who had just, in her dream, loved her.
Kathryn Janeway was a scientist, and as such she usually was careful when it came to considering a matter based on a hunch. Or so she thought, because most of her actions came from deep within her, born from some mystic instinct that hardly ever failed her. Tuvok had hinted at that time and again, Chakotay had put it more bluntly, wrapped into her medicine bundle.
So Tom it was.
Suddenly, it all added up.
How could she have been so blind? Hardly anyone aboard knew about her love for peaches, except for Tuvok, but he would never sneak them into her Ready Room, much less without telling her. That left only Tom, because he was the one person who had known her for the longest time on this ship. They had met when he was a boy, just on the brink of adolescence. He would know about peaches and books about lilies and roses and strawberries with whipped cream.
Kathryn rose on shaky legs, wrapped herself in her favourite shawl and stood at the viewport. Her thoughts wandered back to their mating. She didn't remember anything, not only about the mating, but also about being a lizard. Wasn't it ironic that as an evolved human species she had turned into the shape of her own spirit guide -- well, not really, because there was this difference between reptilian and amphibian life, but --
"God, Kathryn, get a grip!" she murmured. What was she thinking? There was no way of telling about the sex life of those super-lizards, no way to make sure what -- or who -- had initiated the mating. It was nothing, really. It was probably just her hormones, and her loneliness that made her grasp for straws.
She could not, however, deny a certain attraction she felt for her pilot. But he was Owen Paris' son. How could she? He was practically family. Sort of. Tom hadn't been there very often when she had called at the Paris place, and so she got to know him more through his father's eyes and stories.
Kathryn sighed. This wasn't getting her anywhere. She went up to the replicator and ordered -- with an urge to act against her better knowledge -- a cup of tea. What she needed now was the comfort of a hot cup of coffee, not tea. God, how was she supposed to get through with this?
Patience, to Tom's surprise, was suddenly on his side. When he saw Kathryn sit in the Mess Hall across from B'Elanna, who had taken it upon her this day to make sure their captain ate, he decided it was time to give her a peach. He had no idea with what story the Doctor had come up to make the crew all but feed the captain, but whatever it was worked.
"Ma'am," he said, holding the small tray with the peach, knife and napkin out for her. "Something to round off your lunch."
Kathryn accepted the tray. "Thank you, Lieutenant." When she didn't say anything more, she saw him leave out of the corner of her eye. She hadn't dared look up at him for fear what she'd see. She didn't even know what she expected to see.
"He never brings me any dessert," B'Elanna said, picking up her glass to finish her juice. When Kathryn didn't answer the half-Klingon decided to speak her mind. "Are you still angry with him because of what happened during the transwarp-flight?" B'Elanna wasn't sure what it was she saw in Janeway's eyes when she raised her head to look at her. There were pain and conflict, certainly the urge on Janeway's part to say something.
Kathryn managed a smile. She was grateful for B'Elanna's question because she had needed to answer it for some time now, but had never had the courage -- or even the idea -- to ask herself. "No. It's something else, B'Elanna." She reached out and touched the woman's hand. "Thanks for having lunch with me. I'm sorry if I'm not really sociable these days."
"No, it's okay. I'm glad there's something I can do for you for a change."
Kathryn rose and left.
The peach remained where it was, sitting invitingly on its saucer.
Tom decided he needed to confide into somebody about the baby. It was easier said than done, though, because he couldn't ask Tuvok, and the Doctor would just give him a medical lecture, so he might as well just study the ship's library. He wished he could ask his sister Kathleen, but that was impossible. So the only option he had was to ask Samantha Wildman. The problem, however, was that she would probably not even talk to him even if he found a reasonable pretext on which he could ask her about being an expecting parent.
He knew that the prudent way was to go and talk to Kathryn directly, to apologise and try to make her understand. This plan probably would have worked if it hadn't been for Kathryn's stubbornness. Sometimes all he wanted to do was corner her, shove her up against the wall and kiss her madly. He couldn't and wouldn't do that of course.
Suddenly he realised that he had been bribing her with all his gifts. Not consciously, anyway, but looked at it from a distance it certainly was bribery. Nobody, least of all Kathryn, wanted to be bribed. So this had gone utterly and completely wrong, despite his better knowledge that she had liked his gifts.
The only thing he could do right now was go and talk to her. There was no way around it.
"Who the hell does he think he is!?"
Chakotay watched her pacing in front of his desk. It was kind of amusing to see her like this, finally showing something else in her eyes than that haunted look. Her fiery spirit was finally back, and left Chakotay relieved and in the certainty that something was going to happen about this. It was about time, too, because Kathryn's condition was beginning to show. Ever so slightly so, but enough for the biased eye to see.
"If he's in love with me he'd better just spit it out, for God's sake!"
A smile dimpled his cheeks. So this was what it was all about. Kathryn Janeway was in love. "The problem is, you don't let him, Kathryn."
Kathryn stopped, braced herself on the back of the chair in front of the desk. Her grey-blue eyes were fixed on Chakotay, but he didn't feel daunted by her gaze at the least. You just had to let her drop in it from time to time to make her realise. Then she broke into tears.
Her hormones were wreaking havoc on her, and should any of this get out of this room anyone would know in a matter of minutes what was wrong. What Kathryn needed was not only a friend, it was the father of the child. Chakotay wasn't a father, but he knew that there was nothing like a father-to-be when it came to dealing with hormones. It surprised him, though, that Kathryn reacted so strongly on them as she did. Maybe this was because she usually had such a tight grip on herself, or because she was torn between the ship and her child, and certainly because she was lonely and, to top it off, at the same time realising that it was her own fault, too.
Before Chakotay went to comfort her with a hand on her shoulder -- nothing more, though -- he summoned Tom to his office. This was either the best or the worst thing he could do at the moment. Only deeds could tell.
Tom, as though the devil himself were after him, flew to the First Officer's office. Although Chakotay's message hadn't been explicit about Kathryn needing his help, something told him that this was about her. The doors didn't part fast enough so he squeezed through as soon as possible. Kathryn was huddled behind the visitor's chair on the floor, her body shaking with sobs and tears. Chakotay was kneeling next to her, one hand lightly touching her shoulder. He didn't say or do anything more, though, letting her have the good cry she obviously needed so much. Chakotay rose when he noticed Tom, nodded at him curtly and left to take over the Bridge.
Long after Kathryn's tears had stopped, and after the blissful tiredness that follows a good cry had set in, they were still on the floor. Tom had offered Kathryn a shoulder to cry on, which she had accepted gladly and there was no doubt that she realised whose arms were holding her. Kathryn could not tell, however, how long Tom had been there for her, and she was surprised at the relief that swept through her when she realised that it was him rather than Chakotay who soaked up all her fears and doubts and anger at herself. For who could better understand her than Tom? Not because of the attraction, but because this concerned both of them.
"Thank you, Mr Paris."
She let go of him, and he responded immediately. "I am sorry, Captain."
"No," she knelt, touched his shoulder. "Don't apologise." She waited for him to rise and pull her to her feet. Standing, she straightened her uniform, and as she tugged at it, the slight bulge on her stomach became quite evident. Kathryn sensed his gaze, and she touched her stomach. Then she looked at him. "I guess we have some talking to do, Lieutenant." Still, there was rank between them. Tom stiffened, tore his eyes off her midriff, meeting her glance squarely. This was about the two of them, about Kathryn and Tom rather than the captain and her pilot.
"Let's resolve this without protocol, shall we?" she offered, as much to her own surprise as to Tom's. "It is kind of ridiculous to pull rank after all that happened."
"Do I look like hell?" She removed some non-existent smudges from under her eyes.
"You look as beautiful as ever," Tom replied. Her eyes were still puffy and red, as was her nose. He went to the replicator and ordered two warm, wet bags of tea and two peaches. Then he made her sit in the neglected chair and put the tea bags on her eyes. Kathryn sighed in comfort, the warm damp already working its magic on her weary eyes. "I guess it doesn't matter if we take advantage of Chakotay's hospitality for a couple of more minutes," he said.
Kathryn murmured her approval. "You are a flatterer, Tom Paris."
Tom grinned, his cockiness winning over his self-consciousness.
"We do have to talk, though. A single act of compassion won't do."
"It's time we took the bags off your eyes."
Whether he had intended for the double meaning Kathryn didn't know. "Meet me in my office as soon as your shift is over."
Gorgeous. No one said it like him.
Now get a grip, Kathryn!
Having washed her face and made sure that she looked her usual self for herself, Kathryn accepted the peach.
Continued in Part 3