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

9. People Break Easily - Janeway (IV)

Stardate 51140.8

 

There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.

 

 

God. Oh, God. Where am I?

 

It’s dark. Are my eyes open? It’s not making any difference. I can feel the presence of something smooth and solid, surrounding me, containing me. A coffin, my mind suggests and immediately, violently rejects. I can’t hear anything, and the air is stale and difficult to breathe, I can’t breathe

 

Wait. I can hear something. It sounds like… like a soft, incessant beeping. Like the alarm that sounds when something’s wrong with a piece of equipment, or a warning.

 

If a machine is raising an alarm, there must be somebody to hear it.

 

No sooner does the thought occur to me than I’m beating my fists on the surface above me and screaming for help. And then the surface is wrenched away and I’m scrunching my eyes closed against the sudden flare of light.

 

“Captain!” I recognise that voice, although I thought I’d never hear it again. “Captain Janeway?”

 

I hook my arms over the edges of the thing that’s containing me and haul my upper body out of it, sucking in great gulps of fresh air. A small hand rests on my shoulder.

 

“Shh,” the hand’s owner says, “it’s all right. You’re alive...”

 

“Kes,” I croak, my eyes slitting open.

 

My vision is still slightly blurred, but I can see the tentative smile on her angelic face. “It’s me, Captain.”

 

“Where am I?”

 

The smile dims fractionally. “You’re in the morgue.”

 

Oh, God. It was a coffin.

 

“Captain, it’s so good to see you…”

 

I look at her properly as my panic starts to fade. Her eyes are filled with tears, and I act on my impulse to wind my arms around her and hold her tight.

 

“I’ve missed you so much.”

 

“And I’ve missed you.” Kes hugs me back with surprising strength.

 

“Help me out of this thing, will you?”

 

She supports me as I squirm out of the stasis pod, casting a shuddering glance back at it. Before I can stop her, she’s activated her commbadge. “Kes to the bridge. Captain, please report to sickbay immediately.”

 

Captain? But if she’s here –

 

~On my way,~ replies Chakotay.

 

Oh. Oh, God.

 

My legs turn to rubber and Kes has to grab me around the waist. “Captain, we should have the Doctor examine you,” she says, leading me to a biobed. “Computer, activate EMH.”

 

“Please state the nature of the – Captain!”

 

“Yes, Doctor. It’s me.” I’m finally starting to collect my wits. “I take it you’re both surprised to see me.”

 

“Well, yes.” The Doctor is still gaping at me, but reaches automatically for his medical tricorder. “You’re supposed to be –”

 

“Dead,” I finish. “So I gathered.”

 

I’m about to launch into my explanation when the sickbay doors hiss open and Chakotay strides in. “Kes, what’s going…”

 

His voice falters, the colour draining from his skin as he sees me. I can actually see his knees buckling and he slaps a hand on the nearest biobed to hold himself upright. He opens his mouth, but not a sound comes out. All he can do is stare at me.

 

“Doctor, Kes – would you give us a moment, please?” I ask, not taking my eyes off Chakotay.

 

“Of course,” Kes murmurs. They fade discreetly into the Doctor’s office.

 

I slip off the biobed and walk over to where Chakotay is standing, keeping my movements slow. “I know this is strange,” I tell him. “There’s a reason I’m here, and I’ll explain everything to you, but the first thing you need to know is –”

 

I never get the chance to finish my sentence.

 

He takes two gigantic, shaky steps, closes the distance between us, and hauls me into his arms. I barely have time to suck in a breath before his lips are on mine.

 

The urgency, the frenzy in his kiss almost bends me backwards, but he has one arm circled around my waist and the other hand on my face, holding me close. I try to pull back at first, my hands planted on his chest, but I can feel how badly he’s trembling and hear the harsh gasps he’s breathing into my mouth, and I can’t do it to him. I can’t push him away.

 

So I stand pliant in his embrace, trying to stop the tears leaking from my eyes as he kisses me as though his last breath depends on it.

 

“Chakotay,” I whisper as a shudder takes hold of his body, but he just holds me tighter, his hands winding into my hair as he buries his face in my neck. “Chakotay, please…”

 

He’s not the only one trembling. I’m turning to liquid, melting in the heat of his mouth and his hands on me, and I can’t do this. It’s wrong.

 

Captain!”

 

He jerks a little at the snap in my tone. Slowly, he releases me, his eyes fixed on my face. I take a step back, trying to wrestle myself under control.

 

“You’re real,” he says in a voice so gravelly it makes me ache.

 

“Yes,” I answer. “But – I’m sorry, Chakotay. I’m not the Kathryn Janeway you knew. I’m from a parallel universe.”

 

He huffs out a breath, then rubs a hand over his face and levels his gaze at me. “A parallel universe.”

 

“I’ve been on quite the side trip over the past few days. This is the fourth reality I’ve ended up in.” I watch as his eyes clear and his stance straightens, and I have to squash the almost-overwhelming pulse of desire that ripples through me.

 

I’ve always taken comfort in the way he supports me, the way he acquiesces to my orders, and I’d be lying if I said his quiet allegiance doesn’t make my heart beat faster. But seeing him in command, a Starfleet captain in his own right – it gives me a different perspective. One that makes it even more difficult to quash those feelings I’ve never admitted I have for him.

 

He suits those four pips on his collar.

 

His gaze is still on my face, dark eyes welling with emotions I won’t let him name, but he’s back in control now. “You’d better fill me in – but first, I’d like the Doctor to examine you.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Doctor,” he calls.

 

The EMH appears from his office, Kes trailing behind. I stand by the biobed as the Doctor runs his tricorder over me and confirms my alternate origins. I desperately want to ask after that other captain, how she died, how long she’s been gone, but every time I glance at Chakotay’s unreadable face, the words shrivel on my tongue.

 

“Well.” The Doctor folds up his tricorder. “Aside from high levels of tachyon radiation, which is no doubt contributing to that headache you’re not complaining about, Captain, you seem in perfect health. May I ask how you got here?”

 

“Later,” Chakotay interrupts, still not taking his eyes off me. “Thank you, Doctor, but I’d like to discuss Captain Janeway’s situation with her in private. And I’m sure I don’t need to ask that you keep this to yourself for now, for the good of the crew.”

 

“Of course, of course,” the EMH mutters, then turns back to me and blurts, “It’s good to see you again, Captain. Very good indeed.”

 

I give him the warmest smile I can muster, under the circumstances.

 

“I’d appreciate it if we could use your office for a short while, Doctor,” Chakotay requests.

 

The EMH deactivates himself without protest, Kes mumbles something about the airponics bay and makes her escape, and I’m left standing alone with the captain of Voyager.

 

=/\=

“Do you think we could sit down?” I give Chakotay a tight smile. “This could take a while.”

 

He gestures silently to one of the chairs in front of Doctor’s desk and takes the other. I rub absently at the back of my neck, trying to ease my headache, and launch into recounting the events of the past few days. I tell him about the theories I’ve worked on with Seven and B’Elanna and the failed attempts to transport me to my home universe.

 

I don’t tell him about the versions of him that I’ve met along the way, or what I’ve learned about the versions of me.

 

When I finish talking, his gaze shifts to his hands, resting in his lap.

 

“How close do you think you are to finding a way back to your universe?” he finally asks.

 

“I thought we had it nailed in the last reality, but I was forced to undertake a beam-out to an alien ship and ended up here instead.” I sigh. “To be honest, I don’t know. The quantum rift is unstable and we haven’t been able to anticipate all the variables. A tachyon surge interfered with the transporter beam when I tried to leave the second universe I visited, but Lieutenant Carey came up with a way to insulate the matter stream against it. If I could use some of your people to help me, I could be ready to try again in a few hours.”

 

“I see.”

 

I tilt my head to the side. “Out with it, Commander.”

 

He looks up at me, his eyes dark with sorrow. “It’s Captain now.”

 

I swallow. “I’m sorry.”

 

“So am I.”

 

Before I can stop myself, I reach forward and take his hands in mine. “How did she die?”

 

He stares at our joined hands. “A couple of months ago we made contact with a race called the Tanatuva. They offered us shore leave on their planet. Kathryn and I went rock-climbing together. There was a freak seismic event and she was injured in a rockslide. She died of internal injuries before Voyager could beam us up.” He tightens his fingers over mine. “It was so senseless, so pointless. She’d survived battles and alien mind-invasions and macroviruses, and then she dies on fucking vacation.”

 

His chair scrapes back and he strides over to the doorway, his back to me, clenching his fists, clearly trying to get himself under control.

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” I tell him quietly.

 

“If I’d had better medical training, maybe I could have saved her. If I’d never talked her into tagging along with me –” He stops himself, his jaw tightening. “I just wanted to spend some time with her. And now I’ll never see her again.”

 

“Were you lovers?” I blurt, and instantly want to strangle myself.

 

Chakotay whips around, staring at me. “Why would you ask me that?” His eyes widen. “Are you and he – in your universe?”

 

“No,” I hasten to reply. “No, we’re friends.”

 

His eyes search mine, and I find I can’t hold my gaze steady.

 

“We were friends, too,” he says eventually, his voice low. “That’s the way she wanted it. I always hoped one day she’d change her mind. I thought we had all the time in the world.”

 

I don’t know what to say to him, what to do. My instincts are at war with my conscience and it’s making me want to be anywhere but here. So I do what I always do: I fall back on my training. I stand and raise my chin, forcing myself to meet his eyes.

 

“This is your ship, Captain, and your crew. But I need to get home, and for that I’ll need the help of some of your people. I’ll defer to your judgement on which of them should be made aware of my presence here.”

 

He mirrors me, drawing himself upright, his face smoothing out. Tapping his commbadge, he says, “Chakotay to Torres. Report to sickbay immediately.”

 

I’m impressed at the steadiness of his voice. “Thank you.”

 

He nods. “You’d better wait out of sight while I brief B’Elanna.”

 

I stand beside the Doctor’s desk, staring at his blank console. I hear the door open and close, Chakotay’s low voice, B’Elanna’s gasp. Then she’s bursting around the corner of the office. Her hands come up to her mouth, her face crumples, and she rushes forward to throw her arms around me.

 

The hug is brief, but so fierce and so heartfelt that I find myself choking back tears. B’Elanna pulls back, surreptitiously wiping her eyes. “It’s good to see you again, Captain,” she says gruffly.

 

“It’s good to see you too, Lieutenant.”

 

And it is. I had the opportunity in the last universe to see what life on Voyager was like without B’Elanna Torres, and I missed her. Not just her expertise; her.

 

In fact, if there’s one thing I’ll take away from the insane reality-shifting of the past few days, it’s what I’ve learned about the people I serve with on this ship. It makes me wonder if I’ve been going about things all wrong. I was taught that the captain should always remain aloof, larger than life, to command the respect of her crew. So that’s what I’ve tried to be – someone slightly more than human. Or is it less than human? I’ve done my best to make them all believe – make myself believe – that as the captain, I sail blithely above the choppy ocean of human relationships. What I’ve expected of my crew is their obedience, their diligence, and in return I’ve given them my strength.

 

But I’ve watched the way they’ve all thrown themselves into helping me – earnest Harry, gentle Joe Carey, brilliant B’Elanna, even Seven of Nine – and what I’ve realised is that, despite my self-containment, my unwillingness to show them the softer parts of myself for fear they’ll lose faith in me, they love me. Not just the captain. Me.

 

When we were first thrown into the Delta quadrant, we were all too raw with grief and too busy trying to survive to be concerned with making a life for ourselves on the ship. But, several months later, things began to change. I noticed that people were forming relationships, becoming family to each other. Chakotay and I talked about the logistics of our journey more than once – the need for people to start pairing off and having children if it took us the whole seventy-five years to get home. But whenever he asked if I’d be among them, I told him that as captain, I couldn’t afford the distraction.

 

I was fooling myself.

 

When was it, I wonder, that this crew wormed its way into my heart? When did they become the people I consider my family?

 

When did he become more to me than my loyal first officer and my dearest friend?

 

“Are you all right, Captain?”

 

I realise I’ve been staring at B’Elanna, completely preoccupied with my own epiphany. I can feel Chakotay’s eyes on me but I can’t look at him for fear he’ll read my mind.

 

“I’m fine, Lieutenant. I suggest we work in the science lab. We can close it off to the rest of the crew to minimise disruption.”

 

She looks hesitant.

 

“What is it?”

 

“It’s just… I know you’re not our Captain Janeway, but I’m so happy to see you again. And I know I’m not the only one. Most of the crew would give their right arm to be able to talk to you one more time.” She turns to Chakotay. “It’s your decision, of course, Captain, but I could really use Harry’s help on this.”

 

“I’ll have him transport you both directly to the lab and send him to meet you there.” Chakotay’s eyes slide to mine, then away. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the bridge.”

 

=/\=

Harry’s reaction to seeing me is as heart-wrenching as B’Elanna’s. There are tears in his eyes and he clearly wants so badly to hug me but doesn’t quite dare. I take the decision out of his hands and put my arms around him. “Oh, Harry,” I sigh as he sniffles into my shoulder.

 

“Sorry,” he manages, pulling himself together.

 

I’m thankful, once again, for my Starfleet training and its gift of emotional control. “Let’s get started, Ensign. Realign the deflector array to emit the subspace differential pulse and scan the rift for my original quantum universe. B’Elanna, you and I will reinforce the transporter systems against tachyon interference. We’ll need to increase power to the matter stream containment when we start the beam-out tests.”

 

“Aye, Captain,” they chorus, and I can’t help smiling.

 

After a couple of hours’ work I realise my headache is getting worse and stand to stretch, wincing at cramped muscles. B’Elanna notices. “Why don’t we take a coffee break, Captain?”

 

“Great idea, Lieutenant.” I head over to the replicator. “And after that, I think we’re ready for a test run.”

 

Harry orders green tea, B’Elanna her usual raktajino, and I bring my black coffee over to the secondary workstation, pushing a few PADDs out of the way.

 

For long minutes we all sip in silence, and I realise I’m going to have to be the one to break it. I lean over to the console and bring up the astrometric display. “I see we’re on a different course to the route my Voyager is following,” I comment. “In my reality, we found a way across Borg space a couple of months ago, with a little help from Kes.”

 

Harry and B’Elanna exchange a glance. “Uh, yes ma’am,” Harry mumbles. “We, uh, encountered a species that was at war with the Borg. The captain decided to reverse course and follow a route that took us around the battle zone.”

 

“She didn’t attempt an alliance with the Borg against the aliens?”

 

Harry falls silent, looking at his hands. B’Elanna clears her throat. “Harry was talking about Captain Chakotay, ma’am. You – I mean, Captain Janeway - had died a few days earlier.”

 

“I’m so sorry,” is all I can think to say.

 

Harry gives me a pained look. “Uh, Captain, it’s almost lunchtime and I thought I’d bring us back some food from the mess hall. If you’ll excuse me?”

 

He barely waits for my nod before he’s gone.

 

“He took it hard,” B’Elanna says softly when the doors have closed behind him. “Well, we all did. But Harry was devastated. And Chakotay –” She stops abruptly.

 

I place my hand over hers, pressing gently. “I have no doubt that all of you will do just fine, B’Elanna.”

 

She ducks her head. “I’m sure in time we’ll get used to not having you around, Captain. Some of us will even be just fine.” Her chin comes up and she almost glares at me, challenge clear in her eyes. “But you know as well as I do that some of us will never get over it.”

 

My spine stiffens, and I meet her glare with one of my own. “As you were, Lieutenant.”

 

B’Elanna smiles without humour. “Actually, the way I see it, you’re not my captain, so I guess that means I can choose whether to obey your orders. Right now there’s something I want to say to you, and you need to hear it.”

 

She rockets to her feet and paces the room, and I find myself on my feet. I know I should stop her, but some part of me wants to hear what she has to say. Against my better judgement, I school my voice and demand, “Out with it then, Lieutenant.”

 

“When you died,” she says with her back to me, “Chakotay refused to believe it. He had the Doctor put your body in stasis and demanded he continue working on ways to bring you back. Tuvok had to talk him out of turning the ship around and heading back to Vidiian space, on the off-chance that their medical knowledge could help you.” She huffs out a breath, turning back to me. “Then we ran into a bunch of aliens who were blasting holes in the Borg, and I guess that focused everyone’s attention. As soon as we were out of the danger zone, Chakotay announced that we were continuing on our mission to the Alpha quadrant.”

 

I can’t help a small smile of pride, and B’Elanna’s mouth twists.

 

“Yes, I thought you’d approve of that. He thought so, too. Thanks to the need to divert around Borg space, we’re now facing another twenty-odd years added onto our journey. Most of us will never see the Alpha quadrant again, and quite a few people think we should colonise a planet somewhere and forget about getting home. But Chakotay won’t even consider it. He says we have to honour your wishes.”

 

“Are you one of the people who wants to settle, B’Elanna?”

 

She slumps, a little of the anger seeping out of her. “Frankly, Captain, there’s nothing for me in the Alpha quadrant. Almost all the people I care about are on this ship, and as long as I’m with them, it doesn’t matter much to me if I’m here or there. But Chakotay matters to me. Captain, he won’t let us hold a funeral or jettison her body. He didn’t even want to record her death in the ship’s log – Tuvok had to logic him into it by pointing out that the command codes wouldn’t be transferred otherwise. He simply refuses to believe she’s not coming back.”

 

I feel the colour draining from my face.

 

“So I don’t know if you being here now is what will finally make him accept that she’s gone, or the worst possible thing that could happen.”

 

=/\=

Harry seems to have regained most of his usual cheer by the time he returns, bearing a tray of something grey and noodle-like. He and I pick at it with suspicion, but B’Elanna rejects it completely, grumbling that it reminds her of gagh.

 

I wash my lunch down with a cup of coffee and direct B’Elanna to start fine-tuning the transporter targeting scanners while Harry installs tracking devices on a couple of biocylinders.

 

“We’re ready here,” I decide. “We’ll need to seal off one of the transporter rooms –”

 

~Chakotay to Torres.~

 

B’Elanna glances at me quickly. “Yes, Captain?”

 

~Bring our guest to the bridge, please. There’s something here she needs to see.~

 

“Aye, Captain. Uh, do you want us to transport there?”

 

~No need. Chakotay out.~

 

“After you,” B’Elanna says, gesturing for me to precede her into the corridor.

 

I don’t think I’m imagining that the hallway is more crowded than it should be. At first I’m wary, expecting the crewmen I pass to react with shock. But it seems that word of my presence has got out. As Harry, B’Elanna and I move toward the turbolift, the crew, Starfleet and Maquis alike, line the bulkheads at attention. I see smiles, nods, a few tears. Two or three reach out to touch my arm or shoulder as I pass.

 

I keep my chin up and my back straight. I nod to each crewman I pass, and I try to keep my smile fixed and my eyes clear.

 

By the time we reach the turbolift, I’m trembling with a rushing mix of emotions – sorrow, gratitude, sympathy – and as the doors close, leaving me alone with B’Elanna and Harry, I have to clench my fists to stave off the tears. I feel a gentle touch on my elbow and turn to look into B’Elanna’s eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” she offers.

 

“For what?”

 

“For the things I said to you earlier.” She glances briefly at Harry. “It’s just – Chakotay’s my oldest friend on this ship, and I don’t know how to reach him anymore. I worry about him.”

 

She’s not the only one.

 

“Her dying has made me realise one thing,” she goes on, lowering her voice, even though we both know Harry can still hear her. “If you care about someone, it’s stupid to leave it too long to tell them. Even if they’re gone the next day, at least you’ve had one day of being with them, right? Life’s too short for regrets.”

 

The ‘lift doors open onto the bridge, and B’Elanna’s face softens into a smile as she looks down toward the helm. Tom smiles back at her, and the voice of another Chakotay echoes in my head.

 

In the end we decided it was worth the risk. If one of us lost the other, at least we wouldn’t regret wasting the time we had together.

 

In that instant, everything is so clear.

 

“Captain on the bridge,” Tuvok says as he stands up from the first officer’s chair, and I push aside my racing, exultant thoughts for later and step off the turbolift.

 

=/\=

 

After the reception I experienced in the corridor, I’m prepared for the crew’s reactions as I make the rounds of the bridge. Not that it’s any easier. I cope with the hugs from Tom and Neelix and Kes, but the deep sadness in Tuvok’s eyes as he offers me a Vulcan salute almost lays waste to my composure.

 

When everyone has greeted me, I stand facing Captain Chakotay. “You wanted to see me?”

 

“We’ve received a transmission for you.” He nods to the ensign at ops. “Activate the viewscreen.”

 

I turn to the screen, and another Chakotay smiles back at me. I’m suddenly certain in my bones that he’s the right one.

 

~Hello, Captain.~

 

I’m completely helpless to suppress the smile that spreads across my face. “Long time, no see, Commander.”

 

Deep dimples appear, and I have to fight hard to hide my reaction. I’m sure I’m blushing, though, no matter how hard I try not to.

 

“How did you establish contact?” I ask.

 

~It’s a long story, and I’ll be happy to fill you in later,~ he answers. ~B’Elanna is sending over the modifications you’ll need to make to your systems. Once they’re complete, we’ll coordinate the transport with you from our end.~

 

I glance over at the engineering station, where this reality’s B’Elanna nods to indicate she’s received her counterpart’s instructions.

 

“Well done, Chakotay,” I murmur. “It’s been an interesting few days, and I look forward to comparing notes.”

 

He leans in a little closer, his eyes warm and voice soft. ~Come home, Kathryn,~ he says.

 

The screen goes blank.

 

“Captain,” B’Elanna calls from her station, “the modifications are pretty straightforward. We should have them done in about an hour, if I can rope in Harry’s help.”

 

“Go ahead,” he answers.

 

Schooling my face, I turn to Captain Chakotay. “Could we have a word in private?” I ask so only he can hear.

 

He nods, and leads me into his ready room.

 

“Two coffees, black,” he orders the replicator.

 

I raise my eyebrows as he hands me one cup and sips from the other. “Since when have you preferred your coffee undefiled by cream and sugar?”

 

His answering smile is tight. “It just makes her seem a little less far away.”

 

“Oh, Chakotay.” I put my cup down and take his hand, leading him to the couch on the upper level. “Come sit with me?”

 

When we’re settled, I begin, “I spoke with B’Elanna earlier. She’s concerned about you.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

I wonder if that phrase frustrates my Chakotay just as much when I say it.

 

“You’re anything but fine. She died two months ago, Chakotay, and you’ve kept her body in stasis all this time. B’Elanna says you haven’t held a memorial service and that Tuvok had to insist you record her death certificate. You need to let her go.”

 

To my surprise, he almost smiles. “Forthright as ever, Kathryn.”

 

“You know she wouldn’t want this.”

 

The humour fades. “Maybe this isn’t about what she wants,” he clips out. “Maybe I spent three years doing what she wanted. And look where it got me.”

 

“Regardless,” I answer, keeping my voice even, “you’re the captain now, Chakotay, and you can’t change the fact that she’s gone. So if you want to honour her memory, do it by being the best captain you can be.”

 

“I’m trying,” he says quietly. “I get up every day, put on the uniform, order us to continue on course for Earth.”

 

“Yes,” I agree. “But that’s what she would do. What do you think is the right thing to do?”

 

He says nothing.

 

“Come on, Chakotay. You’ve never had a problem expressing your opinion in the past.”

 

“All right. I think we should settle down on a planet. Form a community, build a home. Have children. Live with our feet on the ground and real air in our lungs.”

 

“Then do it.” I curl my fingers over his where they rest on his thigh, gripping gently. “Be the captain you are, not the captain you think she would be.”

 

He turns his hand palm-upward, linking his fingers into mine. “I love you,” he says, staring at our joined hands.

 

“And she loved you.” The truth of the words resonates in my voice. I watch as the tension seeps out of his shoulders and he smiles, finally looking into my eyes.

 

“Thank you,” he says softly.

 

Gently, I extricate my hand and rest my palm against his face. “Be happy, Chakotay. You know you can believe me when I tell you that’s what she’d want.”

 

=/\=

 

~Torres to Janeway. We’re ready when you are, Captain.~

 

“Acknowledged,” I answer. “I’m on my way.”

 

Captain Chakotay accompanies me back onto the bridge, where I smile at the crew that isn’t my crew. I’d like to wish them all goodbye, say a few inspiring words. But I’m not their captain and it isn’t my place, so instead I simply hug each of them and ask Kes to escort me to the transporter room.

 

“Your counterpart was there, in the last reality I visited,” I tell her as we ride the turbolift to deck four. “I didn’t get the chance to speak with her.”

 

“Then I’m glad we met in this reality,” Kes says in her gentle voice.

 

We reach the transporter room and I stop just outside the doors to pull her into an embrace. “Take care of them.”

 

“I will,” she promises.

 

“I’ll miss you.”

 

She smiles as she pulls back. “And I’ll miss you.”

 

It’s time to go.

 

“We’ve tied the annular confinement beam into the main deflector and aligned the targeting scanners to your universe’s quantum signature,” B’Elanna informs me as I step up onto the transporter pad. “The other Voyager is standing by. Once we commence transport, they’ll lock onto your signal. It should be enough to ensure you materialise in the right universe.”

 

“Should be?”

 

“It’s not an exact science, Captain,” B’Elanna admits. “But the other Chakotay made it back.”

 

“Well, what’s life without taking a few risks?” I smile at her. “Energise when ready, Lieutenant.”

 

“Energising in ten seconds,” she replies. “Good luck, Captain. It’s been an honour.”

 

“The honour is mine,” I answer as the beam takes hold of me, and the last thing I see before my molecules destabilise in a haze of pain is Kes’ sweet face, smiling at me.