Disclaimer: Once upon a time there was a company called Paramount. They owned the copyright to a TV-show called ST:VOY. They didn't like fanfic, but when the storytellers promised not to make any profit from their stories, and tell everyone that they had not imagined the characters, but only the story, people at Paramount were happy ever after (particularly since fanfic was good and free promotion for their show). The same applies for the quote I've used. But find out for yourselves.
Author's Notes: The historic setting is only imagined, so please don't go off and do research. Just lean back and enjoy. If you listen to music when reading, I suggest Michael Nyman's wonderful soundtrack to *The Piano*.
Written: January 2000
In the Still of the Night
Tom leaned against the doorframe. He wrapped his silken, midnight-colored bathrobe closer around his body, tucking his hands in his armpits. The tiled floor was cold beneath his bare feet, but he didn't notice that. His eyes were fixed on his wife. She was lying in her bathtub with her eyes closed, apparently oblivious of everything around her. Several candles were sitting in an arc on the edge of the tub. They provided the only lighting in the room, bathing Kathryn in a warm golden glow, catching fiery red highlights in her hair. She'd piled it up on her head in a lose bun. Yet some strands had escaped and curled around her face in the damp air.
"Hiya," she whispered, but didn't open her eyes.
"Hiya," Tom answered. Her husband of nearly five years, Tom still fell in love with her again and again. "You've been in there for nearly two hours. The water must be freezing by now," he pointed out. He padded over to the tub, sat on the edge and grabbed her favorite sponge. It had a sickly green color, but it was incredibly soft and could hold more water than sponges from Earth. Tom had brought it back from an away mission. He dunked the sponge into the water, and lazily started dabbing her glistening skin with the fragrant, tepid water, gently squeezing the sponge and watching the rivulets of water run over her skin and disappear into the water. The lather had long since gone, so Tom could see the rest of her body. Kathryn was still a very beautiful and sexy woman, her job was keeping her fit—and Tom.
He couldn't help grinning at that thought.
His smile turned lugubrious, though, when he remembered that that hadn't always been the case. There had been one year in their marriage that had cost them dearly. This year of hell—as Tom called it privately—had ended only two months ago, when both of them had finally made peace with what had happened to them.
"What is it, love?" Kathryn wondered aloud, and caught him by the wrist to get his attention. She opened her eyes, too, a reflex, but she didn't look at him.
Tom sighed. He let the sponge glide into the water, and his hand into hers. He couldn't hide anything from her, or not for long at any rate. "I'm just so grateful, that's all."
Kathryn nodded. Sometimes they didn't need many words to understand each other. It had always been like that between them. But it hadn't always been an advantage, or so they had learned in the past year. She nodded again, absentminded. Her grip around his hand tightened ever so slightly. And a shiver ran down her spine. The water was really getting cold now.
"Please get me my towel, will you?" she asked him. She fished for the sponge, squeezed it and put it on the edge of the bathtub. Tom returned with the towel.
"Voila!" he said, and held the towel up so all she had to do was step out of the tub and into his arms. That she did, and she was aware of Tom's eyes on her naked form. A shiver ran down her spine at the memory of his loving gaze. Kathryn felt that he was looking at her like this now, and a smile brightened her face. Stepping into his embrace, she let him wrap the big, fluffy towel around her. Then he pulled her into a tight embrace.
Not only to make sure that she wasn't cold, but also to make sure that after all, she was still his. Tom had learned his lesson, and never took anything for granted again. He inhaled her scent deeply, she used the fragrant oil he'd brought back from that mission together with the sick looking sponge. The color of the oil was darkly yellowish, and it smelled divine; a mixture of peaches and vanilla, but there was something else which neither of them could quite put their finger on it.
Tom buried his nose in her hair, planting a gentle kiss on her hairline.
Kathryn just stood there, letting her wrap in both the towel and his arms. She couldn't return the hug since her arms were caught under the fluffy fabric, but she knew for sure that this was fine with Tom. "I love you, Tom," she said into his shoulder.
His grip around her tightened a little, and she felt his heartbeat quicken for a moment.
Then the moment was gone, he let go of her so she could dress herself. After she'd rubbed herself dry, she held the towel protectively wound around her body. "Which one is it tonight?" she asked.
Tom held a heap of peach-colored silk out for her. She reached for it. "Ah, nice choice," she commented after she'd felt the texture of the soft fabric. The towel slid down around her feet, and for a moment she was completely naked in front of him as she raised her arms above her head to put on the nightgown. Tom felt his desire for her rise within him as he took in the way her body moved, particularly the way the firm flesh of her breasts stretched as she raised her arms. But this was gone within seconds when the cool soft fabric hid her body.
Kathryn smiled. She knew exactly how Tom was watching her, and she couldn't but feel flattered about it. A wave of desire rose within her ever so slightly. Never had making love with him been any more exciting than in the past months. It was as though after their long break in this regard, they'd discovered new passion for each other. For Kathryn it had become particularly special because with her senses sharpened, she experienced their loving-making differently than before. It was more intense for her. She didn't know about Tom. They had never talked about this.
Which in itself was strange enough, because she'd thought that Tom must have come to terms with her blindness by now. She decided to ask him about this tonight. After he'd read something to her. His reading something for her had become a kind of ritual. Not only because Kathryn preferred his voice to the computer's—even with a wide selection of different voices in which novels were read—, but also because it had been this very simple thing that had kept her sane in the past year. Discarding it would be something like letting go of a good spell for her. Strange as it sounded, she would have felt ungrateful to whomever it was that had helped her next to Tom.
"Come, please tell me a story," she said, and held out a hand for him.
Tom nodded, took her hand in his and lead her to their bedroom. Not because she would have ran into the furniture, no, it was part of their ritual as well, a part that stemmed from the time after their captivity. They made themselves comfortable on their bed, and then Tom began to read for her. She had chosen *The English Patient*, the novel on which an Oscar-winning late twentieth-century movie was based upon. That was why her choice had seemed so familiar to Tom. But he had never had the time to actually watch the movie, or let alone read the book; which she had actually chosen because it had won a famous award, the Booker Prize. He had never been much of a reader, at least not when it came to novels. He had been blind in that regard, and now it was his blind wife who made him see. Just like he made her see now. It was his words—and those of the authors—that made her see in her mind's eye what she could no longer see.
"From this point in our lives, she had whispered to him earlier, we will either find or lose our souls." To Tom, this was the most outstanding idea in the novel so far. Maybe because it was so absolutely true for the two of them, just as it had been true for Almásy and Katharine in the story.
The light bathing the room in the fire of dusk was deceptive in its peacefulness. It was but the quiet before the storm, of that much Filippe was sure. He gritted his teeth as he dragged his bad leg after him towards the window. He couldn't tell how he had made it here in the first place, odds of his escape being discovered had been against him. Somehow, he had made it here, and he thanked the Virgin Mary from the bottom of his heart. He hadn't always believed so strongly in whatever divine force there was, but that had changed now.
Carefully, he peered out of the window. Scanning the gently rolling hills, whose fields and pastures lay gray and bare in the cold winter-day, he found no sign of any movement that alarmed him. The crows and ravens were pecking the last of this fall's corn crop from the furrows of the fields. The chance that they would actually find something was almost nonexistent, though, for the peasants were wont to burn the stubble down in order to fertilize the soil. Filippe shielded his eyes and watched the sun set behind the cypress-lined horizon. It was still early in the afternoon, but winter-solstice wasn't long, and with it Christmas.
Filippe sighed, pulled the collar of his cloak tighter around him. His fingers were frozen, despite the gloves he was wearing. They were made of the finest leather, lined with the softest mole-fur his tailor had found. He checked the dressing on his wound. He had used his scarf to stop the bleeding from the wound in his left thigh. One of the Count's people had buried the blade of his dagger in it up to the hilt. Filippe had to admit that the bastard was a good marksman, but fortunately he'd only hit his flesh. It hurt like hell.
The rapping at his door alerted him back to reality. He pulled himself upright and onto the simple bed. Carefully, he positioned his injured leg on the coarse blanket, pushed another one he'd rolled tightly up under his knee to support the leg.
"Come!" The invitation was an irony in itself, since the door to his cell was locked—from the outside. A precaution the Mother Superior had deemed necessary despite the man's injury. So it was no big surprise to him that two sisters were coming now to look after his injury. But who was he to complain? He could count himself happy that they were hiding him in the first place.
"We're here to tend to your leg," the sturdier of the two sisters explained. She was carrying a tray with only few medical instruments, mostly vials and jars and rolls of clean stripes of linen. As reassuring and comforting as those things were, the tray of the tall sister was more alluring to him now. On it sat a bowl with steaming contents that smelled divine, bread and a goblet of hot spiced wine.
"Thank you," Filippe said. He smiled at the two women.
"But first you should eat something," the tall sister said. He could see her breath in the cold of the cell. She, too, seemed to be cold. Her skin was dark, as were her eyes. She didn't seem to be from anywhere near. Filippe ate with gusto, the simple stew tasting better than everything his father's chef had ever prepared. The sisters introduced themselves as Carolina and Magdalena, but Filippe knew they weren't the names their mothers had chosen for them. Magdalena didn't sound Saracen at all, but her heavy accent certainly did. She was the one to take care of his injury. Little wonder, the Saracens were renown for being good medici.
After he'd eaten, they took care of his leg. It was all Filippe could do not to scream out loud as they removed the fabric of his leggings from the wound. The scarf had fulfilled its purpose too well. The drying blood had encrusted the fabric, making it stick to his skin. Removing it proved a painful procedure. But the cool ointment was pure bliss, it was the last thing he thought before he passed out.
When Filippe woke again, the full moon was illuminating the cell with its cold silver-blue light. It was so bright that it actually took him some time to adjust his eyes. He felt a throbbing in his leg, faint pain that he knew would have been stronger had it not been for the painkiller in the spiced wine. He felt dizzy, and for a moment he wondered what had woken him. A sharp outcry reminded him instantly.
There was someone—a woman—next door who was crying out in pain or in fear. He didn't know. He just felt the urge to do something to help. But it wasn't his place to do that. First of all, he was confined to his bed. And the two sisters—God bless their souls—had sure as hell locked him inside this small icebox of a cell.
He rose into a sitting position, wrapping his cloak tighter around him, readjusting the blanket. When he turned his head towards the elongated rectangle of aerial silver he could see the clouds his breath created in the cold. The woman was still crying, but there was no way he could help her, or calm her down. He knew that hitting the wall wouldn't accomplish anything. The walls of the Santa Caterina da Siena nunnery were far too thick. And yet his neighbor had woken him. Filippe grimaced at the idea of having to go into her cell.
Filippe relaxed when he heard quick steps approaching, and sound of keys on a key ring, then in the lock of his neighbor's door. The nobleman wasn't sure whether that gave him a sense of satisfaction or alarmed him. Well, he was safe in here, after all, wasn't he?
He closed his eyes as though that allowed his ears to serve him better. But he couldn't hear anything. Either the lady next door had calmed down completely, or she was whimpering so low that the walls between them swallowed her sounds. Either way, he felt relieved, knowing that she was being taken care of. Filippe didn't care what everyone else thought about woman, he just couldn't stand it when they were in pain. In his opinion it was man's duty to take good care of the weaker sex—for they took care of his home and his family.
He closed his eyes, and in a matter of heartbeats sleep had claimed his mind back.
Tom put the book down after he'd slipped the bookmark in between the pages. Carefully, he slid down on the bed, taking Kathryn with him. He pulled the sheets and the duvet over them. She settled against him comfortably, pushing her hand gently beneath the fabric of his bathrobe. She soon found his nipple and turned it into a pebble with her lazy caress. A smile appeared on her face when she heard him breathe in sharply.
Tom covered her hand with his, made her stop.
"What is it, love?" she asked.
"What happened to the neural interfaces?" he murmured under his breath. On the one hand he wanted to know what had happened one year ago, on the other hand he thought it might be better that way. Doc had assured him that he wouldn't want to know. He didn't know any of the details, but the injuries he'd had to tend to had spoken for themselves. And the Hirogen had taken good care to delete all audiovisual proof of their presence, even backups. The deleted files were irretrievable, even to the abilities of a certain Borg.
Kathryn withdrew her hand immediately. "I thought we'd decided to leave it be, Tom. No-one knows what happened to us then," she said firmly, a little bit angry as well. Tom could tell that she was disappointed.
"Sorry, love. I was just thinking silly things," he apologized. It was definitely better this way. At least the Hirogen had had enough of a conscience to make sure that the memory centers of their victims' brains were circumvented. And as far as he knew did the neural interfaces not save any of the data they absorbed. They only had a replay-function.
"It's all right, Tom," Kathryn murmured, and snuggled up closer to him. Her fingers resumed their game with his nipple. Again, he sighed. He turned his head to kiss her fragrant hair. Kathryn was right. He definitely didn't want to know how the Hirogen had done it. It was hard enough to cope with the consequences. But those wounds had healed by now; they had of course left scars. The last thing Tom wanted was rip them open again.
After a while, Kathryn answered. "They took them with them. They were quite thorough in their cleaning-up."
Tom hummed a nod. It was enough to know that they had lost their unborn child, their first. Neither of them wanted to know the why. They'd given up on finding that answer. It had been painful enough as such to find out that Kathryn had lost the child due to severe bodily trauma inflicted on her on the holodeck. It had also been then that she had lost eyesight. The nerve tissue had been damaged beyond repair, and they couldn't afford ocular implants. The damage to the ship had been severe, and being as stubborn as ever, Kathryn had put her own good after that of Voyager and her crew. They had never discussed this option ever after.
"Yes, they certainly were." Yet Tom wasn't sure whether this was a blessing. A small part of him still wanted to know.
They lay in silence after that, they communicated with their caresses only.
Sister Magdalena was killed in the raid by the Count's people, along with most of the other sisters in the convent. The surviving sisters were taken prisoner by the already excommunicated Count, the archfiend of Filippe's. His men hadn't found him, though, for the Mother Superior had had him hidden in a secret attic room next to the library. That was where Filippe and the mysterious woman had met for the first time.
One of the novices had told him earlier that in the night she'd woken him she'd lost her unborn child. She had been abused cruelly by the same Count's men, for her family had been unfortunate enough to fall into disgrace with the Count. She had been brought to the convent one day earlier than he. It had already been clear then that she would never be able to see her child, because of the horrible, unimaginable things they had done to her. As a consequence of the shock, she had lost her child after only four months of blessed condition.
Her name was Giuliana, and she was the wife of a rich merchant in Arezzo. Why her family had fallen into disgrace the sisters didn't know, or at least they chose not to talk about it. Giuliana herself was so shell-shocked that she had lost her memory of the events. Otherwise, her mind appeared clear enough to understand the goings-on.
She curled herself into a little ball in a far corner of the small attic room, and listened to the man she was forced to share this small room with carefully. He was from San Gimignano, a town half a day's ride away. A wealthy town perched on top of a hill, her towers reached for the sky for everyone to see, even at a great distance. At least so they said. Giuliana had never been there herself. And as it was, she would have to rely on other people's eyes in the future.
If she still could see, she would have known that Filippe didn't look like any of the other men she'd ever met. He was sandy-haired, fair-skinned like herself and had the most startling blue eyes. Also, he was quite tall, his bad leg almost reached throughout half the room they were forced to share. His features were delicate for a man's, especially because of his smallish nose.
Filippe made a point not looking at her too openly, but nevertheless she noticed his glance. She felt it. "Please, Signore," she whispered.
Filippe blushed crimson. The last thing he wanted to was embarrass the lady. "Forgive my indiscretion," he said, also quietly for fear they would be detected. They couldn't hear anything within the thick walls of the nunnery, which both of them thought both lucky and highly dangerous. They could never tell whether it was safe to leave the shelter.
Said novice had left Filippe a book to read. This he picked up, but he thumbed through it without much interest. This was not a good time to read. Out there was a raid going on, and it was his duty to defend the sisters, yet they had locked them up here. Defending them was the only thing he could do to show them his gratitude. But they didn't let him, for whatever reason. Instead he was here, with Giuliana.
He was certain that she was beautiful. He didn't know the color of her eyes, since she was wearing a blindfold to protect the wound. Her hair was a deep chestnut and cinnamon, partly encrusted with dried blood. Her skin was very fair, her lips something between thin and full. Involuntarily, his eyes wandered to her belly, where in the night before she'd cradled her child. But he couldn't find a single sign that reminded of that. Her dress was dust-covered, stained with blood in places, and torn.
Filippe closed his eyes. He didn't want to even begin to think about what had happened to her. Her cries last night had been enough.
"Excuse me, Signore," Giuliana whispered again, clutching the golden cross she was wearing around her neck. "Is that a book you have?"
Filippe's head jerked up. "Yes. It's an edition of Dante's La Vita Nuova."
"Could you please read it for me? It looks like we both could need some comfort."
And Filippe started to read.
When he reached the end of the book two days later, the neural interface in his neck had stopped to make him believe to be Filippe. But Tom kept reading for Kathryn when they waited for their rescue. The holodeck controls had been blocked, encoded and then jammed so it had taken the rescue team longer than expected to get through to Kathryn and Tom.
Everything thereafter was but a blur in their memories. But it definitely was the turning point in their relationship.
"Tom?" Kathryn asked after a while. She listened to his even and deep breathing and thought that he had fallen asleep. She didn't move, had no idea how long they had been lying like this. It didn't matter though, on the contrary. She was grateful for that. Their companionable silence bought her the time she needed. She had spent the whole night wondering how to tell Tom. Old wounds would be ripped open again, which he had already done. That was what had kept her from telling him, for some silly reason she was afraid of how he would react. It had taken both of them almost one year to get over the loss of their first child; a boy as it turned out. They hadn't wanted the Doctor to tell them before he was born. After they had lost him, Kathryn had asked Doc. It had helped her a lot, the knowledge that it had not been a it, but a he she'd lost. So she could keep his memory better.
Now it was a girl she was taking care of. A lugubrious smile spread on her face. She would cherish her like life itself. This time there wouldn't be anything or anyone who would take this innocent life.
She withdrew her hand from the warmth of Tom's chest, and rested it on her flat stomach instead. Kathryn had only known since this morning that she was expecting again. Her smile grew into a childish grin. From now on, Tom would read for the three of them. And she was sure that he was going to be a great father. He would teach her daughter how to swim, ski and fly, would watch his beloved movies with her, take her to the holodeck. Kathryn sighed. She wished she could teach her how to draw. God, she wished she could ever see her daughter. But she would have to rely on her father's description.
Tom stirred, turned. In the dim light of their quarters he could see his wife lying silently next to him. Was she asleep? He listened to her breathing. No, she wasn't. He looked for her hand; he had woken because of the coldness at the spot where she'd rested her hand earlier. Tom found her hand resting on her stomach, but it was resting busily, caressing it like—like …
"Kathryn?" he asked, stilling her hand with his.
Her unseeing eyes flitted open, a reflex now, that pretended normalcy. "Tom? Did I wake you? Sorry about that, honey." She pulled her hand free and carefully let it find its way to his cheek.
He captured it and kissed the base of her palm. "It's okay."
They were silent again, enjoyed the still of the night.
Then Tom suddenly drew her close to him. "Kathryn, is there something you want to tell me? You seem to be quite distracted tonight."
Kathryn smiled into his cheek, tangled her fingers in the cropped curls at the back of his neck. She arched her body into his, kissed him and held him tight to her. "I was wondering what your daughter would want you to read for her."
He gasped her name after the news had sunken in, then rolled over so he came to lie on top of her. "Kathryn, Kathryn—a daughter! Oh my God—I …" he muttered, still not quite comprehending.
Kathryn smiled, then silenced him with a kiss. It had been so easy, after all. "I love you," she breathed into his mouth, then deepened the kiss.
"I love you, too," he murmured as he kissed his way over her nightgown to her belly. "I love both of you." Possessed by a sudden urgency he pushed the peach-colored material up and over her hips. Kathryn knew he was staring at her stomach in awe, he'd done the same with their first child. Suddenly she sucked the air in sharply. He showered her skin with thousands upon thousands of kisses. Kathryn arched herself into him, burying her fingers in his sand-colored hair.
Then his lips were on hers again. "Make love to me, Tom," Kathryn asked him. "Please."
She didn't have to ask twice for it. Her hands were already busy under the material of his bathrobe, slipping the garment off his shoulders. Tom didn't bother so much about that. He kissed her nipple, sucked on it through the peach silk while his right hand traveled down her bare skin to find the center of her desire. The lightest of touches was already her undoing. A low moan escaped from between her lips, and she arched herself into him, proffering the long line of her neck to his tongue. Tom slid an arm under her to support her back.
"Tom, please," Kathryn wailed. She found his erection, and now it was Tom who inhaled sharply. He pulled her into his chest, and somehow he managed to rise with her into a sitting position. When Kathryn lowered herself onto his lap, she took him deeply into her. Despite the urgency she'd felt earlier, she wanted this to last now, wanted it slow but intense. So she locked her legs around him and pressed herself against him, sitting still.
"God," Tom groaned, his eyes squeezed shut at the exquisite pain that pooled in his loins with every ragged breath she had him waiting. Kathryn's lips were everywhere, on his eyes, his cheeks, below his ears, on his forehead, her tongue in the indentation of his collarbones, her voice and breath seductive on his damp skin. She was still wearing her nightgown, but Tom wanted to feel her nipples against his skin, not the silk-covered pebbles. He tore the offending garment off over her head. "Come on, love, let it out," he encouraged her.
Kathryn buried her face in the crook of his shoulder and neck, one hand between them, caressing both herself and her lover, the other holding tight to the flesh of his back. Tom fanned his fingers into her hair, with the other he urged and encouraged the movements coming from the small of her back.
Like that they continued until Tom couldn't bear it any more. He cupped her face and gently forced her to look at him. He wanted to see her when she came, it made it more pleasurable for him, too. To him, there wasn't anything as beautiful as his wife when her sensual world narrowed down to the two of them only. By then his world exploded into a white starry sky.
Gently, he lowered her back into the cushions. He reached for a towel and dabbed the perspiration away. "Just once more, love," he whispered. Kathryn's eyes were squeezed shut, her face flushed with strain, her hair matted to her head. She nodded as she let out the breath she'd been holding. She relaxed her jaw-muscles. "Only once," she panted, then braced herself for the last pains.
When her body relaxed, she felt her baby sliding out of her, into the waiting hands of the Doctor. She breathed heavily, slumping into her husband's arms. She closed her eyes and smiled as she heard the protesting scream of her daughter tear the momentary silence of sickbay. Then she imagined the silly, happy grin of Tom's at the sight of their child, and smiled into the still of the night.
After the Doctor had cleaned her up, he put her into her mother's arms. With the utmost care, Kathryn explored her daughter's face, and her fingers and her tiny little toes, making sure that their baby-girl was perfect.
"Tell me a story, Tom. Tell me about your daughter."
"From this point in our lives," Tom whispered, "we know that we have found our souls …"