Summary: Twenty-three years, and it all ends like this.
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Chakotay/Seven of Nine
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS owns all the timelines, but perhaps not all the possibilities.
Notes: Written for the VAMB Winter Picture Prose contest 2017, and prompted by this picture. Third place in the Naughty category.
Because Chakotay’s gravestone in the unaltered Endgame timeline only said that he died in 2394. It didn’t say how, or exactly when. And if it came with a whole lot of J/C angst and a big serving of self-sacrifice, so much the better.
It’s something out of another world. Harsh white-gold light assails the viewscreen, and he thinks there’s something monstrous in the way it gilds the edges of the bridge, throwing shadows at wrong angles. When he glances to his right, she’s bathed in it, crystallised, her silver hair tarnished by its crackling light, and the wonder in her eyes fills him with familiar terror.
“What is it?”
The usual gravel of her voice is liquid, slackened with awe.
“Some kind of singularity,” Harry answers, his own voice tight. “Radiation levels are off the scale.”
“Back us off, Tom.”
“Impulse engines are offline.” Nervous perspiration beads the helmsman’s balding head. “Thrusters too.”
Astrometrics to the bridge.
Even now, thirteen years later, it’s not the voice he still expects to hear, not the cool measured tones of precision.
Captain, the singularity. It’s not a natural phenomenon. It’s directing a psionic field toward the ship. We’re in danger of -
The comm expires with a whimper as the ship judders, losing its moorings in treacherous space.
Her hands are pale and she rests one on his chest, so familiar, on the bolstering fabric of his uniform and never on his skin, but didn’t they once? Small, pale hands, smooth semi-circles for fingernails, or were they latticed in silver? Her hair brushes under his jaw, red-gold, rough burnished silk, fine satiny blonde, and he presses his lips to the top of her head.
She’s gone. She was only his for too short a time, she was never his, he’s dreaming. But he remembers a slight weight on his chest, a hand cupping his cheek (I can’t imagine a day without you), the imprint of silver metal against his stubble-roughened face.
“Chakotay.” Soft, urgent, honey poured over gravel. “Are you all right?”
Her eyes are blue, the colour of her eyes is indescribable, her skin pale as milk but her freckles came out in the sun, honey-gold kisses on her shoulders and he loved the haughty arch of her eyebrow and the way her full mouth tightened as though amusement was too human a failing to permit, he loved the quirk of her lips and her full-throated laughter. He clasps her metal-veined hand in his own as he slides into her, he traces the smooth wing of her brow with his lips and feels her arch beneath him, the puff of her hitched breath warming his neck, but she’s gone, was she ever really there with him?
“Chakotay, look at me.”
Eyes of a colour he can’t describe, and he doesn’t need words to tell her, she has always known it was always her that he loved -
“- don’t understand it, Captain. The rest of the crew regained consciousness after a few minutes.”
“Can you wake him, Doctor?”
“I’m not sure it would be wise. The Commander’s brainwave patterns are highly unstable –”
He should open his eyes, but it seems like such unwarranted effort and only a moment ago he was tasting her skin, his hands twining in golden-red hair, and he wants -
The mark of his people has faded, watered-blue ink etched into the cross-hatch of encroaching age. He doesn’t recognise the man he sees in the mirror. Something vital is lost, along with the peace he’s squandered.
He thinks maybe it’s her, and the erosion of years which wears away at his hopes like rainwater on calcified stone.
Once, they’d seemed inevitable.
She smiles through her tears, palm pressed to his and fingers interlinked. She’s so beautiful. He pushes upright on shaking legs, he can’t move from his chair, pulls her close, he can’t release her gaze. Her mouth is soft, a peach, and he wants with the desperate weight of necessity to kiss her, he can’t hold himself back from kissing her.
What if he kissed her? How would it end?
Her sigh, the small sound she makes in her throat, is his undoing. His fingers tangle in burnished red hair, stroking the paper-soft silk of her skin.
“Chakotay,” she whispers, and if there was ever anything left of him that wasn’t hers, it’s lost to her now.
It was, always, inevitable.
It wants him. He knows it in his tired, creaking bones, held in the golden-red layers of a dream that feels more real than wakefulness. It’s the way home, deliverance for the ones he loves, and all it asks in payment is him.
And it’s not such a bitter deal, after all. He’s long since renounced his presumptions to the life he still dreams of, and what he’s being offered is seductive, cuts to the heart of his most ruthlessly repressed desires.
He has always been caught between worlds – tradition and homogeny, Starfleet and Maquis – and there’s no limbo more painful, more tawdry and sore, than that he’s been forced to endure in loving her. In loving them both.
What it whispers to him, this consciousness that holds the ship in its golden web, is that he no longer has to choose. He can have all of it – the uniform and the freedom, his father’s love and his place in the universe. He can have his beautiful, dead wife, with her guileless generosity and her arctic intelligence. He can have Kathryn.
Does it really matter, in the end, that it isn’t real?
Thirteen years have passed since Seven breathed out her forgiveness with her final exhale and closed her blue, blue eyes. In his final betrayal, his gaze was fixed not on the still face of his wife, but on clouded blue-grey eyes etched in a face white with guilt - a guilt she has mirrored back to him every time he’s looked at her since. Every time he’s touched her.
Tonight, there’s no room for guilt. When she lays her hand on his cheek, all he can feel is the smooth warmth of her fingers and the bare memory of cool metal tracery that never picked up the heat of his skin. Her lips are soft as a peach, her breath hitching as his hands wind into pale golden silver-white hair.
For a moment, as he looks into her eyes, he can’t be sure of their colour.
“- not well enough to be here. Please, return to your quarters. Mr Tuvok! Doctor to Security –”
A hand grips his shoulder, stronger than any man has a right to be, and the demented chanting in his ear takes the shape of words. The Vulcan beseeches him to listen, to understand.
“It’s the only way,” he implores, and it takes three yellow-jacketed officers to pull him away from the biobed. “Listen to it, Chakotay! It’s the only way home –”
She comes to his quarters on the anniversary of Seven’s death. She is in uniform - always in uniform – but there’s an exaggeration, a care in the way she places her feet in front of each other, and her silvered hair is less perfect than she would ever allow on days less agonising and raw. Her breath is darkened with whiskey her lips tasted like the wine they’d shared and her mouth quirks to one side, but he can see none of the humour he once loved in it.
“I thought you might feel like a drink.” Her words hold a slur, but he can’t be sure if she’s drunk or just fatigued.
When he steps back to allow her entry, her gaze falls on the medicine bundle. A river stone, a feather, the dried petals of a rose, and something small and glinting silver. He rolls it up, ties it neatly.
“I was honouring her death,” he says in response to the question she doesn’t ask.
She waggles the half-empty bottle in her hand. “So was I, in my own way.”
They drink, and the weight of long years of silence and worlds of expectation swells between them. She leans forward to place her empty glass on the table, and when she moves back she’s close. Closer than they’ve been in light-years, no barriers, no pips between them.
She takes his hand.
“Kathryn,” he almost doesn’t dare to ask, but he’s assumed too much, misread her too often and he’s too old – too tired, too heartsick – for games, “why are you here?”
“I’m so tired, Chakotay.” Her eyes are as empty, as hollow as her voice. “I’ve been tired for years. And I honestly don’t believe I can keep going anymore.”
He reaches out, fingers and thumb tilting her chin and he leaned in and kissed her, the hitch of her breath absolving him of all his doubts and fears and turns her face to the dim light. It’s true; he can read it in her eyes, her vacant, grey-blue eyes. She’s given all she has, she kissed him back and the small sound she made in her throat was his undoing, there’s nothing left in her to give.
Once, she was so alive that even her hair crackled with something vital and intangible, the spirit or force of will that he knew he would follow to the ends of the universe. Now, she’s reached her own end. Twenty-three years have beaten out all her hopes. If they got home tomorrow, he wonders, would there be anything left of her at all?
“Commander, I cannot in good conscience release you from sickbay! Your brainwave patterns are highly erratic…”
He shrugs off the hologram, steadying his hands on the bed as he passes. Bridge, he has to get to the bridge, he has to tell her, he swore to himself that he would stay by her side, doing whatever he could to get them home. The turbolift was never so slow, but at last it opens onto the bridge and she stands, straight and slender, her burnished hair coiled atop her head, holding herself erect against the endless years of hard-scrabble and fatigue, silver strands framing the hollowed-out bones of her face.
He stands in front of her, and her papery skin bears a map of all the wounds that they and the Delta quadrant have inflicted upon each other. If he were to touch her now, his fingertips would leave marks, shallow depressions that would vanish only gradually. When he touches her she’s smooth, like warmed marble, and he wonders at his temptation to press harder, to leave the evidence of his presence in the form of bruises, indelible as the love he tries to suppress.
White-gold light floods the bridge, throwing shadows at all the wrong angles.
“Chakotay?” She lays a hand on his chest, small and pale.
He lets his gaze drift to the viewscreen, to the singularity that holds the fragile ship in its snare.
“I know what it is.”
“I know it hasn’t been easy, living all these years without her.”
She draws meaningless patterns on his chest, her fingers still straight and slender despite the weight of years. When he can hold her like this, her pale skin absorbing the heat of his own, her beautiful hair spread over his shoulder and the haze of satiation in her chimerical eyes, he almost forgets about the hurt and the distance and the worlds between them.
He says nothing, and she assumes the implications of his silence.
“You miss her still,” she whispers, and he closes his eyes.
“It isn’t her that I miss, Kathryn.”
“It’s me that it wants.”
He can see in her varicoloured eyes that she doesn’t understand.
“It’s a portal, of sorts,” he tries to explain. “It can take Voyager home, but there’s a price.”
She shakes her head, eyes wide, whispers, “You?”
“Yes.” He takes her hand, his thumb rubbing circles on the paper-thin skin. “It can give us – all of us – everything we’ve ever wanted. You get to go home, and I stay behind.” He wills her to understand. “It will give me everything I’ve always wanted.”
The ache in her voice, the hitch in her breath, is almost his undoing. “You’re leaving me.”
Then I guess I am alone, after all.
“You’re not alone, Kathryn.” His fingers and thumb tilt her chin and he kisses her, and her mouth tastes of the wine they’d shared the bitterness of defeat and light-years of unfulfilled hope.
She’s empty, spent. She has nothing left to give.
He can give her this.
Light and heat billow around them, and he locks eyes with her over the centre console. His bones may be bowed with age, but he can still find a faint echo of his inner fortitude.
“Permission to leave the ship, Captain.”
Twenty-three years, her stinging, indescribable eyes whisper across the space between them, and it all ends like this.
Age-withered but still beautiful, her fingers clasp briefly over his. Her eyes tell him, clearly, all the things he’s ever wanted her to say to him, and when she speaks it’s barely a whisper.
It envelops the shuttle in a kaleidoscopic fury of brilliant golden-white light, and he wonders how he’d ever thought it monstrous. He hails Voyager to follow him in, and he wonders if it looks like this to them, or if this is the first of his promised, everlasting rewards.
“Safe travels,” he bids them through the viewscreen.
Kathryn smiles through her tears, her hand raised as if to link with his, and he mirrors her in the empty air. Silver strips the gold from her hair, but her mouth is soft as a peach, skin like finger-smudged parchment. She’s beautiful, still so beautiful.
What if he kissed her? Was this how it would end?
His fingers twine into hers, and she lays her burnished-red head on his chest, pressing her lips to his skin. He strokes fingertips down the pale length of her back, hears the hitch in her breath. As he slides inside her she makes a small sound in her throat, and if there was ever anything left of him that wasn’t hers, there are no worlds between them now.