Were Stars to Burn
Summary: Taking part in a ritual at an alien harvest festival has devastating consequences for Chakotay, and in caring for him, Kathryn is forced to face both her deepest fears and her feelings for him.
A story with three possible endings. The choice is yours.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Original Female Characters
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for the October Trek Hurt/Comfort fic event.
Ending One: Bitter
That which is true will be forgotten
Warning: Major character death
“Talk to me.”
I felt as though I’d been talking for days; my throat was scratchy and sore, my eyes burning. Outside, the violet-black sky was beginning to lighten. Dawn would come soon, and with it, oblivion.
I looked at you, searching your eyes for the light, the softness I’d always seen in their depths: the expression you had just for me. Like your memory, it was fading.
We were almost out of time, and I was still lying to myself, pretending there would be a last-minute reprieve. A miracle.
But I never did believe in miracles.
“I remember the first time I saw you.”
Your forehead furrowed, then smoothed. “Through the viewscreen. I was on the Val Jean, and you called me by my Starfleet rank.”
“That might have been the first time you saw me.” I smiled at the memory. “But I saw you years before then. It was at Starfleet Headquarters. I had just been debriefed after a six month mission and there was nowhere I had to be, and I was taking my time wandering through the gardens with the sun at my back.”
The words began to stumble and trip on my tongue.
“And then this broad-shouldered lieutenant commander stormed out of the tactical building and collided with me. Knocked me right into one of Boothby’s rose bushes, stopped to haul me to my feet, brushed me down and kept right on walking without so much as an apology.”
I didn’t expect you to remember, but your eyes widened in recognition. “That was you?” You shook your head. “That was the day I resigned. I shipped out to the DMZ the next morning.”
“Where you eventually became the fearsome Maquis captain I was sent to bring to justice.” My smile faded. “I couldn’t believe it when Admiral Paris gave me your file. I had spent the previous two years looking for you around every corner, wondering why you’d been so angry that day. Wondering if I’d ever see you again.”
Your eyes softened. “And you always say you don’t believe in fate.”
“I’ve believed we were fated for a long time now,” I choked out. “I should have told you …”
There was so much I should have told you, so much space between us, and still I couldn’t find the courage to form the words. Instead, with a desperate, frustrated growl, I hooked my hand around the back of your neck and pulled you into a kiss.
You made an astonished sound that deepened almost immediately into a groan, and brought your hands up to cradle my face. I could feel you trembling. My head grew light; I needed air, but I found myself pressing even closer. Kissing you was more important than breathing.
Deliberately, you lightened the kiss, brushing my parted lips with yours, easing back further when I nudged at you impatiently. Eventually I reached up to wind my fingers into your hair, holding you steady while I bit lightly at your lower lip and soothed it with my tongue. It fractured your control. Your fingers stroked along my spine, mapped the span of my waist, wrapped around my hip as you brought our bodies into full, thrilling contact. We turned together, smoothly, almost like dancing, across the room until we sank onto the cot.
There was no hesitation, no prudence. I didn’t care that Sidika was just outside our door. There was only you and me, and our first and last chance to be together.
I lost track of time; all I knew was that the hours passed like minutes and when we finally lay still, my head on your chest and your arms around me, the lamplight in the room had dimmed and the sky outside our window was streaked with yellow and rose. I didn’t know how literally I was supposed to take Atmina’s prophesy that your memory would be gone by dawn. But I wasn’t willing to take the chance; not when there were things I had to say.
“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” I began. My voice was shaking, and I took in a deep breath, steadying myself to continue. “I couldn’t have survived the past five years without you. I wish I hadn't taken that for granted … I wish I’d let you know what you mean to me. I know it’s too little, too late, but I want you to know, now, before it’s too late, Chakotay. I love you,” I told you, my voice cracking on the last syllable, “I have always loved you. And I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”
You stroked my hair, gently, a little clumsily, and shushed me. When I propped myself on one elbow to look at you, tugging the sheet to cover myself, you gave me your gentle smile. But your eyes were clouded.
“Chakotay?” I asked, fear clutching my insides.
Your smile turned troubled and a crinkle appeared between your eyebrows.
“I’m sorry,” you said, “but I don’t know who you are.”
The Doctor never gave up on trying to cure you. And, eventually, he did find a treatment that slowed the continued degradation of your neural pathways. But the damage, as Atmina predicted, was irreversible.
You spent the first few days back on Voyager acquainting yourself with the man you used to be, and after you’d read all your logs you came to my ready room and asked to be given a purpose on the crew.
I assigned you to Engineering, hoping that time spent with B’Elanna might rebuild those broken connections, but after a week B’Elanna came to me, wringing her hands, asking that I find you another post. Your engineering skills, she said, were still competent, but your flawed memory had already caused several near-accidents: you left power conduits unsealed, relays uncoupled, and once you had wandered away during a critical stage of a warp core diagnostic. She was afraid another such incident could be fatal.
For a while you took on the role of ship’s counsellor. It seemed a natural fit: your personality, though devoid of the quirks and rich complexities your forgotten experiences had once lent it, remained open and reassuring, and your interest in other people was genuine. For a while you were content, and I … I was able to avoid you. It was a situation that suited us both.
Soon, though, the burden of daily re-learning other people’s problems, on a ship where shared history was crucial to understanding one another, became too much for you, and you began to shun your scheduled appointments. The first time, I found you in the observation lounge, facing out through a viewport, your body language demanding solitude. I ignored your signals and tried to talk to you, and you told me that you liked it there because the stars were different every day, and nobody minded. You said the stars didn’t judge.
I tried to tell you that none of us judged you, and you smiled at me without humour and said that I was the worst of all. That you couldn’t stand to be near me because I looked at you with hope that could never be realised and expectations you could never fulfil. That you didn’t even know me, but you knew you had broken my heart.
I stopped looking for you after that.
After a while, whenever you went missing, Seven of Nine would message the bridge to inform me that you were in Astrometrics, standing on the platform, gazing up at the display of our course through the quadrant.
You became close, you and Seven, spending hours together, she at her work, you in silent contemplation of the stars. I would see the two of you sometimes, in the mess hall together, in the holodeck. It made sense, I suppose; you had something profound in common. Both of you had to forge a new life with a new identity. The difference between you was that you had to relearn who you were almost every day.
Seven was unendingly patient with you. Maybe her constant presence in your life helped you to form a familiarity with her that lasted beyond the span of your truncated memory; maybe you simply responded to the feelings she developed for you. Maybe it was enough for both of you, that you could make each other happy.
It hurt, but there was nothing I could do to change it. So when you came to me in the eighth year of our journey – you and Seven, hand in hand, standing before my ready room desk – and requested permission to marry, I granted it.
The Doctor had developed his treatment, and for a year or two you seemed to be improving. You forged new friendships with some of the crew. You took over maintenance of the airponics bay. I heard that you and Seven were talking about children.
Then the two of you took shore leave together, hiking the mountain trails on a nameless planet. There was an accident, and Seven was fatally injured.
Nobody ever so much as implied that your diminished faculties had caused it, but you believed it was your fault. You withdrew, refused the Doctor’s treatment, wouldn’t leave your quarters.
The crew who checked in on you reported that your memory was failing, that you were experiencing hallucinations and periods of near-catatonia. When the Doctor was finally able to examine you, he came to me with a warning that you were deliberately hastening the lithi’s progression, and that you would be unable to live alone within the year unless somebody stepped in.
I began to spend all my off-hours with you.
Most of the time, you’d ignore me, staring through your viewport as though you could memorise the constellations. Sometimes you’d shout at me, demand to know who I was and why I was keeping you prisoner. Sometimes we’d sit in silence, you reading, me catching up on reports.
Sometimes, increasingly rarely, we’d talk. You would ask me why you were on a ship, what was your purpose, what we were to each other, and I would answer you with the truth I had always shied away from. The truth I wished I’d told you before it was too late.
Sometimes I would catch you looking at me, your expression speculative and faintly sad, as if you were half-remembering what we once had been to each other. Sometimes, when I wore clothing that bared the earth-and-moon necklace you’d given me, that I hid every day under my uniform, your gaze would fix on it and your hand lift as if to touch it. But your face would always clear and your eyes slide away, dismissing the unwanted prickle of your memory.
You deteriorated more quickly the closer we drew to home. Gradually, your grip on reality grew weaker, and you spent as much time talking to imaginary people as you did to those of flesh-and-blood. By the time Voyager limped into the Alpha quadrant, twenty-three years after our journey started, the majority of our interactions involved you accusing me of torturing you and begging me to let you die.
There were times I almost gave in. I was half out of my own mind by then, and if it had taken us much longer to reach Earth, I might have ended your misery and then my own.
We came home to a hero’s welcome, and it meant nothing. You were taken to Starfleet Medical. I used my newfound celebrity status to secure an apartment less than a block’s walk from your ward. And every day for the next ten years, until your death rendered my existence purposeless, I walked that short distance to visit you, my sevgili, and wished we were seventy-five thousand light years away.