DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2015 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Not Even a Choice
Kathryn is drifting out of consciousness, calling for people Chakotay doesn’t know, then calling for people he does. He thinks she will never call out his name, and it makes him mad that he matters so little to her after all he has done to find her. Then she finally does call for him, and it hurts more than being left out because she sounds so disappointed, the fever making her voice crackle more than it would normally as she says, “Chakotay, why did you leave me?”
He supposes that is her truth: that he left her. She can’t—or won’t—admit that she left him long before he went off with Seven, trying to forge a life of his own, one that wouldn’t be dominated by his captain’s whiskey voice and trying ways.
He failed. Even a former Borg could tell he wasn’t in love with her, not in the way that mattered.
But he had loved Seven in his fashion. And he had tried to make it work.
Annika. He should call her Annika. It’s what she goes by now. The last of the Borg implants came off last year. She is serving with Captain Picard now. She says he understands the Borg, that he was one.
Chakotay was one, too, or he thinks he was. Riley linked him to her collective. But he wasn’t one the way Seven was, the way Picard was, or the way Kathryn was.
He gets up and walks over to his CMO’s office. “How is she?”
“Other than delirious?” Collins looks up from his terminal. “She’s out of the woods, Captain.”
“Sir, not to belabor a point, but Starfleet has asked my opinion on your actions the past few days.”
Chakotay grins, and Collins’ serious expression falls away. “You mean how I disregarded our standing directive to catalog planets for five minerals now designated as ‘high priority’ thanks to some new gizmo and went tearing off to find a shuttle that was reported lost with all hands?”
“Those would be the actions, yes.” Collins reaches behind him, pulls out some brandy and lifts it up, his eyebrows making the question: Does Chakotay want some?
“No. I’m fine.” He does sit down, though, the chair familiar and comfortable. He’s spent plenty of time in here, conferring with a man who started out as a random pick for CMO of the Delacroix and has turned into a friend.
“Chakotay, I know the history here. Or I assume I do. There were plenty of stories circulating after Voyager came home.”
Chakotay smiles; he’s read those stories. None of them got it right. But then how could they? Even he doesn’t understand his relationship with the woman he may have just ruined his career for.
“It’s also been my experience that you’ll talk about anything except the issues that matter most. I’ve never heard you mention Kathryn Janeway, yet here you sit, in sickbay, watching over her.”
“Well, to be fair to my work ethic, I am off shift.” Chakotay grins.
Collins laughs. “And you should be eating and sleeping, but no, you’re here. She’s important to you. Any idiot can see that.”
“And you’re not an idiot.” He slouches down in the chair, leaning his head back and staring at the ceiling tiles. “Some actions...they’re reflex.”
“So, it’s not that you’re in love with this woman? The man who put aside a cause to help her bring the crew home.”
Chakotay sits back up and meets Collins’ eyes. “Technically, those two things don’t have to be related.”
“True. And you’re not going to tell me if I’m right about the first one, are you?”
“Nope.” He grins again.
“Fine, then go back to staring dreamily—or morosely, I’ve seen both expressions on your face when you watch her—and let me write my reports in peace.”
Chakotay gets up and walks to the door, then he turns around. “So, what are you going to tell Command?”
“That the minerals could wait. Admiral Janeway would have died without our intervention.”
He smiles. “Thank you, Nick.”
Collins waves him out and puts the brandy back in the cabinet. “Cheapest date ever. You never want any of my stash.”
“Not much of a drinker.” But he was, during the nights on Voyager, when Kathryn let him think that maybe, finally, she’d let him in—and then didn’t. He gave up drinking when he gave up on Kathryn. Seven never had to see him drunk.
Then again, neither did Kathryn. Chakotay tended to be a quiet drunk who took antitox before going to bed so he was ready in case there was an emergency. No muss, no fuss. He kept what he was feeling inside.
Collins wasn’t wrong about that.
Janeway wakes, expecting the hard rocky ground and iffy atmosphere of the moon the shuttle crashed on, but instead she is met with the unmistakable feel of recycled air, a bed beneath her, and the sound of soft snoring. She turns her head slowly, unsure how badly it will hurt, and is pleased to feel no pain. She’s tired and her body aches in general, but the movement itself doesn’t seem to cause any problems.
Which was not the case on the moon. She was sure she was going to die—alone—on that moon.
She tries to see who’s snoring, but between the low lights and the fact that whoever is snoring is sitting just out of her field of vision, she can’t tell who it is.
She considers shifting, but she appears to be safe and she’s so damned tired—does it matter who is snoring? Someone has found her. And she can’t keep her eyes open so whoever it is will have to wait for her to say thanks, or to try to talk them out of holding her hostage, if they aren’t friendlies.
The ship feels Starfleet, though. Something about it.
She closes her eyes and falls back to sleep.
When she wakes again, the lights are brighter and there’s no one snoring.
“Well, you’re awake, Admiral.” A man she doesn’t recognize, wearing commander’s pips, walks over. “I’m Doctor Collins. You’re on the Delacroix.”
She starts to laugh and the laugh turns into a hacking cough.
“Careful there. You’ve had a bad infection. Your respiratory system was especially compromised.” He scans her, then gives her a hypo of something. “I take it you know whose ship this is and that the thought amuses you?”
She nods, not wanting to try talking if that painful cough is the result. Her ribs felt like they were broken when she was coughing—but they don’t hurt now that she’s lying quietly.
“We were nowhere near your location.”
“I know,” she says so softly she’s practically mouthing it.
“Our captain was most concerned about you. Slept in that chair.”
Ah. The snorer. She smiles.
“I trust you’ll make sure he doesn’t get court-martialed for saying a big ‘screw you’ to his standing orders?”
She grins and nods. “Is he a good captain?” she asks, not sure if he will hear her.
“He’s a very good captain. I don’t want to see him thrown in the brig over you.” He scans her again. “Your readings are much better. But you still need rest. The cough suppressant I gave you has a mild sedative in it. You’ll sleep the rest of Chakotay’s shift.”
He grins. “The man would probably like to see you awake for once, you know? He’s sat enough nights at your bedside. The word devotion comes to mind, Admiral.”
Collins looks so stern she feels as if she is talking to Tuvok. He looks a little like Tuvok, minus the Vulcan aspects.
“My angry warrior,” she whispers.
“I assume you mean Chakotay and not me?”
She laughs—silently this time—and nods. “Thank you for saving me.”
“The captain saved you. I just did medical stuff.” He smiles gently at her. “But I had a friend on Voyager who you brought home. Consider me a fan who is happy to do his part.” He pats her on the shoulder and leaves her to fall asleep.
Chakotay walks into sickbay and sees that Kathryn is sitting up and eating a light meal. “You’re awake.”
She puts her spoon down and smiles at him. Then her expression turns stern. “You took a big risk coming to get me.” She seems to be whispering and he frowns. “Don’t worry. Your doctor cleared me to talk. I just can’t do it too loudly or I start coughing.”
He pulls a stool over to her bed and sits down on it. “I didn’t really think through my decision to find you.”
“What a surprise.” She grins wryly—the grin he remembers from the years on Voyager. When they were still close. Before everything fell apart.
He stopped liking her in those last years. But he never stopped loving her. He wonders what he’ll end up feeling now, with her on his ship, and Earth a long way away.
Which doesn’t mean Command won’t send some ship in the vicinity to whisk her away from him.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
“My ribs hurt when I cough. My body aches all over. But I’m alive. I thought I was dying on that moon.”
“You were dying on that moon.” He takes a deep breath. “When I saw you lying there, so still...”
She meets his eyes, hers more curious than anything else. “You haven’t talked to me in two years, Chakotay. You and Seven have been over for the last six months. You can imagine my surprise that it was you who rescued me. I was under the impression that you didn’t like me very much.” Her voice grows louder as she goes on and she starts to cough.
“Easy.” He rubs her back and waits out the coughing fit. “I didn’t like you very much, Kathryn. But then you didn’t seem to like me very much, either.” He lets her go when she finally stops coughing. “Like you or not, I still made a promise to be at your side when you needed me.”
“And here you are.” She leans back against the pillows. “Damn, I hate feeling this weak.”
“You’re never weak. You’re just ill.” He feels the old barriers coming up, the ones he’s built to protect his heart from her. “I’m going to let you finish your dinner in peace.”
“Really? You sit by my bed every night while I’m unconscious but five minutes with me awake and you’re fleeing...again.”
He forces himself not to look at her. “I didn’t desert you. You want to make it about me, but it’s not. I loved you, but you wouldn’t let me in.” He gets up. “If we talk, we’ll fight. If we fight, you’ll cough. In the interest of you getting better, I’ll leave you alone.”
He hurries out. He can hear footsteps behind him, sees that it’s Collins. “What?”
“Nothing. I’m off shift. Thought I’d go to the lounge with you.”
“I’m not going to the lounge.” Although he wants to. Oh, but he wants to.
“She infuriates you.”
“Master of the obvious. Well done.” Chakotay hurries onto the lift, hoping Collins will change his mind.
“I’m going to bed, Doc. You going to come tuck me in?”
“Do you want me to?” Collins is laughing softly. “You risk everything to find her, Chakotay, and can’t last ten minutes with her without storming out? I thought you were a mellow kind of guy but obviously I was mistaken.”
“She brings out my passionate side. It’s not my best trait.” He leans his head back against the wall of the lift and closes his eyes. “Maybe it’s obsession. The inability to let go.”
“Maybe she’s just a damned difficult woman. I’m willing to buy that.” Collins gestures for Chakotay to precede him off the lift. “But answer me this, sir. I know she’s hurt you. I can see it in your eyes. I know you love her—hell, she knows you love her. I could see it in her eyes last night.”
“Your question? I assume there is one?”
“This whole time since Voyager got back. She’s never been romantically linked to anyone. Why do you suppose that is?”
“So? And how the hell do you know if she has been or not?”
“I was just guessing. But you clearly know. Have your spies, do you?”
Chakotay shakes his head. But he does. B’Elanna keeps him up to date. She always knows what their former captain is up to.
“I’m going to dare you to go back to sickbay. Sit down and talk to her. She’s bored and she’s probably scared—but won’t admit it—by how close she came to dying. And I think you both have things you need to say—and hear. I didn’t sign up to work for a coward. Moreover, I know you aren’t one.” His smile is gentle as he turns Chakotay around and pushes him back toward the lift.
“Your bedside manner is terrible, Nick.”
“That’s not what my wife says.” His laughter trails down the corridor until he disappears into his quarters.
Chakotay stands in front of the open lift, debating. Then he steps in and retraces his steps.
Janeway sits in her suddenly too hard bed, in this ship that is not her own. She wants to get up and comm Starfleet Command, wants to order them to get a ship out to take her home. Now.
Home. What the hell does that even mean anymore? Home was her ship; home was her crew. Home was Earth and the Alpha Quadrant—a place she nearly lost her soul getting them back to.
A place she hates being stuck on.
She hears footsteps, familiar after seven years. “You’re back.” She says it too loudly and begins to cough.
This time he doesn’t try to help her. Just takes the stool next to her bed and waits out her coughing fit.
He does, however, pour her a glass of water once she’s done.
“Oh. The silent treatment?”
“I can talk.”
“Well, that’s great, Chakotay. But you staring at me like I’m the enemy isn’t really adding to my comfort level.”
“You are the enemy.”
She lets her eyebrow go up. “Care to explain that comment?”
He nods slowly, and she thinks he may be going to take the oblique path, tell her some new version of the Angry Warrior story. But he surprises her, saying only, “Every time I try to move on, try to forget you, I can’t. I see you. Or I read your name in a report. Or you manage to crash your shuttle and I rush off to find you, mission be damned.”
“Well, I may be the enemy, but I’m a damned grateful one. I wasn’t ready to die.” She gives him the smile she knows he’s had a hard time resisting in the past.
And nothing has changed. He smiles—and it is a reflex she can tell he is trying to bite back as soon as it’s out. But it was there, that sunny expression—the one she loves.
The one that made her fall in love with him.
She’s never told him. Couldn’t tell him. Loving him—being with him—would have gotten in the way of the mission: get Voyager home.
“I’d never let you die if I could help you.”
“I uh...I wasn’t sure. I thought I was going to die. The idea of you finding me—after all this time has passed with no contact... Well, you can excuse me for thinking my Angry Warrior had decided I wasn’t worth his fidelity.”
He looks down. His mouth seems tight. Has she gone too far?
She is barely getting started. “You left me. For Seven.”
“You left me. For a cause that only you seemed to think was worth selling your soul for, Kathryn. Don’t pin this on me. I did the only healthy thing I could do. I found someone else.”
“And look how well that worked out.”
She can tell he’s thinking about getting up and stalking out again. But he takes a deep breath and stays seated. “I think I was the final step in Seven—Annika—making the leap from Borg to Human. I was privileged to serve in that capacity. She’s an extraordinary woman.”
Now it is Janeway’s turn to tighten her lips.
“Guess the truth hurts, huh, Admiral?”
“No, being left behind hurts.”
“I would have chosen you a hundred times. You didn’t want me.”
“I did want you.” She says it too forcefully and starts to cough. She should not be yelling things at him. Especially not that. One of the nurses has turned around, then quickly pretends to be doing something else.
“Is that why you aren’t with anyone?” His voice is gentle now. His expression, however, gives no quarter.
“Who says I’m not with anyone?”
Disappointment shines in his eyes, and she looks away. Does he really expect her to answer that question? Does he really think she’ll tell him that yes, she’s found everyone else sub par after being in love with him?
Knowing Chakotay and his way of speaking what’s in his heart no matter how inconvenient the time, he probably does expect her to say those things.
“Catching up has been nice,” she whispers, “but I’m suddenly very tired.”
“Naturally.” He gets up quickly and strides out, no backward look, and she wonders if she’ll see him again before they get to wherever her transfer will be waiting.
It angers her how much it bothers her that he can do that—walk away from her. Again.
Even if it is her own damn fault.
Chakotay hears the lift doors open, can tell by the cadence of the footsteps that there’s an admiral on the bridge. He can also tell by the way she’s walking that she’s tired herself out with this impromptu trip.
He doesn’t turn around as he asks, “Doc clear you for day trips, Admiral?”
“Very funny.” She walks around the bridge, taking it in, smiling in that way she has at his crew—making them sit taller, smile proudly. She can still do that. Can still own a room—even if it’s his.
Then she turns and walks over to him. She doesn’t say anything, just studies him. He tries to fight the smile but he can’t—this is so quintessentially Kathryn. Put him on notice—hell, make him feel like he’s on inspection—all without saying a word.
“Do I pass?” he asks softly. “Whatever it is you’re judging?”
She seems to frown, then shrugs. “Not judging. Just watching.”
He stands up. “Denatra, you have the con.”
His first officer moves to his chair. She’s a tiny thing and doesn’t fill the chair out the way he does, but she’s got some of Kathryn’s spirit, can appear bigger than she is—especially when she’s mad. Usually at something Starfleet wants them to do.
He nods for Kathryn to precede him into his ready room. Once she’s seated, he hits his comm terminal, “Chakotay to Collins.”
“Collins here, sir.”
“Missing a patient?”
“Yes, I am. Tell her she’s in trouble, will you?”
Chaoktay grins. “Punish her with that horrible energy drink you make me choke down.”
“Is she still ambulatory? I didn’t clear her for away missions.”
Chakotay laughs. “I don’t think she cares.”
Kathryn shrugs in a throwaway manner—when have orders every mattered to her?
Only—how does he know? In the Delta Quadrant, there was no one higher up to give her any orders. She may be fine with them.
“Well, call me if she collapses.” By the lilt in Collin’s voice, Chakotay can tell he’s not serious.
“Will do. Chakotay out.”
He sits back and tries to study her the way she did him, but he fails to make her anything but amused. Her smile is the slow, sexy one she used to give him all the time when they were first blending their crews on Voyager, the one she let fall away as the years went by.
“What are you doing up here, Admiral.”
She laughs. “Really. Rank?” She shakes her head. “You always look so disappointed in me.”
“I do? Me—the forsaker? The one who runs away?” He can feel it, the need to fight, to make her admit just once that she was the one who ran by pushing him away. He would have stayed by her side forever if she’d have just let him in.
“Seven was a child.” The words come out of her like projectiles, like she’s been holding this in forever.
“Seven was a naēve woman, not a child. And Annika is not the point, Kathryn. She has never been the goddamned point.” He closes his eyes, tries to slow his breathing, can feel it in his chest: the heartbeat of the damned—those who love this woman too much.
He usually is a mellow sort. Spiritual, even. Until he gets around her. She is the fire that warms him—but it burns out of control, and he isn’t sure she even cares how many times it’s almost consumed him.
He gets up and stalks to the viewscreen, not looking at her, deliberately not, because how can he when he is saying, “I’ll call Command. They’ll send a shuttle. You can be off my ship and we’ll never have to—”
“I love you.”
He doesn’t turn, but he does stop talking. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears, fast, so damn fast, a beat that matches the cadence of her steps as she marched onto his bridge.
“Did you hear me?”
He won’t turn. This is a joke, her idea—a sick one.
He hears her get up, and he clutches the frame of the viewscreen, closing his eyes for a moment.
“Warriors aren’t much good when they’re this afraid.” Her voice is low and gravelly and it makes him want her more, not less. He’s always loved the harshness of her voice in contrast to the silk of her skin, the warmth of her smile. Her dichotomies have always been his undoing.
“I’m not afraid, Kathryn. I’m cautious. I can learn from experience.”
She moves between him and the viewscreen, slipping her slight frame easily beneath his arm, resting her hands on his chest, the way she used to do—or did she? Did he just fantasize that she did? He’s not sure anymore. What’s real and what’s imagined?
“Why did you save me?” she asks, her eyes boring into his so he closes his again, doesn’t want to see her look at him this way. “Chakotay, I need to know.”
“It wasn’t even a choice, Kathryn. I will always save you.” He eases away.
“But I won’t save you—that’s what you think, isn’t it?”
“You saved me plenty of times. On Voyager.” He steps to the back door of his ready room and palms it open. “You can find sickbay on your own? I’m needed on the bridge. I’m sure you understand that.”
He expects that to hurt her, but instead she grins.
With a laugh that is really just expelled breath, she walks to the door and palms it shut. “You’ve grown a pair.”
He reaches for the door control, but she grabs his hand.
“I’m alone, on Earth, Chakotay, not because no one wants me, but because I want you.” She is staring up at him, her expression ferocious, as if she is furious with him—but it’s also the face he was so used to seeing in the Delta Quadrant. Resolved and passionate—but he’s never had it turned on him: he’s never been her mission. “I nearly died. I nearly died...alone. I nearly died without you knowing the truth.” She touches his cheek, her expression changing to the tender one he loves. “But I understand why you might think this is too little too late. I understand that I...” She dashes her hand across her eyes and he realizes she is crying. He can’t remember the last time he saw her cry. “That I forced you to go. To her.”
She slams her palm onto the door control and hurries out, leaving him standing.
But only for a moment. He catches her before she gets to the lift, pushing her back against the wall with more force than he means to. He sees her wince and he murmurs that he’s sorry, so sorry.
She never says she’s sorry. She probably never will.
But that’s okay because she’s pulling him down and she’s kissing him, and it’s like nothing he’s imagined. There’s always been control when she’s with him, distance and barriers and her goddamned parameters. But this time, there’s nothing but her in his arms, and he thinks she is crying again, but he doesn’t want to pull away to find out.
She loves him. It’s the sweetest thing, the only thing. He’ll trade a thousand apologies to hear her say it again.
He eases away, trying to memorize how she looks, just in case she changes her mind the way she seemed to on the ship so many times, backtracking three or four steps for every one they made forward.
“I’m tired,” she says, and in the past it would have been the start of that backtracking, but now she just seems tired. Hurt and ill but not unhappy, not wary. Her eyes are gentle as she looks at him.
“Let’s get you back to sickbay.”
She nods. “I like your CMO.”
He grins. “Me, too. He understands me.”
“I understand you, too. I always have. I just...” She takes a deep breath. “I can’t apologize, Chakotay, for pushing you away. Even if it killed me. I had to get us home.”
And he knows this is her truth. Even if there were times he thought they could have stayed in the Delta Quadrant, found a new home, seeded humans farther than they’d been, that had never been a workable solution for her.
“I know,” he says, because he can’t say it’s all right, even if he’s willing to live with it.
She seems to understand and puts her arm around him and lets him help her to the lift. She actually leans on him, and as the lift doors close she says, “I am sorry it took something like this to make me tell you how I feel.”
“You’ve had six months.”
“So have you. You never came. I know every time you’re on Earth.”
He thinks he should find that disconcerting, but the idea that she cares enough to keep tabs on him is a wonderful surprise. “We’re doing it now.”
She nods, and he can tell by the way she slumps against him that she is more than tired: she is exhausted. He imagines only some of it is from the effort of escaping sickbay. He thinks these truths might take far more of her strength.
“I miss our dinners.” She glances up at him, and he sees the tenderness of nostalgia in her expression, for what they had, their special time.
He nods. He’s missed them since the dinners stopped, long before they were home. “I have a replicator in my quarters.”
She laughs softly and he grins at the sound.
“If you don’t mind not being the captain, we could eat together. Once Collins clears you for that.”
“I’d like that.” She eases away just before the lift opens, murmuring something about decorum. But then she gives him a look he’s never gotten from her. Frank and open and wanting.
There is a conference room between the lift and sickbay and it’s free, so he pushes her into it and tells the computer to lock the doors.
Her eyebrows go up, but her eyes are sparkling. “My, you think you have the run of this ship, don’t you?”
“I do have the run of this ship,” he says, grinning in the way only she can make him do. He pushes a chair away with his foot and lifts her onto the table, kissing her for a very long time. He’d do more, but she is weak, and he’s not sure if the conference room is booked, and despite having the run of his ship, he also cares about being a good captain. He does understand that and she looks a little surprised when he lets her down.
“I expected more.”
“Some desperate grappling?”
She shrugs and gives him a sheepish grin.
“We have time. And I have quarters. Once you’re cleared.”
She reaches up, running her hand through his hair. “I like this you. Captain Chakotay.”
“I like him, too.”
She pulls him down, murmuring that he needs to kiss her again, and he indulges her—and himself. So many fantasies coming true as she reaches down and makes him moan. “I’m still the admiral,” she says when he shoots her a surprised look—she doesn’t move her hand and her grin is positively wicked. “Have to keep you on your toes.”
He laughs because it’s so her, and he’s all right with that. He’s hers and maybe, just maybe, she’s his.
But he pushes her hand away. Because she’s ill and she should be in sickbay. And he’s not going to stop looking out for her now.
They walk together to sickbay, and he gets her settled, laughing softly as Collins reads her the riot act in his gently targeted way. Then once his CMO has gone back to his office, he sits down next to her bed.
She studies him and finally smiles. “You want to hear me say it again, don’t you?”
“I love you.”
He closes his eyes and imagines being able to go back to the version of himself that festered and hurt on Voyager. To tell himself that someday, when he’d given up hope, he’d get her.
“I love you, too,” he says, and for once he doesn’t have to walk on eggshells around her. He can lean down and kiss her forehead and tell her to sleep, and she actually does what he says. He watches her for a minute before he turns to head back to the bridge.
“I let her escape,” Collins says as he passes his office.
He stops so Collins can see him grinning. “I know.”