The Bitter End
Summary: In the tenth year of their journey, Voyager is in bad shape, and so is her command team. A powerful enemy brings ever more desperate times, and with nowhere to run, an unthinkable sacrifice may be the only option for the crew’s survival.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Seven of Nine, Tuvok, Paris, Torres, EMH, Kim, Ayala, S. Wildman, Celes
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Chakotay/Seven of Nine
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own Voyager, her crew, and the Star Trek universe. I own this idea and the words I used.
Notes: My take on what happened in the unaltered-Endgame timeline to turn Captain Janeway into the time-travelling Admiral.
Admiral Janeway: Unfortunately, our favourite cup took a bit of a beating along the way. It was damaged during a battle with the Fen Domar.
Captain Janeway: Who?
Admiral Janeway: You'll run into them in a few years.
Warning: Depictions of violence and (non-graphic) rape. Major character death (but if you've seen Endgame, it shouldn't be a surprise). Minor character deaths, too. This is very dark. You have been warned.
Stardate 58031.7 – January 12, 2381
They’d held the memorial service for their six lost crewmembers in the mess hall. Chell had done an exemplary job with the catering, Janeway acknowledged, considering the ship was still on tight rationing. The Kimtones had played Amazing Grace, followed by a haunting Bajoran funeral melody for Tal Celes. Naomi had given a reading, only pausing once to choke back her tears, and even little Miral had stood at attention when the pods – five of them empty, as they had been unable to retrieve the bodies – had been released to the bosun’s whistle.
Kathryn had held up, as well. She’d had no choice.
Work helped, and with Tuvok now permanently removed from duty and the ship still in dismal condition, she had plenty of it. They had spent the two days after their second battle with Alkin lurking in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The crew had worked double and triple shifts to repair Voyager’s battered systems, and by the time Janeway had ordered them to resume course she was feeling more confident in their ability to withstand another attack.
That was fortunate, as word of their skirmishes with the Ascendant’s heir had travelled: they were being shadowed by no less than seven small Fen Domar vessels, though none approached them. Janeway could only surmise that the Inheritor had ordered his troops to keep track of Voyager, but leave the kill to him.
By the sixth day, they’d had to take refuge in a sensor-scattering asteroid belt; the ablative armour generator had finally overloaded and B’Elanna was working her teams around the clock to restart it. She’d spent less than a day recuperating from her miscarriage before throwing herself back into her work. Janeway considered talking to her about it, but what advice could she give when she knew full well she’d have done the same herself?
As for Chakotay…
He’d returned to duty the day after the memorial service, wearing his grief and anger like a cloak. She had sat beside him on the bridge for the past five days without their exchanging a single meaningful word. Of late, she’d found herself retreating to her ready room within the first ten minutes of each shift.
She missed Seven. She missed Tuvok. And she missed Chakotay, had missed him for years, was almost incapacitated by the pain of missing what they’d once been to each other, before she’d ruined it. What they’d been before Teero, before Ransom, before the Void. She wondered sometimes, as she lay staring at her ceiling in the early hours, if she’d seduced him all those months ago in a desperate attempt to hold onto him, to reconnect, or because she’d wanted to drive the final wedge between them, just so that the missing him would end.
She found she could barely eat even the meagre rations she allowed herself, and she’d stopped visiting Sickbay for her vitamin injections, not wanting to waste the Doctor’s simulated breath on lecturing her. Her uniform was now so loose on her she looked like a child in her mother’s clothes. She was constantly cold, despite the ship’s environmental controls having returned to normal with the stabilising of their power reserves. Her head ached relentlessly, and she couldn’t seem to concentrate.
And she was so tired, exhausted to the marrow of her bones, yet sleep eluded her. She lay wakeful each night counting her regrets, and she couldn’t remember ever being so lonely in her life.
Stardate 58037.8 – January 14, 2381
After two days spent hiding in the asteroid field, the ablative armour generator was finally up and running again, and Voyager ventured into open space, only for her luck to run out.
“Alkin’s ship is on an intercept course, Captain,” Harry warned as they cleared the asteroid belt and their sensors returned to full resolution. “Their armour and weapons are fully powered. They’ll reach our coordinates in ninety minutes at present speed.”
~I warned you, Captain,~ Alkin addressed her the moment the viewscreen came on, ~that your escape would be short-lived.~
“I was rather hoping I’d never see you again, Inheritor.”
~I, on the other hand, very much look forward to our next meeting. See you soon, Captain.~
His smile was redolent with self-satisfaction, and Janeway wanted to reach through the viewscreen and rip out his pointed teeth.
“Don’t bet on it,” she snarled, and slashed a hand at Kim.
He closed the channel.
“I want all senior staff in the briefing room in one hour.” Janeway pushed herself out of her chair, ignoring the brittle creak of bone and sinew. “Commander, my ready room.”
Chakotay got silently to his feet and followed her.
She waved him to a seat, but he remained standing, so she did as well. “Chakotay.”
He met her gaze, giving her nothing.
“I don’t expect this battle to go well for us,” she forced out. “Alkin doesn’t strike me as the type to give up easily. And I’ll die before I allow him to take any more of my crew.”
His focus sharpened on her face. “You’d destroy Voyager.”
“I’d do anything,” Kathryn emphasised. “And I need to know –” she swallowed, “are you with me on this?”
She stared at him, willing him to understand. Waiting for the faintest sign, the slightest flicker in his eyes that would give her the hope she needed so desperately.
“Chakotay.” It was the barest whisper. “Please.”
“I’m with you, Kathryn.” His voice was gruff, but with a soft edge she hadn’t heard in weeks. “I always have been.”
She closed her eyes against the blur of tears. He didn’t understand.
Or if he did, he was utterly lost to her now. Either way, her path was clear.
The senior staff – what was left of them – filed into the briefing room. Ayala took the place that was once Tuvok’s, and Chakotay deliberately didn’t look toward the chair where Seven used to sit. Megan Delaney filled that spot now.
Janeway had not yet appeared, and Kim was shifting uncomfortably; it wasn’t like her to be late. Paris cleared his throat, breaking the silence.
“Uh, should someone contact the captain?”
The first officer checked the chronometer and allowed a frown to crease his forehead. “Chakotay to Janeway.”
“Computer, locate Captain Janeway.”
~Captain Janeway is not on board Voyager.~
Harry’s eyes went wide.
“Computer, when did Captain Janeway leave the ship, and by what method?” Chakotay’s voice was strained.
~Captain Janeway departed the ship in escape pod alpha-one at 1823 hours.~
Chakotay gripped the edge of the conference table, his breathing harsh. ‘Identify the escape pod’s trajectory.”
~That information is not available.~
“Forget it,” he rasped, standing. “I already know. Stations, everybody. The captain has a forty-minute head start on us.”
“Sir?” Paris was staring at him. “Where did she go?”
“She went to give herself up to Alkin. Move it, Paris. If we don’t catch up to her pod before Alkin does, she’s dead.”
She’d overridden the security controls so Ayala wouldn’t be alerted to what she planned to do, and masked the pod’s warp trail, setting a course for the Fen Domar ship at maximum speed. She knew it was only a matter of time before Chakotay figured it out, and she had no intention of giving him the chance to stop her from completing this mission. Her last mission.
But she had enough distance on them now; even at maximum warp, Voyager couldn’t catch her. Janeway eased back to half impulse and opened a channel to Alkin’s ship.
“Commander, I’ve located the captain’s pod.” Harry Kim was clearly struggling for control. “The Fen ship has it in a tractor beam.”
“Paris,” Chakotay snapped.
“I’m sorry, sir. We’re still too far away.”
“Ayala, weapons and armour status?”
“Torpedoes and phasers at full power. Ablative armour is holding.”
“Get us there, Paris. I’m not letting them take her.”
“Aye –” Tom stopped. “Sir, the warp engines are failing. There’s some kind of energy drain. I can’t hold our speed. We’re at warp six point two and decreasing …”
Voyager shuddered, whined, and coasted to a halt.
“Engineering, report,” Chakotay roared.
~She triggered a power drain on a timer,~ Torres called back over the comm. ~The energy conduits to the core just shut down. There’s a level ten lockout on them. I can break it, but it’ll take time.~
“Get on it.”
“Commander,” Kim interjected. “A priority one message was just flagged on my console. It’s addressed to your eyes only.”
“In the ready room,” snarled Chakotay, striding from his chair. “Paris, the bridge is yours.”
“Sir,” Paris’ voice stopped him before he could reach the doors. “The Fen Domar ship just went to warp. They’re gone.”
The swish of the ready room doors closing was the only answer.
Chakotay, said the image of the captain on the ready room monitor. By the time you watch this, it will all be over.
She was so thin. How had he not noticed how thin she’d become?
The warp engines will come back online in one hour. I didn’t want to leave you without warp drive, but I had to make sure you couldn’t come after me. And I don’t want you to come after me, Chakotay. This is the last order I’ll ever give you, and I need you to let me go. Please.
She smiled, but he’d never seen her look so sad.
I’ve deactivated my access codes and transferred command to you. Voyager is yours now. Get out of Fen space as soon as you can. Set a course for home, and don’t look back.
She leaned in, hesitated, then raised her hand to the screen, palm facing outward, as though she could link her fingers with his. He found himself mirroring the gesture, his hand meeting hers against the vidscreen.
I’ve done this all wrong, Chakotay. So many things I regret. If I could only go back in time –
He watched as a tear slipped from her eye, then another.
I’m sorry, she whispered. Goodbye.
The screen went black.
The one Inheritor Alkin had referred to as Falit was talking at her. She couldn’t hear him over the buzzing in her ears, but he seemed displeased with her answers.
Was she answering him? She couldn’t be sure. Maybe her lips were moving. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the pain.
Her veins were burning, liquid fire licking through every nerve and sinew. They’d injected her with something. She remembered the bite of the needle, her skin warming, then the fire. She’d twisted in its grasp but she couldn’t get away from it. Her wrists were locked to the low bulkhead above her, her toes barely scraping the floor, and she couldn’t get purchase.
They’d laughed at her; she could remember that clearly. They had stripped the jacket from her, yanked off her boots, sliced open her turtleneck. Falit had seemed disinterested in her body but the others weren’t. She wasn’t sure which was worse – the agony of the fire in her veins, or the feel of their hands on her body.
“… shield frequencies?” she thought she heard, and she said something in return, and Falit’s dark face scowled at her. “… needs more incentive…”
Alkin’s smile swam into her field of vision and she worked her mouth, gathering saliva, and spat at it. The smile disappeared. Then there was pain, blinding, against her nose and cheekbone, and blood trickled into her mouth. Her face throbbed.
“Is that … the best … you can do?”
The smile was back. And then the fire licked over her back, the whip lacerating her skin again and again, and she howled at the pain and the shock and the indignity of it.
“I’ll … kill you,” she rasped, and then the darkness claimed her and she welcomed it.
“Warp drive is back online, Commander,” Paris’ voice was slack with relief.
“Set a course for the last known coordinates of that ship and engage at maximum. Chakotay to Astrometrics.”
“Extend the sensors as far as you can and find me that goddamned ship, Ensign.”
I’d do anything, she’d said. I'll die before I allow him to take any more of my crew.
He’d thought she meant she would set the self-destruct if Voyager was losing the battle. Not that she’d offer herself up to avoid the fight altogether.
Chakotay’s fingers dug into the arm of his chair. Why hadn’t he known? Why didn’t he understand what she’d been telling him?
He should have known.
A few years ago, even a year ago, he would have known. But she’d become a stranger to him. He didn’t know who she was anymore.
I'll tell you when we made our mistake. It was the moment we turned away from each other.
She’d said that to him, years ago, after their first major disagreement. They’d turned away from each other again and again over the years since. And even when they’d turned toward each other – when he’d held her, her skin against his, his body in hers – even then, especially then, they’d been moving apart.
He didn’t know if they could ever bridge that chasm. All he knew was that he’d give up his last breath to try.
A tear slipped down her cheek and she struggled to contain the ache swelling in her throat, even as she couldn’t stop the helpless smile from spreading across her face. And then another tear, and another. His smile faded into concern, his fingers squeezing lightly, linked with hers.
She shook her head, gulped in a deep breath, tried to pull together the remnants of the control his words had shattered. “I can’t – Nobody has ever –” her face crumpled, and he rose from his chair and came around the small work-table, pulling her up and into his arms. She clutched onto him, his cheek against her hair as she sobbed and laughed and hiccupped. When, finally, she quieted, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to raise her face, to let her lips find his, to take his hands in hers and shuffle backwards along the cabin floor, to take him into her bed, her body, her soul.
Thick fingers twined into her hair and she couldn’t bite back a groan, but the sharp ache in her neck was subsumed by the agony of the whip biting into the soft flesh of her stomach. She jerked against the restraints.
“… very helpful,” Alkin’s hated voice floated across her consciousness. “Thank you … now … command codes.”
She closed her eyes.
The sun was hot on her back and she sat on her heels, wiping a grimy hand across her forehead.
“Here,” he grinned, dropping to his knees beside her and holding out a water flask. She took it gratefully, drank.
His thumb brushed her cheekbone as she set the flask on the ground, and as always she shivered at his touch, the newness, the sweetness of it. He leaned in to kiss her lightly and she curled a hand around his neck and pulled him down with her, twining arms and legs around him and feeling his response. So immediate. So gratifying.
The kiss turned heated. He groaned into her mouth, his hands finding the places on her body that came alive for him. Her skirt pushed up around her waist, his pants shoved down over his hips, they gasped and ground their way to climax in the sun and the soil of their new world, and as she held him to her breast she wondered what she’d ever done to deserve this, to deserve him.
“Your command codes, Captain.”
Her teeth ached and her wrists throbbed dully. She could feel blood, thick and warm, tickling her cheek. She knew her ribs were cracked. It hurt to breathe.
“I’ll never … tell you.”
It didn’t matter anyway. A laugh bubbled up in her throat. However hard he beat her, whatever he did. Her codes had been changed the moment she left Voyager. Her answers were meaningless.
The laugh spilled over, and Alkin’s face appeared before her, smile gone. “What’s so amusing?”
“The joke…” she gasped, “the joke is … on you.”
But the joke was on her. The commbadge chirped, a sound so incongruous it took effort to identify it, and everything changed.
She hadn’t meant to hurt him so deeply. She’d thought, after Voyager came back for them, that they’d need a period of adjustment. That once they’d figured out how to be captain and commander again, she would go to him. That there would be a moment when she could resolve what they’d become on that planet with what they had to be again. A moment when she knew it was right.
There was no perfect moment. There was Seska and Braxton and Q, and Riley Frazier, and the Borg and the Vori and the Hirogen. And Kashyk, and Jaffen, and Seven, and she’d rebuilt the duranium walls around her heart, stronger and higher with each raw, singular, devastating blow, and it wasn’t until far, far too late that she realised that they’d missed their moment, if they had ever really had one.
Alkin stepped forward, bent his close-cropped head and sank his teeth into the tender skin above her collarbone, and Kathryn Janeway screamed.
~Commander Chakotay to the bridge.~
Chakotay surged through the ready room doors. “Report, Harry?”
“We’ve found them. Coordinates one-eight-one mark two-zero. Distance, two point three light years. At maximum warp we can be there in six hours.”
He sank into his seat, carefully, deliberately not looking at the vacant chair to his right. “Do it.”
“Commander, a Fen vessel is on fast approach. It’s three light years away.”
“No, sir.” Harry looked up. “It’s a similar design, but smaller. It seems to have some kind of refractive shielding in addition to the ablative armour. Our sensors didn’t detect it until just now.”
Chakotay swore under his breath. “How long until it intercepts us?”
“At least eight hours, sir.”
“Good. Keep an eye on –”
“Sir, we’re being hailed,” Kim interrupted.
The viewscreen switched to an image of a tall, heavily-muscled Fen, his chest plated in silver armour and a heavy violet cloak draped from his broad shoulders. His tawny skin was lined, his hair white and short-cropped. He bore a strong resemblance to Alkin.
~I am Ascendant Vikan of the Fen.~
“Commander Chakotay of the Federation starship Voyager.” Chakotay studied him. “We’re acquainted with your son, Ascendant. He’s responsible for the murder of six of my crew and the abduction of my captain.”
~Whom, it appears, you intend to retrieve.~
~Your rescue mission is futile.~ The Ascendant’s black eyes gave nothing away. ~Your captain is already dead, or as good as. By the time you reach my heir’s ship, there will be nothing left of her to retrieve.~
“If you don’t mind,” Chakotay’s voice was dangerously soft, “I’d prefer to discover that for myself.”
Vikan leaned forward. ~You’ve trespassed on my territory for long enough. Proceed immediately to our borders. Leave, and don’t look back.~
~Or your ship will be destroyed, your crew exterminated, and your story will become a cautionary tale for any alien tempted to breach the sovereignty of the Fen Ascendancy.~
Chakotay stared into Vikan’s eyes.
“Thanks for the warning, Ascendant.” His lips curved in a humourless smile. “But I prefer to tell my own stories. Harry, close the channel.”
There was a quiet on the bridge as Chakotay continued to stare at the viewscreen, now displaying only the streaking starfield.
“Paris,” he said abruptly. “In the ready room. Now.”
“You’re my acting first officer, aren’t you?” Chakotay turned his cold stare on the helmsman. “I might have a way out of this, and I need another perspective. So get your ass into that ready room and act like a first officer.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom Paris answered, a faint smile gracing his lips for the first time in days.
She pushed upward through muffling layers of half-awareness. Her limbs were sunken weights, sounds deadened in her ears. As her consciousness struggled to assert itself she was seized by panic.
Where am I? What am I doing here?
Have I failed?
“Wake up, Kathryn.”
She opened her eyes.
“Ah, there you are.” Alkin smiled genially at her. “I thought you’d like to know your intrepid little ship is on its way to us. I expect they’re planning to mount a rescue.” He laughed.
“No,” she couldn’t stifle her groan. Damn him. Why couldn’t he, just this once, obey her orders?
I’d never leave you behind, Kathryn.
She should have known.
She had known. She’d just hoped it would be too late.
“Your crew is certainly devoted to you, Captain. I’ve learned quite a lot about them during our conversations.”
“You mean … while you were … torturing me.” She coughed, swallowed against a throat dry from screaming.
Alkin held up a flask, pushing a straw between her lips, and she sipped automatically. The liquid – not water, but cool and soothing – eased her scorched throat.
“There. Now we can talk some more.”
“I have … nothing to say … to you.”
“Oh, I think you do.” Alkin tapped a finger on his lower lip. “I want to know about your second in command.”
“Not … going to happen.”
“What kind of man is he?” The Inheritor began to circle her, close enough she could feel his breath brushing her cheek as he passed. “Is he a warrior? A strategist?” Alkin leaned in, whispering against her ear. “How loyal is he to you, Captain? Enough to risk the safety of your ship to get you back?”
She ignored him. Her lungs were tightening, constricting, as though she was drowning. As though she was sinking slowly underwater.
“Damn … you,” she gasped, as ice seared her veins. “What was … in that … drink?”
“Oh, nothing fatal, I assure you.” Alkin tilted her chin up with one finger. “Just a little chemical incentive to keep you honest.”
A convulsion rippled through her, her spine bowing. The pain was indescribable.
“Tell me,” Alkin murmured, his lips inches from hers, “does he care about you, Kathryn? Does he love you?”
She shuddered, turning her face away. He spread his fingers across her jaw, bringing her eyes back to him.
“Are you lovers?” The tips of his fingers stroked her skin. “Tell me, Kathryn.”
“Yes,” she heard herself saying, then bit her tongue in horror.
“I see the serum is beginning to work. Good. What will he do, Kathryn? What will his rescue strategy be?”
She struggled, tried not to answer. “You’d better hope … you never find out.”
The fingers tightened, bruising her jaw. “Answer me, Kathryn. What will he do?”
“You murdered … his wife,” she ground out, teeth clenched against the agony in her veins. “He’s going to … kill you.”
Alkin’s smile was wide. “He’s welcome to try.”