CUP – Chapter 9

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By mizvoy

Part 9: Survival

March 2379 (Moments after the end of Part 8)

Chakotay and Janeway toiled up the steep path from the lake, pausing to hold each other up when the wind hit them at near hurricane speed. They were exhausted from exposure and reeling from the injuries they’d gotten when the boat had slammed into the dock. Their bodies were bruised and aching, their heads still swimming with the jarring force of the accident, and their teeth chattering in the cold rain and wind.

Janeway was particularly unsteady on her feet and leaned heavily on Chakotay’s shoulder whenever the gusts battered them. While they managed to dodge the larger pieces of debris that blew past them like deadly missiles, wind-driven sand stung their skin, filled their eyes with burning grit, and howled through the trees like malevolent spirits escaping from hell.

“How long do these Nor’easters last?” Chakotay shouted as he shielded her from a particularly vicious blast of wind.

“I don’t know for sure,” she shouted back, looking up at him in gratitude and clinging to him to keep her balance. “I can’t remember seeing a storm this violent.”

“We’ll be fine once we get to the cabin,” he assured her, finally picking her up in his arms and carrying her for the last ten yards of the steep terrain. The leeward side of the cabin offered them some refuge from the wind, and the porch brought relief from the pouring rain. He studied the cabin’s front door as he gently set her down on the wooden floor. “Do you have the code for the entry pad?”

“Entry pad? Are you kidding? There’s nothing that modern on a Janeway cabin.” She slumped against him and then sank to her knees where several empty flower pots were stacked beside the door. “It’s an old-fashioned lock, and there’s a key hidden around here somewhere.” She looked beneath a small painted clay pot and pulled out a brass key, which she held up to him in triumph. “I knew it!”

“Tuvok would never approve of such an obvious hiding place,” he groaned as he took the key from her and helped her to her feet.

“No, he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t know the fear my Aunt Martha puts in the hearts of criminals. No one would dare bring her wrath down upon them by breaking into this cabin.”

Chakotay chuckled and slipped the key into the lock, quickly opening the door and stepping aside to let Janeway lead the way. She stepped in and quickly tapped a code into the security panel inside the door to turn off the security alarm. Without thinking, she hit the light switch, but the storm had overloaded the power system.

“Damn. I should have known that the power net was down. The solar batteries must be drained, too.”

“We’ll use candles,” he answered as he closed the door. “Didn’t I see a chimney for a fireplace?”

“Yeah, there’s a fireplace in the great room.” Janeway peered into the shadowed interior, her vision blurring and her head swimming as a wave of dizziness swept over her. She grabbed his arm. “I’m trying not to throw up.”

“Here, let me help you.” He put his arm around her and started into the large room that was intermittently illuminated by the storm’s lightning. “It feels just as cold in here as it was outside.”

“Yeah. We need to get out of these clothes and into something dry, and then we need a fire in the fireplace.”

“Maybe we can find something in the bedrooms.”

“There won’t be any clothes available,” she warned him. “At most there will be a robe or two in the bathroom.”

“We’ll make do.”

She directed him down a short hallway to the back of the house where the two bedrooms were located, a shared bathroom between them. There they found two thick terrycloth robes and warm slippers.

Chakotay handed her a robe. “Start taking off those wet clothes while I get some towels for our hair.”

Janeway stripped down to her underwear and quickly dried off, pulling on the robe and slippers while shivering in the frigid air. Chakotay did the same and then tossed them into the shower to be dealt with later, after they were warm.

“Now we need to start a fire in the fireplace.” He put an arm around her waist and led her back toward the cavernous great room.

“There’s a wood bin in the wall to the left of the hearth,” she told him, pulling the robe tight around her. “The Janeways have been trained to leave it stocked for the next visitors.”

“That’s good news.”

Janeway searched the drawers of the end tables for candles while Chakotay loaded wood into the hearth.

“Don’t forget to open the damper,” she reminded him as she lit a few candles and positioned them on the mantel.

“Thanks. I would’ve forgotten.” The lever for the damper was easy enough to find, but he was unable to find the starter. “Is that a phaser you’re using to light the candles?”

“Just a lighter.” She held it out to him. “If you’re looking for an automatic starter, you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll have to stuff paper under the grate.”

“Your family astonishes me,” he replied, shaking his head as he found some paper neatly stacked at the far end of the hearth. “A family of Starfleet Admirals that uses locks and keys and starts fires with matches.”

“Yeah, we’re an unusual bunch, all right.”

While he lit the fire, Janeway opened a chest and pulled out several large blankets. By the time the fire was roaring, she’d settled on the sofa with one of the blankets wrapped around her. The light from the fire and the candles added a cozy glow to the room, but the heat had yet to raise the temperature to a more hospitable level.

Chakotay grabbed a blanket and draped it over his shoulders.

“That was a close call, you know?” he muttered as he sat down beside Janeway, only to find her slumped on into a ball, her eyes glazed over with exhaustion. “Kathryn? Are you all right?”

“Would you listen to the wind?” she whispered, her teeth shattering. “It reminds me of those terrible storms on New Earth.”

“You’re getting a chill.” He picked up a third blanket and pulled her to a standing position. “We need to buddy up if we hope to get warm.”

“Okay,” she said, too tired to argue. “We should look for something to eat. I’m thinking there might be something in the pantry.”

“You rest here.” He spread the blanket on the sofa and then helped her lie down on it. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’m not moving.” Kathryn closed her eyes, thinking about how her carelessness had almost cost them their lives. She had impulsively suggested the sailing trip without adequately checking the weather, all because she wanted so much to spend the day with him, and then she had delayed their departure from the lake until it became a matter of life or death.

Thunder rumbled directly above the cabin, so close that she imagined the roof coming down on their heads and putting them out of their misery. Pulling the blanket over her head, she curled into the fetal position, shivering in spite of the fire that was blazing in the fireplace.

Chakotay reappeared with a tiny first aid kit that he’d found in the bathroom and a basket full of rations from the pantry. He dropped two hyposprays on the end table and then scooted the sofa, Janeway and all, closer to the hearth.

She peeked out from under her blanket. “Oh, that’s much warmer. Thanks.”

“No problem.” He spent a minute or two restocking the fire and then knelt down beside her and opened the medkit, chuckling at the miniature medical tricorder he found inside. “Look at this, would you? It’s a museum piece.”

“What are you planning to do with it?”

“Just make sure neither of us has a concussion.” He opened the device and aimed it at her. “Hold still.”

She watched him, her eyes glittering with tears. “I’m sorry, Chakotay. All of this is my fault. I should have checked the weather more carefully before we left San Francisco, and I should have headed for shore a whole lot sooner.”

“We’re both at fault.” He snapped the device shut with a smile. “Nothing seriously wrong with you that I can see, just a few bruises that should feel better after this analgesic takes effect.”

She tilted her head obediently as he gave her the pain-killer, rubbing her neck afterward, even though the hypo didn’t hurt. She reached for the tricorder. “Let me return the favor.”

Once she was sure his injuries were also minor, she gave him the remaining hypo of painkiller and then looked past him at the basket he’d brought from the kitchen.

“Let me guess. You found something to eat.”

“Not much. Just some emergency rations and a couple of bottles of water.”

“What? No coffee?” She made a face.

“No coffee, so we’re truly roughing it.” They laughed and then tore into the ration packs. Chakotay chewed slowly on the nutritional wafers, amazed at how good they tasted when he was hungry, and then took a long drink from a bottle of water. “I’m not complaining about the menu. We’re lucky there was anything at all in the pantry.”

“Ration pack 5 is not the best, however.”

“Better than nothing.” He gathered up the trash and stuffed it into the empty basket.

“I hope there are a few more of these,” she said, draining her water bottle. “If we have to stay here awhile, we’ll be hungry again.”

“There’s a whole case in the pantry.”

“Great. Remind me to bring a few vacuum packs of real food the next time we come sailing.”

“Anything but ration pack 5.” He piled more logs onto the fire, satisfied only when the flames shot high into the chimney, and then returned to the sofa. “That should keep the fire going for a few hours.”

“Sorry this place is so rustic.”

“I’m just glad to be dry and out of the weather.” He shivered in spite of himself, reaching to pull his blanket around his shoulders.

“You need to lie down beside me. You know quite well that cold weather survival protocols demand that we share body heat.”

He nodded and pulled the loose pillows from the back of the sofa and tossed them onto the floor, leaving the seat cushions that were nearly as wide as a single bunk on Voyager. Janeway stood up as he lay down with his back against the back of the sofa and then lay down beside him, spooning her body against his.

They spent a few moments securing their robes and arranging the blankets until, at last, they relaxed against each other’s warmth, her back against his chest with the blankets wrapped around them and the fire’s warmth toasting their faces.

At first, they were so relieved to be warm and full that they didn’t think about the intimacy of their sleeping position. But then, when she felt his burgeoning arousal, she pulled away in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable,” she whispered. “I don’t know what else we can do.”

“It’s okay, Kathryn, just an automatic reaction to being so close to a woman. Nothing is going to happen.”

“It’s not that. I know I can trust you.” She didn’t say that it was herself she didn’t trust. She was painfully aware of his body behind hers, of the fact that her backside was so near his groin and his arm so close to her breasts. She hoped he couldn’t feel her heart racing.

“Are you hurting anywhere?” he asked her, his voice rumbling against her back.

She shook her head. “The meds have kicked in, I think. I’m just so very tired. I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

“Me, too.” A huge crack of thunder shook the cabin as the rain beat against the far wall with increased ferocity. “Let’s try to get some sleep. That way, when the storm lets up, we’ll be ready to head back to civilization.”

“Good idea.” She snuggled down, staring at the fire, grateful that the pain killers were making her drowsy—the sooner the better.

The room was quiet except for the sound of the wood snapping and the muffled fury of the storm outside the windows. The stab of desire that had blossomed moments earlier faded, and she was satisfied just to be with him, even if they had crashed the boat and destroyed the dock.

She loved being with him.

To tell the truth, she was in love with him.

Janeway realized, with a start, that her plans had backfired. She had imagined that her love for Chakotay would diminish once he was Seven of Nine’s husband. Protocol had been enough to keep her from seducing him on Voyager, and she’d hoped that adultery would be just as big of a deterrent on Earth. Apparently, her future self had been able to reconcile herself to his marriage, and so she’d believed she could do the same.

What she hadn’t bargained for was that his unavailability would make him that much more attractive to her, like forbidden fruit.

She felt tears burning in her eyes as she told herself that she had to find a way to let him go, that they should no longer work together if she was this close to succumbing to her desire. She promised herself that once the semester ended, she would take a deep space assignment and start looking seriously for a compatible mate.

“You’re still shivering,” Chakotay said, interrupting her thoughts and tightening his hold on her. “I thought you’d be warm by now.” He sat up and looked down at her, his eyes worried. “I’m afraid you are in pain, but refuse to admit it.”

“The shivering is just a nervous reaction to the accident,” she lied, surprised at the emotional timbre to her voice. “I nearly got us killed out there. I’m sorry, Chakotay, for screwing everything up.”

“Nonsense.” He settled back down, tangling their legs together and pulling the blanket up around their shoulders. “This is just another one of those stories we’ll entertain the children with in our old age.”

“I mean it, Chakotay. I’ve ruined everything.”

“The only thing that’s really ruined is the boat. And the dock.”

Reluctantly, she settled into his warmth, keeping her back pressed into his chest. “You saved my life. Again.”

“We saved each other’s lives,” he answered, feeling her relax as they both gradually gave into their exhaustion. “That’s what we do, come to each other’s rescue.”

The storm continued unabated, beating against the snug cabin and reminding them of how good it was to be alive and safe. With a sigh, she drifted off to sleep, her head nestled on his shoulder and her arm over his as he embraced her.

Chakotay watched the fire, remembering all the times he’d dreamed of the two of them sharing days like this, dreamed of holding Kathryn safe in his arms as the angry forces of the universe struggled and failed to harm her. At times like this, when he was so aware of the bond he felt for her, he felt even more guilty for marrying Seven of Nine. As difficult as his marriage was, it was tolerable as long as he could work and spend time with Kathryn. His greatest fear was that she would take a deep space assignment and deprive him of her constant friendship.

He closed his eyes, sliding down against her sleeping form as fatigue hit him. It had been a long day full of impossible circumstances, and he soon fell asleep, his cheek resting against her damp hair.

Neither of them thought of contacting Seven of Nine to let her know that they were all right. Neither of them thought about the fact that she might be worried for their safety and anxious to make sure they were unharmed. In their minds, Seven of Nine was gone, on her way to Jupiter Station and the cybernetic conference.

For that oversight, they would be cruelly punished.