mending broken pieces of the life I had before
Summary: Tumblr prompt: “I’ve been undercover for months/years and I know I told you not to wait for me but I’m still in love with you and it’s killing me.”
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Jaffen
Disclaimer: Characters are Paramount’s. No infringement intended.
Notes: A sequel to my first AU prompt fic, you could be my unintended, was requested by a few readers, so here it is. I'm not sure this is exactly what people had in mind, but this is what came out of my brain. Sorry.
I am somewhat tech-savvy, but I really know nothing about the dark web or how IP tracking works except for what Dr Google tells me, so forgive me for anything I got ridiculously wrong. Incidentally, the research I did for this story taught me things I wish I could un-know.
Warning: There are references in this story to disturbing topics, but I’ve kept it as non-descriptive as possible.
Chakotay buried his head in his hands and tried to control his rebellious stomach. He’d been sifting through images both perverse and desperately sad for hours now, and he really wasn’t sure how much more he could take.
A sympathetic hand clamped down on his shoulder and he looked up into the grave face of Agent Kurt Bendera, his supervisor on the Violent Crimes Against Children taskforce. “Take a break, Chakotay,” Bendera advised.
Chakotay pushed back from his computer. “It’s only going to get worse, isn’t it?”
Bendera hesitated, then jerked his head toward the door. “Come on into my office.”
Chakotay followed him in and slumped into the chair on the opposite side of Bendera’s desk. “I understand how important this investigation is,” he said before his boss could speak. “I just can’t believe how prevalent these animals are. Every time the Bureau shuts down one website or chat board, another one springs up in its place. We’re not even making a dent. How do you stand it?”
“I don’t,” Bendera answered simply. “It makes me sick to my stomach every single day. That’s why I keep going. Every website we shut down is one more deterrent, one more victory. Never, ever think you’re not making a difference here, Chakotay, because you are.”
Chakotay mustered up a half-smile.
“Listen,” Bendera leaned his elbows on his desk, fingers locked together, “you’ve only been on the taskforce for a month. I’m not saying it gets easier, but you can find ways of compartmentalising it. Try to leave work at the office. When you walk out of this building, you need to shrug it off, okay?”
“I’m not doing too well at that part,” Chakotay admitted. “My wife is … concerned.”
Bendera sighed. “The truth is, the Bureau is a tough job, and this kind of work is some of the toughest. If you want your marriage to last, you can’t take it home with you. I should know,” he said ruefully.
“So what can I do?” Chakotay asked helplessly.
“I recommend you speak to one of the Bureau counsellors on a regular basis. And find healthy ways of working out your stress. What do you normally do?”
“I box. I run. Sometimes I meditate.”
“Good. Keep up with those.” Bendera stood. “Take the rest of the day off. Go spend some time with your wife. Buy her some flowers and take her somewhere nice for dinner.”
“Thanks, Kurt.” Chakotay got to his feet, feeling better at the thought of seeing Kathryn. She’d be at her lab; if he left now, he might be able to catch her before she left campus.
Locking down his computer, he pulled on his jacket and left the building, his steps a little lighter.
At her assistant’s gentle voice, Kathryn glanced up from the computer simulation she was running on her latest genome sequence. “What is it, Tal?”
“You have a visitor.” Tal’s pretty, smiling face disappeared around the doorway.
Probably the chem lab supervisor again, Kathryn thought in annoyance. Dr Harren was arrogant, rude and irritating, but ever since she’d inadvertently impressed him at one of the campus staff functions, he’d taken to dropping in on her unannounced, usually when she was in the middle of something engrossing.
Sighing, she switched on her screensaver – Tal was a sweetheart, but the last time Kathryn had wandered off and left her computer unlocked, her assistant had accidentally deleted several hundred megabytes of critical data while trying to run an antivirus scan. She slipped off the furry boots she’d taken to wearing in the chilly lab in favour of a battered pair of Converse, and followed Tal into the reception area.
Spying a pair of long legs in gabardine pants topped by an enormous bouquet of irises and lilies, Kathryn broke into a wide, delighted smile. “Chakotay! What are you doing here?”
“Do I need a reason to come visit my beautiful wife?” Chakotay leaned to one side so he could see her around the bouquet.
“Of course not.” She took the flowers, leaning up to kiss him. “These are gorgeous, Chakotay. What did I do to deserve them?”
“So many things,” he answered, pulling her close.
Kathryn handed the flowers to Tal and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Did you get an early mark for being a good boy?”
“Something like that. Are you busy?”
“For you? Never.”
“Then let’s go.”
She took his hand. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.” He grinned at her.
“Chakotay…” She tried to glare at him and found she couldn’t. “At least tell me if I need to change.”
“You’re perfect.” He cupped her face briefly, then took the coat and bag Tal was holding out, nodding his thanks. “Let’s go.”
He’d taken her to Ocean Beach. It was cold and windy and as they walked along the sand it had started to rain, but they’d huddled under the Cupid’s arrow sculpture and shared sandwiches and coffee, and they’d talked and laughed and kissed until Kathryn announced that she could no longer feel her fingers. Then they’d driven home and he’d pulled her into a hot shower and made love to her up against the tiled wall, and they’d fallen into bed and made love again.
It was the last time he could remember things being completely easy between them.
Chakotay rubbed the headache forming at the back of his neck and tried to focus on his computer screen. He was onto something, he was sure – he’d worked his way into a number of forums on the dark web, and he was noticing a pattern that seemed to indicate there were several users engaged not only in distributing exploitative material, but also in creating and collecting it. They used different handles on the various forums and gave very little away, but he thought he’d started to work out their code-speak.
Agent Bendera agreed, and had allocated another two agents to work with Chakotay on identifying the suspects. Hogan and Henley were cybercrime specialists who had a couple of years’ experience apiece on the taskforce. Hogan had been undercover a few years back on a weapons-smuggling case, and it was he who suggested that Chakotay would have more success in busting the paedophile ring if he went covert.
“No,” Chakotay said flatly when Bendera made the request official. His boss had been careful to outline exactly what the covert operation would entail: understanding the mindset of his targets, taking on the life they led, becoming like them, in many ways. Leaving the existence he knew now, for as long as it took.
“I’m not asking idly,” Bendera told him. “We’ve hit a wall here. We know kids are being abducted and their images are ending up online. We know the online identities of the perps. What we don’t have yet is their real identities or even enough evidence to conduct a search-and-seize operation. We only have best guesses and speculation, and we need more.”
He didn’t lay on a guilt trip. He didn’t tell Chakotay to think of the children.
He didn’t have to. Chakotay found he couldn’t think of anything else.
“I’ve been thinking about what we talked about a few months ago,” Kathryn said quietly, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in November.
She was curled up on the couch in leggings and a cable-knit sweater that almost swallowed her, the coffee table littered with reference papers and empty mugs. A fire crackled in the small hearth and Nina Simone crooned quietly in the background.
Chakotay sat at the kitchen table staring at his laptop. He’d been deep-diving into the chatrooms lately and had taken on an identity that the suspected ringleaders were beginning to trust. He knew it was taking its toll on him. He’d felt himself drawing away from Kathryn these past weeks, had sensed her watching him, unsure how to reach him through the dark and sullen mood that seemed to weigh on his shoulders.
He was short-tempered, eating and sleeping less and drinking more, and they seemed to spend so much less time together lately. They’d gone from tearing each other’s clothes off on a daily basis to making love barely once a week. She was busy and he was withdrawn, and the more withdrawn he became, the busier she seemed to be.
He glanced up from the computer and found her watching him. She looked nervous, but her face was soft and open.
“What’s that?” he asked.
She bit her lip and uncurled herself from the sofa, walking over to crouch beside his chair. Quickly, he shut the screen on his laptop. She noticed, but didn’t mention it.
“You asked me a question a few months ago,” she said, taking his hand between hers, “about when we could start trying for a family. I know I didn’t react well at the time. But I’ve had some time to think about it,” she took a deep breath, “and I want to have children with you, Chakotay. I want it.”
His mouth went dry. An image flashed into his mind – the boy whose terrified eyes he’d just been looking into on his computer screen. And then another, and a little girl, and –
He tried to swallow. “Kathryn, I –”
A child, he thought. Kathryn’s child. Maybe a little blue-eyed girl, like the one whose tearstained face was filling his mind’s eye right at that moment. A child he’d be responsible for, a child he would have to protect, a child who’d be vulnerable –
Chakotay stumbled up out of his chair, his hands jerking out from hers. “I can’t,” he said starkly.
“What?” She was still crouched by the chair, gripping the seat for balance.
“I don’t want children,” he said desperately. “I was wrong.”
“Chakotay –” She stood slowly, staring at him. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I was wrong. I’ve changed my mind.” He couldn’t look at her.
She was silent for a long moment.
“You don’t want children,” she repeated slowly. “At all? Or,” he could hear her swallow, “you don’t want them with me?”
He shook his head, not knowing which question he was answering.
Her voice was so quiet he barely heard her. “Don’t you love me anymore?”
“Of course I do,” he almost shouted. “This isn’t about you, Kathryn.”
“Then what is it about?” she cried. “What am I supposed to think? You’re angry all the time, and secretive, and you barely touch me anymore, and now this? I can’t stand it, Chakotay!”
Her voice wavered on the last sentence, and before he knew what he was doing he was across the room and pulling her into his arms. He buried his face in her hair and clutched her to him so tightly she gasped. “I love you,” he said fiercely. “Don’t ever doubt it.”
“Okay,” she managed, her hand stroking soothingly over his back. “Okay.”
“Mrs Carey, this is Agent Chakotay.”
The woman perched on the edge of the overstuffed armchair in the family interview room looked up as Chakotay entered. She was pale, her face bare of makeup, and he thought she looked as though she hadn’t slept in days. She barely acknowledged him, her gaze immediately dropping to the teacup she held in her trembling hands.
Agent Bendera sat opposite her, motioning Chakotay to another chair, and bent slightly toward her across the coffee table. “Thank you for coming in, Mrs Carey,” he said, keeping his voice gentle. “I know this is very difficult, but anything you can tell us could help us find Josh. Anything you can think of – it doesn’t matter how insignificant it seems.”
Anne Carey pressed her lips together. “He was wearing a blue sweater. I knitted it for him for his seventh birthday. He had a fake Sailor Jerry tattoo on his left arm and a graze on his knee where he fell off his bike. He – he was carrying his school bag…” She faltered, her face crumpling. “I’ve already told all this to the police. Please, he’s been missing for two days now. Please find him.”
“We’re doing everything we can,” Bendera assured her, briefly touching her hand. “Mrs Carey, are you aware of him having contact with anyone out of the ordinary recently? Someone he might have met through sports maybe, or on his way home from school?”
She was shaking her head, then abruptly stopped. “I sent him to the corner store for milk two nights before he disappeared. When he came home, he told me a woman had talked to him in the store and bought him a comic he’d been looking at. I didn’t think twice about it…” Her eyes filled with tears. “Did she take him? What kind of woman would do that?”
“Did he give you a description of this woman?”
“I can’t remember… I think he said she had reddish hair. I remember he said he didn’t like the way she smiled. I – I wasn’t paying much attention. The baby was crying.” She buried her face in her hands.
“It’s all right, Mrs Carey.” Bendera flicked a glance at Chakotay. “Agent Chakotay will be working on the investigation into your son’s disappearance. We’ll do everything we can to find him, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“Reddish-haired woman,” Bendera remarked when he’d shown Mrs Carey out. “Could be our perp.”
Chakotay sighed. They’d been tracking the woman known on several forums as ‘Seska’ for weeks now. Henley had made her first successful IP trace – something must have briefly glitched with the software Seska used to spoof her IP address as she was posting in one of the chatrooms, and they’d traced her location to an apartment building on Myrtle Street in the Tenderloin district, but couldn’t narrow it down to a specific address. A team had been working on cataloguing all the CCTV and traffic surveillance cameras in that area, and a week ago they’d had a lucky break: a known offender had been caught on camera walking out of a coffee shop opposite the apartment building, with a woman of medium height and athletic build, who had long reddish-brown hair. They hadn’t yet managed to get a clear enough shot of her face to identify her, but she’d popped up again two days later outside the house of another suspect.
Chakotay was familiar enough now with the codespeak used on the forums to have figured out that Seska and another unidentified accomplice were responsible for kidnapping a number of children across San Francisco and San Jose over the past few years. Images and video of those children had subsequently appeared on the dark web. Given the information they now had, Chakotay was certain Joshua Carey’s images would start to be shared across the chatrooms in the near future, unless they could first find Seska, and get Josh back safely.
He knew what he had to do.
He – or rather, his perverted online personality – had finally been invited to a meet-up. He was aware he would only be meeting acolytes, not ring-leaders, but it was a place to start.
He also knew that paranoia was a way of life for these people, and if he went ahead with the meeting, he’d better be certain they didn’t figure out his real identity.
The only way to be sure was to go undercover.
Kathryn watched him as he tossed his jacket over the back of a chair and carefully laid his laptop on the kitchen table. He looks beaten, she thought. I can’t remember the last time he smiled.
“Late for what?” Chakotay barely spared her a glance.
She pushed off from the kitchen bench she’d been leaning against and made her way toward him. “We were supposed to be at the Four Seasons half an hour ago.”
“The Four Seasons?” He stopped, looking at her properly, taking in her black silk dress, high heels and the way her hair curved smoothly over her shoulder. “Shit,” he muttered. “The fundraiser.”
“Right.” Her mouth compressed into a thin line. “I’ve called Tuvok and made an excuse about car trouble. If you hurry, we can be there before they serve the main course.”
“Kathryn…” Chakotay wiped a hand over his face and collapsed into a chair. “I have a lot of work to do tonight. Do you mind if I beg off?”
She was silent for so long he looked up and realised she was staring at him, her body rigid, her face set in stone.
“Sure, Chakotay,” she said, her voice betraying no emotion. “Do whatever you want.”
She moved then, picking up her coat and purse, her heels clicking on the timber floors. “Don’t wait up,” she shot over her shoulder as she wrenched the door open.
He leaned his head into his hands. The silent room echoed with her absence.
She came home just after midnight and found him asleep at the kitchen table, slumped over his laptop, an open bottle of Scotch beside him.
He jerked awake and peered up at her, bleary-eyed. She could see he was trying to muster a smile. “How was your night?”
At that, he sat upright, his face softening, and reached for her hand. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.”
Kathryn let him take her hand and pull her close. He rested his head against her breasts, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She hesitated, then lifted a hand to his hair, tangling her fingers in it gently.
“I love you,” he mumbled. She felt him kiss her skin where the scooped neckline of her dress left it bare, then trace his lips upward to her collarbone. He pulled her onto his lap, his mouth moving over her throat, nipping gently along the line of her jaw. She felt his hands moving on her body and her breathing started to quicken.
“Come to bed,” he whispered in her ear.
She bit her lip. She was hurt, and they needed to talk, but he felt so good pressed against her and she missed him so much. Maybe it would be better to talk in the morning, when their heads were clear.
He captured her lips with his own and she softened against him with a sigh. He stood up, wrapping her legs around his hips, and carried her into the bedroom. He took his time undressing her, touching and kissing every part of her until she lay breathless under him, desperate for him to fill her. He made love to her tenderly, calling on all his skill and control to please her, bringing her to her peak several times before he finally let go. Afterwards he held her close, her head on his chest, and she thought that maybe they’d be okay after all.
When she woke, the bed was cold and the house empty.
Joshua Carey’s pinched and dazed face appeared on the dark web the following morning.
Agent Bendera called Chakotay and his team into the office. “As unacceptable as this situation is,” he told them, “it has produced a lead. See there, in the background?” He pointed to an enlarged still photo of Josh. Behind the boy’s head, a sculpture sat on a small table.
Henley squinted at it. “Is that a McClure?”
“It is,” confirmed Bendera. “One of a kind.”
“I’ve seen it before,” Chakotay realised. “One of the forum members posted a picture with this in the background.”
“Right.” Bendera tapped the photograph again. “Hogan, Henley - trace the gallery or dealer that sold this statue. I’ve already obtained approval to commence visual surveillance of the suspect’s residence once he – or she – has been identified.”
“It’s not going to be enough,” Chakotay said abruptly. “We won’t get to Josh Carey in time.”
“No,” Bendera said quietly, “we probably won’t. Not without an arrest, and for that we need more intel. And we have no way of knowing if the location where this picture was taken will lead us to the key members of this operation. We need someone on the inside.”
Chakotay closed his eyes briefly.
“I’ll do it.”
Bendera levelled a stare at him. “Hogan, Henley, would you give us the room please.”
They filed out.
“Are you sure about this, Chakotay? You could be under for months. Possibly longer.”
“Whatever it takes.”
“And what about Kathryn?”
“How much can I tell her?”
“Tell her that you’re undercover. Tell her she can contact me any time if she needs to get in touch with you or wants a status update.” Bendera leaned in, catching Chakotay’s eye. “Tell her you’re doing something good for people who can’t save themselves.”
She was trembling.
“So what you’re telling me,” she managed, her voice shaking, “is that you don’t want to spend time with me anymore, you don’t want children with me, and now you’re going undercover and you can’t even tell me why or for how long?”
Chakotay said nothing. This was even worse than he’d predicted.
“Why did you marry me, Chakotay?” she burst out, stepping up close to him and searching his eyes. “Wasn’t it enough that I’d lost my job and been dumped by my fiancé when we met? Did you just want to pick up the pieces of me so you could break them apart again?” Her breath hitched in her throat. “I thought you loved me. I thought we’d be perfect together.”
“We are,” he said urgently. “I do.”
“Then why are you doing this to us?” she burst out, tearing away from him. “I’ve tried to be understanding. I told myself you’d changed because of the job, but that the real you was still in there somewhere. But now you’re only the job. You don’t even see me anymore.”
“I have to do this,” he pleaded with her. “I have an obligation. It’s my duty.”
Kathryn straightened her shoulders. “I understand that,” she said, quietly. “But I need to know if there’s anything to hope for. When this job is over, will you leave the Bureau? Will you come back to me?”
He swallowed hard. “It’s my duty,” he said again, his voice low. “What I’m doing is important, Kathryn. These people need me.”
“I need you!” She turned to face him again and he realised her face was wet. “I love you, Chakotay. I always will. But I can’t live like this anymore.”
“So what are you saying?” he asked around the fist that clenched his heart.
“I’m saying you need to choose. Either you stay with me or you let me go.”
He could barely speak. “I don’t want to let you go, Kathryn.”
She stepped toward him and he wanted to cry at the hope in her eyes. “Then what –”
Chakotay held up his hand. “But I have to do this. You don’t understand what’s at stake.”
Slowly, the light died out of her eyes. “I see.”
“So,” he said, almost choking on the words, “it’s probably best for you if you don’t wait for me.”
“You’re letting me go.”
“If that’s what you need.”
Her eyes were dry now. “I thought we’d make it,” she said dully. “I thought we were forever.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She nodded. “So am I.”
“I’ll leave tonight.”
“I think that would be best.”
He forced himself to walk away from her, into their bedroom. He pulled an overnight bag from the closet and threw a few things into it. He glanced at their wedding photo, hanging on the wall above the bed, and thought about how happy he’d been that day and how he’d made his wife so very unhappy since. He thought that perhaps ending it now, less than a year later, was the kindest thing he could do for her.
He walked back into the living room and found her huddled on the couch, nursing a glass of wine. She stood up to face him.
“I’ll be at the Mystic Hotel for the next couple of nights,” he said awkwardly. “After that, if you need to get in touch with me, call Agent Bendera.”
She nodded, not speaking.
“I love you, Kathryn,” he said softly. “I’ll always love you.”
He watched her mouth tremble and her eyes fill with tears, saw the effort it cost her to fight them back.
“Goodbye, Chakotay,” she answered.
By the time he turned for the door, she had already left the room.