The Uncharted Sea

Summary: When nothing turns out the way it’s supposed to, how do you find the strength to forge something new from the wreckage?

 

Characters: Torres, Chakotay, O. Paris

Codes: Paris/Torres, Janeway/Chakotay, Chakotay/Torres

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Rated T

My course is set for an uncharted sea.
Now hear this and, beyond all doubt, believe it
the good of grace is in exact proportion
to the ardor of love that opens to receive it.
-    Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

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We didn’t take it seriously at first. Didn’t really believe, after all the strandings and assimilations and near-deaths we’d scraped through on the other side of the galaxy, that anything bad could possibly happen once she’d brought us all home.

Missing. That’s all they were, and missing implied that they could – would – be found. They were simply misplaced, temporarily lost. Not gone.

Owen sent Voyager out on the retrieval mission; I wanted to go, but there was Miral to think of. When Chakotay commed me the morning they left, I joked with him. “Tell that husband of mine that he’ll have to go further than the Briar Patch if he thinks he can hide from me,” I said.

Chakotay had laughed. “Considering who he’s with, I doubt he’s getting up to any trouble. See you soon, ‘Lanna.”

“Safe travels,” I wished him. Miral wailed for my attention then, and I waved him off with a smile, thinking about how many night-feedings I was going to stick Tom with when he came home.

 

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Chakotay commed me every evening over the three weeks it took Voyager to reach the Briar Patch, the last known coordinates of the Delta Flyer II. Our conversations were light-hearted, for the most part. I’d tell him about Miral’s hatred of pumpkin and the way she smiled up at the little starship mobile above her crib, and how she growled like a proper Klingon baby when she saw Owen and Julia’s little Maltese terrier. Chakotay would fill me in on Voyager’s temporary chief engineer - a Bajoran woman of whom I grudgingly approved - and how well my engine upgrades were performing, and how Harry was doing in Tuvok’s old job.

And he’d tell me there was no sign of the Flyer on long-range sensors yet, but that the Briar Patch put out some serious interference and he was sure as soon as Voyager was through it they’d pop right up on the scans. And I’d remind him to tell my husband, when the petaQ finally showed up, that he owed me yet another shuttle.

Communications were sporadic once Voyager entered the Patch, so they’d dropped a message buoy outside that region of space and were routing communications through it to Starfleet. Owen used his influence to divert a few of the Pathfinder specialists to monitoring it. I checked in with Owen every morning, and every morning he reported that as yet they hadn’t picked up the Flyer, but there was no reason to worry.

I wasn’t worried.

 

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They had gone on a diplomatic mission to the Goren system, on the outskirts of the Briar Patch. A territorial dispute had arisen a few years back and despite the Federation Diplomatic Corps’ best efforts, an insurgency movement had been gathering strength and a coup was believed imminent. Admiral Janeway was sent to mediate between the factions. She’d caught a ride on the USS Kyoto, but it was an old ship, its shields unable to withstand the ambient radiation in that region of space, so she’d requested use of the Flyer with its enhanced shielding. Tom and I were temporarily stationed at Utopia Planitia, overseeing upgrades to the Flyer’s navigational array and warp core, and he’d promptly volunteered as her personal pilot.

As Captain Jenner of the Kyoto had reported, the Flyer had simply disappeared off sensors as it approached Goren II. He’d contacted the Goren government immediately and been told the Flyer had never arrived. The Kyoto searched for the shuttle for two days without finding so much as a dilithium trace before Starfleet got off its collective ass and decided that losing a state-of-the-art shuttle, not to mention the heroic Kathryn Janeway, was a less than acceptable situation.

By the time Voyager arrived at Goren II, their government had been overturned and the new leader was refusing to communicate with Starfleet. As Owen told it, Chakotay had beamed down to the planet anyway. I can only imagine what lengths he went to for information. But it was all for nothing.

 

The Flyer, Admiral Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Paris had disappeared without a trace.

 

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I was singing Miral a lullaby when Owen buzzed at the front door. Leaving my daughter gurgling and waving her tiny fists at the lamplight patterned on her ceiling, I wrapped Tom’s heavy blue bathrobe tighter around my waist and invited him into the kitchen.

“They found the shuttle,” he said.

I’d known from the moment he arrived that it wasn’t good news.

“It broke up in the atmosphere of the fourth planet in the Xarantine system. There was debris strewn over two continents.”

“The Xarantine system?” I latched onto the only thing of substance I could bear. “But that’s impossible – it’s what, three light years from Goren?”

“Three point five.” Owen hesitated. “B’Elanna, we don’t know how the Flyer ended up there. Maybe there was a spatial anomaly. Maybe the Flyer’s navigational sensors malfunctioned.” He wiped a hand over his brow. He looked, suddenly, very tired and very old. “There wasn’t enough debris left to draw any conclusions.”

I’d spilled a little milk on the kitchen counter earlier. I found myself fixating on it, my fingertip drawing patterns, dragging the liquid this way and that. “Were there bodies?” My voice was calm. Almost indifferent.

“No.” Owen placed a hand on top of mine, stilling my circling finger. “No, they haven’t found any bodies.”

“Well, there you are, then. They should check for a transporter trace. Search the surface.”

“They have,” he said gently. “Any transporter trace signature would have dissipated by now, but there were no life signs on the planet.”

“That could mean anything.” My fingers twitched beneath Owen’s hand. Suddenly I was hot, prickly, rigid with fury. I snatched my hand away. “They’re probably sheltering in a cave and the scanners can’t penetrate the mineral composites. Or the atmosphere is heavily ionised, or –”

“B’Elanna,” Owen cut over me. “They sent down search parties. Chakotay had all of Voyager’s shuttles making passes over the land masses. Seven of Nine tinkered with the ship’s sensors until they could’ve detected a Borg cube in the Gamma quadrant. Tom and Kathryn … They’re just not there.”

“So we’ll keep looking,” I almost shouted at him. “We’ll search every planet in that system, every moon. Drag the fucking oceans. Because I refuse to believe that we got home from the fucking Delta quadrant only for them to disappear three fucking months later!”

A thin, thready cry from the nursery brought stinging tears to my eyes and I let out a single sob, my palm clamping over my mouth. Owen rested his hand on my shoulder. “Sit down,” he said gently. “I’ll get her.”

I slumped into a chair at the kitchen table – Tom hated that table; said it had no character – and listened to the sound of a man’s quiet voice soothing my daughter back to sleep. I thought about Miral growing up, never again hearing her father sing her to sleep. Never taking her first steps into his waiting arms. Never riding on his shoulders or begging him to teach her to fly a shuttle or shyly introducing him to her first love.

I dug my fingernails into my palms until I felt I had control of myself, and when Owen returned from the nursery I stood to meet him.

“I’m going out there.”

 

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My return to Voyager was not at all the joyous occasion I’d imagined before the Flyer went missing.

Chakotay met me in the transporter room when I beamed over from the Lakota, a duffel bag at my feet and Miral swaddled in my arms. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in weeks. It was probably a fair assessment.

“You look like shit,” I told him after we’d hugged, careful of the sleeping baby.

He shrugged, his wry smile not reaching his eyes. “You’ve lost weight, B’Elanna.”

“Baby weight.” I pushed past him; I was eating, because Miral needed my milk, but everything tasted like cardboard. “I’ve already arranged for the Doctor to babysit. Just let me take her to Sickbay and then you can fill me in.”

Chakotay nodded. “See you in the ready room in half an hour.”

“Aye, Captain.”

 

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In the four weeks it had taken me to get to the Xarantine system, Chakotay had sent teams to search practically every square centimetre of that planet and its moons. Seven and I spent three days enhancing the sensors on Voyager’s shuttles; as soon as we’d finished, Chakotay ordered away teams to take them in the directions of the four nearest star systems. I’d wanted to go, but he refused – saying Miral needed me more than ever now – and I only acquiesced because I knew he was right.

We spent our evenings together, poring over sensor logs and maps of the sector, theorising – sometimes wildly – of what Tom and the admiral might have done in this situation or that, deliberately speaking of them as though they’d simply gone on a long trip. As though their absence was planned, and therefore not so deeply felt. Sleep, however, was a commodity I found elusive, and it wasn’t long before I began to pace the corridors of the ship in the dark hours, Miral strapped, sleeping, to my chest.

On my sixth night touring the ship, I found Chakotay striding toward me on Deck Nine, missing his uniform jacket, hair sticking out at less than perfect angles. He fell into step with me without a word and we walked in silence, riding the turbolift up a deck at a time, until my steps began to flag.

“Come on,” he said, “I’ll walk you home.”

I put Miral to bed and made us both tea, and we sat on the couch, each of us staring into our cups.

“They’ve been gone for four months,” I found myself saying. “Tom has missed more than half of Miral’s life now.”

I felt Chakotay’s hand on my shoulder, the touch familiar; how many times had he calmed me like that over the years, letting me know he was there?

“We’ll find them, B’Elanna.”

For the first time, I was beginning to doubt.

 

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When five months had passed since their disappearance and we’d combed three sectors without so much as a blip on sensors, Owen contacted Chakotay to relay the news that Starfleet had called off the search. Kathryn Janeway and Tom Paris were once again listed as missing in action, presumed dead. A memorial service was to be held in San Francisco in three weeks, and Voyager was ordered to return to Earth.

When Chakotay told me, I went a little crazy. Busted up the furniture in my quarters – Miral was with Sam Wildman, thank Kahless, though I can’t swear that would have made a difference to me in that moment. Spent a couple of hours on the holodeck slicing up Cardassians with my bat’leth. That’s where Chakotay found me. He forwent the lecture about turning off the safety protocols in favour of stripping off his jacket and wading in, fists and all. It was almost like old times.

Before I met Tom.

And suddenly I was sobbing, on my knees bawling out a tsunami of grief. I understood what the poets meant when they talked about hearts breaking. I felt as though mine was literally cracking open inside my chest, as though I’d never be made whole again.

Chakotay put his arms around me and let me cry until I was exhausted. He called for a site-to-site transport to my quarters, tucked me into bed, commed Sam to ask her to keep Miral for the night. Then he sat by my bed and talked to me, his voice low and soothing, telling me stories he must have learned at his father’s knee until I fell asleep.

 

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~I understand your feelings, Chakotay,~ Owen was saying over the commline as I entered the ready room. ~Believe me, I do. But you have your orders. Voyager is needed elsewhere.~

Chakotay flicked a glance toward me as I sat on the other side of his desk. “There are several systems in this sector that we haven’t searched yet, Admiral.”

I heard Owen sigh. ~What do you hope to find, Captain? The shuttle was destroyed. They’re gone. We have to accept that.~

Chakotay’s eyes went black. “I won’t accept that, Admiral. I’ll never accept it.”

~You don’t have a choice,~ Owen said flatly. ~Bring Voyager home immediately or I’ll be forced to conclude you’re wilfully disobeying orders. You’ll be court-martialed.~

“Do your worst,” Chakotay fired back, and ended the commlink.

I stared at him.

He got up and paced over to the upper level of the ready room, staring out at the starfield. I followed.

“What are you planning to do?” I asked him.

“I’m going to hand over command to Tuvok,” he said without looking at me. “I’m going to take a shuttle. And I’m going to find them.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Maybe,” he said softly. “But I can’t just let it go.”

“You mean you can’t let her go.”

A shudder ran through him, and I gripped him by the shoulder and pushed him to sit on the couch. He went without resistance, hunching over, staring at the floor. I sat beside him.

“Talk to me.”

He huffed out a laugh, rubbing a hand over his face – his tired, drawn-thin face.

“We met for coffee the night before she left on her mission,” he said eventually. “It was the first real chance we’d had to talk since we got home. And we talked about so many things. Decisions we’d both made in the Delta quadrant, things we regretted, chances we’d never taken.” He smiled briefly. “Seven.”

I knew his dalliance with Seven hadn’t lasted past our first week back on Earth. And I knew, though she’d never admit it, that it had hurt the admiral deeply anyway.

His voice was softer when he continued. “I asked Kathryn if there was a chance for us, now that we were home. She said she was open to exploring the possibility, and we agreed to meet for dinner in Venice on her return. I walked her home, and then I kissed her.”

At last, I couldn’t help thinking.

“It was some kiss,” he admitted, looking up at me. “Surprised the hell out of both of us, I think. If she hadn’t had to leave early the next morning I’m pretty sure I know where it would’ve led. But we both agreed we should take things slowly, so I left.”

He stared down at his hands, and I reached out to lay mine over them.

“I can’t just let her go,” he burst out. “It isn’t supposed to be like this for either of us. And what about Miral? She’s not supposed to grow up without a father.” He squeezed my hand. “You don’t have to come with me, B’Elanna. But I’m going to find them. Whatever it takes.”

“You mean you’re going to leave me too.”

“What? No, B’Elanna. Of course I’m not leaving you.”

“Well what else would you call it?” I shouted at him, getting up to pace around the room. “If you desert your post and steal a shuttle, do you think you’ll ever be able to return to Federation space without Starfleet hauling you away in irons? You’ll be on the run, Chakotay, whether you find them or not. I’ll never see you again!”

I watched as realisation dawned, and I sat, taking his hands in mine again.

“I need you,” I said emphatically. “I don’t know if Tom will ever come home. But whatever happens, I don’t want to lose you too.”

He was silent.

“She wouldn’t want this, Chakotay. You know that.”

“I know,” he said, and put his arm around me.

 

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Voyager got back to Earth a few weeks later, and Starfleet promptly sent us to the Hellaspont Nebula to study a new type of radiation that they believed could be harnessed and used to enhance warp drive. It was the kind of mission I’d normally get excited about, but I couldn’t seem to work up any enthusiasm. I just kept thinking how much Janeway would’ve loved it and how she should have been captaining that mission.

I was allowed to bring Miral with me. I guess Starfleet thought I’d probably resign my commission if I couldn’t, and they needed me – I was, to my surprise, being touted as one of the emerging engineering talents in the ‘fleet, and everyone from Dr Leah Brahms to T’Lar of the Vulcan Science Academy wanted to collaborate with me. I had no intention of leaving Starfleet, though. What else was I going to do?

We studied that nebula for two months, and then we came home – funny how I thought of Earth as home now – and I was given a lab and a staff of six to experiment on the Hellaspont drive, as Starfleet was calling it. The Federation was beginning to recover from the Dominion War and there was a growing movement within the ‘fleet to get back to its roots – seeking out new life, and all that jazz – so Voyager was ordered, with a cohort of seven other ships, to explore the edges of Federation space way out near the Gorn Hegemony. They’d be gone for six months.

When Chakotay told me, it was the closest I’d come to breaking down since Tom and the admiral disappeared. Chakotay and I had always been friends, but our mutual loss had drawn us even closer and the idea of not seeing him for months was unbearable. But what could we do? He had his orders and I had mine.

Miral turned one year old a few days before Voyager left for deep space. Chakotay brought over a cake and a bagful of gifts, and when she saw him, she let go of the furniture and took her first unaided steps in his direction with her hands held out to him. His face lit up. She tottered into his arms and he held her and pressed his smiling face into her curls. And I burst into tears.

It should have been Tom.

 

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We corresponded regularly while Chakotay was in deep space. He told me he’d ordered Seven to keep up her long-range scans, searching for any sign of Tom and Janeway, no matter how slight, even though Voyager was dozens of light years from their last known position. For my part, I petitioned Owen to put pressure on Starfleet to reopen the search, but to no avail.

Chakotay came home in June of 2379 and we immediately reinstated our regular dinners. We took Miral to the park and the zoo and the beach, and she started asking for ‘Chotay’ almost every other day. When he turned up at my apartment her face would light up and she would run to him, squealing, and he’d toss her up in the air and tickle her and laugh.

When he’d been home for a few weeks I asked him where he was going to be posted next. He told me he’d requested an extended leave. He said he felt like an impostor, sitting in what had always been her chair on Voyager’s bridge; that every time he looked at it he saw her.

I knew what he meant. It was more than a year since their disappearance, and I still reached for Tom as I was waking every morning. He was still the first person I wanted to talk to when I heard about a new holonovel or made a breakthrough at work. I did talk to him – in my personal logs, inside my head, sometimes even out loud.

But it was different to the way it had been those first few months after he’d disappeared. I missed him so badly it hurt, but it didn’t cripple me the way it used to. Maybe I’d grown numb – you can only live on the knife-edge of pain for so long before self-preservation inures you to it – or maybe it was because I had to keep going for Miral.

Maybe it was because what we had was so good, so strong and amazing, that it gave me a sense of fulfilment, a belief in the constancy of the universe. We’d built a life together, a family. We were a team. When it came to him, to us, I had no regrets.

Chakotay didn’t have that. All he had were what-ifs and might-have-beens, and the more time we spent together, the more I could see it tortured him.

 

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I’m not sure when I stopped believing Tom was going to come home.

I’d been delaying making career plans, telling myself that Miral was still only young and there was no rush. But I was bored out of my brain on the Hellaspont project and I was starting to hanker for being out in space again. I’d been offered the chief engineer’s post on the Enterprise, and I was seriously thinking about taking it. Going back to Voyager didn’t hold much appeal – it felt like a step backward, and it no longer felt like home. I told myself it would be good for Miral to be around the other kids on the flagship, and that Tom would be proud of me.

It was a while before I realised I’d stopped tacking ‘when he comes home’ onto the end of every thought I had about Tom.

Chakotay was still on leave from active service. He’d moved into an apartment not far from mine and taken a part-time teaching job at the Academy. It was coming up to the second anniversary of Voyager’s homecoming from the Delta quadrant, and Starfleet was throwing a ball to mark the occasion. They’d let it pass the previous year, out of respect for the missing two.

We went to the ball together, Chakotay and I; the survivors, those left behind. It was good to see the old crew together again, even if there was a muted sense of sadness about the evening. I found myself laughing with Harry and the Delaneys over tales of Captain Proton and Buster Kincaid, reminiscing with the Doctor, even sharing a quiet moment with Tuvok and Seven after Owen’s bittersweet speech.

Chakotay sat in a corner and downed half a bottle of whiskey.

When we were in the Maquis, he was a drinker. It was incredible, the amount he could put away and barely show it at all. It was only when he’d reached that point of no return that you could tell, and then only because of his anger. It fuelled him, then, made him fight, and back then we were always fighting someone. We needed all the courage we could get, liquid or otherwise.

But how do you fight the missing part of yourself? I’d been keeping a wary eye on him throughout the evening and I could tell he was winding himself up tight. If I didn’t find a way to avert it he’d explode. So I cajoled a hypospray out of the Doctor, grabbed Chakotay by the elbow and hustled him back to my place.

He went straight for the liquor cabinet, and I zapped him with the detox hypo while his back was turned. Oh, he was pissed at me. Growled like a Klingon, called me a bunch of names, even swung his fists at me. That’s how I knew he was past the point of holding it together. Never in all these years had I seen him so completely lose his grip on that legendary cool of his.

I didn’t waste time waiting for the hypo to take effect; I sprang at him, hooking my foot behind his knee to take him down. We crashed down on my living room floor and he rolled on top of me, pinning me flat on my back. I beat at his shoulders, shoved at his chest, but it was like trying to move a bulkhead. His breath came harsh and hot against my neck, his thighs trapping mine. I squirmed under him and felt him suck in a breath.

Then his mouth was on mine. My lips parted in shock and his tongue was between them, his teeth dragging on my lower lip. I must have lain there frozen for a full five seconds before I grabbed the hair at the back of his neck and kissed him back.

It was only when his hand slid under the split in my dress and onto my thigh that I realised what the hell we were doing.

“Stop,” I gasped at him, and Chakotay raised his head. His eyes went wide.

“B’Elanna,” he said blankly, then, “Oh, fuck.”

That’s not going to happen,” I shot back, and this time when I planted the heel of my hand against his shoulder, he let me push him away.

He pulled himself up off the floor, made his way to the couch and sat down hard. Cautiously, I sat beside him. I didn’t know what to say.

Chakotay buried his head in his hands. “Shit, B’Elanna. I’m so sorry.”

My face was red. “You’re not the only one to blame.”

“I suppose the Jameson’s had something to do with it,” he joked weakly.

That hadn’t been what I meant, but I let it slide. “Well, if you’re feeling better…”

“Yeah.” Chakotay stood up, looking anywhere but at me. “Thanks for the detox. Uh, I’d better go.”

I walked him to the foyer. He mumbled a goodbye and pulled open the door, and suddenly I knew – he was going to walk away. He’d distance himself from me, stop coming over for dinner, stop taking Miral to the park and the zoo and the beach. He’d take the first available posting into deep space, and he’d call less and less frequently, and one day he’d stop calling at all.

I couldn’t stand it. “Chakotay,” I grabbed his arm. “Don’t you dare.”

He turned back to me. He looked beaten and ashamed, but at least he was looking me in the eye.

“Don’t you walk away from me. From us.” I was speaking fast, desperate to get the words out. “Don’t you abandon my little girl. Don’t you dare.”

His face changed, relief flooding his features, and I was being enveloped in a hug so tight I squeaked.

“Never, B’Elanna,” he said in a voice thick with tears, as I hugged him back.

 

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Things got better after that. Chakotay started seeing a counsellor, working out more regularly, eating properly. I decided not to take the Enterprise job in favour of a post in starship design at Utopia Planitia, and after six months or so, Chakotay was offered a choice: go back to captaining a ship, or take a civilian professorship in anthropology at the Academy.

Leaving Starfleet meant he wouldn’t be able to continue searching for Kathryn. It meant acknowledging that she was gone.

In the end, he handed in his pips.

It was a turning point for him. A new kind of peace settled over him; he started smiling more, rekindling old friendships, pursuing interests he’d long abandoned in favour of poring over sensor logs and news reports. Sometimes I’d still catch him gazing into mid-air, his eyes light-years away. But when we spoke of Tom and Kathryn he no longer grew silent and morose, and he started opening up to me, telling me stories about her, things I’d never known or even suspected.

The third anniversary of Voyager’s homecoming rolled around. There was another party – not quite as grand as the previous year’s, but still a pretty big deal – and Chakotay and I went together. He talked me into buying a new dress – I couldn’t see what was wrong with the one I’d worn last year, but he said we all needed to put on a good show for the media – and I brought Miral along for the first couple of hours before the babysitter took her home.

The admiral’s mother and sister were there this time. I think last year had been too much for them, but I guess you eventually get used to the idea that the person you love is never coming back.

I suppose I was getting used to it, too. I didn’t talk to Tom in my personal logs anymore. I no longer kept weekly photos of Miral in an album I’d always planned to show him when he came home. And when I heard a joke, or read a good book, or caught up with an old friend, it was Chakotay I called to talk to.

I had something of a meltdown when I realised that. It was disloyal, dishonourable, and Tom didn’t deserve it. I pulled away from Chakotay, rainchecked our standing dinners, made excuses when he wanted to take Miral out. I went to visit Owen at his office and asked him to find me a posting on a starship.

“Are you sure, B’Elanna?” he asked gently.

I wasn’t sure at all.

“It’s just that you seem content here,” he went on. “You love your job, and you’re a wonderful mother to Miral, and you have good friends.”

“I just … It doesn’t feel right,” I tried to explain. “Tom and I – we always wanted to take Miral into space with us. This isn’t what we intended for her. It’s not the life we had planned…”

“Tom’s gone,” Owen said with infinite kindness. “You have to live the life you’ve been given. And you know he would want you to be happy.”

I didn’t know how to live the life I’d been given. Nothing was turning out the way we’d planned, Tom and I. I was adrift on an uncharted sea, and the person I’d come to cling to as my buoy and my anchor was not the man I’d married.

 

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“Open the door, B’Elanna. I know you’re in there.”

I’d ignored the buzzing of the chime and the knocking on the door and the messages on the commlink, but I couldn’t ignore the shouting. Furious, I yanked the door open. “Are you trying to get yourself arrested? My neighbours –”

Chakotay pushed past me, face like thunder. “What the hell is going on with you?” he demanded, rounding on me.

I slammed the door shut. “Excuse me? I’m not the one making a scene –”

“Don’t bullshit me, Torres. You’ve been avoiding me for weeks. What’s going on?”

“Keep your voice down,” I said tightly. “Miral’s napping.”

Chakotay’s shoulders relaxed, his fists unclenching, but his eyes were still accusing. “We need to talk.”

“Fine.” I swished past him into the living area, throwing myself onto the couch. “So talk.”

He sat beside me. “Owen told me you’re looking for a deep-space posting.”

I shrugged.

“Why?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

I picked at a hangnail. “I need to get away.”

He was quiet for a long moment. “From me,” he said finally.

It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t feel the need to answer.

“What did I do, B’Elanna?”

“Nothing,” I snapped. “It’s not about you. This is about me.”

“What about Miral?”

“What about her?” I glared at him.

“You once asked me not to abandon you,” he said quietly. “Well, now I’m asking you the same thing. Don’t leave, B’Elanna. Don’t take Miral away from me.”

 

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I stayed.

In June of that year, Chakotay and I hired a personal shuttle and took Miral to Trebus. The resettlement was coming along nicely; Chakotay’s sister Sekaya had done wonders, dragooning other displaced colonists and various wanderers into working the land, and tirelessly petitioning Starfleet for aid. A handful of Voyager’s Maquis had ended up there – Dalby, Henley, Gerron – and we spent a few evenings sitting around campfires, drinking Dalby’s home-brewed rotgut and laughing about old times.

Sekaya sent us on a supply mission to Bajor, and after we’d loaded all the cargo containers onto the shuttle we transported to the capital to do a bit of sight-seeing. Bajor had changed so much since I last saw it: thriving markets, restored buildings, replanted fields. It was a miracle what a few years free of Cardassian oppression could do.

We stopped at a café for lunch. Chakotay taught Miral how to eat hasperat; it was spicier than the food she usually ate and she spluttered and coughed, so I got up to get her some water. On my way back I noticed an elderly Bajoran lady had paused by the table and was watching the pair of them fondly. Her smile encompassed me on my approach.

“What a beautiful family you have,” she told Chakotay.

And he smiled up at her with those devastating dimples and said, “Thank you.”

 

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When the fourth annual Voyager reunion rolled around, Chakotay and I went together, as had become our custom. Only this time it was different.

I guess it crept up on us both. For weeks after Trebus it seemed like nothing had changed. We went home to Earth. Chakotay went back to teaching; I shuttled to Utopia Planitia every day and began work on designing a new long-range science vessel. We took Miral out together on weekends, and he came over for dinner three or four times a week.

As I was seeing him to the door after one of those dinners, I leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. But when I pulled back, instead of lowering my heels to the floor, I reached up to touch his face. He stood perfectly still as my fingers traced the lines of his tattoo, and when I lowered my hand he caught it in his own. For a long moment we stared at each other. Then he dipped his head and kissed me.

It was a gentle kiss, cautious, exploratory, and after a moment we moved apart. He let go of my hand.

“Goodnight, B’Elanna,” he said, smiling softly, and I smiled back as he turned to leave.

We kissed again the next time we met. And then again, and again, until I realised I was looking forward to the kissing from the moment he’d arrive, and I decided there was no point in waiting for that kiss until we were saying goodnight.

So when he turned up for dinner the next night, I kissed him the instant he stepped inside. It wasn’t gentle and it wasn’t cautious, and his response delighted me. But he was following my lead, matching my intensity but not pushing it, and it frustrated me. So I bit him.

He pulled back in shock, fingers pressed to the wound I’d made on his cheek. At his reaction, my stomach twisted. I’ve ruined everything, I thought.

I was wrong. He looked at the blood on his fingertips and his eyes changed. And then he growled – a heated, feral, honest-to-Kahless growl. Heat rushed to parts of me I’d long ignored.

I growled back.

Chakotay took my face in his hand and sank his teeth into my collarbone.

It was at that moment that I realised his shocked reaction hadn’t been because I hurt him. It was because he knew exactly what that bite meant, and he answered me by marking me in return. He was my mate now, and I was his.

That night he stayed, and the next morning he moved in.

 

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In April of 2382, four years almost to the day after Tom and the admiral disappeared, Owen Paris came to the apartment. I’d just put Miral to bed, and Chakotay had stayed late at his office marking papers.

“They found them, B’Elanna.” He fell into an armchair as though his body had just given out.

I felt the blood drain from my face. “What do you mean, they found them?”

“The Excelsior was escorting some Antedean diplomats back to their home planet, and they picked up a Starfleet signal. Very faint. They tracked it to a planet called Ilecom, about fourteen light years from Antede.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “They found their bodies.”

“Bodies?” I felt my own knees give way and sat down hard on the couch.

“I’m so sorry.” Owen’s eyes were filled with tears. “The signal was a homing beacon. One of them must have rigged it from their communicators, but there was nobody to hear it until now. There’s been an autopsy. They died almost four years ago.”

He reached into a pocket and brought out a data chip.

“Tom recorded a log,” he said. “Starfleet examined this; I’m sorry you aren’t the first to see it. But it belongs to you.”

I took the chip. My fingers felt numb.

“Is Chakotay home?” Owen glanced around. “Do you want me to stay?”

I shook my head, staring at the chip that would answer all my questions.

Owen got to his feet. “I’m sorry,” he said again, but when I didn’t answer, he left.

 

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My hands were steady as I plugged the chip into my personal console.

“Computer, begin playback,” I said.

Tom’s face appeared on the screen, and I sucked in a breath as though I’d been sucker-punched.

He looked terrible. His face was gaunt, sunburned and dirty, and his hair was thick with dust. Behind him I saw nothing but sand dunes and scorched blue sky.

“Personal log, Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris,” he began. His voice was dry, strained. I closed my eyes for a moment, my throat aching.

“I guess this is my last will and testament,” Tom said, and his mouth quirked in a tired parody of the smile I’d loved so fiercely. “I’ve been saving this data chip in case I had to use it. But it doesn’t look likely that I’m going to be rescued any time soon, so here goes.”

I watched as his eyes spoke of the kind of pain I’d spent four years hoping he hadn’t gone through.

“Admiral Kathryn Janeway died two days ago,” he said starkly. “She died of internal injuries, complicated by exposure and dehydration. I buried her body over there.” He waved a hand. “Her grave is marked with a stone. It was the best I could do.”

He scrubbed a hand across his forehead.

“If I’d had any medical equipment – if they’d left us any – I might have been able to save her. But for what? There’s no water here, no food. No shelter. They just left us here to die.”

The anger leached from his voice.

“I have no idea who they are. Their ship uncloaked as we reached orbit of Goren II and fired on us without provocation. I managed to evade them, took off at maximum warp, masked our warp trail. I got us to the Xarantine system before they caught up with us. They beamed us onto their ship and blew the Delta Flyer to bits.”

His mouth twisted. “I’m sorry, ‘Lanna. I killed another shuttle. Guess that makes me about even with Chakotay now, huh?”

I pressed a hand to my mouth.

“The admiral and I were herded into some kind of holding pen filled with different species. Most of them I’d never seen before. I wouldn’t even be able to identify our captors – we never saw their faces. They brought us to this planet – God, I don’t even know where we are. The admiral and I were beamed down with three aliens, all of the same species, and then the ones who’d captured us just took off. Just left us here.”

The talking seemed to have exhausted him; he looked down at his hands for a long time.

“The other aliens died in a matter of hours,” he finally went on. “Just lay down and gave up the ghost. My best guess is that their species is intolerant to this kind of heat. The admiral thought they probably came from a humid environment. What kind of bastards do this to people? For what?”

He closed his eyes, regained his control.

“I’ve been here for four days now, give or take. No water. I won’t last much longer. I almost wish I’d been injured in the attack on the shuttle, like the admiral. This is a terrible way to die.” He smiled faintly. “You’d hate it, B’Elanna. No enemies to fight, no glorious death in battle. Just … wasting away. Organ failure, stroke, circulatory collapse, take your pick. See, Doc, I did pay attention to your sermons.”

I watched him breathe slowly, gathering his strength.

“I should have let her record a last message too,” he said, his voice soft, pensive. “But she slipped into a coma before I thought of it, and she never woke up. I’m sorry, Chakotay. I know how she felt about you – I know she would’ve wanted you to know.”

Something dripped onto the hand I held to my mouth, and I noted with surprise that I was crying.

“Tell Miral about me. Tell her I love her more than my own life. And B’Elanna…” He leaned closer. “Be happy. I’ll see you in Sto-Vo-Kor.”

He touched his fingers to his desiccated lips and held them up to me, and then the screen went black.

 

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Chakotay and I were married a few months before our son was born. Owen Paris performed the ceremony and most of the remaining Voyager crew were in attendance. Phoebe Janeway came, too, though Gretchen was too ill to leave the farmhouse in Indiana.

Chakotay formally adopted Miral. When she turned eight he started taking her to the flight simulators. She has a natural talent for flying; I suspect she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps one day.

I left Starfleet after our second child – a daughter – was born, and took a job as a civilian consultant. We moved out to Arizona. Chakotay says it reminds him of Trebus, and I love it here too. At night, sometimes, we take the kids and camp out, gazing up at the stars and telling them about the Delta quadrant, about the hotshot pilot and the fearless captain who led us back home.

We know, Chakotay and I, that we are not one another’s great love. What Tom and I had – what Chakotay and Kathryn had, or could have had – was once in a lifetime. But you can’t live the rest of your life with only memories to keep you warm, and I know wherever they are, they’d be happy for us. And we’re happy, too. It’s good.

It’s enough.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper