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 Three: Sweet
The beloved will find truth through courage
“Do you remember the first time we met?”
“When you beamed onto my bridge, threatening grievous bodily harm?” Despite myself, I smiled. “I didn’t know whether you were going to shoot me or kiss me.”
You chuckled. “Tell you the truth … I didn’t either.”
“Sometimes,” I murmured, “I can’t work out how we got so lucky. To be stranded so far from home; enemies without, enemies within –”
“No idea what was ahead of us, or if we’d survive the next day –”
“And yet,” I lifted my face, “there you were.”
“Which, in itself, was a problem,” I pointed out. “I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the things you made me feel. If we’d been in the Alpha quadrant –”
“We might never have met,” you finished. “Or if we did, we might have been exchanging phaser fire.”
“Oh, we had our moments.” I smiled at you. “There were times I was tempted to shoot you.”
“Let me guess,” you answered wryly. “You didn’t always appreciate me solving problems the Maquis way.”
“You mean like running off after Seska?”
You looked blank. “Who?”
I glanced away to hide the fear that clutched my throat. “I suppose, if you have to forget anyone, she would be a good choice.”
We fell silent. I was trying to pretend I wasn’t counting the hours we had left and wondering how wide the holes in your memory were growing. You; I didn’t know what you were thinking about. I tried to block out everything but the feel of your arms around me and your breath stirring my hair.
After a while you pulled me closer, and I felt your lips touch my forehead.
Hesitantly, you asked, “I don’t remember … how many times have we kissed?”
“We haven’t – we’ve never …” I broke off, then raised my face. “This is the first,” and I tiptoed up to brush your mouth with mine.
Your lips parted – those full, luscious lips I’d fantasised about more often than I’d admit – and I tilted my head to slide my tongue along the lower one. You breathed a sigh; I felt your hands circling my waist, your thumbs rubbing slow and thrilling across my ribs, and my skin prickled with heat through the thin silk of my dress, everywhere you touched me.
Slow and deep, my tongue sliding over yours, I nipped and sucked at your mouth. You started to tremble. Your fingers began to spread and wander, your breathing to quicken. I pressed myself into your stroking hands and felt you moan deep in your chest.
You eased back from me a fraction; your eyes were black and your lips wet.
“Definitely our first,” you said, rough-voiced. “That isn’t something I’d forget.”
A flush of shyness made me duck my head, a helpless smile tugging at my lips. “Me neither.”
You cupped my face, fingers drifting across my cheekbone and making my eyes close. Standing there like that, my hands over your heart, yours tenderly mapping the outline of my features and threading through my hair, I felt lulled and safe. Dawn was still hours away, and that moment, that night, was everything.
Eventually you seemed to have your fill of brushing your fingertips across my forehead and cheek and jaw. Your hands came to rest lightly on my shoulders and you set me back from you a fraction.
“There’s so much I think I should be saying to you,” you told me. “I know there’s a message I recorded for you … all the things I wanted to tell you while I was alive,” you paused, “or, I guess, while I was still me, but giving it to you doesn’t seem right.”
“Then maybe you should tell me now. Whatever you want.” Whatever you can remember, I didn’t say.
“Okay.” You thought for a moment, then grinned. “I love it when you’re in captain mode, the way you strut around the bridge snapping out orders. It’s incredibly sexy, and the best part is when you lean over the helm.”
I leaned back in your arms, pretending outrage. “Commander, are you admitting to lascivious thoughts about your captain?”
You laughed. “Kathryn, every member of our crew has entertained lascivious thoughts about you at one stage or another, especially …” you trailed off, a line appearing between your brows, “uh, the pilot. Lieutenant …”
“Paris,” I supplied, feeling the edges of my smile slip. “Ensign Paris.”
Your gaze slid from mine. “Right.”
I felt anguish bubble up inside my chest, choking me and stinging my eyes, and I dipped my forehead to hide it. The position pressed my face against your throat. The tickle of my breath made you murmur, made your hands tighten on my shoulders.
The moments ticked by as we stood quiet and immobile, until I began to feel the weight of passing time and the cost of my inaction. If tonight was all the time we had left, surely I’d be forgiven for giving into a few long reined-in impulses. Hadn't we earned a little indulgence?
If not now, when?
So I tilted my head to the side and parted my lips, feeling the throb of your pulse under my tongue.
You gasped, jerking back as though I’d burned you; your hands fell to my hips and you clutched them to hold my lower body away from yours. I frowned up at you in surprise.
It was your accelerated breathing and the way your tongue darted out to moisten your lips that clued me in.
Suddenly I felt powerful, irresistible. I hooked a finger into your belt to tug you back into contact with me and gripped your chin with the other, turning your head firmly to one side. Ignoring the almost-bruising pressure of your fingers on my hips, I stretched up to scrape my teeth against your jugular.
Your moan curled my toes and I answered it with one of my own. I pushed your collar aside to suck at your collarbone, slipped open a button on your shirt and traced the smooth expanse of skin with my tongue. I could feel you shaking with the effort of holding still.
Leaning up to nip at your earlobe, I whispered, “Touch me.”
You exhaled through your teeth. Your fingers loosened, and slowly, you shifted them upward. I felt your fingertips exploring each bump and curve of my ribcage, slithering over my silk dress. I shivered involuntarily, leaning into your touch, and you stopped.
“Kiss me,” I demanded, and you bent to nuzzle at my cheekbone. Your lips followed the line of my jaw and I tipped my head back to expose my neck to you.
My pulse was thundering. I wanted to see all of you, to taste you everywhere at once. I opened your next shirt button, and then another, until I could push the shirt from your shoulders and arch my body against your naked chest.
Your mouth trailed softly along the line of my throat, I turned my face toward you, and as our lips met I breathed out a sigh. Heat bloomed and pulsed between us. Lacing my fingers into yours, I began to drag your hands upward, until our joined fingers moulded the lower curve of my breasts.
You broke the kiss, breathing hard. “Kathryn …”
“Mm?” I pressed closer, wanting to kiss you until we breathed each other’s air, but you held me still with a small shake of your head.
“Maybe we should slow down.”
“I don’t want to slow down.”
You squeezed my hands. “I thought you had rules about this.”
Of all the things that were fading from your memory, why couldn’t that be one of them?
“Playing by the rules never got us anywhere.” I lowered my voice to a purr, pulling my hands free of yours so I could indulge my need to smooth them across your chest. “I want this. Do you?”
What you wanted was scrawled across your face, but still you hesitated. “But you said we’ve never –”
“I don’t care,” I cut you off. “Tonight is our last chance to …” I stopped, pressed my lips together. “I don’t want to waste any more time.”
Before you could offer further protest, I leaned up and captured your lips again. This time I threaded my fingers into your hair to hold you to me, and – your objections apparently silenced – you spread your hands across my back, one sliding low to press my hips close.
I hummed my approval and you cupped your hands under my thighs, lifting me until my feet left the ground and I took the hint, wrapping my legs around your hips. Immediately you started moving, your lips never leaving mine as you unerringly found the little ledge in front of the window. I rested my behind on it, locking you in place between my thighs.
I squirmed against you just to feel you shudder and swell.
You broke the kiss to chase the strap from my shoulder with your lips, and I began to shake. I reached behind my back to release the zipper on my dress, letting the bodice slither down to pool around my hips, and leaned back on one elbow. You braced an arm around my waist, bending to suck and lightly bite at my throat, my collarbones, and lower, and I arched my back, encouraging your attentions with a hand threaded through the hair at the back of your head.
“Easy,” you murmured, following the command with a long, slow lick from the underside of my breast to the taut, begging tip. “We have all night.”
As you began to learn the contours of my body with your hands and mouth, I gave myself up to wherever your impulses led you, sure in the prediction that this would be a night that one of us, at least, would never forget.
Warm pink fingers of light tickled my closed eyes, drawing me gently into wakefulness.
Incrementally, I became aware of my body: the stretch and pleasant soreness of muscles, the sense of fulfilment, aching and heavy, in my lower belly. The warmth of a body pressed to my back, an arm across my hips. Soft, even breathing stirring the fine hair at the nape of my neck.
My eyes blinked open, stinging in the light streaming through the window, gritty from lack of sleep.
Easing myself out from under your restraining arm, I turned to look at you. You were stretched out, sprawled across the cot, grace and latent power evident in the long lines of your body. The sheet dipped low on your hips and I followed the V of your pelvis with greedy eyes before forcing my gaze away.
Your face was smooth, as blank as the tabula rasa I knew you had become.
I turned away. Snagging my crumpled dress from the floor, I tugged it over my tangled hair and half-zipped it carelessly, ignoring the twinges in parts of my body as I moved to stand at the window.
The temple gardens spread out before me in a glorious array of colour and shade, but all of it blurred before my eyes. I was torn in half. I wished we’d never heard of Suha or the Lethia Festival. Wished I had never thrown off the captain’s shackles for a few moments with you, for the thrill of pretending that we were even possible. I was devastated at the cost of my recklessness, and heartbroken at the prospect of long years ahead without you at my side.
And I was fiercely grateful for the one night we’d had.
I had said it first, breathing I love you against your lips as you held me steady in the electric moments immediately after we first joined. Like breaching a dam, my words had shattered your restraint; you’d answered me with a groan, surging into me, punctuating each powerful motion with an echo of my confession.
Standing there at the window, the memory brought with it a flood of heat and a clench low in my belly. Soon, I’d have to decide how to handle the coming hours – days, years – and be the captain again. But for a few moments more, I let myself get lost in replaying every kiss, every touch. I closed my eyes and focused on sensations: the silk of my dress, warm and supple, became your skin against mine; the tickle of my hair became your lips on my neck.
Lost in this daydream, it took me a beat a two to realise that it wasn’t the warm morning air that caressed my shoulder, nor the sounds of the garden that murmured against my ear. The strap of my half-fastened dress could have slipped off my shoulder of its own accord, yes. But the warm lips tracing the side of my neck, the calloused palms cupping my hips – those were shockingly real.
“Chakotay?” I forced myself to whisper.
The lips withdrew. The hands tugged at my hips, turning me, and there you stood, wearing nothing but your undershorts. And your smile.
Your familiar, gentle, dimpled smile: the one that you reserved for those rare, precious moments when we were alone and in perfect accord.
“Hi,” you said simply, “Kathryn.”
My heart tripped. “You remember me?”
Your smile became a grin. “I remember everything,” you answered, and then you kissed me.
The sound was quiet, but insistent enough to break through the cocoon of rapturous disbelief I found myself in. Forcing myself to pull free of your kiss, I stared at you until I recognised the sound as someone knocking at the door to our room.
“Come,” I called without thinking.
The door opened and Atmina glided through it, followed by Minister Ahlai and Sidika. All three stopped short when they saw us. All three broke out into wide, delighted smiles.
“I see you followed my counsel,” Atmina addressed us, and when we stared at her blankly, she clarified, “To spend this time together truthfully, with no barriers between you.”
Belatedly, I realised that you and I were standing crushed together and wrapped in each other’s arms, in a state of undress that made it glaringly obvious just how we’d passed the night hours. I blushed, tugged my fallen strap up over my shoulder and made to step away from you, only for you to utter a warning sound and clutch me even closer.
The hard ridge pressing against my hip explained why.
Wordlessly, Sidika fetched your pants and shirt and handed them to you with a faint smirk, and you shifted behind me to yank them on. Dressed, you moved to stand at my side, and our fingers meshed without thought or hesitation.
Atmina’s smile widened as she looked from our joined hands to our faces. “How do you feel, Commander?”
“Like myself,” you replied, “only …”
You trailed off, and Atmina suggested: “Different?”
“Better,” you amended. “I feel … renewed.”
“And you, Captain?” She turned her dark green eyes on me.
I took a moment to probe my own emotions, my physical state … I did feel different. Energised, decisive, positive … Happy, I realised. That was the truth of it. For the first time in months – no, years – I felt happy.
But I wanted answers.
“What happened to us?” I growled. “Why did Chakotay start losing his memory? Why did you make us believe it was permanent?”
Atmina folded her hands. “Everything I told you was the truth.”
“You said Chakotay would experience total memory loss by dawn,” I accused. “You said it was incurable.”
“No,” said Atmina, “I said there was no reversing the condition. In fact, the cure was in your hands all along.”
“What cure?” I ground out. “How was it in our hands?”
“I told you that the ritausma lithi must be honoured,” Atmina said patiently. “I counselled you to pass the night caring for your sevgili. To reveal your true feelings to one another. To act on your unspoken desires and accept what you had previously denied yourselves.” She smiled. “That is what you did.”
I stared at her.
Minister Ahlai spoke for the first time. “The elder spoke the truth. The lithi happens very rarely, but we’ve been taught that only those who embrace the opportunity it offers can free themselves from its curse. Truth requires courage, and faith is rewarded with joy.”
“I understand,” you said from beside me.
I didn’t. “Minister, Elder, I apologise for my bluntness, but none of this is making any sense. How could anything we did last night have restored Chakotay’s memory?”
Ahlai gave a rueful shrug. “As I told you, Captain, I cannot explain it. It just is. It’s not our custom to question it. Nor were we permitted to guide your path any more than we did. If we had simply told you what you had to do, the lithi would have taken your sevgili from you and you would have spent the rest of your life bonded to a man who no longer existed.”
“Fortunately,” Atmina noted, “you chose the right path.”
The room fell silent as I absorbed that. “Are you telling me that this was a test?” Anger coloured my voice.
Atmina tilted her head. “Is that how you choose to see it, Captain?”
You squeezed my hand and I swung around to face you with the beginnings of a glare, which intensified at the twitch of your lips.
“It’s not a test,” you said softly. “It’s a gift.”
I drew breath to protest, but you smiled down at me, and I looked into your eyes and read all the things I’d feared I would never see there again: humour, familiarity, allegiance … love. And I thought about the long night we’d passed, and how I’d spent so much of it silently pleading for a miracle.
And there you were. A gift, and a miracle.
My anger dissipated like mist, and I returned the gentle pressure of your hand. “All right, sevgili,” I murmured. “I suppose I’ll take this one on faith.”
Your smile widened as you leaned down to kiss me slowly, with delicacy. I was peripherally aware of the three Suhari quietly leaving the room and of Sidika’s pleased grin as she carefully closed the door, but I was soon entirely focused on the warmth of your arms around me and the knowledge that dawn had brought with it not oblivion, but endless, beautiful possibilities.