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

5. Words That Wound - Janeway (II)
Stardate 51135.9

The view changes from where you are standing. Words can wound, and wounds can heal. All of these things are true.



I wake up in sickbay. Again.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Captain,” the EMH says cheerily. “How do you feel?”

“My head is killing me,” I answer abruptly.

“Hardly surprising. You were unconscious when you materialised in the transporter room. Any idea what happened?”

“Not yet. How long was I out?”

“About half an hour.” He waves his tricorder at me. “You seem to be recovered, at any rate. I’ll give you an analgesic for your headache.”

“Where’s my commbadge?”

The Doctor hands it to me and I activate it. “Janeway to Chakotay.”

~Yes, Captain?~

“Please report to sickbay.”

~On my way.~

The Doctor presses a hypospray to my neck and I sigh in relief as my headache abates. I collect my uniform from the cabinet beside my biobed and slip behind a privacy screen to put it on. I’m buttoned up and ready by the time Chakotay arrives in sickbay.

“Ship’s status, Commander?”

“All systems are at peak efficiency, Captain.”

He stands at ease, hands loosely clasped behind his back, his gaze fixed politely on my face. Something makes me search his eyes.

There’s something … He doesn’t look right. He’s not looking at me like he should.

“Are you all right, Chakotay?”

“Yes, Captain.” Delivered crisply, with the faintest tinge of surprise.

Okay then… “I’d like B’Elanna’s report on the quantum rift as soon as possible. Could you have her bring it to my ready room, please?”

He focuses on me properly. “Captain?”

“And let Tuvok know we’ll need to seal it to prevent further incidents. The Enterprise initiated a broad-spectrum warp field to seal the phenomenon they encountered.”

He doesn’t answer at first, just stares at me. Then he turns to the Doctor, who’s already making his way over to us, tricorder at the ready. They exchange a silent look and the Doctor begins to scan me.

“There’s no evidence of tampering with her memory engrams,” he mutters. “No neural trauma. I can’t explain it, Commander.”

“Explain what?” I demand, but I’m pretty sure I already know.

“Captain.” Chakotay moves a step closer to me, and in his eyes I read confusion and – is that suspicion? “Tuvok was killed two months ago when the holoprogram he designed to train junior security officers malfunctioned. Don’t you remember? Seska had it booby-trapped. She rigged the holodeck grid to overload. Tuvok and Tom were killed in the explosion.”

It hurts. Oh, God, it hurts.

“Doctor.” I keep my voice even. “Please initiate a cellular-level scan. Look for evidence that my quantum signature is inconsistent with this universe.”

“You’re correct, Captain,” the EMH says when he’s finished. “Would you care to fill me in?”

“Let’s save some time. Commander, I’d like you to call a senior staff briefing in thirty minutes.”

“Aye, Captain,” he says immediately, and I watch with no small sense of shock as he simply walks away.

No insistence that I explain my situation right here, right now. No poorly-hidden concern for me. No chaste, soothing touch to my hand or my shoulder – the touch he so often uses to convey that he’s there for me.

This, it’s plain as day, is not my Chakotay.

 

=/\=


They’re already assembled in the conference room when I arrive. Chakotay, B’Elanna, Harry, the Doctor, Seven of Nine… It appears that Lieutenant Rollins has succeeded Tuvok’s position, and Ensign Jenkins is the new chief conn officer. It’s hard to look at them.

“Approximately forty-eight hours ago, I regained consciousness in sickbay,” I begin. “I soon discovered” - not soon enough, my inner voice reminds me, and I’m trying hard not to colour as I remember the events preceding my awareness - “that I’d travelled to an alternate reality as a result of an encounter with a quantum fissure.”

“How?” B’Elanna asks bluntly.

“In my originating universe I was on a mission with Commander Chakotay. Our shuttlecraft entered a quantum rift, and the energy field emitted by the shuttle’s warp engines created a breach that appears to have broken down the barriers between quantum states. As a result, I’ve been shifting between universes. This is the second parallel reality I’ve experienced since I encountered the phenomenon.”

“I heard about something like this during my final year at the Academy,” Harry says, leaning forward enthusiastically. “The Enterprise’s security chief ended up travelling into alternate universes thanks to a similar phenomenon. If I remember right, each shift was triggered by the chief engineer’s visor emitting a subspace field pulse.”

“I believe my quantum shifts are being instigated by the activation of a transporter beam. Both shifts have occurred immediately after I’ve attempted to transport somewhere.” I look at B’Elanna. “In the previous reality I visited, we were attempting to transport me back to my original universe by scanning the rift to find its quantum signature and locking the transport coordinates onto it.”

“Apparently we did not succeed,” Seven interjects.

“No. But it was a good working theory. Seven, B’Elanna, I’d like you to work together on this. See if you can figure out a way to stabilise the transport so that this time I materialise in the right part of the space-time continuum.”

“What about Chakotay?” B’Elanna cuts in. “You said you were in the shuttlecraft together in your original universe. How come he didn’t start reality-shifting with you?”

“Given my current situation,” I pause, “I can’t be sure that he didn’t. The Chakotay from my reality might also be out there somewhere, shifting through different universes.”

It’s a chilling thought, and right now I’m not keen to dwell on it. I push myself to my feet. “Let’s go, people.”

I watch them file out. Seven offers me a brusque nod. B’Elanna and Harry leave together, she already working on a PADD, he with a quick smile in my direction. Jenkins and Rollins all but scurry out after them – clearly they’re still a little intimidated, overwhelmed by their untimely promotions. The Doctor gets in the predictable parting shot about wanting to examine me further, to which I offer the predictable reply.

I hang back, waiting for Chakotay. I expect him to want me to wait, to speak privately; he’ll want to know how I’m coping with this, if there’s anything he can do to help. He’ll move up close to me, search my eyes for the trepidation, the anxiety he knows I won’t admit to. My lips have already turned up at the corners in anticipation.

He barely spares me an acknowledging nod, his gaze passing over me, as he walks out of the conference room without so much as breaking his stride.

 

=/\=


By 0100 I’m so tired I’m thinking in circles, and even B’Elanna is making simple calculation errors. But we’ve made progress, I’m sure of it. We’re working on the idea that we need to somehow reinforce the matter stream if we’re going to keep the transport stable enough to send me to a different universe. So far none of our simulations have been successful, but I still have a few tricks to try. And I’m betting Seven does, as well; she says she has no need to regenerate for the next thirty-six hours, so B’Elanna and I leave her to continue working on it.

I can’t help leaning against the bulkhead as the turbolift takes us up to deck nine, pinching the muscle at the back of my neck where the headache just won’t leave me alone.

“Are you all right, Captain?”

I muster up a smile for her. “I’m fine, Lieutenant. Thank you.”

She nods, facing front again.

Something makes me call, “Halt turbolift.”

B’Elanna gives me an enquiring look.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her softly.

“What for?”

“For Tom.” I let my eyes shift downward so she won’t see the guilt in them. “In my timeline, we found a way to outsmart Seska’s reprogramming, and Tom and Tuvok survived. I’m sorry I didn’t manage it in this one.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Captain,” she says, then, curious, “Why are you apologising to me?”

“In my reality, you two are … close.” I wave a hand.

She raises her eyebrows. “We are?”

“Yes, since Sakari -” I stop, realising she looks blank. “The gallicite caves. Ensign Vorik?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she admits. “Should I ask?”

I hesitate. Telling her would be pointless and cruel, I decide. She might not mourn the loss of Tom Paris the way her counterpart would, but I can mourn him enough for both of us. She doesn’t need to know what might have been.

“Never mind, B’Elanna. Computer, resume ‘lift.”

A few moments later we stop at deck nine and B’Elanna steps out, bidding me goodnight.

“Deck three,” I mumble, barely keeping my eyes open. The ‘lift carries me to the captain’s quarters, and I find my steps dragging as I approach the door. From fatigue, yes, but mostly it’s from the knowledge that I don’t belong here.

Shaking off the listlessness, the despondency that wants to settle over me like a blanket, I key in the entry code and step into my quarters.

“Coffee, black,” I order automatically. Chakotay, if he were here, would be chiding me for injecting more caffeine into my system in the middle of the night. At least, my Chakotay would. I’m not sure this universe’s Chakotay would give a damn.

I wonder what happened between them, this reality’s Janeway and Chakotay. What did she do? Because I’m self-aware enough to know that it must have been down to her. He – if he’s the same man as my Chakotay – would never have instigated the cold war I sense is between them.

And who does she turn to for counsel? My best friend is like a stranger to her. Her oldest friend is dead. Who provides her checks and balances, the logic to her instincts, the vigilance against her recklessness?

God, how I wish Tuvok was here.

Kicking off my boots, I curl up on the sofa below the viewport, hoping the alien stars will calm me, but I can’t stop my thoughts from see-sawing between the polite, professional first officer of this universe and the vibrant man – the lover, the husband – of the previous one. It was a decision of that Captain Janeway’s which gave him permission to be that man. What decision did she make in this reality that turned him into someone I barely recognise?

“Computer, locate Commander Chakotay.”

~Commander Chakotay is in his quarters.~

“Is he awake?”

~Affirmative. Commander Chakotay is awake and active.~

Before I can second-guess myself I’m throwing my uniform jacket on and heading out the door.

I force my fingers not to tremble as I press his door chime for entry.

“Come,” he calls.

I step into familiar quarters, wreathed in semi-darkness. There’s the patterned throw-rug draped over the back of his couch, the sand-painting on the far wall, the small fertility statue he picked up on Briori. He’s burning a Vulcan meditation candle on the coffee table, and I wonder if it’s his way of paying homage to Tuvok.

My gaze settles on the man I’ve come to see as he rises from the couch. He remains in place, not stepping closer. His face is in shadows.

I open my mouth to speak, to apologise for coming so late, but before I can get the words out, he beats me to it. His voice is harsh, bitter.

“Are you here to scratch your itch, Kathryn?”

Wait.

What?

I stare at him, my blood chilling. The first time he’s used my name, and he’s made it sound like a curse...

And what he said...

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Is that my voice, breathless and small?

“Don’t you?”

He moves forward into the faint light, and I can read his expression for the first time. His features are set in stone, his dark eyes – those eyes that when they look at me, have always held something, some depth of emotion meant only for me, that bolsters me – his eyes are blank. There’s no spark, no warmth, no recognition of what we try to pretend we aren’t to each other. He looks at me as though I mean nothing to him.

Except – now that I’m looking closer – I realise I’m wrong. He can’t fully hide it. I mean something to him, all right. Whatever this Janeway has done to him, it’s been chipping away at small parts of his soul for a very long time.

“Look, I don’t know – Whatever she did, it wasn’t me,” I babble.

“Really? You seem just like her to me.”

The juxtaposition of this Chakotay – the one who clearly wishes he’d never met me – against the one I was just recently spending time with – it’s cruel. You’ve seen what you could be to each other, that Chakotay had told me. I’m starting to wish I’d never landed in this universe, where I’m seeing what else we could be.

And yet, as always, curiosity is something I find impossible to resist.

Swallowing hard, I force myself to step past him, seating myself in one of his armchairs without invitation. “Tell me,” I order.

He laughs the way I like my coffee: black and bitter. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

“No,” I admit. “But I think I need to.”

“All right, then.” Chakotay takes the couch, hooking one leg over the other as he stares at me from the shadows. “It started on New Earth.”

 

=/\=


It’s well into the early hours of the morning by the time I stumble back to my quarters. Knowing I won’t be getting any sleep, I duck into the sonic shower, don a fresh uniform and order yet another coffee from the replicator.

I try to sit at my desk and go over the day’s experiments but I can’t seem to settle. And considering the tale I’ve just heard, that’s no surprise.

Abandoning the desk, I weave my way over to the couch and lean my head back, my eyes closing as though that can stop the words and images I can’t help seeing. It started on New Earth, he’d said, and from his perspective that’s the truth. But I know it started long before then, long before Voyager was stranded in this part of the galaxy. Before Mark, even. It started with a shuttle slowly sinking beneath a polar ice-cap.

Since I lost them, I’ve deliberately and systematically shut myself off from the kind of love that has the power to hurt me. My mother and sister were the first victims of my self-protection. Oh, I love them, yes, but after Tau Ceti Prime I pushed them away at every turn, wrapped myself in the protective cloak of duty and distance. It would hurt less if I lost them, my reasoning went, if they loved me less.

My crew – I love them, there’s no doubt of that. But it’s the kind of love a commanding officer must have for those under her protection. I’d die for them, and each time one of them dies I lose another piece of myself, but it doesn’t reach inside me and rip out my guts the way that first loss did.

And men?

I’ve never been one to thrive without touch. I need the physical, the sexual, to remind me that I’m still alive and capable of feeling something. But since Justin died, I’ve been quite successful in separating that from my emotions.

Mark understood. I’ve come closest with him, actually, to bridging that divide between my body and my soul. We had a great affection for each other, strong enough to pass for love. And sex with him – well, let’s just say I never had any cause for dissatisfaction.

It was enough. I was happy, in a manner of speaking. Content, at least. And if in my lifetime I never loved again the way I loved Justin, then neither would I experience that soul-destroying loss.

This is why I believe every word Chakotay spoke tonight.

It started the night they encountered the little primate. I remember hearing the rustle in the trees, stepping out of Chakotay’s hand-hewn bath, a towel clutched around me. I remember calling out to Chakotay, him rushing to my aid with flashlight and phaser. I remember relief at discovering my imagined attacker was nothing but a small, curious monkey. And I remember turning to him and realising that his gaze was on my bare shoulders, his dark eyes smouldering with everything I knew he couldn’t say.

Except that, in their timeline, he did say it.

My Chakotay had dropped his gaze and stepped away, returning to the shelter.

Hers?

He’d said, “Kathryn,” and he’d touched her.

Barely a whisper of a touch, he told me tonight. Only the stroke of a single fingertip along the line of her collarbone. But she’d loosened her hands and the towel had slipped an inch, and he’d moved closer and kissed her.

He described what happened next, for him, as making love. For her, he says, it was sexual release.

I’m not so sure of that, as I think on it now. I know myself, and I know her. She’d have told him – told herself – it was purely physical. And she’d have known deep down inside that she was lying.

Why else have I pushed Chakotay away at every turn? Even when we were stranded on that fucking planet, alone for the rest of our lives, we thought; even when he turned me inside out with his every expression of devotion – even then, I couldn’t let him get close. The risk was too high.

And it was too high for her as well. So she let him into her body, time and again, but she kept her heart guarded.

A few nights before their rescue came, he told her he loved her. No allegory or dissembling or ancient stories – he told her, simply, in words she couldn’t fail to understand. And her response?

I recall his face as he quoted her words to me, and I’m sure he quoted them exactly, because it was clear she’d burned them indelibly into his memory.

I’m sorry, Chakotay. This was a mistake. I can’t be what you need.

He says he left the shelter for a couple of days and nights, and when he returned she was holding a commbadge. Thirty hours later Voyager returned for them, and he says that the moment she put her uniform back on was the happiest he’d seen her in months.

They’d resumed their previous command positions – she without a break in stride, he with faltering will and aching heart. He says she treated him with distant courtesy at first - the way she’d treated him when they first merged their crews – but that within a couple of weeks, she was back to inviting him to working dinners in her quarters, teasing him on the bridge, patting him on the shoulder or chest. He says he found it more and more difficult to breathe around her. Being in her presence, even in public, was breaking him apart.

And then one night, maybe a month after their return, he showed up for one of their dinners armed with a PADD, and she opened the door to him wearing a satin slip and nothing else.

She’d wound her arms around his neck, her breath hot in his ear. “I want you,” she’d said, “now,” and he’d given her what she wanted.

He’d thought, at first, that she really meant I love you, or I need you. But as it turned out, she meant neither of those things. She’d taken her pound of flesh and, smiling, pushed him out the door, and broken his heart all over again.

I remember that Chakotay stood at this point in his story, pacing over to the viewport as though the telling of it hurt every bit as much as that first betrayal. I remember that it took everything I had to stay seated, to grip the arms of my chair so I wouldn’t go to him, wrap my arms around him and press my face to his shoulder to try to soothe away the wound she’d imprinted on him. And I remember hating her, and by extension myself, for what she’d done.

Because it wasn’t the last time. Every so often, when she feels the need, she calls him to her quarters – or, occasionally, goes to his – and takes him to bed. And because she wants him, he goes. Because he is who he is, he never says no to her.

The hell of it is, I can see all too clearly how this happened to them, because it so easily could have happened to us.

There are nights when I’m lying sleepless, tangled in cool sheets that almost sizzle on my heated skin, touching myself and letting my mind drift to him, that I think it would be so easy to call him. He’d want that, wouldn’t he? We’d be so good together, just skin sliding over skin, the mindless pleasure of his lips on my throat and his body filling mine. I could call him and he’d come, and it wouldn’t have to mean a thing.

Except that it would, and unlike this Kathryn Janeway, I’ve managed not to blind myself to that fact.

This Chakotay finds it hard to believe it could be any different. I plead with him to accept the two other truths I’ve known – that in another universe we’re married, and in mine, we’re friends – but he simply shakes his head. And then he tells me something that rocks me to my core, more than anything else he’s said tonight.

“I’m leaving,” he says starkly. “She doesn’t know yet – I was going to tell her tonight. I can’t do this anymore, and she doesn’t need me. So the next friendly M-class planet we find, I’ll be getting off this ship.”

“Of course she needs you!” I latch onto the one thing I have a hope of defying. “How is she supposed to run the ship without you? And without Tuvok or Tom to step into your role?”

“I’ve prepared a list of candidates for executive officer. Rollins or Hargrove would do fine, or Ayala if she wants to appoint another former Maquis.”

“Rollins is terrified of me,” I retort. “And Hargrove has next to no command experience. I need a first officer who’ll stand up to me. Who’ll know how to make me back down when I’m about to do something foolhardy.”

He shifts, and the pale light from the viewport angles across his face. I can see he’s smiling, ever so faintly, but it’s not a joyous smile. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from her,” and I realise from the slight stress he places on the pronoun that he hasn’t forgotten he’s speaking of a different captain, even if I have, “it’s that she doesn’t need anyone.”

“You’re the heart and soul of this ship, Chakotay.” And now I can’t stop myself from going to him, my hand resting on his chest as I try to hold him with my eyes. “Whatever she’s made you believe, she cannot do this without you.”

He looks down at me silently with those beautiful dark eyes, and raises a hand to clasp mine to his chest.

“Just promise me you’ll reconsider,” I urge. “Please. Talk to her again. Try to make her understand, before it’s too late.”

“My words have never meant much to her,” he says softly. “But I’ll try. For you.”

 

=/\=


In the third drawer of her bureau, concealed inside a rolled-up pair of socks, I find what I’m looking for. I plug the tiny data rod into her computer console and wait for the chirp that indicates it’s active.

“Display all files,” I order it. “Authorisation Janeway tau gamma one.”

~Authorisation accepted. All files enabled.~

It’s no surprise that she uses the same code as I do.

I scroll through her personal logs - the ones she wants nobody, including Starfleet should they ever have the opportunity, to see - until I find the one I’m looking for. “Halt display. Open the file for Stardate 50007.2.”

~File displayed.~

“Play log.”

We’re back, says my double onscreen. Tuvok put the ship at risk to rescue us, but I’ve decided not to discipline him. After all, his timing couldn’t have been better.

She pauses, and I watch as the mask slips a little.

I’ve hurt him, she continues, her voice low. What happened between us on that planet will never make it into any official log – I’ve made sure of that. He’ll follow my orders. He always does, no matter what it costs him.

She sighs. It was a mistake, getting involved with him. At least, it was a mistake the way it ended up. He believed it was just sexual for me because I let him believe that, even to the last. And then he told me how he felt – feels – and I lied to him, because I was scared. I ruined everything because I was too much of a coward to tell him how I feel. To tell him I – I -

She laughs, a bitter sob of a laugh. I can’t even say it to myself. And now I’ll never be with him again, because I’m the captain, and I can’t. I wish – I want… The hell with it. Computer, end log.

The log automatically cycles to the next entry, and, riveted, I let it play.

She looks different in this one. Instead of her uniform, she wears a familiar pink satin slip, her hair mussed and tangled. Her cheeks are flushed and her lips swollen.

Personal log, Stardate 50098.9. God, what is wrong with me? She buries her face in her hands momentarily, then looks up, clearly determined to continue despite the trembling of her lower lip, the moisture in her eyes.

I seduced him. I did it deliberately. He’s been trying so very hard to be what I said I need him to be, to pretend we were never lovers, and I couldn’t stand it. I missed him so much, and I needed –

She pauses to breathe. So I took what I wanted, and then I kicked him out.

As I watch, she rakes her fingers through her tumbled hair and straightens her spine, her eyes hardening. Nothing has changed. Our situation, what we need to be - I won’t do that to him again.

End log.

“Pause playback,” I order quickly before the next log can begin. I scan the list of stardates; there are over a dozen, and probably, if I know myself, all recorded shortly after the nights when she did do that to him again. But I find I don’t want to hear her excuses. Tortured and emotionally stunted she may be – and oh, I know she is – I can’t bear to watch her struggle to live with herself as her choices tear that good, honest, loving man to shreds.

I can’t let her do this anymore.

I sit up straight.

“Computer, begin recording,” I say, speaking clearly. “Kathryn Janeway, personal log, stardate 51137.5. To the Captain Kathryn Janeway of this universe – I have a message for you…”

 

=/\=


“Report.”

I stifle a yawn as I arrive on the upper level of engineering. B’Elanna turns to me, looking almost as tired as I feel.

“Seven thinks we can reinforce the matter stream by running the energising coil at one hundred twenty percent,” she says. “We run the risk of burning out the coil, but if we can’t keep your pattern stable we won’t be able to rematerialise you when the transport is complete.”

“And have you determined whether we can rematerialise me in my original universe?”

“I believe so,” Seven says, turning to me with hands clasped behind her back. “You mentioned that during the previous shift, you identified the quantum signature of your reality using a subspace differential pulse directed toward the rift and aligned the transporter’s targeting scanners to the pulse. However, the rift was in a state of flux and the transporter beam did not remain stable for long enough to retain the target lock.”

She turns to activate a simulation on the console screen. “If we narrow the annular confinement beam along a resonance pulse matching the signature of your original quantum state, our likelihood of success is ninety-two percent.”

“Unless the breach destabilises again,” B’Elanna points out. “In which case, you’d rematerialise, but who knows where?”

“What if we increase power to the subspace differential pulse? We may be able to use it to stabilise the rift long enough to complete the transport.”

Seven inclines her head. “I will run some simulations and report in one hour.”

I nod my approval. “I’ll be on the bridge.”

And that’s where I intend to go. But when the turbolift reaches deck one, I find I’m not ready to face Chakotay – not after his heart-rending, soul-baring confessions early this morning. So I sail past the command centre with a brief, “I’ll be in the ready room,” and I don’t look back.

I don’t know when his Captain Janeway will see the message I’ve left for her; I don’t even know if she’ll ever return to this universe, just as I’m uncertain whether I’ll return to mine. But if she does, all I can do is hope that her wake-up call comes in time.

And, curling up on her sofa under her viewport in her ready room, drinking her coffee and gazing at her stars, I wonder if it’s been just as much a wake-up call for me.

An hour later, precisely, Seven of Nine comms me to inform me that she has successfully completed a dozen simulations and is ready to attempt a transport using a biocontainer. I tell her I’ll meet her and B’Elanna in the transporter room in fifteen minutes.

But I have something I need to do first, and it’s time to stop procrastinating.

“Janeway to Chakotay. Could you report to the ready room, please?”

The door slides open and he stands at attention just far enough inside it to let it close. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“Yes. Please, sit.”

He obeys, taking a seat on the long couch, far enough from me that I have to shift closer to take his hands in mine. He looks down at them, his expression tight.

“What you told me last night – it didn’t happen that way for us,” I start. “We were never lovers. Not on New Earth and not on our ship.”

Chakotay finally meets my eyes, waiting.

“We’re friends. Good friends, although our encounter with the Borg has caused us some difficulty.”

“That was the last straw for me,” he says finally. “I begged her not to go ahead with the alliance. If Tuvok had still been alive –”

I shake my head. “My Tuvok couldn’t change my mind, either. Don’t blame yourself for that.”

He nods, slowly. “I took it as the final confirmation that she had no intention of listening to me anymore. That she truly didn’t need me, or anyone else.”

“But she does,” I almost whisper. “I told my Chakotay that I couldn’t imagine a day without him. It’s true, and I know it’s true for her as well.”

He almost smiles. “If you only knew how I’ve longed to hear her say that.”

“Chakotay…” I sigh. “I’m not going to try to convince you that she knows what she wants, or even that she’d take it if she did. But I do know she cares about you.”

“Just not enough.”

 “You’re wrong, you know,” I tell him before I can lose my nerve. “It’s not that she doesn’t care enough. It’s the opposite, and that frightens her.”

He gives me a disbelieving look.

“Trust me on this.” I smile at him and watch his eyes soften.

~Torres to Janeway. We’re ready in transporter room one, Captain.~

“Acknowledged,” I answer, still holding Chakotay’s gaze. “I’ll be right there.”

I close the channel. “Time to go,” I say softly.

He pulls one hand free from mine and raises it slowly to touch my face. I lean my cheek into his palm, closing my eyes as he strokes his thumb gently over my cheekbone.

“I wish you could stay.”

“I know.”

 

=/\=


Chakotay accompanies me to the transporter room and immediately moves behind the console, where Seven and B’Elanna are fine-tuning their calculations.

“The transport of the biocontainer was successful,” Seven informs me. “We are ready to begin.”

I step onto the transporter pad and meet Chakotay’s eyes one last time. He smiles.

“Energise,” I order, and feel the tingling of dematerialisation take hold. The transporter room begins to fade out of view.

I hear an alert chime, and B’Elanna’s face tenses.

… problem … can’t stabilise …

I gasp as pain rips through my body. It feels as though every atom is being ripped apart.

… tachyon surge …

Get her back!

… can’t …


I try to scream, but before I can make a sound, my vision blurs to white.