10. Just Like It's Meant To
And time passed properly once more, every second following every other second just like they're meant to.
"Easy, Captain. You're safe. You're home now."
Janeway's head pounds as she lets the Doctor ease her back down onto the biobed. "Water," she pleads.
He holds out a hydropouch and she closes her lips around the straw, sucking gratefully.
"Report," she manages, her voice still gruff with remembered pain.
"You were successfully returned from the parallel reality about two hours ago. I've treated you for physical shock, mild electrolyte imbalance – weren't you eating while you were tripping around through the multiverse, Captain? – and developed a brilliantly cutting-edge serum to clear the chroniton and tachyon particles from your system." The EMH presses an analgesic hypospray to her neck. "I'm prescribing rest for at least twenty-four hours and plenty of fluids."
"Thank you, Doctor." Janeway eases herself upright as her head clears. "I need to get to the bridge."
"Weren't you listening, Captain?" The Doctor clucks his tongue in frustration.
"I heard every word. And I will follow your very sound advice, Doctor, as soon as I'm certain that this ship is secure and the commander and I are no longer in danger of further quantum travelling." She swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands, bracing her hip against its edge as she combs her fingers through her loosened hair and twists it efficiently into a ponytail. "I'm sure you can understand that I need to assure myself of that, after four days' absence."
"You and the commander are as bad as each other," he mutters. "Very well. I'll comm you in an hour to check up on you. And Captain, I expect you to report that you've eaten something nutritious and are heading for bed, or at least relaxing with a good book."
"Understood." Janeway smiles at him, pats him briefly on the shoulder and decides to exit sickbay while the going is good.
Halfway along the corridor she hears the turbolift doors open and Chakotay steps out. His face is bent to a PADD and he almost collides with her before he realises she's there.
"Kathryn," he says.
His voice is raw, and a helpless, brilliant smile spreads across her face. "It's good to see you, Chakotay."
She wants to touch him, to reassure herself he's here and she's exactly where she's supposed to be. Her hand is hovering over his chest when the turbolift doors open again and B'Elanna strides into the hallway.
Janeway snatches back her hand and straightens. "Report, Lieutenant."
"I was just coming to see you, Captain." B'Elanna is also carrying a PADD, which she passes to Janeway. "My report on the quantum phenomenon. We've emitted a broad-spectrum warp field to seal it, just like the Enterprise did. You don't have to worry – there won't be any more reality-shifting."
"Well, that's a relief." Janeway smiles at her and takes her arm to steer her back toward the turbolift, Chakotay falling into step behind them. "Bridge," she orders.
"It's good to have you back, Captain," B'Elanna says, colour rising on her cheekbones. "Not that it hasn't been an interesting few days, but I'm glad things are back to normal."
"Interesting?" Janeway raises her eyebrows.
"You don't know?" The engineer glances quickly at Chakotay. "Uh, maybe I should leave the commander to fill you in."
Janeway turns her penetrating stare on Chakotay, who promptly fixes his gaze on the ceiling, trying and failing to hide the appearance of his dimples.
"Maybe that would be best," Janeway says hastily, recognising her first officer's signal: this is something she would prefer hearing in private.
The 'lift deposits the trio on the bridge and Janeway strides to the command centre. Tuvok rises from her chair. "Welcome home, Captain," he says with a slight inclination of his head.
"Thank you, Tuvok. It's good to be back." She smiles around at her crew, then returns her attention to her second officer. "Status report?"
"We have sealed the quantum rift and resumed our course for the Alpha quadrant at warp six," Tuvok replies.
"Very good." Janeway moves toward her chair and finds herself halted by a hand on her arm. She looks up into the dark, chiding eyes of her first officer.
"The Doctor ordered me to rest, and I'm pretty sure he gave you the same directive."
She gives the expected huff of irritation, then smiles at him. "It's after 1930 hours. Why don't you join me for dinner in my quarters, Commander? You can fill me in on what's been happening here in our absence. I'm sure you have a few interesting stories to tell, as well."
"Shall we?" He offers his arm, and she links her elbow through his.
"I got back a few hours before you did," Chakotay begins as Janeway sets a fragrant noodle dish in front of him and takes the seat opposite at the table. "The Doc says I was out for two hours or so while he treated me. Did you find the transports painful?"
"Exceedingly." Janeway shudders as she deftly grips the noodles in her chopsticks. "It felt like they got worse each time."
"That was the build-up of tachyon particles in our systems. B'Elanna and the Doctor believe each transport was pushing us further from our original quantum state. I was fortunate that in my last shift, we met an alien species called the Lyridians who had quantum-based technology. They're the ones who helped me get home."
"The Lyridians," Janeway repeats. "I didn't come across them at all. The Xen'tu, however…"
Chakotay grins. "B'Elanna mentioned them. Apparently one of your alternates was quite put out that her unexpected side-trip had interfered with diplomatic relations with the Xen'tu."
"Alternates?" Janeway drops her chopsticks into her bowl. "Are you telling me there were other versions of us here? In our reality?"
"It seems each time you or I moved into a new quantum state, our counterpart appeared in this universe. B'Elanna explained it as a quantum tether phenomenon. She thinks it was triggered by the original destabilisation of the rift by our shuttle, and when Voyager tried to transport us out, the beam created some kind of link between you, me, and Voyager."
"Fascinating." Janeway props her chin on her hand, dinner forgotten. "So what happened to them, when you or I shifted again? Did they return to their own realities?"
Chakotay's smile fades. "Yes. After I returned, we made contact with the Voyager in the universe I'd just come from. My alternate made it back, so we assume they all did."
She pins him with her gaze. "What's the matter?"
He pushes his meal away and picks up his wine instead. "I wouldn't call any of my side-trips a dream holiday. It doesn't exactly make me feel good to know that some other version of me was returned to a universe where –" He stops himself abruptly.
"Where things aren't as good as they are in this one."
Janeway sips her own wine, eyes lowered. "It definitely isn't the worst of all possible realities."
The silence stretches between them. Her heart pounds faster. Now? she wonders, but before she can make up her mind to speak, Chakotay settles back in his chair and says lightly, "It seems our crew was well on the way to solving the problem, in any case."
"How so?" she asks, unsure whether to bless or curse her own vacillation.
"Several biocylinders appeared from various universes while we were away." He grins. "I don't suppose you know anything about that?"
Janeway laughs. "All those test runs. I thought we'd nailed it each time."
"B'Elanna says they were working on a way to contact us through the rift from here. Sooner or later, they would've brought us home."
"I've no doubt of that. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that our crew is very resourceful."
Chakotay raises his eyes to her. "That's not the only thing I've learned."
Instead of answering her implied question, Chakotay rises, gesturing toward the couch with the hand holding his wine glass. "Looks like we've finished eating. "
Janeway slips off her jacket and boots and shakes the clip out of her hair, following him to the couch and tucking her feet beneath her. "You were saying?"
Stretching his legs out before him, Chakotay gazes into his wine. "In two of the realities I visited, the crew ended up in battle – the first time against the Borg, the second with Species 8472. In the third, my counterpart had taken over the ship early in their journey and when I arrived, a mutiny by the Starfleet crew was in progress."
She stares at him.
"And the fourth… well, let's just say there were several people in that reality who'd made some very questionable choices."
Chakotay shifts uncomfortably. "Such as in their personal relationships. To be honest, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I'd never have believed people could make such a mess of things."
Janeway runs a finger around the edge of her glass. "That's something I encountered, too. At least, in two of the realities I experienced."
"Tell me about them?" he invites.
She puts down her empty glass, linking her fingers in her lap as she tries to decide how to begin. Honestly, she advises herself, and bites her lip.
"Most of my time was spent with the version of you that was native to each universe," she says. "I had the opportunity to observe his relationship with my counterpart, in its various forms. In the second alternate reality, their association was… adversarial, but not for professional reasons. She -" Janeway takes a breath. "They were barely on speaking terms because she had allowed an exploitative sexual arrangement to develop between them. She broke his heart."
"And in the third reality… They didn't trust each other from the start. After Jonas was unmasked as a spy, that Chakotay threatened to leave the ship. My counterpart seduced him into staying, and he agreed, as long as she'd continue having sex with him."
She risks a glance at him; he looks horrified. "Kathryn, I hope you know I would never –"
"I know." She smiles slightly. "I'm not saying she was his victim. She apparently derived plenty of satisfaction from the arrangement."
Something in her voice makes him put down his wine and shift closer to her. "Did she?"
To his surprise, she blushes. "I don't see how she couldn't."
"Did you and he –" his eyes widen.
"No," she says hastily. "Well – not exactly. He, uh, thought I was her at first. Things got – a little heated."
"In fact" – in for a penny, she thinks – "it wasn't the first time."
Chakotay waits silently.
She forces herself to look at him. "In the first universe, we were married," she says softly. "I'd gone straight from sickbay to my quarters and didn't realise I was in the wrong reality until the next morning. When I woke up, we were in bed together. He was – touching me, and it was –"
He realises her breathing has quickened, colour blooming on her cheeks.
"It was everything I'd ever dreamed about," she finishes, swallowing hard as she maintains eye contact.
Chakotay picks up her hand, a slow smile warming his face. "Is it ridiculous," he murmurs, "to be jealous of myself?"
She laughs, a little breathlessly.
His fingers wind into hers. "I have a confession to make, too."
"Yes?" she husks.
"You aren't the only one who ended up in a, um, compromising position. There were a couple of Kathryns who taught me a thing or two as well."
"Really?" She watches as his fingers slide over her palm, stroking up underneath the sleeve of her turtleneck.
"Really," he says in a melted-chocolate tone she's never heard him use before. "You're an incredible kisser, Kathryn, in any reality."
"How do you know?" She can hardly catch her breath. "You haven't kissed me in this one."
The slow circling of his fingertips stops, and he raises his eyes to hers. She's sure that what she wants must be written in them plainly for him to see, but still he hesitates. So she gathers her courage and leans in the few inches it takes to gently press her lips to his.
His sharp intake of breath makes her skin flush, and she takes advantage of the slight parting of his lips to lick lightly at the corner of his mouth before she pulls back slowly. "How did that compare?" she manages to whisper.
"I'm not sure." His voice is roughened. "I think I'll need further data to make an assess-"
She stops him with another kiss, less hesitant this time, and feels his hands come up to her shoulders, not pressing, just holding her lightly. He nips at her lower lip and she can't help the breathy little moan that escapes her. When she pulls back this time she looks into his eyes, and the naked want in them makes her shiver.
"Is this –" he has to catch his breath before he can go on, "is this real?"
She looks a question at him.
"The last time you kissed me, you turned out not to be yourself," he clarifies. "I'm just having some trouble believing –"
She kisses him again. Her tongue sweeps lightly inside his mouth and his hands come up to tangle in her hair, and all she wants is to be closer to him, to press every inch of her body to his. So, before she can second-guess herself, she slides over to straddle his thighs and pulls her mouth from his to nip delicately along his jaw.
"Does this feel real to you?" she whispers in his ear, and feels him shiver.
"Kathryn…" His fingers span her waist, curve downward over her hips. Suddenly impatient, she tugs her turtleneck and tank over her head and leans in to press herself against his chest, grinding against the hard length she can feel between her legs. She breathes out a moan. To her surprise, he stills his hands.
"What's wrong?" she asks, fearful.
Gently, he tugs her upright and cups her face in his hands. "We've both been through a lot these past few days," he answers quietly. "I don't want you to make any decisions you'll regret."
The way he's looking at her is so tender it brings tears to her eyes. Her voice is choked as she replies, "I've learned quite a bit about regret lately. I don't want us – you and me – to be one of mine."
He waits, and she struggles to find her courage.
"I love you," bursts out of her. "I love you so much."
Chakotay stares at her, hope dawning in his eyes.
"I've seen what happens to us when we aren't truthful with each other – when I'm not truthful with you," she tries to explain. "And I've seen what we could be together when I am. I don't want to hide the way I feel from you anymore. I don't want to wake up one day and realise we've become strangers, or that you're gone and I never told you –"
This time, he's the one who cuts her off, his mouth finding hers in a kiss so fierce, so fervent, it's almost bruising. She gasps as his palms sweep up her ribcage, curving around her back, his big hands holding her close. She wants to feel his skin against hers so she pushes the jacket from his shoulders and starts to wriggle her hands up underneath his turtleneck. He breaks the kiss, breathing hard.
"I love you, too," he says, his smile lighting up his face.
Tears of relief and joy well up in her eyes and she leans in to capture his lips again.
~Doctor to Captain Janeway.~
Her mouth inches from Chakotay's, she groans. Chakotay laughs, a deep rumble she feels throughout her body, and snags her turtleneck from beside them on the couch. She presses the commbadge on its front. "Yes, Doctor?"
~This is your chief medical officer reminding you to follow doctor's orders, Captain. I trust you're resting?~
Janeway's mouth quirks to the side as she meets Chakotay's amused gaze. "As a matter of fact, Doctor, I'm just on my way to bed."
~Very good, Captain,~ comes the surprised response. ~Doctor out.~
She lets the turtleneck drop.
Chakotay traces the line of her jaw with one finger. "Do you want me to leave?"
"Only if you're not planning to join me," she murmurs, leaning her face into his touch.
"Are you sure?" His voice is smoky with barely-contained desire.
"Computer," Janeway says, her eyes still fixed on his, "route all my calls to Lieutenant Tuvok until further notice. Inform him that Commander Chakotay and I are not to be disturbed tonight for anything less than a red alert."
At the computer's tinny chirp, Chakotay latches his mouth onto hers, hauling her close against him. She moans, winding her fingers into his hair, her thighs tightening around his hips. His mouth moves down her throat, licking, nipping, sucking, and she throws her head back, her breath expelled on a long, shuddering sigh.
She feels him smile against her collarbone.
"What?" she asks breathlessly.
"Nothing," he whispers, mouth hot and open on the sensitive skin above the edge of her bra. "Just happy. You make me happy."
The significance, the weight of what she's doing, what they're doing, settles inexorably into her every thought and nerve and muscle. I make him happy, she repeats to herself. And no matter how weighty the decision, she knows with certainty that she's never felt so light.
Exhilaration bubbles through her veins, filling her with joy that transmutes into a depth of desire, of need, that leaves her trembling. Suddenly she can wait no longer.
"Off," she demands, tugging at his shirt until he helps her, pulling it over his head. His fingers pry at the clasp of her bra and she arches her back, partly to help him, partly to press against the smooth warmth of his chest. He tugs the bra away. At the full, naked contact of his skin against hers she moans, her arms winding around his shoulders. Her nipples harden into pebbled, aching points. His hands move to her hips and she grinds against him, her lower body hot and liquid. She wants their clothing gone – all of it.
As she squirms her hands between them to fumble with the fastening of his pants, he grips her backside tighter, and suddenly they're moving. Her legs wind around his hips as he lifts her in his arms, stumbling toward her bedroom. The friction of their bodies makes him clamp his mouth onto the pulse point in her neck, his eyes half-closed and her breath hot in his ear. Then gravity shifts and she's falling, drifting down onto the bed, and he's on top of her, his mouth on hers again as he holds her to him with one hand on her back. The other skims a lazy trail over her shoulder and down her arm. His thumb brushes the side of her breast and she whimpers and squirms toward it. His touch returns, deft and sure, his fingers cupping her breast, thumb grazing her nipple.
"Chakotay," she gasps.
He pulls back slightly to look into her eyes and she sees the doubt in them: he's waiting for her to pull away, throw up her barriers. Her hands come up to his face.
"Don't you dare stop," she says fiercely. "I swear to you, I won't change my mind. This is forever. Do you understand?"
She watches his eyes change, the lust in them almost savage, almost frightening. "Then you'd better be ready," he growls. "Because I have no intention of stopping until you forget your own name."
She lets her fingers slide from his jaw, laying her arms above her head to expose her body to him. Her voice is low and husky.
"Do your worst, Commander."
His kiss, when it comes, is surprisingly delicate. He tastes and caresses her lips with his own until she's writhing, her body arching and twisting toward him. At last he takes pity on her, kissing his way down her jaw, her throat, over her chest, until finally his hot mouth closes over one nipple. She almost sobs, winding her fingers into his hair to hold his head to her as he licks and nips. Her legs widen and he shifts between them, pressing into her. She moans, pushing her hand impatiently between them to stroke him, but he moves out of her reach.
"Be patient, beloved," he murmurs, the words sending shivers along her skin, but when she whines in response he slides one hand over her stomach, flipping open the fastener on her pants. His mouth follows, kissing a path from between her breasts, down her abdomen, over the dip and curve of her hip. She uses her toes to push off her socks as he drags the pants over her thighs and off. His tongue dips into her navel as his hand follows the curve of her ass. And then he's moving lower, and she spreads her legs for him as he nuzzles the inside of her thigh, inhaling her scent, dragging his tongue over her clitoris as she shrieks and arches her hips toward him.
His lips close over her nub and he sucks at her while she thrashes on the bed, her fingers gripping his shoulders hard enough to bruise. "Oh, God," she cries, and then he's pushing his tongue inside her, lapping at her juices as his thumb presses her clit, and she can no longer form words. The climax almost takes her by surprise: not the fact of it, but the ferocity. Her head is thrown back, her eyes wide and staring sightlessly at the ceiling as her breath rushes out on a scream, her body shuddering helplessly.
Chakotay stills her with a hand flattened on her stomach, his tongue tracing patterns over her hardened nub, and the trembling aftershocks turn into twitches and jerks and gasps as he brings her up again. He presses a finger into her, marvelling at the tight play of her inner muscles, and she whimpers and thrusts against him. A second finger enters her as he flattens his tongue over her clitoris and it sends her flying, her back bowed with the force of her second orgasm.
He's enchanted, and ready to make her fly apart a third time, but she groans and pushes at his shoulders with shaking hands.
"Stop," she pleads. "I need you, now."
And he finds that he needs the same thing. So he strips hurriedly and moves back between her legs, his cock so hard it's painful as it nudges between her slick, soaked thighs. She moans, her body undulating against his, her legs locking around his hips. He tries to be gentle – he knows it's been awhile for her – but as the head of his penis enters her she sinks her fingernails into his lower back and twists her hips, and with a growl that matches her own, he sinks deep into her willing body.
The feel of her, wet and hot and grasping, makes him groan and drop his forehead against her shoulder, fighting desperately for control. She tightens her arms around his back, arching into him. "Don't move," he manages.
"I'll try," she answers in a voice so throaty with want that he groans again, unable to stop the movement of his own hips. She gasps at the delicious friction and the knowledge that it's him inside her, finally. She grips him, inside and out, and as he begins to thrust she can't help the soft moans and whimpers that escape her throat.
"God, Kathryn," he says tightly. "I can't hold on –"
"Let go," she whispers.
"Not without you," and he moves a hand down to press against her, fingers circling. He's fucking her hard, his thrusts long and deep as he sends her spiralling up again, her moans almost constant now. Then her back arches and her body clenches around him and she lets out a cry so wild he can't hold back any longer. Driving into her as deep as he can go, he shouts out his joy as he comes, the hot jet of his seed triggering another shock inside her.
Trembling, he collapses onto her, retaining just enough wit and strength to roll onto his back, taking her with him. She nestles her face into the curve of his neck as he trails his fingers the length of her spine. She shivers luxuriantly at his touch, gooseflesh prickling her skin.
"Are you okay?" he murmurs.
He feels her mouth curve into a smile against his skin. "Are you kidding? Okay doesn't even begin to cover it."
He grins, but he has to be sure. "And are we okay?"
She raises her head, propping her chin on folded arms. "I love you," she says simply, and the clear blue of her eyes holds his, easing his last remaining fears. "I'll never give you reason to doubt that again. Ever."
She leans down to kiss him softly, tenderly, her hair falling in a curtain around them.
He wants to wake her up with kisses every morning, to bicker gently over her coffee intake and cajole her into eating.
She wants to fall asleep in his arms each night, her head pillowed on his chest and his arms around her, safe, protected, loved.
"So," she whispers, nipping at his lower lip, "now that the adventure's over, do you think we can make it work in this reality?"
"All I know," he murmurs as he rolls her gently onto her back and dips his head to graze his lips over her forehead, her cheekbone, her mouth, "is that this, right here, is the best of all possible universes."
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