Fragile Things

Summary: An encounter with a quantum rift sends Janeway and Chakotay on a journey through what might have been.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Voyager crew

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount built the amusement park. We just play in it.

 

Notes: All quotes are from Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things story collection, and I’ve borrowed heavily from the TNG episode Parallels.

 

Warning: Dubious consent elements in a couple of chapters.

Rated E

2. Dreams You Can’t Kill - Chakotay (I)

Stardate 51130.5

 

Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.

 

 

“Ah, you’re awake, Commander.”

 

I open one eye, find the Doctor’s tricorder hovering an inch from my face and quickly shut it again. “What happened?”

 

“You suffered a few bumps and bruises, a fractured arm and a concussion, but I’ve repaired your injuries. You’re going to be fine.”

 

“How?” Gingerly, I pull myself upright.

 

“It seems that your shuttle was caught in some kind of tachyon disturbance that caused a system-wide energy cascade. We barely managed to beam you out before the shuttle was destroyed.”

 

“She’s going to kill me,” I mutter, then, “The captain?”

 

“The captain escaped with minor injuries and I released her from sickbay two hours ago. In fact, she should be calling to check on your condition –”

 

~Janeway to Sickbay.~

 

“- right about now,” finishes the Doctor. He taps his commbadge. “Sickbay here, Captain. Commander Chakotay has regained consciousness.”

 

~Acknowledged. I’ll be right there.~

 

In minutes, the captain is striding through the sickbay doors, and I sit up, holding up my hands in penitence. “I know, Captain. I’m banned from piloting shuttles for a month.”

 

She gives me a confused look. “It wasn’t your fault, Commander.” Turning to the Doctor, she asks, “Is he cleared for duty?”

 

“I’d like him to take the rest of the day off,” the EMH objects.

 

“I’m fine, Doctor.” I get to my feet. “Ready for duty, Captain.”

 

She nods, and the EMH sighs noisily as we walk out of sickbay.

 

“I really am sorry about the shuttle, Captain,” I apologise as the turbolift doors slide shut.

 

“Deck one,” she orders, then turns to me, her voice unusually soft. “Stop worrying about the shuttle, Chakotay. I’m just glad you’re all right.”

 

She holds out her hand. Surprised, I automatically take it, and then blink as she winds her fingers into mine and smiles up at me.

 

“Are we still on for dinner tonight?”

 

I don’t remember us arranging dinner, but I’m not about to argue. “Of course. Your quarters or mine?”

 

“Mine. 1930 hours.” She seems to lean in a little closer, her voice lowering. “No uniforms.”

 

The ‘lift stops, and she lets go of my hand, striding onto the bridge, calling for reports.

 

I unglue my feet from the turbolift floor, trying to recall if she has ever suggested civilian wear for our working dinners before. She gives me another warm smile as I take my seat beside her.

 

“I hope you’re feeling brave,” she whispers, leaning over the console toward me. “I thought I’d try replicating one of my mother’s recipes tonight. Of course, who knows what that malevolent toaster in my quarters will do to it.”

 

“It can’t possibly turn out worse than whatever’s on the mess hall menu,” I tease back.

 

She looks surprised. “I thought you enjoyed yesterday’s soup.”

 

“Soup? It was some kind of leola root stew last night, I’m sure. There’s no amount of Talaxian spices can disguise that taste.”

 

“Leola root?” A small furrow appears between her eyes. Eventually she says, “Maybe I’m confusing it with another night.”

 

“Must be.”

 

“Well.” She stands. “The bridge is yours, Commander. I’ll be in my ready room.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

I try not to watch the gentle sway of her hips as she walks away. As always, I fail.

 

And then just as she reaches the ready room door, as though she feels my gaze on her, she tosses me a quick, flirty grin over her shoulder.

 

I’m sure my mouth hangs open in shock for a good few moments, but then I remember Paris is probably taking it all in from the helm, so I settle back into my chair and pull up some reports, trying not to smile.

 

=/\=

“Come in.”

 

I step into Kathryn’s quarters. The lights are low and there are candles and flowers on the table, some kind of bluesy music playing. The smile that hasn’t been far from my face all day reappears.

 

It’s been too long since we dined together in anything other than uniforms and full illumination.

 

“Right on time, Commander,” she says, and then she’s approaching me from the door to her bedroom, wearing a black dress I’ve never seen before. Her hair is down and she’s fiddling with an earring.

 

“Wow,” I blurt before I can stop myself.

 

She comes right up to me and puts one hand on her hip, a pose that emphasises her curves in the floaty black dress. “Well, that’s the reaction every girl hopes for,” she smirks. “Come on, let’s eat while my replicator is still behaving.”

 

I pour wine while Kathryn brings over the plates. “Here goes nothing,” she says, and forks up a mouthful of curry.

 

“It’s good,” I tell her, pretending amazement as I swallow my own forkful.

 

“Oh, don’t worry, Commander. I’m sure I’ll manage to poison you one of these days.”

 

“I can think of worse ways to go.”

 

The easy conversation continues through dinner and afterward we retire to the couch, Kathryn cradling her coffee, me my herbal tea. Then I remember something.

 

“Captain, in the engineering report B’Elanna mentioned –”

 

She raises a hand before I can get any further. “I thought we agreed on no shop talk tonight, Chakotay.”

 

We did?

 

“All right. What would you like to talk about?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me how we’re tracking in Tom’s betting pool?” Her smile curls at one corner.

 

“You know about that?” I stare at her.

 

She laughs. “Not much happens on this ship that gets past me, Chakotay. You should know that by now.”

 

“And you haven’t stripped him of rank?”

 

She shrugs, reaching over to put her coffee down. “There’s nothing wrong with a little harmless fun. And besides,” she takes hold of my hand and I stare down at it, “he’s not exactly wrong, is he?”

 

I have no idea what to say, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead I link my fingers with hers, and she raises our joined hands to her face, leaning her cheek against them.

 

“Well,” she says after a moment, “it’s getting late.”

 

“I should go.” I start to pull my hand from hers, rising, but she holds on and stands with me, walking me to her door.

 

“Good night, Chakotay,” she says, standing very close.

 

I swallow. The way she’s looking at me… “Good night, Kathryn,” I manage.

 

She lets our hands separate and I turn for the door.

 

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

 

It’s the soft, almost sultry tone in her voice that stops me short. I turn back to her.

 

She reaches up on tiptoe, winds her arms around my neck, and pulls me into a kiss.

 

I’m so startled that for a moment I don’t respond. But my body figures it out before my brain does, and my hands circle her waist, my lips parting under her seeking tongue. She sighs a little and melts into me, her fingers curling into my hair. My heart is thudding. My hands are moving, one upward along her spine, one curving over her hip to pull her closer. She pushes a thigh between mine, feels my instant reaction, and shivers a little, then breaks the kiss. I can feel her breath coming fast against my neck.

 

She lowers her heels to the floor and pulls back a little, her hands sliding down to rest on my chest.

 

“Kathryn,” I can’t help whispering.

 

“You should go,” she murmurs, stepping out of my arms, “before neither of us has the will to let you.”

 

Her cheeks are flushed and all I want to do is pull her close again, but I’m conditioned to do her bidding. Not trusting myself to speak, I reach out and trail one finger down the side of her face, revelling in her slight shudder as she briefly closes her eyes. Then, schooling my face in case there are any crewmen in the corridor, I leave her quarters.

 

=/\=

I sleep better that night than I have in a while. I have no idea what caused Kathryn’s astonishing change of heart, but it leaves a smile on my face that lasts until I head to the mess hall for breakfast.

 

“What are you doing here, Chell?”

 

The chubby Bolian gives me an odd look from behind the galley as he slops porridge into my bowl. “Where else would I be, Commander?”

 

“Aren’t you scheduled for maintenance crew?” It’s pretty much a rhetorical question; crew assignments are my responsibility, and I’m positive I had Chell allocated to one of Harry’s teams today.

 

“I am?” Chell falters. “Sorry, sir, I just assumed – I’ll check the rosters as soon as the breakfast shift is over.”

 

“Carry on, then,” I answer, since he seems to be elbow-deep in kitchen duties. I wonder where the hell Neelix is and why he’s letting someone else run his galley.

 

Shrugging, I finish my breakfast quickly and head to the bridge.

 

“Good morning, Commander,” Kathryn says crisply from her chair. “We have a senior staff briefing in five minutes.”

 

“Morning, Captain.” I keep my tone as impersonal as she does, but can’t help smiling at her as I take my seat beside her. She gives me her crooked smile in return, and I could swear I see her cheekbones colour a little.

 

Tuvok enters the bridge and Kathryn stands up. “Now that we’re all here, let’s go to the briefing room. Mr Rollins, you have the bridge.”

 

B’Elanna is already in the briefing room when the rest of us arrive. “Captain,” she starts immediately, “I can’t stress how important it is that we find a source of verterium cortenide as soon as possible. The warp coil casings are starting to degrade. I’ve put Vorik and Nicoletti on it, but so far they haven’t been able to synthesise a suitable replacement alloy.”

 

“What about Seven?” I ask.

 

Kathryn turns to me, brow wrinkling. “Seven what?”

 

“Seven of Nine. She might be able to help.”

 

She stares at me. “That sounds like a Borg designation.”

 

“That’s because it is.” My stomach is starting to feel hollow. What the hell is going on here?

 

“Chakotay, are you feeling all right?”

 

“Of course. I don’t understand. Where is Seven?”

 

I look around the table at all the blank faces. Tuvok speaks up. “Perhaps the commander should go to sickbay.”

 

“I think that might be wise,” Kathryn says, still staring at me.

 

“I’m fine,” I insist, but Kathryn places a hand on my arm. “Go, Chakotay. Have the Doctor check you out.”

 

I want to protest, but instead I nod and head for the turbolift.

 

=/\=

“Hmm,” mumbles the Doctor, studying his monitor. “Interesting.”

 

“Report,” I snap at him.

 

“You’re perfectly healthy, Commander.”

 

“I could have told you that.”

 

“However,” the EMH continues, turning to face me, “you do not appear to belong here.”

 

“Explain.”

 

“Your cellular structure has a different quantum signature to that recorded at your last regular medical examination. I can only include that you are not, in fact, the Commander Chakotay native to this quantum reality.”

 

He taps his commbadge. “Doctor to Captain Janeway. I believe you should come to sickbay at your earliest convenience.”

 

~I’ll be right there. Janeway out.~

 

She strides through the doors a few minutes later, looking every inch the captain. “What’s the situation?”

 

The Doctor repeats his explanation.

 

“Another quantum reality?” She moves up to the side of my biobed, looking at me as though she’s never seen me before. “How could this happen?”

 

“I’m afraid that’s out of my area of expertise, Captain,” the EMH answers. “Although I would speculate it has something to do with the anomaly that caused your shuttle to explode this morning. I am detecting tachyon particles in the commander’s system.”

 

“Janeway to Torres,” she says into her commbadge. “Have you completed your analysis of the anomaly Chakotay and I encountered earlier today?”

 

~Yes, Captain. It appeared to be some kind of quantum rift. It looks like when your shuttle entered it, the basic incompatibility between the shuttle’s warp output and the quantum energy in the rift caused the overload. It’s lucky you were both beamed out just in time.~

 

“Thank you, B’Elanna. Bring your full report to my ready room, please. Janeway out.”

 

She turns back to the two of us, her mouth quirking a little. “Doctor, you should scan me, as well. Just to make sure I’m in the right place.”

 

He opens his tricorder and performs the scan. “You are, indeed, the Captain Janeway from this quantum reality.”

 

“Why did it affect Chakotay and not me, then?”

 

“I wouldn’t care to speculate,” he shrugs.

 

“How do I get back?” I ask abruptly.

 

“We’ll figure it out, Chakotay.” Kathryn gives me her professional smile, then asks the Doctor, “Is he free to go?”

 

“Of course.”

 

I swing my legs down from the biobed and follow Kathryn into the turbolift.

 

“Deck one,” she says absently.

 

She stands on the other side of the turbolift, not looking at me, her gaze on the floor.

 

“Halt turbolift.”

 

I look over at her in surprise. She turns to face me, wariness in her eyes.

 

“So you’re not my Chakotay.”

 

“I guess not,” I admit.

 

It falls into place, suddenly; her flirtatious behaviour, the candles at dinner, the kiss… “Are we,” I hesitate, “are we together in this timeline?”

 

“We’re … getting there.” She blushes a little.

 

A rush of envy for that other, luckier Chakotay punches through me. “How?”

 

“After I nearly died,” she says softly, “we went sailing on the holodeck. You – he – kissed me.” She smiles. “I didn’t react well at first – I avoided him, tried to pretend I didn’t feel…” She breaks off. “Well. I gave him a hard time, for far too long. But then – I’m not sure. I woke up one day, about a month ago, and realised that I was being foolish and cruel, denying the way we both felt. We’ve been taking it very slowly.”

 

Her eyes are soft as she looks at me. I haven’t seen that look in my Kathryn’s eyes for a long time, and I wonder if I’d be seeing it every day if I, like my double, had had the courage to kiss her that night on the holodeck.

 

“What about –” I hesitate to bring it up, but I have to know. “What about Riley Frazier?”

 

“Who?”

 

“You never met her? And her cooperative?”

 

“No. Who is she?”

 

“We ran into her and her companions in the Nekrit Expanse about six months ago. They were Borg who’d been separated from the Collective.”

 

She shakes her head. “We haven’t seen any signs of the Borg since we found that corpse on the Sakari homeworld. When we encountered the Mikhal Travelers they gave us stellar maps that were marked with the known boundaries of Borg space. We plotted a course around it.”

 

“So you haven’t had any contact with Species 8472?”

 

“No…” She hesitates. “I want to know about any potential dangers to my crew, but I have no idea if the temporal prime directive applies in this situation.”

 

“With any luck, you’ll never meet them,” I mutter. “I guess that means Kes is still aboard then? I’d love to see her.”

 

“Kes? The Ocampan girl?” She shakes her head. “She stayed on Neelix’s shuttle after we destroyed the Caretaker’s array. They aren’t part of this crew.”

 

That explains Chell’s mess hall assignment, then. “And Seven of Nine never joined this crew either.”

 

“You said she was a Borg?” Kathryn looks sceptical.

 

“It’s a long story. Suffice to say, she joined my Voyager after you – I mean, my captain - freed her from the Collective. You’ve become quite close in my reality.”

 

“Incredible,” she mutters. “And I thought integrating the Maquis into this crew was a challenge.”

 

“It resolved itself pretty quickly in my version of reality,” I tell her. “After the Seska debacle, everyone pretty much pulled together.”

 

“What Seska debacle?”

 

“The one where she stole technology and sold it to the Kazon, and then she –” I stop. “This didn’t happen in your timeline?”

 

“No.” Her eyes are wide. “Ensign Seska was lost on an away mission early in our first year. She was taken by the Vidiians, along with Lieutenant Ayala and Lieutenant Carey.”

 

“Ayala’s dead?” For some reason it hasn’t occurred to me that this ship might have lost crewmen my Voyager hasn’t. It hits hard, as though I’m just hearing about the death of my universe’s Ayala.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says gently. “I know you were close.”

 

“Are close,” I correct her. “On my Voyager, he’s alive and kicking, as is Joe Carey.”

 

“But not Seska?”

 

“No.” I suppose it doesn’t matter if I tell her, since her Seska is also dead. “Seska turned out to be a Cardassian operative who infiltrated my Maquis cell.”

 

“My God,” she says softly. “I always knew there was something off about her. I just put it down to my own jealousy –” She breaks off, blushing fiercely.

 

“Jealousy?”

 

“You and Seska used to be lovers,” she answers, chin high.

 

“And that made you jealous?”

 

She gives me a mild glare in response.

 

“I wonder if my Kathryn felt the same way,” I murmur.

 

“Chakotay…” Kathryn bites her lip. “I can’t speak for your Kathryn – I don’t know the full scope of the differences between our realities. But if she’s anything like me –”

 

“She’s a lot like you,” I answer softly.

 

“- then I can guarantee you, she was jealous.”

 

I can’t help smiling.

 

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she says tartly, then gives me a narrow look. “You don’t seem sure of her feelings.”

 

“We don’t have the same kind of relationship that you have with him.”

 

“But you’d like to,” she infers.

 

She’s not my Kathryn, I remind myself. It’s not like I’m telling her the things she’s made it clear she doesn’t want to hear.

 

“I would,” I answer. “More than anything.”

 

She hesitates, then winds her fingers into mine. “I know you’re not my Chakotay, and I’m not your Kathryn. But if there’s one thing I am sure of,” she closes her eyes briefly, “it’s that I would have feelings for you in any reality.”

 

“I hope you’re right.” I squeeze her fingers gently, wanting to hold on, knowing I need to let go.

 

“So…” she looks up at me playfully as her hand slides away from mine, “I guess for you, last night was our first kiss?”

 

“Yes.” I tug at my earlobe.

 

“And how did it compare to expectations, Commander?”

 

“Better than my wildest dreams.”

 

She smiles, steps back from me, straightens up. “Now, unless there’s anything else we urgently need to discuss…?”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Computer, resume turbolift,” she says, and moments later we’re back on the bridge.

 

=/\=

B’Elanna and Harry are in engineering taking readings of the rift in hopes of finding a solution to my quantum travelling. Tuvok is studying the logs from Lieutenant Worf’s reality-shifting experience on the Enterprise a few years back. Kathryn pesters them for reports every half hour or so until B’Elanna’s temper gets the better of her, informing the captain tersely that she’ll report when she has new information and not a minute before. Kathryn sighs, shifts in her chair, and finally escapes to her ready room.

 

I give her fifteen minutes, and then I follow her in.

 

It’s no surprise to find her sitting on the couch by the viewport, staring pensively at the starfield outside.

 

“Coffee?” I offer.

 

“No, thanks. I’m trying to cut down.”

 

I can’t help the laugh that escapes me. “I guess that’s one way you differ from my Kathryn, then.”

 

She smiles, a little weakly.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“Chakotay…” She sighs. “Come sit with me.”

 

I sit next to her on the couch and she turns her body to face me. The look on her face is one I’d almost describe as yearning.

 

“You miss him,” I realise.

 

“Yes.” She bites her lip. “It’s so strange. You’re so like him, but – I guess I’ve become used to the way he looks at me.”

 

I wait while she finds the words.

 

“When I decided to accept the way I felt about you – about him,” she corrects, “he stopped hiding, too. I don’t mean we give each other doe-eyes on the bridge – we keep it between us, although I’m sure at least some of the crew has picked up on it. But when we’re alone…” She can’t help smiling. “And now, when I look at you, I see the man I wouldn’t let in for so long I could have lost him. It hurts to be reminded of the pain I caused him. And it hurts to realise that you and she aren’t…”

 

She breaks off again, and I can’t help reaching for her hand.

 

“If we send you back,” she says, “promise me you won’t give up on her.”

 

“I promise,” I assure her. “And you’ll get him back.”

 

“I hope so,” she says, almost to herself.

 

She looks so small and forlorn. I reach out to pull her into my arms.

 

~Captain to the bridge.~

 

I laugh as I release her. “I guess Tuvok’s sense of timing is the same in any reality.”

 

We enter onto a bridge full of tense and solemn faces.

 

“Captain,” Tuvok greets her. “We have detected readings consistent with a Borg transwarp conduit five light years away.”

 

“Red alert,” she snaps instantly, then activates the shipwide comm. “All hands to battle stations.”

 

“I thought you said you’d found a route around their space,” I address her as I take the first officer’s chair.

 

“I thought we had.”

 

“Captain, the conduit is opening,” Tuvok announces. “Three cubes are emerging. We’ve been detected.”

 

“Tom, get us out of here, maximum warp.” The ship is wheeling around before she’s even finished snapping out the order.

 

“One cube is in pursuit,” Paris says. “It’s gaining on us.”

 

“Janeway to engineering. B’Elanna, I need the engines at full capacity for as long as you can hold it.”

 

~Captain, the warp coils are showing signs of instability,~ B’Elanna shouts back over the comm. ~If we don’t reduce speed soon we’ll risk an overload.~

 

“If we don’t outrun the Borg, it won’t matter anyway,” Kathryn says shortly. “Just do the best you can, B’Elanna. Janeway out.”

 

“I’m getting a drag on the warp field.” Paris’ fingers are flying desperately over the conn. “The cube is still gaining. I can’t maintain high warp much longer, Captain.”

 

“How far away are they?” Kathryn asks Tuvok.

 

“They will be in weapons range in less than two minutes,” he answers, his voice grave.

 

“We’re still losing speed,” Paris says desperately.

 

~Engineering to bridge. One warp coil has burnt out. The others are destabilising. Captain, we have to shut down engines or the core will breach.~

 

Kathryn gets to her feet. “Tuvok, keep the shields on a rotating frequency. Arm all photon torpedoes. Tom, drop to impulse and bring us about.”

 

The cube looms in the viewscreen, and I clench my fists on the arms of my chair.

 

We are the Borg, announce a multitude of voices. Lower your shields and prepare to be assimilated.

 

“They’re attempting to lock onto us with a tractor beam,” Harry says, his voice shaking.

 

“Remodulate shields.”

 

“No effect,” Tuvok announces as the ship shudders, trapped. “Shields are down.”

 

“Options?”

 

She looks around, sees the blank and desperate faces, and nods, swallowing hard.

 

“Janeway to all hands,” she says slowly. “We have engaged the Borg. Arm yourselves and prepare for battle. If we don’t make it through this, I want you all to know that you’ve been the finest crew a captain could ever have hoped –”

 

She’s cut off by the materialisation of a dozen Borg on the bridge. Before she can so much as duck, one has her in its grip. I watch in horror as its tubules bite into her neck, my eyes meeting hers as all the fierce and beautiful life drains out of them, as her skin crawls with nanoprobes. I’m opening my mouth to scream when I feel a heavy hand drop on my shoulder.

 

And then something happens. I feel the sting of a Borg transporter beam – far less gentle than Federation – and I watch as the bridge dematerialises around me, and then there’s a wrenching, searing pain and I know nothing at all.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper