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 Two: Bittersweet
That which is hidden will be disclosed
There was so much I wanted to say to you, but I hesitated. Irrationally, I thought that if I started telling you everything that was in my heart, the end would come more quickly.
We stood in the middle of that room with your head bowed to mine and your arms around me, breathing each other’s air, and gradually, a sense of peace crept over me. I knew I was about to lose you, and I knew I would never be the same, but for the first time in my life I understood how you were able to accept the whims of fate with such grace. Maybe you’d rubbed off on me; all those years of patient wisdom and parables.
The thought made me smile.
You sensed it and lifted a hand to cup my face, and I leaned into your palm, my mouth grazing your wrist. The gentle pressure of your fingertips tilted my chin up. I waited, lips parted, as you drew closer.
There came the rough scrape of a bolt sliding back, and Sidika slipped through the door, closing it quickly behind her. The intricate designs had smeared on her forehead and cheeks and her eyes were red-rimmed, as though she’d been crying, but determined.
“Elder Atmina implied that there was no cure for the ritausma lithi,” she said without preamble. “That isn’t true.”
“Sidika, wait a minute.” You released me and took a step toward the novitiate. “If I understood your mother correctly, breaking your oath of silence would mean the end of your training at the temple. Whatever you have to say, it isn’t worth that.”
I opened my mouth to contradict you, but Sidika beat me to it.
“Yes, it is, Commander Chakotay. How can I dedicate myself to serving justice when what is happening now is so unjust? You’ve been lied to, and I won’t stand by and allow that to happen.” She swallowed visibly. “And this is all my fault.”
I moved quickly to your side before you could object further. “Sidika, I think you’d better explain. Is there a cure for the commander’s condition?”
The young girl took in a short breath and nodded quickly. “There is a way to reverse the degradation of the commander’s synaptic pathways. I can administer the timiot, but we must hurry.”
“Wait a minute,” you held up a hand. “The timiot?”
“Reverse the damage?” I asked. “Not just halt it?”
“Yes. But immediately,” Sidika urged. “There isn’t much time, and the elders –” She broke off, biting her lip.
“The elders … what?” you asked gently.
“If they realise my intention they’ll try to stop me,” she said in a rush.
“Because it’s forbidden,” you deduced, and folded your arms. “Sidika, I appreciate your offer, but I won’t accept it.”
“The hell you won’t,” burst out of me, and I had to grit my teeth to regain control of my fluttering, hopeful heart. Turning back to Sidika, I demanded, “What does the timiot involve?”
Her composure had almost completely deserted her; she paced across the floor, darting anxious glances at the door, as if she expected it to open at any moment. “Are you familiar with perceptual transference? The merging of minds?”
“Are you referring to telepathy?”
“Yes. The lithi can only be cured through forging a telepathic link with Commander Chakotay.”
“How can that alter his genetic sequence?”
“I can’t explain it,” she said simply. “You will have to take it on faith, Captain.”
I met your eyes for a long moment, then said to Sidika, “Proceed.”
“Wait,” you protested. “Captain, the prime directive –”
“Can go to hell.”
“You don’t mean that,” you said softly. “And you haven’t asked if there’s any danger to Sidika.”
I swallowed: you were right. “Is there?” I asked the girl.
“None that I’m unwilling to risk.” She turned her gaze on you. “Please, Commander. No matter what you decide, I’m renouncing the temple tonight. Let me help you.”
“Chakotay,” I echoed her plea.
You gave a short, assenting nod, and the breath rushed out of me.
Sidika sat beside you on the cot and placed her hands on your head, and you inhaled sharply and went completely still. Your eyes were open but your sight was plainly turned inward.
I didn’t dare speak. Couldn’t, through the thickening in my throat. I stood with my fingers clasped and whitening, pressed to my mouth.
I stood, immobile, until the door scraped open, making me jump.
Minister Ahlai pushed into the room ahead of Atmina and several others I deduced were temple elders. Ahlai took in the tableau on the cot and turned on me.
“You have disrespected our sacred customs, and because of you my daughter has renounced her calling.” Her voice shook. “If I could break their mind-bond without causing both Sidika and Commander Chakotay to be permanently brain-damaged, I would do it immediately. As it is, you’re no longer welcome on Suha. Contact your ship and have every last member of your crew transported aboard. As soon as the timiot is complete, you and your commander will join them and you will set a course out of this system at maximum speed.”
I compressed my lips to hold back the words I wanted to scour her with. “Understood.”
There was a soft groan from the cot, and my attention snapped back in time to watch Sidika turn pale and sway, her hands falling away from your temples. Her mother rushed to support her.
You blinked. I watched you coming back into focus and I stepped forward, my eyes asking the questions I couldn’t form.
You stood, steady on your feet, and smiled at me, and it was your smile. The smile that sometimes makes me blush, or hide, or blink away tears.
Relief rushed through me, so overwhelming that I was right there in front of you before I knew my feet had moved. I reached for you and you caught my hand in yours; our fingers tangled and I was poised on my toes to complete the embrace when you stopped me with a murmured, “Not here.”
I nodded, remembering our audience, and you turned to Sidika and Ahlai.
“Is she all right?”
“I’m fine.” Sidika smiled up at you as the colour came back to her face.
“You were my most promising student in years,” Atmina told her, stepping forward. “But our laws are inflexible on this matter. You will no longer be welcome in this temple, or any other, for the remainder of your life.”
Sidika let her gaze pan across the gathered elders and come to rest on her mother. Pushing up to her feet, she shrugged the white robe from her shoulders and let it drop.
“I did this of my own will, knowing the consequences,” she announced in a clear voice. She leaned up to kiss her mother’s cheek, then strode for the door without another word. The elders parted to allow her through.
“What’s going to happen to her?” you asked.
Ahlai’s face was set. “That’s none of your concern. And it’s time you left.”
She about-faced, marching out of the room with her chin high. The elders followed.
We were alone.
I could feel your eyes on me, and I found, suddenly, that I couldn’t look at you.
“We should get back to the ship,” I blurted.
I tapped my combadge, but before I could speak, you touched my hand. “May I?” At my nod, you hailed, “Chakotay to Tuvok.”
~Commander,~ came the reply, coloured faintly with Vulcan surprise. ~What is your status?~
“Could you patch me through on ship-wide?”
There was a brief click, then Tuvok’s reply. ~You are addressing all hands, Commander.~
You felt for my hand. I wasn’t sure you were aware you were doing it, but my gaze was riveted to our linked fingers, to the way your thumb stroked gently across my knuckles.
“This is Commander Chakotay,” you said. “I’m sure you’ve all heard that I wasn’t supposed to return from Suha the same person. Thanks to the kindness of a temple novitiate, my condition has been reversed. I’m as good as new, and I remember everything,” you paused, “including the crew evaluation schedule, so I expect Ensigns Bristow and Bronowski to report to my office at 0900 and 1400 respectively.”
A cheer came through clearly over the comm line, and I watched your lips curve upward.
~Commander,~ Tuvok said, ~I believe I speak for the crew in expressing my relief and gratitude at your recovery.~
“Thanks, Tuvok,” you said. “You should know that the Suhari have asked us to leave orbit. We’ll transport up after you’ve beamed all remaining crew from the surface.”
~I will contact you shortly. Tuvok out.~
The channel closed and you turned to look at me. My hand was still in yours.
“That was a good thing,” I approved, my eyes sliding away from yours. “Telling the whole crew at once.”
“They deserved to know.” Your eyes remained steady on my face. “They’re a good crew.”
“And they love you.”
“I know,” you said, then, “Kathryn …”
I pulled my hand from yours and stepped away from you. “Don’t,” I pleaded. “I can’t.”
My fingers strayed to the necklace you’d given me, tracing the circles that represented home. My purpose, and my curse.
All the calm certainty I’d felt before Sidika rushed into the room and announced she had a cure had deserted me. I was at war, and as much as I longed to wrap myself in your arms, to complete the kiss that had been interrupted twice tonight, I couldn’t allow it. Not with the voices of the crew echoing in my head.
Maybe not ever.
Squaring my shoulders, I turned back to tell you my decision, and was interrupted by the chirp of my combadge.
~Tuvok to Captain Janeway. We are ready for transport.~
I met your eyes and realised that I didn’t need to find the words to explain. You already knew.
You smiled at me. With a brief touch to the Earth-coloured disc resting against my sternum, you mouthed, “Let’s go home.”
“Janeway here, Tuvok,” I said aloud. “Two to beam up.”