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.

Rated E

Three: The Master of her Fate

 “It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
-    William Ernest Henley, Echoes of Life and Death

 

===0===


USS La Recherche, 2390

Starlight gleams faintly on the gold band that encircles her finger.

“Morning,” mumbles the sleep-roughened voice she loves beyond reason.

Kathryn relaxes her splayed fingers and lets her hand drift downward, and it comes to rest on the warm arm that’s wrapped around her waist.

“Good morning,” she murmurs. She tilts her head to nuzzle at the soft skin of his throat and feels his answering rumble of satisfaction along her spine.

They shift and fit themselves together like well-worn puzzle pieces. Her head is tucked under his chin, her ear pressed to his faithful heart, his arms cradling her. She watches the Devoran stars slip by, each one a marker on their final journey home.

Peace fills the room, weighty and golden, and as Chakotay’s lips press into her hair, Kathryn smiles.

 

===0===


San Francisco, 2365

The apartment still feels empty, even though she’s tried to fill it with books and rugs and paintings, and ornaments that Mark is bemused by. She tells herself it’s a product of the white walls and high ceilings and nothing to do with the hard coal of panic wedged between her ribs.

She does like the bedroom, though, with its picture windows that face south-east over the bay. In the mornings she wakes to sunlight and the faint splash of oars. In those first, half-waking moments she can almost imagine that nothing bad could ever happen to her.

This morning she’s alone in the bed. Pulling on the t-shirt Mark has left on the floor, she pushes her mussed hair out of her face and moves on autopilot to the kitchen for her first cup of coffee.

“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

Kathryn chokes on her coffee. “Damn it, Mark, I didn’t know you were there.”

Mark puts down his stylus – he prefers a pen and paper; it’s one of the peccadilloes she teases him about but secretly enjoys – and scrapes his chair back from the table, coming over to wrap his arms around her from behind.

“Where else would I be, Kath?” he nuzzles into the side of her neck.

God, how she hates it – this diminutive of her name that she quite illogically feels diminishes her as a person. But she accepts it all the same, because this is who she is now. Kath, lover of Mark, this kind, gentle, easy-going man who loves her in spite of the things she keeps hidden. Perhaps, partly, because of them.

And she loves him too – she does. It’s a safe love, secure and undemanding, and right now it’s exactly what she needs.

She eases out of his arms, turning to smile at him to soften the gesture. “What are you up to today?”

Mark moves to the replicator and calls up poached eggs without asking her preference, motioning her to sit at the table. “We have lunch at my mother’s,” he reminds her, taking the seat opposite.

“Oh Mark, I can’t,” she bites her lip. “I have a lot of work to do today.”

“Kath, it’s Saturday.” His voice is patient; this is not a new conversation for them. “Even Starfleet doesn’t expect you to work twenty-four-seven.”

“I’m meeting with the board of admirals next week.” Her knife scrapes discordantly on the plate. “I think they’re going to offer me a command.”

“That’s great!” Mark’s eyes light up. “So let’s celebrate, huh?”

“Don’t jump the gun,” she warns, but smiles. “For all I know, they could be planning to haul me over the coals again.”

“What happened on the Billings was not your fault.” He rises and comes over to rest his hands on her shoulders. “You need to stop beating yourself up over it, Kath.”

Appetite gone, she leans back and lets him knead gently at the ever-present knots in her shoulders. She wants to protest – it was her fault, it always is – but it’s an old argument, and she’s tired of it.

“So,” he bends to murmur in her ear, “why don’t you take the day off? We have hours until we’re due at my mom’s, and I have an idea of how we can kill some time.”

He bites lightly at her earlobe and she shivers. “Oh you do, do you?” she purrs, voice low and sultry.

“I do.” Mark takes her hand and tugs her to her feet. As she tiptoes up to kiss him he slides his hands under her ass and lifts her, and she laughs, wrapping her legs around his hips as he carries her back to bed.

 

===0===


USS La Recherche, 2390

“Come back to bed,” Chakotay calls softly from the bedroom doorway, and Kathryn looks over from her curled-up position on the couch.

“I have work to do,” she feigns reluctance. “I need to send Command a report on my failure to sign the treaty.”

Chakotay comes over, rubbing a hand through his hair. “It was hardly your failure, Kathryn.”

“I’m not sure they’ll see it that way.”

“If they knew the price of signing, they would.” He crouches beside her, fingers entangling with hers. “And I for one am glad you didn’t pay it.”

“Come here,” she beckons him, pulling him up beside her so she can slide onto his lap. His hands, so warm and gentle, cup her hips as she presses her lips along the stubbled line of his jaw. “I love you,” she murmurs. “So much.”

In answer he spreads his hands across her back, kissing her with such familiar tenderness that her lips curve into a smile under his.

“Didn’t you mention something about bed?” she whispers as his hands begin to travel.

He scoops an arm under her knees and rises in one smooth and easy movement. Kathryn nestles her face into his neck as he carries her to their bed. His pulse beats under her cheek, as steady and dependable as he is.

There is nothing that compares to the feeling of being held in his arms, safe and cherished, or the reverent way he touches her, as though he’s breathing life back into her. Warming her, like ice melting under his fingertips.

“I never thought I was good enough for you,” she admits later, quietly, tracing meaningless patterns on his bare chest.

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re a good person,” she says. “And I believed that at the core, I was rotten.”

She feels the reflexive tightening of his arms around her: protecting her, always, even from herself.

“Kathryn,” he hesitates, “bad things happen to good people. It doesn’t make you bad, too.”

It’s the closest he’s come to telling her he knows what happened to her. What she’s done.

After a few, I stopped screaming, she thinks. But that doesn’t mean I stopped fighting.

“And now?” he asks. “What do you believe now?”

“Well,” Kathryn smiles, “if someone as good as you can love me, I can’t be all that bad, can I?”

 

===0===


Paris, 2370

It is one of the rare times when their worlds collide. Mark has been invited to take part in a think tank in the Quartier Latin, and Kathryn is at Starfleet’s Paris campus to discuss fleet movements near the newly formed Demilitarised Zone.

She doesn’t know, until Mark’s symposium is three days in, that its topics include the impact of systematic racial sublimation, the psychology behind guerrilla warfare and the efficacy of torture.

Over dinner at a tiny, quaint café on the Rue Mignon, Mark talks about the facilitator at that afternoon’s session, a Federation doctor who’s been working at a colony bordering the DMZ. “She says the planet has seen an influx of refugees since the Federation agreed to cede their home worlds to the Cardassians,” he informs her as she picks at her salad. “She’s heard stories of mass murder, imprisonment, rape and torture. These people are suffering because of that damned treaty … Kath, are you listening?”

“You know I can’t talk about this, Mark.”

“Why?” Mark rarely pushes an argument with her – especially when it comes to Starfleet matters – but now he puts down his fork and looks at her evenly. “Because it’s classified, or because it hits too close to home?”

Kathryn’s shoulders tense, and her fiancé reaches across the table to take her unresisting hand.

“You, of all people,” he says gently, “must empathise with these refugees.”

She yanks her hand away, glaring. “Whatever you’re getting at, I suggest you drop it.”

“I’m sorry,” he says after a beat of silence. “It’s just that I feel for these people, Kath, and in your position surely there’s something you can do.”

“What?” She keeps her voice low, mindful of the other café patrons. “What would you have me do? I’ve already made an appeal to Command to reconsider the terms of the treaty…” She shuts her mouth abruptly. “There’s nothing more I can say.”

She evades his too-searching gaze as she recalls that meeting with Admiral Nechayev. You can’t just let the Cardassians run these people off their home worlds, she’d insisted, and Nechayev had stared her down and replied, It’s not your concern, Captain.

“Other Starfleet officers are speaking out against it,” Mark presses. “Some are even resigning in protest. You must’ve heard of the Maquis movement. There are reports that six officers have defected in the last week –”

“What do you want from me, Mark?” she snaps. “You want me to resign my commission, give up my Federation citizenship? Should I run off to fight the good fight against the Cardassians – who by the way are our allies – and die in a blaze of glory?”

Mark compresses his lips. “Of course I don’t want that,” he spaces his words evenly. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Then I suggest you change the subject right now.” Kathryn scrapes back her chair. “Excuse me.”

She winds her way through tables and into the ladies’ room, the door swinging shut behind her. Casting a cursory glance around and finding herself blessedly alone, she lurches into a stall and locks herself in, breathing, in, out, until her hands stop shaking.

As her heart slows, she recognises that Mark’s comments are not the accusations she took them to be. He’s affected, profoundly, by what he’s recently learned. He is a philosopher and a humanitarian; it’s in his nature to want to know, to understand how one sentient race can treat another so shamefully. Even if he can’t possibly understand, because he’s never been their victim.

She, on the other hand, has known this day would come since the signing of the treaty. Since the first reports of unrest on the Cardassian border three years ago. Since her own stay as a guest of the Cardassians more than a decade before.

And she still doesn’t know what to do about it.

“I’m sorry,” she says quietly when she’s returned to the table. “You just … struck a nerve.”

“It’s my fault for bringing it up, Kath.” Mark attempts a smile. “After all these years I should know better.”

She sips her wine, avoiding his eye.

“I just wish you trusted me enough to tell me what happened to you,” he almost mumbles, but when she doesn’t respond, he picks up his knife and fork and returns, listlessly, to his dinner.

 

===0===


USS La Recherche, 2390

“Kathryn.”

She turns to find Chakotay crouched beside her, a steaming mug held out in one hand.

“That’s not coffee,” she musters up a smile.

“Hot chocolate.” He sits next to her and wraps her hands around the mug, waiting until she sips gratefully before he continues gently, “Are you ready to talk to me yet?”

She sighs. “I’m sorry, I know I’ve been shutting you out. I have a lot on my mind, I guess.”

“You really think Kashyk is following us?”

“I don’t know.” Kathryn puts down the mug and rubs her aching temples. “He had every chance to get to me on Devore. I’m sure it’s all in my imagination.”

“Kathryn, look at me.” Chakotay rests a hand on her knee. “I’ve got Harry scanning every micron of space, shields are at full strength, and Devore ships can’t catch us at slipstream. We’re well beyond their range now. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“And if he does come after me?” she asks, wondering why now – now that she’s safe, beyond his reach – she can’t stop flinching at shadows. “What then?”

“Then I’ll kill him,” says Chakotay.

She believes him.

“You can’t kill all my nightmares,” she whispers. “You can’t erase the things I can’t forget.”

“Like what?” he queries, gently taking her hands.

Instead of answering directly, she turns her face to the stars again. “When I came after the Val Jean twenty years ago, I had no idea what I’d do if I found you. Make sure Tuvok was safe, obviously, but apart from that…”

She sighs.

“Owen Paris ordered me on that mission as a test of my loyalty.” She feels Chakotay tense at Paris’ name and lays a hand over his. “But I went to prove to myself that I could handle it. Nobody had more sympathy for the Maquis than I did, Chakotay, but my duty was to Starfleet. It was my obligation to uphold that peace treaty, even if it meant siding with the Cardassians. I told myself it was the price of peace.”

“The same price you were willing to pay on Devore.” Chakotay presses his lips together. “Sometimes, Kathryn, the price is too high.”

“Spoken like a true rebel.” Her lips curve and starlight spills across her cheeks as she turns to face him.

“Maybe,” he allows. “Or maybe I just wish you valued yourself as much as I do.”

“I’m learning,” Kathryn says, and moves into his arms.

 

===0===


USS Voyager, 2375

They are three sectors away from the Devore Imperium before Kathryn finds her courage for the conversation she knows they need to have.

Chakotay answers his door and steps back to allow her entry into his quarters. She moves over to the viewport, arms wrapped around her body as she watches the stars at warp, each one a marker of their passage away from leather and lust and deception. Their passage home.

She feels him behind her. When she turns, he’s watching her with eyes that speak of patience and regret. Kathryn’s breath catches.

“Why are you here?” he asks softly.

She swallows. “To thank you. For standing by me.”

It’s a long moment before he steps back, moving over to the couch. He leans back in his seat, hooking one ankle over the opposite knee. Kathryn sits beside him, her body stiff, not too close.

“You have nothing to thank me for, Kathryn.” He sounds exhausted, and she wonders if he’s been sleeping as badly as she has. She wonders if it’s for the same reasons.

“I wish –” she almost bites off her tongue to halt the words that want to spill. Harmful, shameful, useless words.

“What?” he asks.

I wish things were different, she thinks, that I was different. I wish we’d built that boat and sailed down the river. I wish I’d kissed you that night on the holodeck, made love with you before the slipstream flight. I wish we were home, and that everything was going to be okay.

Kathryn shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

This was a bad idea, she realises. This is not a conversation they need to have at all. Not if its only purpose is to assuage her conscience. Not at his expense.

She stands. “It’s late. Good night, Chakotay.”

“Kathryn,” he calls as she moves toward the door, and despite herself she pauses long enough for him to say quietly, “You’re welcome.”

 

===0===


USS La Recherche, 2390

“What’s that you’re looking at?”

Kathryn smiles as Chakotay leans over her shoulder. “Just some plans.”

She watches him squint at the display on her monitor. “Is that –?”

“Ah, so you do recognise it.”

Chakotay eases into the chair beside her. “It’s not something I’d forget. All these years,” he muses, “and I never did build us that boat.”

“Well, now you can,” she murmurs, “although actually, I was thinking we could build it together.”

He slings an arm around her waist, pulling her close. “We can start as soon as we get home.”

“Home,” she echoes, resting her head on his shoulder. “I can’t wait.”

 

===0===


Deep Space Nine, 2371

“… invited to a conference on Betazed, but it conflicts with the last few weeks of my tenure at the university, so I’ll probably turn it down …”

“Uh-huh,” she says absently.

“… although I’ve been considering the offer from – Kath? Have you heard a word I’ve said?”

She stops shuffling padds and snaps her attention back to the image on her monitor. “Oh Mark, I’m sorry. I’ve just got so much to do before we head to the Badlands, and some of my crew haven’t checked in yet…”

“Say no more.” He smiles at her.

“Thanks,” she says gratefully, touching her fingers briefly to his image.

“I’ll leave you to it. But Kath, promise me one thing?”

“Of course,” she mumbles, attention caught by the flashing light on her console. “Mark, I’ve got an incoming message – what is it?”

“Marry me.”

She quirks an eyebrow at him. “As I recall, you’ve already asked me that, and I said yes two years ago.”

“No, Kath.” He leans in, eyes unusually intense. “Marry me when you get back from your mission. When you come home.”

“Oh,” she says, and the small black coal of dread wedges under her ribs.

“I love you,” he emphasises, “and I don’t want to wait anymore to call you my wife.”

Kathryn swallows.

“At least think about it while you’re gone, okay?” Mark runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “And comm me before you leave DS9.”

She nods. “I will … of course I will.”

“Safe travels,” he says. “See you in three weeks.”

“Bye,” she answers faintly, and his image disappears. She stares blankly at the screen until the insistently flashing light reminds her of her duty.

But all through Admiral Paris’ report on the latest Maquis movements, she thinks about Mark, and about the way she’s evaded every conversation he’s ever tried to have about setting a wedding date. And she thinks about their apartment in the market district and how it still feels empty to her, even after five years. Even though Mark calls it home.

 

===0===


Davis Lake, Oregon, 2391

The maple trees are just barely starting to bud and snow is still scattered across the path, but the lake house is even more beautiful than she remembers it.

“I wish we’d been here for the tomatoes,” Kathryn murmurs, breath puffing clouds in the icy air.

Chakotay unhooks her arm from his elbow, digging into the pocket of his greatcoat for the key. “We’ll plant more in summer.”

She grins up at him as he fits the old-fashioned key into the door. “We’ll have plenty of summers.”

Chakotay pushes open the door and drops his shoulder bag, and Kathryn shrieks in surprise as he swings her up into his arms.

“What are you doing?” she laughs.

“I’m carrying my bride over the threshold.” His answering smile scores his dimples deep.

“A little late, isn’t it?” Kathryn’s eyebrow quirks. “Unless I was imagining that wedding we had, what, twelve years ago?”

“It’s never too late,” he assures her dramatically, and steps into the house.

It’s dark, and he stumbles and knocks her ankles against a coat rack, and she giggles and winds her arms around his neck. “Computer, lights,” she calls. “And activate the heating system. Set at twenty-two degrees Celsius.”

Chakotay looks at her in mock chagrin. “I thought you said this house was hundreds of years old.”

Kathryn shrugs airily. “So I added a few modern comforts.”

He lets her slide down to her feet and bends to kiss her. By the time they pull apart she’s warmed through, even though the house is still cool.

“Welcome home, Kathryn,” Chakotay says, and she laughs in delight, craning up to kiss him again.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper