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

8. Walking Away - Chakotay (IV)

Stardate 51137.6

 

Nobody will ever hurt her. She’ll just smile her faint vague wonderful smile and walk away.

 

 

“Chakotay.”

 

The voice is female. Soft, slightly husky, worried.

 

“Chakotay, wake up.”

 

My eyes open a crack as I wince against the sick pounding in my head. Someone is leaning over me, her face in shadow, the tips of her long hair tickling my cheek. I’m on my back, her hand pressed lightly to my chest. My head spins.

 

“Kathryn?”

 

I hear a sharp intake of breath and the hand is removed. I struggle to focus, propping myself up on my elbows. Faint light filters through the viewport and as my eyes adjust I can see the outlines of furniture – a bureau, a chair, the dark rectangle of an open doorway. The surface beneath my back is thicker and softer than a biobed.

 

I’m in someone’s quarters – my own? It’s too dark to tell. With effort, clenching my teeth against nausea, I sit upright. She’s sitting on the edge of the bed and in the almost-dark I can feel the tension vibrating from her.

 

“Computer, lights to twenty percent,” I order.

 

The face that’s illuminated is so unexpected that it takes me a moment to come to full recognition.

 

Riley?”

 

She stares at me, her lips pressed together. Her eyes are shadowed with something I recognise as hurt. My eyes follow the movement of her hand as she splays it protectively over her swollen abdomen.

 

Why –

 

No.

 

“What are you doing here?” I blurt, refusing to let the implications form in my mind.

 

She flinches, and I watch as she deliberately composes herself. “Chakotay, I think we should get you to sickbay. Something’s wrong.”

 

You can say that again. I take mental stock of my body and note with relief that I’m fully clothed, boots and all, in the civilian gear I was wearing to impersonate the Maquis captain of the previous universe. I sidle off the bed, keeping it between us. She stands to face me. She’s wearing a pale-blue satin nightgown and the curve of her belly is clearly visible in the low light. I swallow hard.

 

“What happened?” I demand. I’m not sure if I’m asking about now, or before. I’m finding it hard to conceive of any universe in which Riley Frazier and I –

 

“You had a nightmare,” Riley says, her voice even. “You were thrashing so hard I was afraid you’d hurt yourself.”

 

A nightmare. Well, that would certainly explain this situation.

 

“Please,” she says quietly. “Come with me to sickbay and let the Doctor take a look at you.”

 

Until I can figure out what the hell happened here, I decide it’s best to play along. Clearing my throat, I glance around and spy a uniform folded on a chair. “Give me a minute to get changed.”

 

She doesn’t move.

 

I scoop up the uniform, taking it with me into the ‘fresher and closing the door firmly.

 

“Computer, what’s the time?” I ask as I strip hastily and pull on the uniform.

 

~The time is 0534 hours.~

 

“Who is assigned to these quarters?”

 

~Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Riley Frazier.~

 

My gut clenches at the confirmation of everything I’d been hoping wasn’t true.

 

“What is Lieutenant Frazier’s position on this ship?”

 

~Lieutenant Riley Frazier is the chief science officer.~

 

“What date did she come aboard?”

 

~Stardate 50639.6.~

 

“Access Lieutenant Frazier’s medical records.” I set my teeth, then continue, “Identify the DNA contributors to her foetus. Authorisation Chakotay Pi Beta Two.”

 

~DNA contributors identified as Lieutenant Riley Frazier and Commander Chakotay.~

 

I sag against the bulkhead, rubbing a hand over my face. “What’s the baby’s due date?”

 

~Stardate 51387.~

 

I count backward, and can’t suppress a curse. It must have happened on that planet filled with excommunicated drones, when we were together after she linked with me.

 

Rage swells inside me. Did she plan this? Am I destined to fall victim to women who use me in this most devastatingly personal of ways?

 

“Chakotay?” I hear a quiet tap on the door. “Are you all right?”

 

“I’ll be right out.” It takes all my willpower to keep the anger from my voice. Breathing deeply, I push open the door.

 

Riley stands there, her face clouded. “What time did you get home last night? I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

“Uh, I don’t know.”

 

She sighs. “This has to stop, Chakotay. You can’t be out drinking with Ayala at all hours when the baby comes.”

 

I can’t help shuffling my feet.

 

She looks like she wants to say something else, and clearly thinks better of it. “How are you feeling now?”

 

“Fine.” I try for a rueful smile. “I’m just a little hungover. I don’t think it’s necessary to go to sickbay.”

 

“Are you sure?” She steps closer, eyes on my face. “You were disoriented when I woke you.”

 

“Of course.” I back away. “Uh, the bathroom’s yours. I need to check my schedule for today. Computer, audio readout of Commander Chakotay’s appointment schedule,” I request before she can object.

 

~Meeting with Captain Janeway in her quarters at 0600. Bridge duty commences 0800. Appointment with Ensign Megan Delaney at 1030.~

 

I listen with half an ear as the computer drones on. Giving Riley what I hope is a reassuring smile, I turn my back on her. A moment later I hear the whine of the sonic shower.

 

“Computer, pause.”

 

My hands are shaking as I slump against the bulkhead, and I have to close my eyes briefly before I can bear to look around. These are my quarters, all right, but slightly altered with what I assume is Riley’s version of a woman’s touch. Lace-covered throw pillows on the couch, a couple of generic landscape prints where I’m used to seeing my sand paintings, a vase of bluebonnets on the table.

 

I have to get out of here.

 

“Riley?” I call through the bathroom door. “I have to go or I’ll be late for my meeting with the captain. See you later, okay?”

 

I don’t wait for a reply.

 

=/\=

“Computer, time?”

 

~The time is 0557 hours.~

 

No time even to get to my office and try to figure out what the hell happened in this universe, or how it’s impacted my relationship – both professional and personal – with Kathryn. Resigning myself to making it up as I go along, I head for the captain’s quarters and press her chime.

 

“Enter.”

 

She’s standing at the viewport when I step inside, her back to me, wearing uniform pants and undershirt. I smell coffee and the faint floral scent of her shampoo. Glancing around, everything seems exactly as I’d expect.

 

“Captain?”

 

As soon as I speak, her head comes up and her back stiffens, but she doesn’t reply.

 

Apprehensively, I step further into the room. “We have a breakfast meeting, don’t we?”

 

I hear her draw in a breath. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

 

The emotion in her voice sets me back on my heels. Before I can figure out how to react, she’s turning. Her face is tight, as though she’s barely holding it together.

 

“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, and in a rush she’s in my arms, her body shuddering as she buries her face in my throat.

 

What in the world is she sorry for?

 

Then she’s kissing me, winding her hands into my hair, holding me to her with a fierceness that speaks of desperation.

 

I should stop this – I know I should. But she’s working at my jacket, pushing it from my shoulders, making needy little sounds in her throat as she kisses me with tongue and lips and teeth. My hands hover over her upper arms and she grabs them, pulling them onto her body. I rest them lightly, unmoving, on her ribcage, but she gives an impatient moan and twists, pressing her breast into my palm, and at her luxuriant shiver I lose all sense of what’s right and wrong.

 

With a groan, I capitulate, gathering her close. I push my thigh between her legs, grasping her ass with one hand to clutch her against me, the other hand squirming under her tank. The skin on her stomach quivers as my fingers make contact. My thumb rubs over her nipple and she gasps, breaking our kiss, her head falling back. My mouth latches onto the pulse point in her throat, sucking greedily at her skin. I want to brand her, mark her as mine.

 

Except, sanity reminds me, she isn’t.

 

“Kathryn,” I half-groan, trying to stop myself from kissing her pale throat, trying to still my hands on her body.

 

She pushes closer, tugging my turtleneck out of my pants, her nails scratching lightly up my back. “God, I miss you,” she almost sobs. One of her hands wanders, trailing over my hip, her slender fingers curling around the swelling in my pants. I can’t help thrusting into her hand. “Yes,” she hisses, and begins to slide down the length of my body. Her knees hit the floor and her fingers are working at my zipper before I come to my senses.

 

“Kathryn, stop!”

 

Her hands still and she heaves in a shuddering breath, her head bowed.

 

“Please stand up.” My voice is still shaky with desire, but as gentle as I can make it. It takes a moment, but she nods, rising to her feet and moving away without looking at me.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says after a long silence during which I wonder how I can possibly explain everything – and what the hell I was thinking stopping her. “That was incredibly unprofessional of me. Not to mention selfish.”

 

“Kathryn –” I hesitate, then decide on honesty. “What just happened - you have no idea how badly I wish I could have let you continue. But I’m not who you think I am.”

 

She laughs without humour. “Yes, you are, Chakotay. You’re a good, honest man who’s trying to do the right thing. I’m the one who keeps dragging you back into – this.”

 

“This?” Despite myself, I can’t shut off my curiosity.

 

“This. Us.” She waves a hand, turning to flick a glance at me. “I know as well as you do that it’s wrong. You’ve told me it can’t happen anymore, and I have to respect that.” Her voice catches on the last few words.

 

I can barely believe what I’m beginning to understand. The Chakotay of this universe chose Riley Frazier over Kathryn Janeway?

 

“How long –” I stop, realising I’m going to have to give her some answers before I can ask any more questions. “Kathryn, please, come sit with me.”

 

“Chakotay, I think you should go –”

 

“Please.”

 

She moves hesitantly, perching on the edge of her couch with her hands clasped in her lap, but at least she’s finally looking me in the eye.

 

“This is going to sound crazy,” I begin, “but when I said I’m not who you think I am, I was speaking literally, not metaphorically …”

 

=/\=

She doesn’t say anything for what seems like forever after I’ve finished telling her the fantastic tale of the past few days.

 

“Kathryn?”

 

She holds up a hand, then gets off the couch to pace. “A quantum rift?” she says finally, turning to me with hands on hips. “As far as I know, we haven’t detected that phenomenon.”

 

“If you send out a subspace differential pulse, you should be able to detect it. In the last universe, B’Elanna speculated that the rift is somehow linked to Voyager, as well as to my captain and myself. We didn’t get to the point of figuring out how or why. B’Elanna believed it was related to the tachyon discharge that hit both of us.”

 

“You said Voyager most likely tried to beam you out before the shuttle’s core breached,” Kathryn notes. “Maybe the transporter beam intersected with the tachyon particles and created some kind of tethering effect.”

 

“You’re the scientist,” I smile.

 

“We’ll need to get B’Elanna and Harry on it,” she says absently. “And Seven, and…” She stops, sending me a look I can’t quite read. “And the chief science officer.”

 

“You mean, uh, Lieutenant Frazier.”

 

“Yes.” She sits carefully beside me. “Are you willing to tell her the truth?”

 

“I can hardly keep her out of it.” My voice is harsher than I mean it to be. “Apparently, in this universe, we’re quite close.”

 

A blush is working its way up from the neckline of her tank. I watch as it blooms over her pale throat and burns in her cheeks. She raises her hands to her face.

 

“Oh, God,” she says. “What you must think of me.”

 

“To be honest, I don’t know what to think,” I mutter. “This isn’t like any of the previous realities I’ve been thrown into.”

 

“I’m so embarrassed.” Her face is still flushed, but she drops her hands and raises her chin, meeting my eyes. “I just … threw myself at you. No wonder you pushed me away –” She stops, dropping her gaze to her hands, twisting in her lap.

 

I shift closer on the couch, ducking my head to catch her eye. “You have no idea how hard it was to stop you,” I tell her. “If you knew how badly I wanted you –”

 

She bites her lip.

 

“And when I said I don’t know what to think, I wasn’t judging you. I was judging him.”

 

“Don’t,” she says quietly. “It’s … complicated.”

 

“Will you explain it to me?”

 

Kathryn huffs out a bitter laugh. “I’m not sure I can even explain it to myself. But I’ll try.”

 

She goes to the replicator and brings back her coffee and a tea for me, settling herself in the armchair opposite me this time. After a fortifying sip, she begins.

 

“About eighteen months ago, Chakotay and I contracted a virus we believed was incurable, and we were stranded on a planet in Vidiian space.” She pauses to glance at me, nods at the recognition she sees on my face. “We grew … close. It took me weeks to let go of my resistance, but eventually I couldn’t find any more reasons to deny what I knew was happening between us. We became lovers.” She closes her eyes briefly. “For two weeks, everything was perfect, until Voyager returned with a cure. We resumed our roles on the ship. Chakotay pleaded with me not to let it change things for us, but I couldn’t reconcile a personal relationship with my second in command.”

 

She gazes into her coffee, gathering her thoughts.

 

“Shortly after that, the Kazon took Voyager, and the crew was stranded on another planet - a far less hospitable one than New Earth. Chakotay believed it was his fault.”

 

“Because of Seska.”

 

“Yes.” She sighs. “I – tried to comfort him, and, well, we slipped up. And then we got the ship back, and once again I told him we couldn’t be together. And for months after that, we weren’t.”

 

“But then?”

 

“Then I had an experience that affected me quite deeply. It caused me to question everything I’d ever believed in. I needed to talk to someone about it and I chose to talk to Chakotay.”

 

“What experience?”

 

“Kes was injured on an away mission, and the only way we could save her was for me to undertake a ritual. It required me to put aside my belief that there was a scientific explanation for her condition and rely on faith.” She smiles a little. “You can see why Chakotay was the obvious person to help me through it.”

 

“I’m flattered.”

 

“Well, I suppose you can guess what happened. We made love. Afterwards, I told him it was an aberration, that I hadn’t been thinking clearly. He was devastated at the suggestion that he’d taken advantage of me. He pulled away from me after that, and I started to believe he was over me. And then I had a near-death experience, and I saw him –”

 

“Stop,” I can’t help interrupting her. I know what she saw, and it’s too painful to talk about.

 

When she looks at me this time her eyes are shining with tears. “I could so easily have made a different choice after that. But I was scared. I was shaken by the experience with the alien and frightened by Chakotay’s reaction to my death. So when he kissed me I pushed him away. I told him it could never happen again. He took me at my word. A few weeks later we encountered Dr Frazier and her cooperative.”

 

She doesn’t say it, but I know what happened then. He was heartbroken and vulnerable, and Riley ... Well, Riley was there.

 

“Kathryn, in my reality, the cooperative used their neural link to force me into reactivating the neuroelectric generator on that damaged Borg cube. After they disconnected from me, we left their space and never heard from them again.”

 

She stares at me, then sets her cup on the table with a sharp clack, bolting out of her chair. She faces the viewport, her arms crossed over her body. “That didn’t happen here,” she says, her voice strangled.

 

“Tell me.”

 

“Chakotay brought Dr Frazier on board to plead her case for Voyager’s help in reactivating the generator. I refused. He returned to the planet with her and she told him she’d decided to join the crew. Several other members of the cooperative came with her, all Alpha quadrant species. A Romulan medic, a Rigellian engineer, two other humans who’d been assimilated at Wolf 359.”

 

The next question is almost too difficult to ask. “What about the, uh, Riley’s pregnancy?”

 

Kathryn’s voice becomes monotonal. “I spoke with the Doctor after he’d examined all of our new crewmen. He informed me that Dr Frazier’s human biology had asserted itself to such a degree that conception had taken place naturally. Quite miraculous, he described it. He said she seemed pleased when told of her condition.”

 

“I see.” I swallow against the thickness in my throat. “I assume the Doctor confirmed its parentage.”

 

“Yes. Dr Frazier informed Chakotay of his impending fatherhood. Several days later he submitted a request to me for shared quarters.”

 

I can’t help getting to my feet at that, moving over to her. Her shoulders are so tense I can almost see the migraine forming.

 

I try to keep my voice even. “It’s a long way from accepting responsibility for conceiving a child to actively pursuing a relationship with the mother.”

 

“Commander Chakotay believed it was the right thing to do.” She turns to face me and her expression is completely blank. “I gave him no reason to believe otherwise.”

 

I’m sure my feelings are plain to see on my face.

 

She straightens her spine. “I guess you’re wondering about what happened this morning.”

 

“I – yes.”

 

“I respected his decision, and their relationship. How could I do otherwise?” She turns away. “A couple of months later, Chakotay was kidnapped by the Voth. I was … very worried. After he returned, he came to my ready room to give me his report.”

 

I can see her fists clenching at her sides.

 

“I told him how concerned I’d been. He embraced me, and I – it was inexcusable. Afterward, I told him I intended to report my actions to Tuvok. He insisted it wasn’t necessary.”

 

“It takes two to tango.”

 

“He tried to take all the blame. He said everything was different now, and that it couldn’t happen again.”

 

She pauses, but it’s clear that’s not the end of the story.

 

“When we encountered the Borg and Species 8472, we argued over a command decision, and resolved it by doing the one thing we knew we shouldn’t. It was reprehensible. He wanted to break things off with Riley. I told him it wouldn’t make any difference to our personal relationship. He said in that case, our relationship from then on would have to remain purely professional. I intended to abide by that. It took less than a month for me to break my promise.”

 

“The Vori,” I hazard, remembering the ill-concealed emotion on my Kathryn’s face when she came to sickbay after my rescue.

 

“Yes. He’d been avoiding me since then, until last night. He came to my quarters. I know he hasn’t been dealing well with the aftermath of the Vori brainwashing, and he’d been drinking. He said he loved me. We … started things, and then he asked if this meant we could be together now. I said we couldn’t. He pushed me away and left my quarters.”

 

And suddenly her apology, her fierce passion this morning makes sense.

 

“You’re in love with him,” I can’t stop myself from saying.

 

She draws her breath in sharply, body taut, shaking her head.

 

“Kathryn.”

 

“I can’t,” she rasps. “He’s my subordinate. He’s in a relationship with another woman – a woman who’s having his baby. I cannot have feelings for him.”

 

“But you do.” I take her hand and turn her to face me. “I know exactly what would have been going through his mind when Riley came on board, and you know as well as I do that he’d never abandon his own child. But he doesn’t love her, and if things go on as they are, you know it’s only going to end up hurting everybody involved.”

 

“What about you?” she asks, searching my eyes. “Do you love your captain?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And does she love you?”

 

I hesitate. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think she does. She’s never said so.”

 

“You know why, don’t you?” she says pointedly. “Even if there wasn’t Lieutenant Frazier to consider – and the child – there are ample reasons why Chakotay and I can’t be together.”

 

“Do those reasons really matter?” I can’t help the frustration colouring my tone. “Command structure, the crew, the regulations – do you really believe any of that makes a difference to how you feel? How he feels? Do you really think being with him would interfere with your ability to run this ship?”

 

She opens her mouth to reply, and is interrupted.

 

~Tuvok to Captain Janeway.~

 

Kathryn presses her lips together, then pulls away from me to cross the room, picking up her communicator from the desk. “Go ahead, Tuvok.”

 

~Captain, I understand you are in conference with Commander Chakotay. However, it is 0815 hours and I stand ready to be relieved.~

 

She closes her eyes. “Understood, Tuvok, and I apologise. We’ll be on the bridge in five minutes. Janeway out.” She turns to me, anger and shame scrawled across her features. “What was that you were saying about my feelings not interfering with my ability to command?”

 

“Kathryn –”

 

“That was a rhetorical question,” she snaps. She pulls on her turtleneck and jacket, fixing her commbadge to the front, and strides toward the door. “We have a job to do, Commander.”

 

The turbolift is filled with our silence as we take the short ride up to the bridge.

 

=/\=

“Tuvok,” Kathryn says as she strides onto the bridge. “I’m sorry to delay your break, but I need all senior staff in the conference room at 0900.”

 

“Aye, Captain.” Tuvok sends the message from the centre console then rises from the captain’s chair.

 

“Status report?” she asks as she takes her seat, crossing her legs.

 

“We passed a quiet night. There are three M-class planets within the sector and indications of warp activity on long-range sensors; however, no vessels have attempted to contact us or divert to our coordinates.”

 

“Run a subspace differential scan of the region,” she orders.

 

Tuvok’s eyebrows twitch. “For what purpose, Captain?”

 

“To identify whether there’s a quantum fissure nearby.”

 

“Understood.” If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect the old Vulcan was surprised.

 

Kathryn gets up. “You have the bridge, Tuvok. Commander Chakotay has a prior engagement.” She flicks me a glance and disappears into her ready room.

 

I meet Tuvok’s inscrutable gaze for a moment before I head back to the turbolift. Inside, I clear my throat, tapping my commbadge. “Chakotay to Lieutenant Frazier.”

 

~Frazier here.~

 

“Could you come to my office, please? There’s something we need to discuss.”

 

~On my way.~

 

I wander around this other Chakotay’s office while I wait for Riley, picking up and putting down ornaments and PADDs. Unsurprisingly, it looks much like my own. If I had the time I might take a look through his personal logs. But there’s really no point; I know what they’ll say.

 

The chime sounds and I call for entry.

 

“You wanted to see me?”

 

I notice she doesn’t address me by name or by rank; she’s hedging her bets, uncertain whether she’s been called here by her lover or her commanding officer. I set her straight immediately.

 

“Yes. Please sit down, Lieutenant.”

 

She only hesitates a moment before she takes the seat on the other side of my desk, smoothing down her maternity uniform. She’s composed, graceful in her movements even with her six-months-pregnant belly. Unlike Seven of Nine, her de-assimilation has left her with no visible Borg implants. At least, none that can be seen with her uniform on.

 

I wonder if her Chakotay feels anything for her other than obligation.

 

I’m sure he’s tried.

 

“I called you here because there’s something you need to know. I’m not your Chakotay.”

 

She sucks in a breath, her hand moving to her abdomen in that protective gesture she displayed earlier this morning. “If this is about the captain…”

 

So she does know. I’d wondered that, too.

 

“It’s not about that –”

 

“I’m the mother of your child, Chakotay.” Her face contorts briefly. “Whatever our problems, surely that –”

 

“Not my child,” I correct her, gentling my tone. “What I mean is, I’m not the Chakotay from this universe. Please let me explain,” I cut her off when she starts to speak. “There was an accident in my universe. The shuttle I was piloting intersected with a quantum fissure, causing a breakdown in the barriers between realities. My Voyager attempted an emergency transport, which I believe created a tether linking the Voyagers in different realities, as well as linking the alternate versions of the shuttle’s occupants. Every time I’m caught in a transporter beam I shift to another reality. This is the fourth I’ve encountered in as many days.”

 

She’s silent for a moment, reading my sincerity. “I see.”

 

“Kath – uh, the captain tells me you’re the chief science officer in this reality. I could use your help on this.”

 

“To get back to your universe.” She studies me. “I guess the way you acted this morning makes sense now. We’re not together there, are we?”

 

“You’re not even on board Voyager.” It takes some effort to keep my voice even. “In my reality, you and your cooperative used me to reactivate the generator on the cube and impose your will on the other liberated drones on your planet. I never saw you again after that.”

 

I hoped I never would, remains unspoken.

 

Riley presses her lips together. “That would have been a much more convenient outcome for you.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You’d have been free to … pursue other interests.” Before I can respond to that, she goes on, “Perhaps that other Riley Frazier is living on that godforsaken planet, expecting your child. I don’t suppose that’s occurred to you.”

 

Spirits. No, it hasn’t, and I really wish it hadn’t occurred to her, either.

 

“I’ll help you,” she says flatly. “I want my Chakotay back. He may not love me, but at least he cares about his child.”

 

“If you know he doesn’t love you –” I force my lips to clamp shut.

 

“Go ahead and say it.” She stares me down. “If he doesn’t love me, what am I doing with him? Especially when he’s in love with somebody else.”

 

There’s no point denying it. “Yes.”

 

“He’s a good man, and my child needs a father.” She drops her gaze, and says quietly, “And I’ve accepted that he doesn’t feel the same way for me as I do for him.”

 

For the first time, I feel sorry for her. Sorry for the child, sorry for Kathryn, sorry for the fool who shares my face. What a mess.

 

My computer console chimes, reminding me of the senior staff briefing in five minutes. “We have to get to the conference room.”

 

Riley pushes herself to her feet, ignoring the hand I’ve automatically held out to help her. “Then let’s get started, Commander.”

 

=/\=

Riley and Seven do not get along.

 

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by this. I guess I would have expected two liberated drones to find something in common, but they clearly dislike each other. It’s almost comical, the way these two beautiful blondes grow stiff and haughty in each other’s presence.

 

Or maybe it’s not so strange after all. Riley embraces the humanity Seven has such difficulty accepting, and Seven is the protégée of Riley’s rival; I guess it’s safer for Riley to openly dislike her than to disrespect her captain.

 

I tear my eyes away from them as Kathryn prowls the conference room, tossing an idea to B’Elanna, a theory to Harry. She’s unfailingly polite and professional toward Riley, I note. That captain’s mask sure comes in handy.

 

After the briefing, Kathryn heads down to engineering with B’Elanna and Seven to work on aligning the transporters. She sends Riley and Harry to the science lab to investigate the quantum tether theory and Tuvok, who’s been on duty for almost eighteen hours, to rest. I take the bridge with no small sense of relief. It’s been an emotionally wrung few hours and I could use some peace and quiet.

 

Of course, I should have known better than to hope I’d get any.

 

“Commander, I’m picking up a ship on an intercept course. It’s approaching at high warp,” Paris reports from the helm less than five minutes after I’ve taken my seat.

 

“Time to intercept?”

 

“At current speed, about four hours. They’ll be in hailing range in thirty minutes.”

 

“Scan them for weapons.”

 

Paris’ fingers fly over the console. “At this distance their weaponry looks comparable to Voyager’s. I’ll be able to tell more when they get closer.”

 

“Understood. Open hailing frequencies when they’re in range.” I tap my commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway.”

 

~Go ahead.~

 

“We have company arriving, Captain. We’ll be in hailing distance in less than half an hour.”

 

~Acknowledged. Keep me informed and I’ll come to the bridge when they’re approaching range. Janeway out.~

 

Twenty minutes later she walks out of the turbolift, her face bent to a PADD, moving on autopilot to her chair. “Report,” she says abstractedly.

 

“We’re receiving a subspace communication,” Ensign Lang reports from the ops station where she’s backfilling for Harry.

 

“On screen.”

 

Kathryn rises as the viewscreen displays a smiling, petite woman, her ears ridged and pointed like an Ocampan’s. “I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager,” she greets her.

 

~Maja Lil of the Lyridian vessel Kala,~ the alien replies.

 

“How may we help you, Maja Lil?”

 

~We detected a subspace differential pulse emanating from your vessel. It seems you were attempting to scan a quantum fissure. May we enquire why?~

 

“The reason is complicated, Maja, but I assure you our purpose was scientific. How did you detect the pulse from such a distance?”

 

~My people are quite well-versed in quantum theory and mechanics, Captain. It’s rare that we encounter another species with similar knowledge. I would be interested in opening a dialogue. Perhaps we can assist you.~

 

“We’d be grateful, Maja. Perhaps you’d like to come aboard when you reach our coordinates.”

 

~I look forward to meeting you, Captain. Lil out.~

 

Kathryn turns to me. “Have you encountered the Lyridians in your universe?”

 

“Never heard of them.”

 

“Well, they seem friendly enough.” She taps her chin, thinking, then stands. “I’ll keep working on the transporters until they get here. You have the bridge, Commander.”

 

=/\=

Maja Lil is so tiny she makes Kathryn look statuesque. She brings aboard a team of four – two engineers, two quantum scientists – and she and Kathryn immediately move into a conversation so rapid-fire and esoteric I lose the thread about two minutes in. I lope along behind them as they exit the transporter room, but halfway to the science lab, Kathryn shoos me back to the bridge to serve out the remainder of Alpha shift.

 

Afterwards, I head to the mess hall to grab some dinner with Paris. He’s been glancing at me sidelong since this morning’s briefing, and as we sit down with our trays, he picks at his food, looking troubled.

 

“Out with it, Tom.”

 

“Sir?”

 

“Whatever it is you want to ask, go ahead.”

 

His ears turn red. “It’s nothing.”

 

I put down my knife and fork and wait, eyebrows raised.

 

“Okay,” he mumbles. “Uh, I was just wondering… in your reality, did you ever stop at a planet called Sakari?”

 

Ah. “Yes, about eight months ago. Why?”

 

“Did anything, um, unusual happen there?”

 

“We found a Borg corpse,” I deadpan, then as his face falls I take pity on him. Lowering my voice, I lean in. “Okay, Tom. There was an incident with Ensign Vorik and Lieutenant Torres. She was suffering from Vulcan blood fever and chose your double to mate with her.”

 

He looks crestfallen. “So we’re together in your reality?”

 

I hesitate. The B’Elanna of my reality confided in me that she’d just recently told Tom she loves him, but she’s been avoiding him ever since, and it’s not my secret to share. “It’s complicated.”

 

He looks like he wants to be sick.

 

“Why are you asking?” I can’t help glaring at him. “If you’ve screwed things up and hurt her…”

 

“No.” He picks up his fork and stabs angrily at whatever that thing is he’s eating; Neelix has outdone himself tonight. “I never got the chance. She’d finally agreed to go out with me that night – I was going to take her to dinner on the holodeck. Then Vorik tried to meld with her and she went down to that planet with Harry, and the next thing I know they’re a couple.”

 

“B’Elanna and Harry?”

 

“Yeah.” He looks at the purple mess on his fork and lets it drop onto his plate with a grimace of distaste. “I guess they’ve always had a thing for each other.”

 

I guess he’s right; there was always something, a connection between them. But I know how my B’Elanna feels about Tom, and Harry wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

“Are they happy together?” I ask.

 

“No.” He finally looks me in the eye. “Harry and I don’t talk much anymore, but we got drunk one night and he told me she only had sex with him because she’d die if she didn’t. And now she won’t break it off because Klingons are supposed to mate for life.”

 

“She’s only half-Klingon. And Harry’s human.”

 

“Doesn’t matter. They took the oath, and she won’t break it.”

 

Suddenly I’m sick of this universe, sick and sad for all these broken, lonely people and their bad decisions.

 

“Listen, Tom, you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye.” His mouth twists a little and I shrug acknowledgement. “But for what it’s worth, in my universe, you’ve earned my respect. And I’m sorry. I think you and B’Elanna would have been good together.”

 

“Thanks, Chakotay,” he says quietly. He stares into his plate for a moment longer, then scrapes back his chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve kind of lost my appetite.”

 

No longer hungry either, I head to my office to find myself some vacant quarters for the night.

 

=/\=

Despite my exhaustion, sleep doesn’t come easily. When I finally do succumb I’m plagued with nightmares – Kathryn making love to me, wearing Seska’s face; a fully-assimilated Riley in the captain’s chair, smiling at me malevolently. I end up sleeping through the alarm and have to rush to the bridge, unshaven and hungry.

 

“My ready room, Commander,” Kathryn says as soon as I step off the turbolift.

 

She doesn’t look much better than I do, and it doesn’t surprise me that she heads straight for her replicator, returning with two mugs of coffee.

 

“All-nighter?”

 

“What? Oh. Yes.” She sits behind her desk. “They’re quite a fascinating people, the Lyridians. Very familiar with quantum theory, and technically adept.”

 

“You and the Maja seemed to get along well.”

 

“Doesn’t she remind you of Kes?” She smiles, then indicates the seat opposite her and I sit obediently. “Chakotay, we’ve come up with a working theory. Maja Lil believes a single-source transport won’t be enough to guarantee you’ll return to your original universe. There are too many variables, too many things that can go wrong. She believes the only way we’ll be able to stabilise the matter stream enough to beam you through the rift is if your Voyager locks onto your signal as we initiate transport.”

 

“And how are we supposed to get them to do that?”

 

“We know how to target the deflector pulse to locate your universe. Lil thinks we can tune a subspace comm to the same frequency. We should be able to establish two-way communication with your Voyager.”

 

“Sounds like a plan. When do we start?”

 

“As soon as B’Elanna and Seven have finished aligning the deflector array.”

 

She gets up and drifts over to the upper level, contemplating the Lyridian ship, visible through the viewport.

 

“Kathryn.”

 

“Hmm?” She doesn’t turn.

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

She doesn’t pretend not to know what I’m asking. Her shoulders slump. “I don’t know, Chakotay. All my reasons for pushing him away still stand, and they’re good, valid reasons. Captains aren’t supposed to get involved with members of their crew.”

 

“But you are involved,” I point out as mildly as I can.

 

When she speaks again her voice is strangled. “I almost wish you could stay here in his place. Maybe then it would be simpler.”

 

I walk over and wrap my arms around her from behind, nuzzling my face into her hair. She holds herself rigid until I take her chin in my hand, turning her face to let my lips graze over her cheekbone, and then I feel her start to tremble. Her eyes are closed, her lips parted. My lips reach the corner of her mouth and she turns in my arms. I kiss her slowly, softly, my hand cradling her face, and when she presses her trembling body into mine it takes everything I have to pull away.

 

~Torres to Captain Janeway. We’re ready to send the transmission.~

 

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant. We’ll be right there.”

 

She closes the channel and looks up at me, blue eyes liquid.

 

“You know I don’t belong here,” I tell her softly. “But he does. He belongs here with you.”

 

=/\=

“Open a channel,” Kathryn orders, and at B’Elanna’s nod from the engineering station she goes on, “This is Captain Kathryn Janeway to the Federation starship Voyager at the coordinates receiving this transmission. Please respond.”

 

There’s a slight echo, and then the viewscreen switches to a mirror image of our bridge. Or at least, almost a mirror image.

 

~We’re receiving you, Voyager,~ says the man on the screen who’s identical to me. His eyes are fixed on Kathryn. ~It’s good to see you,~ he adds, his voice soft.

 

“Chakotay?” she asks guardedly.

 

~I should have known you’d figure it out.~ He smiles at her.

 

“We had a little help.” She studies him. “Are you the Chakotay indigenous to my universe?”

 

~According to the crew here, yes.~ He moves his gaze to me. ~I hope my counterpart’s been behaving himself.~

 

Oh, I’m not imagining the challenge in that tone. I straighten up, careful not to step any closer to the captain. “If you don’t mind my asking,” I address him, “why are you answering our hail? Where’s Captain Janeway?”

 

The man with my face gives me a long look. ~I think you and I should speak in private, Commander.~

 

“Later,” Kathryn interrupts. “We don’t know how long this channel will remain stable, and we have a lot of work to do. Seven is sending you instructions for restoring each of you to your proper timelines. We’ll contact you in two hours; that should give you time to adjust your systems.”

 

“Captain,” I murmur to her, “I’d like to speak with him alone, if you don’t mind.”

 

“All right.” She looks at me carefully, then turns to the Chakotay on screen. “We’ll route your communication to my ready room.”

 

~Thank you,~ he answers, not taking his eyes off her.

 

At her nod, I head for the ready room and activate the desk console.

 

“Okay, I’m here. What did you want to say to me?”

 

~You asked me why I answered your hail instead of the captain. I didn’t want to tell you in front of everyone.~

 

I have a feeling I’ll need to brace myself for this, so I sit down. “Go on.”

 

~She’s dead,~ he says flatly. ~Her body materialised in the middle of the bridge, preserved in a stasis field.~

 

My world lurches sickeningly and I feel beads of sweat coalescing along my hairline. I have to swallow twice before I can speak. “Is it… is it my Kathryn?”

 

~No. The Doctor confirmed she came from a different universe to this one.~

 

I bend over, breathing harshly to get myself under control.

 

~I assume your Kathryn is in her universe,~ he continues, giving me time to recover. ~I arrived here early yesterday morning, and there was another Kathryn Janeway here then. Apparently she’d materialised in the transporter room the previous afternoon. She claimed she’d just returned from trade talks with an alien race called the Xen’tu. She disappeared from the bridge at 0900 this morning, the same time the body appeared.~

 

I’m trying to get my sluggish mind around all this. “That would suggest that each time the captain from my reality and I shift universes, our doubles from that new reality replace us on our Voyager.”

 

~Like a game of tag,~ the other Chakotay says with a mirthless smile. ~Well, if you don’t object, I’d quite like to return to my own reality as soon as possible. I prefer a universe in which Kathryn Janeway is alive.~

 

A sliver of ire slices through me unexpectedly. “Even a universe where you’re breaking her heart every single day?”

 

~Don’t talk to me like you know what it’s like for me,~ he snarls.

 

“Oh, I have a fair idea.” I stare at him angrily. “Riley Frazier? Really?”

 

~Fuck you,~ he says, his voice flat. ~She’s having my child. What would you have done?~

 

I scrub at my forehead. “I don’t know. But what you’re doing isn’t right. You need to sort it out.”

 

He’s silent for a moment, then inclines his head to me. ~I intend to.~

 

“That’s all I ask.”

 

~I could say the same to you,~ he points out. ~I read your personal logs.~

 

“Find out anything interesting?”

 

He stares me down. ~You’ve never even kissed her.~

 

I don’t say anything, and his eyes narrow.

 

~You kissed my Kathryn,~ he accuses.

 

He takes my silence, correctly, as an admission of guilt. To my surprise, his lips turn up in a smirk.

 

~Amazing, isn’t she?~ he says, and then snorts out a laugh.

 

I can’t help snickering. “Yes, she is.”

 

~Fire up the damn transporter, Commander,~ he says, trying to smother his grin. ~I want you the hell out of my universe.~

 

=/\=

With Kathryn and Maja Lil directing, the B’Elanna and Seven of each universe successfully complete the transports of a number of biocontainers to my Voyager. By 1300 hours, they’re confident the procedure is as perfect as they can make it. Kathryn comms me to tell me they’re ready to send me home.

 

I turn the bridge over to Tuvok and head for the turbolift. To my surprise, Tom Paris squeezes in before the doors close.

 

“Deck two,” he says, then turns to me. “Commander, I was hoping you’d take a message to the other me.”

 

“Sure. What is it?”

 

“Tell him not to wait anymore,” he says, his blue eyes intense. “Tell him to stop being a coward and make his move. And then tell him not to screw it up.”

 

I can’t help smiling. “Okay. I’ll tell him.”

 

“Thanks,” he says as the ‘lift stops on deck five. He starts to step off, then hesitates. “One more thing, Chakotay…”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I have the same advice for you.”

 

He leaps off the turbolift before I can do more than growl at him.

 

“Deck four,” I order the ‘lift, then, “Belay that. Deck eight, science lab.”

 

I have one more stop to make before I can go home.

 

=/\=

“You’re excused, Ensign.”

 

Harry scurries out immediately, and Riley stands before me in the silent lab, in the classic at-ease posture.

 

“Why don’t you just say what you’ve got to say to me, Commander.”

 

“What made you decide to stay on board?” I ask immediately. “In my version of events, you were committed to making a life for your community on that planet. You used me to make that happen.”

 

Her light-blue eyes wander over my face. “I can’t speak for her decision. I can only tell you that meeting you, meeting the other humans on this ship, made me long for home. I missed the Federation; I missed Starfleet. I wanted to be part of that again.” She smirks. “Or maybe you were just that good that I couldn’t bear to let you go.”

 

“I hardly think –”

 

“Oh, lighten up, Chakotay. You seem to think I planned all this.”

 

“Did you?”

 

She huffs out a short laugh. “Don’t flatter yourself. My motives had nothing to do with you.” She pauses, then nods. “All right, almost nothing. But whatever the other me did to you, she isn’t me. All I wanted was to be back with my own kind.”

 

My gaze drops involuntarily to her swollen belly.

 

“No,” she says icily, “I didn’t plan that. But I never imagined I’d have children. This is a gift, Chakotay – a wonderful, miraculous gift. I wasn’t about to waste it.”

 

And neither, I understand, would he.

 

“It was his choice,” she goes on, her voice softening, “for us to be a family. I’d have this child even if he wanted no part of it. He’s the one who said we should be together.” Her mouth twists a little. “I was already falling in love with him when I found out about him and the captain.”

 

I can’t help flinching.

 

“He could have chosen to leave me for her,” she says, “but he hasn’t. I guess the baby and I are more important to him.”

 

I wonder what he’ll choose when he gets back to his life. It’s not my place to speculate, though, so I nod and head for the door, but before I reach it my feet drag to a standstill. “Riley.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

 

She stares at me, her eyes filling with tears. “A boy.”

 

I can’t quite put a name to what I’m feeling. “Congratulations,” I manage. “He’s a lucky man.”

 

Riley draws herself upright. “I wish he thought so,” she answers. “Goodbye, Chakotay.”

 

“Goodbye, Riley.”

 

I can’t escape fast enough.

 

=/\=

Three women are standing behind the controls when I enter the transporter room: straight-backed Seven in her silver catsuit, B’Elanna, looking tired and rumpled, and Kathryn.

 

“You’re relieved,” Kathryn says to them, her eyes on me.

 

“Our chance of success will be greater if we remain,” Seven objects. “If you are alone, you may be unable to compensate for any unforeseen eventualities.”

 

Kathryn turns to glare at her, and B’Elanna heads for the door, grabbing Seven by the elbow on the way out. “We’ll be in engineering, Captain,” she tosses over her shoulder. The doors slide closed, muffling Seven’s strident protest.

 

I walk over to her.

 

“So, here we are.” I can see she’s trying to smile.

 

“It’s going to be all right, Kathryn. You’ll get him back.”

 

She steps into my arms, hugging me tight. “Thank you,” she whispers, and lets me go.

 

I step up onto the transporter pad while she contacts my Voyager.

 

~We’re ready over here,~ comes B’Elanna’s familiar voice on the other end of the comm line.

 

“Energising,” Kathryn says, and I brace myself for the gut-wrenching pain as the transporter takes hold of me.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper