Summary: After Janeway masters Chakotay’s stick, he invites her back to his quarters to explore her animalistic side. (I’m sorry. This is a whole lot less dirty than I’m making out.)
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Codes: 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 to Fictober 2018 Day 1 prompt: “Can you feel this?” Episode addition to The Cloud.
“I had no idea you were such a hustler, Captain.”
Her new first officer’s tone is light and teasing as they amble along the officers’ deck, but the note of admiration in it is clearly detectable and makes her smirk widen. “I suppose there are quite a few things you don’t know about me yet, Commander.”
“Then I look forward to finding out,” he says in that soft voice that, she’s come to realise, has a deceptively soothing effect in the listener.
Just a few weeks into their journey, he has already learnt to use it to his advantage; coupled with the way he – a big, broad-shouldered man – manages to efface himself, the mellow timbre of his voice can lull one into overlooking the importance of his words. She’s been almost caught out by it more than once – she, who should know better. After all, she’s quite adept at projecting a distorted impression of her own physical significance, though hers is used to opposite effect.
She suddenly realises that he’s been walking quietly at her elbow as she muses, shortening his stride so that he always remains just slightly behind her. Perversely, it annoys her, and she stops abruptly, forcing him to dig the toes of his boots into the carpet to avoid crashing into her.
They are standing just outside his quarters.
“Why don’t you invite me in and get to know me better?” she asks him on the back of that same wayward impulse, hip cocked and chin raised.
Startlement flares in his eyes, but he recovers quickly.
“Tonight?” he confirms. “Right now?”
“You did promise to teach me how to contact my animal guide,” she reminds him, “and as it stands, we’ve barely been introduced.”
“Now,” he agrees, and that dimpled smile flashes momentarily before he leans in to punch his access code into the door panel.
She’s already regretting the invitation. Wasn’t it only this morning she’d been reminding herself to maintain her distance from the crew? But it’s too late; he’s leading her in, calling for lights, asking if she’d like something from the replicator.
“No, thank you,” she says. She stands, somewhat stiffly, several steps inside his quarters, and can’t help looking around; it’s the first time she’s been in here since she assigned them to him. Since she personally packed up Cavit’s things and stored them carefully away for that someday when she’ll hand-deliver them to his family … Breathing evenly to stave off the hollow feeling in her chest, she focuses on her surroundings, cataloguing the clues she hopes they will offer to the man who inhabits them.
But they are disappointingly spare.
She doesn’t know what she was expecting. He was Maquis, after all, for some time before joining her crew, and his lifestyle couldn’t have lent itself to collecting knick-knacks. Besides, whatever flotsam he might have accumulated would have been vaporised along with his ship, and it’s not as though he’s had surplus replicator rations to synthesise more.
In fact, she realises, his only personal possession of value to him might be the medicine bundle he’s unrolling now, on the low table by his couch. The talisman he told her he has never shown to anyone before.
She is suddenly, deeply moved that he’s so willing to share it with her.
“Captain?” he asks gently from his seated position on the floor. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Of course,” she says, and moves over to lower herself beside him. He takes her hand and places it on the device, and she shifts from side to side, clearing her throat.
“Nervous?” he smiles at her.
“Should I be?”
He ducks his head in that way he has that she hasn’t yet categorised – is he genuinely charmed, or is he laughing at her? – and tells her it’s not a test. “It works best if you’re relaxed and open to the experience.”
She closes her eyes and tries to breathe evenly as he activates the akoonah, his low, melodious voice enfolding her in the rhythmic words of the meditation prayer, and she’s surprised – as she had been that morning – at how readily she slips into an altered state.
She gazes at the orange skies above Ares Beach, inhales the tang of iron oxide in the air. “My father used to bring me here on school vacations,” she murmurs. “I haven’t been back since he died.”
There’s a faint, comforting pressure on the back of her hand, and then Chakotay’s disembodied voice asking if she can see her guide.
“Yes,” she answers, bending to touch the tips of her fingers to the little brown lizard’s head. It blinks at her, apparently unafraid.
“Speak to it,” suggests Chakotay. “Ask your question, but I have to warn you, Captain, you may need time to understand the answer.”
She draws in a breath and, astonishingly, is silenced by warm fingertips laid lightly across her lips.
“Don’t ask aloud,” Chakotay’s voice is gently amused. “It’s up to you if you’d like to discuss your experience with me later, but for now it’s best to talk to your animal guide in private.”
She nods, dislodging the silencing fingers, and presses her lips together in relief – it is relief, she refuses to let herself question – at their absence.
I’m not sure I know what to do, she thinks at the lizard. Can you understand me?
The little creature blinks again, and she feels surrounded by warmth and patience, lightly seasoned with amusement.
Can you speak?
The patience ebbs ever so slightly. Ask your question, says a voice inside her mind. You may examine this vision quest at your leisure later. I have better things to do.
She’s unsure if she should be insulted or concerned for her mental health – the lizard is, after all, a figment of her own imagination – but in the end she’s too impatient to care.
Will we get home? she asks, almost tripping over the words in her own mind.
The lizard stares at her, flat-eyed and unblinking. Who?
What do you think? it counters, and when she remains silent and perplexed, it pushes up on its short forelegs, emanating annoyance. Look dispassionately at your situation, it advises. How likely are you to find a wormhole tomorrow that leads back to Earth’s doorstep? You’re travelling through a dangerous part of space, Captain. Do you think your wits and your Starfleet principles will keep you safe?
I don’t want to lose anyone else.
Loss is inevitable.
But I’ve already lost so much, and it hurts, she whispers, swallowing the ache that wants to choke her. What if I can’t feel anything but pain anymore?
The lizard scuttles closer and she finds herself turning her hand over, lowering it to invite the little reptile aboard.
Can you feel this? it asks, and hops forward onto her upturned palm.
Its body feels – strange, she realises. She expects it to feel cool and leathery, to feel the slow reptilian heartbeat just beneath its thin hide. Instead it feels warm and capable and vital. It feels as though it’s clasping her hand, broad fingers enclosing her smaller ones. It feels like comfort and protection and friendship. It feels like –
Home, the lizard nods from its perch in her cupped palm. Because that’s where you are. You are home.
Panic dumps a rush of cold into her stomach, and Kathryn Janeway snatches her hand away. The lizard disappears, along with the Martian beach where she’d spent her childhood vacations. She sits bolt-upright, eyes wide and staring at her first officer from the floor of his quarters.
He looks faintly guilty, his hand moving unobtrusively to rest on his knee, and she intuits that barely a moment ago she’d been holding onto him, her fingers wrapped into his as though she would never let go. Her cheeks heat up and the back of her neck prickles. She scrambles to her feet.
“Well, thank you Commander,” she says stiffly, hands clutching each other behind her back, “that was certainly … interesting, but I think it’s time I turned in.”
He rises more slowly. “Captain, you’ve obviously experienced something you didn’t expect…”
“You can say that again,” she mutters.
He pauses, changes tack. “I’ve learned that you have to live with the vision quest for a while before you truly understand it. Might I suggest you try not to draw any conclusions yet? Leave it a few days before your next attempt.”
“I don’t want to insult your traditions, Commander,” she lifts her chin, “but I don’t think it’s for me.”
He looks as though he means to argue, but she draws herself up even straighter and he exhales gently. “Well, if you change your mind,” he offers, that small smile curving his lips, “you know where I live, and you’ll always be welcome in my home.”
“Thank you,” she mumbles, somewhat ungraciously, and escapes to the corridor as quickly as dignity allows.
When she finally switches off her computer – work is, as always, her preferred distraction – and readies herself for bed, she is determined that her sleep will be restful. And it is. She doesn’t dream of lizards or beaches or spiritual traditions, and she certainly doesn’t dream of the comforting warmth of her first officer’s hand enclosing hers.
And, true to her word, she never embarks on another vision quest, and she never talks to the little brown lizard again.
But for weeks and months afterward, at the oddest, most unprovoked moments, she thinks of the words it spoke inside her mind.
You are home.