It's been three years now since I first sat down to tell Kathryn a story. I spun stories for four days and four nights, a minuscule Schezerade. We got through the space, we fixed the turbolift, we survived. We are the Voyagers.
Yet in many ways, we tell stories every day. We tell stories of Hogan, Bandera, Kes. We tell stories of lizard babies and Cardassians; of lands and space-ports. We tell stories of those we've lost and those we left behind. As the years go on and children begin to run through our corridors, we tell stories of a home to those who know only space.
There is a story that I occasionally tell to myself. Some nights, when I am alone, on the bridge or in the messhall. Sometimes when I am sitting right across from her. There is a scene from my past that whisks to life, and reminds me . . . why. I've never told her and maybe I won't. Maybe it is a story only for our ancestors, or in the end only for me.
But it is my story. It brings me to my dawn.
Chakotay marched over the next hill, wiping the sweat from his brow. The heat and humidity of the climate was a far cry from the dry coolness of Voyager's regulated temperatures, and his body was having a hard time adjusting. Of course, the fact that he'd been gathering mineral deposits with his away team for six hours straight didn't do much for him either. If he didn't know Kathryn was only a few hundred meters away, he'd be ready to turn back to Voyager and take a long, cool shower. Chakotay had barely seen his captain in the three days Voyager spent planetside; both of them had been working long hours to gather as many natural resources as possible in the shortest amount of time. But he was ready for a break, and knew this afternoon was the one Tuvok had forced her to take off to relax. During the brief exchange between Captain and Security Chief, Chakotay remained silent, but when it was over he thanked Tuvok with a nod and an almost undetectable smile. If Chakotay himself had voiced his worry, Kathryn would have accused him of being too accommodating, too concerned with her needs. But when Tuvok told Kathryn, not in so many words, that he would turn the Doctor on her if she did not agree to some leave, she quickly relented.
"Six hours, Tuvok, that's all. One shift, then I'm back to work, all right?"
"I believe six hours would be acceptable, Captain. I expect your crew will be happy for the break as well."
Kathryn narrowed her eyes. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."
And she did.
During her leave, Chakotay continued his work relentlessly, promising himself he'd steal a single hour to spend with Kathryn at the end of her break. Their friendship was going strong, but there had been little time for informality between them in the past weeks. Voyager's needs came first, and lately they seemed to be taking up all of their time. Replenishing systems was the main goal, as usual, and for nearly two months they'd been visiting worlds and trading whenever possible. A surprising number of communities welcomed them with open arms; apparently word spread quickly through the sector of the small ship's heroic journey to the Alpha Quadrant. Luckily, the planet Voyager orbited currently was rich with dilithium and galacite, and Phora's people were more than willing to trade. Seedlings from other quadrants and sectors were welcomed, and B'Elanna generously offered up spare parts from their last barter session. She barely had enough time on her hands to keep the ship running smoothly, much less complete the improvements she'd theorized. After realizing this fact, B'Elanna simply gave the materials up to the Captain's discretion, who accepted them with gratitude and sympathy. Kathryn, of all people, knew how limited B'Elanna was by their current status, and wished she could give her engineer the time and materials to improve her engines. However, improvements would have to wait for a time when Voyager was short of nothing but enemies.
Chakotay wondered what Kathryn had been up to for the past hours, and cursed the thirty minutes it had taken him to hike to the coastline. A vast, calm ocean surrounded Phora's biggest continent, and Kathryn had chosen cliffs of the eastern shore as her vacation spot. Only five kilometers from the main mining site, she preferred to remain close to the largest contingent of her crew. Chakotay squinted in the afternoon sunlight, searching for her figure. He flipped open his tricorder and scanned the area, noticing various abundant life forms. Insect life thrived near the coast line, and he wished briefly for a few bug bites to prolong their stay on Phora.
Ah, there she was. Her back was straight as an arrow as she sat in the short grass, legs comfortably crossed. Her form was as still as he'd ever seen it, tank top accentuating the narrow line of her shoulders; there were no distractions to break disturb her concentration. Facing the sea, Kathryn's expression was invisible, and Chakotay longed to know if the object of her attention was external or inward. There something about her posture that expressed both utter focus and complete relaxation as well, and Chakotay wondered at the contrast. A smile touched his lips, and he stealthily crept a bit closer, then settled himself against the trunk of a knotty tree.
He would wait, and watch.
Nearly twenty minutes later, Chakotay was in the exact same position, just as Kathryn was. He was practically meditating, caught up in the peaceful surroundings and lulling sounds of the quiet water. The effect was hypnotic, and he imagined it would not be difficult to pass six entire hours in contemplation of the beautiful ocean. He'd have to ask her if that was how she passed the day.
Just then, her shoulder jerked. She sighed, chest heaving enough for Chakotay to catch the movement, and her head rotated around to ease out the kinks. Her back arched like a cat's after a long nap in the sunshine, and the ease of her movements comforted him. Even from a distance, he could tell this break had replenished her, and in his mind he could see the half smile gracing her lips, the contented cast of her eyes.
Slowly she stood, and Chakotay mimicked her motions as quietly as possible. He didn't want to disturb her solitude until the last possible moment, so as soon as he'd risen, he plastered his back to the trunk of the tree. As Kathryn turned away from the ocean, he caught sight of the imagined grin, the heavy lidded eyes. He was oddly proud of predicting such a lovely expression.
Something caught her eye, and her smile brightened as she focused on whatever it was. Chakotay strained to see, but was too far away. Then her head snapped in another direction, mouth opening almost in recognition. Chakotay watched as her brow furrowed, and followed her gaze as it drifted about. Then he realized what she was looking at; a small number of what appeared to be butterflies were floating around her, shimmering in the streams of light. They seemed phosphorescent, a dozen colors glinting off of their miniscule wings. Kathryn's gaze became welcoming, and surprise dawned as she realized there were more than just a few butterflies circling her. The numbers grew gradually, and the tiny insects kissed her skin gently as she tilted her head back in amazement.
He marveled at the cloud of glittering creatures that had taken only minutes to surround her. Chakotay sensed no danger, only peace, so he remained glued to his space by the tree. Her arms lifted, and as the butterflies continued to flutter near, she laughed.
Chakotay's breath caught, as for a few moments, the years fell away from her like so many layers of skin. Her face was transformed, and in her voice he heard the incandescent laughter of a child. There was a joy in the sound he so rarely heard, and he thanked the gods he'd chosen to stay back. No words he could have exchanged with her could rival the gift of this vision. And it was a vision, as now it appeared that Kathryn's skin was taking on the shimmer of the small wings surrounding her. Her hair glowed with light in the path of the sun, and her flesh glittered brightly from the butterfly caresses.
Her laughter continued, as she spun slowly with her arms outstretched to the sky, cloud of butterflies following happily. Her neck arched toward the sun and her mouth closed, face contorting into an expression at once grateful and exquisitely pained in the searing joy of the moment. When her arms finally fell back to her sides, she was motionless in the silence.
A stick snapped loudly behind Chakotay, and he whirled around in apprehension. But his fear was unfounded; it was only Lobo, one of the many Phorans assisting Voyager's crew in their tasks. Lobo's eyes were wide in his pale, unlined face, and he nodded in Kathryn's direction.
"That is your Captain, is it not?"
Chakotay answered, "Yes, it is."
The Phoran's eyes held great respect for the sight before him, and he spoke quietly, almost reverently. "Your Captain is blessed, First Officer of Voyager. It is rare that the moths come so close, and an even greater honor when they bestow their touch. According to our legends, your Janeway must be gifted with the grace, and passion, and lightness of spirit that brings the moths' kiss. I have never seen such a thing before this day. Believe me, First Officer, it is not a sight I will soon forget." The Phoran could not take his eyes from Janeway, and the two men watched in silence as the moths gradually dispersed.
"Nor I, Lobo, " Chakotay whispered to his companion.
When the moths were gone, Kathryn's head dropped to her chest, and she remained still for a few moments. Finally, she seemed to break herself free, and looked around her for evidence of the past encounter. There were no butterflies around her any longer; they had simply vanished into thin air. The smile from a few minutes before was now immovable from her features, and Chakotay watched as she shook her head and chuckled softly.
Her hand carelessly brushed through her hair, and a cloud of fairy dust puffed up at the disturbance without Kathryn's knowledge. Chakotay accidentally laughed out loud, and Kathryn's eyes had discovered his position in mere seconds. A fleeting look of regret at discovery skittered across her face, but disappeared when she turned to retrieve her jacket. Chakotay grinned from ear to ear, while Lobo intently observed the woman with phosphorescent skin as she approached them.
"Couldn't stand to let me out of your sight for even a few hours, eh?"
Chakotay nodded. "Guilty as charged."
Kathryn noted the strange expression on the alien's face, and her forehead crinkled in concern. "Is there something wrong, Mister Lobo?"
The Phoran cleared his throat and found his voice, luckily. "No, Captain of Voyager, I, I was just admiring your glow," he stuttered.
"My glow?" Kathryn tittered. "I guess these few hours off have done wonders for my complexion. What do you think, Chakotay?" She tilted her head flirtatiously at him, expecting the typically sarcastic remark, tinged with undercurrent.
Instead, he reached forward and brushed his hand gently across her cheek and answered, "He's right, Kathryn. You *are* glowing." He showed the resulting shine to her, and the shock registered on her face.
"What?-" she uttered, and finally took a look at the sheen coating her arms. "I-- I didn't even notice, it must have been from their wings, I--" She paused, concerned. "Did you see--"
Chakotay interrupted her inquiry. "We came up as you were standing over there, and I think there were a few insects around, but there wasn't much to see." Lobo assented with a sober nod of his head. His awe at the sight of the moths had not yet dispersed, and Chakotay had the feeling that Lobo found the event sacred enough to allow Kathryn to believe she had experienced it in privacy. "Did you mention wings?"
Kathryn cleared her throat, and Chakotay could see the momentary struggle in her eyes--tell him, or keep it for herself? After only a split second, he saw the decision made. She would keep her secret, and Chakotay vowed that one day he would reveal his observance to her when she was ready to hear it. "Oh, there were just a few insects flying around, and you know how I feel about insects, don't you Chakotay?"
The quiet tension was immediately broken, and Chakotay's dimples appeared again. "That I do, Captain, that I do." He gently smoothed a hand along her shimmering arm. "This is nice... Is it something in the air, from the ocean maybe?"
Kathryn's gaze turned inward for a moment. "Oh, yes, I definitely think it's something in the air."
With that, she took his arm, grinned at Lobo, and turned to head back to Voyager.
* * *