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.
As soon as the last student had filed out of her classroom, Kathryn dropped into her desk chair and gave in to the urge to bury her face in her folded arms.
She was so tired, and upping her caffeine intake wasn’t helping. She wondered briefly if she should take Dr Zimmerman up on his offer to prescribe a mild sedative. A good night’s sleep or two might take the edge off this constant, desperate exhaustion she’d felt ever since Chakotay walked out of her life.
It was impossible to believe that had been almost four months ago when the pain was as fresh as yesterday.
There had been so many bad days since. The day she’d filed the divorce papers; the day they’d been delivered to her, counter-signed. The day she’d quit her job at the genetics lab. The day she’d moved back to Indiana. The day she’d leased out their house – she couldn’t quite bring herself to sell it. The day that should have been their first wedding anniversary.
She was grateful that her mother had received her with open arms and that her sister had demonstrated a sensitivity she was sure Phoebe’d never had when they were kids. She was grateful for her new job, teaching science to high school kids, even though it felt like a major backward step. She was grateful for Delta, the Samoyed-mix puppy Phoebe had insisted she take home after an ill-advised trip to the local shelter.
“Kathryn? Are you all right?”
She jerked upright, wiping at her face before turning to her questioner. “Oh, Jaffen. I’m fine.”
The English teacher’s kind eyes clearly communicated his disbelief. “Mind if I sit down?”
“I was just leaving…”
“How about a cup of coffee?” he said firmly. “I’m buying.”
She mustered up a weak smile. “You’re going to badger me until I give in, aren’t you?”
“All right.” Kathryn’s smile turned genuine. “Since you’re buying.”
She was grateful for friends, like Jaffen.
She collected her jacket and bag and took Jaffen’s offered arm. “Where to, boss?”
“I know a place,” he answered. “Best coffee in town. Where’s your car?”
“I don’t have one,” she admitted. “My mother’s place is only a few miles from school. I usually walk here.”
“Then I’ll drive you.”
She hadn’t expected the ‘best coffee in town’ to be served from the Miele machine in Jaffen’s kitchen.
Kathryn was uncomfortable at first. But Jaffen kept up a constant stream of patter from the moment he produced a bag of fresh beans for the grinder to the moment he ushered her into his living room and handed her an amaretto cookie and a cup of the most fragrant coffee she’d experienced since she left San Francisco. They sat in silence while they each inhaled the steam and took a first reverent sip, and Kathryn let out a peal of unexpected laughter, realising she’d met a fellow caffeine addict.
After that, conversation was easy.
She didn’t tell him much about Chakotay; only that she was recently divorced after a humiliatingly brief marriage and still coming to terms with it. She didn’t tell him that she rarely slept and could barely eat. She didn’t tell him she was still so in love with her ex-husband that it hurt to breathe when she thought about it. She didn’t tell him that she felt like a failure, or that she couldn’t imagine ever getting over it.
Mostly, they talked about their families, pets, previous jobs. Jaffen told her about his ex-wife and daughter who’d moved back to Qatar after his divorce – “so you see, Kathryn, you aren’t the only one unlucky in love”. She sensed the regret he tried to hide under his smile, and reached out to touch his arm in sympathy.
It wasn’t until Kathryn’s cellphone rang – it was her mother, wondering if she was ever coming home for dinner - that she realised she’d been there for hours. “I’m sorry, I lost track of time,” she told her mother. “I’m at a friend’s place.”
She noticed Jaffen miming eating with a questioning look on his face.
“I think I’ve been invited to stay for a meal,” she interpreted, and her mother, overjoyed that Kathryn was developing a social life, implored her to stay right where she was.
At eleven o’clock, Kathryn refused Jaffen’s offer of a ride home – they’d shared a bottle or two of wine – and called a cab, surprised to realise she’d actually enjoyed herself. Jaffen walked her to the door.
“Thank you for cheering me up,” she said, and leaned up to peck him on the cheek.
She was surprised when he blushed. “You’ve cheered me up as well, Kathryn. I’d like to do this again sometime.”
“Me, too,” she surprised herself by saying.
“Could I take you out for dinner?”
Kathryn hesitated. “Are you asking me as a friend, or would this be a date?”
“I’d prefer the latter,” he admitted, “but if you only want a friend, then that’s what I’ll be.”
She bit her lip.
Chakotay isn’t coming back, she told herself. He chose the job over me.
“All right,” she said, lifting her chin. “It’s a date.”
It took over three months for Chakotay to graduate from hanger-on to part of the inner circle. Three months of subsuming himself in the sad, sick and desperate life of a ‘child-lover’, as the chatroom inhabitants referred to themselves. Three months of returning to his rented apartment on Geary Street each night and vomiting up the bile he’d accumulated during the day. Three months of missing Kathryn so desperately he actually thought, on a number of occasions, about drinking himself to death.
He hadn’t realised that in taking on this role, in trying to be a hero, he would actually come to hate himself.
It wasn’t until he was finally introduced to Seska that the pieces started to click into place, and he began to drag himself out of his self-induced loathing.
Seska was slippery; even Michael Jonas, the owner of the house where Chakotay finally met her, didn’t know her real identity. But Jonas had grown to trust Chakotay over the past several weeks. “She’s the one who finds the kids,” he whispered to Chakotay as Seska plugged a thumb drive into his computer. “Suder makes the videos. That’s him there.” He twitched a finger in the direction of Seska’s dark-eyed companion.
An image of Joshua Carey appeared on screen. Chakotay’s fists clenched at his sides.
“Ten thousand,” Seska stated, glancing over her shoulder at Jonas. “Cash payment, right now, or I take this elsewhere. And believe me, you don’t want to miss this.”
“Here,” Jonas said quickly, handing her a plain envelope stuffed with bills.
“Pleasure doing business,” Seska said casually as she shoved the envelope into her purse. “Have fun, boys.”
She sashayed out, followed by Suder. The front door closed behind them.
Chakotay thought fast. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“Down the hall.” Jonas waved a hand, already engrossed in loading up Seska’s video.
“Thanks.” Chakotay ambled casually along the hall. As soon as he was out of Jonas’ line of sight, he pulled out his phone and found the number he had stored for Agent Bendera under a fake name.
Grandma made it after all, he typed as fast as he could. Can you pick her up? Take the Sienna. She’s wearing blue.
On my way, came the immediate reply.
Within moments, he knew, Henley would triangulate his phone signal, extrapolate his location and begin an intensive sweep of all traffic and CCTV cameras in the area, looking for a blue Toyota Sienna. When she’d picked it up, she’d dispatch covert units to follow the car. If they’d scrambled in time they’d be able to trace Seska to wherever she was going.
With any luck, that would be the place where Josh Carey was being held. He just hoped the boy would someday be able to recover from everything he’d suffered over the past few months.
Slipping his phone back into his pocket, he ducked into the bathroom, ran the water for a few seconds and made his way back down the hall.
Jonas’ pale blue eyes were fixed on whatever atrocity he was viewing onscreen. “Come look at this,” he invited Chakotay.
“Sorry, Mike, I have to get going.”
“Your loss,” Jonas smirked.
Chakotay let himself out of the house, got into his nondescript car and drove back to his Geary Street apartment. He showered off the stink of the day, brewed a pot of coffee and sat at his kitchen table, waiting for word from Bendera and thinking about Kathryn.
Was she still angry with him? If they could close down the investigation today, take Seska and Jonas into custody, find the missing kids… could he convince her to take him back? Or had he hurt her so badly there was no chance for them anymore?
His cellphone beeped.
Grandma picked up safe and sound, he read. Nobody else at the party. Bringing her home now. Can’t wait to hear her news.
So they’d tailed Seska somewhere, arrested her and were bringing her in… but there was no sign of Josh Carey or any of the other missing children. Chakotay buried his head in his hands.
Unless Seska talked, this was far from over, and his hopes of being with Kathryn again were slipping further and further away.
They’d been on a couple of dates – dinner at a small local Italian, and a picnic in the park one sunny Saturday – and Kathryn found she was enjoying Jaffen’s company more and more. He’d taken to leaving little gifts in the top drawer of her classroom desk – a flower, a handmade chocolate – just small things to let her know he was thinking of her. He was wooing her, she realised, in the traditional way.
As her last relationship had begun with her arrest and a shared meal in a holding cell, she decided this made a refreshing change and she was going to relax and enjoy it.
On their third date, Jaffen kissed her.
It was a gentle, closed-mouth kiss, and he pulled back before she could decide what to do about it. She touched her lips as she closed the door behind him and wondered if she’d felt anything.
She thought about the first time Chakotay had kissed her, the way he’d stolen her breath, the way she’d never wanted it to end, and had to clench her fists against the ache in her heart. Over, she reminded herself. Forget him. Move on.
For their fourth date, Jaffen invited her to his place for dinner.
She knew where this was heading, and she dressed with every intention of throwing herself into it. She wore new lacy underwear beneath her wraparound dress, left her hair down, and took a bottle of wine.
The candles and soft music told her she’d been right.
She could barely eat, despite knowing he’d gone to some trouble to prepare her favourites – poached salmon, a fresh salad and crusty bread. She found herself gulping her wine, her knee bouncing nervously under the table, wondering when they were going to get to the main act.
Jaffen asked if she’d like dessert, and she declined. He offered coffee, and she suggested they take it into the living room.
They sat close together on the couch and sipped their coffee. Kathryn tried to calm her pounding heart, wondering why she felt less like she was about to take a new lover and more like she was steeling herself for something terrifying. She gulped her coffee, quickly shoved her cup on the table before the trembling of her hands could give her away, and turned to him.
Jaffen’s hand slid onto her neck, his thumb stroking her skin. He dipped his head to kiss her and she wound her arms around his shoulders, pulling him against her body.
Responding to her aggressiveness, he nibbled on her lower lip, easing her back against the arm of the couch. She felt his hand move along her thigh, under her dress, and squeezed her eyes closed. He felt solid and warm against her and she pushed her breasts against his chest, parting her legs to let him lie between them.
His hand moved up to slide inside the low neck of her dress, cupping her breast through the bra, and she willed herself to relax. She felt his lips move downwards, over her throat, felt him push aside the bra so he could take her nipple in his mouth. He was hard, pressing between her legs, and she felt a warm rush of pure physical need shiver through her and wrapped her thighs around him.
“Kathryn,” he mumbled against her skin, and her eyes opened at the sound of the wrong voice.
Jaffen felt her stiffen and pulled slightly away to look at her. “What is it?” he whispered.
“I can’t do this,” she blurted. “I’m sorry.”
He sat up slowly and she tugged her clothing back into place, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, desperately.
“It’s all right,” he soothed her. “We were moving too fast. We can dial it back.”
“No,” she said, forcing herself to meet his gaze. “It’s not just that. I – I’m not ready to be with someone. I don’t know if I ever will be.”
“Kathryn…” He sighed. “I felt the same way when my wife left me. I thought I’d never get over her, but I did. I have. It just takes time.”
“Maybe,” she said softly. “But it’s been six months and I miss him all the time. It’s not fair to you, Jaffen.”
“I’m a patient man,” he offered.
Kathryn shook her head. “I can’t, Jaffen. I’m sorry.”
He looked at his hands, then back at her, nodding, trying to smile. “I’ll call you a cab.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “For everything.”
Seska had demanded a reduction in charges, claiming that her operation was merely the tip of the iceberg and that she could provide the FBI with information on a crime network that stretched across state lines. When he was briefed on the deal, Chakotay asked to be pulled out. But Seska claimed she didn’t know where most of the abducted children had been moved to once she and Suder had finished with them, and the Bureau wasn’t letting her out of its sight. So Chakotay was ordered to stay undercover. Armed with Seska’s information, he was to locate the missing children, identify the kingpins of the operation, and feed the intel back to Agent Bendera.
Over the next three months, he’d tracked down seven of the children and the Bureau had retrieved them and made a number of arrests. Word had spread through the forums and the ranks closed tight. Seska’s well of intel had run dry, and still Chakotay hadn’t managed to find the brains of the operation, or Josh Carey.
He was working all hours of the day and night, following leads, lurking in the chatrooms, trying subtly to pry information from Michael Jonas and the other men he’d met. He’d lost weight and he knew his hands shook – from stress, from too little sleep, from too many nights of drinking. He’d stopped boxing, could only run half the distance he used to, and hadn’t been able to meditate for months. His apartment was a mess.
One early morning, sitting at his kitchen table with reddened eyes, staring at his laptop, he realised that a meeting he’d been able to wangle an invitation to was located a few streets away from the house he and Kathryn had shared.
On autopilot, he showered and dressed in the nondescript pants and shirt that had become his uniform – his cover job was as a low-level government employee, nothing that could draw any attention – and took the bus to Bernal Heights.
He walked slowly through the morning fog, his gaze on his feet as he tried not to think. He told himself he was scouting the area, getting a feel for the location of the meeting that night. He knew he was lying.
He turned onto Lundys Lane, his heart thumping faster with every step. Was she at home? Would he see her? He knew he couldn’t contact her, couldn’t speak to her, but maybe if he could just see her –
He stopped a couple of houses away on the opposite side of the street, and looked. There was an overturned tricycle by the front door, a small pink helmet dangling from its handle. He frowned at it.
He jerked around at the tentative sound of his name.
“It is you,” the woman with the buggy said. “I was just taking Billy for a walk. I thought I recognised you.”
“Deanna,” he said involuntarily.
His former next-door neighbour smiled. “I haven’t seen you in far too long. Are you busy? Why don’t you come in for a coffee?”
She waved a hand toward her house and Chakotay noticed the small baby bump as she turned side-on. “You’re pregnant?” he asked, then blushed.
“Yes.” She smiled, smoothing a hand over the front of her dress. “Four months to go. Will is hoping for a little girl this time, but I insisted we keep it a surprise.” She looked him up and down, taking in his appearance, and he realised that her dark eyes were missing nothing – haggard face, unkempt hair, shaking hands and all. “How about that coffee?” she said firmly, and he realised it was less a question than an order.
He hesitated; it was a risk, and he certainly couldn’t blow his cover at this stage in the investigation… but really, who would know? He’d report it to Agent Bendera, of course, but the chances of any of the Bureau’s targets finding out were slim to none.
Deanna put a hand on his arm. “Come on,” she said, her tone decisive, and he nodded, following her into her house.
“Look who I found lurking outside,” she called to her husband as she dragged Chakotay into the kitchen.
Will’s eyes widened when he recognised him, and he pulled Chakotay into a brief but unexpected bear hug. “Love the beard,” he said approvingly. “How’ve you been?”
“Good,” Chakotay lied. He glanced around their kitchen. Two year old Billy was throwing blocks out of the playpen in the corner as Deanna absently picked them up and tossed them back in. The far wall showed several patches of colour – paint samples, he realised – and the table was littered with parenting magazines and motorcycle parts; Will, he recalled, was an aficionado. It was a mess, but a different kind of mess to his own sad apartment. Chakotay felt envy and regret well up in a flood that tightened his throat.
“Do you see Kathryn often?” he asked before he could stifle the words.
Will and Deanna glanced at each other. “You didn’t know?” Deanna asked.
“She isn’t living next door anymore,” she told him gently. “Your house is rented to a young couple with a three year old daughter. Kathryn moved back to Indiana months ago.”
It hurt like a fist to the chest. He had done this. He’d hurt her so badly that she’d left her dream job and the house they’d made a home, just so she could run as far away from him as possible.
“We talk on the phone occasionally,” Deanna continued, watching him, and he knew she hadn’t missed a thing. “She has a job teaching science at the local high school.”
“Is she…” He swallowed. “How is she?”
The couple shared another glance, and Deanna got up and picked up Billy. “I think it’s time for a diaper change,” she murmured and left the room.
“Let me guess,” Will said as he moved aside a newspaper and set a coffee in front of Chakotay. “You’re not exactly enjoying the life of a single man.”
Chakotay remembered the day he’d checked into the office and Agent Bendera had regretfully handed him Kathryn’s petition for divorce. He’d locked himself in his apartment with a three-day supply of scotch. It had been over a week before he could finally bring himself to sign it.
“Not exactly,” he muttered.
“So why aren’t you going after her?”
He shook his head. Even if he could explain it to Will, he knew now it was too late.
Will eyed him over his own coffee mug. “What the hell are you doing, man?” he asked, not unkindly. “What happened to you two? You were good together.”
Chakotay stared at the table.
“Take a look at yourself,” Will continued. “Frankly, you look like shit. And Dee would never betray Kathryn’s confidence, but I don’t mind telling you that your ex-wife isn’t doing so great either.”
Chakotay felt even worse.
“Get it together,” Will suggested, draining his mug. “Go sign up to AA or whatever you need to do,” he nodded at Chakotay’s sharp upward glance, “yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice your DTs. Figure out where you went wrong with Kathryn and go throw yourself at her feet. If you’re lucky, she might even forgive you.”