The Desert Prophet
Summary: If there’s one thing she knows about Gabriel Lorca, it’s that he never leaves her with any doubt about her place in his world.
Characters: Landry, Janeway, Lorca, Chakotay
Codes: Lorca/Landry, Janeway/Lorca, Janeway/Chakotay
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager and Discovery universes and their characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.
- Sylvia Plath, The Hanging Man
She has never been one to indulge in flights of fancy. Words and art and poetry have always seemed to her a waste of time; dreams and possibilities and fantastic imaginings belonging to those who can afford them. What matters, she has always known, is the here and now, the knowledge and security of knowing one’s place in this world.
Still, the first day she meets him – as a final-year Academy cadet, assigned to war-games simulations on his ship, the USS Helin – a barely-remembered snippet of poetry comes to her. It sticks in her mind until she cannot see him as anything other than a figure she worships, a king among men, a blue-eyed god. Or perhaps a demon. She’s never been blind to his feet of clay, after all.
On her first day on the Helin she catches his eye, notes the flicker of interest in the way his blue gaze lingers. She’s done her research on him, knows his reputation – both professional and intimate – has heard the whispers in the halls at HQ and on his ship. She knows what she wants from him. She wants to hitch her wagon to his star, to make her career on the back of his.
It’s not until she observes him taking in the slender strength beneath her uniform, eyes roaming over her and gleaming in approval, that she understands what else she wants from him.
Less than three hours later, carrying a padd for appearance’s sake, she presents herself at his quarters. It takes him no time at all to take advantage of the opportunity.
It’s the beginning of everything she wants.
Or so she tells herself.
Their ... arrangement ... is not the reason she made lieutenant commander at the age of twenty-five, commander by thirty. She’s worked her way up through the ranks on her merits, not on her back, and she has taken care that not even the faintest whisper of impropriety can stain her career. Or his. It’s her job to protect him, and she is very, very good at her job.
And if, sometimes, she imagines that things could be different – that they could be different – she reminds herself that he has never made her any promises.
His hands are wrapped in her hair, clenching convulsively as his hips move faster, and she reaches up a steadying hand; she’s learned through experience that this is the moment, perhaps the only moment, that he forgets himself. “Fuck,” he groans, “fuck,” and slumps forward, and she eases back and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.
He releases her hair – dark strands of it pulling as they knot in his fingers – and she blinks away the involuntary tears of pain. She sits back on her heels, waiting until he’s regained his breath.
When he does, he reaches for her and pulls her upright, his arms closing around her, pressing her cheek to his bare chest. His hands are warm on her back, stroking, soothing. She closes her eyes and pretends, just for a moment, imagines …
A moment is all she can afford.
And it’s all he allows. Control in place, he slaps her lightly on the ass and moves her aside, picking up her discarded uniform and tossing it to her.
“Get moving, Commander,” he says. “Shift starts in twenty minutes.”
If there’s one thing she knows about Gabriel Lorca, it’s that he never leaves her with any doubt about her place in his world.
It’s not the first time she’s travelled back in time for him.
She refuses to describe it as addiction – that’s far too blunt, too unsavoury a term for it. Fascination, definitely. Compulsion, maybe.
Satisfaction … well, even in her most self-deluding moments, she can’t deny that.
At least this time she didn’t come here for this. She has a mission and she can’t afford distractions. Not when he’s as devious, as clever, as suspicious as she herself.
Or so she tells herself, right up until the moment she materialises in his ready room for the third time – though as far as he knows, it’s only the second – and meets his star-filled eyes.
“Captain Janeway,” he remarks, slow smile curling as he moves toward her. “Either you’re here to ask for my help again, or there’s another reason you can’t seem to stay away.”
Kathryn grips the edge of his desk until the temporal disorientation passes. Straightening up, she raises her chin and meets his smirk with one of her own. “Maybe it’s both.”
Gabriel reaches for her hand, his thumb rubbing the soft skin inside her wrist as the heat of his body warms her skin.
“How long has it been?” he asks. “For you, I mean.”
“A couple of months.”
“And the same for me.” His other hand comes up to rest on the side of her neck, fingers spreading warm points across her jaw.
Her lips part and his gaze is drawn to them.
“How long can you stay, Kathryn?”
He bends to brush his lips over her cheekbone and she tilts her head, eyes closing on a sigh.
“Forty-eight hours,” she says, breathless.
And she intends to make the most of every second.
“Lucky me,” Gabriel replies as he snakes an arm around her waist and curves her body into his.
Soft sounds draw her too far into the dimness of his quarters, and, shocked, she lingers too long in the open doorway.
He sees her. With a curse yanks his pants on and ushers her out into the living room, sealing the door to his bedroom behind them. Sealing the other woman in, with her dishevelled red hair and her pale limbs tangled in sheets.
“You weren’t supposed to see that.”
The captain’s mouth thins, his jaw set. But she knows this man. She knows how to read him, and though he’s trying to hide it with anger, what she’s reading now is chagrin.
“Who is she?”
She tries not to grind her teeth – if that’s how he wants to play it, she can play that game, too.
“Captain,” she straightens, “as your chief security officer, I should be informed of any visitors to the ship –”
He snorts, watches her dark eyes flash murder, backs off. A hand runs through his hair. It’s not her first clue to his discomfort.
“Her visit was … unexpected.” The captain goes to the food synthesiser, returning with two glasses of Andorian bourbon.
He gestures toward the couch; unwilling, she perches on the edge of it, tensing further when he sits beside her.
“Ellen,” he says, with that softened drawl in his voice that makes her spine melt, “I need your word that there won’t be any record of her presence in your logs.”
She takes the glass from his hand and sips, holding the bourbon in her mouth before she swallows it. The smoky burn in her throat does not negate the ache in the pit of her stomach, but she fancies it lessens it somewhat.
“Who is she?”
“Ellen.” The captain rests a hand on her shoulder and she averts her eyes from the pity in his, lest she give into the urge to punch him. “You and I – we never made any promises.”
“No,” she answers. “You’ve been very careful about that. Sir.”
This close, she can smell the other woman on his skin, and the scent of the coffee they must have shared after they – after.
“Who is she?” she asks again.
He sighs. “She’s from … another time and place.”
Her molars grind as she absorbs that information.
“What does she want?” Her eyes flick up to his. “Aside from the obvious.”
“She wants the spores.”
Her mouth tightens. “You’re going to give them to her?”
“No.” He smiles, and it’s not a smile she ever wants directed at her. “She already stole them.”
“Then what –”
Gabriel Lorca places a finger over her lips. “Don’t worry, Ellen. I know what I’m doing.”
She wants to pull away, but his hand cups her jaw and she leans into it instead.
“I’m using her, just as much as she’s using me,” says her captain. “Trust me.”
Her shoulders droop. “I do.”
“Good. Then you go and do your job, and let me do mine.”
He stands, waving a hand to indicate her presence is no longer required, and obediently she moves toward the exit.
“Oh, and Ellen?”
She turns back.
“I expect results. And you know how I hate waiting.”
“I’ve scheduled battle simulations this morning,” he tells her. The bed dips under his weight as he yanks on spit-shined boots, and she can’t help herself: she pulls her arms out from under the pillow behind her head, kneels up to wind them around his waist.
The gold braid on his shoulders is cool beneath her cheek; she tilts her head, lets her lips graze his neck. Her naked torso presses to his back. His hands cover hers, fingers entwining, loosening her arms around him.
“I have to go,” he says, soft and regretful. “You’ll be here when I get back?”
“Maybe,” she half-smiles.
He leans in to nip lightly at her lower lip. “Make it definitely. I’m not done with you yet.”
“Oh?” she allows an eyebrow to arch. “The woman I met last night gave the impression she’d be happy to see you done with me.”
“Who, Landry?” He tugs the jacket zipper up to his neck “She’s my security chief. If she wasn’t suspicious of an unannounced visitor, she wouldn’t be doing her job.”
Kathryn watches as he checks his reflection. She doesn’t know Commander Landry; doesn’t know where she comes from, what she believes, what kind of officer she is. All she knows, from Voyager’s historical database, is that the woman is going to die.
And she knows, from her glimpse of the woman’s face before Gabriel hustled her out of his quarters last night, that she’s more than just his security chief.
She raises her face for Lorca’s kiss almost absently. The instant the door slides closed behind him she slips out of the bed they’d shared. She uses his replicator to synthesise an era-appropriate uniform; she has no intention of being caught, but she won’t leave anything to chance. She checks for life signs inside the secure storage lab, and finding none, transports herself there.
She knows she hasn’t much time. But she has to know why she hasn’t been able to make the spore drive work on Voyager. And she has to know what he’s stolen from her.
If the answers are anywhere, they’ll be here.
His eyes glint in the dim light of the ready room.
“You’re not living up to my expectations, Commander.”
Her hands twist behind her back, but she straightens her shoulders. It’s not the first time he’s verbally excoriated her, and she’s learned to take it on the chin.
“You’re making me doubt my faith in you.”
“I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
“No,” he says, “it won’t. There’s no room for hesitation in battle, and no room for failure on my ship.”
She feels the clench in the pit of her stomach. Gabriel Lorca’s standards are punishingly high, but he’s right, and she knows it. If that sim had been a real battle they’d all be dead, and it would be her fault.
Ellen Landry is not given to self-examination, and there’s very little that keeps her awake at night. Losing her captain’s respect and confidence does, though.
He rounds the desk and leans against it, directly in front of her. His posture is relaxed and his voice softens. “I need you, Ellen,” he says. “I need you sharp and I need you focused. You know what’s at stake here.”
She forces herself to meet his eyes. “I won’t let you down, sir.”
“Good,” he murmurs, “good,” and he reaches behind her back, causing her sharp intake of breath as he disengages her right hand from where it’s twisted into her left.
She looks down, sees the darker hue of her skin against his as his thumb plays across her knuckles. She remembers the other woman’s ivory pallor – remembers the way they’d looked, pale limbs twined together on his pale sheets – and her jaw tightens.
“That woman,” she utters before sense kicks in, “you said she’s from another time. Is she from the future?”
His fingers loosen and release her own. “She’s not your concern,” he says, hard.
“But she must know,” she continues urgently. “She’d know what happens to us. The Klingons, the war ...”
“And I told you I have it under control.” Lorca’s eyes spark warningly. “Don’t make me repeat myself, Commander.”
“When is she leaving?” she blurts, then squeezes her eyes shut and swallows the torrent of anger and shame that wants to burst from her throat.
When her eyes open, Lorca is staring down at her, expressionless.
“I can see your preoccupation with her is not entirely professional,” he drawls, and the ice in his voice tightens her spine. “Your role on my ship is to perform tactical duties, Commander. You carry out my orders, and you do it without hesitation. Any … connection … we may have in our off-duty hours is secondary and discretionary, and until this moment I believed you understood that. Now it’s clear that you don’t, and it’s affecting your ability to do your job.”
Her heart is thudding in her chest. “Captain, I didn’t mean –”
“So let me clarify it for you,” he rolls right over her. “I don’t need a mistress. I need a security chief. If you can’t be both, be the one I need.”
Humiliation stains her cheeks.
“Report to the specimen lab. I want you to work with Burnham on making use of that creature we found on the Glenn.” He flexes his jaw. “Now get out of my sight.”
“You knew she was going to die.”
She fastens her carry-bag securely and looks up at him, immediately wary. Gabriel Lorca is a man of control, but the man who stands before her now is almost trembling with anger. His hair is less than perfect, as if he’s raked his hand through it, and the collar of his uniform is undone.
“You knew,” he repeats, stalking toward her. She thinks of predators and the stench of fear, and as he approaches she’s already calculating escape vectors and cataloguing combat manoeuvres.
She doesn’t think he’ll hurt her. But caution is an occupational hazard.
He’s close now, less than a metre away, and she rises involuntarily on the balls of her feet, fingers curling into fists. If he notices, he gives no sign of it.
“Why didn’t you warn me?” he demands, voice low and hard.
“I couldn’t,” she says evenly. “The temporal prime directive –”
He cuts her off with a harsh, scornful laugh. She presses her lips together.
“Try to understand.” She keeps her tone deliberately calm. “It was bad enough that Commander Landry and I interacted, even briefly. You are the only person I intended contact with, and even that was supposed to be kept to a minimum.”
She forces herself not to jerk backward as his hand comes up to her face, but he merely strokes a finger along her jaw. “Minimal contact,” he says silkily. “You have a very interesting definition of it.”
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry she died. It’s obvious that you cared for her.”
His hand drops. “She was a member of my crew,” he clips out.
“She was more than that.”
Blue eyes drill into hers, points of light like ice chips in their depths. “Captains can’t afford to be personally involved with subordinates. It runs the risk of emotionally compromising us.”
“I’m aware of the protocols covering relationships with subordinates.” She can’t help the dry rasp in her voice. “I’m also aware that the heart doesn’t always play by the rules.”
For the briefest flicker of a moment there’s a flash of heat in those cold blue eyes, but then he shuts himself off, turning his back to her.
“Did you get what you came for?”
She thinks about the way he’d touched her, confident and sure, and the pleasure he’d wrung from her. She thinks about the files she found in his computer – now wiped clean – and the creature penned up in his lab, and shivers. “In a manner of speaking.”
“Good. Then I think it’s time you left.”
Kathryn wraps a hand around the strap of her carry-all, moves to tap her combadge, hesitates.
He glances at her.
“What you’re doing with the tardigrade is wrong,” she states flatly. “I know how desperate you are to win this war. But don’t do it at the expense of that creature.”
He huffs a laugh, turning to face her.
“I suppose I should thank you,” he says, and she tilts her head enquiringly. “If you’re here – a Starfleet captain from a hundred years in the future – I guess that means we win the war, right?”
“I can’t –”
“I know,” he interrupts. “Believe it or not, I’m not asking you to break your temporal prime directive any more than you already have.”
He walks back toward her and she waits, still, as he takes her face in both hands and tilts it upward.
“In a way, you’ve given me hope,” he admits. “And I’ll never forget you.”
Kathryn swallows. “I’ll never forget you, either.”
His lips find hers, skilful and demanding, the perfect mix of give and take, and she reaches up to clutch at his jacket, needing this connection one last time. No matter how wrong this is, how wrong they are, this feels absolutely right.
They ease back at the same moment and she lets her fingers unwind from the fabric of his jacket. His hands drop from her face.
“Goodbye, Captain,” he says, smiling faintly.
She taps her combadge, and the next time she opens her eyes, she’s back where she belongs.
Later, after she’s seen to her duties and soaked in a bath, she makes the short trip to her first officer’s quarters. She’d cut the timing fine this time around; she’s beaten him back to the ship by a matter of hours. Hours during which she’s made certain decisions that she should have made long ago.
His quarters are dark and silent and for a moment she hesitates; his away mission, she knows, was draining, and he’s probably sleeping. Perhaps she should wait until morning –
No, she reminds herself. This is long overdue.
Shedding her clothes, she slips under the covers and wraps her arms around his broad back, presses her cheek to his shoulder blade. She feels the tension in his muscles, the indrawn breath as he wakes.
“It’s me,” she whispers.
Chakotay turns over. She doesn’t let her arms slide away; she shifts closer and feels his immediate response.
“Kathryn,” he murmurs, then, “Does this mean -?”
“Yes,” she says, and kisses him.
And without a moment’s hesitation, his arms close around her, and she knows beyond a doubt that this is what’s always been right.