"Have dinner with me," she says, and Chakotay is unable to refuse, even though he knows the conversation will not be anything he wants to hear.
Admiral Janeway doesn't disappoint him. In succinct sentences, she tells him of her past, and about his future, and that of Seven of Nine. Three futures-for Kathryn's future is there too, in the spaces between her words. Chakotay glimpses the wasteland of the admiral's life as she has lived it. It's there, in the simple words of a sad story.
"Seven is wrong for you," the admiral says in tones that brook no disagreement. "She's a child of the collective, and will remain that way until her death. I could order you to stop seeing her, but-"
"There's no need." Chakotay cuts across her measured words, and refills her glass. The wine splashes crimson on the white tablecloth he'd put out for her. Dancing to an admiral's whim, dancing to a Janeway's tune.
"I don't take orders like that." He stares down her haughty objection. "But I can read what you're not saying as clearly as if you had handed me a PADD. Because I married Seven of Nine, Kathryn-you-suffered greatly. Yet Kathryn is still the woman I want. Your silence tells me she's mine."
"And you will claim her." The admiral nods in satisfaction.
"Not yet. I must let Seven adjust to the idea first."
"Don't take too long," warns the admiral.
Admiral Janeway sits in her quarters and watches the stars slide past in stately disarray. The cycles of time move slowly, too slowly for impatient people. She places a palm flat on the viewport.
"I remember more," she whispers to herself. "This time, I know what will happen."
Kathryn objects to the admiral's plan. That's no surprise, the admiral knew that she would. Over and over, the same stumbling point-the Janeway intractability and resistance to change.
The admiral sees Kathryn looking thoughtfully at Seven of Nine, then flickering a glance at Chakotay. She suspects.
Soon, the admiral will tell her that Chakotay is dating Seven. She will tell Kathryn over dinner, over wine or whiskey, when defenses are lower and emotions simmer closer to the surface. First, there will be a stony-faced denial, the reiteration that she is the captain and cannot have a relationship with her subordinate. Pride will dictate that Kathryn set Chakotay free to follow what she perceives to be his desire. But as the evening wears on, there will be a quiet admission over a glass of the finest replicated Irish whiskey. There will be a tear, poorly concealed, and there will be a request to know the future.
Some parts of the future will be revealed; the admiral knows this as clearly as she knows Kathryn's heart. Other parts will remain cloaked.
The admiral's words strike deep and true, and Kathryn knows what the admiral expects her to do. She is supposed to slide her way back into Chakotay's heart, pushing aside the drone and reclaiming her love. Protocol is supposed to fly out the viewport and shatter into a million pieces in cold, black space. Sex is supposed to thaw a captain's heart, and love, rosy and warm, will justify the admiral's decision.
Life doesn't work like that, thinks Kathryn, and does nothing, biting back a sharp retort when Seven tells her artlessly about her dinner date with the commander.
The admiral steels her soul for reassimilation. Some things don't get easier with time, or with familiarity.
Kathryn acquiesces finally, as the admiral knew she would, and yields over the plan to get Voyager back to Earth earlier. Tom will steer her carefully home via the transwarp conduits.
Chakotay is another matter, and pride, fierce and blind, stops Kathryn from claiming her love. But once the wheels are set in motion, the admiral knows there can be no deviation from the march. She tells the captain about the virus. The admiral will be assimilated into the Borg and the virus will spread, a cancer barreling down the conduits of the collective, destroying it from within. She makes it sound very easy, as if she has done this before.
She has. That little she knows, but a hazy veil still drifts across her memory, obscuring much from view. She wishes the path were clearer.
"You must go to her now," says the admiral. "Accept no token resistance. Now is the time."
Chakotay nods, presses a kiss to the admiral's crepey cheek and strides into the corridor to ring Kathryn's doorbell.
Kathryn answers, sees his newfound determination, and recollects the admiral's words. She has no words of her own. The walls of pride decay into dust, and she takes him by the hand, draws him into the middle of the room, and raises her mouth for his kiss. Clothes are shed, along with the scales from their eyes, and they see, they love, they accept the inevitable.
At the moment of their merging, as she is liquid around him, drawing him into her body, Kathryn tells Chakotay that she loves him. His tears fall onto her skin and she feels them as pinpoints of fire. He is assimilating her into his love-a collective of two.
The admiral hears the muted cries through the bulkhead and knows. The circle is closing faster this time. She wonders if this will be its last loop.
The admiral's little ship is sturdy and true, and she can control it with her mind. But a mind is a nebulous thing, and the Borg Queen taps her neural pathways, steering the ship into the cube. The admiral materializes in the Queen's chamber, as she knew she would.
She raises her chin, faces her nemesis, and holds close the memory of Kathryn and Chakotay sharing a kiss, a look of love. As it should be.
"And the circle turns." The Borg Queen is in front of her; this part of the cycle will be the same as the last time, and the time before that. The admiral tries not to flinch, tries to remain steadfast.
"How many times is this, Admiral?" The Queen is watchful. She wants to know how much the admiral remembers. It is she who holds the reins; she who knows the answer.
"Eight, that I can remember." The admiral answers abruptly, holding herself in check.
"And so it continues," muses the Queen. "Eight cycles of twenty-six years." She runs a caressing finger down the admiral's cheek. It burns like Chakotay's tears on her skin. "Tell me, my love, what happens next?"
"You know better than I."
"I do. But I'm curious. I can't read your thoughts... yet. Do you remember it all? Do you remember my breath, my kiss, the touch of my fingers on your skin? Do you remember the sweet, sharp shock of assimilation? And do you remember how much of you is in me?"
"Too much." Every time, the final piece falls into place at this time. The final moments while she is still Admiral Kathryn Janeway, before she becomes the Queen. The pain is intense; it stabs her in the gut, it makes her want to crawl far, far away and weep. But it's too late for that. The cycle continues.
"The nanovirus that your clever Doctor invented. Do you remember that, Admiral? Do you remember how you crowed, how you danced at your brilliant triumph? You would make Unimatrix Zero accessible to all drones, and cut me down from within." The Queen is too close, and her slatey eyes remind Kathryn of Chakotay's tombstone on Earth, the one that Kathryn will kneel at in twenty-six years' time and bid farewell to her love. "How you underestimated my ability to adapt. I took the virus from your body into my own. Do you remember what I found?"
The admiral nods jerkily. This is the deepest moment of her despair. Every time, in eight cycles of repetition, this is the moment that makes her abandon any kernel of hope she might have been harboring. Each time, this moment cuts her knees out from underneath her, in a single, blunt thrust.
The Queen's head tilts slowly to one side. She studies her foe, her lover, herself, and she plays her final card. "I found you. I survived the virus, but I gained you. A small nugget of your essence, your DNA, your soul. There was a tiny part of you in me then, Admiral, and each time we meet it grows stronger. You went away then, and came back twenty-six years later. By then, I knew what was happening, and your plan to destroy me with a new virus landed in my lap like manna from heaven. When I assimilated you for the second time, your essence grew stronger. Letting Voyager go was a small price to pay, yet what a prize it turned out to be."
The Queen circles around, wrapping a slender arm around the admiral's neck, and whispers her final sentences in the admiral's ear. Strong words into a silence. The final death blow. "You can try and change time all you want, Kathryn my sweet, but some things repeat themselves. Voyager returned home. Chakotay still died. And, twenty-six years later, Kathryn still went back to find her ship, to find herself, to find her love. Over and over. It's not eight times we've played this delightful game, Admiral. It's fourteen."
Fourteen. The drumbeat of failure sounds loud and long. Each time, the repetition of the cycle means the admiral recollects a little more. But fourteen...
She studies her adversary-herself-closer. There, in the tilt of the Queen's head the Janeway chin juts proudly. There, in the dead, flat eyes, there's a flash of steel blue. There, in the provocative tilt of her pelvis are her own narrow hips. How many more cycles, how many more assimilations will it be before she and the Queen are one?
The admiral swallows and despair is thick in her throat. It's inevitable now. The Queen will assimilate her any second, for now she knows too much, she can't afford to let her go, can't risk that she would kill herself instead. For the Queen needs her, needs her strength, needs the nurturing qualities that she possesses. The admiral kept her crew alive, together and strong, throughout the Delta Quadrant years; now those same qualities will nurture the Borg Collective. She will guard them as fiercely as she ever mothered her crew. Under her, the Borg will be invincible.
She thinks quickly. The cycles vary slightly every time, that much she knows. This time, Kathryn took Chakotay as her lover before the admiral left the ship. Maybe Kathryn sensed the urgency, sensed the change. Maybe Kathryn is now starting to remember.
Too late. The Queen dips her head briefly in salute to her opponent, and places her hand on the admiral's neck. It rests against her skin.
The admiral closes her eyes and waits.
On the bridge, Kathryn waits. Something's not quite right. Something is niggling at the edges of her mind. Déjà vu, as if she's been here before, as if in a dreamtime past, she's done the wrong thing.
A glance to the left, at Chakotay. He's immersed in the readouts on the arm of his chair. There's something she needs to know, muses Kathryn, something important, if only she can grasp it. She thinks back to conversations with the admiral. The admiral, who told her snippets of the future but never enough. Only enough to lead her down a path, one where she could see only to the next curve, never to the end of the road. Kathryn strums her fingers on the armrest. A frown creases her forehead. The knowledge she seeks is there, tantalizingly elusive, a feather of memory dancing on the edge of her consciousness.
She leans back in her chair. Reaches for Chakotay's hand. Closes her eyes, and tries to shut out the noise of the bridge. The commander's hand is warm in her grasp, steadying, firm. When was the last time she held his hand like this, on the bridge, openly for the crew to see?
The answer leaps out at her like phaser fire. It was before assimilation. Before she went to destroy Unimatrix Zero. Before the Queen placed slim, cool hands around her neck and pierced her skin. Before she was-
"Harry!" Kathryn springs to her feet. Chakotay's hand falls away. "My god, Harry! We've got to get her back. Now!"
The young man's smooth features crease into a frown of puzzlement. "Who?" he begins. "The admiral?"
He's pushed out of the way as Kathryn reaches his console. Slim fingers fly over the controls. "B'Elanna!" she roars into the comm. "Divert all available power to the transporters. All power: weapons, navigation, shields, everything. Do it now!"
B'Elanna must know better than to argue. Kathryn's console shows the increased power immediately. She scans, finds, locks. Finds a second flickering sensor reading too, so similar, like a sensor ghost. Scans again. The readings are eerily alike. Too similar. Kathryn understands; in a starburst of comprehension, the memories of previous circles in the pathways of time fall into place. She activates the controls, and the admiral shimmers in the center of the bridge.
Kathryn increases power. Ship's power readings fluctuate. She can't keep a lock. Frantic now, she draws power from life support. It's not enough. The admiral is wavering.
Chakotay is out of his chair, reaching for the admiral, as if he could take her hand and draw her on board.
Kathryn knows it's hopeless. One tiny part of her mind realizes it's a miracle that she's done this much. Across the console, her eyes meet the admiral's. Her lips are moving. Kathryn knows her own voice, recognizes the shape of her own words. "Space me," they say.
Her jaw locks. Can she do it? Can she kill herself, even to break the cycles of time and stop the Borg Queen? And if she does as the admiral says, what will that mean for her? Will she too cease to exist, wiped from the timeline and Chakotay's arms in simultaneous synchronicity?
She has no choice.
Kathryn amplifies the beam, sets coordinates, diverts the transport. The admiral fades and is gone. Kathryn takes a breath, holds it, then slowly exhales. She's still here. Deliberately, she loosens her grasp on the console and meets Chakotay's eyes. He doesn't know what has happened, she realizes. It's only her, with her clan memories of cycles and assimilations past, it's only her with her DNA inextricably linked with that of the Borg Queen, who knows what has happened.
She steps away from Harry's console, takes a step toward the center of the bridge. Another. Her knees are weak with the knowledge. "Take us out of here, Tom," she says.
Tom's eyes show puzzlement. "Into the transwarp conduit?"
"No!" The word is harsh. "Away from here. Remain in the Delta Quadrant."
Tom's uncomprehending, but he obeys. Janeway exhales slowly, and reseats herself in her chair. Swallows. She can't leave the bridge yet; the Borg Queen will surely come after them, after her. One Janeway has eluded her grasp, but she will hunt down Kathryn, try to substitute her for the admiral.
"Maximum warp, Tom. Remain on red alert."
She has to break the pattern. Voyager will not take the transwarp conduit back to the Alpha Quadrant. There will be no homecoming. Not yet.
Her eyes remain fixed on the viewscreen, as Voyager wheels like a swallow and makes her escape.
Later, in the silence of her quarters, she explains her actions to Chakotay. He's trembling with the horror of it, that stuff of nightmares, the end of the line.
She holds him close, pulls his dear, dark head down to hers, takes his mouth with needy desperation. "It's over," she says, and kisses him, burrowing her hands underneath his clothing until she can touch warm skin. So different from the smooth carapace of the Queen. "I've changed the cycle. But Voyager can't take any short cuts home, we can't risk reverting to the Queen's timeline."
She exorcises the Queen's memory with his body, with his presence, and lets him love her, over and over, until they are sated and sleep-filled.
On the cube, the Queen paces. So close. She was so close she could taste the victory. But she knows much about the cyclic nature of things, of that which is inevitable, and that which can be changed. She cannot see the future, but she is certain that in twenty-six years, somehow, somewhen, there will be another Janeway standing in front of her.
For the taking.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
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