a/n: The last instalment in the 'Last Goodbyes' series, featured around Lake George and Post-Endgame. It can be read as a standalone, but best read in the order intended.
1. Someday (When I Stop Loving You)
2. A Lonely Night
3. Don't Make Me Say Goodbye
A massive thank you to Helen8462. My ever-wonderful beta and whose capacity to brainstorm on my stupid ideas is limitless.
Don't Make Me Say Goodbye
The rain continues to fall in soft waves against the window pane, casting strange shadows into the room and onto the old timber floor. The light of the grey day is fading, and he sits perfectly still; a dark silhouette against the brightness of the ancient white curtains flapping in the persistent breeze.
The old wooden window is pitched open, cracked ever so slightly to allow a frosty wind that whistles through the gap. The ancient heater is working, but it's still cold and they've barely moved from the bed since he came back earlier in the morning.
Her ball gown, so elegant and daring, lingers silently against the wall. She can't remember when they had the time to hang it. His dinner jacket, once around her shoulders, still lays crumpled by the front door having been abandoned there the night before.
His promise to take her sailing never eventuated, and the little boat stays bobbing down by the bay. They've been watching it all day through the frosted window pane, lilting about in the strong wind as the rain continues to batter its ancient moorings.
The last of the autumn leaves, the ones still clinging to the branches of the ancient trees, flutter to the ground.
She doesn't even want to imagine how long it's been since people have come to this place. Or how long it's been since the old cabin has seen the movement of life.
Their family heirloom, frozen in time on Lake George.
Like them, the cabin has lost its spark in the years since she was last here. Dust settles in the corners of rooms that haven't been opened in far too long. Wooden splinters fray off bits of timber that are dried and flaky with age. Frigid air begins to circulate through, breathing life back into the foundations.
The one saving grace has been that the bed - and linen - is fresh and she sends a silent message of thanks to her mother and Phoebe for planning ahead.
She remembers, only just, the last time she was here years before.
She briefly allows an image of Mark to rest in her mind, his friendly face smiling down at her as he tells her about their plans for a future, for a life, for a family when she returned from Voyager's first mission.
Only, she never did.
Her eyes flick up from where she lays curled on the bed, watching the man that sits beside her with interest. His shoulders are hunched as his elbows rest heavily on his knees; the skin across his back tight with tension so she can see the clear definition of his muscles.
She blinks slowly, a state of tiredness pulling at her conscious mind as she rolls a little closer to him. A pale, delicate hand reaches toward him but stops short. She's been watching him for the best part of the last hour, memorising his rhythmic breathing and listening to the sounds of his sighs.
They settle around her like a fog, and threaten to pull her under. For his sighs are not ones of contentment.
He looks as she feels; nervous, fragile, exposed. This is all so new, so sudden, and she's lost count of the amount of times she's opened her mouth to speak only to close it once more as she struggles to find the words to voice what she's feeling inside.
Her heart beats steadily in her chest, thudding lightly against her ribcage and reminding her that despite everything they've been through in the last three days – and the last seven years – they've made it. Together.
They're finally here. They're finally home. And they're finally at the real Lake George.
But even now, as she resists the urge to pull the thick covers further up her body, she feels exposed to the world, and to the man who sits beside her. She feels as if, even after seven years, that she had never given herself fully to him. She couldn't.
And now she has. They have finally crossed that barrier.
They've taken a risk, and now that the night before has dawned into a grey day that has since begun to fade to night again, maybe, just maybe, she begins to think that they can't do this. She sucks in a deep breath, filling her aching lungs as if she might never breathe again.
And they still haven't talked about it.
He turns, just a fraction, so that the light from the white curtains glint once more off his raven hair. His eyes slip closed, and his shoulders drop ever so slightly, but she doesn't miss the movement. It's a silent acknowledgement of her presence so close to his own.
"Can we really do this?" she murmurs finally, voice husky and thick with emotion at the very thought.
His eyes fly open, and he turns to look at her fully now. The sharp angle of his profile is prominent now as he looks to her over his shoulder. She can only imagine how she must look; smudges of yesterday's make-up amidst a tangle of auburn hair that she hasn't felt the need to worry about until now.
Because the way he is looking at her, so open and unguarded, is making her feel self-conscious. And she begins to think in earnest now that she really isn't ready for this.
"Yes," he says, strongly.
He doesn't move though, and his intense eyes still gaze at her naked form; the dark silhouette he is creating remains frozen in time as he lets his single word hang between them. A gust of icy air howls through the crack in the ancient window, and she thinks wind has never sounded so loud before.
She swallows thickly, and shuffles up so she's almost sitting next to him. The covers slip just that little bit further down to gather low on her hips. The fine hairs of her arms raise in silent protest to the cold.
"How can you say that with such certainty?"
Her voice is small, and lacks the snap of command she's come to perfect over the years. She hates it, just a little bit in that moment, because it reminds her with absolutely clarity that she is only human and that sometimes, it's okay to get a little lost.
She's never before felt so utterly lost as she does right now.
He sighs, and she feels it deep in her core. It's a sigh of inevitability, of acceptance that at some point, it was going to get to this. And now that they're past the urgent need to touch, to taste, and to feel, they really have to talk.
To find out if this is more than just a one-night thing. If this is more than the desperation of two souls who have been lonely for seven long years. And if it is more than just the expected reaction to everything that has happened to them in the past three days.
The memory of her future-self hovers close by.
"Because," he starts slowly.
She waits with baited breath, heart hammering as she waits for his next words. She's not sure how he can justify this - them – now. How he can make it sound so perfect and complete that she'll never feel this lost or exposed again.
He's always had a way with words. She hopes they won't fail him now.
"It was never enough to be in love with you."
The silence following his admission is interrupted only but the eerie whistling of the icy air. Small circles of frost have begun to form inside the window pane, painting the glass and reflecting the dying rays of the dull day.
She hears what he doesn't say.
We can do this because I have been waiting for you.
The rain has since begun to ease, now pattering the window with feather-light touches on the glass before the wind freezes it in its tracks. She takes a deep breath.
"I know," she replies simply, because she's at a loss as to what else she should say and really does know. For seven years, just knowing he loved her was never enough for her either. But, it had to be.
And she's been waiting all this time too for this chance.
She reaches out to grasp at the strong muscles of his forearm. Her hand winds its way around, settling on the inside of his arm and resting against his thigh. He is so warm under her hand. She shuffles closer again, leaning a cool cheek to his bare shoulder.
"We almost lost it, didn't we?" she murmurs quietly. The realisation how just how close he came to ending up in the arms of another woman is something she never wants to think about again.
She doesn't want to dwell; the words of the Admiral have haunted her since she watched the shuttle fly into the Borg network and never return. The ghosts of timelines unlived have been following her ever since she ran out of the homecoming ball the night before last and down a muddy path.
And they've been hovering at the corner of her consciousness ever since the man beside her pushed her up against an ancient wooden doorframe of a rarely-used house, and began to drive all the obsessed thoughts from her mind.
Her eyes flick up and she can just make out the direction of his thoughtful gaze. She follows it to the window, and outside to the edges of the lake nearly obscured by the closing night.
The small wooden boat still floats languidly on the water, and she can just make out the tension it the mooring line as it tries to pull away from the shore with the fierceness of the weather. Only it doesn't, and remains steadfast and anchored to the shore.
"We never went sailing," he says. His ignorance of her earlier statement about chances not-quite-lost is not missed by either of them, but it's a topic she's willing to let drop for now. They can address it again when she's feeling less vulnerable and he's worked the tension from his muscles.
When they've both had time to process and realise that this is real.
"I guess we had other things on our mind," she utters. Her words lack the flirtatious intonation usually reserved for such statements. Despite the feeling of exposure and insecurity she's still harbouring, her voice has begun to find its strength again.
He shifts, and looks down at her. She can feel the heat of his gaze raking over the exposed sections of her skin and the need to pull those covers up around herself is slowly dying.
His lips touch the top of her head as he murmurs against her hair. "I guess we did."
She sighs against him, silently thanking her older self for giving them this second chance to find each other again.
Over the years, they've both been responsible for their fair share of hurt inflicted upon the other, but the worst of those moments has definitely been in the most recent of time – and more his doing than hers.
His sixth sense – developed over the years of working close to her – had never failed him, and she knows he'd failed to listen to it when it had told him Seven was a bad idea. But she can hardly blame him. The desperation of their situation had gotten to them both in the end.
She sobers a little at that thought, the question as to Seven's well-being hovers on her tongue but she doesn't want to ruin the moment.
Despite the strength of his earlier assurance, the ease she's so desperately seeking hasn't come to settle between them. His muscles still hold the tension she's been waiting patiently to diffuse. His breaths still come in forced sighs.
Her lips move against the skin of his bicep as she lets the words roll off her tongue.
"What is it?"
Her fingers dig slightly into his arm, leaving half circle imprints from her elegant nails with the tension she now feels in her own body. After what feels like a lifetime, he finally voices his fear. And it's a fear that's so real to both of them. She's been there before, and they both know that's why they could never be more than the two officers bound by duty, and sustained with the promise of one day.
"Don't ever make me say goodbye," he whispers. As much as she wishes otherwise, she can never promise him anymore than what she already has. That they have to live each day as it comes, and they can't waste time regretting what never was.
And so, she whispers the words against his skin, revelling in the way he sags a little against her with the relief that she'll try.
She'll always try to come back to him.
As the darkness pulls across the room, the wind finally begins to die. He leans back, dragging her with him as he settles them both back down into the soft pillows of the bed.
His arm snakes around the underside of her neck, and his hand grasps at the thin bones of her shoulder. It doesn't take much, and suddenly he's pulled himself up with an easy sigh to settle over the top of her.
His other hand – the one not clutching at her bare shoulder – comes between them to stroke a finger down the hollows of her cheek bone. She stares at him, transfixed by the way he stares back at her with such open adoration.
"That's all I can ask, Kathryn," he speaks, inching closer so that she feels the movements of his lips against her own as the words fall from his mouth.
Her eyes close, and he's so close now that she feels her eyelashes catch on the roughness of his skin. Their mouths meet again, and the emotions of sadness and regret that had been swimming between them only yesterday have begun to fade.
His hand trails from her cheeks to her breast, and span the length of her ribs before dipping lower. She moans into his mouth, nipping at his lower lip as she lets out a breath. He pulls away, just a little, and trails his mouth over parts of her skin that have been forbidden for so long and now he just can't get enough.
If she's honest with herself, she can't get enough either.
Their earlier fears, her feelings of exposure and inadequacy begin to fade away as he whispers the words she's been waiting to hear for years.
She feels almost undeserving, to get this glimpse into the most intimate part of him when she's pushed him away for so long. She risks a glance, opening her eyes to watch the top of his dark head, his own eyes flicking up to trace the lines of her face as he brandishes a wicked smile.
And suddenly, despite the conflicting emotions and turmoil of the last three – four – days, she knows without a doubt that this is where she is supposed to be. They need each other; they always have and they've earned the right to try. She lets her head fall into the pillow, content to finally accept the reality they've worked so hard to reach.
Later, when they've explored every part of each other again and again, she lies looking out at the moonlight shore of Lake George. It reminds her of another time, with another sail boat and she sobers.
The ice frosting the windows reflects the light, casting shadows over the bed. For the moment, the sunshine they so desperately need avoids them. It won't come until they've found what they lost in the light years between New Earth and a transwarp hub.
The lake is haunting in its beauty, the wind has since died with the approaching early hours of the morning. The boat, still attached to the worn and frayed mooring line, has made its way slowly back to the shore. It's grounded now, the stern firmly entrenched on the soft soil of the bank.
She feels the need to speak, to reassure him, not quite content that she's done so sufficiently in the hours beforehand. But, she realises in those moments that the need is more directed at herself than at him.
That she needs to know within herself that this is right thing to do. That they are going to make it work, and that the timeline she so desperately fears will never come to pass.
And maybe, if they play their cards right, they'll never have to live without the other.
"I'll try, Chakotay," she whispers into the darkness of the room. He barely acknowledges her; the realm of sleep already having claimed him. "I won't make you say goodbye."
The promise feels strange on her tongue, because she knows it's a promise she's likely to break but she knows without a doubt that she really will try.
Because she's already had to say goodbye too many times before, and she knows what it can do to a person. And she'd never do that to him.
He stirs a little in his sleep, rolling over to face away from her so the shadows of the moonlight play against the darkened skin of his torso. She hesitates, only for a second, before following him and pulling herself close to curl against the warmth of his back.
Eventually, the haunting thoughts in her consciousness fade and she lets her eyes fall closed. She concentrates on the rise and fall of his chest, and the way his heart beats under the palm of her hand flattened out against the muscles of his solid frame.
Outside, in the frozen air of Lake George, the tiny wooden sailboat rocks in the wind. It drifts from the mooring, it pulls against the line and the tension is almost too much for the frayed line to hold. But eventually, it drifts its way back to shore, and the mooring line never lets it go.
"I'm wishing on a star, to follow where you are." – 'Wishing on a Star': Alice Fredenham [Playlist]