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 59013.5 – January 5, 2382 – Eleven Months Later
It was foolish of her to be nervous, Kathryn Janeway reminded herself as she pressed the chime on her first officer’s door. She tightened her grip on the bottle of wine.
His quarters were dimly lit, a squat candle on the coffee table the only illumination. Chakotay looked up as she entered.
“Captain,” he said, his voice edged with surprise. He rolled up his medicine bundle and unwound himself from the floor, standing to face her. “What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if you might like to share this with me.” She held the wine before her like a shield. “In honour of Seven.”
She saw pain flash across his face before it smoothed out into his habitual polite mask, and instantly regretted coming here. Her instincts had been right, after all.
Despite their promise to help each other, all those months ago, she had struggled with the aftermath of her violation at Alkin’s hands. That her crew had been witness to it sickened her. That they also knew she’d carried on an adulterous affair with her first officer shamed her. It took everything she had to rise each morning, to dress and put on her pips, to carry her shoulders straight and her chin high.
And Chakotay … He’d been there for her at first, checking up on her, encouraging her to talk to him, but she’d found talking about it unbearably hard. For a while they had tried to reinstate their weekly dinners, but the silence between them had grown too painful, too wide a chasm to bridge, and gradually the dinners had stopped.
They would never again be what they were.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “This was a mistake. I’ll leave you alone.”
She turned. His eyes had softened.
“I know you’re hurting too, Kathryn.” Chakotay took a step toward her. “Stay. I’ll get the glasses.”
She settled onto the couch as he poured the wine, watching him. He had changed over the past year – not just inside, but outside as well. His body was leanly muscled, not an ounce of extra fat on him – she knew he spent almost all his off-hours boxing, or playing hoverball with B’Elanna – and he looked sleek, somehow. Like a predator.
She had changed as well. She had never fully regained the weight she’d lost during their journey through Fen space, and she ached in places that had never bothered her before. She slept precious little these days, lived on coffee, and she’d noticed a fine tremor in her hands on occasion. There was white coming through in her hair and she tried not to look too long in the mirror these mornings.
The Doctor said she’d recovered from her injuries on the Fen ship, that her pain was psychosomatic, but she knew deep down she would never really recover. She accepted the pain, though. It was her penance.
Chakotay handed her a glass. “To Seven,” he said, holding up his own.
“To Seven,” she echoed, and sipped.
They were both broken. She might show it more, physically, but something had gone out of Chakotay a year ago; there was no light in his eyes anymore. She supposed one could only take so much grief, so much loss, before the risk of opening up was too great.
“I loved her, you know.”
His voice startled her, and her gaze flew to his face.
“You once said I didn’t love her. But I did.”
“It was wrong of me to say that.” Her throat hurt. “She loved you, too. Very much.”
“Yes. It wasn’t fair to her.”
Kathryn frowned. Chakotay set down his wine.
“Seven knew she’d never be first in my heart. She deserved to be loved fully, without reservation. I could never give her that.”
“You did the best you could,” she whispered, eyes dry and aching.
“No, I didn’t. I cheated on her. I made her feel second-best. Hell, she was second-best.” Chakotay laughed, harsh and bitter. “And for what? For someone who could never love me back.”
Kathryn closed her eyes.
Chakotay fell silent, staring at the carpet.
“I lied to you, Chakotay.”
Her face was in shadow; she held her glass of wine loosely in her lap, fingers twined around its stem. Her hair, longer now, fell forward and he was shocked by his sudden, visceral desire to reach out and touch it, tuck it behind her ear.
“What do you mean?”
She shifted, placed her glass on the low table and turned her body toward him. “That last time we were together,” she said, “before Seven died. I told you I –”
He watched her bite her lip, and knew that nothing would ever be as weighty as her next words.
“I told you I didn’t love you,” she almost whispered. “And I know it makes no difference now – I know it’s too late – but I wanted you to know that I do. I love you.” Her voice broke. “I always have.”
He couldn’t speak.
She looked away. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have –”
“Kathryn,” he cut her off, then seemed unable to find the words to continue.
She huffed out a laugh, shaking her head. “It’s all right, Chakotay. You don’t have to say anything – I know you don’t feel the same anymore. I just wanted you to know. You deserve that much.”
“Why?” he asked blankly. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Kathryn waved a hand. “Oh, you know the reasons. Mark, the mission, the crew –”
“No.” He stopped her, catching her hand in his own. “On New Earth. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was going to,” she whispered. “I was afraid. We were supposed to be there alone, for the rest of our lives. It was too big – I couldn’t get my mind around it.”
“But we were lovers,” he said. “I loved you.”
“And I was almost ready to tell you I loved you, too. But then the ship came back.”
She saw the shock in his eyes, fading to a dull ache as he took her words in. “All this time,” he said, “all these years, I thought I was imagining it. I went crazy trying to work out what I’d really seen in your eyes. How I could have got it so wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” she said desolately. “When we went back – I hoped you’d get over it with time. I hoped I would, too.” She brought her free hand up to his face, her fingers stroking the tattoo on his forehead. “I never did. And I’m sorry it took you so many years to fall out of love with me.”
The hurt in his eyes was almost more than she could stand. She dropped her gaze.
Then Chakotay’s palm was cradling her face. “Look at me, Kathryn.”
She looked up, and his mouth brushed hers, light as a butterfly’s wings. Her lips parted on a gasp, and he drew back. She blinked at him.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he told her. “Everything that’s happened – and I’m so angry, with our situation, with this damned quadrant –”
“With me,” she supplied quietly.
“Yes,” he said honestly. “But mostly, I’m just angry. I’m not the same man I was back on that planet, Kathryn. I’ll never be that man again. I can’t love you like I did then.”
And there it was – the final blow. Kathryn closed her eyes.
“I understand, Chakotay, and I’m not asking you for anything. I don’t have that right.”
God, she had to get out of there, before what was left of her heart shattered on the floor at his feet.
“Wait.” Chakotay tightened his grip on the hand in her lap.
She looked at him, pleading.
“I do love you, Kathryn. I just don’t know if I can love you enough.”
She nodded, absorbing the weight of his words. “Then I’ll take whatever you can give.”
He searched her eyes, read the truth in them, and stood to lead her into the bedroom.
There were tears in her eyes as he slid into her, her hand clasped in his and his arm around her, holding her so close he could hear the hitch in her breathing. She whispered the words he’d never thought to hear from her, spoke them freely, openly, and as they lay together afterwards, she cried. He wasn’t sure if she was crying for what they could have had or for what they were now, but he held her anyway, stroking her hair until she slept.
In the morning she was gone before he woke, and he wasn’t sure if he was saddened or relieved.
It was Icheb’s discovery that planted the seed. He’d been reviewing the astrometric database and had become curious about the nebula they’d passed four years earlier, the one they had exited swiftly when they discovered it was crawling with Borg. According to his study of the readings – and Janeway had no reason to doubt him; he was quite the perfectionist – the wormholes they’d thought were hiding in that nebula were nothing of the sort, but rather, indicated a Borg transwarp hub.
Kathryn turned that over in her mind occasionally, polishing it like a marble. She didn’t know what she was going to do with the information; she only knew that it was, somehow, important.
Then B’Elanna Torres mentioned, during one of their now-frequent evening conversations, that she and Harry had been perfecting the ablative hull armour. She said – only half-jokingly – that she believed it could even repel a Borg attack.
Kathryn started wondering about that. A defence against the Borg, and a way to get home. If they reversed course now, returned to the hub, they could be back in the Alpha quadrant within four years.
And Seven would still be dead, and Chakotay consumed with anger and guilt, and she herself ... She would still be broken beyond repair.
She wasn’t sure that getting home mattered to her anymore. Not the way it had.
Not without them.
So many regrets, she often thought as she stared through the viewport in her quarters in the hours past midnight. If there was only a way to make different choices. To change the things she’d done, save the people she loved.
If there was only a way to cheat time itself.