... and never again
Summary: “This is not the way he thought he’d go out: as a martyr, an honourable sacrifice. A life mourned and a death celebrated. Offering himself up for the good of his crew. He’s just never considered himself that noble.”
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
He’s never banked on a hero’s death. If ever he let himself think about it, he has always pictured an end that is small and grim and ignominious. Soaked in mud, on some nameless ball of earth, fighting some pointless war.
Or, if he’s lucky, a death unremarkable. Alone in a bed, wasting away from age or disease.
This is not the way he thought he’d go out: as a martyr, an honourable sacrifice. A life mourned and a death celebrated. Offering himself up for the good of his crew.
He’s just never considered himself that noble.
Nonetheless, here they are, his crew. Her crew. Bleak-eyed and uniformed, lined up along the bulkheads like so many prisoners, waiting their turn for the firing squad. Ironic, really, that he’s the one who’s walking toward his demise.
There must be less than a skeleton crew on duty, he thinks, as he trudges along the corridor, solemn stares catching and plucking at him like thorns. Like tiny lead weights, slowing him down, dragging him under.
He comes to the end of the line. The shuttle bay doors slide open, and Chakotay hesitates on the threshold. Pauses – he tells himself – not to squeeze the last few moments out of his life, but to give her one final chance to show up. To rush along the corridor, tears streaming, breath hitching, and throw herself into his arms. To be here for him.
Soft sobbing behind him, and he thinks Kathryn, and despite himself he hopes. He turns, but she isn’t here; it’s one of the Delaneys, head buried in her sister’s neck. Of course it isn’t her. Kathryn would never have let them see her crumble.
At the end of it – this life, this odyssey, this day – he is alone after all.
The doors close behind him, and Chakotay climbs into the shuttle and lays in a course toward the prescribed coordinates. When he contacts the bridge to request clearance to depart, the captain is the one who responds. Who grants him permission to leave forever. Who gives the final order.
Maybe this is the way it was always going to be.
He thinks about the first time she came to him. He’d had no inkling that she was going to change her mind, to give in to him. None at all. He had been slow to understand and slow to believe. He’d even tried to turn her down. Not simply because he feared she’d regret it the next morning, that he’d open his arms and his heart to her only to bleed out when she danced away, but because that was how she’d described her decision: giving in. Capitulating. As though he’d worn her down.
He never wanted the last hard shreds of her; he never wanted her exhausted and hesitant and justifying it as the path of least resistance. He’d wanted her on equal terms –
Did I, really? he wonders now, his fingers caressing the helm controls in the same way they’d caressed her body mere hours ago. Or was it always going to end with one of us winning, and the other giving in?
No matter. They’ve been happy, these past months; he’s been happier than he ever imagined. Neither the beginning nor the end of it can tarnish that.
And if he’s honest, he always knew this day might come.
He launches the shuttle and cuts communication with Voyager for the last time. He executes his mission, goes through the motions exactly as he’s committed them to memory. And, grimly, unremarkably, he faces the end.
His last thought isn’t of Kathryn, or home, or the crew he’s sacrificing himself to save.
No, his last conscious thought is anger, at everything he’s lost, all the chances he’ll never take, all the joys that have been denied him. Past and future. This day and every other.
Always, and never again.