Summary: Written for the 2012 Vamb Secret Ficlet/Drabble exchange. My wonderful first sentence came from Major Ryan.
Many thanks to Kim J for the beta.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
“Careful Commander. Putting me on a pedestal so high, you may not be able to reach me.”
Only a handful of words – spoken partly in jest – but they broke us.
Considering the number of arguments we’d had over the past few weeks, it was something of a surprise that such an innocuous comment wreaked so much havoc. But perhaps it was the proverbial ‘straw’.
In hindsight, I should have called her on it – insisted she explain herself – but I didn’t. I let it slide. Too exhausted to argue, I absorbed the barb not realising how the wound would fester.
We’d endured a hellish two weeks of near deaths and near misses punctuated by disagreements over the Borg, the upheaval of Seven of Nine’s arrival and the vacuum of sadness left by Kes’s departure. The foundations of our command relationship were crumbling and with it the cornerstone of our rapport. Her brusque words simply widened the chasm.
A week ago – before the Borg and Species 8472 had cast their malevolent shadows across our existence – my reaction would have been vastly different. I would have laughed it off, perhaps thrown a flirtatious comeback her way or pinned her with a heated stare, but there was now an uncomfortable tension in our interactions; a hulking sense of betrayal and awkwardness lumped across this gaping void between us.
I don’t know why she’d said it. The tone of the insinuation was churlish and crass, and so unlike her – but there was no denying the truth behind the words or their intended target.
It was no secret that I admired her – much more than was deemed appropriate for a first officer. It was something that Tuvok found highly unacceptable – his scowling visage followed us everywhere – but her throwaway jibe had cast a pall over our friendship and irrevocably altered the dynamic of our bond.
She’d breached those long-respected boundaries and personalised our arguments; her anger focussed solely on me rather than on our circumstances, and like a fool, I’d taken it to heart. It was the clichéd pitfall of the ‘too emotionally entwined’. I could almost hear Tuvok’s droning censure in my head.
Had our situation been less dire, it might have been laughable, except that we were both so wounded and heartsore that we couldn’t think straight. We should have been able to find a way past the hurt but with our objectivity so compromised, the outcome was unavoidable – we’d created the perfect storm.
Reeling from our near miss with the Collective and still wading through the emotional fallout of nearly losing her, the ship, the crew – everything – my emotional compass was off kilter. I was also dazed after my mental link with Seven of Nine – my deep-seated fear of losing my mind had been reborn with a vengeance in those few moments of shared consciousness.
I blamed Kathryn but it wasn’t her fault. It was my duty and I would never hesitate to sacrifice my life to save the ship and crew. My fear was primal and deeply entrenched and I shouldn’t have expected her to understand. I’d never told her about my Grandfather, his dementia or the flawed gene/ticking time bomb I carried within my DNA. But up until that moment, I’d banked on our connection being strong enough for her to sense my dread. The fact that she seemed oblivious only reaffirmed my suspicions – our rapport had foundered. The realisation broke my heart.
Only days before we’d shared one of our most tender moments. I could still see her in my mind’s eye, as we stood by the viewports in her Ready Room, her face alight with warmth and affection, her hand resting firmly over my heart as she told me that she couldn’t imagine a day without me. I’d assured her that she wasn’t alone; my heartfelt promise to stay by her side a pledge from the deepest recesses of my being – but within forty-eight hours, she’d callously thrown my words back in my face.
They still echoed in my mind. “Then I guess I’m alone, after all.”
I could see the anguish in her eyes, a haunting reflection of the agony in my own.
We were both aware of the widening rift between us but being equally stubborn, neither of us was willing to give an inch.
Work meetings that would have once been nestled amongst an easy flow of banter were now stilted and strained. Ill at ease in each other’s company, our conversations were awkward and uncomfortable, and it was from this mess of hurt feelings and betrayal that her flippant accusation was born.
Why I didn’t say something at the time still eats at me. I could have avoided years of separation and misunderstanding. What we’d had was extraordinary but we failed each other and as time plodded on, we frittered away the opportunity to recover what we’d lost.
But we adapted.
We kept up appearances and mended our fences – to a degree – but the rubble was always in the way, making the path treacherous and ultimately impassable. In the years that followed, we muddled through but I missed what we’d been and yearned for the unique rapport that highlighted our early years as captain and commander.
I thought it had been lost forever.
That was until today.
We were home. Earth; the Alpha Quadrant – the pot of gold at the end of our seventy thousand light-year rainbow was a glorious reality. I really didn’t think we’d ever make it, certainly not in my lifetime. I’d inured myself to spending my days wandering from star system to star system until I succumbed to the rigors of time. But Kathryn had done it. She’d beaten the odds and brought us home.
I should be elated, I know, but the emotions churning in my chest are not the ones I expected.
The bright, happy faces of the crew and their palpable joy, buoys my spirits but riding roughshod over everything is a stormy cloud of deep sadness and regret. This is the end of an era, the finale to the grandest of adventures and, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’m going to miss it – the ship, the crew, the journey. But most of all, I’m going to miss her.
We burst through the fireworks of the exploding Borg sphere, coming to an abrupt stop one light year from Earth. The initial shock of our arrival left us stunned and a little numb but once reality began to reassert itself, something strange happened. It was as if the inertia of our sudden stop had flung all the feelings and emotions from those early years slamming into me from behind in a sort of concertina-like collision. It almost knocked me off my feet.
In a split second of breath-taking realisation, I knew that I still loved her – deeply and wholeheartedly. I’d never stopped and although I’d tried to move on, my heart wasn’t in it, my doomed relationship with Seven of Nine already coming to an inauspicious end.
As I stood on the command deck, all the feelings for Kathryn that I thought had died, came rumbling towards the surface, enveloping me like lava – heated, unstoppable and flowing outward. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She must have felt my gaze and slowly turned towards me. We were on opposite sides of the Bridge but I hadn’t felt this close to her in years. I could feel the ground between us clearing – the rubble of our misunderstandings and missteps tumbling by the wayside as the path smoothed and we moved inexorably towards one another.
We met in the middle of the Bridge, in our usual place in front of our command chairs.
Face to face, for a long moment, we simply watched each other, not touching, not speaking, just breathing in a slow easy rhythm as we let the years fall away.
It was all still there. The love, the want, the need and the joy.
I felt alive again.
Without a word and in perfect synchronisation, we turned frontward, our shoulders touching, the connection between us zinging with electricity and as we dropped into orbit, home at last, I felt her hand slip into mine. Our fingers wove together and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that everything would be all right.
Against the odds, we’d made it.