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
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.
Chapter Four - Mended
And I’d choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.
― Kiersten White
Computer to Captain Janeway.
I stop short in the act of recalibrating my chronically recalcitrant replicator. That’s a new one.
“Janeway here,” I answer, somewhat awkwardly; I talk to Voyager all the time, but she’s never initiated a dialogue with me before. “Go ahead.”
A priority message for your eyes only has been flagged on your personal console.
“Who’s it from?”
The sender is identified as Captain Janeway.
“What? Computer, are you malfunctioning?” Tossing a stembolt aside, I push up to my feet.
“Okay then.” I sit at my desk, pushing aside the stack of crew evaluation padds I’ve been kidding myself I’ll read when I turn in tonight. “Activate console and display message.”
Please state your security code.
Stranger and stranger. “Janeway pi one one zero.”
Code accepted. Message displayed.
The console comes to life, and my face appears on screen. Younger, to be sure, hair in the prim bun I used to wear, expression earnest as my image leans forward.
I don’t remember making this log.
And then she – the younger me – begins to speak.
The ship shakes beneath my feet and I grip the railing behind the command level. This must be it.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Ensign Kim replies from my chair. “Main power is being rerouted to the deflector dish.”
“Who gave that order?”
But I already know, and before anybody can answer me, the lights go out.
“Damage report, Mr Kim.”
“The deflector’s been burnt out,” he answers, “but we’re okay. No other damage.”
“Continue on our previous heading, Mr Paris. One quarter impulse.”
Kim vacates my chair for me, and just as I settle into it I hear the turbolift doors behind me slide open, and Chakotay steps onto the bridge. For a moment I expect to see a strange harness strapped across his chest, scorch marks on his uniform, but the image flickers and disappears, like a dream. Or a memory I never should have had.
“Do you mind telling me why B’Elanna burned out the deflector dish?” I demand as Chakotay walks down to stand in front of me.
“Actually, I ordered her to do it.” His hands settle on his hips as though he’s standing his ground, preparing for me to fire up at him. But his eyes are lit with a different kind of heat.
“Trust me,” he answers, “it was better than the alternative.”
“Which was what?”
“I can’t tell you,” Chakotay says. His eyes are alive, and dark with secrets. “Temporal prime directive.”
And he holds out a hand, smile broadening.
“Repairs are underway, and there’s nothing to worry about,” he declares. “So what do you say we finish our dinner?”
I’m trying so hard to hide the shine I know must be evident in my expression, and even harder not to look at his lips. Those lips that my own, years-younger self just told me I kissed.
The memory of that kiss is vague and hazy. All these years I’ve thought it was a stray fantasy, the faint recollection of a waking dream or the manifestation of my own repressed desires. And yet I remember the first time we met on my bridge – tension boiling between us as I stepped up to him – and the way my gaze had strayed to his lips. I remember my spine tingling with a bolt of want so searing it frightened me. I’d brushed it aside, named it simply a side-effect of the charged situation, but given what I know now …
Was that really the first time we met?
I take his hand and let him tug me to my feet.
“Lead on then, Commander.” I pitch my voice low so that my sultry tone reaches only his ears. The slight widening of his eyes is gratifying in the extreme.
He keeps hold of my hand as we leave the bridge, and for the first time in memory, I don’t pull away.
“We’ve been down this road before.”
“Have we?” I widen my eyes, knowing my guileless act doesn’t fool him for a second.
“You wanting answers to questions you shouldn’t ask.”
“But something did happen.” I lean toward him, all pretence of innocence dropped. “You know it did, Chakotay.”
He sips his cider, gaze sharpening as he assesses me, but stays silent.
“All right,” I rest an elbow on the back of the couch between us, “let’s try this. A few months before your ship was pulled into the Delta quadrant, you and your crew took a rest stop on a planet called Nivoch. While you were off scouting for new warp coils, the others went to a seedy little bar to blow off some steam.”
His forehead creases.
“B’Elanna and Mariah Henley got into a friendly rivalry over how many shots of Risian brandy they could drink.” I savour the increasing surprise on his face as I continue. “Of course B'Elanna, being half-Klingon, believed she could metabolise the alcohol far more easily than a full human, but she didn’t know Mariah had pre-loaded with an anti-intoxicant hypospray.”
“Seventeen shots later, B'Elanna was so tanked that she challenged whomever would take her on to a bat’leth match. She managed to goad a Rigellian tourist into a fight, but then security arrived and arrested her, at which point she vomited all over herself, passed out, and woke up three hours later in a holding cell with a mammoth headache.”
I hold up a hand to silence him. “In punishment, you denied her a detox hypospray and confined her to sewer maintenance for three days.” I smirk. “But she didn’t mind that, because she was so humiliated she preferred to avoid her crewmates until the next topic of gossip came along.”
“I never told you that story,” Chakotay says. “At least, not –” He stops abruptly.
“Actually, you did.” I sip from my glass, a smile curling my lips. “Seven years ago, or a few hours ago, depending on your perspective.”
Chakotay puts down his glass. “But you shouldn’t be able to remember that,” he says slowly. “I set the chroniton pulse and stopped the time displacement. It never happened.”
“I don’t remember it,” I admit. “At least, not clearly. But the woman you met today – the Kathryn Janeway of seven years ago – she remembered. She remembered for long enough to record a log, and I watched that log today.”
“That spatial rift threw the ship into a time loop, and I was the only one who remembered what happened between one loop and the next because…” I trail off, realising that this is all completely irrelevant, and shake my head. “It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the log I left myself … well, it’s made me re-evaluate a lot of the choices I’ve made over the past seven years. The opportunities I’ve turned down.” I reach for his hand and try not to notice that my own is trembling. “The barriers I haven’t crossed.”
Chakotay inhales sharply. His fingers close around mine, warm and protective, and my heart trips into double speed.
“Except,” I murmur, “there aren’t as many barriers as I thought there were. Are there?”
His gaze flickers to my mouth, and he licks his lips.
“There’s just one thing I have to know …” My body sways toward him as though pulled by a magnet.
“What’s that?” His voice is as husky as my own.
“If this is even better than I remember,” I whisper, and I kiss him.
Static leaps between us, humming along my skin and inflaming every nerve-ending. Chakotay’s hands are hot and sure as they stroke upward along my arms, one cradling my face, the other curving behind my neck. And Chakotay’s lips…
I’d never been kissed like that before, my younger self had emphasised on that fateful personal log, a flush tinting her cheeks as her mouth twitched in an involuntary smile. Envy had stabbed me in the stomach, and my heart had pounded as she went on to describe the sensation of his mouth moving softly over hers, his hands holding her firm and steady. I’m not one to wax poetic, but by the time she finished talking my pulse was racing and my breath coming in gulps.
Second-hand memory, however, is nothing compared to this increasingly urgent reality.
I had no plans for tonight beyond kissing him and seeing where it took us, but I realise – as his fingers tug at the fastening of my jacket and his mouth finds my throat and I throw back my head and moan – that one kiss is rapidly stampeding us toward a conclusion I really should have predicted.
“Chakotay,” I choke out as his lips latch onto the pulse point that drives me weak-kneed with want. “Chakotay, wait…”
He goes still, then heaves in a breath as he moves carefully back from me.
“Kathryn, I’m sorry.” His voice is gruff, and he can’t meet my eyes. “I shouldn’t have – I didn’t mean to –” Pushing himself to his feet, he mutters, “I’ll go.”
I’m instantly upright, planted in front of him with my hands on my hips.
“The hell you will, mister.”
He stares at me in surprise.
“I didn’t mean I wanted you to stop,” I explain in a calmer tone. “I just wanted to slow down a little.”
“Slow down?” Chakotay raises his eyebrows. “Seven years wasn’t slow enough for you?”
“Well, from where you’re standing it’s been less than seven hours,” I retort, and then I can’t help grinning.
He smiles back at me. “Far too long.”
I reach out a tentative hand and he takes it immediately. “I just thought that maybe we should talk about this,” I clarify, hesitant. “This must seem like a pretty surprising about-face.”
Chakotay shrugs. “If this had happened yesterday I’d probably have marched you straight down to Sickbay for a DNA scan, but…” his smirk widens, “I met a Kathryn Janeway today who gave me hope that this might not be impossible after all.”
“The way I hear it,” my tone is dry, “she wasn’t taking impossible for an answer.”
We smile at each other.
“That log,” I continue, sobering, “hearing her talk about you, the way she trusted you instantly, and how each time you went through a loop she learned more about you, and about us … it was a revelation. But it was also a reality check, Chakotay. Because she’d known you for the space of a day. Her feelings for you should have been far more complicated than mine, but they were really quite simple.”
His hands squeeze mine gently. His dark eyes are filled with tenderness, and beneath it, something much more ardent.
“It seems I’ve loved you since before I even met you,” I whisper. “My younger self told me to stop wasting time and make the choice I’ve always known I should make. And who am I to ignore my own adv-”
Chakotay cuts me off, his lips hot and urgent on mine as his hands close over my waist. He backs me up against the bulkhead, tongue sweeping into my mouth as I moan half in protest and half in thrilled capitulation. But as he starts to strip the uniform from me and his fingers map the curves and plains of my body, I decide words aren’t really necessary, anyway.