Kathryn Janeway stands alone in her darkened quarters, staring out into the unforgiving space around her ship. She's lost so many of her crew to these uncharted stars, but this is one death she knows she'll never be able to atone for.
Ten days it's been since she lost Seven of Nine. Ten days since her first officer lost his wife. Ten days they haven't spoken a word to one another, in spite of the fact that they share a wall where they sleep.
Eleven days ago, they'd shared a bed.
But, it's on this day that he finally comes to her. She doesn't know what to expect until he starts yelling. Alright then, she thinks. It's his anger tonight. So, she stands there and absorbs his rage as he tells her that it's her fault his wife is dead, it's her fault for letting her protégée break protocol and take the shuttle out alone.
And she simply nods. "You're right," she tells him quietly, choking back the sob sliding up her throat and threatening to strangle her. "I'm sorry."
He waits for her to say more, but she leaves it there. "That's it?"
"What do you want me to say, Chakotay?"
He gives no response.
"This is the burden of command," she thinks aloud. She hadn't meant to say it, but there it was, the weight that was slowly crushing her. "I've carried it for more than a decade. Every life lost under my command is a reminder of the ways I fall short, which are many. And, for that, I'm sorry."
"Oh yes," he returns bitterly, "the burden of command. I know all about the burden of command. The high and mighty Starfleet protocols that cut us off from ever having any real relationships with each other."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asks.
“It means that I love you, Kathryn!” he roars, making her flinch. “I’ve loved you for years, and I know you loved me, too, once. But, you pushed me away for some misguided idea that you couldn't be both a human and a captain.”
“Oh, stop with the bleeding heart act, Chakotay. It's bullshit, and you know it. You chose Seven. It had nothing to do with me.”
“It had everything to do with you!”
“Do you really want to pull at that thread right now?”
“I want the truth!”
Kathryn rounds on him, her rage rising up in a flash to match his, and she finally meets his eyes. “The truth, Chakotay, is that you betrayed me! You promised me that you would stand by my side no matter what, and then you left me behind. But, you didn't leave me for just anyone. Oh, no. You went and fucked the only person in this whole goddamned quadrant that I cared about as much as you! Of all the people you could have chosen to wound me with, Chakotay, why did you have to choose her?”
“Because I loved her!”
“Don't lie to me,” she snaps at him. “Not now. Not about this.”
“What do you want from me, Kathryn? Do you want me to tell you again about how I love you? How I’ve always loved you? How I always will? You never let me in! What did you expect me to do?”
She turns her face away. It's not fair, her answer to his question, but, it's the truth. She can't bear to look at him when she says it out loud. “I expected you to wait for me.”
“For how long, Kathryn? The rest of our lives?”
"I did what I had to do," she defends.
"So did I," he says.
"Oh, really?" She laughs, a dark and pithless laugh, and turns her eyes again to his. "Even that night when you came to my quarters after rescuing me from the A’zaadi?"
"Stop," he grinds out through clenched teeth.
"I’ll never forget it. You were standing in the exact same spot where you are now, going on and on about mission protocols and how I had no business leaving the ship because it was too dangerous. So, I asked you what the fight was really about, but I wasn't expecting the answer that I got."
He falls silent, and for a brief moment, she thinks he might cry. She knows she should back off, but the pain she's inflicting on his soul feels almost as good as his naked touch. So, she steps up to him, invading space that was always and never hers to invade, and she sees that memory reflected in the glassy sheen of his eyes.
“For God's sake, Kathryn!” Chakotay had shouted at her. “How can you still not know, after all this time?”
Confusion twisted her features, but before she could ask him to clarify, his lips were slanting over hers with a desperate, bruising kiss. Instantly, that long-suppressed desire flared up again deep in her belly, and she pressed back into him. Her better judgement sounded its protest; this was wrong, she was his commanding officer, he was married, his wife was right next door. But, there was no stopping their momentum.
So she shut off her mind, pressing into his hands as he slid her uniform to the floor, and grasped blindly at the closures of his until every last length of fabric was gone. She pushed her tongue into his mouth as he backed her up against the bulkhead, palmed her ass in his strong hands, and lifted her onto the ledge of her private viewport. Then, she was threading her legs around his hips and he was pushing inside, pounding into her over and over again until she pulsed violently around him and he emptied himself in her.
Then, when their momentum finally slowed to a stop, he buried his face in the crook of her neck and let his tears slide down the grooves of her collarbone. “I love you so much, Kathryn,” he cried. “I always have.”
It was the first of many nights she would let him crawl inside her skin in the months before Seven’s death. She had never confessed her love to him like he did, never wanting to to admit to him—to herself—what she had allowed herself to become. "Don't act like you're innocent in all of this," she reminds him.
"Innocent?" he echoes, incredulous. He presses his body into hers, walking her backwards until her shoulder blades slam against the bulkhead. "I know I'm not innocent. I've always known. How could I not? I still dream about the day I broke my father's heart and turned my back on my people. I still smell the smoke from burning homes and trees and flesh when I stood in their ashes. I still feel the crush of Cardassian bodies in my hands and under my boots." He leans into her, lowering his lips to hers and making her shiver with the whisper of a kiss. "I still taste you," he breathes as he pulls back, "every damn time I look at you. I can't remember a day when I was innocent. I know what I am. But, you?"
"What am I, Chakotay?" she demands, danger flashing in her blue eyes and infusing her husky voice. "Go on, then. Tell me."
"You're a liar," he spits, slapping his palms against the wall on either side of her face. "You wear your Starfleet protocols like a shield, thinking that they make you righteous. They don't. You seem so shiny and moral on the surface, but underneath, you're putrid, just like me. And, the worst part isn't that you won't admit it; it's that you don't even realize it. You've been wearing that shield for so long, you've forgotten the woman underneath it—just as flawed and needy as the rest of us. But, I see you, Kathryn. I know you."
He bites her lower lip, making her cry out. It hurts so good, and her hips grind into him of their own volition, canting towards the press of his hard cock against her abdomen. He growls. She feels the hate rolling off of his body in waves, the contempt he holds for her.
And the lust.
He releases her lip from the lock of his teeth and whispers against it, "I've moved inside of you, Kathryn. I've wrapped myself in your sins. You can't hide from me."
With those words, she sees it—the levee that holds back the darkness inside of her. With those words, she feels it shift, crack, and break open, flooding her soul. Drowning her. Oh, god. What has this man done to her? What has she done to him? What have they done to each other? She hates him almost as much as she loves him.
She doesn't remember what love is.
All she knows anymore is conflict, and it feels to her like love. So, she bares her teeth at him. "Fuck. You."
He smiles coldly. "You see it now, don't you? You see what you really are. Good. Maybe now we can finally stop pretending with each other."
"And then what, Chakotay? What's left?"
"Nothing," he says, “because we're dead. I thought you could give me new life, but you threw it away with both hands. I watched you breathe life into a Borg drone, but eventually, you pushed her away, too. And then, you cut out your own soul when you realized that the sickness inside of Captain Ransom was the same sickness you had inside of you. Obsession. You couldn't face it, so you had to bury it, but you buried us, instead.”
"I did what I had to do," she repeats like a reflex, but the words feel hollow.
"Of course you did. That was always your favorite excuse. Your favorite lie. Well, I accepted that, like I always have, but then you had the nerve to be angry at me for finally moving on with my life. Fuck me, you say? No. Fuck you."
"Which is exactly what you did."
"You weren't complaining."
"I'm not the one who was married."
She knows she's gone too far the moment the words have left her lips, but it's too late. It's always too late for her. By the look in his eyes, he could have killed her with his bare hands, but he reigns himself in. "You disgust me," he growls, his breath caressing her skin the way she wishes his lips would.
All of the fight goes out of her. "I know," she whispers, her voice suddenly broken and frail. "I disgust me, too."
A thousand emotions cross his face before his hands fall to his sides and he begins towards the door. Kathryn lets out the shaky breath she had been holding, and it comes out as a whimper, making him stop and turn back. She freezes like a deer in his sight; she doesn't know what he’ll do next.
In two strides, he’s on her. It's a mirror image of their first time, but now the reflection has been warped by pain. It’s hate, not passion, that makes him slam her into the bulkhead. It's greed, not wonder, that drives her to rip open his pants and stroke his cock. It's grief, not love, that consumes him as he presses inside her. It's heartbreak, not completeness, that fills her when his hips finally stutter to a halt and he starts to cry.
"She knew the whole time," he whispers against her skin. “Every night I came to you instead of her, she knew, and she loved me anyway.”
Kathryn turns her face away, pressing her cheek against the cold, thick glass of the viewport behind her. Ten days it's been since the stars she had once loved so fondly became a grave to the woman who was simultaneously her proudest accomplishment and her deepest regret. “She was more human than either one of us will ever be,” she chokes.
When her feet finally hit the floor, Kathryn knows without a doubt that she, too, was buried in these stars a long time ago.