Something Worth Living For
Summary: Sometimes it takes almost losing everything to realise what you should hold onto.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for Coda Day, January 29.
JANEWAY: Come on, Chakotay, we’ve cheated death. That’s worth a celebration, don’t you think? A bottle of champagne, moonlight sail on Lake George…how does that sound?
CHAKOTAY: Like something worth living for.
Prompted by Fluffy McAngstface #45 “I can’t imagine this world without you”, and #51 “You make me feel alive”.
He’s a competent sailor, she knows from previous trips to the holodeck, but as content to let her skipper this boat as he is for her to captain their starship. For her part, she keeps the bossiness to a minimum, trusting him to know when to trim the sail or turn the tiller.
Sometimes they like to challenge themselves; she’ll call for an exhilarating twenty-knot breeze and they’ll whip across the water, laughing into the spray. Other times, like tonight, they silently agree that the point is not the sailing but the time spent together; she’ll ask the computer for a full moon and smooth water, and he’ll tie off the wheel and join her on the deck for strawberries and champagne.
She tries not to acknowledge, even to herself, just how romantically picturesque a picture they make on nights like this.
“Another?” he asks her, and despite her better impulse she holds out her empty champagne glass for him to fill.
“Aren’t you joining me?” she pouts when he replaces the bottle in its bucket without refilling his own flute.
Chakotay shakes his head, smiling. “One of us should stay sober enough to steer the boat.”
She should change her mind, she thinks; she should pour the champagne over the side, let it bubble away into the lake along with her more reckless intentions. She should remember who she is, and what she should – and should not – be doing.
She drinks instead, looking out across the lake, her gaze following the shining moonglade.
When she’d suggested this outing – she refuses to call it a date – she’d been high on relief and triumph, filled with the impulse to celebrate her escape from death’s grip, but now … Now she can’t help the melancholy that steals into her bones, that dampens her joy and tightens her throat.
“What is it?” he asks her softly, and she realises he’s been watching her. “You can talk to me, Kathryn.”
The words are dragged from her reluctantly. “I was thinking about what I saw while I was –” she doesn’t know what to call it, that state between life and death, if that’s even what it was.
She looks up in surprise. “Yes, I mentioned that, didn’t I?” Sighing, she turns the champagne flute, now empty, in her fingers. “The alien presence appeared in the form of my father. He kept trying to entice me to let go, to accompany him into some kind of matrix.”
“It must have been tempting.”
“You have no idea.” She tries to lighten the dark timbre of her voice. “I was very close to my father, and I’ve missed him terribly since he died. At first, it seemed like such a blessing to see him again.”
There’s a blur across her eyes; she raises one hand to wipe at them and is surprised when he catches it on its way back to her lap, his hold gentle and warm and undemanding.
“I suppose it’s a good thing,” she makes herself go on, “that I knew my father as well as I did. It made me suspicious when the alien behaved in a way he never would.”
“That’s when you began to realise –”
“– that I wasn’t dead yet. Yes.” She squeezes his hand involuntarily. “I had a vision of you, leaning over me on that planet, urging me to hang on, to fight it a little longer.”
A spasm of pain twists his face, gone so quickly that if she hadn't been looking directly at him in that moment, she’d have missed it.
“What’s wrong?” she asks on a gust of breath.
He shakes his head, but she puts down the glass she’s still holding and reaches up to cup his face.
“Talk to me.”
“This isn’t about me,” he demurs.
“But I want …” she stops, trying to order her thoughts into something articulate. “I’ve spent what felt like days trapped on the other side of the glass, watching you all go about your lives without me. Watching you mourn me, unable to offer you the slightest comfort or reassurance. And I need this, Chakotay. I need this connection.”
His face softens. “I understand.”
“Good,” she makes herself smile. “So please – talk to me.”
“All right.” He shifts position on the rug, stretching his legs out, crossed at the ankle; she notices he doesn’t release her hand, and is glad. “What you saw on the planet might have been a hallucination, but it was an accurate one. I was terrified, Kathryn. I thought you were going to die, and I can’t imagine this world without you. I’ve lost so many people, friends and family, but losing you …”
He presses his lips together, and his struggle for control breaks her own. Giving into impulse, she leans forward and touches her mouth to his.
She’d meant it as a gesture of comfort and friendship – or so she tells herself – but his sharp inhale triggers her own caught breath and trips her heart into double-time. His hand comes up and winds into her hair, his palm lying against her cheek; the warmth of it seeps into her skin and her lips part, moving softly over his. Then more firmly, avidly, until they’re really kissing.
It’s not as if they’ve never kissed before. Three months on New Earth with him tested even her iron resolve, and when he’d confessed his allegiance, his fealty, in that maddeningly oblique way, she’d been unable to resist him any longer. But it’s been months since then, since she last felt his soft lips on hers or his fingers enclosing her own, and she can’t believe she had forgotten what it was like between them.
Or, more accurately, had put it out of her mind.
Her hands are on his shoulders now, curving around his neck, her body turned toward his as she opens her mouth to him, tongue sliding across his lower lip. She feels him shudder and shifts to straddle him, holding his face in her hands as she licks and nips at his lips, as she loses herself in devouring him. She can feel him holding himself back, his hands respectably gentle on her hips. He’s hard between her thighs when she grinds down; she feels his fingers tighten convulsively, but still he makes no move to touch her more intimately, nor to deepen the kiss beyond the pace she’s setting.
He leans his head back and captures her chin with one hand, his thumb brushing her mouth to halt her when she leans in to kiss him again. His eyes are heavy, his voice low and drugged.
“Tell me what you want,” he asks her. “Whatever it is, it’s yours.”
She stills, then pulls back. His hands slide away from her as she scrambles off him and stands, turning her back to him.
She turns, but won’t meet his eyes. “It’s not about what I want.”
“Then tell me what you need,” he says, rising. “I’ll give it to you. No questions asked, no consequences.”
Laughter bubbles painfully in her chest. “If only it was that simple.”
“It can be,” he insists, stepping toward her. “Your needs come first – I promise. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
She thinks about New Earth, about cool sheets and sunlit afternoons and laughter she’d come to take for granted, and about giving it all up the instant a combadge crackled to life. She thinks about the weeks after they returned to the ship, when she could barely stand to look at him because it hurt so much.
She thinks about lying awake at night, aching, her heart scoured raw, perversely revelling in the absoluteness of her longing for him.
“You make me feel alive,” she whispers. “And I can’t afford that. I can’t give you that kind of power.”
He reaches for her, tentatively lifting her chin until she raises her eyes to his.
“Because it’s too big a risk.” Annoyed, she pulls away. “Surely you know this, Chakotay. You’ve seen how untidy things can get when you cross that barrier between captain and subordinate.”
“I would never want you to feel as though you’re risking too much to be with me,” he agrees. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t want to take anything away from you. I just want to be whatever you need. To me, that’s something worth living for.”
His voice is soft and steady, his words persuasive, and she believes them. She believes him when he says he can be what she needs, no more and no less, and be satisfied with it.
But she wouldn’t – she couldn’t. Not only because she can’t use him that way, but because she can’t trust herself to leave it at that.
“What I need,” she says with quiet emphasis, “is a first officer I can trust with my ship and my crew. Nothing more and nothing less.”
She meets his eyes.
“Is that clear, Commander?”
He smiles at her, that soft, accepting, patient smile she’s learned to rely on.
“Of course,” he says simply.
He returns to the picnic rug on the deck, folds himself comfortably onto it and looks up at her, waiting for her to join him. He’s so calm, so at ease, that she could almost swear that the painful, wrenching conversation they’ve just had happened solely in her mind. That it was some kind of hallucination, designed to make her doubt herself.
And wouldn’t that be the cruellest of ironies, she wonders, taking her seat beside him – not too close – and conjuring a smile as he passes her a bowlful of strawberries; that this, too, might turn out to be nothing but a trick?
That even in illusion, she refuses to reach out and take hold of something so worth living for … despite the risk?
Chakotay glances up, apparently feeling the intensity of her stare, or maybe the way she has suddenly started to tremble.
“Kathryn?” he queries.
Carefully, she places the bowl on the rug beside her.
“Sometimes I’m so busy trying to prove I don’t need anyone or anything that I lose sight of the truth,” she says quickly. “You’re important to me, Chakotay, you matter, and not only as my first officer, or even as my friend. I need you,” she explains, no longer trying to hide the broad smile breaking over her face. “I need you, in spite of the risk. If you’re still willing.”
He’s smiling, too, as he leans in to cup her face in his hands. “All you ever had to do was say yes,” he answers, and this time when she kisses him, he matches her intensity without holding any part of himself back.