Center Mass

 

Disclaimer: The crew of Voyager isn’t mine. Obviously.

Author’s Notes: Dark. Some dark themes are touched on and there’s bad language. The combination of the two led me to an R rating. Don’t read it unless you’re one of those people who can do the “choose your own adventure” thing in your head with an open ending because, fair warning, I’m not apologizing for this.

 

Center Mass

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“And I told him don’t bother, I’m not interested in your excuses, and I gave him his punishment right then and there.”

 

“Rightly so,” the reedy pink woman to the speaker’s left concurs, swilling the last of her beverage and signaling a servant in billowing robes to approach. She indicates for a refill of the sweet orange mead the conference serves freely to all attendees and the servant hastens to accommodate her. 

 

“Surely it matters what his reasoning was,” the trading chancellor called Ghurjan interjects. “If his intent was noble, it tempers the severity of his infraction.”

 

Janeway and Chakotay listen silently to the posturing display, eating their complimentary conference food and keeping to themselves. Though the hall seats twenty people at most and is intended as an intimate opportunity for delegates to form long-standing relationships between sessions, none of the other delegates have really engaged them, and Voyager’s command team doesn’t exactly mind that. The trading process is fair to all as it is, and they don’t intend to stick around the sector long enough to attend another annual gathering.  

 

“It does nothing of the kind! I never permit my officers speech during disciplinary session,” the large blue commander, whose name they have had no desire to learn, continues loudly. “If the evidence of the infraction is there, they are punished without their input on the matter.”

 

“As they should be,” his pink companion decrees.

 

“Thank God he has nothing we need to trade for,” Kathryn mutters under her breath, and Chakotay smiles down into his lap.

 

“And what was the sentence?” the old, sly alien Ghurjan inquires.

 

“For touching the girl?” The unnamed commander shrugs. “He forfeited his left arm. It is typically the right, but I did show mercy in his case. He is the best shot I know and he is right dominant, you see.”

 

“How merciful,” Ghurjan replies drolly, noticing the Voyagers’ mostly concealed disbelief with a wry smile. He taps his long, bony green fingers against his fine metal glass. “But I wonder. You didn’t even permit the officer to explain himself? What if his hand landed on her shoulder by accident, or he sought to steady the girl through a sudden failing of inertial dampeners?”

 

“What of it?” the blue man growls.

 

“Does that not merit consideration, if his intent was good?” Gharjun suggests.

 

The blue commander sighs heavily at Ghurjan’s misplaced compassion, the folds of his tunic jiggling unappealingly when his considerable girth shifts in his chair. “No, my sympathetic friend. Beware that trap!” he counsels sagely. “Over the years, I’ve found that encouraging excuse-making breeds contempt for regulation. And contempt for regulation is the cancer that destroys any starship.”

 

“Gods save us all,” Ghurjan interjects under his breath, much as Kathryn had a moment before.

 

Chakotay finds himself warily liking the small green alien acting as the voice of reason, but his sarcasm is either lost on the blue man or else it went unheard.

 

“A starship runs on every officer’s strict adherence to protocol. My officer lost his arm because that is the regulation and no one will break that regulation again, even accidentally. Servant!” he calls with a full mouth, signaling the end of the false debate. “More mead.”

 

Chakotay tries to channel his odd dislike of the servant who approaches, silently filling the blue man’s glass for what is easily the fourth time.

 

“He must have a bladder the size of his stomach,” Kathryn murmurs almost inaudibly, and Chakotay has to hide his sudden snort in the rim of his own glass, as does Andrews on her other side, he notes.  Ayala alone was just far enough away not to have heard her, seated on Chakotay’s right side as he is.  

 

“Or his ego,” Chakotay suggests just as quietly.

 

After hours of sitting in chairs not quite plush enough to be kind on the backside and smiling at delegates like their large blue friend down the table, their captain is not exactly on her best behavior today, and he’s glad. Without her dry interjections, this luncheon would easily be hell.  

 

When the servant approaches to refill his glass, too, Chakotay tries to look him in the eye while he shakes his head “no thanks”, but the servant refuses to look up at him. The other three will, but this man hasn’t done so once. He’s not of a species they’ve ever encountered, so he isn’t sure what the silent man’s aversion is. Frowning, Chakotay lets his attention be drawn by Ghurjan, who leans into them across the thin table, whispering.

 

“Let us hope he never gives his crew cause to judge him by his own harsh standards. I fear Commander Burbai would not see the matter through such a monochromatic lens if it were his own arm up for examination.”

 

“I fear you’re quite right, Chancellor Ghurjan,” Kathryn readily agrees, shaking her head at the boisterous militant berating the unlucky servant trying to serve him more food. Ghurjan nods a shallow understanding, they have made a friend as the small green alien turns to his own companions to discuss something else entirely, and the Voyagers are left to themselves again.

 

“I wish the crew was getting all this,” she murmurs with an arched brow, pretending to pick at the wilted greens on her plate. “Apparently, they could have it much worse.”

 

“Apparently,” Chakotay agrees.

 

Even suffering a few absolute fools in their midst, thirty minutes of downtime is a rare treasure they know how to put to good use. Between sessions, the sector trading conference is as good an excuse as any to simply enjoy a secure setting, something they haven’t had the benefit of experiencing these last few months. Chakotay hasn’t been able to help relaxing into it, or beginning to believe that their luck has finally turned. With Xarvon seemingly out of the picture–

 

“Any word on Xarvon?” she asks, since it’s her first chance to catch up on news of Voyager since he’d stepped out into the unshielded hall a few moments ago to check in with the ship.

 

The name is all that’s required and it’s not surprising that it was her next question. Xarvon, the nomadic warlord with the powerful ship, is well known to every member of Voyager’s crew. He is the man who had declared Voyager his staunch enemy almost a year ago for the crime of having technologies he had not yet stolen for himself and then refusing to grant those technologies to him. Xarvon has been the thorn in their side, the relentless jackal with a dark grudge who has been stalking them through several sectors.  

 

“Still no sign of his ship,” Chakotay reports. That makes three months now. They’ve been scouring surrounding space for any sign of his unique cloaking technology: a technology so flawless the Romulans would probably sell Romulus to get their hands on it, as Tom had remarked dryly from the helm once or twice.

 

“Well let’s hope we’ve seen the last of him, then.”

 

After what he’d done to Harren, the hell they’d gone through to get him back at all, that is both a blessing and a regret in their individual books. 

 

“It’s starting to look that way,” Chakotay dares to hope aloud. Here at a conference where they’re trading for supplies at reasonable prices, restocking the ship at a rate looking to last them for at least eight months, he is finally letting himself believe it. He can see that she is, too, and it makes the unfolding of the next sequence of events doubly cruel.

 

He’s not immediately aware of when he knows something’s off. Later, he thinks it’s the tension of Ayala’s posture more than anything, his fixed stare across the table to the stone pillars where two of the four servants assigned to their hall stand waiting to be summoned by any of the delegates.

 

Ayala is intently watching the servant on the right, who is nodding to his companion when Chakotay’s eyes land on him. Before any of them can move, the servant is reaching into his billowing grey robes, and a flash of metal signals the impending disaster that is about to break over the hall.

 

So much for the most secure conference in five sectors, is the only dark thought Chakotay can form while springing to his feet. 

 

“Captain!” Andrews roars, and it shouldn’t be him trying to throw her out of harm’s way, behind the table. By the time Chakotay draws his weapon clear of the obstructing chairs and table, the explosion of highly focused disruptor power has erupted all over the room. The other delegates are fleeing for the rear exit in various levels of screaming haste, making the armed servants more difficult to target as they weave through the crowd, firing at the Starfleet officers trying to find cover. Blue laser explodes through Ghurjan’s wizened back, clenching Chakotay’s gut when he drops to the floor and his own companions trample him running for safety, but his focus doesn’t sway from the robed figures firing. One blue shot shatters half the pillar above Andrews, chunks of rock exploding overtop of him and swiftly trapping him beneath bone-crushing weight.

 

Like broken flesh, fresh stonedust has a sharp scent. Together, they are savory, metallic, familiar. They leave the taste of death in the back of Chakotay’s throat as he tries to make his way towards their fallen man, even knowing it’s not going to matter. The servant on the left strikes the ground beside the broken stone, felled by Ayala, the one on the right is cut down by a shot that must come from Kathryn’s phaser even as his own well-chosen shot combines with Ayala’s second, hitting the center of the servant who had come barreling towards Chakotay the moment he moved for Andrews. That’s three of the silent servants down, and the room half cleared, but he pauses halfway to Andrews’ position because where is the fourth? He doesn’t see him. There had been a fourth man shrouded in shadows, wearing the bulky robe of a servant, the one whose aversion he’d felt all during break, where is the fourth?

 

“Drop it, Captain.”

 

Even low and growled, all three Starfleet officers recognize that voice. It’s death’s maw seeping into the frosty air they’re no longer breathing. Following Ayala’s stony gaze across the table, Chakotay’s phaser arcs wildly behind him, zeroing in on Kathryn’s position, but he knows, before he ever moves, that he is already too late.

 

The fourth servant has one arm wrapped across her upper body, his black metal disruptor angled under her chin, his other hand fisted cruelly in her loose hair, and in the span of the heartbeat that never drums in his chest, Chakotay’s entire world narrows to the width of a single face, to a pair of glittering blue eyes. From across the room, he can map every detail of her complexion, every mark of so-called imperfection that makes her face unique to human eyes.

 

His focus widens, assessing the threat. The second pair of eyes, watching him from beneath cosmetically altered skin, is the second tell, even more obvious than the voice. No wonder the bastard wouldn’t look at them.

 

“Let her go, Xarvon,” Chakotay orders, but his terse order is ignored.

 

None of the four remaining occupants of the room moves.  

 

“As I see it, you have two options,” the man they know to be Xarvon growls into her ear. “Either drop the weapon and come with me quietly, or I blow a hole in your pretty head and splatter your brains across this table right here in front of your men.”

 

Not an image Chakotay needed described for him. In this position, Xarvon has every ability to make it reality.

 

Kathryn is eerily calm. “You do that, and ‘my men’ will drop you where you stand.”

 

“They’ll try,” Xarvon blithely agrees. “But with your body shielding me, I’ll live long enough to get out one more good shot.”

 

Not quite true, but until the last second that Tuvok or Harry, B’Elanna or Seven could find some way to break through the electromagnetic interference in this chamber and beam them out of here, Chakotay isn’t going to take that chance.

 

It’s your choice, Captain. Make it quickly.”

 

She’s waiting for Chakotay’s opinion. She wants to know what he thinks about her position, since he has the better view. Despite what he knows she’s hoping, it looks no better from his perspective. Chakotay offers the barest nod, and a flicker of grey shades the blue, steel rage at her helplessness. Her phaser clatters grudgingly to the stone floor, lessening their chances of resolving this to their advantage.

 

Better the phaser than dark red blood and pieces of human skull is all Chakotay’s mind allows.

 

“Wise decision,” Xarvon jeers, rubbing in his victory.

 

“Go to hell,” is her tight response.

 

“Ah, but if I do, I’m taking you with me.”

 

“I can live with that,” she returns evenly. “How about you?”

 

Easy for her to say. She’s not the one who’d actually have to live with it. She’d be–

 

Xarvon laughs. “I have to tell you, Captain,” he drags her somewhat backward along his solid body, forcing her further off balance, “while I enjoyed Mister Harren’s company immensely, I think I’ll be enjoying yours a great deal more. How is he by the way?”

 

The targeted fury pinches her expression, a mirror of Chakotay’s visceral reaction.

 

Harren curled into an unresponsive ball. A month passed before they had him whole enough to speak a single word. They’d both assured him not every mission ended up like his first. They’d promised him this one was routine. Kathryn almost having to be hogtied to keep from going after the bastard responsible. Dealing with her behind the scenes was about all that had kept Chakotay from coming after Xarvon himself.  He heard the doctor’s broken report. He knew as well as she the unspeakable things that Xarvon had done to one of their flock. They spent six months looking for Xarvon, knowing he was out there and they never could find him.

 

Xarvon has come to them. And all Chakotay can do is to stand here, his weak phaser trained on both of them, and watch for an opportunity he knows Xarvon won’t be giving him.

 

Blue eyes are his entire focus. They are locked on him and only him. The monster using her body as a shield starts to drag her toward the door behind them in earnest, and Chakotay reads the message her targeted gaze is blasting into his psyche full force.

 

He can’t let them walk of here. One way or another, he has to end this standoff before they reach those doors.

 

If he doesn’t, she will.

 

Mortimer knew nothing. He lived in a hole in the ship tucked as far away from any relevant information as he could get, and still, Xarvon had managed to scrape his mind clean of every secret he did possess. It had been enough to enable him to stalk them , to ambush them here in this room. What he can do with the information he’ll take from Kathryn is no less than what he will do, than what he’s been intent on doing ever since they first crossed paths with him one year ago. Xarvon will take the ship. Or he will destroy it trying to.

 

She’ll never allow that. He cannot allow that, she is saying with her silence.

 

“That’s far enough, Xarvon,” he says.

 

Something in his tone, or perhaps something that is not in his tone, stops Xarvon, makes him consider Chakotay’s words. But not seriously enough.

 

Xarvon also has eyes only for Chakotay, for the weapon that is trained so closely on him. Watching his opponent, he deliberately burrows his ridged black cheek into Kathryn’s neck, audibly inhaling, his fake rough skin scraping against hers. “You certainly smell better than our friend Mortimer did, Captain,” he murmurs pointedly.

 

The implied threat sticks in burnt air, hanging over them much like the skeleton in the grotesque trophy net that had once defiled Kathryn’s ready room. Chakotay’s blood runs colder but he knows better than to feed into Xarvon’s trap. Along with every other emotion that must be coursing through her, Kathryn’s disgust is also well hidden, barely a thinning of her pressed lips, a hint of darkening eyes.

 

“You touch me,” she warns calmly, her eyes rolling back to the face she cannot see, “and I swear to God I’ll make you pay for every mark you ever put on him.”

 

Kathryn rarely swears to deities she doesn’t believe in. It’s the most emotion she’s given him, and it makes Chakotay’s icy blood freeze solid.

 

Xarvon laughs ignorantly at this, the steady angle of Chakotay’s undropped phaser the only obstacle he sees to his success. “Yes, I know you’ll try. I do love your fire, Kathryn,” he claims, never looking away from Chakotay. “I know I had no appreciation for it in the beginning of our association, but I’ve come to enjoy it over the last few months of getting to know you.” He backs away another step: another step closer to the far door, his grip in Kathryn’s hair and the disruptor now digging into her breastbone giving her no choice but to let him drag her with him. “I’ll be interested to see just how long you can keep it up when we’re safely back on my ship.”

 

“I hate to break it to you, Xarvon, but you aren’t leaving this room alive,” Chakotay promises and Xarvon scoffs at the threat he perceives to be idle.

 

Then again, he doesn’t know what Chakotay knows. He doesn’t know she’s only playing along, telling him what he wants to hear to keep him complacent. She has no intention of leaving this building with him. Chakotay’s clenched hand follows their movements, the barrel of his phaser aimed squarely, always at Xarvon. He aims for center mass, the way he’s always been taught.

 

There’s only one glaring problem with that.

 

“Commander,” Xarvon is calling insistently over Kathryn’s head, demanding his attention, “tell me. Whose name do you think she’ll be screaming when I’m fucking that fire out of her? Yours? His?” His eyes dart sharply right, to where Ayala has silently advanced behind a closer pillar and Chakotay curses silently. Xarvon locks eyes with Chakotay again, angling so Kathryn’s body shields him from attack from both men. He smiles, flashing polished teeth. “Mine?”

 

He’s only trying to distract them, to do the same thing they’re doing to him. Chakotay full well knows it. That doesn’t mean he doubts that if Xarvon could get her away from here, under his control, he will do exactly what he claims. The fucked up part of it all is, it’ll be the least that he’ll do. Kathryn knows it too.

 

Harren curled into a ball. He still won’t talk about it, but the evidence was there. They just hadn’t known it was Xarvon personally. Now they know.

 

Still nothing from her. The barest acknowledging flicker maybe, but nothing more. “Shoot him, Chakotay,” she orders flatly.

 

Chakotay’s arm trembles from the tension coursing its length as his world zeros to the size of her face again. She means it. He understands and yet he doesn’t. How can she ask him to do that? She knows what that would–

 

“Now, now, Captain,” Xarvon admonishes with a wickedly knowing smile. “He’s not going to do that. Is he?” The tri-colored eyes that should have given him away burn into Chakotay. “To shoot me at this range, he has to go through you first. And he’d never risk putting a hole in this pretty chest of yours. Stun settings don’t work in this chamber. The electro-magnetic interference is too great, remember?”

 

“You underestimate how good a shot he is,” she returns levelly.

 

Chakotay knows a Janeway bluff when he hears it – and he knows she knows better too. She took the same tactical training classes that he did in command school. She knows he’s a good shot but he’s not a fucking sniper and neither is Ayala. Even if he was, there is no sight-enhancing scope on a phaser rifle to focus his aim, no surface on which to steady his trembling arm, no real opportunity to pick his shot from this angle. She knows damned right well that against a moving target with adrenalin pumping through his veins, how good a shot he is doesn’t matter. It’s the primary tenet of handheld weapons training, the first absolute truth of combat that every cadet learns to repeat back to drill instructors on cue.

 

Always, always, shoot for center mass.

 

Center mass is most accurately defined as the torso, the bulk of an enemy, or that which one has the greatest chance of hitting. It is not, he knows, to be confused with center of mass, the physics terminology for the theoretical point in space where the entire mass of an object is located – also referred to as an object’s center of gravity. Kathryn is Chakotay’s center of mass; she has been that for years.

 

She is covering Xarvon’s center mass. To get to Xarvon, he’ll have to shoot through her. Only a weapon set three notches past a lethal setting, as his is now, has the firepower to do that.

 

She knows it all. She already knows how this is going to end. Below Chakotay seethes an ocean of panic, waves of ice-fury are licking past his legs, curling higher around his chest. Only training and experience allows his head and shoulders to float above the surface long enough to do what’s necessary, which is to see this through.

 

Through it all, Kathryn is eerily calm.   

 

Xarvon takes another step backward. Then another. The hall is large enough to require stone pillars supporting its massive roof, but it is not infinite. The space behind Xarvon is rapidly closing, and Chakotay’s options are closing at a rate linear to the diminishing space. He follows them as closely as he dares: one step for Xarvon’s every two.

 

“That’s far enough, Commander,” Xarvon warns, noticing. “Just stay right where you are.”

 

Chakotay’s head cricks one increment to the side, one increment back. “I can’t do that.”

 

“Then I can’t promise to keep her alive much longer,” the warlord snarls.

 

“You’ll keep her alive because you think she’s your ticket out of this room.” And onto our ship. “But that’s not going to happen, Xarvon.” He backs off to one pace for every three, the only concession he will make. 

 

“We’ll see,” the other hisses.

 

“Shoot him, Chakotay,” Kathryn orders – more forcefully this time.

 

“Now, now, Captain,” Xarvon answers for him, “we’ve been through that already. Haven’t we?” His grip in her hair tightens when she actively drags her feet, and he ends up using that grip to pull her more than anything. Her teeth clench against the ripping pain of a few hairs leaving her scalp by the roots, but she makes no move to help him, forcing him to do all the work.

 

The sounds her heels make scraping across smoothed stone floor are nails raking down Chakotay’s rigid spine. It’s the ticking of an unforgiving, winding clock.

 

Chakotay’s time is running out. Kathryn’s time is almost up.

 

“Let us leave, Commander,” Xarvon suggests, jerking Kathryn back against him when she tries to take advantage of his wandering attention. His thin smile drips forced appreciation for her efforts. “After I have what I need from her, I’ll return her much improved. Under my instruction, our dear captain will finally learn how to obey simple commands.”

 

Harren, curled in an unresponsive ball of rags and filth. He had been a shell of consciousness, yet he instinctively followed every directive given to him, even by them.  

 

“She’ll learn sacrifice.”

 

Harren, skin and battered bones, starved almost to the point of no return.

 

“Discipline,” Xarvon intones as she tries to break his hold again and he yanks her back into place against him with an unholy, appreciative chuckle. “The joy,” he speaks more forcefully over competing echoes of their struggle, “of pleasing a master who knows how to redirect her energy to the proper channels.”

 

“Are you fucking finished?” Chakotay breaks in with deceptive calm when he can get a word in edgewise, taking a step more than he was owed while Xarvon’s focus is split.

 

“Maybe,” Xarvon sneers, infuriatingly satisfied.

 

Hopefully. If Xarvon keeps talking, Chakotay is going to forget himself and do something abysmally stupid. It’s exactly what Xarvon wants him to do, what Xarvon is pushing either him or Ayala to do.

 

Not that it matters. Unless some unseen higher power of the cosmos sees fit to intervene in the next few seconds, this only ends one way now.

 

If he could only reach Xarvon from here, they’d be able to effect a different outcome. Chakotay would rip out this bastard’s black heart with his bare teeth and spit it back into his dying face, and his soul would sing with joy while he did it.

 

He’s not that lucky. The universe is not that kind.

 

“Let her go now and you can walk out of here unharmed, Xarvon,” he tries. “I give you my word.” He would. In this desperate moment, Chakotay means what he says. He would let Xarvon leave, beam back to his deathstar stealth ship they cannot find and continue dogging their heels indefinitely if he will only let Kathryn walk away from this encounter unharmed. “If you want, we can make a trade,” Chakotay adds quickly, knowing that will never be enough. “Let her go, and I’ll come with you instead.”

 

“The hell you will,” Kathryn snaps out in the first sign of genuine alarm, but it’s not her response that Chakotay hears.

 

“Will you?” Xarvon’s laughter burns him, a brand of finality stamping through his insides. “What kind of a fool do you think I am? No. The captain is coming with me. I might not be able to bring down your ship today, Commander, but a few weeks with her, and we all know I’ll have what I need to do it – I have her, I have everything.”

 

His words resound in Chakotay’s buzzing ears. Everything. He already has everything. He has Chakotay’s center of mass.

 

Once more, Kathryn is eerily calm.

 

While his mind whirls, clawing for options which don’t exist, it penetrates that Ayala is trying to catch his eye, ready to take the shot if he’s asked, and Chakotay is struck by a bolt of hysteria in the sudden urge to laugh. That would have been ideal if Xarvon hadn’t noticed him trying to get a better position two minutes ago. Xarvon has kept Ayala in his peripheral vision the whole time, has been careful to back away at the perfect angle to both men. Ayala has an even worse angle now than Chakotay does. Chakotay doesn’t bother looking at him because the shot isn’t Ayala’s to take – even if he knows Mike would give anything to take the bitter choice off Chakotay’s shoulders.

 

There is no choice here. Not for him, not for Ayala, and certainly not for her. Nothing she can do from her position doesn’t get her head blown off. Nothing Ayala can hit takes Xarvon’s chance to kill her before he can aim again. Xarvon has only two more steps to take before he reaches the door that will lead him out into a corridor with endless branching avenues of escape from this building. When he does, he takes Kathryn with him. She won’t let him get much farther than that, only past the point where he could harm Chakotay or Ayala, before she makes a move that forces him to kill her.

 

And that’s the best case scenario once they cross that threshold. The worst is that he does manage to subdue her, and if that happens, what awaits her on his ship is worse than death. It can’t be allowed to happen. All three Starfleet officers are well aware of that, and yet…and yet Chakotay’s finger is frozen on the trigger of his phaser, his bones brittle ribbons of ice curled around burning warm metal.

 

Not like this, he silently pleads to any spirit who might still hear him – or maybe just to her. Don’t make me be the one to do this.

 

“Chakotay.”

 

Her hard voice snaps him out of the sensory bubble that has shielded him from bitter reality for three stolen seconds of time. His eyes refocus on her, his whole universe converging in one face. She’s so certain. So unyielding. She has no doubt that he will not let her be taken alive into the hell Xarvon intends for her, to be used against the ship, no matter what the cost to him personally.

 

It shouldn’t surprise him that this is how she’ll meet her end. In control. Giving orders. Fully cognizant of the sacrifice she’s making and why she’s making it. Never thinking about what that sacrifice will do to those she leaves behind, never questioning the part that comes after. It was always like her to be that way about her own death. In this tortured instant, he both fiercely loves and bitterly hates her for it.

 

“Chakotay.”

 

 It’s softer steel, a thousand words in one. Do it underlines every one of them. Her neck inclines in the slightest of nods, all she can manage with her head being wrenched so far back against Xarvon’s filthy shoulder.

 

How noble. She’s sanctioning her own order, letting him know she understands why he has to follow it. Forgiving him, absolving, approving of him before he does it. It’s supposed to comfort him later, when he thrashes against the nightmares in twisted sheets atop an empty bed.

 

“Chakotay.”

 

The last is the barest whisper. He’s never even sure she says it the third time, but if she has, and if he tries, he can detect a faint hint of remorse lacing the syllables she repeats with such care.

 

How ironic that her last word is going to be his name. Her last order is going to be her death. Her last command is going to be his destruction and he has no choice.

 

Xarvon takes that last step back; Kathryn’s blue, encouraging eyes are all that exist. Chakotay takes on one last burden for her because her steady gaze is telling him he can’t fail her now, even if it’s the one burden that will crush the peace and soul right out of him. Even if she has no right to ask him to take it. Not this burden, she doesn’t.

 

He tries to tell her with his last gaze; he would gladly have given her everything. Anything but this.

 

Xarvon’s hand is on the door. Fate has not seen fit to intervene on their behalf this one last time. Chakotay’s world is steely blue eyes, the smallest, faintest scar above a red, determined brow and thirty years of conditioning takes over. His academy instructors are whispering in his head, his own internal voice echoing, repeating the same sage instructions to those who have trained under him.

 

Shoot for center mass. Shoot for center mass. Shoot for center

 

He does. Chakotay fires. And his world stops at the pinpoint end of orange laser light.

 

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End Note: And I would've left you there, but Brianna Thomas takes mercy on all your poor souls in a sequel that made the writing of the above soooo worth the energy just to be able to see, linked here: A Necessary Evil