I just wanted to hold you in my arms
Summary: Tumblr prompt: “You fell asleep on me in the subway and I should probably wake you up and it’s my stop next stop but it’s okay, I can always just catch the subway back...”
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
Disclaimer: Characters are Paramount’s. No infringement intended.
Notes: So I was planning to set this one in San Francisco, like my other modern-day AUs, but it turns out SF’s subway is nowhere near extensive enough that someone could fall asleep on it. (Unless they were a narcoleptic, but that’s a whole other fic prompt.) I also haven’t been to SF since I was 12, but I know London pretty well, so I’ve gone with Her Majesty’s tube instead.
Everything I know about Native American tribal history, customs and tattoos comes from the internets or my imagination. No offence is intended for anything I got embarrassingly wrong.
There they were again: a dozen or so of them this time. Lounging on the benches with legs outstretched, standing around with hands in the pockets of their thousand-pound suits, braying at the top of their voices and taking up far more than their fair share of space. Chakotay hefted his backpack more securely as he approached them and hoped that tonight, none of them was feeling the need to assert his alpha-male status by picking on the innocent bystander.
He couldn’t quite work out why the ‘innocent bystander’ always seemed to be him. Maybe it was his terrible dress sense – he certainly didn’t fit the slick-suited City mould in his worn jeans and battered backpack. Maybe it was the non-threatening manner he’d been careful to cultivate; did they see him as a natural victim? Maybe it was the tattoo.
Whatever it was, he was getting a little tired of being harassed for no reason. Especially as it always seemed to end with him trying to explain to one of the local bobbies that no, he hadn’t been the aggressor; yes, the other guy had ended up with a dislocated shoulder, but that was only after he threw the first punch; no, he didn’t have a criminal record; yes, he was an ex-boxer, but that didn’t mean he went around starting fights… Chakotay sighed. The London police, in his experience, were reasonable people, but even they were becoming suspicious of him. Lightning never strikes twice, and all that.
However, the fact remained that he had to catch this train or he’d be late for his shift, and to do that, he had to get onto the platform.
“Excuse me,” he said in his most conciliatory voice.
The sandy-blond one – the one who’d been bragging the loudest – turned, pale eyes sliding over him as though Chakotay was far beneath his notice, then returned his attention to his friends.
“Let me through, please,” Chakotay said, slightly more firmly.
“What was that, mate?” The blond man stepped into Chakotay’s path, squaring his shoulders.
Chakotay caught the drift of alcohol on the other man’s breath and sighed inwardly. So much for a reprieve.
“I asked you to let me pass.” He kept his voice calm, quiet.
Blondie glanced around to make sure his acolytes were watching, and willing to back him up. “Why should I?”
He could back down. He could wait for the next train. But then he’d miss the first few minutes of his shift at the pub, and he hated to let Sveta down. She’d gone out on a limb for him since he arrived in England – finding him an affordable place to live, which wasn’t easy on the pittance his scholarship paid him, and setting him up with a job at the pub she managed.
And, truth be told, he was sick of backing down.
“Because this is a public underground station,” he answered, drawing himself up to his full height – which, incidentally, was a good couple of inches taller than Blondie – and staring the other man in the eye. “And because I asked politely.”
“Oh, you asked politely,” Blondie sneered. “Pretty rich, coming from a Yank. Heathrow’s that way, mate.”
The short rabbity man to Blondie’s left barked out a laugh.
“Listen, I don’t want any trouble –”
“Then piss off,” interrupted Blondie.
All of them turned in surprise at the feminine voice. A petite woman in an unflattering grey skirt-suit and a tousled auburn ponytail had risen from her place on the bench and was glaring at Blondie, arms folded.
“Leave him alone, Dalby,” she said.
“Oh come on, Kathryn. We’re just having a bit of fun.”
“No, you’re being an asshole.”
Before Dalby could reply, there was a rush of air as the train hurtled out of the black tunnel beyond, easing into the station. The suits started crowding on, but Dalby hung back as if to deliberately shoulder Chakotay out of the open doorway.
The young woman in the suit glared at him and took hold of Chakotay’s elbow. “Don’t worry,” she said to him, “they’ll all be getting off at Baker Street. You can sit next to me until then. They won’t bother you anymore.”
“Thanks,” he answered, pushing past Dalby. She led him to a couple of empty seats at the end of the carriage.
“You’re American,” he noted as he sat beside her.
“Guilty.” She smiled at him, a curl-corner smile that provoked a response in him that he thought was ridiculously out of proportion to the short nature of their acquaintance.
Clearing his throat to hide the blush heating his face, he asked the next natural question. “Where are you from?”
“San Francisco,” she replied. “Indiana originally, but my family moved to the city when I was ten.”
“University of California?”
“Yup. Engineering at Berkeley. How about you?”
“Anthropology at San Diego,” he answered, smiling. “And originally, I’m from Arizona. So what are you doing over here?”
“You know, lately I’ve been asking myself the same question,” she said bitterly, then looked a little shocked. “Sorry. I don’t know why I said that.”
Chakotay looked at her. He’d registered her fine build and smoky blue eyes at once, and her hair – he’d always been a sucker for redheads, despite his sister’s teasing about how many blonde girls he’d dated – but now he noticed other things. Her sober, slightly ill-fitted suit was rumpled and there was a snag in her pantyhose. Her long slender fingers were smudged with ink, and her hands trembled slightly. If she’d been wearing any lipstick it had long worn off, and there were dark shadows under her eyes, which, he realised now, were clouded with fatigue.
“I know we’ve only just met,” he found himself saying slowly, “but you did rescue me from what probably would’ve ended up as another chat with one of those nice London constables, and I’m a pretty good listener, if you feel like telling me about it.”
She turned in her seat, taking him in properly. The tired blue eyes were shrewd now, he noticed. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Another chat with the constables? Is that something you do often?”
He tugged on his ear. “Let’s just say tonight wasn’t the first time a bunch of guys decided they wanted to take me on. I guess I just have one of those faces.”
“I like your face.”
Her eyes widened as soon as she’d said it and she covered her cheeks with her hands, her skin flushing pink.
“Oh, God. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight.”
He couldn’t help grinning. “My face thanks you for the compliment.”
She laughed and dropped her hands. “Well, since I’m about to take you up on your kind offer and unload all my problems on you, what’s your name?”
“Chakotay.” He offered a hand and she took it, shaking it firmly. “And you?”
“Kathryn. Very pleased to meet you.”
“Hey, Kathryn,” shouted Dalby from the other end of the carriage as the train slowed. “Is this bloke bothering you?”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Do I look bothered?”
Dalby eyed Chakotay with suspicion. “We’re getting off here. Text me when you get home so I know you’re safe, all right?”
She flipped him a salute. “Mind the gap, Dalby.”
“That was actually kind of nice,” Chakotay commented as the doors swished shut behind Dalby and his companions. “Maybe he’s not all bad.”
“He’s an idiot.” Kathryn sighed, rubbing her eyes. “God, I’m tired.” She looked down at herself, making a moue of distaste. “And I cannot wait to take a shower and go to bed. I’ve been awake and in these clothes since yesterday morning. For which, by the way, I apologise.”
“You smell great,” Chakotay answered without thinking, then ducked his head to hide his own blush. “Uh, so, would I be right in guessing that your all-nighter has something to do with those problems you said you were going to tell me about?”
“You would. Are you sure you want to hear this?”
He thought about how much he liked listening to her. Her voice was low and a little bit raspy; probably partly from tiredness, but he suspected she always sounded a little husky. It was compelling, and it was doing pleasantly interesting things to his insides. Things he didn’t mind at all.
“Okay.” She shifted on the seat, kicking off her shoes and pulling her legs up beneath her. “I work for a multinational consulting company that specialises in engineering and urban development projects. I’m working on a project with one of the major airline companies to develop a more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly aeroplane engine.”
“Wow,” Chakotay said, impressed. “You’re the project manager?”
“Hardly,” she snorted. “I’m one of the junior aeronautical engineers. No, the project manager is an old friend of my father’s. Which is part of the problem.”
“Because my direct boss thinks I was picked for the project out of favouritism, and consequently he dismisses pretty much everything I do.” She scowled.
“Dalby?” he hazarded.
She laughed. “No, Dalby’s in marketing. And he’s an idiot, but he’s really not the vindictive type. Justin, on the other hand…”
“Yeah. He was a scholarship kid through and through, came from a rough background and worked his butt off to get where he is – as he tells me practically on a daily basis. The implication being that I got where I am through Daddy’s connections.”
Chakotay waited while she brooded for a moment.
“The truth is,” she finally said, “I was offered a scholarship to MIT but I turned it down to stay in California. My father was dying and I wanted to be close to him.”
“Thanks.” She smiled. “Anyway, the firm took me on immediately after I finished my undergrad degree. Owen – my project manager – was working for a competitor at the time. He wasn’t even assigned to this project until after I was. But Justin doesn’t see that. All he sees is some privileged brat getting fast-tracked up the ladder thanks to her family connections.”
“And yet he’s your boss.”
“Right!” Kathryn tipped her head back on a sigh. “The worst part is, I think I’m close to a breakthrough on one of the angles we’ve been pursuing on the engine design. And he flat out refuses to take my ideas to Owen. I don’t even care if he takes credit for them - I just want this project to succeed.” She sat up, eyes bright. “If this engine design tests out, it could reduce carbon emissions by almost twenty-five percent. It’s really exciting.” Then her eyes dimmed and she slumped back into her seat again. “I don’t know how to convince Justin to give it a chance.”
Chakotay thought for a minute. “What about someone else on the project? One of the other engineers, maybe. Would he listen to them?”
She turned to look at him thoughtfully. “You know, he might listen to Vorik. They sometimes play basketball together, and Vorik’s a decent guy. Maybe I’ll talk to him tomorrow…”
Her last words were smothered by a huge, cracking yawn.
“God, I’m sorry,” she managed. “I’ve been working crazy hours on this thing. And you must think I’m so rude! I’ve talked your ear off and I haven’t even asked you what you do. So tell me. What do you do, Chakotay? How does an anthropologist from Arizona end up in London?”
“I’m here on a scholarship with University College.”
“Oh, my God.” Kathryn covered her flushed cheeks with her hands. “And I just raved on about scholarship kids with chips on their shoulders. I’m so sorry.”
Chakotay shook his head, laughing. “You didn’t. You complained about your boss treating you unfairly. I wasn’t offended.”
“Oh, good,” she said, squeezing his arm. “So go on. Tell me what you’re studying.”
“I’m looking at the influence of language development on Mesoamerican cultures,” he answered, noticing her hand had stayed resting on his arm, and not minding in the least. “I know it sounds weird to have moved to England when my topic is so much closer to home, but the sponsor I wanted for my thesis is here. So here I am.”
“You’re writing your PhD?” Kathryn tipped her face up to study him. “Wow. Smart and pretty.”
Then her eyes went wide and she ducked her head.
“God,” she muttered. “Clearly I lose my brain when I don’t get enough sleep. I’m sorry, Chakotay. You must think I’m a complete moron.”
“I think you’re intriguing,” he answered honestly, and was rewarded with a startled look that softened into a wide, delighted smile.
“Thank you,” she said. He thought that maybe her voice was a little huskier than before.
He watched her gaze wander to his temple.
“You probably get this all the time,” she said, “but will you tell me about your tattoo?”
“Actually, most people are too shy to ask,” he admitted. “And the ones that aren’t shy don’t ask as nicely as you just did.”
She parted her lips to reply and yawned again, this time so prodigiously he heard her jaw crack. Chakotay laughed.
“Don’t say it,” he interrupted, grinning.
“Okay.” He watched her blink slowly, as though her eyelids were too heavy to hold open, and then she settled in beside him, relaxing against the back of the seat. “So, your tattoo?” she prompted.
“My people are mostly of the Hopi,” he began. “In the legends my father used to tell me, the Hopi were artists, dancers, farmers. We were a peaceful people until the Spanish invaded and brought disease and war with them. Smallpox decimated our numbers and many more died in the Pueblo Revolt. When peace returned, a number of the tribe began to wear a mark that symbolised the strength and resilience of our people, as a way to restore our pride…”
His voice trailed off as he felt a soft weight settle against his shoulder.
He heard a sigh and felt her relax in closer. Her hand dropped slowly down to rest on his thigh, the fingers loosely curled. Chakotay looked down at her.
Sooty eyelashes rested on her cheeks, and a lock of her hair had escaped its ponytail, curving prettily against her cheekbone. Her lips were slightly parted. Up this close, he could see the light smattering of freckles across her nose and smell the last faint vestiges of her perfume. As she relaxed further against him he felt her start to slip on the vinyl seat, so he carefully pulled her against his body, his arm around her shoulders.
The next station is Northwick Park, said the automated announcer.
That was his stop. If he didn’t get off the tube now, he’d miss his shift.
Cautiously, Chakotay began to slide his arm out from behind her. But she snuggled in closer, turning her body against his chest, one hand loosely gripping his shirt. He could feel the warm tickle of her breath against his neck.
There was no way he could move without waking her.
And, looking down at the exhausted lines of her figure, at her pale skin and the dark smudges under her eyes, he knew he didn’t want to wake her.
Chakotay eased his phone out of his pocket and switched it on, typing a quick one-handed text to Sveta to let her know he’d be late.
How late? came her almost immediate reply.
I don’t know, he typed back, then added, A friend needs me.
Take the night off, Sveta replied.
Smiling, Chakotay returned the phone to his pocket and pulled Kathryn more securely into the circle of his arms.
This is Watford, where this train terminates, announced the automated loudspeaker.
Kathryn came awake in stages. There was a protective arm around her shoulders and her cheek rested against the solid warmth of someone’s chest. She could hear his heart beating, and it made her want to slip back into sleep.
Then awareness came on in a rush, and she jerked upright. “Oh my God. Chakotay. I fell asleep on you! I’m so -”
“Sorry,” he interrupted, grinning. “Don’t be. You obviously needed it.”
Around them the last passengers were straggling off the train. “Where are we?” Kathryn asked, glancing around.
“Watford. I hope we haven’t gone past your stop.”
“Nope, this is it. I live at the terminus.” She rubbed her eyes briefly, then looked at him properly. “Do you live here too?”
He ducked his head, blushing a little. “I live in Northwick Park.”
Kathryn stared at him, aghast. “That’s twenty minutes in the other direction. Why on earth didn’t you get off…” She trailed off, her cheeks heating up. “Because I passed out on you and you were trapped.”
“I didn’t mind,” he said, his voice soft.
She tried not to pay attention to the flutter in her insides. “That was… ridiculously nice of you,” she murmured.
Chakotay shifted away from her on the seat and bent to pick up his backpack. “I guess we should get off the train before they lock us in.”
He picked up Kathryn’s satchel, slinging it over his shoulder, and motioned for her to precede him onto the platform. She walked beside him, noticing the way he shortened his stride so they stayed in sync. That bubbling feeling started up inside her again.
“Well,” she said a little awkwardly as they reached the top of the stairs, “it’s been really nice meeting you, Chakotay.”
“You, too.” Chakotay glanced out into the darkened street and frowned slightly.
“What is it?”
“It’s pretty dark out there, and you’re exhausted.”
She blinked at him. “I, uh, it’s not that far. I’ll be fine.”
“Let me walk you home,” he said impulsively. “At least that way I’ll know you’re safe.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said softly. “You’ve already gone out of your way for me, and I’m sure you’d rather get home too.”
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” he answered. Then the smile faded from his face. “Unless – Shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think.”
“About what you must be thinking of some stranger offering to walk you home.” He fumbled her satchel off his shoulder. “I just – I’ll leave you alone now.”
“Don’t,” she said suddenly, the satchel gripped in her hands. “Please don’t go.”
He paused in the act of hurrying away and turned back to her. Under the streetlights, she realised, he was incredibly gorgeous. Kathryn swallowed, trying to tame the flutter of her heart.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “My place is this way.”
“Okay.” His smile lit up his face, and he took her satchel from her and slung it over his shoulder again.
They fell into stride together. They didn’t talk much, but as they walked their hands would brush, at first occasionally and then more frequently, and eventually Kathryn found herself winding her fingers into his. At a street corner she stumbled slightly and Chakotay caught her, and kept his arm around her as they continued on. When they reached her apartment block, she typed her code into the keypad for the main entry door, then turned her face up to him and found that he was watching her.
“Well,” Chakotay said, shuffling his feet a little as he passed back her bag, “I guess I’d better say good night.”
She stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked at it, then back at her.
She couldn’t help the smile that bubbled up inside her from bursting onto her face.
“Come inside,” she invited him, stepping into his personal space.
He lifted a hand to brush a stray lock of hair from her cheek. She leaned her face into his palm. She felt like purring.
“Are you sure you’re not too tired?” His voice was deeper, rougher.
“I’m sure,” she murmured, letting her hand drift up to rest against his heart. Her mouth quirked to the side. “And besides, I believe you owe me a bedtime story.”
At the appearance of his dimples, Kathryn felt that flutter in her belly gaining strength, her breath coming faster.
“Then I’d love to,” Chakotay answered.
She took his hand in hers and tugged him into the foyer. As they walked up the single flight of stairs, she felt his other hand brush over the small of her back and come to rest on her hip. At her door, she fumbled to fit the key into the lock and felt him bend to press his lips to the nape of her neck. She couldn’t stop the shiver that ran through her at that light contact. And then the door swung open and she tugged him inside, and he dipped his head to kiss her. She gasped at the feeling, her entire body fizzing like champagne.
“Shall I tell you a story now?” he murmured, his lips grazing her collarbone.
“Absolutely not,” she managed to gasp. “I have a much better idea of what I want you to do with your mouth…”
His answering chuckle sent vibrations of delight through her as she kicked the door shut and pressed herself close to him, wrapping herself in his arms.