I could hardly get my bearings in the jubilant mass of people at graduation. Friends and classmates were streaming past me, clapping me on the back and grasping my hand in congratulations. I knew I should be focused on how momentous this day was for me. A young man from Dorvan whose father believed in the land and the trees, and now here I was, about to join the stars.
And yet, her face was all I wanted to see.
My breath caught as I found her, smiling and laughing, her arm looped through that of another young woman. All that gorgeous red hair was piled high on her head, and I remembered it spread on my pillow just a few hours before as she gazed up at me with flushed cheeks and sparkling blue eyes. I felt winded and unsteady, wanting to burst through the crowd and wrap her up in my arms. To carry her back to bed and love her again.
It happened quickly then. The same man who had just given me my commission, the admiral we had all respected and revered since our first day on campus, strode up to her and took her in a protective embrace. I would have been a fool to miss the resemblance, the similar mannerisms, so evident between them. I felt my throat close as the realization washed over me like a wave of cold water.
That was why she had been afraid. She was a legacy with a Starfleet pedigree, likely bound for the fast-track to command. I was a newly minted ensign about to head into space for months on end. We were from two different words, and the divide would only grow.
I understood now why it couldn't work.
As much as it hurt, I took one last look at her radiant smile and ocean blue eyes as she laughed at something her father said. She would be a memory to tuck into the corner of my heart for years to come. I knew I couldn’t have her, but I would never forget her. With an ache in my chest and a faltering step, I turned to join my friends, praying to the spirits I would find Kathryn Janeway in my life again one day.
It wasn’t our time.
I could smell the rebel, the danger in him the first day we met after all those years. Leather and fuel mixed with sandalwood and smoke.
He was older now, the contours of that handsome face more defined, subtle lines around his eyes and streaks of grey in the thick black hair. A man who had lived a lifetime since I lay beneath him and gasped his name to the darkness.
He was still stunning.
His eyes had changed the most, I realized. As we spoke in my ready room I could see a weight, a heaviness that hadn't yet settled in the face of a dashing young academy senior. But underneath it, I saw the same tenderness and warmth that had pulled me into a stranger's arms with a feeling of blissful comfort. My skin tingled as I realized with a start that they were pulling me again.
I cleared my throat though, and remembered another man. The man I had kissed goodbye just days before. The man I was engaged to marry. I told him the truth.
It wasn't our time.
I had never fallen in love before, not like that. Not where every morning I woke up and felt a staggering rush of gratitude to spend another day by her side. Not in a way that made me want to fall to my knees and thank the spirits everyday that I had her. It was humbling and overwhelming, and I had no idea what to do with it.
So I made her a bathtub.
We were giggling like cadets again when I led her to the woods, hands over her eyes, to surprise her. When I finally whispered, “Open your eyes, Kathryn,” the delighted gasp and utter joy on her face were worth every second I had spent on it. She spun around and threw her arms around my neck and I was lost.
A few nights later, I told her a legend. Because I wasn’t sure she was ready, wasn’t sure it was our time yet. My heart was pounding in my ears as I spoke, and I’m honestly not certain I fooled her for a minute. The way she looked at me, with tears and affection written in her eyes, I knew our time was coming.
But it didn’t. Voyager came back instead. We left the bathtub behind and with it a piece of my heart that I felt torn out of my chest.
It wasn’t our time.
When I closed my eyes I could still smell it. Fear and smoke and death. Her death.
I couldn't breathe when I thought about it.
All I saw was her body in the shuttle, limp and weightless in my arms as I carried her and prayed, begging for her to be okay.
One. two. three. Breathe.
I hadn't performed CPR since I was in the Maquis, but the motions were still automatic. Thank God, because every thought I had was a frantic plea for her to wake up. I made promises to God, to the Spirits, to anyone would listen
Take me instead, please. Take anything.
I clutched at the hope that somehow it was all a dream. That she would open those dark blue eyes and tease me for making an excuse to press my mouth to hers, wave a hand and tell me she was fine.
She didn't though. She stayed deathly pale and the only breaths she drew were the ones I was desperately forcing into her lungs.
I heard wretched, bone wracking sobs and realized they were my own. I was shouting, screaming at her.
One. Two. Three. Breathe. Hypospray.
Her gasp and ragged cough were the most glorious sounds I had ever heard. I ran my hands everywhere I could reach, feeling the warmth of her body, the rise of her chest.
When I hauled her against me and felt her arms come around my back in a soothing embrace I was so damn thankful.
That it wasn't her time.
He was afraid. Terrified. I had never seen that before in his strong face, and it sent a chill through my heart to see him that way.
It wasn’t the fight that scared him, he had certainly seen worse. We had even seen worse together. It was the idea that he was losing his grip on reality, and that he would be a liability to all of us. He couldn’t bear it.
I couldn’t tell him, he could never be a burden to me.
I had never seen him look as vulnerable as he did laying on that biobed. I knew it wasn’t appropriate, but I couldn’t stop touching him. His knee, his chest, his face. Anything to reassure myself that he was safe and he was here.
When I asked him to go back, to reach out the aliens again to try and save us, I saw the determination enter his eyes. He would do it for me, I realized. And something inside me shattered. I had sent him into danger before, but never so personally. I could hardly breathe as I walked out the door and let the tears rush over me.
Later, when it was over, I sat in sickbay again while he slept. He looked worn and drawn, but he was here and he was safe. I reminded myself why I couldn't give myself to him the way I wanted to. Because there would be moments like this one, where I would have to make the choice to risk his life over the entire crew. If we were together, I could never have survived it. So I told my battered heart again.
It wasn’t our time.
I felt exhausted in a way I hadn’t felt in years. Not since the Maquis, when we were fighting a war we couldn’t win against an enemy who would stop at nothing to destroy us. When we faced cruelty and tuorture and a lack of humanity that left me reeling.
I couldn't stand to see that on Voyager.
She was angry, so angry, when I stopped her from harming that crewman. I don’t think she would have, not really.
Or would she?
We all reach that point, and I’ve been there myself. That point where the rage and the darkness spirals up from your weakness. It turns you into something you don’t recognize, something you don’t want to relive.
I couldn’t let her do that. She didn't understand why I stopped her, and I couldn't find the words to tell her.
If she gave in to the darkness, it would destroy us.
She’s the light. The moral compass. The driving force behind choosing what is just and right over what is easy and destructive. She was my light for years, even when she wasn’t by my side. Years when I didn’t even recognize the man I was, but I remembered the younger man I used to be.
The man who met a girl at a party and laughed and loved with her without a care in the world. That young man still believed in happiness and goodness, and the strength of our ideals. She made me want to be that man again.
I stopped her because, selfishly, I need her. And I don't want her to forget the girl I met back then. A girl who danced and teased a shy boy at a party, and then took him home to make love to her for the first time. A girl who kissed with abandon and loved with passion, and who had never had to bear the weight of 150 lives.
I wanted to run to her, to sweep her up in my arms and remind her who we used to be. To tell her I wanted us to be that again, and to stop the damn Delta Quadrant from taking away pieces of us I was terrified we would never get back. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t.
It wasn’t our time
I was not as anxious as I expected, about to head into a borg cube and voluntarily be assimilated with two members of my crew. I must have been of my mind. It was nearly time to go, and I couldn't afford to feel nervous now, so I leaned over to talk to him to distract me.
He asked me if I wanted the carpets cleaned, smiling across the console in the way he did when he was trying to hide his own fear and nervousness. He was afraid, I realized, that I wasn't coming back.
It winded me, the idea of never seeing him again. Of never getting to run my fingers of the now familiar lines of his face and breathe in his scent.
What destroyed me even more, was the realization that it was killing him too.
I knew I shouldn't, that it would only make it harder, but I offered him my hand. The current sparked between us, in a way it hadn’t for months now. Just when I thought we had settled into a warm friendship, it pulsed between us again. It caught me off guard, and I saw the heat and the anguish in his eyes as they held mine. I knew he felt it too.
Let go, my mind whispered.
But I couldn’t. Not yet. His thumb stroked a soothing line over the back of my hand and I felt our fingers interlace in an intimate hold. The closeness of the moment settled between us, and I prayed that he knew how I felt. His emotions were clear in his brown eyes, and the tenderness I saw written there nearly brought me to my knees
And, then, I let him go.
I wanted to leap into his arms, to wrap my legs around his waist and hold on to him for dear life. To whisper that I loved him, had loved him since the moment he smiled with those heart-stopping dimples and told me he would sneak me out of his dorm room.
But I didn't. I couldn't. And I left him standing on our bridge with tears in his eyes as I blinked back my own.
It wasn't our time
When I saw her on that planet the first time I had imagined I might be able to get through to her. That our connection would somehow push through whatever mind wiping she had been subjected too. I felt so certain we would know each other anywhere, but I was wrong.
She looked at me kindly, but with no more familiarity than a stranger. It destroyed me.
Then she looked at him, and I saw so much happiness in her eyes. My stomach twisted and my fists clenched. He put an arm around her, possessively.. As if she belonged to him.
Don’t touch her.
I had to leave before I drove my fist through a wall, and instead found myself retching in an alley as I pictured her with her hair falling down again, with love in her eyes. But she was in his arms instead of mine.
Still, she helped me. Trusted me. When we stood in the dark of her apartment and healed my arm I could see a curiosity in the way she was looking at me. We were so close, her eyes sparkling in the darkness. I could kiss her, I realized. I could stay here with her, with no parameters and no boundaries. I could make her want me instead.
Instead, we made it back to Voyager and left Quarra behind us. When I asked her if she wished I had never come, I wondered if she could see how split open my heart was. I was begging her to tell me she wanted me, not him. That she wanted this life instead. Her answer was steady and firm, and gave me the same sliver of hope. That maybe, someday. But today I knew she was still just offering friendship.
It wasn’t our time.
I could hardly believe it was all happening. My older self had broken every temporal directive in the history of Starfleet and was strutting about my ship like she owned it. She did, I supposed, but it was so confusing I couldn’t keep thinking about it. She wanted to get us home. Said we could get home. I didn't want to hope, but a small part of me couldn't help it.
Seeking some familiarity in the chaos, I invited him to lunch. He declined, which mildly surprised me, but it wasn’t as though it had never happened before.
He was probably just busy. Overthrowing the borg took copious planning. RIght?
Then, she told me. The admiral told me about Chakotay and Seven and everything I had ever wanted turned to dust.
I was suffocating.
All these years, all these near misses, and we lost our chance on the Earth’s doorstep. The dream that had held me together for seven years vanished, and I fell apart.
When I told him to take the helm I used his name. After all, he wasn't mine to command anymore.
It worried him, I could tell. He came to my ready room as soon as I fled the bridge, brow furrowed with concern, his hand reaching for mine. I didn’t let him touch me, didn’t let him break what little hold I had on my composure. Every part of me ached when I told him.
This wasn't our time.
And it never would be.
But time was a way of bringing us all to our knees and showing us what matters the most. In the end, it's all about how we chose to spend our time, and who we want to spend it with.
I chose her.
Because my heart had always chosen her. I just didn't always know it. I made mistakes, and thought too much might have passed between us to go back, so I tried to move on.
Thankfully, the minute I watched her walk away on Voyager, my heart reminded me.
I was so nervous, terrified really as I watched her in that ballroom. Every man there wanted to take her to bed, to hold a piece of her effervescent aura in his hands. She was dressed in shimmery gold, shining brighter than a nova star, and drawing me in with equal gravity.
I knew, it was tonight or never.
So I drank too much, the desire and the apprehension leading me to reach for just one more glass of brandy, and then champagne as I watched her dance with every man in the room. I was over 40 years old, and the thought of telling this incredible woman what I thought about her had me so twisted in knots I could hardly breathe.
After hours and more glasses of liquid courage than I cared to count, I went to find her.
We collided, swaying and laughing, and I felt the thick coil of anticipation as I stared into those stormy blue eyes. And suddenly, I wasn’t a middle aged man who had made more than his share of bad decisions and mistakes. I was twenty-two, making love for the first time to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and handing her a piece of my soul I never got back.
The feelings passed over us like a spring rain, surprise and sadness and misty dreams. All the times I had reached out my hand for her, only to pull it back. All the moments she had held my gaze a little too long, eyes shining with a memory we both wouldn't let go. All the nights I closed my eyes to dream about pressing her body to mine and telling her I still wanted her, still loved her.
I didn’t want to wait any longer.
So I kissed her. Deeply, passionately and like a man who knew he nearly ran out of time. And, thank god, she kissed me back.
As if we had all the time in the world.
He’s lying here beside me now, deep in sleep with his warm, solid body wrapped tightly around mine. It's strange, but beautiful, to find myself back here twenty five years after the last time I went to bed with this man.
I still can’t believe he told me that I was his first. It still makes me laugh and blush about it as I remember the sheepish expression on his handsome face, the way his golden skin flushed with color when he told me. All these years, all this time. I never knew.
There was so much we never knew.
But now, I’m tracing patterns over his tattoo and watching his full lips parted in sleep, and every frantic, lost part of my heart has settled quietly in my chest. It's peaceful in a way I never dreamed of. It's love in a way I never felt before.
I’m going to marry this man. Build a life with him. Maybe have sweet dark haired babies with him. We’ll make love under the stars and have fights in the kitchen. We’ll grow even older and greyer, and I’ll still think he is the most incredibly attractive man I have ever met.
He stirs a little and tugs me closer, my cheek coming to rest more fully on his shoulder as his breath caresses my face. I lean in to tell him, to make sure he knows.
This is our time.