Conversations Without Words
Summary: “It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone.” — Marilyn Monroe
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Ayala, Paris
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 talsi74656’s “J/C Cutthroat Fiction” comp, to the Marilyn Monroe quote above.
III. Now - Stardate 54886.4
Report to my quarters at 2200 hours.
What the hell had she been thinking?
Kathryn Janeway rubbed her fingers in slow circles against her temples, closing her eyes. On the table before her, next to the ever-present stack of padds, a mug of coffee cooled slowly, its scent a soothing undertone to the myriad of less pleasant aromas in the mess hall.
It wasn’t as though she and Chakotay were strangers to late nights in her quarters – though of course nothing untoward had ever happened, much to the disappointment of many of her crew. Well, almost nothing, she conceded. They’d indulged in plenty of flirting, several deep and personal conversations, occasional touches to the shoulder or hand, even a hug when one of them desperately needed it. She tried not to need it, though. Even a brief, comforting embrace from Chakotay had a way of setting her alight, of making her forget who she was and why extended physical contact with him was not a good idea.
And her invitation – in terms that were indirect, but that he could hardly misinterpret, knowing her as he did – to her quarters late at night for a glass of wine and … whatever … was an even worse idea.
Things had been much simpler before New Earth. She had known, of course, that he felt something for her, something a first officer shouldn’t feel for his captain. She’d felt it too, but had managed to bury it under her duty to the crew and her loyalty to Mark. But three months on that quarantine planet had changed everything.
Nothing happened there, she tried to fool herself, and couldn’t help scoffing at her own delusion. They hadn’t become lovers in the physical sense – that much was true – but there was a world of possibility between that and ‘nothing’.
She had fallen in love with him. She’d tried to resist it, but he was, in the end, irresistible.
She’d hoped, when they returned to the ship, that those feelings would eventually bleed away, that time and trials would mute them into the warmth of friendship.
And they have, she told herself fiercely. They’d worked hard to get to where they were today. Years of push-pull and jealousy and misunderstandings. Years of longing and heartache and lying wakeful in her bed with her gaze turned toward the bulkhead that separated them. Years of touches that drew back, uncompleted, of words that died unspoken on her tongue.
Years of pushing him away, and one single moment of weakness in a cave on the planet they had named Exitia, when she’d pulled him close and wished she could hold onto him and never let go.
And yet, they had also been years of certainty in his presence, of bolstering her flagging will at the touch of his hand on her shoulder. Years of laughter and teasing and the gentleness in his eyes. Of tender smiles and silent conversations, and moments of complete accord.
They were a seamless, effective command team and the best of friends, and anything else they might have been could never come to be. She knew it and he knew it, despite the long and sometimes difficult road they’d travelled to get to this point.
So whatever had possessed her to set upon that path again?
Janeway opened her eyes and sipped at her coffee. It was barely lukewarm; grimacing, she set it back down.
Through the large viewport, stars streaked toward and past her, each one a measure of their progress toward Earth. Earth, which had been her home, and which she now longed for as her deliverance. From the weight of her responsibilities to her ship and crew. From her enforced chastity, and the cage she kept around her heart although she ached to give it to another.
The stars blurred before her eyes as it dawned on her why she’d issued that flirtatious invitation to Chakotay this morning.
She’d felt him slipping away from her in recent months. Their customary touches to each other’s hands or shoulders had all but ceased, and their regular working dinners had begun to end earlier in the evening, at the point where they had previously drawn a line under the shop talk and moved on to more personal conversation.
And though they had each had their romantic dalliances in the past few years, none of them had been serious, and she had never felt as if his love for her had dimmed. Until now.
She didn’t think he had taken a lover. And yet, though he clearly still held affection for her, it wasn’t the same. They spent less off-duty time together, and even that was usually in the company of others. They’d stopped talking about topics that didn’t pertain to ship’s business. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d helped her contact her spirit guide. And a few weeks ago, not long after she’d come back from Quarra, he’d returned the copy of Dante’s Inferno that she had lent him years before.
At the time, she’d refused to consider why that had felt like a slap in the face.
Now, with a clutch of her heart, she understood that she had interpreted it as a breakup.
The book had come to symbolise the part of her that he’d wanted to keep close. A little piece of her soul, a part of her life that had nothing to do with the captain; something precious she had shared with him and him alone. And, in a way, it had represented her letting go of Mark. Somehow she understood this without Chakotay ever having expressed it.
And then he’d given it back. He’d been letting her go, and it had terrified her.
So she’d flirted with him, and invited him to her quarters, and both of them had known that it meant more than simple friendship.
So what did it mean? What did she want from him, and equally importantly, what was she willing to give?
“Mind if I join you, Captain?”
Startled out of her thoughts, Janeway straightened quickly in her chair.
“Of course not.” She tried to smile.
Tom Paris scrutinised her carefully as he slid into the seat opposite. She was paler than usual, her eyes shadowed, a frown pinched between them. Trouble in paradise?
“Should I be worried?”
“Excuse me?” Janeway’s gaze lifted from where it had been fixed on a droplet of coffee, spilled on the table’s surface.
Paris gestured at her untouched meal. “About lunch,” he clarified. “Chell trying to live up to Neelix’s reputation?”
“Oh.” Her gaze drifted back down and she picked up her fork, prodding listlessly at the jelly-like substance on her plate. “I’m sure it’s delicious; I’m just not particularly hungry.”
“Uh-huh.” Paris lifted a forkful to his mouth, tasting it tentatively. “It’s not bad, actually. But I’m sure Chell would find you something else if you asked. Anything for the captain, right?”
“Right,” she said absently, then, “I’m sorry, Tom, what did you say?”
“Nothing important.” Paris watched her unobtrusively for a moment longer. “So, Mike did okay on the bridge this morning.”
“Yes, he did.” She picked up her cold coffee, sipped, grimaced again and pushed it away.
“Guess I’d better watch out he doesn’t take my post,” Paris continued mildly. “Seeing as he outranks me, and all.”
Something in his voice made Janeway snap back to attention, her eyes sharpening. “Last I checked, you still had that second pip, Mr Paris.”
“For which I’m eternally grateful,” he answered smoothly. “I just meant he has seniority. It’s funny you should mention that though, Captain. Ayala and I were just talking about that this morning – how we’ve both lost and earned back a rank.”
Janeway’s eyebrow arched in warning. “A rank I’m certain you both want to keep.”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied smartly.
Her fingers, which had tightened on the edge of the table, relaxed a fraction.
“I’m curious, though,” Paris went on, and Janeway’s shoulders tightened again. “Everybody knows how I got busted down to ensign, but Mike wouldn’t tell me why he got demoted.”
Her eyes were ice that gave nothing away, and Paris shrank visibly.
“Uh, but of course it’s none of my business,” he muttered. He glanced over her shoulder and hurriedly got to his feet, snatching up his plate. “Excuse me, Captain, I think somebody wants my seat. Commander,” he nodded as he made his escape.
Chakotay slid into Paris’ vacated chair and grinned at her. “What’s Paris up to now?”
Janeway swallowed, trying to compose herself. “Wanting answers to questions he shouldn’t ask.”
“Oh?” Chakotay cocked an eyebrow. “Gathering intel for his betting pool?”
“He had better not be, or so help me, I’ll bust him down to assistant bottle washer,” she muttered.
Chakotay was well practiced at assessing the moods and mind of Kathryn Janeway, and one glance at her whitened knuckles, tense jaw and otherwise expressionless face told him everything he needed to know. He leaned forward, his hand covering hers. “Kathryn, what is it?”
When she remained silent, he squeezed her hand gently.
“Talk to me.”
She raised her eyes to him slowly. “He wanted to know what happened when Ayala was demoted.”
“Yes,” she said, watching him closely.
“What did you tell him?”
“I didn’t tell him anything.” Her gaze dropped to their joined hands and her voice grew even quieter. “The strange thing is, I’d just been thinking about it.”
The low hum and chatter of the mess hall faded against the sudden roar in his ears. “Thinking about … what happened that day?”
Janeway nodded, trepidation in her eyes. “Among … other decisions I’ve made.”
“Decisions you regret?” he asked carefully.
She glanced away, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug.
“Decisions…” Chakotay paused, “a decision about us?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
His other hand crept across the table, one finger tilting her chin back toward him. She was worrying her lower lip between her teeth. “Which decision, Kathryn?”
“The decision we made – I made – after that mission to Exitia,” she replied. “The one I’ve tried so hard not to regret.”
She met his gaze, and he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen her emotions so close to the surface. His fingers cupped her jaw, thumb stroking over her cheekbone, and her free hand came up to loosely clasp his wrist. Her eyes closed briefly as she leaned her cheek into his palm.
In the galley, a pan clattered to the floor and the sudden sound made them both jump as they remembered where they were. Chakotay’s hand dropped from her face.
“We’ll talk tonight,” he murmured, and she nodded, trying to control her smile.
Chakotay sat back in his chair and turned the discussion to crew rosters as they each picked at their lunch. Janeway kept up her end of the conversation with ease. It was a habit born of long practice: their ability to function smoothly as a team, to command the ship together, to work through the surface minutiae when the real communication was happening entirely in the subtext.
They didn’t need words to talk about the important things. They were carrying on a whole other conversation with their eyes.
She kept glancing at him, noting the spark in his eyes, the dimples that wanted to come out of hiding. How could she have forgotten how beautiful he was? How had she managed to convince herself, all these years, to stop looking?
In return, she noticed his gaze drifting over her face, caressing the lines of her shoulder and arm, his fingers twitching slightly where they lay beside her hand as if he almost couldn’t stop himself from reaching for her. And she wondered if this was renewed for him too – drinking her in, mentally cataloguing all the places he wanted to touch her – or if he’d been doing it all along and she had simply blinded herself to it.
She must have been staring a little too long, a little too obviously, because Chakotay cleared his throat, ducking his head to hide a grin. Janeway blushed, straightening in her seat.
“So we’ll transfer Celes to Sickbay on a permanent basis?” he asked, passing her a padd.
“What? Oh, yes.” Janeway pressed her thumb to the screen. “The Doctor says she’s turned out to be a competent medic.”
“Tom will be pleased.” Chakotay pointed with his chin, indicating the pilot, sitting a few tables away with Ayala. “The fewer shifts in Sickbay, the better, as far as he’s concerned.”
“Tom might start to worry he’s being replaced on all fronts.” Janeway leaned back in her chair. “A backup medic, a new backup pilot… what will he do with his time?”
“Probably get into trouble.”
“You make a good point.” Janeway smirked as she gathered up their stack of padds and got to her feet. “Well, playtime is over, Commander. We’d better get back to the bridge –”
She broke off abruptly as the ship bucked beneath her feet.
The first thing she became aware of was the sharp, dragging ache in her head. She moved her hand up to touch her temple and her fingers came away tacky and wet.
Janeway opened her eyes and squinted against the yellow glare of the mess hall lights.
“Captain,” said Tom Paris, leaning over her. “Please lie still. You’ve lost some blood and you have a nasty concussion.”
“What happened?” she croaked, wincing at the effort it cost her to speak.
Paris’s mouth twisted. “Turns out those power converters we picked up from the Saluvians last week don’t play nicely with Voyager’s systems. Some kind of power surge went through the secondary plasma conduit on this deck, and sent Chell’s stew pot flying across the mess hall. You were standing in its path. I’m afraid you took a direct hit to the head.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You have to be kidding me.”
“I’m afraid not. And the emergency medkit isn’t sufficient to heal your injuries. I need to get you to Sickbay.”
“Transporters are down,” came her first officer’s voice.
She turned instinctively toward it. A gentle hand brushed her face and she blinked, Chakotay’s worry-lined face coming into focus. Infinitesimally, her pain receded. He was there, so she knew she would be all right.
“We can carry her there,” she heard Ayala interject.
“Through the Jeffries tubes? Turbolift power is down too.” Chakotay took her hand carefully in his. “Hold on, Kathryn. I’m going to get the Doctor.”
“The ship,” she managed. “How much damage is there?”
“B’Elanna is assessing it now.”
“Just you.” Chakotay’s expression flashed rueful.
She started to struggle upright but was stopped by a firm hand on her shoulder.
“If you think you’re going to the bridge, you can think again.”
She shook her head a fraction, wincing at the way the movement jostled her skull. “Not me. You.”
“I’m not leaving you, Kathryn.”
Kathryn Janeway gathered every ounce of her strength to glare at him. “That’s a direct order.”
“Tuvok has it under –”
“Don’t make me demote you.” She gripped his hand, forcing his attention. “Because you know I will.”
Paris and Ayala exchanged a silent, eloquent glance over her head.
“I’ll stay with her,” Paris cut in.
“I can go to Sickbay and bring the Doctor back,” added Ayala.
“Go,” Janeway whispered, and still Chakotay hesitated. “Go.”
He searched her eyes and read her conviction, but his reluctance to leave her was obvious as he released her fingers and stood.
“Keep me apprised on her condition,” he ordered Paris, his gaze still fixed on Janeway.
“Aye sir,” she heard Paris reply as she closed her eyes, overwhelmed with a sense of déjà vu.