Prisoners Of Our Own Device
Summary: “You were in an accident. Can you tell me your name?”
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Another prompt challenge from Helen8462, who added a choice of sabotages:
The answer to that question is No, or, Put in something non-canon-compliant.
I opted for both.
Part Four: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave
Captain Kathryn Janeway lies rigid on the lumpy fold-out sofa and stares at the ceiling.
Her head aches, her stomach churns and her throat is dust-dry. But worst of all is the ravaging clamour of her conscience.
Beside her, Chakotay’s breathing is soft and even. His arm is still curled around her, their bare legs tangled under the covers. She wonders if he’s sleeping deeply enough that she can escape without waking him.
She shifts, and feels the tension in his limbs as he comes into consciousness. She can barely bring herself to turn her head and meet his unfocused gaze.
“Kathryn,” he says, and blinks, and she watches his eyes turn soft and heated. A dimple appears in one cheek.
The hand that had curled loosely, warmly, around her hip now travels upward over her body, making her suck in a breath. Chakotay pushes up on one elbow and leans in to nuzzle his lips against her face.
“Good morning,” he murmurs against her lips. He kisses her, but pulls back when she doesn’t respond. His eyes are wary now.
Captain Kathryn Janeway slides out from the bed, covering herself with her arms until she can yank on a t-shirt. Her lips feel swollen, her thighs sticky and aching. But she holds herself straight and forces herself to meet her first officer’s eyes.
“This was a mistake.”
If he would argue with her, if he’d lash out verbally or even with his fists, maybe she wouldn’t feel so wretched. But he’s not that kind of man. He’s Chakotay, and his reaction is exactly the one she should have expected from him.
A small inhalation while he absorbs her words, a bow of the head, and then a slight smile as he stands, wrapping the sheet around his hips. “Okay, Kathryn,” he says in that soft voice that has always been her undoing. “It’s okay.”
Then he collects her clothes from the closet and places them in her arms, ushering her into the tiny bathroom. She comes out, showered and dressed, to find fresh coffee waiting.
Chakotay smiles at her, warmer now. “I’m due at work,” he says. “I’ll see you later.”
The door closes quietly behind him and Kathryn drops her face into her hands and gives into wracking, sore, undisciplined sobs.
A few days later, she finds a job filing in a small legal office. She doesn’t mind the work; it’s dull and repetitive, but she finds satisfaction in its orderliness.
And it gives her the space to turn over ideas in her mind. She’s determined to get back to her own century. There must be a way to do it; surely Starling left some technology behind, or Captain Braxton can be found and coerced into helping them?
She talks her ideas over with Chakotay in the evenings. Things were strained between them for a day or two, but as he’s apparently resolved to treat her exactly the way he did before that night, she slowly allows herself to relax in his presence. He’s good to bounce her thoughts off; he always has been. He makes her consider the flaws in her theories, to follow tangents she might not have otherwise considered.
But a couple of weeks later, when she’s mulling over a plan to file a missing persons report for Braxton, Chakotay puts down his fork and looks at her evenly.
“What is it that you think Braxton can do for us?” he asks. “He’s been stuck here for thirty years. Don’t you think that if he could find a way to travel back to the future, he’d have done it by now?”
“For thirty years, he had nobody,” she replies edgily. “Now that we’re here, maybe if the three of us put our heads together –”
“Enough,” he says. His voice is quiet but authoritative, and Kathryn stops talking to stare at him. “Kathryn, it’s been weeks, and there’s been no sign of Voyager or the Aeon. They’re gone, and without them we have no way to get back, Braxton or no Braxton.”
She focuses on him properly for perhaps the first time in weeks. He’s different; she can see that now. It’s not just the physical changes that his manual-labour job has wrought – the darker tan, the calloused hands, the bulkier shoulders. He looks more solid than he did on Voyager, somehow, more real. More certain.
“I know you don’t want to accept that this is our life now,” he continues. “But I’ll help you, if you’ll let me.”
He reaches across the tiny kitchen table to take her hand.
“I’m sorry, Kathryn,” he says, softer now. “I’m sorry we’ve lost them. I miss them, too.”
She wants to shout at him, to slap him, to run. But instead, her fingers fold into his and she grips on as tightly as she can while the tears spill down her cheeks.
He finds her at the bar where they’d got drunk on tequila. She’s huddled into a corner booth nursing a tumbler of whiskey, eyes focused on her own misery.
He slides in beside her, counts the glasses littering the table.
“They’re gone, aren’t they,” she says, her fingers turning the tumbler around and around. “They’re all dead. And we’re never going home again.”
Chakotay puts his arm around her shoulders.
“How do you do it?” she mumbles, pressing her face into his chest. “How do you just … accept where you end up?”
He’s silent for a long moment, then, “It’s different for me, Kathryn.”
He shifts, tugs his earlobe.
“It’s different,” he admits, softly, “because even though I’ve lost everything else I still have the most important person in my life, right here with me.”
It takes him a while to gather the courage to look into her eyes, and when he does his heart sinks. There’s affection there, desire certainly, but it’s tempered by the way she’s worrying at her lower lip.
Chakotay looks away.
“I’m not asking for anything from you but friendship, Kathryn,” he mumbles. “I know you don’t feel the way I do.”
“It’s not … I don’t …” she stops. “I can’t, Chakotay. I need … I don’t know what I need.”
“You’re grieving.” He turns back to her and his eyes are calm again, his face composed. “I understand, and I want to help you. But this,” he gestures at the whiskey spills on the table, “this is probably not the best way.”
Kathryn tries to smile at him but it wobbles, turns watery. “Then maybe you should get me out of here, Commander.”
“Come on,” he smiles, helping her out of the booth.
The construction company lays off a dozen workers, Chakotay included, the same week Kathryn loses her filing job. Within a few days their meagre savings are gone.
“We can’t stay here,” Chakotay pronounces as they share a cup of beans and rice at their kitchen table. “We need to move somewhere we can get steady jobs, find a bigger place to live.”
“But if we leave LA, they’ll never find us,” Kathryn blurts.
Chakotay stares at her. “Who, Kathryn? Who do you think is going to find us?”
She’s already regretting it. “I don’t know. But we’re dealing with time travel here, Chakotay. Who’s to say that someone from the future isn’t going to show up and take us back home?”
Abruptly, he pushes away from the table, pacing the tiny apartment. “We’ve been here for months and they haven’t shown up yet, have they?” He glares at her, hands low on his hips. “Nobody is looking for us, Kathryn. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll adjust to the fact that we live in this century now.”
“As you were, Commander,” she snaps, rising, steel in her eyes.
Chakotay barks out a laugh. “Will you listen to yourself? We are not in a command structure anymore, Kathryn. We’re just ordinary civilians, trying to get by. Maybe you can live on the faint hope that someday, someone will miraculously appear to rescue us, but I’d rather live in the real worl-”
The sharp crack of her hand against his cheek cuts him off.
Stunned, he stares at her. Her colour is high, her chest heaving, mouth trembling. The space between them is heavy and fervid.
Just as he’s drawn breath to apologise, Kathryn steps up to him, rises on the balls of her feet, and drags his mouth to hers.
He doesn’t hesitate. His arms are crushing her close, his hand winding into her hair. His tongue delves into her open mouth and she groans, sucking him in, her fingers clutching at his shirt as her body presses into his. He breaks the kiss to nip at her jaw and she throws her head back, moaning, “oh, God, please.”
Chakotay pulls back, holding her at arm’s length, trying to bring his breathing under control.
“Kathryn,” he husks. “Kathryn, what are we doing?”
She doesn’t want to open her eyes. She doesn’t want to see him, his face open and longing. She just wants to feel.
“I need you,” she forces herself to grit out, her body pressing insistently to his.
Chakotay releases her and steps back.
“I can’t,” he tells her, and she aches at the misery in his voice and at the loss of his hands on her. “I can be anything else you need me to, but I can’t be your warm body to fuck, Kathryn. I’m sorry.”
She can’t look at him as he walks out on her. By the time he creeps back into the apartment it’s the early hours of the morning, and she keeps her eyes closed as he settles onto his pallet, even though she knows that he knows she’s not asleep.
In the morning they silently pack up the apartment.
Chakotay books them on a bus to Santa Barbara. From there, he mutters as they board, they can catch their breath, look around, try to figure out their next move.
Kathryn says nothing, huddled silently into the seat by the window. This is his show now.
Exhausted and lulled by the low rumble of the bus’s engine, she sinks into sleep. She wakes to the warm touch of a hand on her shoulder.
“Kathryn,” he murmurs. “We’re here.”
While they’re in Santa Barbara, exploring by day and bunking in a flea-ridden motel each night, Kathryn spends a lot of time thinking. Chakotay behaves toward her exactly as he always has: solicitous, chivalrous, and always aware of her. He can tell when she’s hungry or sad or desperate for caffeine without her saying a word or so much as frowning. He smiles at her, offers jokes and observations, carries her pack when he notices her rubbing at sore shoulders.
And because he’s exactly as he always has been, she begins to let go of her shame at her attempted seduction.
They board another bus. It stops in a tiny beachside town where they buy sandwiches and wander down to the shore, and as Chakotay passes her coffee in a Styrofoam cup, Kathryn looks at him and the truth of it hits her like a plasma explosion.
She must make a sound – breathless and small – because Chakotay’s forehead furrows. “Are you all right?”
She puts down her coffee and picks up his hand. His eyes are guarded. She smiles.
It’s a wide, unconstrained, shining smile, and he inhales sharply in response.
“Yes,” she says, “I think I am.”
And she brings their joined hands to her cheek, her eyes telling him everything as she leans in to kiss him.