Note: Turns out I wasn't done with Winter's Child after all. Though I think it ended exactly where it needed to (which is why this is a separate story), Bea and her possibilities kept nudging at me. You should probably read that first, or the tangle of timelines in this story won't make much sense.
Rating: K+, for allusion and not much else.
Disclaimer: Three ways it could have gone: one is canon, two are mine. All, I suppose, are Paramount's.
Also, apologies to Mary Darby Robinson, for hopelessly twisting her Adieu to Love to suit my own purposes.
No more I'll waste the midnight hour
in Expectation's silent bower...
The transceiver rang against the floor. I waited: one second, two, five, thirty. "It didn't work," Zayek whispered faintly, miserably. His hand was clammy against my own.
What had gone wrong? Possibilities fought for precedence: could the transponder be damaged, our correction wrong? Had it even been sent? Maybe we had Seven's cortical signal off by a digit, or the time index had been calibrated incorrectly. I opened my eyes.
Tom had bent and picked up the little tangle of wires, forehead creased. My body felt impossibly solid, and the expansive promise of how things should be evaporated. "Bea," he breathed, turning the device over, betrayal and surprise and tenderness all mixed up in his gaze, "what are you trying to do?"
Kathryn sighed as the door slid shut behind her. She eased out of her uniform jacket, then her boots, and for a moment stood barefoot and lost in her darkened quarters. What a day, and if she knew her first officer, it wasn't over yet.
She hesitated before turning on the lights or stepping further into the room, knowing what would greet her – a table still set with last night's dishes, grey sheets trailing from the bedroom, the sweet smell of the aeroponics flowers mingled with the sharp scent of sex. All day, under the bright lights of the bridge, with calculations and paradoes vying for her attention, the previous night – tangled limbs, her own throaty laughter, his shuddering sigh – had seemed surreal. It might never have happened.
Except, of course, that it had. She walked past the laden table in the dark, to stand by the window where still-unfamiliar starts slid past. The last thing she had wanted was unfamiliar stars, more brave new worlds, unexpected mysteries like this one – but Harry's explanation and Seven's report demanded more questions than they answered, and the only clue she had was a violation of the temporal prime directive, and impossible besides.
She leaned forward against the ledge, pressing her forehead to the reinforced glass. All day, she had pushed away the images that arose every time she closed her eyes, all golden skin and slender hips, wondering if her bridge officers could see her blush. After decrypting the message in the last hour of her shift, though, she would gladly have exchanged that daydream for this one, the dark-haired girl, so thin, so sad. Kathryn held a finger to her temple, studying in her mind's eye the warm brown of the girl's eyes, the quirk of her smile, the suggestion of a dimple denting her cheek. Hello, mama.
She seemed to hear the voice as clearly as the chime that sounded once, twice, before she straightened and turned to the door. She had spent the day avoiding being alone with him, a dozen rehearsed statements hovering on her tongue. But no matter how she tried, This can't happen remained at odds with Protocol be damned, and she wanted – she needed – to say both. And now, there were no good words that would explain the whole truth, the gaunt child that bore her name and his.
"My birth control wasn't up to date, Chakotay, and apparently neither was yours," she said aloud, testing the words. No; that wouldn't do at all. She tried again. "I'm pregnant." Oh, that was worse. She crossed the room, and hovered on her toes for a moment before saying softly to the paneling, "I meant last night, Chakotay."
The door opened. She was transfixed for the barest second by the color of his eyes, the unguarded generosity she saw there; how familiar it was, that kindness that in another future had given her back her ship and all their lives. "Come in, Chakotay," she said, stepping aside. "We need to talk."
"Captain, could I speak with you?"
Kathryn laid the systems report down on the small grey table. "Of course, Ensign."
With a glance around the near-empty mess hall, Ensign Kim slid into the seat across from her, twisting his hands together. "I – I'm sorry if this is inappropriate, Captain, but without a ship's counselor – and since you're the only one that knows about the message I sent to myself – well, there's Seven, but – "
"Relax, Harry." She took a sip from her mug. "Has something about it been bothering you?"
Harry sighed. "Yes. And – and no. I don't know." He frowned, but Kathryn felt a smile creep across her face; this was the uncertain ensign who she had first met years ago. "Look, Captain, I've been thinking about it for the last month. Future Harry sends a Borg signal using who knows what technology, records a message to himself, and saves us all."
"But if future Harry no longer exists…" Kathryn put a hand under her chin, studying her youngest staff member. "Is that it?"
"No, actually." He let out a hollow laugh. "I've accepted that I'll never understand causality. It's alarming how often in the database there is no precipitating event for massive temporal incursions. Almost makes me believe in the many-worlds theories." He shook his head as though to clear it. "No, it's just – ethically, Captain, I'm responsible for changing history on a massive scale, all for this crew. Or I will be – would have been? And while I don't want to suggest that I would choose to do anything differently, I can't seem to shake – was it reckless, Captain, the whole galaxy for us? I could be responsible for wars, for genocides, for – "
"Harry." Kathryn reached out and trapped his nervous hand with her own. "You did it for us. But who's to say that you didn't prevent wars and genocides?"
"Well, no one, but – "
She squeezed his hands before returning to her coffee. "It's made trickier by temporal mechanics, Harry, but what you're facing is the essential dilemma of all command decisions. Balancing the good of your crew against the universe. It's hard, and most of the time – " She broke off and winced as Harry slid out of focus. Nausea and a twisting pain ran through her abdomen. "Most of the time – " she repeated, gasping.
"Captain?" Harry pushed himself to his feet, pressing his hand against her shoulder, her forehead. "You're burning up. Kim to Sickbay."
"Don't be silly, Ensign, I'm fine – " She pushed herself up, and felt her legs buckle underneath her as another wave of nausea washed over her. With lightening quick reflexes, Harry moved around the table to catch her, an arm around her waist and concern replacing his uncertainty.
"I'm bringing the captain to see you, Doctor," Harry said firmly. Embarrassed, Kathryn pressed a hand on her lower belly, trying to keep her insides from swimming as Harry steered her toward the door. Mentally, she ran through what she'd eaten, touched, drank in the last twelve hours, as much to keep her mind clear as diagnose. Medications, immunizations, supplements: none in the last three months or more. Then what –
None. She stumbled against Harry again as that sank in, and his arm tightened around her. "Easy," he said, and they paused for a moment in the corridor as she regained her balance. "What's going on, Captain?" Harry asked gently, and as he held her up she imagined him for a moment as a young father, a brother, a solicitous stranger.
"No idea," she said, lying through her teeth.
... but mild Reflection's piercing ray
shall chase the fatal dream away...
Outside the window, a rare sunny day had fallen over San Francisco. The sky was impossibly blue, and across the Presidio, Starfleet Command glistened in the midday sun. "Hello, Chakotay," I began. "It's – well, it's been a while, and I'm sorry. I didn't write as often as I should have from Vulcan." In the desert, studying with teachers who cared less about who I was than the quickness of my mind, the messy politics of Earth, the green lowlands of the New Zealand colony had seemed so far away. "But I'm back now, and hopefully for good. It all depends on the admission committee's decision next week."
How much of this had I already told him? I thought back to my last letter, a philosophic ramble through mathematics and Vulcan ethos; I probably hadn't brought it up at all. "I applied for admission to the Academy last year, but my application was deferred for – for obvious reasons. We're hopeful, though, that they've finally written it off as post-traumatic stress or youthful indiscretion. We'll have the final word soon."
I paused again, turning from the window to the muted news console set into the wall. "It's very strange to be on Earth again; after the Takara sector, then spending four years in the desert at Tarnak, the weather in California is either freezing or stifling. I still haven't decided which. It's nice to know that you're nearby, though, and I'm almost over the excitement every time a stranger on the street smiles. Mama makes fun of me, but I'd almost forgotten that humans are so easy with their emotions." I bit my lip, searching for my next sentence, as the tabloid story on Voyager's ice queen and the unresolved scandal surrounding her daughter came up again on the screen.
Well, I wasn't going to tell him about that, about the way the media had taken my mother's refusal to give interviews in the few months we'd spent on Earth after the rescue and turned it into something sinister. "We saw Tom and B'Elanna on the way here; they met us at Deep Space Two, the nearest station to their colony. You wouldn't believe how big Miral is already, almost five, and little Harry is practically a teenager. He seemed glad to see me, though, told me that he thought about me and Zayek all the time. It's funny, isn't it, how we all settled down so far apart, and away from Earth? After our parents wanted so badly to get back."
The news cycle advanced again, to the most recent diplomatic crisis on Qo'nos. "I miss Zayek very much, too; he has another year before he can apply to enter the Academy, and he's not sure that he's interested. Not really that surprising, since he's never been that crazy about math, engineering, or the idea of space exploration." I sighed, looking up as my mother appeared in the doorway. "Though it would be easier, knowing he was coming, too."
I crossed the room and turned off the news net, before the cycle started over. "I hope I can come visit you soon. I've got a letter in to the warden, and I'm hoping all this media attention has given me enough notoriety that he'll approve it out of curiosity." My mother chuckled softly, leaning against the doorframe. "Not sure what I'll do when he realizes that I'm not worth all the fuss." I smiled, hoping he would be able to hear it in my tone.
I waved a hand towards my mother, gesturing that she should say something, but she shook her head minutely. That one kiss, the one moment of warmth in the frozen corridor, seemed so far away that I could barely imagine it: had I really thought that it was there would be an end to her private guilt? "One way or the other, I'll write again," I said. Please, I mouthed, but she just clenched her jaw, sunk into her old silence. "Be well," I said, adding, as I had in every letter for nearly five years, "And Chakotay – my mother sends her love."
"Come on," I said, tugging at Naomi's hand. She was walking entirely too slowly, reading from a PADD on floriculture, trailing one hand along the wall. "We're going to be late."
"Hardly," she said, looking up. "Beatrice, your lesson doesn't start for another fifteen minutes, and Tom has never been on time for anything." I had to concede the point, but, six years old and delirious with excitement at the prospect of my first deep-space piloting lesson, I tugged all the harder. Ensign Matteo looked up from repairing a console as I marched Naomi by, and offered me a conspiratorial wink.
Finally, tired of me bobbing along at the end of her arm like a badly tethered probe, she skipped forward and broke into a run. "That's it, Bea," she said, as I shrieked and ducked away, and we dodged crewmen and ragged cheers as we pelted along the hallway. Caught up in the chase, we almost ran straight by the shuttle bay, and when we finally skidded to a stop, gasping and giggling uncontrollably, I loved her, the bright clean corridors, the crewmen suppressing smiles, the institutional precision of the waiting runabout.
Naomi seemed to know what I was thinking. "There's nothing better," she said, still panting as she leaned against the bay wall, "than being a kid on Voyager, is there?"
Kathryn leaned across the table, one hand still clenched in her sister's and the other wrapped around a cup of real coffee. "All right, Phoebe," she said, "ask me the nosy questions you've been sitting on."
"Who says – " Phoebe straightened up, doing her best to look affronted despite the smile that she had worn for the last hour and that refused to be quashed. "Nosy?"
"I know you," Kathryn said, sipping her coffee. "No admirals here, no honor guard, no starry-eyed ensigns vying for my autograph. Unless you've had a significant conversion experience, you should be interrogating me."
Phoebe rocked back and forth in her seat, grey eyes fixed on Kathryn, apparently deciding whether proving her sister right or missing the gossip would be worse. "You could just tell me," she countered. "You know. Spare me teasing it out of you. Cover the basics: lovers, partners, children." She raised an eyebrow and reached for her own cup of tea. "One night stands."
"The basics, eh?" Kathryn untangled her fingers and wrapped both hands around the cup. She felt an unexpected jolt, though she'd known that Phoebe would ask and had even invited the question. "Lovers, few; partners, purely platonic; one night stands – hardly." She dropped her head, avoiding her sister's gaze. "And children – well, no."
She couldn't face the pity she knew she'd see in Phoebe's gaze, and she knew that her sister would see the lie in her eyes if she looked up. She couldn't quite push away the memory of Sickbay, the doctor's wordless professionalism, the tide of loss that had crashed over her when she was again alone in her quarters. So she grasped instead for another morning in Sickbay, the blushing of her conn officer, a whole passel of children she'd given up without regret. If she didn't have Phoebe's idea of a family, at least she had work, the stellar phenomena and weird science and spectacular miscalculations. "Although that's not technically true," she said, with false levity. "In the second year, Tom Paris and I –"
... and strew the weedy paths of time
with Resignation's balm sublime.
Even with the spectral data from the gas giant we were orbiting pouring in, I kept one eye on the chronometer, sliding my fingers under the tight collar of my tunic and rubbing the back of my neck. I'd been on the bridge for six hours, tucked behind the science console, and my father had been out of prison for nearly four of them. But it had taken me weeks to convince my supervisor to let me try out my sensor remodulation, and I wasn't quitting early: resolution was up nearly 14%. "Score one for Ensign Janeway," I murmured. Besides, I did my best to keep my ties to convicted felons under wraps.
The Guadalquivir was a deep space science vessel, my first assignment outside the Sol sector. I was finally on my way, working to trace the origins of the elusive Bosely-Anak particle in solar nurseries like this one. It was a minor project, but it was more interesting than my last posting, replacing relays in the bowels of Utopia Planetia, and I was eager to keep my place; I had avoided the notice of the captain since first report nineteen months ago. But bridge duty, to my surprise, was familiar, almost comfortable, right down to the smallest details: the way the bulkheads reflected the light, the texture of the key panels, even the give of the carpet under my feet. I resolved to record Zayek a letter that night, the first in years, right after I wrote to Chakotay.
Comfortable or not, I still jumped when Captain Hamoudi paused by the science station on the way to his ready room. "Ensign Janeway, could you stop by before the end of your shift?" When I didn't move, my hands still poised over the console, he pursed his lips and said, "But finish that up first, of course."
"Yes, sir," I said hurriedly. I finished taking the readings, then sat still for a moment, wondering what I had done to earn his censure. Maybe he'd finally read that letter in my file. I sighed and pushed myself to my feet, trailing a hand along the console as I climbed to the upper level of the bridge.
Captain Hamoudi was sitting behind his desk already, a PADD in one hand. "Ah, Ensign, thank you." He gestured toward one of the chairs in front of his desk, setting the report down and steepling his fingers. "Please, have a seat."
I did, sinking into the chair and tucking my legs underneath. "Was there something you wanted to talk about, sir?"
He leaned back in his seat, exuding command and confidence that paradoxically calmed me down. My mother had been like him, once. "Yes, Ensign. I perform routine reviews of all staff posted to my ship, look over their records and their performance reports, and this morning I read yours." He paused, shaking his head and shuffling through the PADDs on his desk. "Anyone who began their career when I did is familiar with the name, but I had no idea that Kathryn Janeway's daughter pursued Starfleet, after all that happened. I assumed you must have been from another branch of the family."
I closed my eyes; here was the part where he told me that he'd put my name down for transfer, that he just wasn't comfortable having a temporal traitor on board. "Secondary studies at the Tarnak School on Vulcan, fifth in your class at the Academy. Degrees in applied and theoretical mathematics, unified physical theory, and particle chemistry." He laughed faintly, looking up over the edge of the module, and I looked stonily back, waiting. "I majored in particle studies myself, and practically slept in the library for three years. You have a flawless service record, and as far as I can tell in the last nineteen months your department has made unprecedented strides. So what I don't understand," he said, slapping the PADD down on the desk and meeting my eyes, "is why someone like you, clearly the best and the brightest, began in waste management and maintenance at the shipyard rather than as a junior scientist on the flagship."
I drew in a sharp breath. "Captain, with my record – " I began.
"I've read all that, too," he said dismissively. "I've faced some difficult decisions during my captaincy, and as I see it, you were just forced to one of those decisions earlier than most. No; it's small-mindedness and cowardice, that's kept you from the Enterprise. But I'm glad for it, if it got you to my ship." He stood up, reaching into the top drawer, and rounded the desk. I scrambled to my feet, too. "For you, Ensign."
Bewildered, I took the little black case from him and opened it. "Sir," I said, almost inaudibly, staring at the tiny golden pip nestled on the velvet inside.
"My mistake," he said. "Lieutenant." He sank down behind the desk again and tossed me a coded isolinear chip. "This, too. Call your father." I stared down at it; on the Guadalquivir, like most long-range vessels, face-to-face calls were rationed to avoid overwhelming the few relay buoys deployed in uninhabited regions. What he had just handed me was his own unlimited access to the subspace channel, command codes and all.
"Thank you, Captain, I can't begin to – "
Already skimming through another report, he waved an impatient hand. "Don't thank me for not being afraid of you, Lieutenant Janeway." He didn't look up, but I saw his lips twitch in a smile. "Dismissed."
"Excuse me, you're Kathryn Janeway's daughter, yes?"
I turned from the window to the young man at my shoulder. "You're a reporter," I said flatly. He had that earnest look, the bright eyes of someone who had never left the safe heart of the Federation – and a cutting-edge media recorder clenched in his hands. "I'm sorry, but I don't really want to talk to you. I've had enough of press conferences."
"You're not the only one," he said ruefully, dropping the recorder into the satchel at his side and lifting a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. "My boss warned me, but I insisted – I needed new material, after writing article after article on your Borg systems, Delta Quadrant cuisine, holographic medicine, everything I could think of."
"Sounds like you've covered every angle," I said.
He shrugged. "There's only so much you can glean from ship's logs and debriefing memos," he said, and I followed his gaze to my mother. She was circling the room on Admiral Paris' arm, evading reporters and stuffy looking dignitaries with her usual grace. "But people still want to read about Voyager. Couldn't you just give me one sentence? Fifteen words about growing up on the only Starfleet ship in the Delta Quadrant."
"No," I said, and my lips twisted in a tiny grin. "I'm sorry, but I can't turn my childhood into a sound byte. It's not even over yet."
His face fell, but oddly enough, I liked him better that way. He seemed more human, more like the people I had grown up with, people flawed and tired and as ordinary as they could be under extraordinary circumstances. "I know," he said, reaching into the satchel. I heard the clack was he deactivated the recorder.
Together, we watched as my mother drifted away from Admiral Paris. I had to admire her poise, the way her dress uniform fell so precisely across her shoulders, the warm smile that was both diplomatic and genuine. I wondered if the reporter noticed the way her pale hands rested on their shoulders and their arms, the way each returned her smile as warmly as it was offered. From glances that the admirals trailing behind her shared, I knew that they felt it, that easy bond that went far beyond what captain and crew usually shared.
I watched, too, the way that she kept my father always in her orbit, the way as they passed in the crowded room her hand would brush across his back and he would smile so brilliantly, so quickly. Even across the room, I shivered at the intimacy of that near touch, the electricity between them, even though tonight he wasn't her partner but her first officer, not the sharer of personal secrets but the keeper of official ones. It was an old duality, the same balance between protocol and desire, private and public, that had marked my whole life. But in this room, away from our bent rules and shared history, theirs was a still more delicate dance, and one that I had no part in, even though it seemed I knew all the secrets.
Well, nearly all of them.
"Sure you won't tell me?" the reporter said softly, and for a wild moment I thought he was asking for the one story my mother didn't relish, the one paradox she wouldn't explain. I met his eyes, and there I saw a desperate curiosity. In all his life, he'd never known the kind of danger I'd been born to, but he'd also never known what it was to belong to a community united by that danger. He cleared his throat. "Off the record," he added, and almost laughed.
I smiled slightly, understanding the longing he felt. "Always waiting for red alerts that almost never came, space always uncharted, dangers always unimagined." I stopped, and felt his eyes burning into the side of my face. "Fifteen words," I said, wryly, and he snorted. "I was terrified, excited, bored, lonely – and loved."
Across the room, my mother turned her bright eyes to me, and I added, "I wouldn't choose anything else."
Smooth, grey stone, obscured by soil and unruly grass: the simplest marker Starfleet would settle on, for such a distinguished officer. Kathryn had wanted none at all, remembering how he begged her not to interrupt the land for the sake of his ego. She chuckled at that, the idea of the Federation's noted anthropologist and archaeologist leaving no record behind.
In the end, though, it was precisely because he'd left no record, no will, that Starfleet took over. No argument mattered; she told them that in the last year of his life, he'd minimized contact with the scholarly community, the media, old friends; she'd explained how simply and frugally he lived; she tried to show them that the last thing he wanted was to disrupt the earth with his death. It was a thought that would have tormented her, true, but as she knelt at his headstone, she knew that it was an idea that had appealed to him, to slip so quietly into history.
"You can't though," she said to him, pale hands resting on the grooved letters. "We've been through too much together for me to let you go without a fuss, Chakotay." She twisted her lips in a smile, aware of the irony, and pressed a hand to her chest, the determined plodding of her heart. "I'm old enough to have a few glaring contradictions," she added, imagining the flash of his dimples.
Oh, but that Chakotay – her patient first officer, loyal best friend – that Chakotay was gone long before this one had died. The grass tickled at her ankles where her trousers had folded up and the sun beat against the back of her neck, its heat belied by the faint breeze. That man had once sat not three feet away from her, in a field like this one, the silence between them easy and full of promise, and even after that friendship had faded, years later, would still sit serene on her floor, surrounded by duty rosters, while she cursed the replicator. That man, who used to cut her a single rose, yellow and pink and once, just once, blood red, and leave it for her to find in her empty quarters, seemed somehow close at hand, nearer than he had in years.
She could tell that Chakotay, though she had never found the words to explain to the man he had become. The breeze lifted her silver hair. "I was pregnant," she said. She didn't specify when, or say that he had been the father; he would know what she meant. It suddenly seemed crazy that such a secret could be so simply exposed; she remembered struggling to find the words that day, perched on the edge of the biobed in a thin blue gown, and coming up short. What had she said, when the Doctor's back was turned? A temporary condition.
Eyes closed, she imagined his incredulous anger, his bruised pride. "I know," she whispered. "I'm sorry. And I'm sorry that I never told you. I didn't know how and it seemed – Chakotay, if I couldn't handle that simple conversation after the slipstream collapsed, how could I raise a child?" For just a moment, the steely admiral deserted her, and she remembered how helpless she had felt. How alone. "I thought – I thought that if things just when back to normal, I might get a second chance at the morning after, and I was determined to do it right."
"It was a girl," she added, softly. "Five weeks developed when I found out, and thanks to coffee and secrets and not enough sleep, she barely made it that far. Seven weeks when I - when it was all over. Just a bundle of cells, Chakotay, no fingernails or heartbeat yet. Barely anything at all, except that she was a whole other future." She shook her head, looking up at the cloudless California sky. "She was – you were one of the forks in my path, a chance to be something other than what I've become, and I let you both go." For the first time in years, she felt his phantom touch trace her cheek once again.
Or maybe it was just the wind. "When you found another chance with Seven – how could you not take it? I understood, and I didn't begrudge you that, whatever you thought." Impatiently, she brushed away the suggestion of a tear with the back of her hand, pushing herself back to her feet. She stared down at the marker for a long moment. "But forget your would-be lover; any final words of advice for your old captain?"
The breeze died; the still air felt like an embrace. "Wait. Don't tell me. I'm being impulsive." At the corner of her eye, she saw his dimples flash again, and felt something release inside her: she was forgiven. "I haven't considered all the consequences. It's too risky." She could almost hear the words, in the defeated tone of a man who knew that she had long ago made up her mind, a first officer who knew his duty but knew his captain better. "Well, thanks for the input, but I've got to do what I think is right."
She knelt again, unable to keep from touching the stone one more time, and she was grateful to Starfleet for insisting. It was the lasting proof of his life, and of her secret, which she had finally told. "I know it wasn't easy, living all these years without her, Chakotay," she said, and she wasn't sure who she meant – Seven? Herself? The child? If only she could go back that far, rewrite their history so completely. "But when I'm through, things might be better for all of us."