What Kind of Man
Summary: “So we lie silent, side by side, and I pretend not to notice the tears on your cheeks, and you pretend not to notice that I’m pretending.”
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Chakotay/Seven of Nine
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: This is a companion piece to LittleObsessions' "sometimes I breathe them, and sometimes they choke me..." - you should read that first.
“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
When I was a child I once came upon my mother crying. She was kneeling in her garden, tugging at weeds, and her movements – usually so graceful – were ragged. Savage.
I wanted something – a biscuit, an apple, I can’t recall – and I approached her, my bare feet silent on the freshly-turned soil. I had just opened my mouth to speak when she raised a hand to brush at her cheeks, and I saw her tears.
She never cried.
I retreated and went to my father, and when I asked him why my mother was crying, he told me that sometimes people cry for reasons that cannot be defined, and sometimes for no reason at all. I knew then that she was crying because of him. Because of something he’d done, or carelessly said.
That night I crept out of my bed, ravenous in the way only a growing boy is ravenous, and found my mother curled up in her favourite chair. She had obviously been weeping again, but when I got up the courage to ask her what was wrong she said it was nothing, she just couldn’t sleep. I could hear my father’s snores from the kitchen, and I wondered what it would take for his conscience to pain him enough to keep him awake. For him to suffer the way he’d made my mother suffer.
It was the first time I was able to name the feeling that always lodged between my ribs when my father uttered the condescending bullshit he passed off as spiritual truth. I curled my tongue around the taste of it and named it contempt.
What kind of man was he to hurt the woman he claimed to love, so deeply, so indelibly, that she could only express it in the welling up of her injured soul? What kind of coward, that he retreated so blithely to the sanctuary of sleep to spare himself it?
What kind of man am I?
It’s a question I refuse to ponder as the ready room doors seal behind me, blotting out your strained white face and the glittering, reproachful blue of your eyes.
You weep when you climax, shuddering silently around me as though the physical release is your excuse for the tears that squeeze reluctantly from closed eyes. You turn your face away, distressed by your own frailty.
I tell you I love you, and even to me it sounds plaintive, like a performance or a lie; I’m compelled to confess it, an absolution and a curse in one. Your reproach is wielded in the sighs that eke their way through your compressed lips, your silence heavy with recrimination.
It makes me want to wrap my hands around your neck and squeeze until an echo of my confession is choked out on your dying breath.
I have them often, these fantasies of forcing you to admit you love me. Sometimes they’re elaborate and unrealistic – we’re trapped in a cave with no air, or the ship is about to be blown to bits, and you turn to me with regret in your eyes. Sometimes I dream of quiet moments when we’ve just made love and you’re in my arms, and you blurt it out as if it can no longer be contained.
Sometimes I even believe you love me, but I know you’ll never admit it. Silence is your last defence against the truth of what we’ve become.
It makes me hate you, so I compromise with the needle-pricks of words that soften and appal you.
And I take retaliatory, spiteful pleasure in making you cry.
“We can’t go on like this,” I tell you, my fingers curling around the back of your neck as I draw your body down to mine. “I’ll leave her.”
You give my plea – and it is a plea, a supplication – the validation it deserves, your lip barely curling.
Sometimes I wonder what you’d do if I stopped coming to you. Would your principles prevent you from pursuing me? Would you curl back into the armour of your uniform and draw the shield of your rank around you?
You always did think you were better than the rest of us. I used to think so, too.
You’re not. And I think what keeps you awake at night is the knowledge that you don’t even care anymore. Your principles – iron-clad, defensive, resolute – aren’t worth the breath they’re sighed out on the moment my fingers slide into your underwear.
I’ve fucked the principles out of you. Or you’ve given them up, the way you’ve given up everything else, your soft rounded edges and your laughter and your hopes. I let you keep the illusion of them. It’s the only kindness left in me, even if I’m not sure who benefits from it.
My own principles crumbled into dust long ago, long before the moment I held your dying body in my arms and knew I’d damn the universe to hell if you would only open your eyes and breathe.
The bitter, hideous truth is that I still would.
“What do you need?” I ask you as I strip the Starfleet from your body. The question itself is a cruelty. I know you don’t have an answer, or rather, I know the answer would choke you.
The moan that rattles in your throat is the only sound you allow yourself, and it’s answer enough. I push you forward onto your bed, my hand tangled in the short hairs at the nape of your neck. You turn your face to one side, your eyes are closed, but as I press into you, you arch and sip air as though you’re drowning.
It’s that moment, among a catastrophic tally of moments, which keeps me coming back. When I enter Seven she grimaces, not in pain but in distaste. But you – you clutch at me with your insides and shudder and your throat convulses, and it’s as honest as you ever let yourself be.
I link my hand with yours as I weigh down on your back, letting you feel the dull hard press of my wedding ring in the tender web between your fingers, in the place where you will never wear one of your own. It’s a small cruelty, but one you don’t fail to notice. You won’t look at it or at me, but I feel the fine quiver in your limbs and know that you won’t be able to hide your tears when you come.
You don’t ask – because you’re afraid of the answer – why I married her, and I don’t volunteer the answer. If there is an answer it’s petty and ignoble and paints me in a less than flattering light, and you have already exposed far too many of my conceits.
So we lie silent, side by side, and I pretend not to notice the tears on your cheeks, and you pretend not to notice that I’m pretending.
I close my eyes and feel you shift, turning to watch me as you always do, wondering how my conscience allows me the cowardly sanctuary of sleep.
Do you want to know the worst thing? The ruinous, sordid, mundane truth?
I sleep just fine.