Lay Your Burden Down
Summary: At the end of the day, some truths can’t be denied any longer.
Characters: Janeway, Admiral Janeway, Chakotay
Codes: Janeway & Janeway, Janeway/Chakotay, Chakotay/Seven
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for #fictober2018 Day 31 prompt: “I’ve waited so long for this.” Episode addition to Endgame.
“Set a course for home.”
Staring through the viewscreen at the blue-green world that fills her vision, a multitude of Starfleet vessels forming an honour escort behind Voyager, Kathryn Janeway blinks to clear the blur from her eyes. This is not a sight she wants clouded by tears.
But she blinks, and blinks again, and her throat grows tight and aching, so before she can completely disgrace herself she chokes out, “Commander, you have the bridge,” and makes for the sanctuary of her ready room.
The view from here is every bit as beautiful. Unsteadily, she makes her way to the upper level and gazes out at Earth, hardly able to believe it’s not another illusion.
They’re home. They’re safe. And now their lives can begin.
She sinks to her knees on the long couch below the viewport, fingers clutching the cushioned back of it. Her hands are shaking, she realises. She thinks of the baby’s cry over the comm, the stunned pride in Owen Paris’ eyes, Harry Kim’s palpable joy as he stood proudly behind his post at Ops, and gasps out a laugh.
She thinks of Chakotay’s hand curled around Seven of Nine’s, and the empty chair beside her on the bridge.
I’ve waited so long … for this?
A beep. Message for Captain Janeway, the computer announces.
“Hold all messages until further notice,” Kathryn rasps. Surely Starfleet can give her a few minutes. Just a few minutes…
Message for Captain Janeway, repeats the computer. Priority one. Voiceprint and command code activation only.
“Damn it,” she swears, pushing to her feet and stomping down to activate the console on her desk. “Fine. Computer, play message. Activation code Janeway pi-one-one-zero.”
The admiral who appears on the computer screen is not Paris or Hayes or any of the faces she’d expect to see.
Hello, Captain, husks the all-too-familiar voice that is accompanied by an all-too-familiar quirk of the mouth. If you’re watching this message, it means our mission succeeded and Voyager is currently within one light year of Earth.
The captain swears under her breath.
It also means I’m dead, so I have nothing to lose by telling you a few things I refused to let slip when I was on board. Brace yourself, Kathryn.
Admiral Janeway’s smirk fades.
I’ve waited so long for this.
It’s only after Chakotay’s third chime that her ready room door finally slides open.
“Captain,” he grins as he strides in, “I was almost ready to call for a medical alert. Are you –”
He stops, words dying away as he takes in her white-faced, dazed expression.
“Kathryn, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t tell you,” she mumbles. “Temporal prime directive.”
“The admiral?” At her nod, Chakotay feels his face harden. “I’d say she already smashed it to pieces, wouldn’t you?”
Her bitter laugh surprises him.
“Kathryn,” he frowns, “talk to me.”
“Are you sure you want to hear it?” She meets his gaze steadily. “You might be sorry.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
She nods, turning her monitor, and he walks over to rest a hip against her desk. On screen, Admiral Janeway’s image gazes out at him. Her expression appears serene but her eyes make him ache.
“Computer, replay message, authorisation Janeway pi-one-one-zero.”
He can feel Kathryn’s gaze on him as the playback begins. Can feel the blood draining from his face, his pulse echoing in unsteady throbs as the admiral’s husky, cracked drawl reaches into his chest and tears a new hole in his heart with each damning sentence.
… You already know about Tuvok, of course. And you know that in my timeline, Seven died twenty years ago and Chakotay never recovered from it. What you don’t know is why.
The admiral’s composure falters for the first time.
Seven couldn’t have children, she explains. Just one more thing the Borg stole from her. She had Icheb, of course, but he outgrew the need for mothering so quickly, and Naomi already had a mother. She missed having children around, I suppose. And Chakotay …
She presses her lips together.
Chakotay always wanted children. I suppose you know that. He was very close to B'Elanna, of course, and he was Miral’s favourite babysitter. So when B'Elanna went into labour with her second child, he and Seven volunteered to take care of Miral until after her little sister was born.
The words are coming more stiltedly now.
I gave them permission to take her out on the Delta Flyer. A routine survey mission. Miral was almost three … She loved flying as much as her father does.
The admiral glances down at her hands and Chakotay notices they are trembling. So are his own, he realises absently, tightening them into fists.
There was a malfunction, a fracture in the warp core housing. Chakotay was forced into an emergency landing … Miral died on impact. Seven was critically injured. If there hadn’t been atmospheric interference… If I’d realised sooner that the Flyer was in trouble… By the time Voyager beamed them back, it was too late. Seven died in Chakotay’s arms, and Tom and B'Elanna lost their first child as their second was being born. That child, Krelik, grew up knowing her birthday was also the worst day of her parents’ lives. Can you imagine, Kathryn? It’s no wonder she helped me obtain the temporal device I used to get here.
Nausea rises in Chakotay’s throat.
Chakotay never got over the guilt. He blamed himself for piloting the shuttle, even though the accident was not his fault. He blamed me for approving it. He blamed fate, the gods, the universe for taking everything he loved from him. After everything else he’d lost, it was the final blow.
Her voice, which quieted during the telling of the tale, grows harsh again.
Now do you understand why I changed history, Kathryn? My timeline is an abomination. And I never got the chance to tell Chakotay –
She cuts herself off, leaning in close, and Chakotay shifts as though she’s right there in front of him, in the flesh.
I’m giving you a chance at the life you’ve spent seven years hoping for, Kathryn. It’s your time now. Don’t fuck it up.
Suddenly, she breaks into a grin.
You have no idea what a relief it is to get that off my chest. Janeway out.
The screen goes black.
In the silence of her ready room, she watches him turn from the monitor to stare at her. She swallows.
“Say something.” She can’t catch her breath; her stomach knots tight.
He watches her carefully. Then he opens his mouth, and –
Bridge to Captain Janeway.
Chakotay hisses through his teeth, and Kathryn turns away, clenching her fists. “Go ahead, Tuvok,” she forces out.
Captain, we are being hailed by Starfleet Command. They are requesting to speak with you immediately.
Kathryn closes her eyes, silently counting to five. “Tell them I’ll be with them in a minute.”
I have been doing so for ten, Captain. They are insistent.
“Understood,” she says, defeated, and cuts the transmission.
She makes herself meet Chakotay’s gaze, realising it hasn’t wavered from her. He looks winded, a toy with the stuffing knocked out, but the dazed look he’d worn while watching the admiral’s speech is gone. His eyes are steady on hers as he steps out of her path.
“I guess we’d better get out there.” He even manages a crooked smile. “Starfleet waits for no conquering hero.”
And in that instant she knows, deep in her bones, that her elder duplicate is right. As impossible as it seems, now is their time.
“Fuck Starfleet,” she says firmly. “There’s something I need to tell you first.”
His eyes go wide.
“This is unfair in the extreme,” she begins, “and it’s probably far, far too late. And I’m risking what’s left of our friendship simply by saying it … but if you have any feelings left for me at all, Chakotay …”
She pauses, stepping up close and reaching for his hand, making sure he knows exactly what kind of feelings she means. His lips part in shock as she curls her fingers around his.
“I know about you and Seven,” she confesses. “And I don’t want to screw things up for you – either of you – but if there’s still a chance …”
“A chance?” he repeats when she falls silent. His voice is hushed, rough, as though he’s holding his breath.
“I’ve waited so long for this,” she rushes on, grasping the last of her courage before it deserts her. “I love you.”
She searches his face for some kind of sign, however small, that she isn’t shredding the last frayed remnants of what could have been – what still is, and always will be – the love of her life.
And then she sees it: a softening in his dark eyes, and the faintest appearance of dimples at the corners of his mouth.
“You picked a great time to tell me, Kathryn,” he says, and the words seem harsh but his voice is raw, swollen with years’ worth of patience and devotion and suppressed desire.
A laugh bubbles up in her – lightness and joy and relief and hope, that beautiful element she’s kept shut in a padlocked box for so long – and she turns her hand to fit her fingers into the spaces between his, pressing their palms together.
“My timing has always been terrible,” she agrees, “but I’ve loved you for so long, Chakotay, and now that we’re home –”
His smile widens, and she loses both words and breath in allowing herself just to look at it openly, without hiding. To look at him.
The freedom of it is indescribable.
“Now that we’re home,” she continues after a moment, shaky with the beginnings of tears, “I was hoping you might be free for dinner –”
She never finishes her sentence, and Starfleet Command is forced to be patient for a little while longer.