She was shocked by the way he recoiled when she told him what she wanted.
After all, he'd been open to just about anything throughout their relationship. She was the one who'd been resistant to changing the sexual status quo, though the rules she'd tried to impose seemed ludicrous now even to her. She loved him, but for months after she finally admitted she reciprocated his feelings, she insisted that their passion couldn't become physical. He went along with that -- no more than lingering kisses goodnight, embraces that didn't detach quite as fast as they should have.
He must have known that necking would quickly follow, which she deemed acceptable as long as it didn't go any further. Touching, too, was all right, as long as it stayed at a certain level and nobody had an orgasm -- but after the first time his body rebelled (to his great embarrassment) it was easier -- no, necessary -- to conclude that they weren't really doing anything wrong as long as most of the clothes stayed on. Even if she stopped wearing underwear when she knew she was going to see him. She decided nothing they did counted if they were on the couch, or bent over a table, or leaning back against her desk. When inevitably she had found herself rationalizing away the night she'd just spent naked in bed with him, their mouths between one another's legs, with the justification that at least they hadn't actually made love, she'd decided that she was being ridiculous.
He was overjoyed, almost comically grateful, adoring and tearful and so afraid of hurting her that she had to impale herself on him just to prove she wouldn't break. The first time wasn't exactly a script from a holo-romance, but it was still pretty good considering how long it had been and how nervous she was, and he was everything she could have dreamed -- passionate, uninhibited, solicitous, even discreet, though he did replicate flowers for her the next day. He was still more direct than she in asking for what he wanted, both verbally and physically. She wasn't as comfortable taking his hand and putting it precisely where she craved his touch, and the first time he'd grabbed her head while she was kneeling between his legs, she'd nearly bitten him before flying across the room and bursting into tears that weren't entirely from the gag reflex. Of course, he had no way of knowing about Cheb and her first miserable experiences with blow jobs, but she was humiliated and angry, and it was only his utter remorse that coaxed her back.
So tonight, his abrupt, "You're kidding, right?" and sudden lack of erection flabbergasted her.
"Don't tell me you've never done that."
"Actually...I never have. I have never made love like that."
"No one ever asked you to?"
"Only two people ever offered, and neither one had human physiology. One wasn't even a woman."
"Is that the problem? You associate it with..."
"No. I just never wanted to."
She winced. It had been hard enough for her to find words to ask him, and he had misunderstood her at first anyway. "Take me from behind" was such an archaic, vague phrase. "Could we do it up the rear" was so crude that she had trouble saying it, and when he still thought she just meant back-to-front, she was ready to drop the whole idea, because there was no way she was going to say "in the ass." Just then he realized what "up" meant, but he froze and rolled off, asking if she was joking. She'd never felt so ashamed in her life.
"I guess you've done it before?" he inquired cautiously.
She snapped, "No."
"Then why do you want to?"
He sounded relieved. Like maybe she could be talked out of it. "Why did you want me to tie you up with your turtleneck the other night? There aren't exactly logical reasons for what people want to do in bed."
"You're right. Just...don't you think it would hurt?"
"If it does we can always stop."
"What if I like it and I always want to do it that way?"
She glared at him, exasperated. "Are you really worried about that?"
"I don't want to hurt you." Maybe he thought she had only suggested it to impress him and that she didn't really expect to enjoy it. If he'd hurt someone doing that once, and hadn't wanted to stop because he liked it, that would explain his resistance. But then why wouldn't he just tell her so, instead of lying about it? Even if it had been embarrassing or awful? Unless he'd been forced into something...
She asked carefully, "Did the one who wasn't a woman want you on the bottom?"
"No. He wanted me to...you know. I wasn't interested."
"Because it was a man? Or because he wasn't human?"
"Because I wasn't interested. I'm sorry, I don't do whips or branding either. Nothing that hurts that much."
"That's the third time you said that word."
She studied his face; he was refusing to meet her eyes. If he'd resisted and someone had done it to him anyway, he might not be able to talk about it. And he might be able to rationalize that he was being honest telling her he'd never willingly done what she had asked. She rolled over so that her backside was no longer affronting him, and buried her face against him. He embraced her, but there wasn't a trace of arousal; his skin felt clammy.
After a few minutes, he sighed, "Sorry. Guess I'm more tired than I thought."
"Want a backrub?"
"Tell me what's wrong."
"I don't want to talk about it, Kathryn." It was the most forceful tone he'd ever used with her before, one that she'd rarely heard him use at all. She raised herself up on an elbow to look at him.
"That's not like you, Chakotay." He jerked back from the sound of his name as if he thought she was being sarcastic. She felt herself instinctively gravitating towards her command persona as a defense mechanism, and tried to calm down. "It's okay," she said.
His eyes squeezed shut. "No, it's not," he muttered. The glance that returned to her was haunted. "Kathryn, please believe me, you don't want to hear about this. It'll only upset you. I know you hate displays of weakness."
"That's not true." He rolled onto his side, curling away from her, but when she touched his back he almost jumped out of the bed. "Sorry," she whispered, pulling back herself while she tried to consider his words. They had been calculated to hurt, and they had, but she needed to ignore that. "If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, that's not a display of weakness, it's a crime."
"Can we drop this, please? I've never pressured you to talk about your past."
That was true. He'd never tried to make her share anything she wasn't willing. She swallowed hard and nodded, rolling onto her back, until eventually she knew he was asleep.
They didn't make love for two days. On the third day, she found him in the arboretum, crying.
He didn't know she was there at first. She watched him for a few minutes, not meaning to intrude, but not knowing whether she should leave him like that. It had taken her awhile to track him down -- evidently he hadn't wanted to be found. Hadn't worn his comm badge, had used a command-level security code to lock the door. While a yellow alert or ship-wide crisis would have come to his attention and she could have used the comm system to demand that he contact her, he'd done everything possible to guarantee that no one would find him by accident. When the computer told her that he was not in his quarters or his office or the mess hall or playing hoverball, she realized that he was avoiding her.
She went looking for him anyway.
She didn't have a good explanation for searching the ship for him, which would have seemed like an invasion of his privacy had she not been concerned about the lengths to which he'd gone to keep his location a secret. The first officer couldn't hide from the captain. But then, she could have found the first officer easily with a simple alert. It was Chakotay she was looking for.
She wondered what he would have said if he'd found her in the arboretum, crying. They had created the room when the plants outgrew the hydroponics bays, and Kes realized that the ship could save energy to the holodecks if people had natural gardens to walk in. It was not as well-tended now as it had been with the Ocampa on board, but the faint aura of wildness made the room seem more lush, more real. Some of the flowers were replicated, not growing naturally; those needed replacement every few days. Chakotay was sitting by live foliage, not too far from the artificial stream flowing through the room, his back against a wall of stones.
She wouldn't have had to hide from him in the arboretum. He didn't hate displays of weakness. His words still stung, no matter how much pain had motivated them. She ended up not saying anything, just walking around behind him to sit down pressed against his back. She felt him jolt, but he didn't turn around. The air was thick and humid, even more so close to him, feeling him sweating under the uniform, tears on the collar of his turtleneck and the sleeve of his jumpsuit.
"I thought I forgot," he whispered.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you remember."
"I don't know why it still upsets me so much. Choice of weapon, I guess. The Cardassians did worse things to me."
"It was the Cardassians?"
"Yes. But it wasn't me. I didn't lie to you."
"They made you watch?"
"They made me do it."
She went very still. "Oh, Chakotay."
"You sure you want to hear?" Not really, she wasn't, but if he was offering to tell her, she knew how much he needed her to listen. "They took Krilah first, my second on the mission. Her interrogation was fairly standard -- some physical torture, some mind-games." His voice was steady; this was a recitation, the part of the story he could frame in narrative form. "We could all hear her screaming. But they didn't rape her or even strip her. Nothing like that, even though that's what we assumed they'd do to the women. It's what they did to Bajoran women for years. But they didn't. I don't know why. When they tossed her back in the cell, her clothing wasn't that much worse than it had been before we were captured.
"In a little while they came for Kurt, and they brought me in to watch. They'd figured out I was the leader." He let her slip her hand into his own, and clenched her fingers tightly as he continued: "Kurt was shackled, and shot with neural stimulants when the interrogator didn't like what he said. He never screamed. He threw up all over himself, and bled a lot from a neck wound he got when we were captured. Finally he passed out. I thought he might be dead. It was bad, but in a funny way it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be -- not till afterwards. I always thought it would be just as hard to watch someone under my command get tortured as it would be to get tortured myself, but it wasn't. I was just glad that right then it wasn't me."
"I understand. I've been there, Chakotay." Not there exactly -- not in the same cell while a member of her crew was tortured nearly to death right in front of her -- but close. She thought about telling him about her own experiences as a Cardassian captive. Would it would seem to be demeaning his own suffering, given that she had escaped torture and had not even witnessed the worst of the atrocitiess performed on her senior officer? She decided to try the common point of empathy.
"I can't pretend to imagine what you went through, but I was a prisoner of the Cardassians, too," she whispered. "They captured me and my mentor -- Tom's father, Admiral Owen Paris. I could hear him screaming, and I couldn't do anything. And I was glad it wasn't me. He was never the same afterwards, they killed something in him, and I was even more glad it hadn't been me, even if I could never admit it. It was sheer hell."
"You must have been younger than I was."
"I've watched crewmembers under my own command tortured as well. I don't think age makes a difference, Chakotay."
"Yes it does. Tayim was fifteen. He told me he was eighteen. Bajorans look older than humans during adolescence, so I believed him. I let him join the Maquis like it was some training camp for martial arts. I didn't know until the Cardassians tortured him that he was fifteen years old. Tayim Durr -- he came looking for us. For the Maquis. The Cardassians killed both his parents. He was fifteen..."
His hands were clutching hers so tightly that she thought she would lose circulation. Ice cold, shaking. "What happened?" she asked quietly.
"They brought me in with him, too. I knew I had to stay calm. I needed distance, I didn't expect to survive but I had to die without revealing any important Maquis secrets. Stay in control. You know how it is -- I was already weighing what I could afford to tell them -- what they might consider enough so that they'd kill me without trying to find out what else I knew. Cal Hudson was a friend of mine. I worked with Tom Riker on the plan for the Defiant theft, we needed a Starfleet officer. I could have named all the spies on Deep Space Nine."
"Starfleet didn't know that," she murmured, a little shocked. She supposed she'd always rationalized that he was fighting for his own planet and his people's autonomy; she'd tried not to think about the fact that he'd been a high-ranking terrorist who'd committed atrocities and known about others. It didn't seem very important right now. She could remember the stench of her cell from before Justin rescued her, the cold, the terror. She and Chakotay had lost their fathers to the same struggle. Even if they hadn't been fighting on the same side, they'd been defending the same things.
"Starfleet didn't know shit." The vehemence of his outburst made her jump. "Starfleet signed a fucking treaty without even doing its own fucking recon about what was going on in the DMZ." His voice dripped contempt. "Starfleet didn't care about what Cardassian soldiers routinely did to Bajoran women and men and children during the Occupation. Tayim knew all about that. He'd seen it. When they tortured him, he wasn't about to break no matter how young he was. They realized that, and somehow they realized that torturing him was getting to me more than it was getting to him." Chakotay's voice rose. "They told him they were going to cut off his balls and make sure they finished off his family line. They started calling him the names they call the Bajorans they use to service them, then they stripped him. I started struggling then, I couldn't help it, and they...they made me..."
"Shh," she said, before she realized that he might think she was trying to silence him rather than calm him. They did need to keep quiet; his voice was carrying, and they were not in a very private area of the ship. "You didn't have a choice, Chakotay..." she soothed.
"I didn't have a choice. I didn't have a choice," he repeated. "They stripped him. I thought they were going to take turns with him. They didn't sign any of our nice clean amnesty agreements -- they don't have any established protocol on the treatment of prisoners of war, did Starfleet know that?" He glared at her and through her. "I thought I could stand it if they did it to me as long as they didn't do it to him, you know? You know. When you announce that you take full responsibility and your crew should be spared. I know you know. I said, 'Not him, me. I'm the one you want.' It was a mistake. It gave them the idea. They ignored me completely, they started asking him, was he my boyfriend, was he my cunt, they did things to him to degrade him, then they were going to kill him. For I can't tell you how long, they talked about how they were going to kill him. Knife up the ass or drown him in their cum, because he was my boyfriend."
"How did you stand it?" she whispered.
"They got interrupted by another soldier, to tell them that Kurt and Krilah and a couple of the others had gotten away. So even though we knew it might be fake, to get our hopes up and make us drop our guard, we thought they might be out there. That maybe if we stayed alive, we could make it out. And the Cardassians came back, saying they would find out what I knew and kill me before the rescue team arrived -- then the fact that the others got away wouldn't be as much of a loss. And they could leave my bones for them."
He wound down momentarily, breathing hard; she wasn't sure whether he'd inhaled at any point during the previous several sentences. She asked, "Do you need a drink?" but he waved her silent. Gathering himself, wanting to get it over with. His hands disengaged from hers, clenching together in his lap, knees drawn up to his chest. After a moment, he raised his eyes past her own to some spot in the distance, seeing something thousands of light years further from the Federation starship than Earth.
"It was the Gul's idea. I don't know if he really believed Tayim was my lover or if he didn't care, he figured the effect on me would be the same either way. They said they would kill him right there if I didn't. Cut him open and make me eat his heart. They started slicing at him, and he looked right at me and said, 'Don't let them kill me like this.' I don't know what he thought I could do -- maybe he expected me to put him out of his misery. Strangle him with my bare hands. Maybe he believed the others would come back in time. The Cardassians must have assumed they would leave us to die. Tayim was probably just stalling, trying to stay alive. Or maybe he thought better me than them to do it to him, I don't know. He asked me. 'Please, Chakotay.' He begged me. I still don't know how I did it." He looked at her as if she had an answer, but she couldn't say a word. His face twisted. "I must have been angry at him for expecting me to be able to do it, that must be how."
"It's not your fault if you were angry. You weren't thinking clearly and it's hard not to resent the person who names you during torture, even if you know he was coerced..."
"That's no excuse. There's no excuse for what I did."
"It kept you alive."
"It kept me alive. It didn't save Tayim, he died when Kurt blasted through the wall to get me out. He just folded himself up and took it. The Cardassians stood around cheering, calling him names -- only him, not me. Every time I slowed down they would wave the weapons at him and tell him he was a lousy cunt, and Tayim would tell me not to stop. I guess after what they did to him with the knives it wasn't so bad, but he was bleeding and I knew it hurt. I kept trying to use my spit so it wouldn't hurt so much but it wasn't enough, and it was disgusting and it stank. I knew if I didn't do it right they would kill him. They kept telling him, if he wasn't good for me, they were going to cut him up. But for some reason, when I thought about how much I hated them and what I wanted to do to them, what it would feel like to butcher them, for some reason, because of what they did to me, it had nothing to do with the act, but I couldn't stop. I didn't know it was going to happen, but I couldn't have stopped anyway. I did it, I did what they wanted..."
His voice strangled. She pressed her face against his bicep, thinking that he hadn't taken a breath for a full minute. "There wasn't any way you could have stopped it," she murmured. "It wasn't your fault, Chakotay -- none of it was your fault."
His head lowered slowly into his hands as he realized he'd already testified to the worst of it. "I couldn't," he agreed, acknowledging his culpability. "They were cheering and laughing, all I could think about was how much I wanted to slit their throats. I don't remember how it felt, just how humiliating it was. When I got away from Tayim, he squatted on the floor and crapped the stuff out -- it was mixed with his shit and smelled awful. The Cardassians made these noises, and then finally they came after me -- they hooked me up to the neural activator. Started asking me questions and shocking me, all the while beating Tayim and saying the same things again...I can't remember exactly, there was so much pain from that thing, and I was so ashamed of myself. Maybe I passed out. I don't know."
His jaw clenched and unclenched, but his voice was steady when he looked up at her. "That's it. Tayim was killed when the wall blasted open. Two of the Cardassians died and we left another lying there with his legs blown off. They got me out. No one asked me any questions."
"You never told anyone?"
"Nobody. The only person I ever tried to tell..." His face contorted again with a different kind of rage. "I would have told Seska, but she always said it was better if we didn't know exactly what they'd done to each of us. I thought it was because she was Bajoran, because they'd..."
He shook his head. He looked wiped out -- exhausted and sick, like he'd been worked over again. Slowly, she took his hands in hers.
"I'm sorry, Chakotay."
"So am I. I'm sorry I couldn't forget. I'm sorry I made you sit through that..."
"Don't apologize for that. Come here." She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into a tight embrace, their faces side by side. He was still tense at first, but relaxed against her gradually, running his fingers through her hair as if the repetitive motion comforted him. Periodically his muscles would clench up and he would shudder, but he forced himself to calm.
There wasn't anything particularly romantic about the contact; still, she knew they could not linger in the arboretum. Though neither of them was due on duty for hours, they couldn't afford to be caught like this, in a public area of the ship. She wondered if perhaps Tuvok was covering for them; he'd known something was the matter between them, even if she never discussed exactly what was going on between herself and the first officer with her chief of security and oldest friend. He might have put the area on security lockout, but he couldn't do that all night without some sort of explanation.
"Come back to my quarters?" she asked lightly, in a tone that could have suggested a proposition or just the need to move. Chakotay nodded, using her shoulder as leverage to rise before pulling her up beside him. When they reached her rooms, she got him mint tea from the replicator, thinking of mint as something cool and clean. They drank it in near-silence.
"Come to bed," he said when they had finished, and led her there, undressing her while he kissed her gently over and over. But there was no real urgency, and once he lay back he became almost entirely passive, though he insisted on leaving the lights partway on so he could see her. She indulged him, offering what measure of comfort she could, greatly relieved to be past the tension of the past several days despite what it had obviously cost him to remember.
"I used to like to be touched there," he murmured as her hands moved on him. "Before."
She knew what he was asking, and resisted her own moment of revulsion, stroking quickly beneath his scrotum and into the cleft. The strength of his groan surprised her. The next time she didn't completely remove her hand. Chakotay's body was rigid with tension, eyes clenched shut, but he was also rock-hard, and panting. Hesitantly she pressed a finger down, believing the resistance meant that she was hurting him, but he whispered, "Don't stop." She moved to take him into her mouth as she pushed harder, surprised that the dry, tight opening wasn't causing him pain -- maybe it was, but maybe he wanted that, as some sort of penance. When she began to move rhythmically back and forth, he cried out loudly a few times, then bucked and arched with no more warning than the powerful contraction she felt inside him, filling her mouth with hot, bitter fluid. She let it spill over her hand, wiping it on the sheet. At first it was difficult for him to meet her eyes afterwards, but once he realized nothing had changed between them, he was relieved and grateful, wrapping himself around her and satisfying her with his hands.
Afterwards, while she lay drowsing half on top of him with his arm circling her, he asked, "You never answered me. What made you want to try...you know?"
"Curiosity. And...I've heard that men like it. I thought you'd think I was being adventurous."
"Well, I did." His voice was low. "Not the way you were expecting. I'm sorry, Kathryn."
"Stop saying that."
"I thought maybe someone in your past sometime had made you...you're so skittish about doing certain things..."
"I've had a couple of bad experiences. Nothing like abuse. It doesn't take much for something to become a real turn-off." She lifted her head to regard him. "I've always felt safe with you. Even when I didn't think being with you like this was safe at all, I never thought you would do anything that would hurt me."
"Maybe we never know anyone well enough to know what's going to hurt them." She realized with a pang of guilt that some part of her enjoyed seeing him this vulnerable; even when he had been the one professing his love while she feigned indifference, she had felt exposed.
"How do you feel now?"
He swallowed. "About Tayim...I think maybe I thought he wanted, you know, what they made me do to him. Not like that, just...me. And I know I probably wouldn't have done it, no matter how much he begged, if the Cardassians hadn't made me...he knew that too. The one way I knew he didn't want it was the only way I was ever going to. I hated him for that. And I hated myself for blaming him. I wish...if there was some way I could go back and just do what he wanted, and made the rest of it not happen. I would have. It's always going to be a mess, isn't it."
"I think all you can do is acknowledge that, and try to go on from there."
He fell asleep with her still lying over him, his head falling back and his lips parting as he relaxed for what seemed like the first time all week. She watched his eyes flickering under the lids and wondered what dreams caused the expressions that flitted across his face. "It's past now," she whispered as a ghost of a smile passed his lips. Burying her face against his side, she closed her eyes.