It’s been forty-eight days since Tom and Chakotay were taken. Janeway is determined to track the weapon ship and get them back, but after we nearly lost the starboard nacelle to some trigger-happy Delta quadrant swine and the deflector dish to a dark matter asteroid, Tuvok has managed to convince her that finding somewhere to take cover and make repairs doesn’t mean we’re giving up.
So here we are: on the hunt for refuge. Warp drive is failing, power reserves are at fifteen percent and nine decks are still uninhabitable. The turbolifts are down and shipwide comms went offline six hours ago, but Harry’s been too busy patching a hull breach to fix them.
Priorities, I guess.
Sleep is something I once heard about in another life, and we’re down to twenty litres of water a day. My uniform bears stains so old I’ve forgotten their origins and I haven’t washed my hair in weeks. With only seven of us left on board and Voyager breaking down in new and unanticipated ways every day, the work never stops.
Tempers are frayed.
Okay, mine is, but that’s hardly news.
My stomachs are growling as I heave myself up the ladder and push open the Jeffries tube hatch, tumbling out into the corridor on deck three. Janeway wanted an update on engine status by 2100, and I’m late – I didn’t expect to have to climb eight decks to deliver it in person.
If only I had something good to tell her.
My steps are heavy as I follow the corridor to the captain’s quarters. The power to this deck shorted out a few days back, leaving all the doors fixed open and only emergency lighting to guide my way. I’m forced to keep one hand on the wall for balance as I pick my way through the debris nobody has had the energy to clean up.
Exhausted, light-headed and preoccupied with mentally calculating plasma distribution ratios, I don’t register the sound until it’s too late.
The captain kneels in the middle of her devastated living area. On the floor beside her is a small tub of water, a flannel and a towel. Her uniform – as grimy as mine – is nonetheless folded neatly on her coffee table, which is miraculously unbroken. She is still wearing her tank and underwear.
And she’s crying: those weak, muffled, defeated sobs you give when you’re miserable to the bone but you don’t have the energy to rage and yell.
I’m not proud to admit that I stand there for a full minute debating whether I should just back away. This is the captain, after all, and she probably won’t thank me for catching her at such a vulnerable moment. But I can’t just leave her here like this.
Stepping cautiously across her threshold and damning the consequences, I call softly, “Captain?”
She starts, gasps, “B'Elanna,” and turns quickly to mask the quick movements of her palms as she wipes at her wet cheeks. Clearing her throat, she faces me. “What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”
“I, uh, came to deliver the report you asked for.” Approaching slowly, I hold out the padd and she stands to take it. “I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”
She looks up with a faint, watery smile. “At this point I’m getting used to it.”
When she turns her gaze back to the padd, I can’t help studying her. She’s lost weight – we all have – and she’s sweaty and filthy, her short hair hanging lank in her eyes. She’s beautiful, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wearing so little, and I can’t seem to stop looking at her.
Janeway hands me back the padd. “You’re right. This isn’t good news,” she says, and rubs her forehead.
It’s clear she hasn’t regained full control of her emotions because her face crumples for just a moment before she presses her lips together.
“Dismissed,” she says tiredly, and I turn to go.
But something inside me says, don’t leave her alone.
I swivel to face her again, the words rushing out of me. “Captain, I’m probably overstepping here but I can’t – I was wondering – is everything okay?”
She stares at me and I want to kick myself. Is everything okay? Of all the stupid –
“It’s so silly,” she says slowly, as though the words are being dragged out of her against her will. “Everything that’s gone wrong and I’m crying over an empty bottle of soap.”
“Soap?” I repeat dumbly.
Janeway reaches over and picks up a bottle from the coffee table. It’s fancy – it looks like green cut glass, but I guess it’s more durable than that since it hasn’t shattered. She unstoppers it and scent wafts out, reaching my nostrils. It smells like her – like the scent I always associate with her.
I hadn’t realised I did that.
“Chakotay gave it to me last Prixin,” she says. “I used it every day until – until he –” she visibly struggles for control. “And I was hoarding the last little bit along with my water rations so I could have a bath … I need to feel clean … but the bottle is empty. There’s nothing left.”
Looking at her, standing there shivering slightly in her tank and panties, it’s pretty clear she’s empty too. And suddenly it’s the most important thing in the world to me to give her something back.
“Wait here,” I tell her. “Don’t move, okay? I’ll be right back,” and before she can respond I’m running along the corridor back to the Jeffries tube hatch.
I climb down one deck to my temporary quarters – Tom’s quarters; mine took a beating weeks ago, and with him missing it’s all I have left – rummage in the bathroom cabinet until I find what I’m looking for, and rush back to the captain.
It seems she took my request to heart because she hasn’t moved. She looks a little dazed actually; I have to repeat “Captain?” twice before she blinks and focuses on me.
“B'Elanna,” she says.
I give her a sharp look and realise she’s just barely holding it together. Reaching over, I take the empty bottle from her hand. Then I bend to test the temperature of the water in the small ewer she’s filled. It’s still warm, so I guide her closer to it.
“Here,” I gesture, placing the tube of shower gel I’ve found in Tom’s cabinet on the carpet beside her makeshift bath, but she just looks at it.
God. I’m going to have to help her.
I strip off my jacket and turtleneck and kick off my boots, tossing them out of the way. Then I turn to her and take hold of the bottom edge of her tank top, pausing to make sure she understands my intention and has time to stop me if she wants to.
I’m half hoping she will stop me.
Instead she lifts her arms like a child and allows me to tug the undershirt up and over her head. She stands there in her bra and panties, placid and still. And I …
I can’t stop staring at her.
Underneath the bruises and cuts and the streaks of dirt, her skin is so pale. I have the strongest urge to place my palm flat against her bare stomach, to see if her skin is as soft as it looks, to marvel at the contrast in our colouring.
I take hold of her shoulders and turn her to face away from me, unhooking her bra. She lets it slip down her arms and automatically lifts her hands to cover her breasts. Her head is bowed. The individual knobs of her spine protrude clearly through her delicate skin, and my fingers itch to trace them.
I can’t help the increasing pace of my heart as I slip my fingers beneath the elastic of her panties. She lets me push them gently over her hips. They fall to the floor and she lifts each foot in turn to kick them out of the way.
Moments pass, and I realise my hands are still resting on her hips and my thumbs are rubbing small circles over the bones. She hasn’t moved.
I hold out one hand, palm up, and she takes it so I can help her step into the basin. Her movements are graceful, her pale skin smooth like marble in the dull-yellow emergency lighting. She looks otherworldly, and this whole situation is so strange, so illusory. Like a dream, the kind where dark shapes move below the surface of things and nothing you choose has consequences.
At any moment I’ll wake up, alone in Tom’s bed, my limbs tangled in the sheets and my heart thumping.
She turns her head a little, her eyelashes sweeping downward. What now? she seems to be asking me.
I bend to pick up the flannel, dip it in the water, and squeeze a little of the bath gel onto it. Slowly I work it across her neck, her shoulders, down the length of her back, following the slender arc of waist and hip. Dirt and grime disappears under the lather, revealing her pure white skin.
She stands passively, letting me soap her back and hips, until I stop at the uppermost swell of her behind. Then she uses the smallest of movements to indicate I should continue.
The flannel slides downward of its own volition – it must, because surely my will has nothing to do with the languid, sweeping motions it makes, or the way it delves into her crevice. The captain makes a contented noise and lets her hands fall away from her breasts.
I’m out of lather. I bend to swish the flannel in the water and apply a little more gel. Again, I start at her shoulders, this time smoothing the cloth along her arms, down to the tips of her fingers and back up along the underside. She squirms a little as I soap each of her armpits.
Squeezing the flannel along the line of her neck as she tilts her head for me, I watch rivulets of soapy water trickle downward over her collarbones. I imagine it sluicing over the delicate swell of her breasts, splitting into rivulets as it reaches the hard peak of her nipple, but I’m not tall enough to see.
I really wish I could see.
Maybe she reads my mind. She twists a little to her left and the curve of her breast comes into view. It’s pert and creamy, just as I imagined, topped with an upturned pink nipple. With the hand holding the cloth I reach out to touch it, smoothing the flannel over the hardened peak.
She utters a sound, a murmur crossed with a sigh, and shivers.
Maybe that’s the reason for what I do next.
I step as close to her as I can, pressing my body to hers all along her back. Soapy water seeps through my tank and bra, but I don’t care. All I can feel is her impossibly soft skin pressed to mine and the curve of her ass against my pelvis.
She leans back into me, her head falling to one side to bare her neck. In one motion I press my lips to that inviting curvature and, still clutching the flannel, fill my hands with her breasts.
Her arms curl backward to clutch at my hips, pulling me even closer, and she moans. It’s a soft sound, needy and intimate, not the appreciative noise you might make to encourage a lover but something far more inwardly-focused, as though it’s been a long time since anyone touched her. As though she’s immersed in a pleasurable daydream, or in conjuring a memory.
My fingers tighten on her breasts and she pushes herself into my hands and I breathe hotly against her neck and drag the cloth down over her abdomen, chasing the soap bubbles into the place between her thighs.
“Oh God,” she says softly. Her legs part and she brings one hand around to cover mine, her fingers sliding through my own as the flannel slips out of my grasp and into the tub.
Now there’s nothing between us, no barrier and no pretence, and I suck harder on her neck and pinch her nipple between forefinger and thumb. She thrusts her hips into our joined fingers as together we rub at the slick folds between her legs. Her sighs turn into moans, and then whimpers and finally soft, abbreviated cries, and she crumples forward over my hand.
I move my arm around her waist to hold her steady and murmur, “I’ve got you,” over and over, until she stops shaking and her breathing evens and slows.
Eventually, of course, the illusion bursts like the soap bubbles on her skin, and she straightens and pulls away, snatching up her towel and tucking it securely around herself before she steps from the basin to face me.
“Lieutenant,” she starts, but her voice wavers.
“Don’t,” I cut in, sharper than I mean to, because I know what she’s going to say. “Please don’t.”
Her eyes flicker with a mixture of gratitude, humiliation and fading arousal, but she nods. I can see she’s casting around for something to say, so I put her out of her misery.
“If you’ll excuse me, Captain,” I mumble, casting my eyes downward and backing toward the propped-open doorway, and without waiting for a formal dismissal I turn and leave as quickly as dignity allows.
But my steps slow as I approach the Jeffries tube hatch, and I falter to a stop, staring unseeing at the opposite bulkhead.
Her butter-soft skin. The way her hips writhed and her lips parted as I touched her. The feel of her under my fingers, all slick, molten heat. Her little cries as she came…
Raising my hand to my lips, I lick the taste of her from my fingers, closing my eyes to savour it.
I’ll never tell anyone what happened here tonight, but I can’t help wondering if she’ll feel the need to confess if – when – we get them back. If she’ll view it as not only a breach of protocol, but a breach of trust.
Under the circumstances, though, I don’t think Tom or Chakotay would begrudge us these few, precious moments, or the memories I’ll hold close and dear, as fragile and ephemeral as soap bubbles.