Disclaimer: Voyager characters are not mine.

Rating: T+

Vamb Secret Summer 2013 for CallHerVictor to the request: J/C short story set during the Delta Quadrant years (no post-endgame). Extra points for dark-fic. Doesn't have to be canon. No goes: pure fluff.

Many universes bumping against each other, meant to be read quickly, without trying to stay on linear path too much.

"The spirit of the universe is at once creative and destructive… it creates while it destroys and destroys while it creates, and therefore it remains to us a riddle. And we must inevitably resign ourselves to this."

~Albert Schweitzer

Slipped Ground Universes

"Pakka, where did the monkey go?"

The tricorder falls to the grass, a soft, rustling whoosh lost to the pounding of blood to his head. A denatured code scrolls across the dull metal screen, the symmetrically knobbed protein structure is one he'd barely glanced over the last many times she'd droned on about it, one he thought never to see again in any form. This isn't right. They'd stayed behind, hadn't left.

Looking for a pet? No, looking for a clue about primate physiology on this planet.

The blood-rush washes up a stream of past consciousness, a cloud of old, forgotten words suddenly swarming 'round his head. Missense mutation spurred by the incorporation of the, I have not been able to develop a counteragent to the, most certainly fatal to any class five, retroviral proteins constructed in, hide in cellular vesicles of the, erupt in cutaneous lesions topically similar to the bubonic, capsules enable immunity to lysosomal degradation, in the planet's environment, shielding you from the effects of the, dormancy unknown.

They stayed. That meant it was dormant. That was the deal. Their lives on a starship, their home in the alpha quadrant for their lives on an isolated patch of paradise in the wilderness. That was the trade. They'd passed on the sequence to him, but as long as they stayed that didn't matter. It was inert, she said, she promised.

Gradually the insects' buzzing across the fields flows in over the roaring shock-pressure, his surroundings bleeding back into ocular focus, to where his son calls to him from the bottom of the small hill.

"Pakka, where did the monkey go?"

Nowhere I can keep you safe from now.

"To sleep, my son." He's careful to keep the angry lesions from smaller sight, using broad shoulders and back to conceal reality from view, calling on battle-practice of deep history to force light response through numb lips. "To a very deep sleep."

"When will he wake up?"

"Not for a long time, little bear." Kathryn's term, one he absorbed without realizing.

Let me guess. Yours is a bear.

The broad-leaf branches are uprooted quickly, piled atop his find. They will protect against future discovery for a time. The green storms haven't raged in over two years, and there is no carnivorous wildlife to sniff out his easy forage. The creature himself wasn't native, she had told him once, after a glancing scan of his anatomy.

They must have to contend with insect bites, too. The towel slipped from her shoulder.

"I want to pet him!" the plaintive voice declares at his knee, and Chakotay glances down at the small miracle filled with yearning for something he can't give. "Let me pet him, too, Pakka!"

He had yet to accomplish this feat in young life. Now, never would, save in another universe. Why is that, in this moment, the thing that rips Chakotay's hammering heart in two?

"Maybe later." Lie flowing so easily from his lips. It almost appalls him how quickly it comes out, and Kathryn was right. He should have had a pet. They shouldn't have waited, banking on domestication of their primate cohabitant.

He doesn't want to see but can't help scouring the climbing bare arms and legs for signs of…nothing. Yet. Smooth baby skin, loved by sun and parental hands.

How long do they have? The rest of our lives. That's a long time…at least I hope so.

How they had laughed at his bad joke. Her worn-leather laughter has always slain him, driven him to exorbitant heights if he's-

She made the most intoxicating sounds in her pale, pulsing throat when she came against him. She gave what she could in the moment. Her eyes would fix on the scenery over his flexing shoulders because it was all still too intimate, but her growing nails digging crescents into his biceps were enough. Her warmth, and her permissive heat were enough. She loved another but he was there pulling at her heart, and that one was not. He built things to, protested at her altar, while that one could not.

Through an overlooked crack, sightless eyes in a boil-dotted face shine at him, and a few more yanked leaves prevent them from staring through the apex of broken branches – not a moment too soon. Small fingers are crumbling into white-specked grass, clumsy handholds for a curious mind working to climb the sloping hillside where his father works beside his forgotten tricorder. Blue eyes, hungry vortexes ascend the crest, scour the site, looking for the tuft of fur that had been so keenly spotted from a distance. Too keenly for comfort.

Slight mass is plucked from the ground, swung through the air and rests on his hip, grows just a bit heavier every passing day. Today it is the weight of a dying sun, of three dying suns. Blue eyes plead with him, for the love of his ancestors, what has he done?

"I think you've had enough exploring for one day. Your mother is waiting for us."

Young eyes scour the hillside over his broad shoulder, scanning for evidence of things his father is not yet ready to explain to him, Chakotay feels it.

"Can I nap with him, Pakka?"

A knife-slash to his side would be less noticeable, because it's clever. Much too, far too clever, Kathryn-clever.

The shake in his arms will surely go unnoticed in his voice if he says it softly, firmly, "Not tonight."

Another lie: not ever.

Chakotay can't feel the uneven terrain opposing his footfalls, nearly slips more than once on the sloping ground as he descends with his dear cargo. His future, his past, his destiny in one limited expanse of skin. So slight. So heavy. The melting of his pounding heart when the small dark head tucks reluctantly against his chest: his doing, all of this, he knew it was wrong from the beginning, they both did, yet how could he be blamed for what he'd done?

The pins would drop and her hair, it would go cascading down her slim white back.

It had been so white when they'd first landed. After the crushed metal boxes kept her more outdoors than in, after the recurrent red finally faded, the sun slowly kissed the white of her neck and shoulders away to a tanner hue. The sounds she made when his lips found her throat were identical despite the color they suckled, white, red, tanned.

How could he be faulted, how could she? The towel slipped from her shoulder. They were undone, with that event.

Every minor hurt life deals his offspring is felt a hundred times greater against himself, every thorn and paper cut a sharp, delicious pain, and his heart is swelled past what he thought it could bear with joy for every new word, revealed truth that he relearns through younger ears and eyes.

This, though, is more than any father should ever have to bear. He can't have committed enough wrong to have asked for this. And her…what can he tell Kathryn? How can he say?

Her breasts were tender, she'd said dully. They filled out into his work-roughened palms, but he didn't see it, thought they responded to his regular attention and nothing more. The tricorder made a soft thud as it struck the floor, discarded for its terrifying truths, and then he knew. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Her blue eyes alit with the sparkling duality of hopeful despair and his guilty palm was heavy and tentative on the invisible swell of her belly.

All the times he had given his father cause for grief or fear in his youth. He dies a thousand times inside as every moment is resurrected with a miniature version of himself.

"Are you happy, Kathryn?"

All he did, he did to see that her in that state. He never meant to pain her like this, but the towel slipped from under her shoulder, that wasn't his fault.

"I want to be. But we can't keep…it."

He'd never argued that, contraception hormones and the sweeping hand of fate in their failure, be damned.

Maybe you should call me Kathryn. Give me a few days on that one.

"Pakka, I want eggs."

For the last month, he'd wanted pancakes and nothing else. Kathryn's smile when he was impertinent, flashed before better reason could descend. She made disciplining their work in progress an all-out internal war, and he was a richer man than he had ever hoped to be.

He has flown too close to the sun. That is his mistake, having everything he'd ever wanted within reach. His past has been nowhere, the pain in it nigh forgotten; his future dances on chubby legs in front of evening fires alive with the souls of the wood he chops, that keeps them warm at night, and his son did not want pancakes for breakfast.

Chakotay's lips twitched dangerously yet held fast the line. "Well, you're not getting anything else until lunch."

Even saying it, he knew better. Devil child with the angelic smile and the expectant dimples. How was it that that miniature smile reminded him so of hers, when the framework it formed within was, unquestionably, all him? And what was he going to deny the second light of his life on this Eden of theirs, anyway? Nothing, as mother and son's eerily-similar grins assured him.

You've done so much to make our lives easier. Yet what I do makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it? The towel slipped from under her-

Sighing drew the patience of his ancestors through him. "You, my young son, are very spoiled," Chakotay said seriously.

"I know, Pakka." There was nothing of rot in his guileless, pediatric glee made of those tiny, delicate baby teeth with their imperceptible gap.

Whatever faults they were slowly instilling in him with their years of overindulgence, he would never be a mean soul, nor bitter nor insecure. Proud, perhaps. Too proud, maybe.

And lonely. At least, he might have been. Guilt, sharp and clever, chased the smile from his weathering face. It's nowhere near as axe-sharp as the fear. How much time do they have left? He should have gone back for the tricorder. If she finds it, what will he do?

What will he do if she doesn't? What in the name of his ancestors, can he do? If he could only go back, to the beginning, and not do what he had done. The towel slipped from her shoulder and the monkey cackled in the distance, beating a swift retreat into the stirring winds. Chakotay's dark eyes slid over the metal pins trapping golden, reddish brown, and her hair would go cascading down her back.

The unsought reality of motherhood has only enhanced the indented curve of her spine, the flare of her still-white hips. The sounds she makes in her throat when his lips find it…they had to be quiet at night, when innocent ears slept. She loved him and they both would die for the love they bore their son. Would that they had focused more on ways to live for it.

He had no playmates save for them, his imagination and the richness of nature. They shouldn't have done this, it wasn't fair to him. Spirits of his ancestors, but they'd tried not to, hadn't they done their best to avoid this worst case scenario? "It's out of the question."

Beyond any selfish measure of biological desire to preserve his genetic material, he had never believed otherwise. It was always her choice, and her arguments fell on the trapped ears of the choir.

"How can we even think of doing that?"

It was almost like on Voyager, when she'd work out her options in front of him or others, pacing with a poorly-bottled disquiet that spilled up from her ribs. She lay unmoving beside him. Even still, there was that twitch, twitch of her thighs, as though her legs were remembering the ancient route to clarity.

"We'd be condemning him or her to an eventual lifetime of solitude. How could we live with it?"

He couldn't, wouldn't. Unless she needed him to. Yet old habits. He stood the steady voice of the opposition.

"He wouldn't be alone if he had siblings."

Her fingers curled into themselves, tight on the lip of the towel. "How could we be certain that he would have them?"

It slapped of unalterable truth, when she said it. Fate had already intervened in motion unforeseeable. Why had he not foreseen it, what good was the wisdom of his ancestors if they could not have foreseen it? But the sun was hot on the back of his neck and the insects hypnotically buzzing over the draping flowers of the nearby cliffs. His hand was wrapped in strands of her long hair and he would give her hundreds of their progeny if she asked it of him, would give her the most eternal parts of him over and over and over again if she wanted it. If it was right, if he felt he could without committing an inexcusable crime against the result.

"We can't be sure," he admitted, and the curve of her neck was the same arched S as the vines winding over the creviced rocks that cradled them, warming them from a chilly morning swim. "But can you do it? Because I can't. I know I'm as much to blame, but I…"

He would not, could not do this thing, it wasn't his place to-

Her hand found the back of his neck, cool flesh dispersing the heat. "It's all right." Her fingernails gently raked the back of his scalp, massaging the soothing way they did. "I'll do it."

His arms tighten around his greatest achievement and his gravest error, logging the baby-soft hair against his cold neck, the binding scent of his son's flesh that is inside of his bones, and he doesn't know which decision, which carnal weakness he would beg forgiveness for if he could.

The towel slipped from her shoulder, and she caught it against herself.

He couldn't help that, even then, his instinct was to chase her pain away with his lips. Or was that his own? Let me guess. Yours is a bear. I'm trying to help you. I'm sorry you don't see that.

She wasn't his then but they had made something, something theirs, something they daren't see through to completion. It was irresponsible, and it was wrong. They weren't wrong. They were exactly what was supposed to be, but to protect them, to protect that, they couldn't.

It was a weighty necessity, one he supported unconditionally, with hands and teeth and lips as she planned.

And the spirits laughed.

They surprised him with their compatibility, or was that appreciation for what they shouldn't have had, and he was so smart, so obscenely smart, their motile, humbling miracle with the dusky blend of their skins and his mother's father's eyes and his father's inky hair. They'd convinced themselves they'd done no wrong, had thought of everything, and then they'd fallen into complacency, begun to believe their own lies. How much time is left? He can't begin to guess.

He only knows that it won't be enough.

The water was so cold for the season, it tinged red. She curled into a ball and sweated ice into the insect-heavy foliage. He held her hair away from her drenched forehead, whispering half prayers and reminding her that she was not alone. The morning brought the tricorder. And two lifesigns. The tricorder fell to the sodden earth and he was truly afraid.

Was that their offense? The attempt then, when they didn't know? Or after, when they couldn't attempt another pass?

She didn't speak. Silence in perpetuity, weeks crawling over weeks and her hair lost its shine and she swelled with the life she must have directed inward.

He speculated only that whatever biochemistry wrought havoc with the virus's progression in their bloodstream, and with their hormones on this Midsummer Night's planet, apparently affected the viability of natural blood thinners. He didn't mention trying again. Was that his mistake? He thought he'd been punished for that in the coming weeks of silence.

She didn't speak. It was the only time he had ever seen her resign herself to fate instead of railing against it. It was as if her failure to calculate or account for freak possibilities of living on an alien planet, twice, had set her rage within.

He'd worried for the child, not knowing if her condition would, for weeks, she didn't look at him. Only the monkey pointed and laughed, cackled his mite-speckled head off. The storms raged, he remembered. The plants that weren't ripped asunder grew. So did her belly, and his grief and remorse and her frustrated, self-imposed captivity.

Had she sensed the cost of their failure? It had always frightened her more than him. Was she in tune with the grid of connectivity, the one his ancestors tried guiding him to tap into when he dreamed?

"Mama, look!" Pudgy fingers uncurled and he'd run toward her. Nestled in his palm would be the uncrushed valley flower he had learned to preserve upon seeing his mother's face alight after his father presented her with one, once.

Five budding, blue-tipped petals cupped a perfect stylus and three-leave stems which begged on another planet to leave it be, here were precious gold. They were rarest of all flowers in their stormy Eden, so was that smile they inspired, and whatever else they had done, their son's was not a miserly soul, would never be.

She hadn't been able to maintain her nebulous fears forever. It was impossible when they were so natural together, when he was so full of joy and hope and life.

"Mama, have," he would insist and only Chakotay knew why.

"For me?"she always said, surprised, touched, and he learned young that nirvana was to be achieved within her blossoming smile. That was the reward he sought for his focused retrieval efforts and Chakotay, watching, would only shake his head in wonder that she couldn't see it. Like father, like…

After a certain, halting milestone passed, his command of language grew almost daily, and it delighted them both to no end. Slowly, too quickly, his chubby fingers learned to respect that which he had childishly ended before his selfless gesture had begun, had not crushed the flower he had condemned to slow death when he plucked it from the earth. He would cup it again, gently, holding it safe for her. When she folded him into her cherishing embrace in gratitude, twirling him under the graying sky and his dusky black hair fanned across her soft S-curved neck, Chakotay knew that there was no force in the galaxy that could judge her, or him, for not trying again.

How could such unasked-for perfection, such natural innocence, be wrong? Their humble shelter came into view ahead, and he could see that she was no longer outside. Sometimes that meant she was finished bathing early. Only once had it ever meant worse.

Her moans were sharpening. She was trying to bite back on them but reaching her limits. He was sick. How could unbearable pain be right? It wasn't natural. They made a mistake, a terrible mistake. Medical science was a nanometer from perfect. They'd monitored the entire process faithfully, but still something was wrong, something had to be wrong…

The fetal transport protocols were nestled in the complete copied medical database. Sweat slicked off his palms as he entered the patterns into the shuttle's transporter pad, for he had no choice. He wasn't listening to her cries anymore. He wasn't a doctor, didn't train for this. He had his limits, so did she, her long hair was soaked and twisted around her arms, tangled in between the sheets that were roped from her unconscious writhings. He had to cut it.

The towel slipped from her shoulder, it wasn't his fault.

Her teeth sunk into her bottom lip, turning blue from...from… This time, there was blood. More than before. He prayed the protocols were correct, then he prayed they weren't because this was wrong, but how could he be blamed, could she?

The swell disappeared and the cries that pierced the night weren't hers anymore and he redefined his notion of beauty and the universe and the hereafter as he gingerly lifted his squalling son from the towel. She came out of her melancholy, called to the siren of that ancient call of biology. They named him-

The tricorder slips from her hand, as casualty to gravity as they as humans are casualty of time-space and dimension.

His ancestors taught that every man comes from the stars, that the life force is theirs to achieve, to master, if they can forsake the conscious illusions of mortality, he told her. Beast and man are one, plant and wind the same ethereal life force, all connected to a prophetic plane of reality accessible by the most determined. She senses the force no more strongly than in the moments before the coming storms. They've always frightened her. There hasn't been one since the little one was born. The boil under her arm disappears under a shaking blue sleeve. She has not yet found those across her back. She does not need to breathe she told herself more than air.

UAGUAA. Repeated, inserted, replicated, it was supposed to be dormant. Something in the planet's environment is shielding you from the effects of the virus. The storms were less. The nitrogen fixation was less. The lysine and other acids were less. They'd stopped monitoring, else she might have noticed. In all the time, it had never occurred to her that anything remotely as simple as an element…

The now-still monkey's ravaged system shows what Kathryn had suspected all those years ago. Its eyes open and unseeing, pointed at the sky. The boils on its skin, small craters of implosion where the virus had staked its claim and stood its replicating ground.

He turns the tricorder on himself and the heavens opened above him, raining not water but irreversible fate upon him. He wishes the storm would take him.

"Pakka, where did the monkey go?"

The tricorder falls to the grass, a soft, rustling whoosh lost to the pounding of blood to his head.

They enter the shelter to find her freshly dressed, and Chakotay imagines the jump in her startle, the watery quality of her smile is illusion. Was her beauty always illusion, the way his ancestors preached?

Who is she to be making these decisions for all of us? He's not the captain. At some point, it became so that, neither is she. If she was still the captain he would never consider, perhaps in another universe it wasn't this way, maybe you should call me Kathryn. Give me a few days on that one.

His mouth is an unmoving S-curve not unlike her tanned shoulder and he can't tell her. He won't, tonight. Let her have tonight, and in the morning. Multi-colored sand spills all over their freshly-swept floor and he imagines her cringe. They did away with carpets years ago, when the self-cleansing mechanism became too energy-costly to maintain.

"Pakka, where did the monkey go?" Blue eyes peer up at him from the floor, creationism paused for the ever-important question. One-track mind. He hadn't gotten that paternally.

"To sleep, my son." He ignores the weight of her questioning glance on his skin, doesn't look over so she can press the issue. "You're right," he whispers, unwilling to disturb their offspring's youthful fervor for creation, which has already drawn his head back down to the ruined floor. "He should have a pet. Let's make him one."

Their shadows, drawn long by the soft lamp light emanating from the high windowsill, fall on either side of their living legacy.

Faintest suspicion flickers, richening her tone. "I thought you didn't want to waste the power for a-"

"We'll make it work." I don't think we can afford to keep doing business as usual. "You were right. He should have one. He's old enough."

There's no way I can continue to do my research. What if she had?

"What should we make for him? Not a dog. I'd feel like a traitor."

Now, he dares look. Arms crossed over her chest, hair loosely drying, working over the decision with fervor that's almost desperate. She loved another yet he is here. Tanned, glistening sweat from the afternoon sun and her, freshly bathed with that scented soap he likes to lick off her skin and in that blue dress he can't stand because it drives him crazy.

"And I've never been particularly fond of cats, to tell the truth."

He knows. And then, there's the inescapable fact that, "I think he really wants a monkey."

Her jaw falls faintly agape. "The mess…" she starts.

"Will be holographic. Temporary."

As all things are.

Her breath hitches more sharply than he'd expect of her, but their son is making a masterpiece of sand art on their stone floor, after all. "A monkey," she echoes faintly, watching him, and for just a moment he can see her standing on an almost-forgotten bridge beside him, red and black, pins, untouchable to his fingers and he knows there's been no mistake worse than some he could have made.

Well that's one way of letting go. She's been happy here, with him, with them. Hasn't she? Has what he's offered made up for what had been taken from her? He's thought, maybe…

He reaches for her hand. It's cold and the sand is more slippery than he'd expect when he pulls her into his body, wraps his arms around her whole frame, rests his chin on her head and keeps her for his own.

In another universe, he didn't even have this much time with her, with them.

And he's sure in fleeting instants that are some of their last, that it could never have been wrong.