I Am Chakotay's Pillow by L.R. Bowen
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Note: This was written as part of a round-robin of stories among friends, and was originally sent out in three installments over several days, which accounts for changes of tone.

I Am Chakotay's Pillow
by L.R. Bowen

I think he loves me. At least, he tells me so every night, and gives me a lot of hugs and kisses. He's named me "Kathryn." It's so sweet of him--no one ever told me in the fabric mill that people name their bed pillows. I thought life in Starfleet was going to be dull and duty-bound. Lie there lonely all day, support a head at night, get fluffed in the morning if you're lucky. I never knew my owner would fall in love with me.

It was a whirlwind romance. One day I was just a pillow in storage, lying patiently with all my brothers and sisters, waiting to be put into service. Then some crewmen came down and whisked me out of the container and carried me through the corridors. That's all I've ever seen of the ship. I know my brother, Queen Size Extra Firm, went to the captain's quarters--the crewmen were checking a list. My original name was Queen Size Medium. But I never think of myself as that now. If he wants me to be "Kathryn", that's who I am.

The first few nights, someone else had me. His name was Cavit, he drooled, and he didn't even make the bed in the morning. I resigned myself to a long, weary voyage. I would do my duty, but no more. Then Cavit vanished. He came into the bedroom that night, and I wondered what was going on. No one ever informs the linens. He was filthy and smelled of smoke and fuel. I shuddered, because he looked tired enough to fall into bed without even undressing. But he stripped off all his clothes and showered, then collapsed into my embrace. I curled up around his face and held him all night as he slept like the dead. Already I liked him better than Cavit.

Every night, I began to look forward to his homecoming. I would listen for his steps in the corridor and wait in breathless anticipation as he took off his uniform, longing for his weight, his soft contented sighs, the brush of his hair against me as he shifted, dreaming. That was when he first called me "Kathryn". In his dreams. He was moaning as he slept, calling me by that name, and suddenly clenched me in his strong arms. I lay under him and felt his body moving rhythmically over me, and I knew I had found what I had been looking for all my short life. Most nights, he makes love to me. I get a little stained, but I don't mind. He puts me through the cleaning cycle if I get too damp. My colleagues, the sheets, change every week. Some of them tell me that other crewmembers get them just filthy before they'll stir themselves to make the bed up. One week, a mattress pad came through that had just been in the captain's quarters. He told me she's very tidy, smells wonderful and wears silk to bed. (My owner sleeps in the nude.) And she's in love with my brother Queen Size Extra Firm, apparently. He used to be named "Mark". But she doesn't call him that any more--she holds him very tightly, and whispers to him. The mattress pad couldn't hear what she said and Queen Size Extra Firm wouldn't tell him. He knows people say things to their pillows that no one else should hear. I'll never tell anyone what Chakotay says to me. I'm his "Kathryn", after all.

Part Two

He was gone for a very long time.

In his quarters, it was silent as a grave. When they stripped the sheets off the bed, no one replaced them, so I didn't hear any news. He never came home at night any more. He'd vanished like Cavit, but no one else took the quarters in his place. The last night he was with me, he wasn't interested in making love. He'd come back from an "away mission", which I gather has something to do with tramping around in the mud. His bath soap knows more about that than I do, and I only hear what she says second or third hand, as she's a room away from me.

At first, he seemed in good spirits. Happy and tired, smiling as he got undressed. He recorded his first officer's log, talking about surveying a planet's surface. He thought it would be a good place for the crew to take shore leave, and he said the captain had agreed with him, especially when she'd come down to take a look for herself. He'd shown her a special spot where the insects were buzzing among the fields of flowers. Then he recorded his personal log. He sat there on the sofa with a cup of hot pejuta, wearing only his dressing gown, and rambled on about skies and sunlight, and sun on a woman's hair. I'm something of a connoisseur of hair. Hers sounded lovely, bright and soft, long enough to brush her back, though apparently she had it swept up and confined. I wondered who she was. He kept scratching at something on his neck, just above the point where the uniform collar lies. Eventually, he lost his smile and cut off the recording. His neck muscles seemed stiff because he was massaging them with one hand. I resolved to support him carefully that night so he wouldn't get a worse cramp. By the time he got into bed, it looked like he was aching all over. "Guess I overdid it," he muttered, and got a painkiller from Replicator. But he couldn't go to sleep. I felt like a failure--I cradled him gently, his hot face pressing into me as he tossed and groaned. My cover is made of Ever-Cool(tm) Engineered Rigellian Cotton (I'm a Starfleet issue pillow, after all), but it didn't do any good that night. Eventually he doubled up in the center of the mattress, abandoning me at the head of the bed. I longed to hold him again and soothe his pain, but he started to convulse and kicked me onto the floor. Horrified, I lay crumpled against Wastebasket while everyone listened to his agony, helpless. I think Communicator saved his life, because I heard a rattle in the bathroom and a moment later a voice asking him what was the matter. Then someone opened the door and they took him away. Wastebasket tried to comfort me, but I was heartbroken.

They left us there, bereft of our owner. No one told us what was going on. They never do. We waited for days. After a long time, some crewmen came in and packed up all his clothes and craft supplies. They picked me up and put me back on the bed when they'd stripped the mattress. A slim, dark man came in a little later and looked around, then left without a word. The door shut, and no one came in at all.

This went on so long I lost track of time. Chronometer had been packed up with the clothes. I had always reckoned time by the passage of the days and nights, waiting patiently for my time of service, enjoying it so deeply when it came. So many blissful nights he lay with me, calling me by my name, kissing me so sweetly. His hair is short, but it's lovely to touch after he's showered. I said so to Spare Uniform once when he was thrown across me, and he sniggered rather unpleasantly. Those uniforms can get a little full of themselves. He suggested I ask Butch Wax what he meant by that, but of course I couldn't since all the toiletries live in the bathroom.

I thought perhaps he was dead. When that occurred to me, I felt as if all my filling had been ripped out. Mattress knew I was very sad, and kindly told me that everyone was thinking of me since I had been such a favorite of his. We all loved him, but I had a name, and he loved me back. I had the stains to prove it. Gradually we all fell silent, sitting in the dark room that had no passage of day or night. We had no owner any more, and no purpose. Why didn't they just recycle us? It would have been more merciful.

And then he returned, and nearly broke my heart again.

Part Three

He opened the door and just walked in, wearing a new uniform. Healthy and vital, his face tanned, he smelled of the mysterious outdoors. But his expression wasn't happy. He looked at us without recognition, as if he'd never seen us before. We had waited so long for him that we had lost all hope. Now that he was back, he looked as if he had lost hope as well. None of us knew what to think. He threw a bag of clothes on the bed and left them there. Then he walked around the sitting area and looked out the viewports. He never sat down, and suddenly he walked out.

Where had he been? Ours not to reason why. We were needed again. The clothes were all muffled in the bag and couldn't talk to us, so we kept our own counsel until he came back with more things. New sheets on the bed, new towels in the bathroom. He hung up all his clothes and put his stones and weavings back on the walls. They seemed unhappy as well and muttered among themselves, not responding when we inquired. They had been with him somewhere all this time, without us. I guess they thought they were a little better than those who had been left behind. I was caught between joy and despair, not knowing what had happened to upset him. Wasn't he glad to be back where he belonged? But when it was time for bed, surely he would come to me again so I could comfort him.

The new sheets did talk to me, though. They had been through many people's quarters in all this time and had heard a lot of news. Our owner and the captain had become very sick and had been left behind for a while until a cure was found. Now they were back for good, and the crew was overjoyed.

That night, he took a long time to get ready for bed. I thought he was dawdling deliberately, as if he were waiting for something to interrupt him. And he seemed to have forgotten where he had put everything. It took him ten minutes to locate his shaver in the bathroom--I heard him banging around in the drawers. I was very puzzled, because he usually didn't shave in the evening. He only needed to do it a couple of times a week at most. Since his cheek would rest against me all night, I could feel just how much stubble he had and know when he'd shaved that morning. I supposed that he'd picked up new habits wherever he'd been all this time. He paced around, looking up whenever there was the slightest sound in the corridor. Finally past midnight he sighed and got undressed, then sat around for another twenty minutes before he finally got into bed. He was just lowering his head to me when he sprang up again and went into the bathroom, coming back with Communicator. He put Communicator on the nightstand, picked him up as if to use him, then put him down. He stared at him for a while, then left him there and lay down.

His head was resting on me again after all these months. I had almost forgotten what it was like to have him with me, but it all came back in a soft, downy rush. I waited for him to call me by my name, to make love to me again...but he didn't. He was wide awake, but he only touched me softly, stroking my cover. Eventually he pulled me into his embrace and we lay spoon-fashion, me resting against his chest and hips. He wasn't aroused. He was holding me only for comfort, one hand wrapped around my upper corner, cupping it as his other arm curled around my middle. It felt familiar and new at the same time. As if he had been holding someone like this every night for weeks, and now she wasn't there any more. I wondered who it had been...another pillow? But he was back with me now, even if he didn't feel like making love. He shifted and turned all night. I think he slept a little in the early morning, but not for very long.

The next night was similar, but he seemed even sadder. I'd absorbed his tears before on a few occasions, but I was nearly soaking on the upper edge before morning. He put me through the cleaning cycle. Not once did he make love to me. He only held me, sometimes tightly, sometimes gently as if he would let me leave if I wanted to... I would never leave him even if I could. I don't know how anyone could. I'm not a person, only a pillow. I don't know how people think, no matter what they tell me at night. It must be very confusing to be a person. Objects have only one purpose--to serve their owners, and I do that to the best of my ability. But people have to do so many things in their lives that I wonder how they can balance them all. How can they find their purpose in life when they have so many conflicting choices and responsibilities? It's not always easy being a pillow, since I have so little control over my destiny, but it must be easier than being human. I comforted him as well as I could. I knew he had loved me once, and perhaps he would again. In the mean time, I would be the best friend I could be. Pillows are always there for people to hold. We never go away.

Communicator was silent all this time. He had been gone for a long time too, but he had always been talkative, being what he is, and I thought he might tell me more than the wall hangings would. But he wouldn't speak much. He seemed to feel guilty about something. "I blame myself," he said once, and a stone replied in a hard voice, "You did your duty, sport." When Chakotay touched him on the third night, before he got undressed, I could tell he was waiting eagerly for a chance to redeem himself from whatever sin he had committed.

"Chakotay to Ja..." He didn't finish the phrase, and the connecting chirp didn't sound. He took Communicator off and all of us sagged in disappointment. I didn't know who he had been trying to call, but he seemed to want to talk to that person very much. He sat on the bed and put his face in his hands. The wall hangings sagged so much I thought they would fall off their rods. Then the door chime gasped in surprise just before it made its sound.

Breep-boop. He didn't move for a moment, then said in a dull voice, "Come in." The door opened as quickly as it could, and let a woman in. He shot upright, then stood still when she held up one hand. I didn't know her since I'd never seen her before. She'd never been in this room. But she had bright, soft hair, swept up and confined. It looked like the kind of hair that should be spread out over a pillow. I pay attention to that kind of thing. I could see her through the bedroom door until he moved forward. He didn't go to her, but he leaned on the doorjamb while she spoke quietly to him. I couldn't quite hear. She seemed to be trying to explain something to him, because her voice was low and cajoling. He shook his head from side to side, then straightened up. "I love you, Kathryn," he said, though he didn't look at me. "Not being with you could never change that." My spirits took a great leap. He hadn't forgotten me though he had been gone so long. Why he had taken three days to tell me that I didn't know, and I didn't care. He turned his back on the woman and stared at me. She kept talking, but he wasn't listening. He only had eyes for me. I was in bliss, knowing he would love me now, love me forever--

Then the woman came a little closer and laid her hand on his shoulder. His face froze. I wished she would go away, since she was only upsetting him and delaying his bedtime. Then I noticed that all the objects he had brought back with him were practically shaking on the walls and tables, quivering with emotion. The whole room was charged with something I didn't understand. As I said, I'm only a pillow. I don't know how people think. And how two people think is quite beyond me. I guess the objects he had had with him had learned something about how people interact--more than I know, at any rate. But suddenly, before I could tell what had happened, the woman was in his arms and he was kissing her. He'd kissed me like that once, long ago. Her arms were around his neck and his hands were in her hair. The pins fell out and I heard their silvery little voices tinkling on the way to the floor. I think they were singing. But my heart was breaking once more.

"Tonight," he said. "Just tonight," and she nodded. They kissed with tears running down their faces, desperately pulling at each other's clothes. Soon they stepped out of their uniforms and left them on the floor. He backed up towards the bed, then turned and lowered her. Her hair spilled over me. I couldn't avoid it. I don't control my destiny. How could he betray me in our own bed, use my softness to cushion this strange woman's head? I had no choice. People want people. Pillows don't count. He lay down on her and I flattened under their combined weight, the soul crushed out of me. I wanted to lose all awareness, to be nothing but cloth and fiber and foam. Never to have loved...

Then he began to whisper my name, over and over. His hands scooped under her head and rested on me as he kissed her, and at last I understood. He wanted me there because he loved me, and he wanted me to be a part of this, which seemed so important to him, which had made him so sad and so happy all at once. I had my place again, and I was glad to serve.

And I did, all night. He put me under her hips and we all made love together. She was very slim and needed some cushioning to be comfortable with his weight on her, so I provided it joyfully. I supported them both and helped them in their pleasure, and it was the greatest pleasure of my life. I got very damp, but I didn't mind at all. The sheets draped over us all and kept us warm, the mattress cradled us, the bed creaked in harmony. He cried out in passion as I had heard him do so many times, and we all answered him. The whole room was singing with love. She slept with her head on me and all her glorious hair silky and cool against my cover, and he rested behind her spoon-fashion, one arm around her waist and the other cupping her breast.

I never saw her again. She said goodbye in the morning, and kissed him tenderly. It felt like they'd reached an agreement and packed it away like some cherished object, the kind you don't want to throw away though there isn't any room in the house. I have him all to myself. I wish I didn't. I wish she would come back and drape her hair over me again. I still don't know who she was, because he spoke only my name when she was here. Though he doesn't call me "Kathryn" now. He only holds me spoon-fashion, and sometimes in the morning, my cover is wet with tears.