Summary: In a quiet sector of space, Janeway decides it’s time she got to know her XO a little better – and what better way than sharing their down-time? So she invites him to sample her new holoprogram …
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for the @worthagrand J/C Picture Prompts fic challenge, and inspired by the picture on this page. Also inspired by devovere’s fictober drabble #2. Set after Initiations but before Persistence of Vision.
“This is worse than a Starfleet dress uniform,” Chakotay mutters, running a finger along the inside of his starched collar. “People really wore this kind of thing back then?”
“You think you have it bad, Commander?” The captain plucks at her abundantly flounced skirts. “You have no idea what women went through to wear this kind of costume. Getting into the undergarments alone required the help of a maid and a sturdy bedpost to hang onto.”
“Really?” He eyes her with interest as they stop outside the holodeck door. “Someone helped you dress?”
“Well, no – of course not,” she fumbles, flushing. “My undergarments aren’t exactly … I mean, I’m not wearing … I made some twenty-fourth century updates to the corset fastenings,” she finishes.
His grin gets wider with each partially-uttered sentence. “You mean you cheated?”
The captain rests a palm flat against the holodeck control panel and turns to glare at him. “No, I didn’t cheat, Commander. I just … used the tools at my disposal.”
She jabs her forefinger at the panel and the doors swish open.
“To the best of my knowledge, corsets are tied on from the back,” Chakotay says conversationally as he follows her onto the empty holodeck grid, his gaze lingering on the captain’s cinched waist. “I’m interested to know exactly what modifications you made. Did you use magnetic fasteners, or does it lace up at the front now?”
“What is it that you seem to find so intriguing about my underwear, Commander?” she snaps, hands finding her petticoated hips.
His control over the curve of his lips doesn’t extend to the merriment dancing in his eyes.
“Never mind,” she growls. “Computer, activate program Janeway lambda one.”
Chakotay manages to stifle his laughter as the Victorian drawing room shimmers into existence around them, but he’s not sure he entirely hides the gleam in his eyes.
“So, who am I meant to be?” Chakotay asks, ambling over to peer out of the sash window. The gardens below are rigidly neat, though the morning dew bows the heads of roses and weighs down blades of grass. He breathes experimentally on the window glass, misting it; with one forefinger he quickly sketches a crude symbol in the fog, then wipes it away with his sleeve.
The captain is trailing reverent fingers across the clothbound spines of books arranged neatly on a shelf. “A Woman of No Importance,” she murmurs aloud.
“Excuse me?” Chakotay turns.
“Hm? Oh, not you, Commander,” she laughs. “Oscar Wilde. Have you read it?”
“I don’t think so. My schooling didn’t cover much Victorian literature.” He wonders why his tone is apologetic.
“To answer your question,” the captain faces him, folding her hands, “you are the lord of the manor, the Marquis of Burleigh.”
“Really?” Chakotay tries to suppress his smile. “So, does that make you the lady of the house?”
“Not exactly,” the captain responds. If he’s not mistaken, a flicker of uncertainty crosses her expression. “I’m Lucy Davenport. The governess.”
The captain walks briskly to the fireplace, avoiding his eye. “You’re a widower with two children, Henry and Beatrice. You’ve engaged me to tutor them.”
“So, in other words,” Chakotay moves toward her, his voice perfectly neutral, “you’re serving under me.”
She hisses out a breath. “Perhaps this was a mistake.”
“No, I’m sorry.” He rests a hand on her sleeve, then pulls back. “I’ll behave.”
She narrows her eyes, apparently deciding to believe him despite the crease-corners of his mouth. “This is a Gothic novel,” she reminds him, “which means there’s a mystery to solve. There will be strange events – stairs creaking, doors banging in faraway rooms, some kind of presence which could be supernatural –”
“And as the plucky heroine, your task is to investigate these strange happenings, placing yourself in grave danger and escaping only through sheer wit and bravery –”
“I thought you said you didn’t know anything about this kind of program.”
“I may not have read much Wilde, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely ignorant of the genre.” Chakotay schools his face. “I have read Jane Eyre, which means I know what happens between curious governesses and rich, tormented widowers –”
The captain half-growls, half-huffs. “This isn’t what I’d call behaving, Commander.”
“Just getting into the spirit of things.”
“Fine. Let’s get started, then. Computer, begin program.”
A door opens to Chakotay’s left, and through it sweeps – there’s no other word for the action – a severe woman dressed in grey serge, whose stride falters momentarily as she takes in the other occupants of the room.
“I apologise, my lord,” she addresses Chakotay. “I was unaware you had returned from York.”
“No need to apologise, uh …” Chakotay glances at the captain for help.
“Mrs Templeton,” she rescues him, “Lord Burleigh arrived just a few minutes ago.”
Chakotay notices the frost in the older woman’s eyes as the captain speaks.
“Perhaps you would like to take breakfast, my lord?” Mrs Templeton asks.
“No thanks, I’ve already eaten.”
“I’ll have Bridget bring you some tea, then.”
The captain rolls her eyes. “People didn’t say okay in nineteenth-century English society, Commander,” she admonishes him, low-voiced.
“Sorry,” Chakotay mutters back. He bows exaggeratedly from the waist. “My esteemed lordship thanks you for your exceedingly generous offer, Mrs Templeton. Tea would be most acceptable.”
The holographic housekeeper takes it in stride, uttering an obsequious “yes, my lord,” and about-facing through the door she’d entered by. Chakotay’s gaze cuts over to the captain, who has her hands on her hips.
“There isn’t much point in continuing if you don’t intend to take this seriously, Commander.”
“If my performance in this recreational program is being evaluated in some way –”
“No,” she interrupts, colour rising on her cheekbones. “I’m sorry, Chakotay. I suppose I’m feeling a little … exposed … at inviting you in here. We don’t know each other very well, and sharing leisure activities does require a level of … of intimacy …”
Her voice trails off and she turns away, then raises her eyes to his. There’s defiance in that blue gaze but it’s tempered with vulnerability, and Chakotay realises just how bravely the captain has put herself on the line by inviting him to play make-believe with her.
“I’m the one who should apologise,” he admits, feeling ashamed of himself. “I’ve never played a program like this before. Maybe you could give me a few pointers?”
“To be honest, I’ve only run this particular program twice, and only for a few minutes. The first time I was interrupted by your adventure with the Komar; the second, by a power surge.”
And now he feels even worse about teasing her. God knows the captain doesn’t get many chances to relax, and here he is, making fun of one of her very few opportunities.
“Okay,” he says. “So I’m the lord of the manor with a mysterious secret. Any idea what that might be?”
She smiles. “Your description of the Burleigh character as a ‘rich, tormented widower’ probably wasn’t far off the mark. During my first attempt to run this program he told me his wife had died, and warned me away from the fourth floor. On my second visit, one of the children claimed their mother wasn’t really dead.”
“So his wife is alive, crazed and shut up in the attic?”
“That would be my guess.”
“Seems a little predictable, don’t you think?”
“Not much of a mystery,” the captain agrees.
“Maybe there’s more to it, then,” Chakotay suggests, shifting a step closer and extending his arm. “What do you say we find out, Miss Davenport?”
Her smile breaks like the sun as she rests her hand in the crook of his elbow. “Lead on, my lord.”
In the corridor they encounter an aproned, mousy girl balancing a tray laden with teapot, china cups and a selection of pastries.
“Your Grace,” she stutters. “Mrs Templeton sent me to bring you tea in the drawing room.”
“Thank you … Bridget,” Chakotay remembers her name just in time, “but Miss Davenport and I are going up to the fourth fl-”
“We’re, ah, going to the schoolroom,” the captain hastily cuts in. “Henry has just learned the first stanza of The Aeneid and Lord Burleigh would enjoy hearing him recite it.”
“I would,” Chakotay nods vigorously. “So very much.”
“Of course, sir,” mumbles Bridget. “I’ll leave the tea by the fire for you.”
She hurries in the direction of the room they’ve just left, and Chakotay turns to the captain with an exaggerated bow. “Miss Davenport.”
“It’s a good thing these characters seem programmed to disregard your flippant attitude, Commander,” she grumbles.
“Let’s hope my homicidal wife up there is similarly disposed to ignore me,” he grins back at her as they start to climb the ornately carved staircase.
At the third-floor landing there’s a door ajar; Chakotay’s glance takes in a large room with leadlight picture windows that let in the watery morning sun. A young girl is kneeling on the cushioned bench in front of the windows, her elbows planted on the sill. A boy, two or three years younger, sits at a small wooden desk, scowling.
“The schoolroom,” the captain informs him as he pauses at the door.
“So these are my, I mean Lord Burleigh’s, children?”
“Can I meet them?”
The captain’s brief surprise melts into a smile. “Of course.”
As he enters the schoolroom, the girl turns from the window, her petulant frown instantly disappearing as she rushes toward Chakotay and flings her arms around him.
“Father, you’re home!”
Beatrice, the captain mouths at Chakotay’s questioning glance. Her eyes are soft, the corners of her lips curved upward.
He nods a quick thanks and turns back to the girl.
“It’s good to see you too, Beatrice,” he tells her, crouching. “I hope you’ve been behaving for Miss Davenport.”
Beatrice’s beaming smile droops at the corners but before she can answer, the boy, who has clambered to his feet and stands rigidly beside his desk, interrupts.
“She told us you weren’t returning until tomorrow.”
“She?” Chakotay enquires.
“The governess.” The acid in the boy’s voice could corrode iron.
Chakotay gently disentangles himself from Beatrice’s embrace and stands upright. “Speaking of your governess,” he decides to brush past the boy’s rancour, “Miss Davenport tells me you’ve learned to recite a poem.”
“In the original Latin,” the captain puts in, moving to his side to smile down at the boy.
“I’d like to hear it. Miss Davenport says she’s very pleased with your progress.”
The scowling child retorts, “How would she know? She says her Latin is rusty.”
Chakotay cuts a sly glance toward the captain. “In that case, maybe I can assess her progress based on your performance.”
“Very funny, Commander,” she mutters. “Please begin, Henry.”
“As I told you, Miss Davenport,” Henry glares, “you should address me as my lord. Or have you forgotten your station?”
The captain accepts the rebuke without complaint, but Chakotay has had enough. Voice soft and even, he orders, “Henry, apologise to Miss Davenport.”
“Apologise,” Chakotay repeats.
Henry glares at the floor. “Forgive me, Miss Davenport.”
“It’s all right, my lord.”
Chakotay turns at the undercurrent of laughter in the captain’s voice. He’s not sure why, but amusement is the last thing he expected of her.
“Don’t look so surprised, Chakotay,” she leans in to murmur. “He’s just a holographic child, not an insubordinate crewman I have to reprimand. It isn’t real.”
“Well, if it isn’t real,” he whispers back, “why are you making me listen to this kid recite Virgil instead of figuring out the mystery of the fourth floor?”
“I take your point,” the captain concedes. “Computer, deactivate the chil-”
“Belay that,” Chakotay blurts.
She raises her eyebrows at him.
“It wouldn’t feel right,” he shrugs. “Let’s just … leave them to their studies.”
“Okay,” she smiles, and loops her hand through the elbow he offers her.
“You’re good with them.”
“Children.” The captain gestures vaguely. “I noticed it before. With the Kazon boy.”
“Kar?” Chakotay glances at her sidelong. “He took me prisoner and tried to kill me.”
“And you reached him,” she points out. “You made a connection. You’re good at that.”
He can’t help flushing with pleasure. “Is that why you made me your first officer? Because we made a connection?”
She doesn’t answer his question, but he observes the rigid set of her shoulders and decides to leave it be. They reach the foot of the stairs.
“Ever thought about having them yourself?” he asks her. “Children, I mean.”
Her step falters and he catches her elbow to steady her.
“You okay, Captain?”
“Fine.” She slips out of his grasp.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “That was presumptuous of me.”
The captain stops, head bowed. After a moment she looks at him. “It’s all right, Commander. After all, the purpose of sharing our holodeck time is to get to know each other better.”
Chakotay keeps his stance relaxed and his expression open, and is rewarded when she turns to face him, one hand lightly on the banister to steady herself.
“I have thought about it,” she admits. “Having children, I mean. But the time and circumstances were never right. Or maybe the desire was never strong enough.”
“I know what you mean.” Chakotay smiles down at her.
“I suppose we’ve both missed our chance now.”
There’s a melancholy in her voice that he didn’t quite expect. The captain, despite her stated intent, is turning out to be more complex and mysterious than before this exercise in building familiarity.
He pictures her smiling down at a newborn, reading to an infant; he imagines her hair spilling down her back as she plays with a laughing toddler – idyllic, sunlit images – and is shocked by a sharp pang of longing.
“You’d make a great mother,” he says without thinking.
This time he hears her sharp intake of breath. But before he can apologise again, she says, “Let’s keep going,” and turns purposefully, making it clear the topic is closed.
The stairs to the fourth floor are steep and uneven and not well-lit. Chakotay’s palm hovers discreetly over the small of the captain’s back as she tiptoes carefully for the next step.
Somewhere above them, a ghostly sob echoes through a faraway room, and Chakotay’s neck prickles despite himself.
“If that’s my wife, I guess I’m a pretty terrible husband,” he jokes.
As the captain turns to respond, there’s a loud crack followed by a thud directly ahead of them. Startled, she loses her grasp on the banister and sways backward. Chakotay’s hands come up in reflex, catching her waist to steady her.
He feels her sharp intake of breath even through the corset boning and, expecting her to pull away from him immediately, finds his fingers spreading around the fabric of her dress. Not pressing, exactly; not even holding her. It would take no effort at all for her to withdraw.
Instead, the captain goes completely still.
Under his fingertips her breathing quickens, and perhaps it’s all in his imagination, but there’s a fine, trembling tension in her body. The stairs are dimly lit and he can only see her quarter-profile. Is that colour in her cheeks? Are her lashes lowered, her lips parted, or is it only make-believe?
He should let go.
He should let her go, but she’s turning toward him now and yes, her mouth is soft as she looks up at him, her tightly-boned waist shaped under his fingers and her hand comes up to his chest, but she’s not pushing him away she’s looking up at him with luminous eyes and he dips his head to kiss her as he guides her body close against his –
Chakotay blinks it away, his hands falling from the captain’s waist, hoping like hell that the gloomily-lit stairwell is concealing any outward evidence of his brief flight of fancy.
He suspects he hasn’t managed to hide his feelings completely, because the captain’s expression holds a hint of wary surprise. What did she read in his face, he wonders with a flash of panic, while he was staring at her, lost in his daydream?
“Are you all right, Chakotay?”
There may be more than friendly concern in her question. Or he may be reading something into it that isn’t real.
He smiles at her – calm, professional, capable. “I’m fine, Captain. Should we continue?”
The captain’s eyes narrow a fraction before she responds. “Indeed. The mystery awaits.”
She turns to climb the last few stairs to the fourth floor, and after a moment Chakotay follows, preoccupied with a new mystery.
What did he just unwittingly reveal to her?
Worse, what has he just unearthed about his own feelings, no longer buried under layers of duty and denial?
And what, exactly, is he supposed to do about it?
Nothing, he tells himself firmly as he follows the captain up the steep, narrow staircase.
Following where she leads, just as he pledged all those months ago.
He’ll do nothing about it, because nothing is all it can ever be. It’s just a stray fantasy, born of loneliness and given brief life in this place of illusion.