In a Hundred Lifetimes

Summary: A temporal paradox gives Janeway the chance to reassess the choices she’s made and those she’s going to make, even when the future seems inevitable.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

 

Notes: Written for the J/C Cutthroat Fiction competition, Alpha group, Round 2. My prompt was “a good old-fashioned time loop” and for bonus points, only one character was able to remember.

Rated T

Chapter Three - Fragmented
 

Love
Has a way of wilting
Or blossoming
At the strangest,
Most unpredictable hour.
― Suzy Kassem


I clutch the arms of my command chair as Voyager yaws and shudders. Beside me, Commander Cavit picks himself up from the floor, and I have to hide a smirk at his disgruntled expression.

“Ensign Kim, report,” I call.

“Some kind of anomalous energy is surrounding the ship,” Kim replies.

“Source?”

“Unknown, Captain.” Anxiety is clear in his voice. “It’s knocked the engines off-line. External sensors just went down too.”

I tap into the console beside my chair. There’s a strange familiarity to the energy signature displayed on my screen. Something I’ve seen before …

I hear Kim raise his voice from the rear of the bridge. “Sir, I’m afraid I don’t know you…”

And as I rise from my chair, I know exactly who I’m going to see when I turn around.

I feel Cavit rush to his feet beside me. A hiss escapes him as he stares at the Maquis rebel on my bridge, wearing command red and a bewildered expression.

“What is that terrorist doing here?” Cavit snarls.

Barely hearing him, I move toward the upper level. My heart is pounding, but not with fear.

“Hello, Chakotay.”

His gaze wanders over my hair, my face. “Kathryn?”

A smile twitches the corners of my lips, unbidden. “Welcome to the bridge.”

“Captain!” The strident voice of my first officer abruptly reminds me that Chakotay and I are not the only two people here. I feel Cavit adopt a protective stance to my right, his shoulder in front of mine. “Take this man into custody,” he barks at a security officer.

“Belay that,” I cut in, and Lieutenant Andrews pauses, confused. “It’s all right,” I continue. “Mr Chakotay means us no harm.”

Captain,” barks Cavit. “What’s the meaning of this?”

I sidestep him and mount the stairs to stand in front of Chakotay. The certainty, the familiarity I’d felt upon seeing him ebbs slightly, but I can’t show indecision in front of my crew. “Mr Chakotay, Mr Cavit, would you step into my ready room?”

 

===0===


Cavit squares up to Chakotay, fists clenched at his sides and antagonism radiating from every pore. In contrast, the so-called terrorist eyes him calmly, fingers loose and shoulders relaxed.

“Take it easy, Aaron.” I move close, interposing my body between them. My back is almost pressed to Chakotay’s chest; my neck tingles at the soft wash of his breath. My stomach tightens. Every cell in my body is hyper-aware.

But I can’t think about that now.

I fix my stare on Cavit’s face until eventually, with a curl of his lip, he steps back. Grateful for the opportunity to get away from Chakotay and his unexpected, unprecedented effect on me, I immediately move to sit behind my desk.

“The instant we lost control of Voyager’s systems,” I begin, addressing Chakotay, “I somehow knew you were going to step off that turbolift. How did you get here?”

He looks at me silently for a time, then says cautiously, “I’m not sure how much I should tell you, Captain. The temporal prime directive would seem to apply in this situation.”

“You’re from the future,” I deduce immediately. “A future in which you’re a Starfleet officer again.”

“Yes.” He gives a slight smile. “Harry Kim had no idea who I was – I guess that was my first clue.”

“And from your perspective, he should have,” I muse. “Because you’ve been his commanding officer for seven years.”

“How did you know that?” Chakotay stares at me.

“I don’t know,” I mutter.

“Captain, this is preposterous,” blusters Cavit. “You can’t possibly believe there’s any future in which this insurgent regains a Starfleet commission.”

“But apparently there is,” I answer sharply. I turn back to Chakotay. “Clearly there’s some kind of temporal anomaly affecting this ship. What happened?”

He hesitates. “In my time, Voyager encountered a spatial rift that emitted a gravimetric displacement surge. It impacted the warp core, and because I was standing next to the core at the time I got hit as well. The Doctor told me my body was in a state of temporal flux when I arrived in Sickbay. From what I can gather, the same thing has happened to Voyager.”

“It’s been fractured into thirty-seven different timeframes,” I utter, half to myself.

Both Chakotay and Cavit stare at me.

“The Doctor injected you with a chroniton-infused serum,” I continue. “That’s why you’re able to move between the different time periods.”

“That would be my guess.” Chakotay studies me. “How do you know all this?”

“Because I remember going through this before.” I frown. “I believe we’re stuck in a temporal loop.”

“So why don’t we all remember it?” Cavit demands.

“I can’t explain that yet.”

Aaron Cavit opens his mouth, presumably to question further, but I hold up a hand again to silence him. “We don’t have time for this. Mr Chakotay, I want you to return to Sickbay. Replicate enough of the serum to inoculate three people and bring it back to my ready room. If we’re going to put Voyager back together, we’re going to need help.”

“Captain,” Cavit splutters, “you can’t allow this terrorist to roam freely about the ship!”

“Can you suggest an alternative plan, Commander?” I snap. “Because it seems Mr Chakotay is the only person able to cross those temporal barriers.”

“And you trust him?”

I rise from my seat, diminishing Cavit’s height advantage. “Chakotay has had ample opportunity to cause us harm, if that was his intention. Is it, Mr Chakotay?” I don’t bother to look his way, holding Cavit’s incredulous stare.

In a soft, emphatic tone, Chakotay replies: “I’d rather die than hurt you.”

His answer almost makes me falter, but I manage to keep my eyes fixed on my first officer’s and my voice steady. “Then I believe you have an assignment. Please return as quickly as possible.”

Cavit watches Chakotay exit then turns back to me, deliberately calming his voice. “Captain, I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t point out that your actions are contrary to our primary mission. That Maquis should be locked up in the brig, not wandering unescorted around the ship.”

“I’ll note your objections in the log, Mr Cavit. However, I don’t see that I have much of a choice.” I retake my seat. “If it will help alleviate your concerns, I intend to have you and one other crew member inoculated with this serum. I’d suggest Lieutenant Stadi. Her telepathic abilities should give us an advantage in any uncertain situations.”

“I assume that means you intend to use the serum yourself?” Cavit waits for my nod, then continues, “Then I’m forced to object again, Captain. You shouldn’t put yourself in harm’s way. Let me assign a security officer to inject with the serum instead.”

“Denied,” I answer smartly. “This is my ship, Mr Cavit, and if anyone is going to figure out how to put it back together, it’s going to be me. Now, if there’s nothing else, I’d like you to bring Stadi to the ready room.”

 

===0===


“All right,” I announce once the three of us have been inoculated, “I suggest that Mr Chakotay take the lead in this operation, since he has more knowledge of what we might encounter. Chakotay, you mentioned a crewman with skills that might be helpful?”

He nods. “The two places on Voyager where she spends most of her time are cargo bay two and the astrometrics lab. I suggest we try Astrometrics first.”

“Astrometrics?” Stadi asks. “We have a stellar cartography lab, but –”

“We updated it a few years back,” Chakotay answers.

We?” Stadi repeats, eyebrows raised.

“Lieutenant, I understand you have many questions,” I cut in, “but I suggest we keep them to a minimum to avoid breaching the temporal prime directive. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Good. Lead the way, Mr Chakotay.”

“Captain,” Cavit mutters, holding my arm as Stadi follows Chakotay onto the bridge, “I don’t understand your reasoning. Under normal circumstances you’d never allow this man to lead you.”

“These are hardly normal circumstances, Aaron. And I’m not letting him lead me. I’m simply acknowledging his greater familiarity with situations we’re likely to run into. He is from the future, after all.”

“Not a future I could ever imagine,” Cavit mumbles under his breath.

I choose to ignore his comment, and his scowl, as the four of us step onto the turbolift.

 

===0===


“She’s got a pulse,” I murmur, my fingers against the throat of the unconscious crewman lying on the desk.

“May I?” Chakotay indicates the tricorder Veronica Stadi has found on the deck, and at my nod she releases it to him. “I’m detecting an active neurogenic field,” he says. “This could be the time aliens invaded our dreams. Or the day the telepathic pitcher plant put us all into comas.”

“The what?” I stare at him.

He flashes me a quick smile. “Don’t worry, we came through it. Both times.”

He offers me a hand and I take it, rising to my feet. My fingers tingle and I let go of his hand quickly, rubbing my fingers against my trousers.

“We should keep moving.” I find I can’t quite meet his eyes. “You said we were going to the astrometrics lab?”

Chakotay nods, falling into step with me as we follow Cavit and Stadi along the corridor. “It has temporal sensors that should help us map the different time periods on the ship. Maybe while we’re there, we can also figure out why time is repeating.”

“Naomi Wildman,” I blurt abruptly.

“What?” Chakotay stops.

“The lieutenant. Twenty-something, strawberry-blonde hair. Little spikes on her forehead, like a Ktarian.”

“How can you possibly know about Naomi?” Chakotay wonders. “From your point of view, she hasn’t been born yet. And in mine she’s only a child.”

“But I can picture her, as clear as I can see you right now.”

“Maybe you met her in a previous life.” He smiles.

“In a previous time loop,” I correct. “And something tells me we’ve experienced more than one.”

“Do you have any idea how many we’ve been through?”

“No,” I admit. “I just have this feeling that some things change each time we go through them, but other things…” Slowing my steps, I can’t help looking up into his eyes, and my breath sticks in the back of my throat. “Some things are always the same,” I finish in a murmur.

His lips part and my gaze drops to them, my hand lifting to touch his chest. The instant I make contact he sucks in a breath. Startled, both by his reaction and mine, I drop my hand as if he’s burned me.

“We need to keep moving,” I mutter, and he nods as though he doesn’t trust himself to speak.

We enter Astrometrics, and for a moment I’m dazzled by the size of the screen before me and its display of unfamiliar stars. Then a young woman’s voice breathes “Captain,” and I turn my attention to the two Starfleet officers standing in front of the platform.

“Naomi Wildman, I presume,” I pronounce. “And Icheb.”

 

===0===


You both died. Seventeen years ago.

I’d cut off Naomi’s explanation for their surprise at seeing us, immediately asking her to activate the temporal sensors and scan the interior of the ship. On the astrometrics display, I recognise stardates set months or years into my future: stardate 49630 in Sickbay, 54418 on deck two, 50028 in Engineering …

“Engineering,” I remark sharply. “There’s someone there – she wants the ship. She has allies…” I rub my temples, concentrating.

A face enters my mind: long hair, malevolent green eyes, the greyish-scaled markings of a Cardassian.

“Seska.”

The effect on Chakotay is immediate. All the gentle humour leaches from his eyes. His body stiffens, his stance instantly combative. Menace rolls off him in waves.

Now, this is the Maquis warrior I was sent to hunt down.

I can feel I’m staring at him, but I can’t help it. My heart is thumping at the abrupt and startling change in his demeanour, but – I realise it with a jolt – I’m not afraid of him. I’m turned on.

Very turned on.

Horrified, praying I’m not blushing outwardly as well as in, I clear my throat. “There’s one advantage to my remembering the events of previous time loops – I can remember now what we need to do to counteract the temporal shattering effect. Chakotay, Cavit, Stadi – we’ll need to go to Sickbay and replicate enough of the chroniton serum to inject every gelpack cluster on the ship.”

“For what purpose?” Cavit’s tone is surly.

“We’ll need to generate a chroniton field throughout the ship to force Voyager back into temporal sync. The bio-neural circuitry will act as a conductor for the field, but we’ll have to use the warp core to generate the chroniton pulse. Which means we need to take back Engineering.”

Stadi has a look of intense concentration on her face. “Captain, I think there are at least ten hostiles in Engineering. We might need help if we’re going to overpower them. They are heavily armed.”

“All right,” I agree. “Stadi, Cavit, I want you two to make your way to the Jeffries tube behind the upper engineering level. Scout the situation, and scan for the space-time distortions. See if you can access the weapons locker on deck ten without crossing any temporal barriers. If we can get phasers this will be a lot easier.”

“Understood,” Stadi replies.

Cavit is still scowling. “May I ask what you intend to do, Captain?”

“We need more manpower,” I reply. “Chakotay and I will return to the bridge and use some of the serum to inoculate a few of the crew.”

My first officer doesn’t look happy.

“Problem, Mr Cavit?” I ask sharply.

“No ma’am,” he answers, sullen.

“Then you’re dismissed.”

Cavit marches down the corridor with Stadi in tow, and I turn back to Chakotay, keeping my expression as impassive as I can.

“Let’s go, Mr Chakotay. We can start on deck one.”

 

===0===


Halfway into the turbolift ride, I realise that bringing Chakotay back onto the bridge probably isn’t the wisest of moves and divert him to deck two instead. I explain the situation to the bridge crew, select Andrews, Molina and Kim for inoculation and order them to rendezvous with Cavit and Stadi on deck ten. Andrews in particular questions me – politely, but he’s taking his security duties very seriously – about Chakotay’s part in the ship’s predicament and whether there are more Maquis on board. By the time I’ve convinced him Chakotay’s intentions are good, a headache is beginning to encroach.

There’s a gelpack node in the corridor outside the briefing room. I need to inject it, but first I need a few minutes’ peace and quiet. I take the opportunity to escape into the conference room. There’s a replicator in there; I could use a coffee –

Silhouetted against the stars in the darkened room is a woman I’ve never seen before.

Except, as she turns toward me, there’s something hauntingly familiar about her. Smooth hair in a chin-length bob, white as snow; a straight back; a cup of fragrant tea in her rather elegant hand.

She reminds me of my mother.

Except that my mother was never in Starfleet, and this woman is wearing a uniform I recognise as ‘fleet through and through, despite its never-before-seen design. Admirals’ bars wink on her collar.

“Who the hell are you?”

The woman steps closer, out of the shadows, and looks me up and down. A smile twitches the corner of her mouth.

“Apparently,” she drawls, “I’m you.”

 

===0===


“You’re the admiral,” I breathe, once shock has released its strangle-hold on my voice. “You’re the one – Naomi Wildman told me about you. You’re here to bring Voyager home.”

“Then you know what happens,” my doppelganger deduces. She cocks her head. “What are you doing here? Clearly, you’re not the Captain Janeway who just rallied her stalwart crew into defying my orders. You’re younger, and your hair…” she smiles, “I can’t tell you how much I regretted cutting it. Chakotay looked like I’d kicked him.”

I can’t even begin to respond to that, so I ignore it. “The ship has been shattered into thirty-seven different timeframes, thanks to an encounter with a spatial anomaly. I’m from a time just before Voyager apparently gets dragged into the Delta quadrant.”

For a moment her supercilious expression slips, and I read devastation in her eyes. She looks away.

“What is it?”

“You have no idea what’s ahead of you,” she says softly. “You have no idea what I’ve seen, what I’ve had to do ... I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” She laughs, bitterly. “Even if my worst enemy has always been myself.”

“So you’ve come back to change your history, temporal prime directive be damned.”

“That’s right.” The admiral eases into a chair, eyes fixed on mine. “Are you judging me, Captain?”

I open my mouth to offer a scathing retort – and stop.

I want to change your past, Naomi … Consider yourselves under orders to assist me …

Changing your future could have unforeseen effects.

I’ll live with it.


She isn’t the only version of me who’d bend space and time to protect her people. To get what she wants.

“I have no right to judge you,” I concede, sinking into the chair beside her. “So why don’t you tell me what was so terrible about your life that you’d give up everything to change it?”

She looks at me steadily. “Are you sure you want to know? Your slightly older counterpart didn’t want to listen. At least not at first.”

I incline my head. “I’m curious. Obviously, you got back to Earth, got a promotion. Things can’t have been that bad for you.”

I know I’m goading her, and she rises to the bait, eyes flashing fury. “You have no idea what it was like. It took us twenty-three years to get home. Twenty-three years. I lost so many of my crew – I wished I’d died along with them. Cavit, Stadi, Carey … Seven … And Tuvok, locked up in a padded room scribbling mad nonsense … Chakotay …” She sucks in a breath abruptly.

“What about him?” I ask quietly, knowing somehow, from the way she said his name, that the loss of him was the tipping point.

The admiral links her fingers in her lap and stares at them. “You have no idea what’s coming,” she repeats. “It was hard, so hard… And Chakotay was the only person I could always count on. But I ruined that, too.”

She lifts her gaze and I almost recoil from the pain in it.

“I pushed him away,” she says, softly. “Again and again, until one day – long after most people would have – he gave up. He gave up on me. And it’s terribly selfish of me, considering all the lives I lost, but he’s the one that haunts me. He’s the reason I came back.”

She gives me a few moments’ silence to absorb that, then speaks again.

“I remember this day, you know. The day the ship was fractured into different timeframes. Chakotay never would tell me what happened to him that day, but I knew … I knew it was important to him. Now I see it was because he’d spent the day with you.” She smiles faintly. “We had dinner together that night, and it was the last time I can remember things being right between us. After that it seemed like we were as splintered as the ship, and the cracks just kept getting wider.”

“Until finally,” I murmur, “there were some chasms you couldn’t bridge. Some barriers you couldn’t cross.”

“I suppose so.” She sighs. “I wish there was some way you could change that. But I know that once the timeline is reset, you won’t remember this.”

I straighten in my chair. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

The admiral frowns at me. “Explain.”

“There’s something you don’t know about what’s happening today. We’re stuck in a temporal loop.”

She stares.

“And,” I continue, “I’m the only one who seems to remember anything from one loop to the next.”

I can almost see her mind working. “A causality loop?”

“That would be my guess.” I lean forward. “I think that somehow, whatever Chakotay did, or does, to reset the timeline actually causes the repeating time loop. From what I can remember – and it’s getting clearer every time we experience this day – he’ll use the warp core to initiate a chroniton pulse just before the gravimetric surge hits the ship. I think the pulse is actually attracting the surge and causing a schism in the space-time continuum. That’s why Voyager ends up split into thirty-seven time periods, and that’s why we’re stuck in this time loop.”

“The same way that the collision between the Enterprise and the Bozeman caused a space-time rupture,” she muses. “How do we fix it?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, too. Each time we experience this day Chakotay and I have used a chroniton serum to inoculate the bio-neural circuitry, on the theory that when the gravimetric surge hits our deflector dish, its energy will dissipate throughout the ship bia the gelpacks and force Voyager back into temporal sync. From what I’ve gathered, that energy surge is composed of chronitons and neutrinos.”

“So if you flood the ship’s systems with anti-neutrinos just before the surge –”

“– it should neutralise the temporal displacement effect and stop the time loop from repeating,” I finish for her, mischief creeping into my voice as I add, “It’s nice to know I don’t lose my wits over the years, Admiral.”

She gives me the first genuine smile I’ve seen from her, but it fades quickly. “We always were competent at theoretical science, Captain. But I’ve learned over the years that some things are far more important, and it’s those skills we’re lacking.”

Impulsively, I reach for her hands. She jolts when I take them, as though she hasn’t been touched in so long that it’s alien to her.

“I’m not going to try to change your mind about reversing your history,” I tell her earnestly. “But I think you should know that your plan fails.”

All the brittle humour drains from her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“The transwarp hub,” I explain. “You’re going to convince the Captain Janeway of this timeframe to send you off to be assimilated. Your plan is to destroy the Borg and their hub with your neurolytic pathogen and send Voyager home through one of the conduits. It won’t work.”

“How do you know all this?” Her voice is barely a whisper.

“Naomi Wildman,” I remind her. “She exists in a time period twenty-four years in my future. She told me about the day you came to the ship. How the pathogen was disseminated too slowly, and the Borg queen defeated you. How Captain Janeway and Chakotay died that day, and Voyager still ended up in the Delta quadrant, crippled and without its command team.”

Her face is the colour of weak milk.

“But I can help you change that,” I urge. “You have a neurological disorder that you control with regular hexadrin injections. That’s what interferes with the assimilation virus. All you need to do is remember not to take your injection before you go on your final mission.”

“How am I supposed to remember that?” she whispers. “If you’re right, as soon as you reset the time loop I won’t remember anything that’s happened here today.”

“No, you won’t,” I agree. “But I will.”

 

===0===


“You were gone quite a while.”

Chakotay’s voice startles me as I step out of the turbolift on deck two.

“Oh. Yes. I, uh, I had some business to take care of.”

He raises his eyebrows but doesn’t comment further. “I’ve inoculated two crew members I found in the mess hall – Tom Paris and Neelix – and I’ve taken care of the gelpack nodes on decks two and three. We should head straight to deck four.”

“Your Maquis crewmates,” I remember suddenly. “They’re in the transporter room.”

Chakotay shakes his head. “If you don’t mind me saying, Captain, this is getting a little unnerving.”

“What?”

“You predicting what’s going to happen all the time,” he explains. “Which of the Maquis are you referring to?”

“A big dark man – Aroya?”

“Ayala.”

“Yes. And the half-Klingon woman.”

“B’Elanna Torres.” He smiles.

“She’s important to you,” I deduce. I refuse to pay any attention to the small, hard kernel of envy that lodges in my gut.

“Yes, she is,” he says without further explanation. “You said they were Maquis. How did you know?”

“Because they’re not in uniform. I think they’re from a time period shortly after I stranded us all out here.”

“Hey.” He takes my arm to make me face him, his eyes gentle. “Would you stop saying things like that? I’ve spent seven years watching you beat yourself up over a decision you know, deep in your bones, was the right one.”

“Apparently that’s something that never changes,” I mutter, then at his enquiring look, “never mind. Let’s keep moving.”

He falls into step beside me.

“You were going to tell me something,” I recall. “About B’Elanna Torres. A story.”

“I was?”

“Yes, in a previous loop…” I frown, concentrating. “It had something to do with her getting drunk on a planet somewhere in the Badlands.”

Chakotay’s face lights up in a wide, wicked grin. “Nivoch?”

“That’s it.”

He starts to chuckle.

“All right,” I demand, “you have to tell me this story now.”

 

===0===


Injecting the remaining gelpacks and inoculating the rest of our chosen crew takes another couple of hours, and by the time Chakotay and I rendezvous with the others on deck ten, I’m in dire need of caffeine. I’m tired and headachey, and far too preoccupied with the information my older self divulged to me.

Especially about Chakotay. And about Chakotay and me.

Mark sent me a Dear John letter about four years into the journey, when we’d established contact with Starfleet, she’d told me. But in my heart I’d said goodbye to him long before then. It’s hard to hold onto a memory when your soulmate is right there by your side.

The things she told me. About arguments and away missions and laughing long into the night; about bathtubs and borrowed books and a story she knew by heart. About almosts and maybes and promises and denials, and about all the time she wasted, believing she couldn’t accept what he offered.

Don’t make the same mistake, she’d urged me, grey eyes drilling into mine. Don’t spend your life regretting the choices you make. Don’t end up like me.

Chakotay is silent beside me as we lead our motley group toward the upper level of Engineering. But I am so aware of his presence he might as well be shouting.

“Captain.” Veronica Stadi falls into step with us, startling me even though her voice is pitched low. “Could I have a word with you, please?”

“If you’ll give us a moment, Mr Chakotay?”

Chakotay falls back politely as Stadi bends her head to mine.

“I thought you should know that I’m sensing an extreme level of aggression from Commander Cavit,” Stadi whispers. “He’s incensed that you’re working so closely with Chakotay, and he doesn’t trust the Maquis.” She glances over her shoulder at the Borg drone at the rear of the group. “Or Seven of Nine, for that matter.”

I steal a glance at my first officer, who’s walking close to Andrews and Molina, face set, talking to them quietly. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” I murmur.

We stop at the Jeffries tube just outside the upper engineering station, and I open a storage locker, pulling out a tricorder. Scanning in the direction of Engineering, I hold up a hand for silence.

“I’m reading one Cardassian life sign, and about a dozen of a species this tricorder is registering as Kazon,” I pronounce. “I assume you’re familiar with them, Mr Chakotay?”

“Unfortunately.” He moves up beside me. “It’s a shame we haven’t been able to find any weapons within the temporal barrier surrounding Engineering, but at least we have the element of surprise.”

“You seem to know this Seska quite well,” I offer blandly, reading the answering flash of chagrin in his eyes. “How do you suggest we proceed?”

But before Chakotay can answer, there’s a rush of movement behind me. I turn and come face-to-muzzle with the business end of a phaser. Above it, Cavit’s eyes are livid.

“I’m assuming command of this vessel under Starfleet Order 104, section B, paragraph 1-A,” announces Cavit. “Captain Janeway, you are relieved.”

What?”

“Take them both to the brig,” Cavit orders, jerking his head at Andrews.

I draw myself up. “Stand down, Commander, and put that weapon away. Right. Now.”

The phaser remains pointed directly at my chest. “You’re personally acquainted with this man,” he growls, indicating Chakotay. “I’ve watched the way you behave around him for hours, and there’s no other explanation for it. The two of you are lovers, and you, Captain, are a Maquis collaborator!”

“That’s ridiculous,” I snarl. “And this is mutiny. Lieutenant Andrews, disarm him.”

Andrews hesitates, glancing between Cavit and me with a desperate expression.

Now, Mr Andrews,” I repeat, just as Cavit barks, “Don’t just stand there, arrest them!”

I feel Chakotay tense beside me, and I reach out quickly to put my hand on his arm. Aaron Cavit’s eyes widen and he opens his mouth, but he doesn’t get the chance to speak. He’s barely drawn breath when there’s the crunching sound of a piece of conduit smacking into the back of his head, and Cavit crumples to the deck.

Behind him, Veronica Stadi grips the pipe in both hands, her expression wavering between sheepish and stunned. “S-sorry, Captain,” she mumbles. “I couldn’t think of any other way to stop him.”

I hear a soft snort of laughter and flick Chakotay a quelling glare. “That’s quite alright, Lieutenant. Very quick thinking.” I nod at Andrews and Molina. “Escort the commander back to the bridge, please, and keep him under guard. We’ll take it from here.”

 

===0===


Even three men down, we make quick work of Seska and her friends, immobilising them and ushering them into a Jeffries tube. I make a short speech thanking this group of near-strangers for pulling together, send them off to their various timeframes, and walk slowly toward the warp core, where Chakotay waits in readiness.

He smiles as I approach. “You always did know how to inspire loyalty in your people.”

“Apparently, not everybody feels that way,” I remark. “You do realise that when I get back to the bridge I’ll have to deal with a mutinous first officer with a very sore head.”

“He had it coming,” Chakotay shrugs. “I like your Lieutenant Stadi. I’m sorry I never –” He stops short.

“Never got to meet her? Is that what you were going to say?”

“Yes,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

I lower my gaze to the floor. “I know.”

“Kathryn?”

“Yes?”

He waits until I look up at him to continue. “I can’t help wondering,” he says softly, “what Cavit saw to make him believe we were lovers.”

A flush washes up from my throat and into my cheeks. “I think that’s supposed to be my line,” I mutter.

“What do you mean?”

I lean a hip against the console, tracing patterns with my fingers on its surface to avoid meeting his eyes. “I mean, I’ve asked you a question in every previous time loop, but I don’t need to ask you this time. I already know the answer.”

“What question?” He shifts closer, ducking his head to try to catch my gaze. “Is it about us?”

“Yes,” I almost whisper, finally looking up into his face. “Because I know what Cavit saw between us. It’s been evident to me from the moment you stepped onto my bridge.”

Chakotay’s chest is rising and falling quickly, his gaze riveted to mine.

“You know – probably better than I do – that there are some lines we’ve never crossed.” I swallow hard, placing a trembling hand on his chest. “But this is a moment out of time, Chakotay. Don’t you think we deserve to step over those barriers just once? Just for this one moment?”

And before he can answer, I take that last step that brings my body almost flush against his, rise up on my toes and fit my lips to his.

 

===0===


I wasn’t expecting this.

It’s one thing to feel that instant fizz and thrill of overpowering attraction, rare as it is; even rarer to find a genuine admiration and enjoyment in being with a person. But to find the two together is immeasurably precious. Almost magical. So incredible, in fact, that for the brief moment in which I can still form rational thought, I mourn for the woman I’m going to become.

Because how cruel, how devastating it must be to sit beside this man every single day, to long every minute of my life just to reach out a hand and accept what he offers, when my head is telling me it’s the one thing I can’t have.

But then Chakotay presses closer, his arm winding around my waist and his tongue sliding along my lower lip, and all I can do is exist entirely in this one, perfect moment.

Heat is spiralling between us, winding me higher, stealing my breath and prickling my skin. My hands grip onto his jacket. My hips mould mindlessly to his. I feel his fingers weave into my hair, his other arm holding me close, and I pull my mouth away from his to tip my head back, gasping for air.

His lips find my throat and I can’t stop the groan that bubbles up from my chest. I want him, I want him more than my next breath – but it’s as though the sound I make breaks him out of the cocoon of desire we’ve woven around us.

Chakotay eases back, loosening his hands on me, and at my disappointed sigh he huffs out a chuckle. I open my eyes and find him watching me with a mixture of humour, affection and oh, so much want.

“That was …”

“Unexpected?” I quirk a smile at him, still fighting to control my breathing.

“You could say that.” He grins at me, wide and unabashed. “In the best possible way.”

I can’t help laughing, and by silent, mutual agreement our hands fall to our sides and we stand there, inches apart, smiling into each other’s eyes.

“Well, Captain,” he says eventually, gently, “as much as I’d like to stand around here all day, I have work to do.”

“Yes, you do.” I step back and offer him my hand; the gesture seems ridiculously formal after that kiss – that kiss – but strangely right, and he takes it in his own.

“See you in the future, Kathryn,” he says.

“Until then,” I reply, “Chakotay.”

 

===0===


Chakotay isn’t the only one with work to do.

I make my way quickly to deck eight. I’ll only have a few minutes to do what needs to be done in order to stop these time loops from occurring, but it’ll be enough. It should be enough.

Just outside the science lab is the main bio-neural circuitry node. There’s a temporal distortion between the node and the lab; unfortunate, because I won’t be able to bring the quantum flux modulator I need for this job through the barrier. I cast about for inspiration and spot an engineering kit attached to the wall. It contains devices for monitoring EPS power flow and a range of safety tools, including a plasma fire extinguisher.

Perfect.

I drain the charge from the plasma extinguisher and fit it into the node housing. The tricky part is going to be modifying the tool into a conduit to flood the bio-neural gelpacks with anti-neutrinos, but after a couple of minutes’ cursing and muttering, I’ve done it. This time when Chakotay initiates the chroniton surge, the anti-neutrinos will counteract the looping effect and everything should return to normal. Chakotay will be the only one who remembers what happened here today, and he’ll only remember the most recent loop.

At least, he'll be the only one who's supposed to remember. But I have other plans.

I check the chrono I’ve synchronised with the timeframe in Engineering and bite my lip. It’s going to be tight, but I can still make it.

The console beside the circuitry node chirrups at me: my job here is done.

Closing off the anti-neutrino flow, I hurry down the corridor to Astrometrics.