CUP – Chapter 17

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By mizvoy

Chapter 17: Healing

(Immediately after Chapter 16)

The room was quiet after Tuvok left and the EMH deactivated himself; even the monitors on the biobed were silent now that Janeway was breathing on her own. As Chakotay put on the thin gloves and opened the container of lotion, he studied Janeway’s hands, noting the way the newly healed burns left her skin thin and fragile, almost shiny on the surface, and bright pink because the blood was so near the surface.

He knew from experience that even a breeze or the soft brush of a blanket against those areas could create an agonizingly hot tingling pain. The cool, soothing salve would lessen the skin’s sensitivity, thicken it slightly, and provide great relief from pain.

The slight wrinkle between her eyes told him that she was regaining consciousness and becoming aware of the pain, and so he scooped the ointment into his palms and gently lifted her right hand.

For a moment, he stared down at her hand, so small compared to his own, so fragile-looking and slender, and yet so deceptively strong. This was the first time he’d touched her in over two years, since the day after Seven’s death, and he felt his heart expand in his chest as he reverently began to smooth the medicine over her sensitive skin.

Janeway moaned slightly, but then sighed in relief as the emulsion took effect, reducing the angry pink skin tone and the slight swelling that accompanied it. He massaged the salve into each finger, into the palm and the back of her hand, and into the skin of her wrist and arm with slow gentle strokes. Finishing that hand, he scooped out more of the salve and picked up her left hand, once again enjoying the intimate feel of the treatment as he gently and lovingly soothed the cream into her skin.

He completed his work, but kept her hand in his grasp, lifting it to his lips for a quick kiss. Her intake of breath and the increased pressure of her fingers told him that she had regained consciousness, and he glanced up to see that her eyes were wide open and staring at him.

“Chakotay?” she whispered, her voice thin and reedy. “Is that really you?”

Before he could answer, the EMH approached from the far side of the room, having been activated the moment Janeway regained consciousness.

“It’s really him,” he answered, checking her biosigns and nodding in approval. “How are you feeling?”

“My hands hurt. And I need a drink of water.”

The EMH looked up and gave Chakotay a curt nod. “Chakotay will get that for you. When you’re feeling better, Tuvok will be in to ask you what you remember about the accident.”

“Accident?” She sat up with Chakotay’s help and sipped the water he replicated for her. “Is that what happened? I don’t remember much.”

“Short-term memory loss is common in incidents like this,” the doctor replied as he completed his examination. “Perhaps you’ll remember more details later on.”

She lay back down and closed her eyes. “Perhaps.”

The doctor clucked his tongue and turned to Chakotay. Just before he blinked out of existence, he said, “She needs rest, but I see no reason why you can’t speak with her for a few minutes. Let me know if you need me.”

Chakotay nodded, smiling slightly as he gazed down at his former commander. “It’s me.”

“Yes, I see that.” She smiled up at him. “What happened?”

“I rigged a tricorder to erase my beam out coordinates, but it triggered an overload in the console. You were caught up in the explosion and burned your hands pretty badly. Your face and hair, too.”

“My hair?” She lifted her hands toward her face only to stop and stare at their reddened skin. Turning them back and forth in front of her face, she muttered, “Oh, my.”

“They’ll be fine in a few days,” he reassured her. “You know how burns look while they’re healing.”

“The dedication,” she continued, piecing things together. “You were the person who was watching from the catwalk?”

He nodded again. “I should have stepped forward, I know. I just felt so out of place.”

“No, I should have realized how difficult it would be for you to attend.” Tears brimmed in her eyes. “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“I regret leaving the way I did. I would never have returned except that I wanted to see the good that you’ve brought out of this disaster.” He picked up her hand. “I apologize.”

“The only thing that matters is that you came, Chakotay. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

She twined her fingers through his. “I feel better, just having you here.”

“No, you feel worse because I’m here.” He ducked his head. “It’s my fault you were burned when the console overloaded.”

“It was an accident.”

“I should have just talked to you, although you would have been better off to let me go.”

“I did that once, and it was a mistake.” Janeway frowned slightly and shook her head. “I don’t remember anything about the console. Really. The last thing I remember is crossing the garden to the main building, and then I woke up here, with you holding my hand.”

Chakotay nodded, wondering if she was telling the truth about her memories. “I’m afraid you lost some hair, too.”

“It’ll grow out.” She smiled up at him. “It’s so good to see you.”

He gently brushed her cheek where the skin was still pink. “I’m so sorry this happened.”

“I know you are, so don’t worry about it.”

“I always seem to hurt the people I love the most.”

Her eyes filled with tears again. “I wanted you to come back so you could listen to Seven’s logs.”

“I did. The doctor downloaded them while you were sleeping.”

“And?” She brushed a tear from her eye. “What did you think?”

“I was surprised at how poorly I understood her.”

“I was, too.” She took a deep, calming breath. “Everything I did to help her ended up hurting her instead. You aren’t the only one to blame for what happened, Chakotay.”

“I was-.”

“Don’t tell me that you were her husband. I know that. I also know that I was the one person she trusted to help her more than anyone else—even more than she trusted you. I let her down, and I’ve paid dearly for that.”

“We both have,” he agreed.

She stifled a yawn. “I want to talk to you, but, suddenly, I’m very sleepy.”

“It’s the middle of the night. You should get some rest.”

She stared up at him, her blue eyes studying his face. “Promise you’ll be here when I wake up?”


She held up her left hand, and he grasped it with his right one, lacing their fingers together as they had on New Earth, when he’d first declared his devotion to her. “If you leave, I’ll find you, Chakotay. I mean it.”

“I’ll be here. I promise.”

She gave him a weak smile and let her eyes drift shut. Once he was sure she was asleep, he released her hand and dragged a chair to the side of her bed where he could doze while she rested.

He reveled in the peaceful feeling that came from being close to the woman he loved, soaking up all he could like a thirsty man saturates his body with water in a long-lost oasis before he heads back into the desert.

After all, he already had plans to leave the next day.

Janeway’s condition and Voyager’s crew intervened to keep Chakotay around for a few more days. Many of the crew had come to San Antonio to attend the dedication and were delighted to find out that Chakotay was there, as well. They talked him into taking a room at their hotel, and they kept him busy while Janeway underwent daily therapy sessions to strengthen her lungs and complete the healing of her hands.

Janeway was glad to have the chance to spend more time with him, but she could tell that he tolerated rather than enjoyed the constant social interaction. But she could tell that he wasn’t going to stay much longer, and she feared he would leave before they had a chance to clear the air.

She attempted to discuss these issues with him, but he deftly turned every conversation away from their painful past. Even when they were alone, he was strangely reticent to talk about his life, preferring to hear about her campaign to build the research facility, about her work in the admiralty, and about the on-going difficulties that the Federation was experiencing with the Romulan Empire. About his own life, however, he had little to share—and about Seven’s death, even less.

She bided her time, enjoying his company and trying to find a way to encourage him to open up to her.

After a week, the doctor declared Janeway fit for duty, and she prepared to return to San Francisco. She invited Chakotay to dinner that evening.

“I think you should come to San Francisco with me,” she said after they finished eating. “There are more people who want to see you, and I know of a university or two looking for someone to teach courses in Delta Quadrant cultural studies.”

He shook his head sadly, looking at her across the coffee table that separated them. “Thanks, but now that you’re on your feet, I should return to Sanctus V.”

She tried not to panic. “Why must you leave so soon?”

“Well, for one thing, my visa is about to expire.”

“I can fix that in a heartbeat.”

“And Sanctus is my home, Kathryn. I live there.”

She braced herself for a difficult, but necessary confrontation. “From what the Ballinst messenger told me about your ‘home’ on Sanctus V, you live like a hermit, all alone in a shack out in the middle of nowhere.”

“I prefer to be alone most of the time, but I visit the local trading post every few weeks and have an occasional visitor wander by.”

“What do you do with your time?”

“I didn’t have much spare time the first year or so. I brought only the bare necessities with me and had to work hard to make the place livable. Since then, I’ve done a lot of writing about what happened in the Delta Quadrant. I’ve found the process very therapeutic.”

“I’d like to read what you’ve written sometime.” Janeway ran a hand across her forehead, depressed at the thought of his solitude, and then she wondered if these “occasional visitors” that he mentioned offered him more than just company. “Are you involved with a woman?”

He laughed at the suggestion. “No, Kathryn, there’s no woman in my life. In fact, I don’t tolerate visitors for more than a day now and then. Solitary confinement, that’s the way I live.”

“Solitary confinement?” she repeated, setting down her coffee cup in surprise. “You make it sound as if you’re serving a life sentence.”

He shrugged. “Haven’t I heard you say that we all make our own hell?”

She stood up and walked to the window, dreading the pain that she knew the upcoming discussion would cause them. “You’re talking about Seven’s death?”

“Seven was just the last in a long line of missteps, Kathryn. She paid for our flaws with her life. She was the innocent victim who dies in the final act of the play.”

“The play?” Janeway shook her head and turned to face him. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about how you and I communicated—or failed to communicate—over the years. You evaded the hard questions, and I talked in riddles. The result was that we never really communicated at all.”

Janeway studied his face. After a long moment, she chuckled and gave him a quirky smile. “I think that’s an apt description of us.”

“Are you ready to address the problem directly?”

“I am if you’ll stop talking in riddles.”

“All right.” He poured them both another cup of coffee, luring her back to the sofa.

She sat down across from him and looked at him over the rim of her mug. “Why won’t you stay here, Chakotay? Why exile yourself on Sanctus V when this is your real home?”

“I can’t come back for two reasons.” He sipped his coffee and sat back in his chair. “My exile is an atonement for how my behavior hurt Seven of Nine. Okay, I know now that my actions didn’t lead directly to her death, but my failure to love her had to have undermined her self-confidence.”

“You aren’t alone in that. I let her marry you when neither of you was ready. Should I exile myself the way you have?”

He shook his head. “We find our own penance. Yours was to build the Hansen Wing to help other former drone avoid the depression that killed her. Every time you succeed, you renew your redemption. My penance is to be alone.”

“For the rest of your life? Chakotay, no judge or jury would sentence you to a lifetime of exile.”

“Maybe not. I don’t know.”

“How much longer, then? Another year? Two more?”

He shrugged. “I just don’t know.”

Janeway was frustrated, but decided not to belabor the point. “You said there were two reasons for your leaving. What is the second reason?”

“You are.”

“Me?” Her eyes widened with surprise. “You have to live like a hermit because of me?”

Chakotay set his empty mug on the table beside him and crossed his arms over his chest. “This is where we always fail to be honest with each other. This is when I usually resort to indirection, and you begin a few dozen evasive maneuvers.”

Janeway nodded, recognizing in her reaction a sudden urge to avoid the topic of their feelings for each other. “I think you’re right. Please be direct, and I’ll try not to dodge and parry.”

He rewarded her with a dimpled grin. “As ironic as it sounds, I’m leaving because I love you too much. For years, I accepted the fact that you couldn’t, or didn’t, love me back, but now it’s clear that by clinging to false hope, I hurt everyone I cared about.”

“Wait a minute,” Janeway said, shaking her head slightly. “Did you just say that you have to leave because you love me?”

“I can’t stay near you any longer and not be with you.”

“Then be with me.”

“Impossible. The scandal surrounding Seven’s death has ruined our chances, can’t you see that? Our being together would damage your reputation and your career. I can’t let you do that.”

“You left to protect me?” Janeway was almost too stunned to speak, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “You unilaterally decided to protect my reputation and career by leaving the Federation?”

“That’s part of it.”

She struggled to control her anger. “How dare you decide what is best for me, without even discussing it first!”

“But you don’t understand,” he countered, hoping to defuse her bubbling anger. “I would want it all. All or nothing.”

“And you assumed that you couldn’t have it all?”

“I knew what you’d say.”

“Did you?” She glared at him, gripping the empty mug to keep her hands from trembling. “You knew what I’d say.”

“I thought I did.” He looked away, suddenly unsure of himself. “Anyway, I know you’ve moved on, thanks to this project. I came back for the dedication, Kathryn. Now that it’s over, I have to leave.”

“I begged you to stay then two years ago. Do you want me to beg this time, too?”

“It wouldn’t do any good.” He looked up at her.

“We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can make better decisions now by being honest with each other.”

“I’m being honest.”

“Then, you have to listen to me. Seven’s logs told everyone that we weren’t responsible for her death. In fact, she wanted us to be together as her surrogate parents. She wanted the three of us to be a family.”

He laughed. “Do you really think that could have worked, Kathryn? I had been her husband. How could I suddenly become a father-figure?”

“Truthfully, you’d always been a father-figure to her.” She leaned forward and looked him in the eye. “Those logs helped me see how unique Seven was, how different from anyone else I’ve ever known. She had no childhood and none of the usual assumptions about relationships between men and women that we get from living with our parents. Marriage, to her, was just another type of ‘collective,’ and she saw no reason why it was monogamous, why it couldn’t have included all three of us. We misunderstood her, Chakotay, and underestimated her, too.”

“Her logs were . . . amazing, all right.” Chakotay’s eyes were troubled. “How could we have lived with her for so many years and yet failed to understand her true character?”

“Perhaps she learned that from us. We’d become quite good at side-stepping emotional land mines with each other, and she may have thought that was the way adults behaved.” She gave him a wistful smile. “We were, after all, the only examples she had of proper human behavior.

“Emotionally, she really was just a child in spite of her very grown-up physique,” he agreed, looking down at his hands. “I married her because I knew you would always stay close to her and her family.”

“You didn’t expect that I’d want to stay close to you, too? Chakotay, you were my best friend.”

He shrugged. “All I knew was that I’d ruined my chances by becoming involved with Seven. At least I believed that to be true.”

“It was true,” she whispered. “I would never have taken you away from her.”

He rubbed his face with his hands. “And so I made a pact with the devil by marrying her, and hurt everyone in the process.”

“What’s done is done,” she insisted. “And all of it is two or three years in our past. If nothing else, your self-imposed exile has let the dust settle.”

“And it’s left your reputation and career unsullied,” he said, smiling at her. “You’re one of the most decorated and respected admirals in Starfleet.”

“And one of the loneliest.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Please don’t go.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve lacked for male companionship.”

“I’ve lacked for your companionship, Chakotay. I’ve never found a satisfactory substitute.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t be here. I can’t see you and not be fully involved in your life the way I was on Voyager.”

“Then be fully involved with me.”

His eyes widened. “What are you saying?”

“You say you love me too much, that our relationship is all or nothing, and yet this is the first time in all the years that I’ve known you that you’ve actually told me how much you care.”

“You didn’t want to hear it.”

“I wanted to hear it. I dreamed of hearing it. But I couldn’t let myself hear it because I was your captain and because the ship was trapped in the worst possible circumstances.” She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment as tears burned behind the lids. “And then you were involved with a woman I considered my surrogate daughter.” She took a wavering breath. ” But now that things have changed, do you care enough to fight for me?”

“It’s too late for that, Kathryn, years too late. The cards were stacked against us from the first, and now I’m too tired and too disheartened to think about it.”

Janeway nodded, feeling foolish for hoping that there could still be a chance for them after all the water that had passed under the bridge. The last thing she wanted was for him to laugh at her undying optimism.

“I won’t beg you to stay,” she heard herself tell him, “but I want you to know one thing for sure before you leave. I do love you, Chakotay. I have been in love with you for so long that I can’t remember not loving you.”

“More’s the pity,” he whispered.

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence punctuated by the muted sounds of other hotel residents moving down the hallway. Janeway studied the inside of her empty mug while Chakotay gazed out the window at the clouds that drifted by, neither able to think of another thing to say.

“Admiral?” Janeway’s aide stood just inside the door. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Mr. Chakotay is scheduled to beam out in fifteen minutes.”

“You aren’t interrupting anything, Lieutenant,” Janeway insisted, standing up and smoothing her uniform. “Thank you for the reminder.”

Chakotay rose to face her, giving her a sad smile. “I thought it might be easier to leave from here than from San Francisco.”

“You might be right. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“I’d like that.”

He offered her his arm, and they strolled through the hotel looking like friends taking a leisurely stroll. No one could detect the anguish Janeway felt as she prepared to say goodbye to her dearest friend. No one would suspect how determined Chakotay was to continue punishing himself for his actions—even if he hurt others in the process.

Their conversation was just as misleading. She asked how long it would take him to reach Sanctus V and how many transfers he would make along the way. He wondered when she would return to San Francisco and what her next big project would be. She made him promise to answer her letters and messages and to keep his friends informed about the happenings in his life. He offered to meet her if and when her duties brought her to the fringes of the Federation, anywhere near his home.

They arrived at the busy transport station just down the street from the hotel and turned to each other with the sudden realization that this might be the last time they see each other. Silent and serious, they walked through the station to the waiting room hand in hand.

“Mr. Chakotay,” the transport chief said as he entered, “we’re ready for you now.”

Chakotay turned to Janeway and cupped her face in his hand. “Thanks for all you’ve done. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too,” she replied, too shocked to object to this hurried departure. “Keep in touch.”

He nodded and turned to take his place on the transporter pad. Moments later, she watched in silence as the transporter beamed him to his transport ship.

Janeway stared at the spot he had once inhabited until she noticed how the chief was watching her with undisguised alarm.

“Are you feeling okay, Admiral?” he asked, moving toward her. “Would you like to sit down for a minute?”

“I’m fine.” She held up a hand to stop him. “Just a little tired, that’s all.”

She made her way out of the building in a daze, retracing the path she and Chakotay had just taken moments earlier. She was blind to the sights surrounding her, deaf to the sounds, remembering only the feel of Chakotay’s arm under her hand, the solid comfort of his body as they walked.

Now he was gone, and some of the color had faded from the universe. Nothing seemed familiar any more, and so she wandered through the city, looking for something, anything to give her a purpose in life.

But her mind was stuck on one thought-he was gone forever, and she had to learn to live without him.