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.
Epilogue - Endgame
I’ve come to bring Voyager home.
I release the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and instantly the questions rush in. She’s here – why now? Haven’t I changed her history? Will her plan work this time?
I give the admiral permission to come aboard, nodding to Chakotay to accompany me to the transporter room. She materialises on the pad. Without consciously realising it I reach for Chakotay’s hand.
And she sees. Her grey gaze sweeps over us – shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped; together – and she blinks. Her eyes glisten, and I feel an answering lump in my throat.
“Welcome aboard, Admiral,” I offer, and Chakotay holds out his other hand to help her down from the pad. For a long moment she stares up into his face, and I wonder if she’s ever going to let go.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says, and even though she’s looking at him, I know she’s addressing me. “You’re wondering why I’m here. Why I came back to change a future you’ve done all you can to ensure.”
Chakotay glances between us, frowning. “Is there something I should know about?”
And my older self and I answer in unison, “Temporal prime directive.”
Chakotay tugs his ear.
“Would you give us a moment, please, Commander?” I ask him.
He nods. “Call me if you need anything, Captain.”
As the doors close behind him, the admiral smiles wistfully. “I miss that, you know. The way he’d call me Captain, but he was really saying Kathryn.”
I sit down on the transporter pad and pat the space beside me, waiting until she obliges. Her hands twist in her lap and behind her immobile features I can tell she’s struggling for control.
And then I understand.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Her chin jerks back and she gives a shuddering exhale.
“An away mission,” she replies tonelessly. “About three years from now. It was so pointless –” she catches her breath. “A mining tool malfunctioned and a piece of flying debris pierced him through the heart. He made it back to the ship, but there was nothing the Doctor could do. He died in my arms.”
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, tears clouding my eyes, but when she turns to face me, hers are dry.
“Chakotay wasn’t the only one I lost,” she says. “It took another sixteen years to make it back to Earth, and I lost twenty-two crew. The Borg queen never would let Seven go – she captured her, and four other officers, and assimilated them all. Tom and B’Elanna, Samantha Wildman, Tal Celes. All drones now. Naomi and Miral both grew up without their parents. And then there’s Tuvok.”
Nausea grips me in a wave that rises from my toes. The very future Naomi Wildman had warned my younger self about – so much heartbreak, so much death – had come to pass.
Not again. Not if I can help it.
“But you’re here now.” I grip her hand – hers feels bonier, frailer than my own. “You’ve come back to change that future. And we both know exactly how to make it work. Don’t we?”
“Yes,” she answers, straightening as she musters the faintest of smiles. “We do.”
“We did it,” I breathe.
A flotilla of Starfleet vessels dots the starscape ahead of us, and behind them, the planet we’ve been striving to reach for the past seven years.
Chakotay strides down from the upper level of the bridge, taking his position at my left shoulder as Ensign Kim’s voice quavers, “We’re being hailed.”
A short, stunned exchange with Admiral Paris, a call from Sickbay that sends my helmsman scurrying, and all is silent again. Joy wells up inside me and I have to blink back tears.
Beside me, Chakotay takes my hand in his. It’s rare he dares to do so on the bridge; our relationship – months or years in the making, depending on your perspective – is something we’ve kept private, although I’m sure it’s no secret. I curl my fingers around his and smile at the vision of Earth, glowing blue-green on the viewscreen.
“Thanks for your help, Admiral Janeway,” I whisper, almost under my breath.
“And to Captain Janeway, as well,” Chakotay says. “Both versions of her.”
I squeeze his hand, then tip my head toward the helm. “If you’d be so kind, Commander?”
“It would be my honour, Captain.”
Chakotay slips into Tom’s vacated seat, and I move up behind him, my hand on his shoulder.
“Take us home,” I command.
Voyager slides smoothly into motion, and Chakotay grins up at me over his shoulder. He pitches his voice low so only I can hear him. “You did it, Kathryn,” he murmurs, then smirks. “Temporal prime directive be damned.”
I bite my lip against the laughter I can’t suppress. “We did it, Chakotay. You and me and all of us.”
“I love you,” he whispers.
“I love you, too.” My smile widens. “But if you crash my ship on the home stretch, I’ll toss you into the brig and hand you over to Starfleet in chains. It was my original mission, after all.”
He’s still grinning when he turns back to the helm.
I let the lives that could have been drift through my memory. The regrets and failures and uncrossed barriers; truths and promises and nights in each other’s arms. Whether I acted on it or not, in every lifetime, every timeline, every version of reality: he was always my choice.
This is the way it’s supposed to be.