One True Thing

Summary: Some traditions are meant to be maintained, some promises made to be kept. No matter where you are, or who you become.

This one is for all the J/Cers: eight years of seasonal vignettes with the captain and commander.

 

Section titles are quotes from, and set roughly alongside, relevant episodes, though on occasion I may have played fast and loose with stardates.

Characters: Chakotay, Janeway

Codes: 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.

 

Rated T

Year One. No matter what happens, we’ll make it

We look at each other
a little too long
to be just friends.
-    Unknown


“I’ve always liked this holiday,” she admits as she turns from the replicator and hands him a snifter of brandy. “Making the time to be with family and friends, reaffirming how grateful you are to have them.”

He waits for her to curl up on the couch before he sits opposite, giving her a small smile. “I’m honoured.”

The captain looks at him enquiringly.

“To be standing in for absent friends and family,” he clarifies.

“Oh,” she says, and she lowers her lashes, a faint pink painting her cheekbones. It’s so unexpected that he has to hide a delighted grin behind his glass.

“Maybe we can make this a new tradition,” he suggests. “What would you be doing if you were home right now?”

She turns to look through the viewport, likely visualising different stars. “I’d probably be in Indiana, at my mother’s house,” she replies. “My sister’s children would have fallen asleep on the rug after their sugar crash, and the grown-ups would be sitting by the fire, drinking too much and telling ridiculous stories. What about you?”

The expression he doesn’t obscure quickly enough, as she turns to him, apparently reminds her of what she’s forgotten for a moment: that, even if he celebrated Christmas, he’d have no family to spend it with.

“I’m so sorry, Commander,” she says. “That was thoughtless in the extreme.”

“It’s all right.” He gives her a gentle smile. “The Maquis became my family. This time last year, a few of us managed to stop at a planet where the inhabitants didn’t ask too many questions. We spent a couple of days eating fresh food and sleeping under the stars.”

“Well, I can’t vouch for its taste, Commander, but thanks to Neelix, we have plenty of fresh food,” she smiles back. “And we have the stars.”

“To the stars.” He raises his glass to her. “And to our new family, on Voyager.”

Her eyes are fixed on him, warm with understanding and gratitude. “To friends,” she agrees, “and to our new tradition.”

The sudden desire to reach for her hand surprises him with its intensity, and he averts his eyes before she can read his intention in them.

When he looks up again, her gaze is just sliding away from his.

 

-0-


Year Two. I can tell you a story

Sitting next to you
is like taking a sip
of eternity,
the sun, the stars,
the sky,
never tasted so good.
-    Christy Ann Martine


“Do you suppose we’re anywhere close to a solstice?” she asks, her voice hushed in the quiet warmth of night.

They are lying on a blanket, cushioned by the turf beneath it, and the only sounds are the faint hum of insects and their lowered voices. It feels intimate, in a way he’s long wished to be intimate with her.

He turns his head to study her profile, starlit and pensive, her gaze fixed on the constellations above them. “Probably not,” he admits. “This planet’s rotation is different to Earth’s. But it doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?” she asks. She turns to look at him, and he reminds himself to bank the emotion in his eyes before it frightens her away.

“We can keep up the tradition,” he answers, propping himself on his elbow. “Spending time with the people we care about, being grateful for the things we have.”

She sits up to take the brandy flask he passes to her, eyes focusing on his. “I am grateful, you know,” she says with quiet emphasis. “Despite the way it seems … I’m grateful that we’re alive. And that I’m here with you.”

He knows she doesn’t mean the words in the way he hopes for, but his heart isn’t listening. It swells until it almost chokes him – fortunate, he thinks, because otherwise he’s not sure how he would stop the outrush of words he wants to say. Words not sanitised or couched in metaphor; words she isn’t ready to hear. She’s made that clear enough.

And then her expression flickers, eyes dimming with a strange mix of uncertainty and anticipation, and she reaches across the blanket to curl her cool fingers around his.

He presses his palm to hers, feeling warmth transmit between them as he looks into her eyes and can’t stop looking. This, he realises, this is who they are. This is a promise of who they’re going to become. All he needs is time and patience.

Hesitant, she releases his hand as she shifts toward him, and he reads her intention, opening his arms to her. She settles against him, her head on his shoulder, and together they watch the stars.

 

-0-


Year Three. Here’s to stories with happy endings

…and we drink our
coffee and pretend
not to look at
each other.

-    Charles Bukowski


It has been a year of emotional upheaval. Of incomparable exhilaration, of quiet suffering and bitter disappointment. Mostly, though, he thinks of it as the year that has made him into a different man. A man who, though he’ll never be quite whole again, is all the better for it.

Because of her.

She hands him the now-traditional snifter of brandy, their fingers not quite meeting around the glass, and takes her customary place curled up on the couch. “To the end of another year in the Delta quadrant,” she toasts. “May it be our last.”

He can’t bring himself to agree with the sentiment. For her, Earth is home; her future there is bright and settled. For him, home is a place several thousand light years behind them that he will never see again.

“To us,” he offers instead, and is pleased when her eyes crinkle in that smile he tries to cajole onto her face at least once in every day.

She sips her brandy and turns to watch the stars, and he watches her.

“Do you remember how we spent last Christmas?” she asks after several minutes of companionable silence.

It startles him, because this is a topic so weighty and jagged that they have never spoken of it.

“Of course I remember,” he replies, keeping his voice calm and even.

She says, “I think it was my favourite one yet.”

She still isn’t looking at him, her eyes focused on some distant point of light, but she feels for his hand and clasps it.

“Mine, too,” he says, soft and honest.

He never thought he’d feel her hand in his again. Though she touches him frequently, he cannot return her casual affection. There is nothing casual about it, for him. And he’s often wondered if she knows that, and if her touches to his shoulder or chest are really as unaffected as they appear. She is not a cruel or careless woman.

He’s long since hoped that it’s her way of reaffirming the promise they made, no less binding for being unspoken.

Now, in the moment she’s reached for his hand – something she hasn’t done since they returned from New Earth – he decides to find out.

“If we get home before next Christmas,” he states, “and if I’m able, I want to spend it with you.”

And he lifts her hand, pressing his lips to the inside of her wrist.

The catch in her breath is all the answer he needs, but he welcomes her throaty affirmation anyway. He lets her go before he’s too tempted to carry this further, as far as she would let him. She draws back with equal reluctance.

“There are days when it feels like we’ve been out here forever,” she confesses suddenly, eyes cast downward. “Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever make it home.”

“We’ll make it.”

“What would I do without you?” she murmurs, eyes full and shining.

“If there’s one thing you can count on, Kathryn,” he tells her, “it’s that I will always be here for you. That’s never going to change.”

 

-0-


Year Four. How did we end up here?

These mountains
that you are carrying,
you were only
supposed to climb.
-    Atticus


Borg, Hirogen, Omega; dashed hopes, alien mind-tampering and lovers he can’t remember … It has been their worst year in the Delta quadrant, and he can’t think of a single thing worth celebrating.

As he steps into her quarters, it’s clear that she feels the same way.

“I hope you brought something to drink, Commander.”

Her voice holds that sharp, bitter edge he’s heard in it far too often of late. It tightens his spine and sets his teeth. And it’s beginning to try his patience.

They’ve all had a hard year.

He has to remind himself ever more forcibly that she’s bearing the brunt of all their disappointments, that she feels the wear of it more keenly.

“I have brandy,” he answers her, stepping into the darkened room. “It’s tradition, isn’t it?”

She gestures vaguely without turning. “You know where I keep the glasses.”

He pours – the bottle’s lip chimes discordantly against the glass – and she deigns to leave her post at the viewport and join him on the couch. They sip in silence, worlds apart, and he’s sideswiped by a wave of crippling sadness.

She is a puzzle whose pieces no longer fit, he thinks. But he can help her put herself back together.

“Kathryn.”

She gives him an enquiring look that sharpens when he stays silent, simply reaching for her hand.

“I know what you’re doing,” he says. “You’re giving up. You think that all of this is your fault, and that you don’t deserve the crew’s respect, or our friendship, or –” he stops himself, just in time, from saying the words he can never take back.

Her hand lies limp in his.

“I won’t give up on you,” he tells her, a vow in every syllable. “No matter how hard you try to push me away.”

He can’t read her eyes in the darkness, and he holds his breath, knowing she’s poised on a knife’s edge. She could order him out, or she could let him in.

It could go either way.

Slowly, he feels her relax, her fingers loosening and curling into his as her posture loses rigidity, and he lets out his breath.

It’s not too late for her, and – he hopes – it’s not too late for them.

If fate is kind, maybe this will be their year.

 

-0-


Year Five. I won’t let you cross that line again

I have a thousand things to say to you,
and a thousand reasons not to.
-    Rachel Wolchin


If he’d thought last year was bad, this one has been a series of shocks and body-blows that have left him rudderless. He feels unsure of his place in the world, unsure of her. Bereft.

The quantum slipstream flight, which seemed to energise most of the crew despite its ultimate failure, was the first misstep. Harry hasn’t been the same since that message from his future self, and as for Kathryn …

Well. The less he thinks about the night before that flight, and what came after, the better.

But he can’t help dwelling on it. Because after came Kashyk and the Borg Queen and the chaotic space aliens, and with each blow he feels he understood her less.

Worst of all, though, was the Equinox.

That wound is freshly scored. And, despite their tentative overtures of peace, he doesn’t know how to heal it.

He intends to try, though, which is why he’s standing just inside the door to her quarters holding a bottle of brandy. And her hesitant smile is encouraging, at least.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” she admits, “considering … recent events.”

“Who am I to break with tradition?” he asks lightly.

Her smile warms, and she fetches glasses and pours the brandy, and they take their accustomed places on the couch beneath the stars. And if they’re sitting a little further apart than they used to, and if the conversation is more stilted, he decides to overlook it. At least it’s a start.

But there are so many things he wants to say to her. So many questions he needs answered, and one in particular that’s burning a hole in his heart. And, in the end, he can’t help himself.

“Kathryn, there’s something I need to know.” He starts to reach for her hand but her whole posture stiffens, and he stops the motion mid-air. Still, the words rush out of him. “That night – the night we were together – you made me a promise. And I need to know if it still stands.”

For a long while she’s silent, and he can’t read her at all. When she finally speaks, he knows from the first syllable that he’s not going to get the answer he’s hoping for.

“That was a long time ago, Commander.” Her voice is ice. “And things have changed.”

He feels raw, hollowed-out. “Some things never do. What I feel – that hasn’t changed.”

“I suggest you try to get over it,” she says harshly, and he jerks back as if slapped.

What’s happened to you? he wonders. What happened to us?

“Kathryn,” he implores, “I’m not trying to hold you to a promise you can’t fulfil right now. I just want to know if there’s still a chance.”

He’s not sure whether to be heartened or fearful of the expression on her face when she finally turns away from the stars to meet his eyes. She struggles to form words, and when she finds them her voice is dull and empty.

“I never should have made you that promise, Chakotay,” she says. “And I shouldn’t have accepted yours.”

“You have it, anyway,” he tells her. “No matter what happens.”

He places his empty glass on the coffee table with exquisite care, and leaves her quarters before he can no longer hide the ache he feels.

 

-0-


Year Six. You may have forgotten, but I haven’t

I will not have you
walk in and out of me
like an open doorway when
I have too many miracles
happening inside me to be
your convenient option.
-    Rupi Kaur


“I heard an interesting rumour today.” She treats him to a capricious grin as she tilts the bottle over the lip of his glass.

“Another one?” he asks dryly.

It’s become a refrain with them, ever since Seven’s conspiracy theories drew sharp attention to the rift that had developed between them. They’ve worked hard, these past months, to bridge it.

For the most part it’s working. They meet frequently for meals, even when there’s no work to be done as an excuse; they exchange quiet stories on the bridge and laugh together in the mess hall. They attend crew parties together, and she doesn’t seem to mind when the gossip about them ebbs and flows.

He wonders if this latest rumour is about them, too.

“Rumour has it,” she drawls as she curls up in her spot on the couch, kicking off her boots, “that Neelix whiled away the blackout telling the children a rather embellished version of our recent trip through that nebula, and they didn’t believe a word of it.”

“Poor Neelix. I think he had the toughest job of all that day.”

Her laughter is rich, the lines of her body relaxed. And he lets himself look at her, really look at her, for the first time in … he doesn’t even know how long.

Maybe it’s a test; of himself, of the deceit of memory, of his own emotional fortitude. Whatever it is, he fails.

This time last year he told her his feelings hadn’t changed. He’s tried since then – at her request – to dampen them, but as he watches her tilt her head back against the couch, her lips parting on a satisfied sigh, he knows he still loves her as strongly as he ever did.

It brings a twist to his stomach and an ache in his chest. The pain brought by this knowledge is familiar and yet, somehow, it shocks him anew every time, and he’s never sure if she doesn’t notice it, or just pretends not to.

“Is there any more of that brandy?”

Kathryn’s voice is husky, and on top of his unwanted epiphany it makes his pulse race. He carefully smooths out his expression before he turns to answer her, but finds she’s already watching him. There’s a half-smile on her lips, a knowing light in her eyes. And that’s when he knows.

She is aware of exactly how she affects him.

“Chakotay?” She’s leaning toward him, amusement in her tone. She reaches out and lays her hand on his chest. “Are you all right?”

His throat aches. Is she so careless with her power over him? Or is he the only safe option for her, to flirt with, to reassure her that she’s still desirable? Either way, it hurts.

All he can do to protect himself is to gain some distance. He shifts and feels her hand slide away, catches the faint flicker of doubt in her eyes.

“I’m fine,” he answers with a professional smile, “Captain.”

He fills up her glass, and turns the conversation to ship’s business.

 

-0-


Year Seven. I’d love to, but I’ve already made plans

Do you see it now?
In her eyes?
The distance.
You’ve lost her.
While you were busy
taking her for granted
she drifted a million miles away.
-    NJP


He’d forgotten what day it was, until a passing comment from Tom Paris and Seven’s subsequent questioning reminded him.

Explaining the storied histories of Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah and the winter solstice to a woman who is – he gives credit where it’s due – trying very hard not to dismiss such things as irrelevant makes him long unexpectedly for the comforting tradition of the past six years. Even the past two, when he feared he and Kathryn might never find their way back to what they once were.

It’s a punch to the solar plexus to realise that now, they never will.

He tells himself that at least they’ll always be friends, but even as he thinks it he knows it’s not true. The future stretches out before him, a succession of days he’ll while away with his beautiful young girlfriend until she inevitably tires of him; a posting with Starfleet that he’ll accept without really understanding why; a house, somewhere remote, that he’ll treasure for its peace until the day he realises that peace is not his to enjoy.

He will see her at reunions and weddings and christenings, communicate through calls that grow briefer and less frequent. She will take assignments that keep her away from Earth; he will spend more and more time alone. They will continue to drift out of each other’s orbit, until one day he’ll see her and they will have nothing to say to each other.

The most meaningful, terrifying, beautiful, fulfilling relationship of his life, and someday they’ll become strangers.

In that moment, he understands that the only thing that matters is that he never wants to let her go.

Music and laughter swirls around him, but he doesn’t hear it; his eyes scan the crowd, seeking black silk and auburn hair. It takes too long – he can’t find her – and his heart thuds into his throat. Surely she hasn’t gone; she’s the guest of honour at this homecoming ball, and the evening is still young…

The crowd parts momentarily and he catches a glimpse of her, moving away from him. He sends a silent, desperate plea to the universe, then turns to his date.

“Seven,” he says, “we need to talk.”

It feels as though hours tick by as Seven listens to his fumbling rejection, though it’s probably less than a minute. Fortunately she’s as efficient in accepting it as she is in everything else, and, dredging his courage from wherever it’s been lurking this past year, he pushes his way quickly over to the woman standing, lost in thought, at the drinks table.

“I think this is what you’re looking for,” he stammers, and she turns.

Her eyes are almost spilling over when she accepts the snifter of brandy he’s holding out to her, but her lips waver into a smile.

“It is tradition, after all,” she says, and rests her hand on his chest.

“Kathryn,” he smiles down at her, “would you like to dance?”

 

-0-


Year Eight. You’re the one true thing

Some of my favourite seconds on earth
are the seconds filled
with my lips spilled upon your collarbone
and my hair nestled into your fist.
-    Christopher Poindexter


“Do we really have to go?”

She laughs softly, turning her head to expose her neck to his seeking lips. “Of course we do,” she murmurs in that voice of honeyed gravel. “Starfleet Command would probably demote us both if we don’t show up. And besides,” she turns to wrap her arms around him, bare skin pressing deliciously against his in a way that makes him shiver, “tonight is an occasion worth celebrating with our friends and family.”

“You always did say this was the time of year to be grateful for them,” he concedes.

And they have so much to be grateful for. He has so much. To think he almost let this slip away …

When he’d asked her to dance with him that night, a whole year ago now, he’d only wished that they could rebuild their friendship. He hadn’t dared hope for anything more. But the way her hand had fit in his, the way his fingers had spread across her back, the way she’d shivered … He’d realised then that the force of what he felt for her had not dimmed in the least.

So he’d kissed her. Right there, on the dance floor, in front of everyone. Knowing full well she’d be within her rights to phaser him. Knowing there was a good chance she would.

Instead she kissed him back, like he’d never been kissed before.

He smiles up at her, dragging his thoughts away from honeyed memory and into the even sweeter here and now.

“I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we came home,” she echoes his thoughts, propping up on one elbow. She traces the lines of his forehead, cheekbone and lips with the tip of her finger. “The best year of my life.”

“Every year with you,” he tells her, “is the best year yet.”

“Flatterer,” she smirks, and in retaliation he rolls her under him and tickles her ribs until she shrieks for mercy.

His touch grows gentler, his lips find hers, and she softens under him, her fingers twining into his hair. Their caresses grow heated, her back arching, his hands finding ever more intimate places.

“We have to get up,” she sighs regretfully, her hands on his chest to hold him away. “If we’re late –”

“– nobody will mind,” he assures her. “And we still have time.”

“I suppose we do.”

She lets her hands slide around his neck, pressing up to kiss him again. Her lips taste of brandy and starlight and promises kept, and as he sinks into her arms he thinks that this, right here, is the one true thing he will always be grateful for.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper