Disclaimer: Paramount own them.
Author's Notes: The following story is a response to challenge 230 by Geordi at the JuPiter Station; so this is a J/P version of "Workforce". Beware of heavy spoilers for the episode. Books play a major role in this, because I love reading and reading to others. The other day I found a postcard a friend sent to me from Paris; it shows "Les bouquinistes sur les quais de Seine", it'll be explained later in the story what this means.
I have read all the books mentioned in this story, except for Dante's because the translation left a lot to be desired.
Rating: NC-17 for consensual sex between two loving adults
Written: 15 June 01
Two Pages in a Book
1In the book which is my memory,
on the first page of the chapter that
is the day when I met you, appear
the words "Here begins a new life."
-- Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova
Kathryn sat alone in a dark corner of the bar, watching the patrons and the waiter interact. The waiter was a tall blond man with very clear blue eyes and a ready grin. And he always found the right words to go with the drinks or meals he served. Currently, he was talking to a young, pregnant woman with dark hair and ridges on her forehead. She seemed cold, which Kathryn could understand. She had seen her quite a few times here, and the young woman was almost always on her own, with a padd or a book for company. Kathryn had thought about asking her where she had got the book a couple of times, but she had never done so, why she couldn't tell. Books were rare on Quarra, and being the book-lover she was, Kathryn resolved to get up and ask her.
Maybe she should ask the waiter about her first. He seemed the only one who was able to get access to this very lonely, sad-looking woman. As far as Kathryn could tell, the baby did not have a father who really cared about him. Kathryn couldn't imagine why a man would leave an attractive, obviously educated woman like her alone.
"What can I do for you?" The waiter seemed to have appeared out of the blue.
Kathryn smiled apologetically at him. "I'm sorry. I'd like a glass of wine, please, and a word with you if you've got the time."
The waiter grinned at her in a boyish way that betrayed his true age. "A glass of wine screams for company. I'll be off duty in a couple of minutes, so why don't I join you then?"
"Brilliant," Kathryn smiled.
The young woman left soon after she had finished her cup of something steaming hot, which was shortly before the waiter returned to Kathryn's table. Meanwhile, Jaffen had come to ask her out for the next night, but considering her plans, Kathryn had delayed dinner with him until later.
Tom had observed the encounter between the two co-workers, and when he joined Kathryn at her table with two glasses of wine, he said: "Don't you like Jaffen?"
"He's a nice guy, and he seems to like you. So either you don't like him or you're picky."
"How much is the wine?"
"An answer to my question."
Kathryn cast him a disbelieving glance. "What is this?"
"A question of a guy who likes you more than Jaffen does."
"What makes you think that if I liked him I'd like you? Don't you think picky women wouldn't even notice flatterers like you?"
"I'm not the usual flatterer."
"What about the pregnant woman, then?"
"Are you jealous?"
"No, just wondering how you gained that woman's trust when no one else seems to manage."
"As I said, I'm not the usual flatterer. I'm interested in our patrons, that's all."
"And you think you can bribe my answer?"
"You might as well pay for the wine, I just meant to be nice, that's all."
A pause. Then: "I'm sorry. I seem to be tougher than her."
"So, don't you like Jaffen?"
"I do, he's just not my type. He reminds me of someone I've been with. I liked him a lot, and he doted on me, I think, but it was so ... unexciting. It was a safety-net of a sort, it was so natural."
"I see. And Jaffen is like him?"
"Yes, I guess so."
"I'm not like Jaffen at all."
"You know about books, don't you?"
Tom the waiter laughed. "This is the strangest of flirts I've ever had. Yes, I do know about books."
"Would read one of them to me?"
Compared with all the other homes Kathryn had been to so far -- not that there were many -- and with her own, much to her chagrin, Tom's house was cluttered with books. Whereas her 'bookcase' held trinkets, memorabilia and a couple of other things next to the only two books she possessed, Tom's was filled with books, just the way it was supposed to be. Of course his shelves looked less tidy than Kathryn's with all the various colours and sizes books usually had, but it looked more natural and certainly more homely than her quarters would ever look. Books were an expression of one's personal tastes just as any other item in your place, but none made a person seem more interesting than books did. Kathryn loved exploring the bookcases at other people's.
"This is beautiful!" Kathryn exclaimed when she saw the small library in Tom's quarters. He smiled and closed the door behind them, leaving the room in darkness for a second before he turned on the lights. It was a private game of his to enter his dark living-room. The city's light streaming in through the huge windows was a relaxing sight. Once he switched on the lights it seemed as though he had switched out the city's lights -- and anything that was his life in this strange community of workforce. Tom loved his new work with the café, but to him it was not a way of life as work seemed to be for Kathryn.
"I'm glad you like it."
Kathryn turned to him. "Where did you get all these?"
Tom smiled. "I can't really tell. People gave them to me, or I bought them. Some of them I even found."
"Where," Kathryn began, "where do you buy books in this city? I've never seen anyone selling books."
"There is the odd shop," Tom bade her sit on the sofa. "You haven't been around here that long, have you?"
Kathryn shook her head. "Well, no."
"I'm sorry for overhearing your conversations, but from what Jaffen said to you the other day I take it you don't really use your spare time." Tom offered her a drink and sat opposite her in a chair.
She didn't reply anything. "I see. So, what would you like to read? You can borrow any book you'd like." With that he left her alone to take a shower and change into something more comfortable. Leaving, he saw her perusing the backs of his books from the corners of his eyes. Tom smiled softly to himself and took his well-deserved shower.
He hated the fact that in this world books were a rare possession, and a rarer occupation even. Other forms of entertainment that weren't as involving as literature had been developed so the employees and workers could stay focussed on their work rather than be distracted by the captivating worlds of books. Reading was not prohibited on Quarra, but it was of socially low reputation. This fact alone made a law against literature — be it in printed or electronic form — unnecessary. Yet there were the odd shops, as he had called them, which were really but other workers who turned hawkers — Terran booksellers were known as Bouquinistes — in their precious spare time and collected, traded, bought and sold books on trays, barrows and trolleys.
Tom had joined them a couple of times as both Bouquiniste and customer and thus knew the places to which they usually went. Usually, he was very protective of them in a selfish way, but Kathryn seemed passionate enough to deserve this knowledge. Maybe he would just show her one place, a good place, and see how things would develop. Deep within himself, though, he already knew that this woman could be trusted.
When he returned clean and freshly dressed he found her sitting on the sofa and already engrossed in a book she had chosen. Inadvertently, his gaze swept to the bookcase and he noticed that she had marked the place by pulling its neighbouring tome out just a little bit. Tom smiled.
Kathryn sat with her feet tucked under and her drink forgotten, the book carefully cradled in her hands, supported by her legs. Later, Tom would remember this as the point at which he had fallen in love with Kathryn. She looked beautiful as concentrated as she was, with her hair cascading past her cheek, thus shutting her out from the world with a soft, cinnamon veil.
Kathryn returned the book only two days later.
"I would have returned it yesterday, but Jaffen asked me to go through some reports with him," Kathryn beamed as she put the book back where it belonged. She turned around when Tom didn't answer. It didn't take an empath to see what he was feeling. "You are jealous of Jaffen," she pointed out.
"You know I like you ... a lot, so I think I deserve the right of a little jealousy," Tom hastened to reply. Closing the distance between them to an unobtrusive minimum, he handed Kathryn her drink. Not quite knowing how to reply to this compliment, Kathryn sipped at her beverage.
"I guess I owe you for lending me your precious books," she thought aloud. "Maybe we should take this slowly." Kathryn smiled at him to shoo away her unsureness. She already knew that this man attracted her, but she wanted to get to know him a little better before admitting him closer to her. Tom seemed very honest and she had an impression that his love was undemanding and unconditional to a certain degree, but she needed this time. "Thank you again, Tom, you have no idea how much this means to me."
What she was referring to Tom didn't quite get, but the kiss she gave him on his cheek made that non-essential.
"What about dinner?"
The waiter smiled in a very special way. The smiles he gave his customers did not have the soul and the gorgeousness of the tiny wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and the sharpness of his teeth. "Sounds good."
This time, it had taken Kathryn longer to finish the book. It hadn't been any reports this time that had demanded her attention, it had been her own musings that had had the book sit closed on her nightstand on four evenings. She needed to be sure about why she liked Tom so much; if she just liked him because he was her personal librarian she would never betray either him or her feelings by sleeping with him. But if she liked him for who he was, she knew she would be unable to stay away from him much longer.
"At my place when your shift is over," she said quickly so as not to lose her resolve. Kathryn handed him the money for her drink, then rose and left before Tom could say another word to her. Umali, the proprietress, had observed him again, as she had with B'Elanna. "I'm hoping you are sincere about this."
"As sincere as I've ever been, ma'am," Tom replied and cleared Kathryn's table.
"I can tell what that means," she said.
Tom interrupted his work, instead of putting the glass on his tray, he put it back where Kathryn had left it. "How am I supposed to take that?" His eyebrows knitted.
Umali gestured for him to sit. "I wasn't entirely sure what to make of you when you turned up the other day. I recognised you for a charmer. At first I was worried that maybe you'd chosen my café to flatter the ladies — which in fact you do," she told him. He wasn't sure whether to say anything to his defence, but before he had made up his mind, she continued her little speech. "But more people enjoy coming, and you haven't caused any trouble. For that I thank you, Tom, and I trust you."
Tom didn't know what to say. He knew he had been pushing it, and was ever so grateful for a chance. "Thanks, ma'am."
"I just had to say this because this woman deserves a little romance in her life. Enjoy dinner," she stood and left.
Still, all Tom could do was stare after her.
His shift was over a short time later. He hurried to his apartment to shower and change before he took off to Kathryn's. When he arrived and Kathryn opened the door to him, the acrid smell of burned food floated towards him; he could still guess what she had been preparing. Kathryn looked very sheepish.
"I shouldn't have even tried," she said by way of greeting him. "My cooking equipment is a little bit temperamental."
"Have you been talking to it?" Tom quipped and went inside past her.
"How do you know about that?"
"That I talk to equipment?"
"I am very observing. Ask B'Elanna."
Kathryn sighed. "Jaffen. He's told you."
"And Tuvok. Usually, his jokes are pretty bad, but that one was a riot," Tom grinned at her. "No offence. Here, with compliments of the house." He handed her a bottle with a sparkling, yellowish liquid.
"That looks like cider."
"It's Antarian cider, it is said to be a delicacy."
"You haven't tried it yet?"
"I've saved it for a special occasion."
"Oh," Kathryn blushed a little. "Well, I guess you'll be saving it for a little while longer because dinner's off. Let's go out."
Tom hesitated. "Okay, then I can show you one shop or the other."
So they went out for dinner, which they had in a small bistro in one of the arboreta. It was one of the smaller gardens, and thus less frequented which suited both of them just fine. It was also a very new one and was called 'Voyager's Arboretum'. There were very strange trees and plants to be seen, which were arranged in beds and patches surrounded by green grass. The garden was covered with a protecting dome made of glass and steel.
"This is lovely," Kathryn enthused. "How do you know this place?" She deeply inhaled the fresh fragrance of the air. They were sitting at one of the small tables, a candle burning in a lantern between them giving off a gentle, golden light.
"One of the Bouquinistes told me. He said this place reminded him of a dream he once had about a different life," Tom explained. He looked so gorgeous in this warm light that Kathryn found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. She reached for his hand. It was warm, and its slightly freckled back was covered with fine light hair. When her thumb brushed over it, Tom shivered involuntarily.
"That sounds very much like Tuvok. He came to me the other day and asked me if I knew him," she told him. "I have a feeling he wasn't just referring to — I don't know what, but it sounded like he knew me from a different life."
Tom looked at her askance.
"This sounds completely mental, doesn't it?"
"Well," Tom began. "Yeah, but you don't believe that, do you?"
"It's not reasonable," Kathryn said, but added as an afterthought: "Yet it's on my mind a lot. Anyway, who are the Bouquinistes?"
Tom grinned, turning his hand so he was holding hers. It was delicate in his, and very soft. "They are the booksellers who have their stalls built on the walls lining the Seine bank in Paris. They mostly sell antiquarian and second-hand books. Have you never heard of them?"
"No, I've never been to Paris," she smiled. "That sounds very romantic."
"I am very romantic."
Kathryn laughed out loud, she hadn't recognised the pun until then. "Will you show me where they sell their books here?"
Tom led her to one of the Bouquinistes rather than the other hawkers. He reckoned that Kathryn would prefer reading books from back home rather than any of the other peoples that lived here. It wasn't that she wasn't interested in the alien peoples who were working on Quarra, on the contrary, but she had come a long way from Earth, and Tom knew that she missed it terribly. Add to that the language barrier; they had had universal translators implanted subcutaneously, but that didn't mean they knew any of the languages spoken in the factory.
The Bouquiniste was a little girl with small, pointed horns in the centre of her forehead, and she had long blonde hair. She didn't look more than ten years old. Her books were arranged in a broken pram. "Hello, Tom," she greeted him cheerfully.
"Hey, Naomi, how's your mom?"
"Too tired for this," Naomi answered. Her eyes were fixed on Kathryn.
"Hi. Are you looking for anything in particular?"
"What do you recommend?"
"I've just traded Wuthering Heights for The Notebook."
"Then I'll take it. What's it about?"
"It's about an old man whose wife has Alzheimer's and he wants her to remember their life together by reading from his notebook, I think. The man who brought it to me seemed to have liked it a lot," Naomi explained. "He wants Tom to have it."
Kathryn and Tom exchanged a quick glance. "Kathryn is my dear friend, Naomi. It'll be okay if you give to her."
Naomi hesitated. She seemed very eager to keep her promise. "Okay." She pulled the slim book out of a box which she kept in the storage compartment of the pram. She wrapped the book in buff-coloured, worn-looking paper. When Kathryn inquired after the price, Naomi said that the man had already paid for it. "Can you describe the man?" Tom asked her; this was getting stranger by the minute.
"He had dark skin and pointed ears, and he didn't look too well, like he was running a fever."
"Tuvok," Kathryn breathed. Now it was Naomi who looked askance.
Tom touched her shoulder, and said very reassuringly: "He's a friend or ours. Don't worry, okay? He went to the infirmary because he had caught a cold, but he's all right now. Thank you, Naomi. Give my love to your mom."
"I don't believe this," Kathryn said as soon as they were out of hearing distance. "This doesn't seem like he's insane any more."
Tom nodded. If someone was as pressing as Tuvok there had to be more to it than a mental ailment. "You're right. But what is his point? That we've lived different lives before Quarra? I'm aware of my life before coming here."
"Lets not discuss this now, Kathryn. We can't do anything about this now so there's no point in wondering. We'll find out about it."
Instead of an answer, Tom framed her face in his hands and kissed her gently, just lips touching lips. Kathryn was so surprised for a moment that she didn't react. It had been quite a while since a man had last kissed her. When she was ready to respond, Tom released her. "Yes, promised."
"You must like me a lot," Kathryn smiled.
"That is mildly put," Tom quipped. He let his hands drop from her face because he felt that his words were enough for Kathryn to deal with at the moment. Truth be told, he, too, wanted to take this slowly.
Kathryn caressed the back of his hand, then enclosed it with her fingers. She gave him an appreciative tug. "I'm a little cold. Lets go back to my place."
End Part 1