THE SEEKER

By Shayenne

Pairing: J/f, J and C
Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything, but manage to pretend they don't have feelings.
Rated PG-13
For Saffron. :)

I sit at my stall and watch the strangers go past. The market is busy, but the Voyagers stand out. It's not only their black and red uniforms, so bright and glowing compared to the pale pastels that my people wear. It's not simply their height -- even the shortest are a good hand span taller than any one of my people. It's their presence, the aura they radiate. It's something indefinable, a self-confidence, an intelligence, a knowing. They've been to worlds that I will never see.

The learning centers on my world are for the privileged -- those born with the gene of knowledge, those with an extra digit on their left hand. I look down at my own hand; its three digits mock me. I know I could learn as well as any of the fluttering girls that pass, but my government decrees that it's not for me, Sithe, a lowborn female.

And I was also born without the gene of travel, which is marked by blue-eyed people. So, without knowledge or travel, I make my living here in the market place, telling fortunes, selling spices, occasionally entertaining a gentleman caller, if I find him sufficiently attractive.

The Voyagers have five digits on each hand, but not all of them have blue eyes. Yet they all travel. I question my government's decisions sometimes.

Two of the Voyagers approach me. There is a tall, golden-skinned male, and a smaller, intense female. The male smiles at me, meeting my eyes. His are clear and brown, and there are small lines around them.

"Will you read our fortunes?" he asks. "I'd enjoy that."

The female smiles and touches his arm companionably. "Chakotay, you know how I feel about things like that. I'm not sure I want to be told I'm going to meet a handsome stranger!"

Chakotay turns apologetic eyes to me. "Don't mind Kathryn," he says. "She's a scientist. If it can't be explained by physical laws then she finds it hard to accept."

Kathryn is her name. Kath-ryn. The syllables run through my mind, creating small ripples in my seeing. Kathryn. I ignore her companion and concentrate on her. She has hair of flame, and her eyes… When she turns her gaze on me, it's as if a shard from the temple glass has pierced me. Her blue eyes shaft through me. If I didn't already know that these Voyagers possess none of the sensing arts, I'd swear she was reading me, taking my measure.

Chakotay shuffles his feet. It's a gentle movement, designed to bring me back from my reverie. I become aware that I'm staring, and shut my mouth with a snap.

"Of course, sir," I say. "I will read you first, and then if your friend likes what she hears, I will read her afterward."

The two of them sit on the stools by my stall, and the man holds out a hand self-consciously. "What do you want me to do?"

I rise, and stand in front of him, placing my hands gently on each shoulder. My first digit points to his head, the second to his heart, and the third to his groin. "Look at my eyes," I say.

I should be concentrating on reading him, on sifting the waves of emotion that pour from his heart, on reading the overlay of steel that controls him, I should be finding his sexual pulse, and hence his heart-partner, from the life in his groin, but I'm not. Because Kathryn is leaning forward next to him, intently studying the placement of my digits. Even though I'm connected to him, I can feel her, her concentration, her sharp intelligence. Warmth uncoils in my belly, something deep and lambent. Something dangerous.

"How do you-?" she begins, but her companion stems her words with a squeeze of his fingers. "Let the lady tell us," he suggests. "Sometimes, you just have to believe."

He's easy to read. They're friends, these two; good, close friends. His heart is free, but there's a wistfulness in him that sometimes wonders if he is destined for Kathryn. But it's not to be, not for these two. I can't sense his heart-partner; it's no one close to him, not one of the Voyagers. I tell him so in obscure wording that I know he will understand, as I sense he would be embarrassed if Kathryn were to know this.

He thanks me, and presses my fingers briefly. His hand is warm.

I turn to Kathryn. She's studying me, with a twist to her mouth. It crooks up on one side, and I can tell she's disbelieving of all of this. But she's considerate enough not to let her cynicism show. I place my fingers on her shoulder, arrange them to point to her soul-pathways, and tell her to look into my eyes.

The connection is like a physical thing, and I stagger under its blow. In that instant, I can see her, I can read her, and I know her. I know how her blood courses through her alien veins; I know her life, her hopes, her dedication. I see her friendships, her sorrows. And above all, I see her aloneness.

I see the map of her life and the points where it connects to mine. I feel the desire, no longer slow within me, but instantly fierce and raging. I see my heart-partner.

My mouth is dry and the words I must say will not come. She's looking at me quizzically, a small frown between her eyes.

"Forgive me, lady," I say. "But yours is an unusual reading. Would you do me the honor of returning later? I need time to absorb the signs."

Chakotay has a slight smile on his face; it's as if he can sense my confusion. But Kathryn merely inclines her head. "I can do that," she says. "I will return in two hours."

I'm sure I'll not see her again, but in less than two hours, I spot her bright head weaving its way through the crowds. Swiftly, I stand and pull down the shutters on my stall. When she reaches me, she makes a small moue of disappointment.

"I'm too late," she says. "You're closing."

Holding out my hand, I say to her, "I'm going to an eating house. I would be honored if you would accompany me."

There's a small beat of hesitation, but she takes my hand and she's smiling. I'm radiant with her acceptance.

She disengages herself from me as we walk through the marketplace. My palm tingles from where she touched it. I lead her along a side street into a small eating-house, and down to a table at the back. The owner is a friend of mine; she will not disturb us.

Kathryn is looking about her. I'm pleased to see that her expression is one of curiosity, not of distaste. For I've brought her to an eating house for people like myself -- poor people, untalented people, those possessing neither the intelligence, nor the travel gene, indeed none of the genes of rank. I'm taking a risk bringing her here, for she is an off-worlder, and as such is automatically on the top of our hierarchy. Such people do not willingly visit places like this.

She waits until we're seated, and have our beverages in front of us. "I don't even know your name."

"Sithe," I tell her, and wait, as if she speaks first it will all be so much easier.

"You have something to tell me," she says, "that you did not want to say in front of my first officer."

The dark man who is her friend. "Yes."

She takes a sip of her beverage and studies me. "Why are you uneasy?"

"Your people," I say. "Do they recognize any pair bonds?"

She nods. "We do. A couple can choose to be formally married, or they can choose to live together without a ceremony. We have a few such couples on Voyager."

"You haven't entered into a pair bond." It's not a question; I already plucked the answer from her head.

Her lips twist ruefully. "I don't seem to be very good at them. My first fiancé died. And my second was lost to me when Voyager ended up in the Delta Quadrant." She must have seen my look of confusion, as she added, "very far from my home. And there is no one on Voyager I wish to take as my mate."

I turn my cup in my hand, studying the sea-green pattern on its sides. "My people believe that for each person there is only one other. Only one with whom they can find lasting happiness. Many people come to me asking who this person is and where will they find them. I am normally able to direct them. When you and Chakotay came, I did not know if I would be able to read you. You are off-worlders, I did not know if my seeing would give me answers."

I have her attention now. She studies me intently, her eyes clear and direct on my face. My skin warms underneath her gaze as if she had touched me.

"Chakotay, I could read. He was clear, his pathways laid out for me to trace."

She nods, and I am pleased to see that she doesn't ask me to tell her about him. "You're going to say that you couldn't read me. That's all right, Sithe. I'm not a bel-"

I lean over the table and stop her words with a digit on her lips. The unexpectedness of the gesture silences her as much as the action. Her eyes widen slightly as she stares at me. In that instant, she's no longer the powerful Voyager, she's simply a woman.

I remove my digit from her lips. It tingles. "I could read you, Kathryn. I can read your past, and your present. I know your hopes, your dreams, your desires. I know Justin, Mark. I know your friendships. I know Tuvok, Chakotay, Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres."

She's staring at me still, and it's obvious she's forgotten what she was going to say. "How do you-" she begins, but before I can silence her again, she shuts her mouth with a snap and narrows her eyes. "On my world, it's considered impolite to sort through someone's innermost thoughts without invitation."

I bow my head. "Please forgive me. Normally, I wouldn't do this. Normally, I wouldn't be able to do this. My sight is an imprecise art, I tell my fortunes in illusions and smoke."

"So you're saying it's just with me?"

She's quick. She should own the gene of knowledge as well as the gene of travel. "Yes, it's just with you."

A small frown creases between her eyes. "Am I so easy to read?"

I can tell she's worried that she's given away more than she should. Unimportant things like tactical data, navigational information, weapons arrays. I pick the unfamiliar words out of her head. "I'm not interested in your knowledge."

"Then what do you want?"

"My people believe that each one of us has only one person with whom they will be happy -- their heart-partner. Our laws state that we can only enter a pair bond with that person. I am one who can see the heart-partners of others. So people come to me, and I guide them to the person they will bond with."

My breath hissed in my lungs. "Sometimes, a person is unable to bond with their heart-partner. Maybe they died young; maybe they had the gene of travel and went away to one of the existing colonies, or sought new ones. Very occasionally, the social gap is too large, and the families do not permit the union. Then, what happens is…"

Kathryn leans forward and nails me with her eyes. "Go on."

"Then, the unfulfilled partner will remain alone. But they are encouraged to find whatever common ground they can with their heart-partner, for whatever time they have together. A temporary arrangement, if you will."

She's silent. I can see the cogs in her mind processing this information. It's inevitable she will come to the only conclusion there is.

Her hand retreats to her beverage cup. "You're saying that you and I share this bond?"

"I am." I wait, motionless, while she processes this information.

"Sithe," she says, carefully, quietly, "I don't believe in your idea of a heart-partner. There have been two people in my life, so far, who I believed were my heart-partner, and another, a good friend, whom I could have been happy with, when circumstances threw us together. I can't just accept that you are the only person for me."

"You don't have to," I say. "But for me, it is this way. You are not responsible for my happiness, Kathryn. This is my choosing."

She tilts her head to one side, and studies me. "I feel…" she says, after a minute. "You've… I've…" She shrugs. "I don't know what to think, if the truth is known."

I reach across the table and touch her hand. It's tense. "I would like to ask something of you, Kathryn," I say. "For you, this is something strange, simply another alien custom for you to learn about. For me, it's more than that. This time is when I must learn about you, and store up the memories of you for the time when you are no longer here. For we are not destined to be together. You have the gene of travel, and you and the Voyagers will be gone soon. A day, a week, a month; I do not know how long before you leave. But, until then, I hope that you will allow me to spend the time with you."

She assesses me for long moments. Then she smiles, and it's a warm and beautiful thing. "Let me contact my ship, then I will be with you according to your customs. We have three days."

~ ^ ~ ^ ~ ^~

We talk.

We stay in the eating-house throughout the hours of darkness, and we share our lives in words. I tell her about growing up, the youngest of three daughters, the only one with the seeing eye. I tell her about my world, this eating-house, my friends, the market. I try to explain a little about our government, and how we live according to the rules and customs they set out for us, but I sense she already knows more than I about my planet's politics. When I tell her about the genes of knowledge and travel, and that I am denied such things, there's a small crease between her eyes, as if she wants to challenge what I say. But she holds her silence well.

She tells me about her old home-Earth-and its mountains and forests, and the many people who live there. She tells me about her new home - the Voyager - and its corridors and holodecks, and the few people who pretend it's the place they want to be. I don't need my seeing eye to sense the loneliness she carries. Oh, she has friends; she tells me about them, but she's alone and she carries her solitude wrapped around her heart like a shell.

We talk through the night.

She yawns, and her eyelids droop. I need little sleep, only an hour a cycle, but she is tired. I take her to my home, and put her in my bed. She falls asleep quickly, and I sit beside her and watch her sleep.

Already she is dear to me. Already I am imagining the pain of losing her.

~ ^ ~ ^ ~ ^~

We touch.

The next day, I take her to one of our parks. She's changed out of uniform, and into a loose fitting blue dress. We walk among the trees and green, through the sunshine and shadow. I touch her, running my digits up her arms, so impossibly fine and slender. She shivers slightly, but doesn't stop me. I trace her collarbones, the pulse that beats in her neck, brush the downy hairs that dust her cheeks.

When I touch her lips, I feel her infinitesimal lean toward me. I let my digit rest on her lips again, but this time she doesn't pull away.

The Voyager contacts her around dusk, and I hear Chakotay's tones through the link. His concern echoes clearly through space. "I can come down if you need me, Kathryn," he says.

"I'm fine," she replies. "Contact me an hour before we're ready to depart tomorrow."

Tomorrow.

She touches me too. Her digits explore my limbs, run lightly over my facial bones, outline my eye sockets. I tremble when she touches them.

"You're very sensitive," she says.

That night, I lie with her, and hold her while she sleeps. Her head rests on my shoulder, and her hair tickles my breast. I listen to her breathe and hold her close to me.

These memories have to last me a lifetime.

~ ^ ~ ^ ~ ^~

We make love.

The last day, I kiss her and she leans into my breath and sighs in acceptance. We are in the park, hidden in the shade dapples of the trees. I stroke her face and breasts and down to the unfamiliar territory between her legs. She's different from me, but her responses are eager, and I know them already because I know her.

She pleasures me too, in soft movements, and I wonder how I will live my life without her.

Afterwards, we hold each other, our bare skins clinging in the moist air. Tonight, she will go back to the Voyager, and then she will sail away, heading for her home.

"Thank you, Kathryn," I say. "These three days, they are not enough, but they will suffice."

She's silent, her head resting on my shoulder. Her breath puffs on my skin in moist eddies. "You could…" she pauses, then her words gather strength, as if she's come to a decision. "You could come with us. Come with me."

I'm taken aback. Of all the things I thought she would say I never expected this. For a moment, I'm angry. My sight should have warned me that this was coming, but she's managed to surprise me. I think of how it could be; me, her, together, heart-partners. I think of me; traveling the stars where I was never meant to go.

Where I was never meant to go. I lack the gene of travel. It isn't part of the natural order of things.

I shake my head, slowly, sadly. "I can't."

She understands. How well she knows me in three short days. "Sithe, the gene of travel isn't a binding contract. It's a way of keeping your people in their place. There is nothing to stop you traveling."

"Only my nature."

Her jaw tightens and I think she will argue. I want her to argue.

"You told me we're heart-partners," she says. "Yet you won't take the chance of our happiness together."

I shake her off and rise to kneel in front of her. She's beautiful; abandoned and damp with our lovemaking. "Would you stay with me?" I ask.

Her face closes, and I can see she thinks the question isn't a fair one. "I'm the captain. I have responsibilities. I must lead my people home."

I frame her face in my hands. "And I have my responsibilities here. Are yours so much more important than mine?"

She's silent and I think she will say that yes, they are, but she surprises me by shaking her head. "You're right," she admits. "I'm sorry. I should never have asked that of you. But Sithe… I wish you could come."

She rises up to meet me and catches my lips in a kiss. It's warm and deep and soft and filled with all that cannot be. And this time, she's the aggressor when she pulls me down to her and strokes my body, finding my pleasure points with her fingers and tongue.

The Voyager contacts her at dusk. "We're ready to depart, Captain," says Chakotay. "We're just waiting for you."

"Contact me in two minutes," she replies, all brisk.

Two minutes! I expected a final hour with her. Disappointment clogs my throat. But for the third time today, she catches me off guard.

"Sithe, will you come up with me to the Voyager for this hour? See where I live? Meet my people?"

I open my senses to her, and catch a flicker, quickly suppressed. Something about a 'prime directive'. I realize she's breaking her people's laws for me. I nod, once.

She smiles at me and without waiting for the Voyager's hail, she contacts Chakotay, telling him there are two to beam up.

It's only then it occurs to me that I'm breaking my people's laws too. To go off-world you must have the gene of travel, and even though the Voyager is only circling our planet, it's still a violation of our rules. But it's too late for second thoughts, as she takes my hand, tells me not to be nervous and then my body evaporates.

It's only a second, and then we're standing on a pad, in a strange room. A beautiful young woman, with deep, dark eyes is working some sort of instrument panel.

Kathryn still clasps my hand. She leads me down from the platform, toward the door. "Thank you, Celes," she says to the young woman, who nods in reply.

It's noisy here, a muted background hum that echoes in my head. It's different from the uneven cacophony of the market place; this is more insidious. It makes my bones ache. Other Voyagers pass us, flicking a glance at our clasped hands, but Kathryn ignores them. She leads me into a lift, and says, "Bridge."

The doors open to a wide room. There are many people here, including Chakotay, who rises from his chair as we approach. But it's the wide view of space that catches my eyes. Instinctively, I gasp and clutch tighter at her hand. For it's so near. I feel I could step forward and out into it, to soar among the stars.

Gently, Kathryn removes her hand. "Take a closer look," she invites.

A fair man rises from the front and extends a hand. "You can see best from here," he says.

I pick his name from Kathryn's description: Tom Paris. His smile is kind. He offers me his chair with a flourish and I sink into it, staring out into space. The stars are stately, slow, and regal.

Tom sinks to his haunches next to the chair. "I know how you feel," he says. "The first time I saw the stars, I felt so small. But I couldn't wait to travel among them." He pierces me with his cool blue eyes-the mark of the gene of travel. My hand rises to my own face, to my amber eyes.

The time passes swiftly. Kathryn shows me her home, its hollow, clanging corridors, large rooms, strange smells and strange people. They are all kind. We end up in her quarters.

"Voyager will leave in ten minutes," she says. "Sithe… You've traveled now. You're here. Will you not-?"

Once again, I stop her lips with a digit, but this time she shakes me off with the force of her words.

"It would work; we could work. Heart-partners, you said. Let's prove it, and take our happiness together."

I can't go against the rules. If I question one, then my life will fall apart without the structure.

She sees my answer in my eyes. "I'll take you to the transporter room."

She calls Chakotay on the way, asks him to take over from the transporter room staff. I realize it's because she doesn't want her people to see her weak; him, she trusts. He waits at the back of the room, eyes averted as we say our goodbyes.

"This is what you want?" she asks. "You want to go back?"

"I have to," I say. "We had three days. I will keep the memories of you close."

I can see she wants to argue with me, but she swallows, and nods.

I ask her the question I've been wondering about. "Kathryn, what changed your mind? What made you feel we could be happy together?"

Her eyes are damp. "Why, Sithe," she says, and she quotes Chakotay's words from the market. "Sometimes, you just have to believe."

(((FIN)))

(((FIN)))

Feedback? Please. Shayenne

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