In the Fullness of Time
Summary: If there’s one thing they both know in any timeline, it’s losing Kathryn Janeway.
A Christmas gift for @jhelenoftrek and @capt-nyc.
Characters: Chakotay, Mark Johnson, Kathryn Janeway, Carla Johnson
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Johnson
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Mark – December, 2380
The man shivering on my doorstep is almost unrecognisable.
The last time I saw him – the night I brought him the news that destroyed his world – he was fit and straight-backed; he wore his body with an easy grace and his uniform with equal confidence. I see almost nothing of that man in him now. If it weren’t for that unmistakable tattoo –
“Captain,” I recover my wits – and my manners – “come in before you freeze to death.”
He nods, numbly, and stumbles up the few stairs, a flurry of snowflakes blowing in behind him. I usher him into the kitchen where he almost falls into a chair. His hands are shaking.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Johnson.” He’s saying the right words, but they’re mechanical, lacking any inflection, as though he’s reading from an unfamiliar script.
“Call me Mark.” I order two coffees from the replicator and slide into the seat beside him. “Here, you look like you could use this.”
I pour cream and sugar into mine. He takes his black.
“Thank you,” he says through still-frozen lips. “For the coffee, and for inviting me in.”
“What are you doing here, Captain?” I ask, but kindly.
“Chakotay,” he amends. “And to be honest, I don’t know … I think I just … needed to talk to someone who … knew her, and –” he breaks off.
“Loved her?” I suggest.
“Who is it, Mark?”
My wife appears in the kitchen doorway, robe belted tightly and hair snarled with sleep. It’s not that late, really, barely nine o’clock, but Kevin’s been restless lately and Carla, who settles him with greater ease than I do, bears the burden of it.
Chakotay rises from his chair. “I’m so sorry, Mrs Johnson, I didn’t mean to intrude. I should go.”
“No, stay,” Carla says firmly, having sized up the situation at a glance, and the starship captain sits down obediently. “You look terrible, Captain. I’ll get you some soup, and then I’ll make up a bed for you.”
“You don’t need to –”
“Stop,” Carla orders. She places a bowl of vegetable bouillon in front of Chakotay and rests a hand briefly on his shoulder. “I’ll leave you two to talk,” she finishes, pressing a kiss to the top of my head as she exits.
“I shouldn’t have come,” Chakotay says, but he makes no move to leave. Instead he picks up his spoon and stirs dawdling circles in the bowl of soup.
“Why did you come?”
The captain rouses himself, lets the spoon lie. “Actually,” he says with a grim twist of his mouth, “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a real drink?”
“That bad, huh?”
But I get up and go to the cabinet where I keep the liquor, holding up a bottle of Glenmorangie. He gives a slight nod of approval. Seating myself again, I pour generous amounts into two thick-cut tumblers.
He sips his quickly, hardly appearing to feel the burn, and I intuit that this man – whom Kathryn once told me rarely drank more than a glass of wine with dinner – has become familiar with the practice these past few months.
“I think I can guess why you’re here,” I break the silence. “When was the last time you saw Kathryn?”
We’re both early risers, but last night she was up even later than usual, scanning mission briefings and updates from Deep Space Nine. And I’m glad, because it gives me the chance to watch her as she sleeps.
She’s always beautiful. But in the morning sunlight, her long hair lustrous against the pillow and one delicate hand beneath her cheek, she’s exquisite. We made love less than five hours ago. But, knowing this will be our last chance for several weeks, I can’t deny myself the impulse to touch her again.
I trace the sharp curve of her shoulder blade with the backs of my fingers, watching gooseflesh prickle in their wake. Her skin is so soft, the bones beneath it so deceptively fragile, that I am often gentler with her than she urges me to be. She likes it when I clutch at her, when I leave marks and bruises. It excites her, knowing she can drive me to the edge of my control.
Kathryn murmurs, shifts onto her back. The sheet slips below her waist.
I’m torn between staring, to commit to memory the image of her exactly like this – naked, lips parted, nipples flushed against the morning chill – and putting my hands and mouth on her to remind us both that she’s mine. She’s mine.
Possession wins out.
She wakes gasping, arching, her thighs already winding around my neck and her fingers gripping my hair. In moments she’s on the edge – I’ve learned, over the years, exactly how to please her – and her shaky cry so inflames me that I can’t wait a second longer. She welcomes me, arms wrapping me close as we move together, and I try to make it last, knowing this is the last time until she’s home again, but she urges me on with hands and lips and voice.
After, I hold her close until she laughs and wriggles out of my arms, chiding me to get up and help her pack. Just before she dashes out of the house, as is her habit, she takes off her engagement ring and gives it to me for safekeeping.
I put it in a velvet-lined box and shut it in a drawer, where it won’t remind me of her absence.
“What?” The captain’s soft utterance drags me back from my daydream.
“You asked when I last saw her. Eighteen months ago, at Proxima.”
Something in the set of his jaw, the line of his shoulders, tells me that meeting was important for more reasons than it being their last.
“I had such high hopes after that night,” he says, almost to himself. “I spent a year dreaming about Venice, about where we’d go from there. Together. And then you turned up.”
“I’m sorry.” It’s inadequate, but it’s all I have to offer.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” he says without expression. “I even thought about asking her to marry me on the Ponte degli Scalzi, but I decided to wait. I thought we had all the time in the world.”
The velvet box is a weight in my pocket that I’m uncomfortably aware of. Its presence shortens my breath and makes my palms sweat.
What if she’s not coming? anxiety whispers in my ear. What if she knows why you’ve asked her here tonight? What if she’s figuring out how to turn you down?
The restaurant door opens and Kathryn’s slender silhouette is framed against the backdrop of streetlights and lightly-falling rain. I sag in relief even as my nerves ratchet up again.
“Mark, I’m so sorry.” Kathryn hurries over to the table and I half-rise. “Nechayev wanted to go over my report with a fine tooth comb. I didn’t even have time to change,” she gestures ruefully at her uniform, sliding into the seat beside me.
“You’re here,” I tell her. “That’s all that matters.”
Her beautiful face softens into a smile. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”
I reach across the table and she meets me halfway, clasping my hand.
“Kathryn, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while now,” I stammer. My hand is shaking as I dip into my pocket and flip open the box with my thumb.
She looks stunned, her gaze switching from me to the ring. “Mark – is this…?”
Her hand slips away from mine to cover her mouth. “Really?” she whispers from behind it.
“Really,” I confirm.
She drops her hand to reveal a smile so dazzling I can’t breathe. “Yes.”
I slip the ring onto her finger and she half-laughs, half-sobs.
“I love you,” I tell her. “Forever and always.”
In answer she leans up to kiss me, soft and ardent and lingering.
“So, should we set a date?” I ask when my breath has returned.
“What’s the rush?” She rests her head on my shoulder and smiles up at me, then splays her fingers, admiring the glittering diamond. “We have all the time in the world.”
“I suppose we’ve both learned that lesson,” I muse. “How fleeting life, and our hopes, can be.”
Chakotay smiles without humour. “I told her once that she had plenty of time.”
I glance a question at him.
“It was after she received your letter,” he clarifies. “She said she hadn’t expected you to wait. She was thinking about her own situation. Whether to open herself up to a relationship.”
He laughs darkly. “That was my hope. But nothing came of it,” he hesitates, inclines his head, “almost nothing.”
I wait. I’m good at waiting, and I know there’s more he wants to say. And I’m curious to hear it, even if it hurts.
“There was one night,” he goes on, slowly, feeling his way through the words, “when she made me a promise. We were about to take our biggest risk yet – using untried technology to try to get Voyager home – and deep down, I think we all expected to die. Maybe that’s why she promised. Because she thought she’d never have to pay up.”
We sit in silence for a while, listening to the house settle and the ice crack in our glasses.
“She made me a promise, too,” I tell Chakotay, eventually. “And she broke it time and time again.”
“So you’ll be back in six weeks?”
“That’s the plan.” Kathryn hastily pins up her hair, each movement practiced and economical, as I watch from the bathroom door. Her bag lies open on the bed, neatly packed, awaiting only the toiletries I’ve been sent to gather.
“Why are the Benzites hosting the conference, anyway?” I ask idly. “Surely there are more hospitable planets for most of the species attending.”
She sends me an exasperated look. “Have you been poking around in classified files?”
I smirk at her. “No need. The Questor Group is sending a representative, so we’ve officially been cleared to access the conference details.”
“Oh.” She finishes applying her lipstick. “Is it anyone I know? The Questor rep, I mean.”
I shrug noncommittally. “Here’s your bag of tricks. I’ll go put on some coffee.”
We share a hasty cup of coffee and a perfunctory kiss, and Kathryn rushes out the door. Molly comes over and rests her head on my knee, whining softly.
My own packing is more methodical, though less tidy, than Kathryn’s, though of course she has the advantage of long practice. Still, it only takes me an hour to lock up the house, drop Molly over to Phoebe’s place and make it to the shuttleport.
It’s not a Starfleet vessel, so I’m spared the necessity of questioning over why I didn’t just catch a ride on my fiancée’s starship. I’m not required to dine with the captain or take part in briefings. That’s fine with me. I prefer to spend the meandering, ten-day journey reading quietly in my cramped quarters.
My civilian transport reaches Benzar several days behind the Billings, of course, but I’m not scheduled to attend my first conference session until tomorrow. I know Kathryn has attended a number of the sessions here, both scientific and diplomatic, and I’m hoping she’ll be ready for a break. And a surprise.
The Benzites have converted their largest conference building to suit nitrogen-oxygen breathing species – at considerable expense, I’m sure – and all attendees are expected to stay there for the duration. Knowing Kathryn, she’ll have found a way to escape to her ship each night. But the dinner hour has just passed, so with any luck I’ll find her in the dining hall.
I straighten my jacket, run a hand through my hair and make my way down to the lobby. To the left is the dining room, its double doors wide open, spilling noisily with the post-dinner crowd. To the right – where many people seem to be headed – is what I deduce to be the bar.
I make my way toward it. Inoffensive music provides a backdrop to the clinking of glasses and chatter, and the lights are low and cast golden shadows over polished-wood tables.
But there’s still light enough to see my beloved fiancée, tucked into a booth in the corner, her head bent close to that of a dark-haired man’s, her smile slow and knowing as his fingers slither beneath the short hem of her skirt.
I don’t tell him about that night, of course. Nor about any of the other flings I knew, or suspected, she had. They had little to do with us – or at least, that’s how I rationalised it.
And besides, she’s dead. What good would it do to tarnish his memory of her? To knock her off the pedestal he so clearly needs to place her on?
“It will get easier,” is all I tell him. “In time. I know it doesn’t seem that way now, but there’s only so much despair the human mind can take, and eventually you’ll learn to live with it. You’ll find a measure of peace.”
He just looks at me, his eyes dull.
“She was my peace,” he says.
I have to pause the recording. My chest feels hollow, my heart scoured. I wish, briefly, that I’d never bullied Admiral Paris into releasing Kathryn’s posthumous message.
But I need to hear it. In some ways I still don’t believe she’s gone, even though it’s been almost two years. Starfleet has just officially declared Voyager lost, and I need to hear the message she recorded for me in the event of her death. I need to put my hopes and dreams for our life together into a box and close the lid, or I’ll never survive this.
“Computer, resume,” I order steadily, and Kathryn’s image comes back to life, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
If you’re watching this, I guess I didn’t make it. Hopefully I went out doing something good, something meaningful. But even if I didn’t, even if it was a pointless accident, please don’t be angry with me. At least not for too long.
I know it probably seems terribly unfair right now, but I hope you can find it in yourself to let me go. I want you to find some measure of peace, to move on with your life and be happy. And I want you to remember that I died doing what I loved, but that I loved you best of all.
Goodbye, Mark. Wherever I am, know that l miss you. And I’m sorry.
The recording freezes, and I’m left with a still image of her in the uniform that took her from me. Her red lips, her high cheekbones, the strong jaw I loved to kiss; the coppery hair I used to take down, pin by pin. And her eyes, alive with intelligence and passion, the essence of her captured in one perfect, timeless moment.
If she left a message this time, it wasn’t for me. And it wasn’t for him either, this hollowed-out wreck of a man at my kitchen table. In a way I’m glad for him. I know what it did to me, to watch her telling me she was sorry she was dead. I’m not sure that Captain Chakotay could survive it.
“I should go,” he murmurs. He drains his scotch – I’ve lost count of them – and scrapes back his chair.
He sways a little when he stands, though I’m not sure if it’s alcohol or fatigue or that he’s just at the end of his rope.
“Please thank your wife for putting up with me.”
“You could stay,” I urge, suddenly feeling it would be wrong to let him walk out into the night. “There’s a bed made up for you.”
He shakes his head, smiling faintly. “Thank you, but I have to get back to Voyager. We ship out again in two days.”
He’s already pulling on his coat and making for the door when I call, “Captain?”
“If I ever knew her at all, I know that she loved you.”
His face crumples and he draws in a breath as though I’ve punched him. But after a moment he straightens, smooths out his expression, nods.
“Thanks,” he says. “For everything.”
I close the door behind him and mount the stairs to my bedroom. Carla has fallen asleep with the lamp on, her face soft, dark curls tangled on the pillow. She has one hand under her cheek; a strong hand, capable and broad-fingered. It’s warm in the bedroom and she’s pushed the sheet down to her waist. The lines of her figure curve luxuriantly beneath her flannel pyjamas.
I look at her and I think of another woman, one built more lightly, with sharper cheekbones and jaw and longer, lighter hair. And then I look at the woman I married, and I think about how lucky I am.
Carla’s eyes are open when I focus on her again, and she gives me a smile heavy with tiredness. “Is Captain Chakotay all right?”
“No,” I answer honestly, “but one day he will be. I know that for certain.”
Her smile turns gentle. “I’m glad you figured it out,” she says. “Now, come to bed.”
I crawl in beside her and pull her into the circle of my arms.