Summer in Paris
Kathryn opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling above her bunk. Its smooth and seamless grey seemed to invite meditation and she drew her hands up behind her head as she stared into it thoughtfully. In just a few short hours she would be back home on Earth, 'putting her heels up for some well deserved shore leave' Fleet Admiral Vacheq had told her. She smiled slightly, closing her eyes. She knew exactly where she wanted to be.
A small group of journalists and wellwishers lay in wait for Kathryn outside the docking bay and she fielded their questions good-naturedly. Yes, she was looking forward to her first real shore leave in about eight years. No, she couldn't comment on her current consultative position withing Starfleet Intelligence. And no, she had never considered a career in the political arena ("I think I'd rather spend seven more years wandering the delta quadrant." General laughter). Finally she posed for a few holo-photos and signed a few autographs before excusing herself to her own affairs. She checked her watch and clicked her tongue. Running late, as always.
She moved quickly through the crowd until, at last, she arrived at the assigned meeting place. Pushing a hand through her hair she dropped her tubesack from her shoulder and scrambled through it for her personal communicator, failing to notice a slight figure drawing up beside her. "You are approximately five minutes, thirty-six seconds late, Admiral."
Kathryn stopped abruptly and closed her eyes. Grinning, she looked up into a bemused face. "Annika." She pulled the other into her and they embraced like long lost friends reunited. "I have missed you, Annika." Annika did not reply, but instead hugged Kathryn tighter to her side. Finally they pulled away, regarding each other for long moments. Kathryn sighed happily. "Are you ready?" Annika nodded and Kathryn swung her tubesack back on to her shoulder, smiling. "Well then, let's go and experience the real thing, shall we?"
They materialized in a narrow street hewn with rough bitumen and stone. Kathryn looked on affectionately as her friend gazed in wonder at the ancient, crumbling buildings that surrounded them, as she wandered up to the nearest building and placed a hand on the rough brick, turning to Kathryn with tears in her eyes. "I never thought that I'd ever really be here."
Kathryn nodded gently, holding out her hand. "Welcome to Paris."
They wandered, arm-in-arm, into an especially ancient looking hotel perched on a steep corner of the street. A bored looking concierge greeted them from behind his desk without looking up from the PADD in front of him. "Bonjour et bienvenue a l'Hotel Parfume..."
Kathryn smiled and stepped forward. "Gus?"
The man looked up blankly, his expression changing as a huge grin split his face. "Kathryn!" He stood up abruptly and rounded the desk, kissing her cheeks vigorously. "Starfleet Kathryn!"
Kathryn looked to her friend. "And this is Annika..."
"Ah yes, from the news reports." Gus took her outstretched hand, kissing her cheeks more sedately. "A pleasure." He turned to regard Kathryn. "It has been a long time!"
Kathryn nodded. "Tell me about it, Gus. I was afraid that you wouldn't be here any more."
Gus snorted proudly. "L'Hotel Parfume has been my family's home for five hundred years. It has been built and rebuilt countless times. It has survived wars, revolutions, the nuclear bomb..." He stood back and regarded her happily. "But here I go, waffling on about things which would undoubtedly bore even the most stout-hearted person to tears." He clasped his hands together. "I am guessing that you would like a room?"
Kathryn laughed, nodding. "S'il vous plait, monsieur."
The concierge rounded his desk once more. "And let me guess, you have not made a reservation? It is the summer!" He shook a finger at her good-naturedly. "How many times have I asked you to make a reservation, Kathryn?"
Kathryn demurred lazily. "I'm a romantic, Gus. I'm spontaneous. I don't like planning."
Gus threw his hands in the air. "How you made it to Admiral, Kathryn, I will never know!" He checked his PADD. "Well since it is you, mon cher, let me see who I can chuck out..." He looked up at Annika and winked as he tapped on the PADD. Suddenly it made a flute-like noise. "Ah!" He looked down at the screen. "It would appear that we have one room left. It is for two people, but..." He tapped on his PADD once more. "Unfortunately, it has only two single beds, not the double. Not so romantic, I'm afraid. However, it can be easily arranged that the beds be pushed together and made up as one."
Kathryn blinked and looked at Annika, who regarded her curiously. She turned back to Gus, shaking her head, her cheeks burning brightly. "No, I didn't mean romantic as in... What I meant was that, well..." She looked up to the heavens and then down at the confused concierge. "It will be fine as is, thanks Gus."
The concierge blinked. "Are you sure?"
Kathryn exhaled rapidly. "Oh yes."
Gus shrugged. "Comme vous voulez." He leaned down into his desk, emerging with an ornate little key. "Room Vingt-Cinq, up the stairs and to the left. Enjoy your stay, Kathryn. Annika." He grinned and sat down, his feet resting on the desk. "If there is anything further you require, just let me know." With that he turned his attention back to the PADD in front of him as Kathryn and Annika ascended the staircase.
Kathryn turned the key in the well-worn door of room vingt-cinq and stepped inside. As she had hoped, the room was a glorious little box of crumbling and faded plaster. Tossing her tubesack on a bed, she walked over to a pair of rickety little doors and cast them open, the light of the afternoon flooding into the room. She stepped out on to the tiny balcony and leaned on the railing, inhaling deeply, feeling the warm air on her tingling skin. She turned and leaned in the primitive door frame, watching Annika as she wandered to the centre of the room, completely engrossed in her surroundings. "So..." Kathryn smiled slightly. "...What do you think?"
"It's a paradoxical feeling." Annika stepped forward, running her hands along the uneven edges of the open doors. "But I believe I have found perfection..." She dragged her eyes over to Kathryn, smiling. "...In imperfection."
Kathryn nodded. "I see." Her lips parted as if to add something, but instead she smiled enigmatically and headed over to her tubesack. "Well, I guess I should jump in the shower. I can't wait to get out of uniform."
Annika blinked in surprise. "Shower?"
Kathryn turned, bathing accoutrements in hand. "Yes, a shower. You see Annika, the only modern technology here at l'Hotel Parfume is that PADD you saw in Gus's hand." She walked over to the bathroom. "In fact, most times you're lucky to get any hot water." With a wink she closed the door.
As Kathryn showered and the two had prepared the sun had faded away, until they found themselves standing outside in the mild evening, fresh and ready for a night of discovery. Gus had wished them well as they passed through reception, pressing into Kathryn's hand another key ("Just for in case you two come back a little after my bedtime." Wink Wink) and the two had had a laugh at the concierge's good intentions.
Annika looked up at Kathryn coyly. "So, where are you taking me?"
Kathryn clicked her tongue and smiled. "That would be telling, wouldn't it?" She laughed as they started down the road. "Okay, okay. Let's just say that if jazz was born in the United States, then Paris is the place it came to find its feet in the world." She winked and slid an arm through Annika's. "But first, let's go get a bite to eat."
In the heart of the Left Bank the two sat down in a caloric little cafe with a brightly lit sign (Les Deux Chiens qui Dancent, two neon dogs in grotesque flashing poses), waiting for their meals, a glass of wine at their elbows. Kathryn smiled, leaning back in her chair. "So, how's everything going in San Fransico?"
Annika smiled, nodding. "Very well." She lay her hands studiously in front of her. "As you know, I'm working closely with Commander Aron Healy and his team on the development of a new deep space frequency relay for the gamma quadrant. Well, Starfleet has given the go-ahead for the device to be live tested in the gamma quadrant in two weeks' time and I am to head up the scientific team who goes with it."
Kathryn sat forward, beaming. "That's wonderful news Seven! I mean Annika." She turned red. "I'm sorry Annika, it's just, you know, old habits die hard." She put a hand to her head.
Annika started. "Please, it's okay." She stared down at the table thoughtfully. "From you, I understand. But when I arrived here, arrived home, everyone treated me like I was some kind of alien. Seven of Nine, the human who was borg or the borg who was human. I was a curiousity, a fetish and I hated it because all I had ever wanted was to blend in and belong." She looked up at Kathryn, a trace of sadness lingering. "Do you think I'm pathetic?"
Kathryn regarded her friend fondly, taking Annika's hands in her own. "You, my dear Annika, are simply the most extraordinary person I have ever had the privilege of calling my friend."
Annika smiled shyly. "Really?"
Kathryn gripped Annika's hands. "Really." The two stared momentarily, one at the other and vice-versa as the warmth of the air touched their arms, their faces, their lips. The milieu of the little cafe flew up high, disappeared, then settled slowly around them once more like layers of dust: the voices of those around them, the clinking of primitive cutlery, the blare of jaunty background music. A twang of laughter from a neighbouring table roused the two and they hastily withdrew, Kathryn crossing her arms in front of her on the table. After a moment she cleared her throat. "So, how's Chakotay? I really have to catch up with him soon."
Annika clasped her hands together. "He's doing well. Really well. He sends his love." She flexed her fingers. "Ever since he quit Starfleet, he and his cousins have been taking people on 'vision quests'."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow, smiling. "I bet he's enjoying himself."
Annika looked up. "They have a battered old shuttlepod that they've rebuilt from whatever spare parts they could beg, borrow or steal. They take people out into the middle of their land, ingest peyote and lead them in hours of meditation towards 'that which they seek'." She smirked. "So yes, I would bet that he is enjoying himself also."
Their food arrived and the conversation stopped momentarily as the two tucked in to their aromatic meals, pausing every now and then to wash down a mouthful with a hearty sip of wine. Finally, with their plates empty and their glasses full, Kathryn sat back in her chair thoughtfully, swilling her glass. "You know, you could have invited Chakotay to come too. He would have been quite welcome." She took a fair swig from her glass, replacing it carefully on the table. "After all, I love him like a brother."
Annika smiled distantly. "So do I." Kathryn stared at her and she added: "After a fashion." She tipped the rest of her wine down the back of her throat, smiling cheekily. "Are you going to take me anywhere else tonight, or is the tour over?"
Kathryn, taken aback momentarily, closed her eyes. Refocused, she took her glass and poured its contents into her mouth, swallowing slowly, savouring the flavours that went down her throat. She looked at Annika and grinned wickedly. "Come on, let's go." She taunted playfully. "The 'tour' has just begun."
From the heart of the Left Bank the two descended deep into its belly ("Where the fire is, Annika."). As they stumbled happily through the crowds of the summer night Kathryn found at last la rue de la Hunchette and finally some way down it le Caveau de la Hunchette, its face dimly lit with a few tepid bulbs and the faintest whiff of conspiracy. Excitedly she took Annika's hand. "This is it!" With that the two disappeared through the entry and out of sight.
Suddenly Annika found herself standing in a smoky little black-walled cellar full of people. The soft lilt of music met her ears, an easy, woozy sort of sound that made her sway ever so slightly. She closed her eyes to concentrate and she felt a hand cup her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she regarded Kathryn's smiling face. "I think we should have a glass of champagne, eh?" Annika nodded absently and Kathryn disappeared into the crowd. Annika turned to regard the people around her, seeing that they all gently swayed also, some nodding their heads, all hypnotized by the sounds of the people playing on stage. A champagne flute appeared in her hand and Kathryn stood close by her. Annika turned to her and Kathryn clinked her glass on Annika's. "Here's to Annika Hansen's first taste of real jazz." They upended their glasses as the band finished their set, the audience clapping and cheering loudly before moving around restlessly, the spell broken for the moment.
Annika looked confused. "Is this place closing for tonight?"
Kathryn smiled. "No, no. Those guys have finished their set, is all." Her smile widened. "The next band plays New Orleans jazz."
Annika tilted her head. "What's the difference?"
Kathryn winked. "You'll see." She took Annika's hand again. "Come on, let's go over to the bar before it starts." She chuckled. "It's going to get a little crazy."
A few more upended flutes later the band appeared on stage, instruments in hand, counting in to their first song. In a few short moments the audience exploded into a cacophony of movement and Kathryn and Annika found themselves irresistably drawn into the rhythm that seemed to make its way through their skin and into the very marrow of their bones. They jumped, they shuffled, they kicked, they lurched this way and that as they threw their hands here and there to the strains of the horn section battling the big drums. One song flowed into another until all of a sudden Kathryn and Annika were moving together, their hands on each others hips, eyes closed in subservience to the music as they felt the warmth seeping from the pores of the other's skin, the sweat that smelled sweetly as it moved for the music also. Kathryn's eyes snapped open and she released Annika, backing away from her. As Annika regarded her in slight alarm she reassured her that all she needed was the use of the restroom and bade Annika stay dancing. Kathryn pushed her way through the throng and into the restroom, where she splashed a little water on her face, feeling a sour taste in her mouth that had risen from the pit of her stomach. She had danced too close. Shaking her head, she headed out of the restroom and over to the bar. The barman greeted her with a smile. "What would you like?"
Kathryn looked at him glumly. "I guess I'll have a champagne."
The barman regarded her curiously, before returning with her glass. "You know, you don't seem to have much to celebrate..?"
Kathryn grimaced, gulping her champagne down in one foul swoop. She turned once again to the barman. "What's your name?"
The barman capitulated. "Claude."
Kathryn stretched a hand out. "Pleased to meet you Claude. My name's Kathryn."
Claude took it. "I know. Everybody knows who you are, Kathryn."
Kathryn grimaced again and threw a hand up in the air. "Great! Of course!" She regarded Claude. "How about you get the famous Kathryn a double-shot of single malt whisky. Neat."
The barman returned with her drink and once again she threw it back heartily. Claude shook his head gently. "There is something wrong with this picture."
Kathryn scrutinized him for some moments. She closed her eyes and sighed, before gesturing over toward the dancefloor. "Tell me, Claude, do you see the beautiful blonde woman with the amazing body and eyes that eat up your soul dancing over there?"
Claude nodded. "I see her. She is Seven of Nine, of the borg, right?"
Kathryn started angrily. "Her name is Annika Hansen and she's all human."
Claude put his hands up defensively. "I only know what I see in the news reports, Admiral." He picked up an empty glass, depositing it behind the bar. "She is in a relationship with your right-hand man, Chakotay, non?"
Kathryn watched Annika. "That's right." She signalled for another whiskey and Claude dutifully retrieved one.
He regarded her closely as she pushed the drink down her throat and a sudden wave of realization covered his face. He lowered his eyes, speaking gently. "You're in love with her, aren't you?"
Kathryn turned to him, her eyes twinkling sarcastically. "You mean it shows?" She chuckled and leaned forward on the bar, a hand propping up her head, sighing. "You don't see a person for a year. With time your feelings dissipate, notice I say dissipate, not disappear. You go about your life and life's great. You feel like you're ready to reconnect, that those stupid feelings that got in the way of an amazing friendship are under control and so you organize to see them again. But the moment you see them again it's like a blow to the stomach, because then you realize..." Kathryn shook her head, smiling lazily up at Claude. "...You realize that you've been kidding yourself the whole time."
Claude shook his head gently, patting Kathryn's hand. "How about another double?"
Kathryn grinned. "You read my mind, Claude."
As Claude returned with her drink he looked over her shoulder. "Here comes your friend now. She is looking quite worried." He winked and patted Kathryn's hand once more. "Bonne chance, mon ami."
Kathryn nodded. "Thanks Claude." As she upended her glass she felt a hand on her hip. She turned to face Annika. "So, how are you liking the jazz experience?" She smiled with as much happiness as she could muster. "You should bring Chakotay here for a holiday..."
Annika cut her short. "Is everything okay, Kathryn?"
Kathryn chuckled. "You know, that's the first time I've heard you use my name since we got here, Annika."
Annika stared at her in surprise, before speaking gently. "I was accustomed to calling you 'captain' up until one year ago. And now, now that we are... Properly friends without the restrictions of heirarchy, calling you by your first name still seems to be a... sacrilege of sorts." She smiled softly. "Old habits die hard."
Kathryn smiled lopsidedly. "Hey, you stole my line."
Annika grinned and held out her hand. "Do you think that you can dance anymore?"
Kathryn hesitated, before grinning, taking her hand. "What do you think?"
Once again, Kathryn found herself out on the dancefloor, as the music that had been in the background for almost two hours now moved back into her body like a tenant returning home. She concentrated on the music, but out of the corner of her eye she could see Annika watching her as she moved, which Kathryn of course tried to ignore. With surprise she noticed that Annika had stopped moving and she turned to look at her, Annika's still body so surreal amongst the thrashing ritual movement of the crowd. Kathryn stopped dancing and stared unwillingly at Annika, her eyes drawn upwards to her face as it came closer and closer to Kathryn until it was mere nanometres away. She sensed a sincerely honest moment as Annika closed her eyes, pulled Kathryn close to her and kissed her tenderly on the lips, touching her face, her skin, moving a soft hand across the small of her back and up to her shoulders. At this point Kathryn's head began to swim and she pulled away, removing herself from the situation, the sour taste returning to her mouth, mingling with Annika's sweet saliva.
She leaned against a wall as Annika's voice met her ears. "I'm so sorry, Kathryn, I didn't mean..."
Kathryn shook her head. "I can't. I can't do this Annika." She turned to face her friend. "I can't do this to you or Chakotay. I love him like a brother Annika and I love you..." The words melted in Kathryn's mouth and she swallowed roughly. "I am not going to ruin your relationship. That's the final word." She brushed a hand through her hair. "So I think it's best if I leave now, eh?" Kathryn pushed herself off the wall and stepped forward unsteadily. "I believe that the contents of my stomach have to brief me on a matter of some urgency." She stumbled out of Annika's reach and headed for the stairs and escape.
Upstairs on the street, in the cool between night and day, the pre-dawn, Kathryn positioned herself over the gutter and vomited with gusto. A passerby called to her. "Bon matin, Admiral!" She put a hand up and waved without looking as she continued her deluge. Once she had satisfied her urge she stood up and, spitting the excess from her mouth she turned, just about stepping on Annika's toes.
Kathryn jumped back in surprise and would certainly have landed back in her own vomit had Annika not reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder. "Kathryn, are you okay now?"
Kathryn nodded, straining to smile. "I'm fine. Never been finer."
Annika pressed on. "Kathryn, there's something I need to tell you."
Kathryn put a hand up. "Please, no more. I just want to crawl up into my bed and cry for a few days, and then I'll be a-okay. I swear."
"Kathryn, please! You've got to listen to me!" Kathryn moved away and wiped a rogue tear from her eye, contemplating calling a captain friend of hers in orbit around the earth to beam her directly into her bed at the hotel. She had walked a few steps when Annika's voice brought her to a standstill. "Chakotay and I broke up two months after we arrived!" She stood silently as her heart fell down into her stomach and jumped back up again. Annika drew up behind her, placing a hand on her arm. "We're still close friends, we just don't have those feelings for each other. To tell you the truth, I don't think I ever did." Kathryn gulped and slowly turned to face Annika, her heart now firmly in her throat. She absently wiped the tears from Annika's face as Annika tumbled on. "You are the first person who ever had any faith in my recovery after my assimilation by the borg. You continued to help me through my struggles with my own humanity and you showed me how to reach it. You nurtured my growth. You fed my intellect. You gave me love and support. You even altered the course of time in order to save my life." Annika's bottom lip trembled as she struggled to regain control. "You are my mentor and my dearest friend and I love you." She sniffed and took Kathryn's hands, kissing them softly. "I love you."
Back at room vingt-cinq, the key turned in the rusty old lock and the two friends stepped into their room and stood, staring. In their absence, the two single beds had been thoughtfully pushed together into the middle of the room, made up and turned down with a double duvet, a chocolate nestled snugly atop both the pillows. The two looked at each other and laughed and Kathryn closed her eyes, smiling happily. "Gus, je t'adore mon ami." They fell on to the bed as the warmth of the day started once again, a faint summer breeze intersecting their moving bodies like the soft sound of a jazzman's voice.