The Promise Keeper
Summary: Chakotay can’t find the right words to convince Kathryn that she’s not alone, so he finds another way to show her.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for #fictober2018 Day 15 prompt: “I thought you had forgotten.” Episode addition to Scorpion.
The back of her neck begins to prickle even before Kathryn hears the unmistakable swish of the holodeck doors.
“Hello, Chakotay,” she says without turning.
He chuckles softly as he approaches. “How did you know it was me?”
She shrugs, not wanting to confess that she always knows when he enters the room, or that she can feel when he’s thinking about her. Sometimes, when they are particularly close, she imagines she can even sense what he’s thinking.
Not so much recently, though. Not these past few days.
Chakotay rests a hip against the worktable and she shifts on the hard stool which had been perfectly comfortable until he came near.
“Still avoiding technology?” he asks, surveying the fire in the hearth, the candles glowing in their sconces.
She puts down the quill and folds her hands, giving him her full attention. “Why are you here, Chakotay?”
“I came to clear the air.”
Kathryn raises her eyebrows. “I was under the impression we’d already settled our differences.”
“Our command differences, maybe.” His hand strays to his ear. “I was talking about our personal ones.”
“Oh,” she says, fingers linked tightly in her lap.
Silence lurks between them like a living thing.
“I’m sorry,” he blurts, turning away to pace toward the fireplace and back again. She watches from her stool as he runs a hand through his hair, as he comes to a standstill directly in front of her. “Kathryn, I know you’re hurt, that you feel as though I failed to support you. That was never my intention.”
“I know that,” she answers. “But the fact remains that you didn’t support me. You paid lip service to my orders, and you overturned them at your earliest opportunity.”
He looks dismayed. “Kathryn, that’s not how it –”
“It doesn’t matter, Chakotay. At the end of the day, I’m the captain. All final command decisions are mine alone, whether I have your support or not.”
He gives a frustrated growl. “Why do you insist on believing you’re all alone? Didn’t I promise you I’d stand by your side? That I’ll always put your needs first?”
“I thought you had forgotten,” she says almost under her breath.
“No,” he says just as quietly, “I haven’t forgotten.”
The way he looks at her – so steadfast, so tender, the feelings he usually conceals under the mantle of professional allegiance so bravely, if briefly, revealed – it makes her lungs tighten and her skin prickle. It drives her to her feet, her hand reaching for his without conscious intent.
In this quiet room filled with candlelight and the scent of oiled wood, so far from the world outside the holodeck doors, it arouses impulses she is normally adept at curbing. His hand is warm in hers, solid and real in this place of illusion, and she wants that. She wants something real. Something she can count on.
She takes one small step that bridges the space between them, winds her free hand into his hair, and lifts her face to kiss him.
If she’d meant it to be sweet and simple, if she’d had any conscious intent at all, it’s rapidly subsumed in his response, shocking in its fervour and immediacy. This is no token of friendship, no promise of fealty. This is a conflagration, and as his hands spread over her back and into her hair, as he pulls her body close and she squirms on the hard thigh pressed between her own, her conscious brain sends out one anxious, unheeded red alert.
And there is no doubt, as his hands wrench off her jacket and hers grasp his undershirt to reach the hot skin beneath it, that this is very, very real.
He backs her up against the worktable, lifts her onto it and moves between her thighs, their still-clothed bodies crushed together as she locks her ankles behind him. If she could pull him inside her she would do it without a second thought, would hold him there with all the need and desperation she can’t seem to stop from pouring out of her, expressed in whimpers and stuttering breaths and the way her fingers will not release their grasp on him. It has to hurt, the way she’s gripping the hair at his nape, the way her nails are denting the smooth skin of his back, but he doesn’t seem to notice or care, the way she doesn’t care that her mouth feels swollen and bruised from their kiss. All she cares about is the ache between her legs and how badly she needs him to fill it.
And then, as hot hands smooth a path up under her tank and she trembles and pushes her breast into his seeking palm, something changes.
She can’t blame a ship’s alert or a passing crewman or a comm from Tuvok. She can only blame her conscience and Chakotay’s, too, because it clamours at the same time.
They pull back, lips parting for the first time since she made the connection. His chest is rising and falling quickly, his hands still on her body, and despite the dawning awareness in his eyes she intuits that the slightest hint of invitation on her part will tip the balance. And she isn’t ready to take that step.
She forces her fingers to unclasp, to let him go, and injects steel into her voice.
It has the desired effect. His body twitches in shock and he immediately steps away from her, wrenching his hands behind his back where she suspects they are clutching one another, anchoring him to reality.
“Captain,” he says, then clears his throat. “I’m so sorry. That was unforgivable of me.”
Despite herself, she gives an incredulous laugh. “You weren’t the one who started it, Chakotay.”
He ducks his head, smiling a little. “Maybe not,” he concedes, “but I didn’t exactly stop you. You can’t claim full responsibility for everything, Kathryn.”
“Then let’s chalk this one up to mutual failure.”
She eases herself off the worktable to stand on unsteady legs. Chakotay bends to retrieve her jacket from the floor and hands it to her, and she mumbles her thanks, avoiding his eye as she pulls it on.
He is still watching her when she finishes fastening and straightening and smoothing everything back into place; his hair is ruffled over his forehead, making her fingers twitch with longing.
“This can’t happen again,” she says.
“I need you as my first officer, not my – what? What did you say?”
“I said, I know, Kathr- Captain. I know who you need me to be.” Chakotay smiles at her. “I’m not going to fight you on this.”
“You’re not,” she repeats slowly, a wrinkle between her brows.
“You have enough to worry about,” he replies. “I’m not going to add to your burdens.”
Her frown deepens. “Thank you.”
“I haven’t forgotten the promise I made,” he says, softer. “You can count on me.”
“Does that mean I can expect your full support the next time I don’t know when to step back?” She softens the tart words with a half-smile.
“I know how to toe the line, Captain. If I disagree with you, it will be in private.”
“How very gracious of you, Commander.”
“And I didn’t use the fact that you were incapacitated to countermand your orders,” he continues. “You know you’ll always have my support, even when I disagree with your decisions. Maybe especially then…” he stops, shaking his head with a wry grin. “How did we end up talking about the chain of command again?”
She sighs, her own smile fading. “Because we can’t avoid it, Chakotay. And that’s my point.”
“I understand,” he affirms.
Cautiously, he reaches for her hand and she allows him to take it.
“Maybe someday things will be different,” he says.
“Chakotay, I can’t –”
She stares. “No. No, you can’t promise that. It’s too much.”
“You can’t order me not to make a promise,” he replies. “You can’t control everything, Kathryn. This is my decision.”
She wants to deny it, reject him; she wants to tell him that his promise is a burden she can’t bear. And it is.
But she suspects there will be days when it’s the one thing that keeps her going, and so, selfishly, she accepts.
She nods, and Chakotay smiles and gives her hand one last, brief squeeze before he leaves her alone, surrounded by candlelight.