In Momento Temporis
Summary: All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway, Kes
Disclaimer: The characters, the background and the reset button belong to Paramount. The rest is mine.
Notes: This story is set a couple of weeks after Unity, because my romantic little heart just had to try to make some sense of that episode.
Warning: Major character deaths. Truckloads of angst. Sex. Also, the occasional profanity.
VII. Loop Seven
~The time is 0600. The time is 0600.~
“Computer, cancel alarm. What’s the stardate?”
I have another chance.
I’m showered, dressed and at Kathryn’s door by 0615. Predictably, she’s already in uniform and pacing her living area, coffee in hand. “Commander,” she greets me. “Tea?”
“No, thank you.”
She stops pacing and comes close, searching my face. “Is something wrong, Chakotay?”
“Yes. But I think I should explain at the morning briefing.”
“Does it affect the ship?”
“Very much so.”
Kathryn puts down her cup. “Then let’s go.”
On the way to the turbolift, she taps her commbadge and calls the senior staff to the briefing room. They straggle in: Tuvok first, looking immaculate; B’Elanna next, in yesterday’s uniform, grease streaking her face and hair wild, clearly having pulled an all-nighter in Engineering; Tom and Harry together, both slightly rumpled and sleepy; then Kes, her pale face flushed.
“You didn’t have to come, Kes,” Kathryn says in surprise.
“Actually, she did,” I counter.
Kathryn gives me an assessing look. “All right, Commander, the floor is yours.”
I activate the internal comm. “Chakotay to the Doctor. I need you to dial into the meeting.”
The Doc’s face appears on the wall screen. ~I’m here, Commander.~
I look around at them all. “This is going to sound unbelievable, but I need you all to listen. We’re experiencing a time loop. Sometime today, we’ll encounter a species called the Draelath. We’ve just entered their space, and they won’t be happy about it. They may attack us without provocation or they may hail first and attack later; it hasn’t been consistent between loops. Whichever path they choose, the Captain will die.”
I have their full attention now.
“Their shielding has some kind of tachyon displacement signature. In what I assume was the first timeline, the impact of our weapons fire on their shields is what created the temporal disturbance. We can collapse their shields with a deflector pulse at inverse harmonic resonance.”
I pause to let them absorb that, and Harry asks, “How come you’re the only one aware of this, Commander?”
“Kes is also aware of the temporal displacement, although not to the same degree. In previous loops, she has described events that took place in other timelines.” They all look at her and she goes pink, but nods. “As for me,” I continue, “I was struck by a tachyon surge during the first loop, which the Doctor treated with a chroniton serum. Something about that combination has made me aware of what we’re all experiencing.”
~Intriguing,~ the Doc interjects. ~I’d like to scan you as soon as possible, Commander.~
Kes is already walking over to me, medical tricorder in hand. “I’m detecting elevated levels of chroniton and tachyon flux, acetycholine and adrenaline,” she confirms. “I’ll defer to your expertise, of course, Doctor, but it seems consistent with the readings you’d expect from someone experiencing temporal displacement.”
“I want this to end,” I say emphatically. “B’Elanna, Harry, you two need to come up with a way to neutralise the subspace temporal effects. Doctor, you and Kes should work on counteracting the temporal flux in my system. In a previous loop you discovered that a combination of the tachyon surge and your chroniton serum caused a temporal displacement in my neurotransmitters. Tuvok, we should raise shields immediately and ready the deflector to emit the resonance pulse. Tom, scan for ships in the vicinity.” I stand. “Let’s go.”
Nobody moves. They’re all staring at Kathryn, who’s remained unusually silent. She nods at them and they file out of the briefing room. I move to follow.
“Commander.” Her voice is steely. “Remain a moment, please.”
I turn back to her, automatically adopting the at-ease posture.
She steps up close and I can see she’s fired up, but I gaze back at her calmly. All I can see is the woman I held in my arms last night, the woman who touched me and kissed me as if she loved me. There are many things I regret about the past few days, the past few weeks, but that’s something I’ll always cherish, even if she has no memory of it.
Her eyes soften as she looks into mine. “So, Chakotay, how many of these loops have you experienced?”
“This is the seventh.”
“And I’ve died in every previous timeline?”
“Yes.” I lower my gaze, not wanting her to see the reflection of those memories, but she knows.
“I’m sorry, Chakotay,” she says gently, resting her hand on my chest. Then her mouth quirks up at the corner. “Although I guess this means I have Ensign Kim’s record beat.”
I cover her hand with my own and wait until she looks at me. “I won’t let it happen again, Kathryn. Whatever it takes.”
Her smile fades and she looks uncomfortable at the intensity in my voice. I release her hand and step back. “We should get back to the bridge,” she murmurs.
An hour later, the Draelath ship drops out of warp and immediately fires on us. Kathryn nods at Tuvok and he disables their shields with a single pulse. “They’re hailing,” Harry confirms.
After some persuasive talking, Kathryn convinces Festan to allow her to transport to his ship. As before, he sets a time three hours distant and says he’ll send instructions for contact. Harry downloads the protocols onto a PADD and Kathryn calls Tuvok into her ready room. When he comes out half an hour later and tells me Kathryn has gone to her quarters to change, I turn over the bridge and head directly there.
“Enter,” she calls at my chime.
Her quarters are darkened, just like that last time; and just like that time, she’s curled up on the couch, her boots kicked off, staring out at the stars. The memory of that day rushes over me like a fire-flood and I have to clench my fists to battle a wave of desire. I clear my throat, and she looks up at me.
“I suppose you’re here to talk me out of going over to that ship,” she says, a slight smile on her lips.
“Would it do any good?” I walk cautiously over to her.
“Probably not,” she admits. She reaches for the PADD on the table beside her and tosses it to me; I catch it one-handed. “Have we been here before?”
“Yes.” I scan the PADD quickly. “And their terms were the same.”
“What happened that time?”
“You and Tuvok went to the Draelath ship. One of you failed to follow a protocol and they shot you. You died.” I drop the PADD on the table and sit beside her, taking her hands in mine. “Kathryn, if you must go, take me with you.”
“Chakotay, you know that’s not standard procedure…”
“Nothing about this is standard procedure.” I tighten my fingers on hers. “Kathryn, I have to be there with you. If I don’t go, you’ll die.”
She starts to speak, but I shake my head. “I know it’s not logical - I can’t explain it. I just know that if I’m ever going to break us out of this time loop, I have to save you. And Kathryn, I cannot watch you die again.” My voice breaks a little on the last few words and I have to purposefully calm my breathing before I can go on. “There’s something I need to talk to you about, and I really need you to listen, because if I don’t tell you this, things may never be right between us again.”
She stills. “All right. I’ll listen.”
“It’s about Riley Frazier.”
Her hands draw back from mine and her face turns unreadable. “Commander, I’ve told you there’s nothing –“
“Stop. Just stop. Please.”
She twists her hands together in her lap and her face remains set, but she gives me a short nod.
“I’ve watched you die seven times now,” I begin. “Do you remember the first time? When we crashed the shuttle on that planet a few weeks back, and the alien was invading your consciousness?”
“Yes, of course.”
“You never told me exactly what he made you see. But I’ll tell you what I saw.” This is harder than I thought it was going to be, and I need to move, so I get up and pace a few steps away from her. “You were so still and so pale, lying on the ground on that planet. I tried to resuscitate you for what felt like forever. But nothing I did could bring you back, and eventually I had to accept that you were gone. I held you and cried over your body.”
I turn back to her, and I can see in her eyes that she already knows this. Maybe the alien showed her; maybe she just knows how I’d take it if she died in my arms. “Then the Doctor arrived and saved your life, and you and I went sailing on the holodeck. And everything went back to normal.”
She shifts uncomfortably. She knows damn well things didn’t just go back to normal. I know she still sleeps even less than she did before that day; that she roams Voyager at night, distracting herself from thoughts of death, tracing her hands over the bulkheads of the ship that carries us, connecting with the people who serve her. And I think she knows that I’ll never be the same, either.
I sit facing her again, and this time when I take her hands she twines her fingers into mine. “I wanted so much to touch you, that night on the holodeck,” I tell her. “I needed to know you were really alive, and there with me. But I didn’t, and I think you know why.”
She drops her gaze, and I see a blush creeping over her cheeks. “Because if you had touched me, we might have done something I’d regret.”
“Yes.” I wish I could tell her about last night. I wish I could tell her she didn’t regret it then. But that was then, and this is now.
“You kept the resolution I made for both of us,” she says so quietly I can barely hear her. “Thank you.”
“I did it to keep the promise I made to you,” I reply. “But I’ve found that promise very hard to live with, and it’s been especially difficult since that night. I’ve been lost, Kathryn. Do you know what it’s like to watch the person you love most in this world die, then come back to life, and to not be able to hold her and tell her you’re so grateful she’s alive? To be afraid every day that you’ll lose her again?”
I see her eyes widen, and I realise I’ve said it – said the words I can’t take back. No hiding behind careful flirtation or made-up stories this time. It’s out there.
“Oh, Chakotay,” she says softly. Her fingers tighten on mine and her eyes are swimming with tears. I wish I could stop here, in this moment, but I need to tell her the rest.
“I couldn’t think of anything else for weeks afterward. The need to go to you and hold you was almost overwhelming. I’d lie awake at night wondering if I should check myself into the brig just so I wouldn’t be able to go to your quarters. And then I met Riley and her cooperative.”
“You know about the neural link. Well, Riley read my thoughts. She knew what had happened to you, and how I felt about you. And she offered me what you couldn’t. Being physically close to someone, holding them, giving and receiving comfort. I’m sorry I accepted that, Kathryn. I’m sorry I was weak. Most of all, I’m sorry that I hurt you.”
She’s quiet, and I can’t see her face; she’s bowed her head. But I see the tears dripping from her chin, falling onto our joined hands in her lap. It twists my heart and I have to look away so I won’t start crying myself.
“So you see why I have to go with you today,” I continue eventually, when I’ve got myself back under control. “I believe the only way I’ll stop living through your death every day is if I prevent it, and the only way I can do that is if I’m there with you. So please, Kathryn. Let me come with you.”
I stand next to Kathryn on the transporter pad, tugging at my jacket; these damn dress uniforms never were comfortable. She nods at Ensign Martin at the transporter controls. “Keep a lock on us, Ensign. We may need a quick getaway.”
I feel Kathryn’s fingers brush the back of my hand, lightly, and then she straightens. “Energise.”
We rematerialise on the Draelath ship, facing Festan and several armed soldiers. Festan steps forward. “Captain Janeway. Commander Chakotay. Follow me.”
They lead us to a small chamber, where one of the Draelath indicates a screened area at the back of the room. “You first, Commander. Disrobe and submit to a complete search.”
I’m not looking forward to this, and as it turns out, I have good reason not to. The Draelath’s idea of a body search is unpleasant and intrusive, to say the least. I grit my teeth and put up with it, wishing Kathryn didn’t have to go through this. When I’m permitted to dress and I step out from behind the screen, Kathryn sends me an enquiring look. I give her a grim nod and she tightens her lips and takes my place.
Her face is set when she emerges from behind the screen, and she turns immediately to Festan. “Have we satisfied your inspection protocols?”
Festan jerks his head at the guards. “Escort them to the meeting chamber.”
We’re marched down a dim corridor and into a large hexagonal room with a vaulted ceiling. There’s a dais at the back of the room. One of the Draelath nudges us toward it, his disruptor in my back. “Kneel,” he says peremptorily. I glance at Kathryn and she nods, almost imperceptibly. We sink to our knees.
Festan appears from a door behind the dais. He’s dressed in voluminous orange robes and has some kind of jewelled collar around his scaly neck. He stands on the dais and I’m momentarily thankful for the Draelath rule forbidding us to look him in the face during this negotiation; he’s two metres tall, the dais raises him another half-metre, and we’re kneeling. The ache in my neck would have been unbearable.
“Outsiders,” he begins. “You have dared to enter Draelath space and have attacked this vessel. The punishment for this transgression is immediate destruction. However, as you claim to have been unaware of your trespass, we have agreed to your request to speak with us. Explain your petition.”
Kathryn straightens beside me. “Festan, as I explained before, Voyager is alone in this part of the quadrant and we’re simply trying to find the most expedient route back to our home. All we ask is to be allowed to travel peacefully through your territory. We have no wish to harm you.” She pauses, then adds, “And we didn’t attack you – we simply defended ourselves against your weapons. That should be proof enough of our intentions.”
I can’t help thinking that Festan is only allowing this contact because it’s obvious that Voyager outclasses his ship. Kathryn is too diplomatic to state it explicitly, but one well-aimed photon torpedo could take them out while their shields are down.
“Explain how you were able to disrupt our shielding. Have you been surveilling us?”
“We weren’t aware of your species until this morning.”
Festan isn’t buying it. “And yet, with one shot, you disabled our shields. This is evidence of prior knowledge of our military capabilities.”
Kathryn says carefully, “I spoke the truth when I said we’d never met you before today. However, one of my crew claims that there is a temporal paradox at work here, and gave us the information we needed to defend ourselves without causing harm to you.”
All at once, the level of tension in the chamber rises, and Festan is pointing a disruptor at Kathryn’s chest. “You have manipulated the timeline to defeat us?” he roars.
“You mean you’re aware of the temporal distortions? Did you create them on purpose?” And Kathryn looks up into his face.
Too late, she realises her mistake. Festan presses the trigger and a beam of energy spurts out from the disruptor, and I throw myself sideways into its path.
I’ve never felt pain like this. It sends fire through every nerve, collapses every vein, enters every cell in my body and sucks them dry. It knocks me backward into Kathryn’s arms and through the white haze of agony I see her face. Her eyes are wide and terrified. She screams, “Chakotay,” and I try to reach a hand up to her face, to tell her it’s all right, but I can’t seem to move. My hands and feet are numb.
“Janeway to Voyager. Emergency transport to Sickbay!”
I want to keep looking at her, but she’s fading. I close my eyes.
“Don’t leave me,” I hear her whisper, and then she’s tightening her arms around me. I can feel myself going. I don’t want to die – I don’t want to leave her - but in the end, it’s all right. I’ve saved her.
This is the way it should be.