Tarnish

Say it with me people, J/C angst! Woo! And a Merry Christmas, too.

Rating: PG, but fairly intense.

Disclaimer: I don't own Katie and Chuckles, and in fact, I'm one of the few people who doesn't feel "betrayed" by C/7. I'm not making money off of them either. Thanks to Djinn for the beta, and RR for the grammar help.

abbey@repunk.com


He comes to her quarters for dinner like he has almost every week since their journey began. He is still affected when their hands touch, still surprised by the strength of her fingers. Chakotay only wishes that Captain Janeway would admit that she's changed.

Maybe she doesn't know it herself.

She sits across from him, and jokes about her replicator's latest failures. They laugh. Her eyes are dull; violent and hard. He's seen that look so many times. It shouldn't surprise him that the edge has taken up permanent residence in those eyes, but it still does.

They are quiet. She eats rapidly, and her teeth glint in the cool half-dark. The meat is cooked, false and synthesized, he remembers, and he lets out the breath he's been holding. She tenses, leans forward.

"Chakotay, is something wrong?"

"No Captain...I'm just distracted, that's all."

"Long shift?" She smiles, her eyes are hard in the flickering light.

"Yes," he smiles.

She stands, orders something from the replicator. He can't hear her words. He still hasn't learned how to interpret those things she says soto voce, under her breath almost. He still wishes he could.

She gestures to a couch, and they sit opposite each other with clear drinks. She laughs throatily about Tom Paris's latest mishap. It unnerves him. She gestures to him in a theatrical, craggy voice, with hands that chained Lessing, that dug into his flesh so readily. He hasn't seen her laugh honestly in a long time. That laugh, all of it, is one consuming travesty. He still believes that she will call him to her ready room in the morning, and take him by the shoulders. She will speak of all of the things that hang between them like dusty manacles. They will be pushed away, and she will hold their hands together and hold his eyes steadily. She will laugh cleanly and embrace him, her quarters will stream with light and her body will be warm and small and quick. She will pull away with just a hint of sadness on her face. She will always remember what they cannot have. She will come to him in the morning, and she will be as she once was, he prays. He will still be disappointed when she does not.

"Chakotay?" Her eyes bore into him. They are hard and concerned. She leans over. The uniform covers all of her, almost to the chin. The pips glint hard.

"I'm worried. I'm-" he stops, the breath clogs in his throat, he chokes on the drink and they stand.

"I should go get some sleep. I don't feel very well. Probably tired. Thanks for the dinner, Captain."

She stares at him. He doesn't want to look at her eyes, but he can't look away. She touches her palm to his forehead, and smoothes small tears off of the top of his cheek. He was choking, after all. She puts her hand to his chest and speaks in low tones he can't translate.

He is still shaken by her tenderness. She hugs him, her arms are tight and bony. When she pulls away, her posture is strong.

"Get some rest, Commander." Cool, smooth voice.

His hand on her shoulder travels to the row of pips on her turtleneck. He has always been amazed by the ability of metal to conduct all of heat, all of heat's strength. These pips burn with pain and blood and life.

"I'm worried about you," he says.

"I know we've all been stressed lately, Chakotay. I'm not as much fun as I used to be. I'm sorry about that." She laughs, tightly. "We'll be okay. Next M-Class planet we come to. Shoreleave. You think?"

He is still taken with the softness of her inner wrist, the soft music of a voice he cannot translate. He wonders if he is wrong. For a second, he doubts that she is half animal and half dead.

She turns into the darkness and starts cleaning up the table. Her eyes are dull and cool.

"Goodnight, Commander."

The door closes behind him. He still loves her finality, the briskness of her words. He still loves her heat and pain and tenderness, but he cannot accept the ugly things he sees, he will never have her strength and humanity in that regard. He is not strong enough to transcend ugliness, the ugliness she has been made to captain outside of ever since The Void. He will never succeed in working around personal stains, as she does, usually.

She is a piece of metal, hammered into four solid pips and tarnished with guilt and time. Sometimes she stills heat with passion; during battle, during lonely nocturnal interludes such as these. It is no matter, he has always expected perfection, and her pursuits always involve suffering. The character of old and tarnished metal does not please him.

He is still hypnotized by the low music he cannot translate, the set of her jaw. He still loves the scent of her coffee, the shape of her hand, the dance of her eyebrows. He leans against the bulkhead, assesses his fears. He is not strong enough to love her anymore.

END