Charm
by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated it is owned by CBS/Paramount.
Notes: Takes place during Endgame.  Admiral Janeway clashes with the command team and reflects on her reasons for changing the timeline (in short: Why Admiral Janeway is a 5-Letter Word That is Not 'Witch')
Rating: PG, for darkish themes
This story contains reference to themes that some readers may find upsetting (highlight to read): character death, nursing through illness

---

"It wasn't meant to happen like this," Kathryn wished she could have snatched the words back the moment they left her bruised lips.  She could see Chakotay winding up to pounce on them like a hungry animal.
"What, you never meant to walk over to my quarters and tell me how you felt?  It was just an accident, the way you fell into my arms?  Don't worry, Kathryn - I won't tell anyone about your mistake."
"Chakotay, please...don't do this -"
"- I can't help it," He answered in a voice shaking with anger, his words souring the air, "I never meant to fall in love with you."

~ Charm ~

It was a conversation Admiral Janeway had replayed in her head countless time since it had happened, about six years or so into their journey home.  On days like this she would sit fingering the old charm bracelet her grandmother had given her, going over everything they had said to one another.  The metal wasn't as shiny as it had been once and the heart charm had been lost somewhere a long time ago, but the feel of the bracelet was comforting and it had rarely left her wrist for decades.  At some point in the Delta Quadrant she had begun taking the stitching out of the cuff of her uniform jacket to conceal it inside; nowadays she didn't care to hide it, especially as she no longer needed to conform to the strict starship dress code. 
The chain was warmed by her skin and the feel of the links slipping under the pads of her fingers was a great comfort as she waited for Captain Janeway to return.  It was surely one of the oddest things she'd ever done, speaking to her past self.  Admiral Janeway had planned to appear detached and businesslike when she travelled back in time to change Voyager's future, but her younger self's stubbornness had already irked her and any hint of civility she retained had gone straight out of the window.

She was pulled out of her thoughts with the hiss of the door as it opened, and she quickly shook her sleeve over the bracelet.
"You're a fool," Admiral Janeway greeted Captain Janeway as she entered.  The Captain paused and her jaw clenched ever so slightly.
"Let's get one thing straight," The younger woman began, narrowing her eyes, "If you come onto my ship and request an audience with me, you're going to have to -"
"Forget it," Admiral Janeway cut in sharply, "I'm not going to waste time on pleasantries.  Calling you a fool was too nice.  Anyway, we haven't got much time and you need to listen to what I have to say."
"I'm not sure I want to hear it," Captain Janeway retorted coolly, turning away from the Admiral towards the viewport.
'Then you're an even bigger fool than I thought', the Admiral didn't say.  She knew she had to tread carefully now if she wanted the Captain to consider her words.  She was quickly learning that dealing with oneself was both the easiest and most difficult thing she could ever have expected to do, and hadn't counted upon underestimating her younger self when she had devised the mission plan.
"I know you thought he'd wait.  You weren't expecting that news today, were you?" It was more of a statement than a question, but the Admiral modulated her voice into an interrogative pitch as a sort of gentle kindness.  The shiny, dark hair of her younger counterpart jumped as she shook her head jerkily.
Seven's going to die...in the arms of her husband...Chakotay. 
Admiral Janeway heard the painful truth over and over in her head and the Captain flinched as though she had spoken the words aloud.
"I had to tell you," Admiral Janeway tried again, looking for some sort of response.
"Does he know?" The Captain's tone was quiet, but steady.
"Not as such.  He's begun helping Seven with her social interaction lessons, but it's not serious yet." There was some careful emphasis placed on the last word.  Neither woman said anything for a long time.
"Do you think I -" At that moment the Captain was called to the Bridge and she excused herself dully after taking a second to square her shoulders and take a deep breath.  The Admiral was left studying her thumbnail, wondering how to answer the question without giving too much away.  She could feign ignorance, but that would mean she would be forced to lie, and she had had enough of lying to herself. 

*     *     *

She wasn't sure why he had asked her to do it...why she of all people would be the one.  It had been a long time since they had come first with each other.  Then she considered who she'd ask in the same situation and her mind went to him immediately.  Kathryn reasoned later that in a way she had made the decision without even thinking about it.
"You're really fine with it?"
"Yes," She answered, willing that nothing in her expression would betray her true feelings.
"Liar," Chakotay said, a ghost of a smile creeping over his face.  He already looked weak; the colour had drained from his face and his hair was speckled with grey.
"Think of it as a holiday," He offered, lip curling.  She shot him a look, and he caught her chin in his hand deftly.  They stared at each other, unblinking, both having lost the urge to look for something more in the other's eyes long before there was anything to seek.
"That's why," He said quietly, retracting his hand.  It shook a little and he clenched his fist. "You're not going to cry or beg me to go to another doctor or research alternative treatments."
"You'd have already done that if you wanted to," Kathryn said, uncaring that her voice had cracked ever so slightly.
They shared a stiff hug, which seemed more out of propriety than anything else.  Were there more bones in his back now?  She wondered vaguely if this would be the last time they'd come into contact like this.  She didn't exhale.
"Don't." His voice was muffled by her hair.
"I know," She sighed, and it was a moment before they broke apart.
"Call me tomorrow."
Kathryn didn't wait for his response, and wandered off into her study.  She stretched out her hand to straighten the framed holophoto on the desk and her bracelet fell down her wrist, the metal gently clinking against the glass of the frame.  She caught the chain between her fingertips, moving over the empty link where the heart charm had once been and wishing that the ache in her chest could fall away forgotten in the same way.  The faces smiled out from the holophoto, frozen in time and expressions of joy.  It was a mixed blessing that the image didn't evolve as the years passed - while new smiling faces would appear, - crowded in next to B'Elanna and Tom and Harry respectively - Chakotay's smile would fade and Seven's disappear completely.  The images of those close friends were like tiny lights she carried in her heart, but the glowing pinpricks flickered and died and she felt at her wits' end, burnt out at the prospect of what her acceptance of Chakotay's request would mean.
As a young adult she had added charms to the bracelet and removed others so it acted as a kind of perpetual indicator of her life and her interests.  Once she had grown up the novelty had worn off and, in any case, she wasn't sure if she had the energy to choose an appropriate representation of landmark events in her later life.  How could seven years of exploration and drastic change be reflected in a lump of silver and gemstones?  The meanings she associated with the separate charms evolved over the years, even in the one that went missing - Kathryn had gradually been losing heart in things arguably since Seven had revealed she was seeing Chakotay.  The congratulations she offered were as mechanical as the implant next to the faint blush on Seven's cheek and her heart as cold and detached as that metal charm...

*     *     *

Admiral Janeway turned her attention to her surroundings.  She had almost forgotten how comforting the atmosphere in the ready room was, and when she had arrived the calm feeling that swept over her was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes.
Almost.  There was precious little that brought tears to her eyes nowadays.  She often felt that all the emotion had been wrung out of her bit by bit after all the hardships she had had to endure.  On some level the deadening of her emotional centres was liberating yet at the same time felt horribly unnatural, but she had stopped caring about it years ago.  Before finding out about the technology that had brought her back to this point in time there were few things to take her mind off all that had happened, and she was driven to distraction by the way it had consumed her.  Every thought, breath and movement was Tuvok, Seven and Chakotay and each action provoked a reminder that she was going on while they had fallen behind, shrouded in time and regrets.  The discovery of the technology gave her something to focus on and in a way everything still revolved around them, but in a different context with far less grief attached.
There was one downside to being back, though - the large viewports.  At times like these she no longer liked looking out into space, because not even the wide breadth of the viewports in the ready room was enough to stop her feeling like she was a helpless observer restricted to watching havoc play out from a tiny porthole.  She felt there had been too much mindless gazing from afar already.

*     *     *

He had elected for a house near the beach with a large conservatory that was furnished with long, comfortable sofas.  The view would have been spectacular had she not been aware that he'd only be able to look at it from a glass shell.  She had never been to that particular planet before, and didn't care to ask if had held any special meaning for him.  Neither of them had been especially keen on expressing sentiment to each other since the day of that crushing argument on Voyager when everything between them but a veneer of friendship had effectively been destroyed.
"Are you comfortable now?" She could remember asking Chakotay as she stuffed another cushion behind his back.  She made a mental note to put the luggage away as soon as possible.
"More or less.  Thanks," Chakotay said absently, reaching for the drink on the table next to him.  Kathryn snatched it up and pressed it into his hand.  He gave her a wary look as he sipped the liquid clumsily.  When he was done she took the glass back and set it down at his elbow.
"Can I get you anything else?"
Chakotay's expression hadn't changed.
"What?" She asked, frowning back at him.
"You.  If you're going to act like that then I'm going to find myself another carer." He replied, looking distinctly disgruntled.  Before she had a chance to respond he had another coughing fit and, rather than make a fuss, she elected simply to squeeze his arm silently and move the box of tissues nearer to him.  They didn't speak for the rest of the day, watching the waves in a comfortable silence.

Kathryn fell asleep in her chair while reading a book and woke in the dead of night.  She looked over to see Chakotay staring at the ceiling.
"Still awake?" She asked, retrieving her book from where it had fallen on the floor.
"Couldn't get back to sleep.  Is it chilly in here?"
"A bit.  Do you want another blanket?"
"No," Chakotay turned his head to look at her, "Do you remember how cold it got at night on New Earth?"
"Of course.  I'm glad we didn't have to spend any longer than we did in that damned draughty shelter."
"I liked it.  I opened my window so I could see the stars."
"No wonder it got so cold, if you had the window open all night."
"I always thought you'd learn to love it," Chakotay smiled.  In the dim light his face didn't appear so lined, and Kathryn could forget the heartache and ill health that had aged his features so.
"I liked the monkey," She offered, and he snorted.  At that point his face crumpled with pain and she had to give him another dose of medicine.  The hand that administered the hypospray didn't tremble and she no longer fumbled with the equipment box.
The pain gradually eased and his facial features relaxed once more, although even in the poor light she could see he looked more exhausted than ever.
"Can I ask you something?" He asked, the inflammation in his throat forcing his voice to a whisper.
"Yes."
"Do you regret that we never...?"
Her breath stopped in her throat, although she wasn't quite sure why.  There was no tremulous heartbeat, no rush of feeling...only a quiet kind of melancholy.
"Yes." She looked him in the eye, knowing that there was no feeling reflected in it.  The time was past for tears and there was only a sad truth left.
"I don't love you any more than you love me," Kathryn continued, still holding their eye contact, spurred on by the frankness that the gloom in the moonlit room seemed to allow, "I didn't let myself.  My biggest regret was hurting you the way I did, and I'd rather concentrate on that than pine after what might have been."
Chakotay smiled faintly, the skin around his eyes creasing into folds that spoke volumes of the happier times earlier on in his life.
"I loved you so much, Kathryn.  Feeling the way I did about you...after you rejected me all I could do was hate you."
"I know.  I hated myself for doing it.  And now..." She turned her head back to the window, though now anything to look upon was concealed in the darkness. 

*     *     *

"Can I ask you something?" Back on Voyager, Chakotay was the next to appear before her.  The Admiral resisted the urge to roll her eyes.  She was beginning to feel like an exhausted queen greeting some tired old subjects.
"Go ahead."
"What did you say to Kathryn?" The bluntness in his tone awakened a flicker of interest in her.  She pursed her lips.
"I can't tell you.  Temporal Prime Directive." Admiral Janeway tried not to sound too smug.  She had the feeling she might enjoy this.
"Was it something you had to tell her?"
"Depends on how you look at it."
"What made you like this?"
The Admiral unfolded her arms and rested her chin in the heel of her palm, deliberately conveying a hint of boredom to rile him.
"Life." Death.  Everything in between, she added silently.  He looked so incredulous, so young...it made her angry to look at him.  Who cared about who upset whom when it could all end tomorrow?  What did a few words from a crotchety old woman matter when you had your health and your loved ones close by?
"You've got an answer for everything, haven't you?"
"That's about the sum of it."
"You can't keep this up forever. She'll break you, you know. "
"You'd know all about that," She answered sharply, not caring that she'd probably gone too far.  Chakotay spun on his heel and left the room.  A few seconds passed before the Captain burst in.
"What did you say to him?" She asked, face a mixture of puzzlement and indignation.
"Nothing he didn't already know."
Captain Janeway's expression hardened.
"Out."
Admiral Janeway stalked off.  She was tired of talking, anyway.

*     *     *

Towards the end they didn't speak - Chakotay because it expended too much energy; Kathryn because there were no more words.  There was only a diminishing awareness; pain and a fraying rope of composure to pull her through.  There were no chronometers in the house - useless and macabre to count down the days anymore - and the only units of measurement were on the side of the hypospray: a scale that spoke only of the increasing severity of illness and the decreasing effectiveness of drugs.  Somehow the day of the week seemed of little relevance, yet Kathryn knew there were fourteen leaves on the plant next to the door, four blue cushions, two white, six steps at the edge of the garden...and two people?  She felt like little more than an arm on a pulley and Chakotay was very thin now.
On that final day even the air seemed to come to a standstill; the atmosphere on tenterhooks as she and Chakotay were wobbling precariously at opposite ends on the scales of a life cycle.  Then in a moment the weight on Chakotay's side of the balance had vanished and Kathryn plummeted down, landing hard and forced to go on with no counterpoint and weighted with sorrow in a world where everything was off-kilter.  Alone on an isolated, alien planet with an enormous chunk of her being gone forever with everything that Chakotay had been to her vanished - all at once she was missing a friend, a confidante, a critic, an adviser, a sounding board...  the list went on endlessly and she could hardly comprehend how she would begin to bear it all when the loss was so great. 

Once she had made all the arrangements for the return journey she began hauling containers out to the shuttle while a terrific storm was brewing.  She wouldn't look back at the house; she knew she never wanted to see it again and would rather live in a torpedo casing than return to the glass-walled nightmare of that conservatory.  Now it conserved nothing but stale air and an empty conscience.  After the last item was stored away a gale was blowing, acting as some kind of proof that nature was moving on even as her own life had come to a stop.  She was soaked to the skin within minutes of leaving the house and the wind was like a sharp blade on ears so accustomed to silence that the rustle of a linen sheet seemed loud.  After days of not uttering a word she screamed from the dusty crevices of her throat into the storm, any specific words distorted by the pounding of the rain.  Once upon a time she and Chakotay had spoken of something they'd referred to as 'the end'. She had no idea what that meant anymore in reference to her.  It would never have been the end for her - the beginning after his end was the part she was struggling with now, except that he wasn't there to help her with it.  She thought they'd be going until the end, but after that day she found she'd only come halfway and was static, wondering desperately how to move on when everything had come to a rest - was there any way to reverse eternal rest?  You've got to keep the ball rolling, Chakotay had said to her years before during a bout of insomnia over something insignificant, Keep going, get enough sleep and you'll work it out eventually.  And anyway, I'm here to handle everything else.
For now the world kept on rolling, and long after her return to Earth she still woke in the middle of the night to turn Chakotay on his side...

*     *     *

The Admiral bypassed the Messhall - too many people; too many viewports - and realised too quickly that there were precious few places she could go on Voyager.  Most of the places she would have preferred to spend her time in the old days were restricted to ship personnel and she attracted nothing but sneaked glances and averted eyes when she ventured anywhere.  In her distraction she ended up making her way down to the shuttlebay to sit inside her own ship.  At least there no-one would bother her and it was more familiar than the dank temporary quarters she had been assigned.
Once she stepped out of the turbolift, however, she almost collided with Chakotay. 
"I was about to come and find you," He said, blocking her way.
"Really?" She answered dully, folding her arms.
"I haven't come to pick another fight with you."
"Pity."
"I know you, Kathryn," Chakotay implored, leaning towards her, "And I see the way you are now and I want to know why.  We need to know why you -"
"- you don't," Admiral Janeway cut in, her tone poisonous, "You don't know me.  She doesn't know me.  You want to know why I'm here?  Because I know how this ends.  You think you know it all, but you don't.  You're only at the beginning and you can't begin to imagine what's about to come.  If you all stopped acting like children who need an explanation for every trivial point then we'd all be much better off."
He stared back at her, expression blank.
"Maybe I don't know you," Chakotay replied coldly, "But I know her, and there's no way she'll co-operate with you if you treat her like an ignorant child.  You want your own way and the right to do as you please, and so does she - that's your problem, and I'm sick of having to put up with it from both of you."
"If you're so sick of her, then why did you run to me to fight her corner when she's upset?"
Now she was the one sounding like a child.  The Admiral nudged the keypad next to her and reentered the turbolift, but she knew the answer even before Chakotay called through the closing doors:
"Because she'd do the same for me."

It was true, and the Admiral knew it.  Theirs was a strange connection - one that would span practically the full spectrum of human relationships over their time knowing each other.  They had been acquaintances, colleagues, friends, best friends, one-time lovers...she thought about it as she made her way back to the temporary quarters. 
It had all happened after the planning for Voyager's ill-fated slipstream flight back to the Alpha Quadrant had been finalised.  The drive was complete, the project had closed and she truly believed they would be home within the week.  It was a time to bid farewell to her life in the Delta Quadrant, and she had taken the concept of a new life back home far too seriously.  Perhaps before then she had underestimated her desire to return home and lead a more normal life, because the quantum slipstream flight immediately seemed like her golden ticket out of everything that she had denied herself on Voyager.  There had certainly been little in the way of practical issues on her mind as she made her way to Chakotay's quarters in a dreamlike haze, the corridor lighting shimmering and signalling her way towards a bright future:

"When we get back to Earth," she had said breathlessly, ignoring the nerves that pushed her heart into her throat and left her hands clammy, "I won't be your Captain any more."
Chakotay looked down at her and suddenly took her hand.  She went on before he had a chance to say anything.
"We've grown closer over the years and I think you know me better than anyone, but I always held back.  When we leave the ship, I'd like you to be by my side - not just as my friend or my first officer.  Will you do that?"
"Kathryn...nothing would make me happier."
"Maybe it won't work out, but I don't care.  I don't care - I'd rather we found it out for ourselves."
She had cried a little and so had he, and it seemed ironic that the one occasion upon which they comforted each other was the happiest they had ever been together.  At the end of the day Kathryn had thought to herself that she could have lived on the happiness she had felt during it, never dreaming that afterwards she would never reach that same level of contentment again in her lifetime.
Everything about it had been soft - so soft, from the cashmere dress she slipped on in the morning to the downy quilts they stretched across at night.  There was a kind of blurred edge to the whole experience accentuated by the lazy winter sunshine of their afternoon walk on the Holodeck and the glow of the candlelight in the evening.  When she wanted to be bitter, as she so often did these days, Kathryn would try to dismiss the whole experience as a mess of clichés and almost succeed: there had been hearts - two of them, fluttering gently with anticipation and longing -, flowers dotted across the meadow and strewn across the bedroom - he had tenderly brushed the petals from her hair - and there was love in the laced fingers and twining bodies that bound a sweet secret between the two of them.  There was velvety skin uncovered on satin sheets and silken words sealed with champagne kisses in a night that sparkled with promises and endearments, and any anxiety about the forthcoming flight home was cushioned snugly by the intoxication that went hand-in-hand with indulgence in a desire that ran so deeply through her being.

The next day she had woken up to a better dream than anything she had imagined while asleep, and when the slipstream was shut down on the flight to the Alpha Quadrant she was jolted out of the daze back into reality and she found herself afraid of everything.  She was afraid that what she had done had been wrong, that she hadn't been concentrating enough during the slipstream journey, that she'd never be able to be that happy again and that she could never lead Voyager in the same way when her heart was dedicated to him instead of the crew.  Before she had had a chance to calm down she was back at Chakotay's door, fitfully telling him she had to end it because all the reasons why she couldn't be with him had only lain dormant for a few days before springing back into a terrifying prominence.  The needle had then swung to the other end of the scale and they were little better than enemies because it was easier than dealing with the burden of lost love.  At first she had hated herself as much as he did because it had been her fault, but then part of that was directed at him when she found out about him and Seven.  It had been such a flimsy hope that he would wait until she was stronger, but the energy that fuelled her anger was stronger still and it was a release from the remorse that punished her day by day.
Yes, it was a very strange connection, Admiral Janeway reflected.  It was as though they thrived on feeling only the deepest kind of emotion for each other, and that aspect of their relationship was at once the greatest and the most terrible part of it.  The potential for the very best kind of joy had been there, but had been nullified and they had barely scraped through with their friendship intact.  Even in the past he was working against her and she couldn't explain why she was trying to change it for his own good and everyone else as well.  When she entered the temporary quarters she didn't bother calling for the lights.  Tuvok, Seven, Chakotay...they were all gone forever, the candles had been snuffed out prematurely and the prospect of saving them was growing dimmer by the second.

The doorchime sounded.  Once, twice, three times.  Admiral Janeway sat in the dark, staring at nothing and fiddling incessantly with the bracelet's links.  There was a pause, and it sounded again.  And again.
The doors opened.
"I'm not at home," She murmured irritably.
"No, you're not." Chakotay stepped into the light cast over the floor from the viewport, "I have something for you."
The Admiral didn't respond, but her fist clenched on the armrest of her chair and the veins stood out on the back of her hand.
"Kathryn - the Captain - doesn't wear hers, but I think you do.  I decided never to give it to her, but then you showed up and I thought differently.  Even if this plan of yours never gets off the ground, you've at least changed this."
He set a tiny open box on the armrest of the chair.  On a square of blue velvet inside lay the heart charm from her bracelet.
Had she not been sitting down, Admiral Janeway felt she would have been knocked clean off her feet in shock.  As it was, all the breath in her lungs was sucked through an invisible hole where her real heart was supposed to hang.  Feeling faintly dizzy, she peered at it closely.  There was a miniscule engraving on the surface of the silver, which revealed itself upon closer inspection to be the image of Chakotay's tattoo.
"I found it...afterwards," He murmured vaguely, "I had it engraved and then...well, you know."
"You had it..." Admiral Janeway whispered, clutching the box, remembering back when she had held the same box in her own time.  Chakotay's will had stipulated it be placed in his coffin along with some other items.  It had been sealed and she had assumed it was another trinket that had belonged to Seven...
And for the first time in years she felt her eyes begin to well up, which hurt horribly as though the moisture had been sucked up from a drying riverbed.
"You always had it," She mused sadly, then suddenly got out of the chair and stood round-shouldered at the viewport. 
"In my time," the Admiral couldn't stop herself shaking slightly while forcing herself to concentrate on the furthest star she could see, "...we hated each other."
Her voice sounded like she were a hair's breadth away from pleading with him; her mouth twisting around a disbelieving smile.
"And yet there was nothing you wouldn't do for me, or I for you."
"Is that why you're here?  Because of something involving me?"
She didn't say anything.
"If you can't tell me -"
"Yes.  And because of other things, and other people."
"Who -"
The Admiral held up her hand.
"Stop.  All I'll say is that it's about as bad as it possibly could be, and it'll all just happen again unless we do something."
Chakotay sighed.
"I can't change her mind...about anything." The words hung in the air for a second, "It's up to you.  You were that person.  Once."
She turned around, but he was already heading for the door.
"You'll have to meet each other in the middle somewhere." He left without looking back.
Admiral Janeway watched him go, and turned back to the viewport.  He had spoken of her and the Captain as though they were strangers, and maybe he was right.  She didn't have much patience for her younger counterpart or anyone on board and thought she had been prepared for anything, but then he was able to surprise her like that...
She looked back at the small jewellery box on the chair and touched her hand to her chest, the bracelet on her wrist resting against the slow pulse.  She could remember feeling things so acutely on Voyager and letting that depth of emotion sway her decisions...until it became all too much.  She squeezed her eyes shut.  Seven, Chakotay, Tuvok...the thoughts of them still drove her, but it was time to let her love for them guide her rather than the hurt that had been caused.  That was the one approach she hadn't considered when dealing with the Captain - to lead from the heart.     
With that Admiral Janeway left the room, determined to forge a link with her younger counterpart and hoping that her plan would work in one way, - with the small silver heart pressed firmly between her fingers - like a charm. 


 - End -
 

---

Additional notes: I have to admit that I'm a little nervous about posting this due to the Chakotay subplot.  I considered not doing so on the grounds that I have too little life experience and any poor handling of this type of subject matter could upset readers who have dealt with it first-hand. I then realised that questioning whether I had the right to publish a work based on something I know relatively little of and automatically equating youth with ignorance was the kind of attitude I was trying to portray (negatively) in Admiral Janeway.  I may not have been through the kind of hardship I wrote about in this story, but I do know what it is to love someone and to lose someone and I hope that my imagination was able to relate in some small way what my experience lacks.