Required to Bear
Summary: Sometimes the past defines the future. And sometimes, no matter how defining your past, you can begin anew.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Tighe, Janeway/Johnson, Janeway/Kashyk
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit. Jeri Taylor’s rights to ownership of her novel Mosaic is not in question, and my slightly-skewed interpretation of events and characters depicted in that book are not intended to infringe those rights.
Notes: Part of the Counterpoint Vignettes collection on AO3.
Warning: References to rape/non-con.
Two: Required to Bear
“Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.”
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
The bed creaks in time with their movements. She giggles and he shushes her, dark-blue eyes sparking with want and delight as he moves above her.
“You want your father to bust in on us?” Justin admonishes her, grinning.
He needs a haircut, she thinks as she reaches up to run a hand through the dark silky strands that fall over his forehead. Justin turns his face into her touch as he thrusts slowly, easily, and Kathryn lets her breath out on a pleasured sigh.
It’s not always like this, of course – vanilla-sweet and honey-slow. They both have their demons and the need to exorcise them; it’s what binds them together. But tonight – in her cramped childhood bed, under her father’s roof – this is what they need, and this is what they are.
“Kathryn,” he murmurs, and at the tenderness in his eyes she cranes up to kiss him, wrapping her arms around his narrow, scarred torso.
“I love you,” she breathes as she comes. “I love you so much. Don’t ever leave me.”
“I promise,” says Justin.
Later, curled against each other sticky and sated, he draws lazy patterns on her back with his fingertips.
“Do you think your father approves of me?”
“Of course he does,” she mumbles drowsily. “He requested you for the test flight, didn’t he?”
Justin shrugs, his shoulder sharp against her cheek, and she raises her head.
Dark-blue eyes dart away. “I wasn’t asking about the shuttle test.”
Kathryn props herself on her elbow, clutching the sheet to her naked chest. Her fiancé’s gaze is unreadable when he locks it on hers. She hates how he does that.
“Talk to me,” she demands.
“I don’t deserve you,” he admits. “And I think your father knows it.”
Fear clutches at her heart. “My father knows nothing about me,” she says. “You’re the only one who understands.”
Justin’s eyes soften.
“You know what I think?” Kathryn lets the cadence of her voice dip lower as she trails the tip of her finger over the beloved contours of his face: the raised bump on the bridge of his nose, the broad Slavic cheekbones, the thin lips and sharp jaw. “I think we should blow off the wedding plans and elope to Risa.”
His mouth curves slightly.
She lets the sheet drop and leans down to kiss him, lush and unhurried. His hands come up, one sliding into her hair, the other cradling her face as though she is something immeasurably precious, like loyalty, like love.
“The day after tomorrow,” he murmurs as she breaks the kiss to rest her forehead against his, “after the test flight, we’ll go to Risa.”
She arches against him in sinuous delight, and as he rolls her under him, the press of his hips spreading her thighs, she wonders what she ever did to deserve this happiness.
USS La Recherche, 2390
The silence between them has been heavy since three nights ago, since she brought her disastrous appetites into their bed. A transgression she’d compounded the night before, when she stripped before him and husked “fuck me,” turning away from his grim mouth and empty eyes.
She knows he feels the wrongness and she doesn’t know how to make it right.
Kathryn wraps the blanket tighter around her shoulders, curling up on the couch. Her body feels used and sore, and the stars of the Devore Imperium are colder, crueller somehow than even the stars of Cardassia or Tau Ceti Prime. She’s always believed that as you grow older things stop hurting you so deeply. She sees now that this is a fallacy.
It is 0530 on the day of the treaty signing, and she’s been awake for hours – drinking small bitter cups of coffee and listening to music that should be soothing but is not – while Chakotay sleeps on.
She holds up her left hand, spreads her fingers against the stars outside the viewport. Her wedding ring, plain and unembellished, glints faintly in the half-light. Honest, she thinks. Like the man who gave it to her. Like she has tried to be.
The agreement between them – no less binding for being unspoken – has always been that he would indulge her darker proclivities whenever she needs it, but never in their bedroom. Never in the place where they are just Kathryn and Chakotay, husband and wife, lovers, partners, impenetrable and true.
She regrets nothing in her life as his lover so much as she regrets bringing her own corruption into their bed.
She twists the ring on her finger and thinks about Cardassians, about pain that never ended and screaming until her voice cracked. About fractured ice and Justin and broken promises. About leather and whiskey and pleasure that bleeds into pain. About all the tiny knife-cuts of the choices she’s made that have brought her here, to this moment.
And about the one good, pure, dependable person in her life, and all that she’s compelled him to bear.
USS Voyager, 2375
She returns to her bridge and takes her seat without the faintest flicker of a grimace.
“The Devore ships have gone,” Ayala reports from Tactical. “The ship is secure.”
“All speed ahead, Mr Paris.”
Her throat is raw and aching from the bruising pressure of Kashyk’s hands around it, but there’s no sign of it in her voice.
“… transporter suspension?”
“What?” she turns to Chakotay. “What did you say?”
“I asked if we should retrieve the telepaths from transporter suspension,” he answers, his brow creasing. “Captain, are you all right?”
She averts her eyes from the worried compassion in his. She doesn’t want or deserve his compassion.
“Fine. Take care of it, Commander.”
Tom turns to glance at her from the helm.
Her world lurches.
They know. Oh, God, they all know.
The black bile rises inside her and she wants to run. Tear off her pips, escape in a shuttle, disappear into the empty space between stars so that she’ll never have to witness that terrifying comprehension in the eyes of her crew.
“You have the bridge, Commander,” she manages to breathe. “I’ll be in my ready –”
God, no. Not there.
“– in the cargo bay.”
She feels the eyes of her bridge crew watching, watching, as she pushes her bruised and aching body upright. It seems impossible, but she manages to wait until the turbolift doors have closed around her before she falls to her knees, retching.
USS La Recherche, 2390
She is dressed by the time Chakotay emerges from their bedroom, sleepy-eyed and salt-and-pepper hair her fingers itch to comb through.
“Good morning,” she greets him, her treacherous lips pressing lightly to his cheek. “I’m going to check over the away team protocols with Harry.”
He reaches for her but she sidles away. “Kathryn,” he says, voice still gruff-edged with sleep, “wait a minute.”
“No time,” she breezes, collecting her padd on her way to the door. She turns back to smile at him – bright, complicit – and chides gently, “You overslept. Your dress uniform is in the closet – make sure you’re ready by the time I’m back.”
As she strides into the corridor, expressionless, her right hand drifts to touch the empty space on her left ring finger.
Starfleet Medical, 2358
When she woke in the medical bay on the Dawnbreaker after her rescue from the Cardassian prison, her world was patterned in black and red, and everything was pain.
This time, everything is white, and she feels nothing at all.
She thinks for a moment that she is still on the ice planet, and the notion is a comfort. If she’s there, she still has a chance. She can still save them, if only she’s quick enough, smart enough. Strong enough.
But when she shifts her left arm she feels the harsh pull of intravenous tubes. Blinking against the white – it’s so bright, it stings her eyes – she turns her head to look. She spreads her fingers and sees the empty space where her engagement ring should be.
It slipped off her finger, she remembers, and supposes it’s sunk beneath thick sheets of ice, crystallised like her father and her fiancé and the hopes she’d barely begun to cherish.
There’s something beautiful about it, she thinks idly – something heroic in their entombment, forever mourned and forever perfect. They will never suffer the untidy grief of a survivor.
She wonders what kind of person it makes her, that she envies them.
But then, she already knows what she is.
For long months she closes her eyes. Her world is narrowed to her childhood bed and four white walls. She sleeps, and when she can’t sleep she hums to drown out her memories. Eventually, even those stop plaguing her.
She thinks she could be content to live like this, if it’s not her fate to die.
USS La Recherche, 2390
Kathryn finishes her discussion with Commander Kim and finds she doesn’t want to go back to her quarters.
La Recherche has an arboretum – an extravagance, she thinks, for a ship smaller than Voyager, although she supposes it makes sense on a vessel designed for deep-space science missions – and she’s pleased to find it empty. She drifts beneath an American maple and props her back against its trunk. The branches swoop around her, embracing her in a panoply of auburn and red and gold.
At their lake house, right now, the maples would look just like this.
She thinks about the hard road she and Chakotay have journeyed to get here and the road they have yet to travel.
Five years ago she almost lost him. He’d taken the newly overhauled Voyager out on a joyride with a skeleton crew, an easy loop to Alpha Centauri and back again. There was an accident – a genuine one; a calamitous series of unforeseeable events – and the ship was almost destroyed. They lost four people, and Chakotay was so badly injured that for days no doctor would offer a prognosis.
They’d taken her to see him when he came out of the first round of surgery. For long minutes she had stared at her husband, still and pale as death, his body immobilised in a prison of tubes and wires. Then she had walked out of Starfleet Medical and refused to return until the doctors told her he was awake and asking for her.
She could not – could not – watch him die.
Remembering this, now, Kathryn tilts her head back against the maple’s trunk and closes her eyes against the familiar knife-ache of guilt.
How often has he kept vigil by her bedside, waiting to lose her? How often has she flung herself recklessly in harm’s way, gambling both her future and his?
How different is that – forcing him to suffer the destruction of her body and fear the loss of her life – from what she’s doing to him now?
How many chances will she get before she loses him anyway?
USS Voyager, 2375
Kashyk says, “The bridge is yours,” as though it’s a benediction and not the last, petty twist of an impotent knife, but she allows him it.
She has, after all, won.
Her gaze is still fixed on the carpet at her feet when Chakotay comes to kneel beside her.
“Report,” she orders, throat raw.
“The Devore vessels have gone. The ship is secure.”
“Call all crew to return to their duty stations.”
“Including the captain?” He tips his head toward her empty chair.
Kathryn isn’t sure that she can ever bear to sit in it again.
She thinks of Kashyk, of scouring her thighs in the sonic shower and evading her own reflection.
She thinks of scaled hide and faceless men and holograms and rope burns on her wrists. She thinks of vanilla and whiskey and Justin’s dark-blue, wounded eyes. She thinks of Mark, and his tender words and unselfish love, and of knowing it would never be enough.
She thinks of Chakotay, his hands sure and gentle, erasing the evidence of gloved fingers on her skin. Of the way he looks at her as though she’s something precious, like loyalty. Like love.
She wants to run.
But she is the captain, and so she glides gracefully to her own chair as though she’s never been forcibly removed from it, and her voice is even as she calls her crew to return to their stations.
Ambassadorial Palace of the Devore Republic, 2390
Her stomach tightens like a fist as she is led toward the dance floor – a lamb to the slaughter – and moves into Kashyk’s arms. His hands are bare, but as they cradle her own she feels the texture of leather.
I am Admiral Kathryn Janeway, she forces through the gritty clouds of memory, and I will not give into fear.
She wishes, not for the first time, that she hadn’t sent Chakotay back to the ship. But this is a hell of her own making, and he cannot save her from it.
The dance ends and Kashyk ushers her toward the room where she will sign the Federation into a damnable treaty, one that he expects her to seal with her own flesh.
As if she is a prize.
The door is secured behind them and she stands alone in this room with the man who – like so many, many others – has cast his stain across her marriage. He leans into her, his voice curdling like cream. His words are sly, and crudely intimate. They are meant to goad her.
This time she won’t let them.
He has no power over her anymore. She is not Starfleet’s chess piece, or a gul’s plaything, or Kashyk’s sacrificial offering.
She, at last, understands her worth. She is Kathryn Janeway, and she is precious. She is loyal and she is loved.
And she’s finally free.