Burn Our Horizons
Summary: “My uncle’s the best PI in San Francisco, and he trusts me to run this joint. So what d’you say you give a girl a chance?”
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Riker, Seska
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Star Trek universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: I received a tumblr ask prompt from @ailtara for a 1940s noir detective AU, with Janeway as the suave PI and Chakotay as the hapless sidekick. However, I decided to stay true to the noir genre, so there won't be any slapstick or hijinks within.
no-one ever dared to break these endless lies
At a shade after ten o’clock, Kathryn slid onto the bar stool beside Will Riker and crossed one silk-stockinged leg over the other. He turned toward her and whistled low.
She gave him a quirked smile.
“Drink?” he asked.
“Dry martini, please.”
“You sure do clean up nice,” Will admired when her martini and his neat scotch had been set before them.
She didn’t tell him it was her only cocktail frock, or that she hadn’t found an occasion to wear it since before everything had gone wrong in her life. It’d brought back memories both bitter and sweet, that dress, when she put it on.
“You clapped eyes on our gangster’s moll yet?” she asked instead.
“Nope.” Will stroked his chin. “Seems every wise guy other than Tommy Cuzzo’s been in here tonight. Maybe they’re taking the night off.”
“Pays to be a criminal,” Kathryn shrugged. “You and I, we have to work all hours for our money.”
Will sent a sidelong look. “Been wondering about that. Why aren’t you hitched up with some fella and a couple kids instead of doing a man’s job on the mean streets?”
“Maybe I just haven’t found the right fella.”
He slid a hand onto her waist. “Maybe you have and you just don’t know it.”
“Will…” Kathryn edged away and he dropped his hand, face falling like a dropped tomato. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sure thing, Kathryn. I understand.”
Duke Ellington was on the phonograph and her foot jiggled away the minutes. Kathryn sighed in frustration. “They’re not coming, are they?”
“I guess not.” Will glanced over at her. “Can I ask you something, Kat?”
“You can ask.”
“How well do you know this guy – Chicory, was it?”
“I only met him two days ago. He’s a client, Will.”
Kathryn turned to him, elbow on the bar where the bottom of her glass left a wet ring. “What are you getting at?”
“I made a few calls after you left the station this afternoon,” he said. “I have a buddy up in New York. Flew with him in the Fifth, and he joined the force after the war, like I did. Turns out your client is a wanted man.”
“What?” The music faded behind the blood pounding in her ears.
“That money his old lady took off with? Turns out he stole it. From the Longshoremen’s Association, no less. Not too bright, huh? He shoulda known the Irish mob controls the waterfront.”
“No,” she said faintly. “No, he won it at cards.”
Will looked regretful. “Listen, honey, from what my buddy told me, he and his old lady were in the scam together. Looks like she played him for a fool.”
He laid a warm hand on Kathryn’s arm. It couldn’t melt the cold feeling of betrayal that slid down her throat like a mint julep on an August night.
“I’d hate to see him playing you for a fool in turn.”
She’d been banging on the door to Chakotay’s hotel room for a full two minutes before he finally opened it. He wore pajama pants and a loosely-belted robe, not quite hiding his bare chest.
“Kathryn,” he blinked, hand running through sleep-mussed hair. A lock fell forward onto his forehead. His eyes cleared a little as he frowned at her. “It’s after midnight. What are you doing here?”
She lifted her chin so she wouldn’t be tempted to drop her gaze below his face. “You lied to me,” she said.
Chakotay stepped back and held the door wide. “You’d better come in before my neighbors call the police.”
Kathryn didn’t miss the way his dark eyes flickered as he took in her softly waved hair, her red lips and her rather daring cocktail dress. Indignation carried her into the room.
She faltered at the sight of the rumpled bed. If she touched the sheets, she knew, they would be warm from his body. She suppressed the urge and turned on him instead, planting hands on hips.
He indicated the sole chair in the room with a tilt of his head, but she ignored it.
“You lied to me,” she repeated.
“About what?” Chakotay stepped closer and she clasped her hands behind her back so she wouldn’t reach up and smooth back that errant lock of hair.
“About the money.” She glared up at him. “Turns out you and your wife stole it together.”
Chakotay’s brow creased. “Who told you that?”
“None of your beeswax. Is it true?”
“Kathryn.” His voice softened and he reached a hand out to take one of hers. She felt his thumb stroking over her knuckles. “I swear to you, laztana, it’s a lie.”
“I don’t believe you.” Her voice came out breathy. “And what did you call me?”
His eyes were melted chocolate. “In my native tongue it means darling.”
Tilting her head back to keep meeting his eyes, she was finding it increasingly hard to remember the reason she was steamed at him. “I’m not your darling.”
“Then why do I feel this way for you?”
She told herself the pounding in her ears was the rumble of a nearby streetcar and not the rush of blood through her veins.
“Like I’ll die if I don’t kiss you,” he murmured, drawing her closer with his fingers wrapped into hers.
And when his free hand settled onto her hip and his head dipped toward her, her eyes slipped shut and she sighed out her capitulation into the warmth of his lips on hers.
“Ederra zara, Kathryn,” he breathed in her ear as his lips moved over her neck and she tilted her head to the side. “I want to touch you.”
“Do you really … want me?” she bit her lip to steady her voice as his teeth nipped gently at her ear. “Or are you just … trying to distract me from the truth?”
Chakotay’s hands and mouth went still, and he pulled back to look at her. His eyes shone sincerity. But she’d seen that look in a man’s eyes before, and she knew better than to believe in it.
“Where is this distrust coming from?” he asked her.
With effort she loosened her hands from where they’d gripped onto his robe and pushed away from him. “I have a friend – a police officer. He told me you stole that money.”
“You went to the police?” His eyes changed like the fog rolling in over the bay and she stepped back further, cold prickling the back of her neck.
“Will has access to the kind of information I can’t get,” she said. She was trembling.
Chakotay spun away, hand raking through his hair. “I cannot believe you did this. I told you I could not involve the police.”
“Why?” Kathryn raised her chin. “Because you have something to hide?”
“Because the police are dangerous. They are not to be trusted.” He turned back to her. “Neither are you, it seems.”
“Chakotay,” she said. She didn’t want to wonder why that hurt.
“I think you should go, Kathryn.”
He strode to the door and held it open. It was a long and heavy minute before she picked up her pocketbook and told her feet to move past him and into the dimly-lit hallway.
The window was pushed ajar, just far enough that she could hear the jazz club down the block and smell the rain coming in off the city streets. Kathryn curled her legs beneath her on the window seat and swirled the bourbon in her glass.
What a fool she’d been.
Uncle Dixon’s parting advice came back to her: Get their money up front, always carry a gun, and never – he’d laughed a little at the last part – never fall for the client.
‘Course, Dix had broken his own cardinal rule, and it hadn’t turned out too bad for him. But then Aunt Ruby never lied to him.
Was Chakotay lying? She had no reason to doubt Will Riker. She knew what he wanted from her, sure, but he was a gentleman. He wouldn’t bend the truth to get into her good graces.
She didn’t know Chakotay well enough to say the same.
The liquor slid down her throat and she welcomed the numbing burn. It was better than tears, for sure. Tears were for the weak and the stupid, and she was neither.
“Buck up,” she whispered to herself. “Tomorrow’s a new day.”
Slinging the last of the bourbon back, she shrugged off her robe and made her way to bed, but sleep was slow in coming.
The rain had slowed to a chill drizzle by morning. It was Sunday, so Kathryn slept late, only making it into the office as the last worshipers straggled out of St Boniface Church. She greeted those she knew, head high lest she be judged.
She’d filed a few papers, written a cheque or two and drunk three cups of coffee before she heard the door open in the outer office.
“Be right with you,” she called as she got up from the desk, smoothing down her skirt.
Chakotay was waiting in the front office, hands in his pockets, tense as a strung wire. Her heart did a lazy flip in her chest.
“What are you doing here?”
“Kathryn.” He took a step toward her, hands held out, but stopped when she moved backward. “I came to apologize. My behavior was … inexcusable.”
“Which part?” She folded her arms. “The part where you accused me of being untrustworthy or the part where you kissed me?”
He ducked his head, said, “I suppose… both,” then glanced up at her. “Although I’m hoping you didn’t mind the kissing.”
Kathryn’s cheeks reddened. “That was a mistake. I shouldn’t get involved with a client – it’s a bad idea.”
Disappointment chased the tentative smile across his face. “I will abide by your wishes.”
She waited, but he remained silent. “You’re still here,” she pointed out.
“I still need your help, if you’re willing to give it.”
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so now you trust me?”
“Yes. But your friend – the policeman. Can I trust him?”
She nodded. “Will is one of the good guys. And to be honest, if I’m going to find your wife and get your money back, I need him,” she paused, “Mr Otxoa.”
His shoulders dropped. “So formal.”
She cocked her head. “I think a level of formality would be appropriate, don’t you?”
“If you think it best,” he flattened the lips that had made her skin come alive, “Miss Janeway.”
“I do.” Kathryn told herself she believed it. “Now, since it seems I’m still on the case, why don’t you take a seat in my office while I phone my policeman friend?”
Kathryn shrugged off her tweed cape, shaking off the evening mist as she handed it to the busboy. “My table?” she asked.
“This way, miss.”
Will stood to hold her chair as Kathryn slid into it. “Looking spiffy as always, Kat,” he admired, taking the seat opposite. “So where’s the chump?”
Kathryn gave him a look. “I’m sure Mr Otxoa will be joining us in a minute. Why are we here, Will? This isn’t one of your usual haunts.”
He leaned in confidentially. “This restaurant is a money-laundering front for the Cuzzo family. Chances are good we’ll see Tommy poke his ugly nose in here sometime tonight – he eats here most Sundays. And besides,” he sat back with a grin, “I always wanted to take you out to dinner, and the food here is out of this world.”
A smile curled the edges of her lips. “Will Riker, you’re incorrigible.”
Will placed a hand over hers on the tablecloth. “Believe it, doll.”
Kathryn looked up. Chakotay stood by the table, big and handsome. He was wearing his blank paper bag face but his eyes were hot as coals.
She snatched her hand away from Will’s. “Chakotay,” she said, then recovered herself. “Will Riker, this is Chakotay Otxoa.”
Will stood to shake his hand, canny blue eyes taking stock and missing nothing. “Take a seat, Mr Ox-toe,” he said, geniality false as a gold tooth. “I recommend the risotto with clams. Fresh off Fisherman’s Wharf this morning, guaranteed.”
“It sounds delicious.” Chakotay took his seat, gaze flickering sideways toward Kathryn.
They placed their order, then Will slouched in his chair, sipping a glass of wine and eyeing Chakotay. “Kat here tells me you’ve got yourself in a bind.”
“And you need my help.”
“Kathr- Miss Janeway believes so.”
“Seems to me I should be running a thief like you in, not giving you a leg up.”
Chakotay’s eyes grew darker. “I am not a thief.”
“Ah, yes. Your old lady boondoggled you, huh?” Will nodded in mock sympathy. “Never trust a dame.”
Both Kathryn and Chakotay scowled at him.
“Excepting present company, natch,” Will smirked. His eyes flickered left. “That her?”
Kathryn followed the direction of Will’s gaze. A dark-haired woman, elegant in green silk and heels, was sashaying through the curtain behind the reception desk, a grinning Tommy Cuzzo in tow. Beside her, Kathryn heard Chakotay hiss out a curse and felt him start to rise from the table.
Will’s hand clamped down on his arm. “Not so fast, sonny boy.”
“I have to go after her –”
“You go off half-cocked, you’re gonna start a riot. And I don’t feel like getting shot tonight, not to mention we got a lady here to protect.”
Chakotay eased slowly back into his seat.
“That’s better,” Will approved. “So, now we’ve clapped eyes on your lady love, we watch and we wait.”
Will seemed to approve of the clam risotto, but Kathryn was barely able to eat a bite. She just kept replaying the expression on Chakotay’s face when he caught sight of Seska. There had been no longing there, no love at all. Just cold, implacable rage.
“That room back there,” Will jerked his chin at the mysterious curtain, “that’s a counting-house, and Sunday is tally night. Your Seska must be tight with the mob if they’re letting her see that.”
“She is a gold digger.” Chakotay tossed his napkin onto the table. “As soon as I have my money, I never want to lay eyes on her again.”
“No love lost, then?” Will offered sarcastically.
“This is a waste of time.” Chakotay pushed his chair back. “I’m going in there.”
“Cha- Mr Otxoa, please sit down,” Kathryn said quietly. “Detective Riker is right – if you want your money back, you need to be smart about it.” She nodded to Will. “Tell him what you told me.”
Will refilled his wineglass and lowered his voice. “I’m a policeman, so I can’t go getting involved in some shady deal. But hypothetically … if a butcher’s van happened to make a stop in the alley out back of this here restaurant, Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn … well, somebody might find that once all the sausage was unloaded, there’d be a nice stack of green loaded up in its place.”
Chakotay’s eyes narrowed. “How much?”
“Could be a few thousand dollars.” Will shrugged. “’Course, stealing money from one mob to pay back another is the kind of thing only a dimwit would get mixed up in. And if he happened to get caught, he’d be in for the big house or the big sleep, depending on who’s doing the catching.”
Chakotay was silent.
“And,” Will said, eyes blue as steel, “if that dimwit happened to get a nice young lady like Kat here mixed up in such a bad business, he’d be answering to me. You dig, pal?”
“I understand. Thank you, Detective Riker.”
“Peachy,” Will said. “You mind waiting outside? I need a word with Miss Janeway in private.”
Chakotay got up silently, but Kathryn didn’t miss the way his gaze lingered on her as he left.
She turned back to Will, leaning his elbows on the table.
“Honey, I have to ask you something.”
She straightened in her chair. “Shoot.”
He was uncharacteristically hesitant. “This fella… are you sweet on him?”
Heat climbed up her spine and bloomed in her cheeks. “No! Of course not. He’s – he’s just a client.”
“Uh-huh,” Will said expressionlessly. “Well, he’s carrying a torch for you, all right. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”
“I can take care of myself.”
Lips flattened, she opened her pocketbook and showed him the little snub-nosed Beretta. She stashed it there wherever she went, unless it was tucked into her garter.
Will raised his eyebrows. “You know how to use that dinky little thing, Kat?”
She gave him a sour look. “I’m from farm country, flyboy. Odds are I can shoot better than you can.”
“And odds are, if you think you’re gonna need to shoot that boy, you’re already in over your head.” He clasped his hands over hers on the table. “Whatever line that grifter’s been feeding you, you keep your wits about you, hear? And if you need me, you know where to find me.”
“I do,” she said, offering a wan smile. “Thank you, Will.”
He patted her hand. “Anything for you, kitten.”
The street lamps were coming on, pools of yellow light reflecting in rain puddles. Fog crept in from the bay and tapped its fingers on her shoulders as Kathryn stepped out of the restaurant. She found Chakotay waiting for her in the shadows, hat tipped low against the drizzle.
“Miss Janeway,” he said quietly, offering his arm. “May I buy you a drink?”
She hesitated. She should go home, get a good night’s rest and forget about this business. Her job here was done, after all – Seska had been found, and all she had to do was sit back and wait to get paid. But her nerves were fizzing like a champagne cocktail and she knew there’d be no sleep for hours to come.
She slipped a hand through the crook of Chakotay’s arm and they walked slowly down the street. She wasn’t thinking about where they were headed, but it was no surprise when they arrived at Chakotay’s hotel.
He held the door for her, ushering her into the dingy little bar on the ground floor, and Kathryn slid into a booth by the window. A cracked and dusty Tiffany lamp hung low over the table, casting dull shades of amber and indigo.
Chakotay came back from the bar and slid a martini before her. “I cannot vouch for the quality of the gin in this joint,” he apologized.
She gave him a pale smile. “It’ll do. Thank you.”
He drew patterns on the table top with a blunt forefinger as she watched. The bar was quiet apart from the ticking of a clock and the bartender’s humming as he polished glasses.
“How did you get that tattoo?” she asked, just to break the heavy silence.
He roused himself. “It is a tradition among my family. I took it in honor of my father after the Nazis killed him.”
“Oh.” She couldn’t think of anything to say.
Silence settled back around him like a dour fog. Kathryn drank her martini too quickly, one foot jiggling under the table. She couldn’t read that blank face of his, and she found herself wanting to know what was ticking behind his dark, impenetrable eyes.
“What are you going to do?” she asked. “About the money… and your wife.”
Chakotay raised his eyes to her. For a long moment he didn’t speak, and when he did it wasn’t to answer her question.
“Have you ever wanted to run away, Miss Janeway?”
She stared at him, huffed a laugh. “I already tried that. Doesn’t solve anything.”
“What do you mean?” His eyes focused on her and she thought about how it made her feel like the only woman in the world.
“I came to San Francisco almost a year ago, hoping for a fresh start. Thought I’d leave all my troubles behind. Turns out, no matter how far you run, you can’t outrun yourself.”
She felt his fingers taking hold of hers but found she couldn’t look away from his face. Those eyes had turned gentle.
“What kind of troubles could a girl like yourself have had?” he wondered.
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” Kathryn’s mouth twisted. “What do they say? Love makes fools of us all?”
Chakotay twined his fingers into hers. “You were escaping a broken heart.”
“You could say that,” she demurred. “I was engaged to be married. It … didn’t work out.”
“In a way, we are both refugees,” he mused. “Me, running from my devastated homeland to make my way in America. You, seeking a new life in a new city.”
She smiled, sad and true.
“I always believed that I would find happiness in America,” he said in that soft, smoky voice of his, his gaze on their joined hands. “I dreamed of finding my one true love and living a life of sweetness and plenty. I dreamed of honeymooning on a beach with golden sand, whiling away the hours under the shade of a palm tree. Dancing into the night and going home to our bed to hold her close until morning. Knowing that nothing could ever tear us apart.”
Kathryn’s eyes were wide, her breath short.
The twist of his mouth was wry. “Instead, I have found myself alone and penniless, with a wife who betrayed me and trouble with the law.”
She curled her fingers softly into his. “You’re not alone, Chakotay.”
His eyes rose to hers and his lips eased into a smile. “I like the way you say my name,” he murmured, “Kathryn.”
She felt herself swaying toward him like one of those palm trees he’d talked about. He was closer, too, so close she could see the faded edges of his strange tattoo. She wanted to brush her lips across it, to find out if the ink tasted different to his skin.
“Kathryn,” he said, and she felt the whisper of his breath against her lips. “What do you dream of?”
Behind the bar, a radio switched on in a brief screech of static and settled into a mellow plaintive melody. Some magic from above made this day for us just to fall in love, Kathryn thought along with the singer, and blushed.
She pulled her hands from Chakotay’s. “Dreams are for fools,” she said, harsh. “What’s the point, when they never come true?”
He looked so sad that she had to glance away.
“What happened to you?” he asked. “Your fiancé – why did it not work out?”
“He left me,” Kathryn said, flat as a bum note, “for another woman.”
She felt Chakotay’s fingers on her chin, turning her face to his. “Then he is the fool,” he said, and she closed her eyes as his mouth brushed hers. Her lips parted and a small sound escaped from her throat. Chakotay’s hand curved around the back of her neck as he pulled her into his kiss until she felt like she might drown. Her skin flushed with heat. She never wanted it to end.
“Hey, you two,” yelled the barman. “This is a respectable place. You want to canoodle, you take it upstairs.”
Chakotay eased back, his fingers sliding over her throat. “Kathryn,” he murmured. “I would like to take you to bed. But only if that is what you want.”
And Kathryn answered on a trembling breath, “It is what I want.”
Kathryn lay on the cheap counterpane, fingers tangled in Chakotay’s soft hair as his lips moved over her throat. He slipped the buttons on her blouse – one, two, three – tracing her skin with kisses that set her on fire. Her breath came in small gulps as his lips reached the edge of her brassiere, as he loosened the buttons at her hip to tug her skirt away.
“Ederra zara,” he murmured, looking down at her. “So beautiful, my Kathryn.”
She felt his palm skim warmly along the inside of her thigh, beneath her slip. His fingers deftly unhitched her garter. As he began to roll the stocking down, she gasped and pulled away.
Chakotay raised his head, eyes smoky. “Are you afraid?” he whispered.
“No,” she lied.
His face softened. “It is your first time.”
She closed her eyes and swallowed. “No.”
“Look at me, laztana.” His finger traced the side of her face. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I am afraid,” she forced herself to admit. “I’m afraid you won’t want me when you – when you know.”
“When I know what?” Chakotay tugged her gently upright, his hands entangled with hers. “What is it?”
“My fiancé,” she said haltingly. “We were intimate, and then he ran around on me. He broke off our engagement. And then I found out…” She pressed her lips together.
Chakotay raised their joined hands to his lips, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
“I found out that I was going to have a baby,” she said, rushed. “And when I told him, asked him to make an honest woman of me … he said he didn’t care.”
She made herself look at him.
“I gave the baby up for adoption. A little boy. It will be his first birthday next month.” Tears welled up and she blinked to stop them spilling over. “What you must think of me… I’m so ashamed.”
“Of what?” he asked, gentle as velvet. “It was not your fault, laztana.”
“My family disowned me,” she whispered. “Everyone but Aunt Ruby. I was sent to a convent. After I had the baby, I came here to San Francisco. Ruby and Dix have been so good to me, but I …” she hitched a breath. “I’ll never get married now. No respectable man would have me.”
“Kathryn.” He tipped her chin up and pressed kisses soft as rain on her eyelids, her cheeks. “I do not know if you would think me respectable, maitea. But if I were a free man, I would be honored to take you as my wife.”
He turned her toward him, lips soft against her own as she swallowed back her tears.
“Do you really mean that?” she asked him.
Chakotay brushed his thumbs across her cheekbones, dark eyes fixed on hers. “Three days ago, I did not even know your name,” he replied. “And now I find it difficult to imagine a day without you.”
Fresh tears shone in her eyes as she wound her fingers into his hair and kissed him with a hunger that stoked the flames between them. He tumbled her back onto the bed and moved over her, his body hot and his touch assured, and she gave herself over to it freely.