Eternal

Summary: “There was time for a final visit with Mark Johnson. Over coffee in a local café they had once frequented, Janeway had expressed her gratitude to him for personally informing Chakotay of her death. Mark had promised that the next time someone told him that Kathryn Janeway was dead, he was going to laugh in his face.” - Kirsten Beyer, Protectors.

 

That wasn’t the entire conversation.

A Christmas gift for @capt-nyc and @jhelenoftrek.

Characters: Janeway, M Johnson

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Johnson

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit. Kirsten Beyer and Pocket Books own the Relaunch novels.

 

Rated T

December, 2381 - The Night Owl

“You look good,” she says, when they’ve settled into the booth that always used to be theirs.

He smiles, a mix of modesty and satisfaction. She’s right; he does look good, and he knows it. While Carla was pregnant he’d gained sympathy pounds, but after Kevin’s birth, after she’d worked hard to lose the baby weight and he was still carrying extra bulk, she chivvied him into joining the tennis club. They play together twice a week and he runs every other day through the hills around their Colorado home.

She, however – Kathryn – she looks better than good. She looks beautiful. Thin-hipped, lightly-tanned, burnished hair curling softly over her shoulders, just enough laugh-lines to make her face interesting. The sharp jawline he once loved to kiss has softened slightly with the years, but her lips retain that lush, cruel twist that used to make him weak.

He can’t tell her that, of course. So he simply replies, “So do you.”

“How are Carla and Kevin?” Her question is polite, abstracted, as she glances around for a server.

“Fine.”

He doesn’t want to talk about his wife.

A waiter appears at their table and they order coffee. Kathryn crosses one slender leg over the other and leans forward, her chin resting on one hand.

“I heard you’ve been offered a visiting professorship on Andoria,” she says. “Quantum determinism and the inflationary multiverse, right?”

He nods. “A colleague and I came up with a new theory to rationalise single wave function and quantum decay with the proven existence of multiple realities.”

“It sounds fascinating,” she says.

He can’t help snorting. “Unless things have radically changed, Kathryn, you still think my theories are a load of crap. You never could abide deterministic superposition as a school of thought.”

She lets her gaze drift downward. “I’ve gained a different perspective lately on the multiverse, and it’s made me reconsider your side of the argument.”

“I wasn’t aware we were still arguing,” he counters.

The server brings coffee, and Kathryn busies herself with pouring it, with bringing the cup to her lips and closing her eyes to inhale the fragrance.

He can’t watch this. Even now, a decade since the last time he watched her make love to her coffee, it packs the same visceral punch. It makes him feel unfaithful, and so he picks up his own cup and accepts the scalding of his tongue as penance.

“Tell me about your new perspective,” he requests, wrestling his fury into the pit of his stomach, where it has lurked since the moment she died, and was reawakened the moment she was born again.

Kathryn draws small patterns on the grained wood of the tabletop, and he watches surreptitiously as she gathers her thoughts. Finally, she looks up and says simply, “My death is a fixed point in time.”

If she’d punched him, it would have shocked him less.

“I’m not supposed to have survived assimilation,” she clarifies. “In every universe, in every reality, every version of me that was still alive died that day. At that very moment when the cube absorbed my consciousness into the Collective, I ceased to exist everywhere.”

“Why?” is all he can manage.

She heaves in a breath. “It’s a long story, but – suffice to say my death was the multiverse trying to right a wrong I caused, or will cause, in a future that will now never come to be. And my life was a gift that I don’t want to waste.”

He watches the myriad emotions that cross her beautiful face. Her eyes, that he’s always thought expressive, are luminous with secrets he can’t help wanting to explore. But therein lies danger of the kind he must resist, and so Mark looks away.

“So what’s the problem?” he asks.

“I suppose … I’m grappling with the meaning of it all. I’ve always believed we choose our own destiny, and yet … it seems my destiny in countless realities was fixed. It’s only by the grace of what some would consider gods that I’m here at all.” She sips contemplatively. “And why me? Why this version of me? I guess I’m having trouble accepting that there’s any kind of logic behind my continued existence. And if it’s not something I can explain, then what is it? A fluke, or a fate that was always meant to be?”

“Maybe it’s not a problem to solve, Kath. It’s not something you can beat into submission with logic or experimentation.  You’re grappling with the meaning of life and existence here. It’s esoteric by its very nature, not concrete.”

“And here I thought you were actually going to be of some help to me,” she grumbles, and grins to show she’s teasing.

He laughs, but it’s bitter and sore and layered with old scar tissue, and her smile fades as she looks at him, really looks at him, for the first time since they sat down.

“You’re angry with me,” she states. “Tell me why.”

Words jumble in his throat and choke him. “You’re asking me – Why the fuck do you think – Jesus, Kathryn –”

He notices her mouth tightening like flint and calms himself with effort.

“I had to bring the news to your lover,” he says, flat with glee at the chance to hurt her. Hurt her back.

And that’s all he says. He doesn’t tell her that he didn’t want to like him, the other man, the one who warms her bed now. The one she so clearly loves more deeply, more completely, than she did him. He doesn’t tell her that he grieved her all over again, only this time it was worse because he had to do it in secret. He doesn’t tell her that he dreamed of her for weeks after her second death, or that he’s dreamed of her every night since her second rebirth. He doesn’t tell her that sometimes, he wishes she would just stay fucking dead.

“I like him,” he says instead. “Chakotay, I mean. He and I … we’ve talked a few times.”

Her eyes sharpen dangerously. “Are you going to tell me what you talked about?”

“No,” he says. Then, each syllable a lash on the bare back of his soul, “He’s good for you. A man of action as well as words. You complement each other.”

“We do,” she agrees. “And I love him very much.”

“Did you love me?” rushes out of him like vomit. “Did you ever? Like that?”

“Of course I did.”

He can’t tell if she’s lying. “I was always too timid for you,” he tries, “too unadventurous.”

He means he wasn’t as brave as a Starfleet captain – as brave as her, as brave as her lover – but that’s not the way she interprets it.

“Not always,” she replies, and the cruel, lascivious twist of her mouth enrages him and makes him hard in equal measure.

He wants to fuck her, and garrotte her, and forget she ever existed.

He wishes he’d been lucky enough to be born into any other universe.

The coffee burns his throat as he gulps it and stands up. “I need to get home,” he says tightly. “To Carla.”

The glance she gives him tells him she knows exactly what he needs.

“I’m sorry, Mark,” she amends. “I never meant to upset you. I just wanted to see you before I go home, too.”

“Home to the stars?” he forces out, knowing she’s shipping out in a couple of days.

“Yes,” she answers, and then she smiles as though she’s holding a secret close to her chest.

And to him, he thinks. He nods, gestures toward the door. He feels numb, scoured, as though half an hour spent in her presence has knocked his own universe out of kilter. They step out into the cold and she turns to him, taking his hand.

“Thank you,” she says simply. “If you hadn’t been there for Chakotay –”

He watches her fingers tighten on his hand.

“I don’t know what he might have done, if he’d found out from someone who wasn’t a friend.”

He shrugs, and uses the movement to ease his hand away from hers, hoping it seems casual, unaffected. He doesn’t want to give her the slightest inkling that her touch still brings him to his knees.

He tries to fool himself into thinking she doesn’t already know that.

“You know, the next time someone tries to tell me you’re dead, I’m going to laugh in his face,” he quips lamely.

“Don’t be so sure of that,” she says, wry smile curling. “Determinism or not, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you can’t predict how your own reality will unfold. Who knows? The multiverse could still find a way to get rid of me.”

He wonders what makes Kathryn Janeway so important to the fabric of the universe that it would tear up its own rules to ensure her complete annihilation, and yet leave this one, single version of her alive, resurrected, reborn. This version that inhabits the universe he lives in. The universe in which he lost her.

But if in this reality he is destined to long for a woman who will never be his, then perhaps he is destined to do so in every universe. There’s some comfort in the validation of his own long-argued theory: that in every strand of possibility there exists an absolute truth, a reality that will, in every branch of the multiverse, come to be. A fixed point of reference, like the death of Kathryn Janeway.

Like his longing for her, which he has come to believe is not a matter of circumstance or will, but a predestined, pre-determined truth. Like losing her.

“The multiverse against Kathryn Janeway?” he says finally, knowing the thick emotion in his voice betrays him. Unable to care. “It doesn’t stand a chance.”

Kathryn wraps the scarf around her neck and smiles at him. It seems for an instant that she’s going to hug him or maybe tiptoe up to press cold lips to his cheek, but instead she pushes the hair from her eyes and steps back.

“Goodbye, Mark,” she says. “I’m glad we had the chance to talk today.”

“Good luck out there, Kath.” He shoves his hands into the pockets of his greatcoat. “And give my regards to Captain Chakotay.”

She gives him a saucy grin, then turns and strides off into the waning light, and Mark watches until she’s out of sight. Then he moves off in the direction of the public transport station, hunching his shoulders against the cold. If he hurries, he'll be able to kiss his son goodnight.

It’s time to go home.