Cold

Summary: Secrets are remembered, a deception is revealed, and Kathryn Janeway learns the consequences of sacrifice.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, Kes, Neelix, EMH, Seska, O. Paris, Original Characters, VOY crew

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: Most characters and some dialogue and situations belong to Paramount, with a bit of cherry-picking from Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic. Any dubious science or technobabble is entirely my responsibility.

 

Notes: Book 4 of the Parallels series. Related episodes: Message in a Bottle, Hunters.

 

Warning: Depictions of violence and non-consensual sex, as well as the consensual variety.

Rated M

6. Past Continuous

- April, 2362 -


Kathryn Janeway fastened the pips to her collar and met the eyes of her reflection. She was due on duty in five minutes and knew Commander Marshall had new orders for them, but she couldn’t summon the energy to care very much.

She scowled at the mirror. She’d been snapping at people all month, her ire rising as swiftly and irrationally as the unexpected tears whenever she could snatch some time alone. All month – ever since Chakotay had transferred to the Yamaguchi.

She felt like a piece of her was missing, and she didn’t know if she would ever get it back.

She averted her eyes from her reflection before it could blur behind the hot useless tears again and snatched up a brush, yanking it through her hair. The resultant pain was all the excuse she needed to blink and sniff. Snap out of it, she scolded herself, not for the first time. She threw the brush down, pulled her hair quickly into its customary braid and straightened her spine.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” Marshall greeted her when she entered the astrometrics lab. “We’ll begin our briefing as soon as everyone arrives.”

Janeway glanced around, surprised; it seemed like all the other alpha shift officers were present. She heard the door slide open behind her and Marshall nodded at the new arrival. “Welcome, Lieutenant. Everybody gather round, please.”

Kathryn turned to the door and, to her surprised dismay, came face to face with Lieutenant Justin Tighe. He looked at her briefly and turned his gaze away.

“Our new mission is to study massive compact halo objects in the Arias system,” Marshall informed them. “It will take us two weeks to arrive at the system. I intend to use that time to review our scans of the Mutaras system; they may provide a valuable baseline for comparison. On arrival, Lieutenant Janeway and Ensign Bates will begin an analysis of gravitational variances in the accretion disc and their effect on subspace, while Ensigns Zorok and Greville will concentrate on ways to remodulate the Arias sensor array to produce more accurate scans of the phenomena.” She paused. “I don’t have to remind you all that the Arias system is situated close to the border of the Cardassian Union. There’s no cause for concern, but as a precaution, any away missions to study the MACHOs will be accompanied by a security officer, and the ship will remain at yellow alert as long as any officers are offboard.”

Janeway felt a small stab of anxiety. There had been minimal reported activity from the Federation planets close to Cardassian space lately and the general hope within Starfleet was that the Cardassians were uninterested in expanding their territory, but any time she was told there was no cause for concern, she found herself perversely concerned. She found herself wondering again why the Al-Batani’s scientific missions seemed so frequently to send the ship to potential trouble spots.

On top of that, she had to deal with the presence of Justin Tighe. Despite their parting on cordial terms when he’d left the ship eighteen months ago, she wasn’t looking forward to enduring his silent blue gaze again.

 

=/\=


Although every single time she received one they tore her wounded heart open all over again, Chakotay’s irregular subspace messages remained the highlight of her days. The Yamaguchi was stationed too far away for real-time conversation, a fact which gave her some solace, as she was spared the necessity of putting on a brave face for him.

That was especially fortunate on the day when, a couple of months into their expedition to the Arias system, she received the communication in which he mentioned a security lieutenant he’d been working closely with. Sensing the undercurrent in Chakotay’s tone when he mentioned her, Kathryn looked up the lieutenant’s service record. She was tall and blonde and beautiful and Kathryn wanted to kill her.

Her eyes were still red-rimmed the following morning when she reported to the ready room to give Captain Paris an update on her latest analysis. He listened patiently to her monotonal recitation of her findings, and when she’d concluded her report, he told her to take a seat on the couch by the viewport. She perched nervously on the edge. He offered her coffee, which she declined.

“Lieutenant,” he began, seating himself on the couch opposite. His voice was as gruff as ever, but his eyes radiated compassion. “Katie. This is none of my business, but I promised your father I’d look out for you, so forgive me for trespassing into your personal life. I can see you’ve been upset since Chakotay transferred.”

Kathryn wished the deck plating would open up and swallow her. Family friend or not, words could not do justice to her utter humiliation at realising that the Captain was fully aware she was pining.

“We’ve all been there, Katie,” he said kindly. “When my first love affair ended, I was useless for months. But I got over it, and then I met my wife and wondered what I’d ever seen in the first girl. Besides,” he leaned forward, making sure she was listening, “unfortunately, the life of a Starfleet officer means we’re often away from those we love for extended periods. Sometimes forever. It’s the price we pay for the honour of serving.”

I will not cry, she told herself vehemently. “I understand, Captain, and I apologise if my, uh, state of mind has in any way interfered with the performance of my duties.”

“You’re still as capable as ever, Katie, it’s just that your enthusiasm has been a little dimmed of late. But I’m hoping I can help you reignite it. I’m leading a mission in a few days to remodulate the Arias sensor array, and I’d like you to come along.”

“You’re going on an away mission, sir?”

“It’s not exactly standard protocol, I know. But even captains get cabin fever sometimes. Besides, it’s a simple survey mission, about as easy as they come.” He stood. “Report to Shuttlebay Two at 0800 on Thursday, Lieutenant. Dismissed.”

 

=/\=


So complete was the blackness that for a moment, when she first opened her eyes, she thought she must be still asleep. Then she smelled the dank cold, felt the chill of concrete against her cheek, and her heart lodged in her throat as she began to remember.

The shuttlecraft. Captain Paris at the helm, easing them into orbit of Arias II. The cool voice of Lieutenant Talik, the Vulcan security officer. I’m detecting a vessel on fast approach. It’s a Cardassian cruiser.

The shuttle jolting as they were hit with weapons fire. Shields and weapons are gone. Her own voice, tight with fear. I can’t raise the Al-Batani. Communications must be down. The terror, the regret in Captain Paris’ eyes, turned toward her as the transporter beam pulled them away.

The endless march through dim, cold corridors, her feet barely able to keep up as two Cardassian guards quickstepped her along, holding her by the elbows. Where are you taking us? she’d demanded. We’re Starfleet officers. You’re committing an act of aggression. The silence from the guards. The kick to the small of her back as they reached the cell, sending her sprawling to her knees. The blow to her head.

Then, mercifully, blackness.

Janeway lay still, taking stock of her body. Her lower back ached, but she thought it was probably just bruised. Her head pounded; she raised her hand to her temple and felt blood, both dried and sticky. She swallowed against the nausea in her throat; a mild concussion, most likely. Carefully, she felt the area of ground around her. There was a wall perhaps fifty centimetres to her left, open space to her right. Slowly, pausing often to catch her breath as her head swam with each movement, she pulled herself to her feet. She rested her left hand on the wall and took cautious steps forward, feeling in front of her with her right. She had just reached a perpendicular wall when she heard booted feet approaching, a metal clank, and light fell into her cell.

She turned, her head spinning sickeningly at the motion. “Bring her,” she heard. Hands grasped her upper arms and she was pulled into light, blinking.

“Where are you taking me?”

She was backhanded, hard, across the mouth, her head whipped back on her neck. Gasping, she tried not to retch. When she could speak again, she demanded, “Where are my crewmates?”

One of the guards grabbed her by the throat, fingers digging into the soft skin until she gagged. “Learn more quickly, Starfleet,” he said. His voice was soft, and it frightened her far more than if he’d shouted at her. “You speak when given permission.”

Trembling, she fell silent. They reached a door; one of the guards rapped on it twice and it opened onto a large chamber. She was dragged inside.

Captain Paris and Lieutenant Talik stood against the far wall, flanked by guards. Talik balanced on one leg, the other held slightly off the ground, his ankle clearly broken. One entire side of Paris’ face was a mass of blood and contusions, his right eye hidden in swollen flesh. His undamaged eye stared directly into Janeway’s as she entered. In it she read pain, fear, guilt.

In the centre of the room, a man sat before a desk. “Bring her here,” he addressed her escort, and she was half-pulled, half-shoved to stand in front of him.

“Welcome to Celtris III, my dear,” he addressed her mildly. “What is your name?”

She flicked a glance at the captain and waited for his infinitesimal nod before replying. “Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet service number alpha-three-five-seven-gamma-nine.”

The Cardassian smiled faintly. “I am aware of the Federation’s quaint conventions regarding the information required to be given by a prisoner of war. Unfortunately for you, my dear, Cardassia signed no such convention, and in any case, we are not at war. At least, officially.” He rose from his seat and came around the desk, leaning his hip on it directly in front of her. “Now, tell me again. What is your name?”

“Lieutenant –”

“Your name.” He was suddenly standing, towering over her, all pretense at geniality gone. She swallowed, and cast another glance at Captain Paris.

“Your commanding officer cannot help you now,” the Cardassian said. “You answer only to me. Your name.”

She closed her eyes briefly. “Kathryn.”

“Kathryn.” He leaned back again, smiling. “I am Emet Idan. You and your fellow officers are guests of the Cardassian Union. I trust you will enjoy your stay.”

“What do you want from us?” she managed. Instantly, one of the guards stepped forward and brought the flat of his arm down on the point between her neck and her shoulder. She screamed in agony, dropping to her knees. From the corner of her eye she saw Captain Paris step forward involuntarily, before the guard beside him knocked him to the floor as well.

Idan waited until she’d stopped gasping for breath before he answered. He crouched, raising her chin with one finger, forcing her to meet his eyes. “What I want, my dear,” he said, almost conversationally, “is to know what you and your colleagues here were doing, out in your shuttlecraft, conducting surveillance on a Cardassian asset.”

She blinked at him. “Surveillance? No. We were making adjustments to the sensor array on Arias II. Our mission is to study massive compact halo objects. We’re not here to spy on you.”

Idan stood. “Bring her commander.”

Captain Paris was deposited on the floor in front of her. Idan dug the toe of his boot into his ribcage, twisting it slowly, deeper, until Paris flinched. “Captain Paris,” Idan addressed him. “Am I to understand you brought this young woman on a mission without informing her of its true nature?”

Paris’ voice was hoarse. “We were remodulating the sensor array. Its purpose is purely scientific –” He was cut off by Idan’s boot heel coming down hard on his hand. Janeway heard a sickening crunch. Paris groaned.

“Stop,” she pleaded, then shrank away as Idan’s attention turned back to her. “Kathryn,” he said, and she’d never hated the sound of her own name before, “this man deliberately involved you in a dangerous mission without providing you with any of the tools to survive it. Why are you concerned for his wellbeing?”

“He’s my captain,” she replied. “I’m bound by oath to follow his orders. And you’re wrong.”

“Interesting,” Idan said. “Stand up.”

With difficulty, she got to her feet and stood swaying slightly in front of him. He circled her slowly, then returned to face her. “Do you swear the same fealty to your Vulcan friend over there?”

“Lieutenant Talik is also my superior officer. I follow his orders, yes.”

“And you’re sworn to protect your superior officers, am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“What would you do?”

She stared at him, uncomprehending. “Do?”

“To protect them,” he clarified. “To save their lives.”

“Anything in my power.”

“Anything?” Idan’s stare travelled deliberately over her body, and she suddenly understood. She thought she might be sick. She didn’t answer.

Idan nodded to the guard holding Talik, and Janeway heard a sound she’d never heard before, a mechanical sound cut short by impact with something thick and yielding, and from behind her Talik screamed. Her knees turned to water. She had never heard a Vulcan scream before, and she hoped she never would again. She whipped around to see what they’d done to him, and saw Talik unconscious on the floor with what looked like a laser drill protruding from his shoulderblade. “Oh God,” she whispered, turning back to Idan. “Please, stop this.”

“That, my dear Kathryn,” he replied, “is entirely within your power.”

“Lieutenant.” Captain Paris was trying to push himself upright. “No. That’s an order.”

Idan turned to Paris, and she said quickly, “I’ll do it. What you want. I’ll do it.”

No,” Paris shouted. Idan gestured to the guards. “Take them to the medical section.”

Paris was dragged, struggling and shouting, out of the room, the unconscious Talik following, draped between the shoulders of two guards. The door closed. Two guards remained in the room with Janeway and Idan. She jerked her head toward them. “Why are they here? Are you afraid of me?”

To her surprise, he laughed, then reached out and traced a finger from her cheekbone to her collar. She shuddered. “Undress,” he told her.

She unfastened her uniform jacket and pushed it off her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. She toed off her boots, unfastened her pants, let them drop at her feet. She stood before him in her tank top and underwear. The room was warm, but she had never felt so cold. Idan took her chin in his fingers and turned her face up to his. For a terrible moment she thought he was going to kiss her. Her stomach revolted.

“Lovely,” he said. “Continue.”

She pulled the tank over her head, thumbed the panties down her legs, kicked the pile of clothing away. She willed herself to stop shivering. Inside her, she felt, something pure, something innocent and clean, was dying.

Idan placed his hand on her chest and applied pressure so that she stumbled backward, falling onto the desk. His hand moved slightly upward, fingers wrapping around her throat, his weight leaning onto it, a threat she couldn’t fail to understand. She opened her legs.

He pushed inside her, and it hurt, but the pain was not as bad as she’d been expecting. It’s okay, she told herself, over and over, as Idan thrust and grunted, it’s okay. It’ll be over soon.

 

=/\=


She guessed perhaps three weeks had passed, but she couldn’t be sure. Idan kept her isolated in a room with no natural light, and when he wasn’t there, even though the guards were ever present just outside her door, he drugged her, a light sedative, just enough to keep her in a placid state of twilight. At first she had asked repeatedly to see Captain Paris and Lieutenant Talik. She soon learned that questions only brought her beatings.

She woke to the sound of voices. Idan stood at the door to her cell with a girl of about sixteen, his arm proprietorially draped around her shoulder. His daughter, Janeway comprehended.

“Look, Miyana,” he commanded, gesturing to Janeway.

The young girl’s gaze flickered over her, disinterested, and Janeway thought that perhaps her eyes were even colder than her father’s. “What is it?” the girl asked.

“A former Starfleet officer. My captive.”

“Why is she here?” The girl’s forehead creased. “Prisoners are brought to Level Three. You’ve given her clothing, food. A bed.”

“We have an arrangement.” Idan turned to his daughter, his hands on her shoulders. “I brought you here to remind you, on the eve of your first assignment, that there are ways other than brutality to obtain your objective. This young woman has offered herself to me, in exchange for mercy for her crewmates. I have accepted.”

The girl searched his face, then nodded. “She used the only weapon at her disposal to get what she wanted.”

“You, my daughter, also possess this weapon. Remember that.”

Janeway had followed their conversation with some difficulty. Her brain felt numb from the drugs, but it wasn’t that. It was that she could not conceive of a father who would teach his young daughter that sex was not an act of love, but an instrument of war.

“I feel sorry for you.” She hadn’t even known she was going to speak.

Idan and his daughter turned to her. The young girl regarded her as she might an unpleasant species of insect. “You feel sorry for me?” Before Janeway could answer, the girl turned back to Idan. “Father, please tell me you’re going to kill her soon.”

“That’s not your concern,” Idan replied coldly, and his daughter inclined her head in respect. He placed a hand on the girl’s face. “Complete your mission, Miyana. I have every confidence you will succeed.”

Kathryn watched as the girl smiled and linked her arm through her father’s, drawing him away. Shivering, she lay back down on the bed and huddled under the blanket. Until now, she’d managed to fool herself that some day Idan might let them go. She realised now that he never would, and she wasn’t sure whether to hope that his interest in her would prolong her life, or wish for a quick death.

 

=/\=


She could no longer guess at how long she’d been here, in this room. She ate the food they gave her, removed her clothes and lay back on the bed when Idan arrived, submitted dutifully to sedation when he left, and slept. She remembered a life she’d had before, a life of exploration and friendship and trust and orders and, once, love, but it was so far removed from what she was now, and it hurt to remember, so she tried not to. She remembered that there was a reason she was here, that it had to do with saving lives, people she respected, but she wasn’t even sure the reason mattered anymore. She wasn’t sure anything mattered.

Idan came one night just as she was sitting at the small table to eat the evening meal, and ordered a guard to bring food and wine for himself. He was in a good mood and inclined to talk. He praised the wine, poured her a glass and entreated her to drink it. He told her of his home on Cardassia Prime, the planet’s beauties, the elegance of the Cardassian way of life. He told her stories of his people’s superiority, of victories in battle.

She said nothing.

He grew impatient. He leaned back in his chair and watched her not meeting his eyes.

“There is another story I would like to tell you, Kathryn, a story of relevance to you,” he said, and something in his voice stirred her to pay closer attention. He waited to be sure she was listening before he continued.

“Long ago, in a faraway mountain on Cardassia Prime, there lived a rare and beautiful creature, the muleta, similar to a deer or a gazelle. She had lived alone for centuries, never seeing another of her kind, until one day she miraculously gave birth to three young. She was delirious with joy, and swore to protect them always, with everything in her power.”

He placed a subtle emphasis on the final phrase, and she remembered the day she had agreed to submit to him. I would do anything in my power, she had said. She wondered now why she had ever believed she had any power.

“One day, the muleta returned to her mountain den to find a kracik, a mountain lion, about to discover her three young. She placed herself in front of them to protect them, and she told the kracik that he would not attack them. She offered herself in their place, if he would agree to leave her young in peace.”

Her breath came faster. She could not stop her gaze from fixing on his face. From far away, she imagined she heard a sound, a deep pounding, but she thought it was probably her heart.

“The kracik agreed, and the muleta submitted to his teeth and claws. Her last thought before she died was joy that she had saved her children from the same fate. But no sooner had the kracik devoured her than he crept onward to her den, found her young, and slaughtered them as well.”

Her heart thundered. There was a droning in her ears, a shuddering, but she thought it must be the blood pounding in her veins.

“Your Vulcan friend is dead,” Idan said bluntly. “He died several weeks ago after a neural probe caused significant damage to his cerebral cortex. Your captain, we have taken a little more care with. He still lives, though I am not sure he would, if he had the choice.”

There was a high whining noise, an explosive thump, and the room shuddered. The wine bottle fell off the table and shattered on the floor. Idan jumped to his feet, calling for the guards.

Kathryn Janeway got up from her chair, gathered herself, and leapt at him.

She landed on his chest, her bare feet scrabbling for purchase and finding small toeholds in the fabric of his uniform. She dug her thumbs into his eyes with all her strength. He screamed, staggering backward, arms flailing. One caught her on the side of the head and she slipped, her fingers weakening. She began to fall.

Dust was falling from the ceiling. The walls shook, and the table tilted, catching her legs and knocking her to the ground. Instantly Idan was on her, his knee planted in her stomach, pinning her down. His thumbs pressed into her throat, and she felt something inside give way. The pain was indescribable. She gasped for breath, nausea spinning her head. The pressure deepened and she began to black out, knowing she had barely seconds of life left to her.

No, something inside her whispered, not like this.

Her hands grasped for something, anything, a weapon, and closed on a shard of the broken bottle. The sharp slicing pain to her palm cut through the ringing in her ears, the darkness gathering in her eyes. She tightened her fingers on the shard, and with her last remaining strength, she brought up her arm and buried its jagged point as deeply as she could into Idan’s throat.

She heard a gurgle and his hands unclenched on her neck. Janeway sucked air in greedily, trying to ignore the agony of it, unable to wrench her head aside as a gush of the Cardassian’s blood spurted onto her face. His weight slumped onto her, knocking her breath out of her lungs. She began to feel the emptiness gathering in her head again.

And then the Cardassian’s body was lifted off her and someone was shouting “I’ve got her,” and then, “Lieutenant. Lieutenant Janeway, you’re safe now. Kathryn,” and she managed to open her eyes and found she was looking into the dark-blue gaze of Lieutenant Justin Tighe.

 

=/\=


The doctor told her Idan had fractured her larynx. He had repaired most of the damage, but she would be forever left with some laryngeal scarring. She was not allowed to speak for several days, to allow her injury to heal. She didn’t mind. She wasn’t sure what she would have said, anyway.

Her other physical injuries were relatively superficial and easily mended with the Federation’s advanced medical technology. Captain Paris had come off worse; he would require an extended period of recuperation. The Al-Batani was on its way back to Earth to take him home.

Those first few days in Sickbay, she slept almost constantly, and each time she woke Lieutenant Tighe was by her bedside. She remembered that his eyes used to make her nervous, and found that strange; now, he made her feel safe.

She went to see Captain Paris when the chief medical officer allowed it. He looked nothing like the strong, vital man he had been. She looked into his eyes and saw a reflection of her own. “I’m so sorry, Captain,” she whispered. “I thought …”

He reached for her hand; his own trembled. “You thought the Cardassian would keep his word. It isn’t your fault, Katie.” She saw his eyes fill with tears. “I hope you can forgive me.”

“For what?”

“For what you did to save me.” He closed his eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.”

“If I had to make the same choice again, I would,” she said, realising it was true.

On their return to Earth, she reported to Starfleet Command and was ordered to undergo counselling. She was promoted to full lieutenant, and a commendation entered into her record, although the details of the mission remained, of necessity, classified.

She explained to her parents, her sister, Chakotay, that she had been in an accident and needed a lengthy period of rehabilitation. She took an apartment in San Francisco rather than stay at her family home; she did not want her parents to hear her screaming at night.

Lieutenant Tighe requested a transfer to a tactical teaching position at the Academy. She saw him often. As the weather turned colder, she found that being with him was sometimes the only time she felt warmth. By November, her counsellor had begun to ask if she had thought about returning to active duty. She had. In December, armed with a glowing recommendation from the newly-promoted Admiral Owen Paris, she enrolled in command school.

 

=/\=


- February, 2363 -

After over a year, the Tzenkethi conflict had ended and the ships sent to fight had come home. Lieutenant Commander Chakotay had transferred to the USS Saber in the last half the war; it was the most extended and brutal period of battle many of the younger generation of Starfleet officers had seen, and he, like most, was grateful to be returning from the frontline. A reception had been organised at Starfleet Headquarters, and was in full and raucous swing by the time Chakotay arrived.

He was deep in conversation with an old colleague from the Clement when a hand clamped on his shoulder. “Admiral Paris,” he greeted his former commanding officer. “It’s good to see you, sir. And congratulations on your promotion.”

Paris had aged, he saw; his salt-and-pepper hair was now silver and deep lines were etched in his forehead and around his eyes. Eyes, he saw, that were shadowed, as though he’d been through a long illness.

“Thank you, son,” Paris answered with something that resembled his old grin. “I hear you’re XO on the Saber now. She’s a fine ship.”

“She is.” Chakotay smiled.

“So, have you seen her yet?” the admiral asked.

Chakotay was confused. “Who, sir?”

“Katie Janeway,” Paris answered, as if it should be obvious. “She’s around here somewhere.”

“She’s here?” Somehow, even though Chakotay knew she’d been on Earth for a few months recuperating from an accident, that had not occurred to him. “Is she recovered?”

“Recovered?” Something dark twisted in the admiral’s eyes. “I’m not sure you ever really recover from something like that. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever will. But she’s doing okay.”

Chakotay’s confusion deepened. “You, sir? Were you injured in the same accident?”

Paris stared at him. “Accident? You mean you don’t know what happened?” At Chakotay’s blank look, he sighed. “She didn’t tell you. And I’ve just blundered in and betrayed her confidence.”

Chakotay had had enough. “Permission to speak freely?”

Paris looked resigned, then took him by the elbow and steered him into a quiet corner. “Permission granted, Commander.”

“What the hell are you talking about, sir?”

The admiral sighed again. “Several months ago, I led a mission in the Arias sector. Our shuttle was captured by Cardassian operatives. We were taken to Celtris III, in Cardassian space. Lieutenant Talik was killed soon afterward. Lieutenant Janeway and I were guests of the Cardassians for seven weeks, before we were rescued by Starfleet Rangers.”

Chakotay felt the blood drain from his face. There were stories about what happened to Starfleet officers in Cardassian captivity, stories he now fervently hoped were exaggerated; but looking at Paris, he doubted it. “Seven weeks?”

“It wasn’t a holiday.”

He swallowed. “What happened to Kate?”

“Ah.” Paris shook his head. “No. I’ve intruded enough, son. If you want to know, you’ll have to ask her yourself.”

Another admiral interrupted them soon afterward, and Chakotay made his excuses and began to circle the room. Now that he knew she was here, he had to see her. It wasn’t only what he’d just heard from Owen Paris. The last time he saw Kathryn, she was in his bed, his last night on board the Al-Batani, and although that had been close to a year ago, his memory of it was as fresh as yesterday. Circumstances had dictated that they had to end things at the time, but he wondered if now …

There she was.

“Kate?”

She turned.

Her hair was different; the braid was gone, and she wore it now in some kind of complicated twist at the back of her head. Her uniform was different; Paris had told him she’d switched tracks, and the science-blue had been replaced by the red of command. She was different, too. She had always been fine-boned, but now he thought she verged on too thin; her cheekbones stood out in sharp relief. He looked into her eyes and saw that they were haunted.

“Hello, Chakotay,” she said, and even her voice was different; lower, huskier. Some kind of deep and visceral reaction began to come to life inside him. His skin prickled, his heart sped up. Chakotay had wondered if their old attraction would still be there the next time they saw each other. Now he wondered why he’d ever doubted it. It hit him with the force of a phaser blast.

“You look good in red,” he told her, and he watched her blue-grey eyes spark in reaction to the desire he knew was in his voice. For a long moment there was nobody else, nothing else but the two of them. Then she spoke.

“Thank you,” she said politely, and she reached out a hand – not to him, but to someone who had appeared beside her. “You remember Justin Tighe?”

“Commander,” Tighe nodded, and his arm was around Kathryn’s waist. Chakotay looked at Tighe, back at Janeway. “Lieutenant Tighe,” he replied. His gaze dropped to Kathryn’s hand, linked with Tighe’s. “I see congratulations are in order,” he said, indicating her ring.

He barely heard her reply; he was too occupied with a sudden and overwhelming wave of regret.

 

=/\=


- January, 2364 -

The sky was leaden as Chakotay climbed the steps to her apartment and requested entrance.

“Chakotay,” she said, surprised. “I didn’t know you were back on Earth.”

“The Saber is undergoing a refit,” he answered, as she stepped back to let him in. “I have a few weeks before we ship out again.”

“Wine?” she asked.

“Please.” He watched her as she reached into a cupboard in her tiny kitchen. She wore jeans and a loose-fitting shirt, her hair unbound. “I’m sorry I didn’t call ahead. Am I keeping you from something?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking about dinner. Would you like to join me?”

“Thank you.” Kathryn handed him his glass of wine and he followed her to the couch. She tucked her feet beneath her.

The wine was terrible; he placed his glass unobtrusively on the coffee table and turned toward her. “So tell me what you’re doing these days.”

“I finished command school seven months ago. Since then I’ve been working as adjutant to Admiral Nechayev.”

He smiled. “Tough gig.”

“She’s … formidable,” she conceded finally with an answering smile. “I’m learning a lot.” She sipped at her wine, grimaced, and set her glass next to his on the coffee table. “Although clearly not about wine.”

Chakotay laughed. “Even you have your faults.”

“Oh, I have plenty of those.” The lightness had faded from her voice.

He reached for her hands. “Kate. I’m so sorry about Justin. And your father.”

Her eyes were hollow. “Thank you.” When they’d been killed, she had wondered how much more she could bear, and whether she could even go on. But, six months later, she was still here.

And so was Chakotay. She looked down at their hands, joined, and she wound her fingers into his. A familiar ache began in the pit of her belly, and she closed her eyes against the rush of blood, the sudden singing of her nerves.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered, and she met his gaze, dark and familiar. She drew one of her hands free and traced the lines of his face. Her fingertips rested on his lips for a moment, and then she leaned in, raising her face to his.

As he kissed her, she reminded herself that he was leaving in a few weeks, and in any case everything was different now, and then he tangled his fingers in her hair and traced a path with his mouth down the length of her neck, bit gently at her throat, and she stopped thinking and let herself fall into him.

They spent the next four weeks together, rediscovering each other, body and soul. A few days before the Saber was ready to leave, he asked her if she’d consider coming with him. “In what capacity?” she asked.

“The Saber would be lucky to have an officer of your abilities,” he answered. “I could easily find a post for you in any division.”

“And then what?” She smiled sadly. “We couldn’t continue this … us. You’re the first officer. You know what protocol dictates.”

“Then we could redefine the parameters,” he suggested, and she raised her eyebrows. “You’re suggesting one of us resign our commission?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “Would you?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll –” he began, and she stopped him. “No, Chakotay. This is all you’ve ever wanted.”

“It’s a sacrifice I’d be happy to make.”

“We all make sacrifices,” she answered, and he watched her eyes grow distant and dark at some knowledge, some memory she had kept private despite all his gentle attempts to draw her out. “To go where Starfleet sends us, to do as we’re ordered, to protect …” She stopped. “Sacrifice is easy. The hard part is living with your choice, and its consequences, afterward, if you’re lucky enough to survive.”

She stood, holding herself away from him. “It’s not a choice I’d ask you to make, Chakotay. It’s not a sacrifice I want you to make.”

He tried to argue, knowing he was losing her, but she was resolute, and five days later he shipped out on the Saber and didn’t see her again for almost two years.