The Rewards of Utter Failure
For Gilly- The best fiddle tutor I could ever ask for, with love and fiddle disasters always
PG-13/ R for language only
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Star Trek Voyager. The rights to those characters and to the show belong to the creators of the show and Paramount.
Kathryn pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Chakotay was trying his best, she knew, and laughing at him would only increase his frustration level. A level that had been rising steadily since they’d started this project over two hours ago.
When she’d agreed to teach him the basics of painting, she hadn’t realised that, although he was great with a block of wood, he possessed no eye for shape on a canvas. His painting of a starship had turned out looking more like a snowman than anything else.
Although, that wasn’t quite fair. He’d managed to capture her quite well. In his painting she was a stick figure with long hair and he seemed quite proud of his ability to capture her full mane, as he called it. She’d blushed at his compliment and tried to praise him as best she could for his effort, if not for his artistic technique.
Now, however, he was starting to see through her words as she praised his artistic rendition of the ready room. Three blobs and a dot …? She knew that she had to tell him the truth, but was trying to think of a tactful way of finally giving him an honest appraisal of his painting skills, when he forcefully flopped back in his chair. As he did so, he knocked the canvas forward onto his chest and the paint jars next to him onto his lap. The paint splattered everywhere covering him and splashing up to dot Kathryn’s face. She’d been too busy admiring his latest masterpiece, to move out from behind him in time.
“Ahhhh! Fuck ” he exclaimed. “So much for my warrior like prowess. I can’t even draw a simple shape, Kathryn and now, I’m covered in the instrument of my failure! I give up.”
“It’s not like you to give up this easily.” Kathryn said, trying to suppress yet another smile.
“I wasn’t trained for this, Kathryn. I’m a skilled tactician and an okay pilot…”
He ignored her smirk and continued. “But I just can’t draw for anything in the world and I’m through trying.” He stood up, forgetting that the painting was still glued to his chest and as he did so, it slid all the way down his front covering the remaining inches of his uniform. “And you can take that smirk off your face.” he said as he looked up and caught her mouth twitching and her eyes twinkling. “I’m done. You may be the world’s greatest painter and Captain, but I’m not Commander Picasso and I’m not pretending that I am, just for your sake.”
“Chakotay.” she said quietly, “I never meant for you to feel that you had to compete with me.” She was starting to realize that this was much more than a friendly diversion.
“I know you didn’t, Kathryn.” He said, sighing and trying to look away from her as he caught the flash of hurt on her face. “But I just wanted to prove to you that I could do everything as well as you could. You know, sometimes it gets to a man’s ego when a woman is better than him at everything.”
“Haven’t you figured it out by now?” She said, trying to lighten the mood. “Women are always better at everything. We’re made that way.”
He smirked, appreciating Kathryn’s understanding that humour was needed to break the tension and felt foolish for having such a sense of pride. The only things it had gotten him were covered in paint and a hurt Kathryn. He sighed again. “Maybe I should just go,.” He said after a moment.
“Go?” She said smiling but with a touch of surprise and displeasure in her voice. “You can’t go out into that corridor like that. Look at yourself. You look like confetti exploded all over you and stayed there.’
“What an inspired description, Kathryn.” He grumbled. “I’m grateful that you take such delight in my misfortune.”
“You’re right, I do. After all it’s about time that I found out that you can’t do something. After all the hours you’ve spent laughing at me over my charred replicator remains, it’s only fair that I get to laugh over your inabilities once in a while.”
“I guess you have me there, Kathryn.” He said, giving her a grin wide enough to showcase his dimples.
Her heart melted and she thought fast, trying to figure out a way to keep him from having to face further embarrassment. She did understand that he was a man with a great amount of pride. He was humble about it in most circumstances, but she didn’t want to force him to endure any more humiliation than he had already. Least of all when there were others present.
“Why don’t you have a cup of tea with me while we replicate a new uniform and then you can change in my bathroom when it’s ready? No one will ever know the difference and we can keep this little disaster to ourselves.”
He smiled gratefully knowing that she knew they would have to use her rations. His replicator rations were scarce these days. Her birthday was coming up and there was a tacit understanding that he was saving his rations for her present and celebration. He knew that she didn’t quite agree with the extravagance but was pleased that she wasn’t going to make him feel more uncomfortable by asking him to reveal his plans for her birthday by forcing him to replicate a uniform.
He was further comforted by the fact that she didn’t seem too worried about the fact that his refusal to give away precious rations would now mean no coffee for several days, even weeks.
They hadn’t had a chance, recently, to stop at a friendly planet. The last aliens that they’d tried to trade with had nearly blown the ship up when they’d broken some kind of vague protocol that hadn’t been in the legal briefing that Tuvok had slaved over. The Vulcan had, by Vulcan standards, felt bad for days afterwards. But guilt aside, no one could have imagined that it would be their last opportunity to take on supplies for weeks. They were all getting worried and Chakotay knew that Kathryn was more worried than anyone else.
He also knew that she still thought it was her fault for stranding them in the quadrant in the first place. So, on days like this, some small part of him felt good that he could make her smile through his misfortune. Plus, it gave him a chance to spend a few more minutes with her, something he cherished any chance he got. “Thank you, Kathryn. I’ll take you up on the tea and the new uniform if you don’t mind.”
“I said I didn’t…” she responded, winking. “did I not? Now sit your butt on the couch and don’t touch the paint. You’ve had enough painting accidents for one day.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.” He said, dutifully seating himself. She returned with his tea moments later and he took it, silently nodding his thanks.
As Chakotay sat sipping his tea, Kathryn made her way to the replicator once more, all the while thinking about how, exactly, she was going to explain this to B’Elanna.
If the chief engineer became curious and decided to check the replicator logs for that week it would take some doing and the way the day was going, Kathryn thought, there was a good chance that B’Elanna might get the itch to do just that.
Getting to the replicator, she pulled up the clothing menu and then spoke sternly to the machine. “One uniform, specification Chakotay, authorization Janeway beta pi
“Unable to comply.” The replicator responded.
“Unable to comply?” she repeated, incredulously.
“Affirmative. Unable to comply.”
Kathryn huffed out a breath and debated swearing before demanding. “Why is this replicator unable to comply?”
The computer responded with its usual aplomb as it reported. “Replicators are malfunctioning.”
“What’s causing this malfunction?” Janeway asked, clearly wishing she could stitch the uniform together herself, for all the trouble she was going through.
“A massive power failure in coupling five four seven of bio-neural gel pack eight four.”
“So all one needs to do is replace a gel pack? Correct?”
“Negative. The malfunctioning gel pack circuitry has infected all those around the ship.”
“Does that effectively mean that the bio-neural gel packs will be ineffective for the rest of the journey?”
Kathryn knew that the computer probably couldn’t answer that question and so she was surprised when the computer said. “Negative, it is a temporary malfunction that can be augmented through code beta seven in the engineering sequencer manual. Contact chief engineer B’Elanna Torres for further information.”
Kathryn sighed once more and turned to face Chakotay who was now sporting an expression similar to the one she’d been wearing when he’d spilled the paint all over himself.
“Well, Chakotay” she said. “You told me once that all we needed was a major incident and we could start that betting pool all over again.”
Chakotay tried to smile at her half hearted attempted at a joke, but some part of his heart stung at her mention of the betting pool that had ceased the night of his first date with Seven
Kathryn for her part, tried to smile at her own joke, but found herself reacting much like Chakotay. Neither one of them knew how to feel about the fact that the crew had taken to Chakotay’s coupling with Seven so easily. True, there had been those who were disappointed and even angry about the union, but none of them had found it distasteful enough to come seek out either one of them about it personally or professionally. Even B’Elanna and Tom had left well enough alone and neither of the commanding officers were sure they liked what that meant. The crew had held such hope, in the early years that they would get together to form more than an effective leadership team, but that hope was now waning.
She felt a tear prick at the corner of her eye and coughed and bent her head in an attempt to hide it as it rolled down her cheek. If he saw the tear, he would undoubtedly question her about it. He was good like that - so patient, so kind, so gentle. It was not often that someone could have such an unfortunate day and still be laughing. But she had no doubt that when she lifted her head he would be smiling at her, dimples and all, ready to tackle the solution with as much assurance as he possibly could and she loved him all the more for it. Yes, she still loved him. That was clear.
Even after all these years of pushing her emotions away, she would be a fool not to acknowledge that his exploration with Seven had cut her deeply. She knew that part of the reason a tear had strolled down her cheek was because he didn’t feel the same way about her anymore. His romance with Seven was over, but there was no way she would subject herself to the humiliation of telling him how deeply her feelings went. Not after seven years of flirtation curbed by reserve and walls. She couldn’t risk the embarrassment that would come when he invariably told her that he no longer had those feelings. And so, she would make sure they spent the rest of the afternoon just as they’d spent the morning, having a good time while figuring out the ‘catastrophic’ problem of how to get him back to his quarters when the replicators weren’t working and when a site to site transport would use more resources than they could spare.
Another tear slid unbidden down her cheek. Damn.
She had to get her emotions under control and she had to get them under control now. It would do no good for her to raise her weepy eyes to Chakotay. She would never get away with being this emotional in front of him without an explanation and she wasn’t in the mood for that now.
Chakotay, for his part, had seen the tear roll down Kathryn’s cheek and was sorrowed to realize that it tore at him just as much as it would have five years ago when they’d come back from New Earth.
He sighed inwardly. He’d been sure what they might have felt for each other was long gone. Throughout his dalliance with Seven, Kathryn had been an unflagging support. A little distant yes, but always there when one of them needed advice, which was especially good for Seven and he’d thought that their relationship had settled into a comfortable friendship with none of those annoying feelings on his end, getting in the way.
Now he was concerned by the tear, and he wanted to ask her what was wrong, but figured that if he wanted to keep his rank bar, he should leave well enough alone and concentrate of trying to figure out a way of getting himself out of her quarters without embarrassing himself, or his captain and friend, in the process.
A moment more passed before she raised her head. Chakotay was interested to see that the one tear he’d seen fall, had left a wet track on her cheek, and she’d made no effort to brush it away.
That was unlike Kathryn, but again he reminded himself that he wasn’t going to push the issue and so said, in as light a tone as he could muster. “What are we going to do about this, Kathryn? Neither one of us can go outside your quarters looking like we do; otherwise the crew will really start to question the sanity of the command team.”
Both of them laughed softly at his joke but neither of them really felt the fun in it and both knew there were some serious underlying issues that would probably ruin the light mood of the afternoon permanently. But each was trying valiantly to salvage what they could of it.
Now it was Kathryn’s turn “I don’t know what we’re going to do, Chakotay, but we can always do it together, right? After all, the insane command team that goes crazy together stays together.” Chakotay tried to manage a chuckle at this but knew he was failing when she fell silent for a moment and then spoke hastily. “I’ll call B’Elanna and see what’s going on. You just sit right there.”
“I’m not moving a muscle, Kathryn.” Chakotay replied, still trying desperately to regain the sense of ease that they’d enjoyed earlier. Several minutes, a dozen Klingon curses and unprofessional phrases in Starfleet standard later, Kathryn and Chakotay discovered that the replicators, fresheners and transporters would be offline for the rest of the day and throughout the night. This meant that one of them would have to risk a jaunt back to his quarters for one of his other uniforms, despite their current state of dress.
This realisation however, had not kept Kathryn from sitting back down on the couch and staring into nothingness. Chakotay sat beside her still trying piece together the emotions he’d seen wash across the face of the woman, who had been his commanding officer for years.
The room was bathed in uncomfortable silence that both of them wanted to break. In the end Kathryn spoke up. “Chakotay we have do something other than just sit here. The uniform won’t walk here by itself.
Chakotay actually managed a real laugh at this and turned to face her. “I was wondering which one of us would quit stonewalling first. Looks like your impatience won out again, Kathryn.”
She gave him a crooked smile but still seemed lost in thought. When she did speak, her voice was softer than he’d ever heard it.
“Chakotay, what do you think about the fact that the betting pools have stopped and we can spend an afternoon here painting and… not really feel any sort of spark?”
She said the last part as a whisper and he was honestly unsure whether to pretend as if he hadn’t heard it , pass it off as a joke or, as a last resort, answer her seriously.
However, one look at her somber expression and watery eyes told him that he had to be truthful. “I don’t know what to make of it, Kathryn. I always thought you were okay with the way the relationship was going and, to be honest, for a while, I was too. I was comfortable with the fact that you could discuss Seven with me and that you could give her advice, goodness knows that she needed it. But today, seeing you like this, free, laughing, teaching me - the most horrible painter in the universe, how to paint - it made me see you in a way I haven’t in a long time.”
Kathryn stared at him wide eyed before dropping her gaze and whispering. “I felt the same way, Chakotay. I’ve been convinced for about a year now that you weren’t interested in me anymore. I was happy to see you pair off with Seven, although it was a little awkward considering that she is my daughter, in a way.” Kathryn stumbled over the last sentence and Chakotay realized that she’d never really admitted to herself the feelings she had towards Seven.
“It’s all right, Kathryn.” He interrupted, saving her from the embarrassing moment. “I understand and that’s partly why we stopped seeing one another.”
At her intake of breath, he reassured. “No, it wasn’t that she reminded me of you, it was actually because Seven felt as though she was being disloyal to you and I didn’t want to put her in that position. I care about you both too much to do that.”
“Do you, Chakotay. Do you care about me?” She said. “I know we’re friends but our friendship has become so… unemotional….” She said the word as though she could hardly believe that was the only description that she could think of for their relationship. “I was hardly sure that you felt much of anything for me”
“Kathryn, I’ve always cared about you. At different points in my life it’s been as a colleague, as a friend, and then as a soulmate …”
“And now?” She interrupted, self conscious about hearing about how he really felt about her .
“And now, I realize that I think of you...”
“As what, Chakotay?”
“As all of those things. Today reminded me of just how fun it is when you’re around and how much I enjoy spending time with you even when I can’t paint for shit.”
She laughed and he smiled at her, with his dimples and all once more. “What! You thought I didn’t know you were just being kind when I painted some wavy lines and a plus sign and you praised it as an accurate representation of the Arizona Desert and its plant life?”
This sent her into fits of laughter and he joined her, enjoying the easy banter that had replaced their tense conversation of only moments earlier. As they laughed, he looked over at her and saw that she was fully engrossed in her own mirth and had no concept of how beautiful she looked when she was so comfortable with herself. Kathryn, by contrast, was watching him through her tears of laughter and noticed how incredibly handsome he looked and how intently he was watching her.
He truly did understand her and it was nice to know that their friendly affection towards one another hadn’t waned and was surprised to find herself happy that his romantic affections, apparently, hadn’t either. Although this was something she wanted to be sure about before acting on her own feelings.
Seconds later she got the conformation she needed as he reached over and gently tapped her nose, pulling his finger away to reveal a blue splodge of paint that corresponded to the one small spot of blue on the ridge of her nose. “You’re beautiful when you laugh you know.” He said, reverently.
“I am?” Kathryn replied. It was an old pick up line, but she’d never had it used on her and she was thoroughly enjoying it and the seriousness with which he meant it.
“Yes, Kathryn you are beautiful, especially with that dot of paint right there.” He touched the spot again and tickled her, making her move away from his touch.
For a moment, he recoiled thinking that she didn’t want him touching her, but then he smiled realizing that it was the crusty paint that was bothering her, not him. “Here, let me get that for you.” He offered gently. Rising from the couch he made his way to the bathroom, stopping in the mirror to look himself over before grabbing a tissue and wetting it, intending to take it back to Kathryn.
He was, however, startled, to feel her come up behind him and wrap her arms around his waist, placing her head on his back. “Actually, I quite like it there.” He heard her say. “After all, if it wasn’t for the blue dot, I don’t think you would’ve ever touched me.” She was intending it as a joke but he could hear the vulnerability in her voice and he slowly spun around in her embrace to face her.
“Kathryn, I’ve wanted to touch you for seven years and if it took my inability paint to get you in my arms, I’d gladly paint a quadrant full of stick figures and unintelligible shapes just to hold you.”
Kathryn knew that he was trying to be funny and the line was ridiculous but somehow it was perfectly endearing and she felt another tear slide down her cheek. She saw him reach to brush it away before she grabbed his hand and put it around her waist, drawing him closer, and tenderly pressing her lips to his.
Chakotay was shocked still for a moment before regaining his composure enough to return the kiss. He kissed her until she moaned and leaned further into him, trying to encourage him to touch her. When he finally got the hint, Chakotay was stunned as he realized exactly what she wanted him to do, but he complied without hesitation, whispering, I love you, into her hair as he ran his hands slowly and gently down her small frame.
Hours later as she lay beside him in bed, barely awake enough to speak, she whispered to him. “You may not paint well, my love, but those hands do work miracles of other kinds.” His laughter, she imagined, could be heard all way in Engineering where unbeknownst to the happy couple, Be’lanna Torres stood open mouthed over the most recent replicator logs. The old betting pool would be in full swing that night.
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