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Two years of unresolved matters comes to a head, brewing tension within two families.
20th - 30th September 2015
1st - 2nd, 4th - 17th, 20th October 2015
Kathryn wished it was better circumstances that brought her here, however it still felt good to be back amongst familiar faces, to be back home on Voyager. There was no time to really catch up, there was a lot to talk about with the people she knew. She scanned the Conference Room to see who was there. There was one person she expected to be around, it seemed odd that he wasn't. The thought of Damien being on her ship, sitting with her friends was just as unnerving and very irritating to her. For now she kept it in the back of her mind. There was no need to make the hole they were in any deeper.
"There's been rumblings for a while. Game activity had become far more common place. The people who had survived reported many more experimental games, rule changes. Actual Softmicron sightings had decreased," Kathryn began while she paced around the table. Everyone watched her intently. "The rare few were in games themselves, instead of the sprites that usually inhabited them. Survivors described them as ruthless, soulless. These games would be won narrowly, some thankfully because of the experimental rule changes.
"Then a few Tolg outposts suddenly vanished without a trace. Our vessel was sent to investigate. That's when we discovered it. A blue wall, surrounding two sectors. Four outposts within them. The collective ordered us to penetrate it." She paused in case there were any comments or questions so far.
"Aren't Game Spheres usually purple, like the cubes?" Harry questioned.
"Really, that's the question you ask? I'm curious as to how the Tolg know all this," B'Elanna said.
"We have no reason not to trust the Captain, it doesn't matter," Harry said.
Kathryn smiled at them both, anything to hide the uneasiness she felt with her coming answer. "The Tolg are very interested in the Soft's technology. They focus on assimilating planets that have been targets."
"Oh," B'Elanna said uncomfortably. Harry resisted directing his told you so face at her.
"It was easy to slip through the blue barrier. That was when our vessel powered down and every drone fell where they stood. I thought that I could finally be free when this happened, but the implant in my skull," Kathryn said, gesturing to the flashing light mostly hidden within her hair. "Activated, effectively reviving me, or more accurately my brain. The younger the drone, the chances of it working increase."
"The Tolg don't keep people alive forever," the Doctor chimed in as he leaned on the table. "Their technology only stalls the decomposition process. It's still impressive that the neural amplifier can stimulate a deceased brain after so long, as that is most commonly the organ that prevents resuscitation. As you know, they're extremely complicated..."
"Thanks Doc, we got it," Tom butted in as the topic was freaking him out.
Kathryn's smile grew. Even if the topic wasn't worth smiling over, she had missed the banter this crew always had, whatever they were talking about. Nevertheless she continued, "the Tolg ship was useless to us. We took what we could and abandoned it, in search of another. Specifically a one that would rouse less suspicion. We found a world that knew enough about the Tolg to remove the majority of the technology that wouldn't kill us. The rest, well, is necessary.
"We've spent a significant amount of time investigating the anomaly. The first port of call was the outposts I mentioned. Like us, they were disconnected and several drones had survived. A couple joined our crew, saying they had a lead they wanted to pursue. That lead was a strange crack in space, blue and red mixed together. I was certain I'd seen something like it before."
That part of the story made the rest of the Conference Room perk up, they stared at her far more intently than before. Even Damien seemed interested. Kathryn avoided looking at him and continued, all the while stopping behind the head chair where Tom sat. He glanced up as she leaned on the back of its head. "It was surrounded by a darkness that didn't even seem real. Darker than space. I couldn't believe it. It then spread two thousand kilometres before our eyes. This crack sat in its dead centre. Our scans picked up subspace readings from it, but everytime we scanned this darkness the sensors would go blank.
"We had no other leads, so we headed for the nearest habited world. Only we never found it," Kathryn continued. "In its place was a completely different system. We were searching for a binary system, five planets. Instead a one a little similar to the solar system; six worlds, one habited, one star, numerous dwarf planets. We double checked our astrometric data, but we had no information about this particular planet and system. We visited anyway, we were greeted immediately by its lead fleet. It was a controversial topic with our crew, but a majority voted in favour of not telling this planet about the nearby anomaly we discovered. I was in the minority."
"Was this a tower planet?" Tom asked, eager for her to get to any familiar point. B'Elanna nudged him with her elbow.
Kathryn sighed, not out of impatience, just sadness. "They knew nothing about a blue wall, they did confirm that our data wasn't the problem. Constellations were off, they lost contact with their colonies. A few of their ships were missing. You get the idea. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary, so we left. I'll tell you now that I insisted countless times that we should warn them. That anomaly was so nearby. I was refused every time. You know me, I'm not one for being told what to do."
"You told them," Harry said with a smirk.
Kathryn however wasn't as impressed with it as him. "Their fleet escorted us out of the system. Before we jumped to warp, I left the lead vessel's captain a vague message with co-ordinates. It didn't matter, did it?" She looked over her shoulder so she could watch outside. One member of the fleet flew by their side, as they orbited a small grey world. A few members of the Conference Room followed her glance, even fewer still understood why and they fell back into their chairs uncomfortably from the realisation. "Maybe it saved them, maybe it was a coincidence. I don't know. When we tried to return, we couldn't detect the planet or its system. Instead, a black wave forced us to turn around and flee."
"Oh god," Tom stuttered when the realisation hit him too. "The Katane. It was them you told."
Kathryn barely nodded her head, her pacing continued so she could turn her back on the window. "That's right. I left the co-ordinates with a man named Shoytin..."
"Crap," Craig muttered.
Damien sniggered slightly, "priceless. I should be paying for this, it's so good."
Kathryn rolled her eyes, she wasn't the only one either. "I had no idea how my interference panned out. I don't even know if it had anything to do with why he attacked Voyager, I never mentioned you. You'll have to tell me."
"Enterprise tried to liberate Erayas when the wave took over," B'Elanna started to answer.
Tom nodded quickly, "at first they thought Enterprise was behind it..."
"Hold on," Harry butted in. "The Captain might not know the Enterprise's story. Maybe we should fill in the blanks."
Kathryn was already regretting asking. The rest of the room had begun to chime in as well. "Does it matter? They captured the Enterprise, found out the truth..." Tom said.
B'Elanna groaned, "that doesn't explain the fact that it was empty, or what we were doing at the time. Harry's right."
"She asked if her message may have influenced Shoytin's actions," Craig tried to intervene.
"Well that answer's clearly duh," Damien sniggered.
B'Elanna threw him a glare, "not necessarily. There was nothing linking it to Voyager or Enterprise."
"They blamed us for the anomaly, so I'd say it did," the Doctor said. "We saw the same crack before the anomaly expanded."
Neelix pointed at him, "that's true. I'm gonna vote yes too."
"He may not have had time to see it," Harry said warily.
Kathryn cleared her throat loudly to shut them up. Her face had stiffened in anger. Like in the old days mostly everyone froze at the sight of it. "It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things so..."
"Yes it does," Damien laughed. Everyone glared, not that it would put him off. "He obviously saw it before the anomaly grew. Am I the only one who figured that out? Of course I am. Fools."
B'Elanna narrowed her eyes in his direction. "He sent one of his ships inside the anomaly before he encountered us, or the Enterprise. He could have spotted it then." Damien scoffed and rolled his eyes. "I'm not saying you're wrong, just that it isn't the only possibility."
"Actually B'Elanna, he probably is. That ship discovered something, we never found out what it was," Tom reminded everyone. A lot of the room nodded knowingly, agreeing with him. "It obviously wasn't Erayas itself, they already knew it was there."
"Ahem, key word is discovered," Damien grunted in annoyance. "Shoytin already knew about it."
Kathryn finally looked at him, giving him a deadly glare. He stared back at her menacingly, then smirked at her.
"Tom's right. Shoytin was the only who knew what it was. We wanted to retrieve the Enterprise first, then investigate it," Harry said. "Other things happened that distracted us."
"It's what likely made him so... mad," Craig said awkwardly. The brief eye contact he shared with Kathryn made them both a little uncomfortable, she lowered her head. "Sorry."
"It's all right. The only real casualty was Shoytin, right?" Kathryn said, giving him a meek smile.
Tom winced, "actually." B'Elanna elbowed him again to tell him to shut up. "Yes. Thanks to yours truly."
"The next planet we visited," Kathryn said quickly to change the subject. "Which was before we returned to witness the anomaly expansion, were a lot less friendly. They insisted nothing was wrong and sent us on our way. We visited a few more worlds, all but one reacted similarly. The last one we visited before the anomaly incident, it... well I've never seen anything like it." The pain in her voice was obvious to everyone, it put everyone but Damien on edge. "You've seen a similar planet yourself, it's where we met after all."
Tom's face fell, "a dying planet?"
Kathryn nodded. "Yes, a little further along than that one." A few members of the room were a little shocked, the planet they were at recently, they couldn't imagine looking worse than it was. "People were evacuating it. If it weren't for our sensors we wouldn't have known it was there. Black clouds choking it to death, sensors showed the land collapsing into the core. Lifesigns falling thousands per minute. Sickening."
"Yes, terrible," Damien sniggered. He was of course ignored, which made him sulk and look bored instead.
"Our ship couldn't get through the clouds, our shields were too weak. We don't have transporters. There was nothing we could do. As we left, it began to collapse. I... never want to see something like that ever again," Kathryn said, her fiery eyes matched her sharpened voice. "It didn't fall in vain though. Our sensors found something strange as it was destroyed. Two buildings that remained until near the end, which vanished before the land beneath it weakened. Our sensors only caught it as we tried to find out what caused this problem, and that particular continent was where it originated from. In its death throes, this planet told us the truth about this place."
"Wow corny," Damien said in a bored voice.
"Can we kick him out, preferably into an airlock?" B'Elanna muttered to Tom. He just smiled weakly in response.
Kathryn meanwhile stared at Damien again, if looks could kill he'd be on the floor in agony by that moment. He didn't notice at all. She kept a lock on him as she paced. "Our previous scans told us that these towers were on all of the unfriendly worlds. What was even more disturbing was the evidence that one was being built on the first planet, Erayas. We naively thought we could stop it if it wasn't finished, so we rushed back.
"After the expansion, we overheard distress calls from a couple of planets. Each one described a large silver vessel opening fire on their power stations. We knew what that meant, there was no reason to respond. First we investigated the anomaly growth, then two nearby worlds, one of them being the one I mentioned. That was when we started to put the pieces together," Kathryn said, finally breaking her death stare towards Damien, just in time for him to notice.
"The towers caused the anomaly to grow. We're on the same page," Tom said.
Kathryn nodded, "for the most part. Am I right to assume that one of them was Voyager?"
"The Enterprise took down two, us one," Craig replied.
"Ah, so it's possible," Kathryn said. "I think you should know that there's no pattern here. Two networks went down and the anomaly grew from its tiny size. It didn't grow again until eleven more were destroyed."
Everyone stared with their eyes widening in shock. Even Damien was surprised, although while everyone else were shook by the news, he was a little impressed.
"I didn't know blond freak had it in him," he said.
Kathryn swung around to glare at him once again, this time she walked over to him. "What does that mean?"
Damien sniggered at her angry face, while everyone else cringed. "He's got a long way to go until he surpasses me, don't worry your coffee head about it," he teased.
Kathryn reached out to grab him by the scruff of his shirt, pulling him up out of his seat. "Why don't we change the subject to you, you scrawny little..."
"Uh, maybe we should calm down," Tom stuttered.
Harry shushed him, "no no, I want to hear this. Don't you?"
Tom sighed, "well yeah, I've been waiting all season but..."
"What's your problem Janey?" Damien sniggered despite his situation. "I did what I was supposed to. I fulfilled my side of it."
Kathryn growled as she shoved him roughly back into his seat. "Talk about James that way again, and I'll see to it you're back in the Tolg," she threatened.
Damien's eyes widened briefly while he smirked. "Ooh, you can tell someone's coffee deprived."
It was obvious to everyone that Kathryn was about to attack him again, she was trembling, fists clenched, her eyes on fire. Tom thought to put it out. "Oookay, so now that we're up to date. We should come up with a plan. Anyone, no? Dismissed," he said far too quickly.
"Hold on," Kathryn said through gritted teeth. "We're not up to date, not even close." Tom tensed as she turned to walk over to him. "I trust you know what the anomaly is, or have an idea?"
"A glitch, anything caught inside it is drained and the people suffer hallucinations," Harry replied.
"Hmm," Kathryn seemed a little put off by his answer. Everyone were looking at her to gauge her reaction. "The ship with a door closes the final link," she said ominously.
"What?" B'Elanna asked first for everyone in the room.
Kathryn bit her lip as her hands rested on her hips. "It was just some alien folks tale, about a cloud that moves the cosmos. It seemed oddly familiar to our current problem."
"It does?" Tom was more than confused.
Harry stared thoughtfully. "Moves the cosmos, could apply to the sphere mixing systems from the Beta and Delta Quadrant together. The ship with a door..." his face paled. "You don't mean?"
"Deck Thirteen," Craig finished for him, stealing his thunder.
Kathryn gave him a smile, "there's more to it, but I think you get the picture."
"What's the final link?" B'Elanna questioned.
"That I'm not 100% on," Kathryn admitted. "I assumed it referred to the final task to end the game."
"That doesn't really help us," Neelix said. "What was the full tale?"
Kathryn chuckled, "I don't know if it's worth putting all our faith in it. It just gave me a chill when I heard it, as I thought of Voyager."
"No surprise, you're dead," Damien commented.
"Please, maybe it'll mean something to us since our journey here was different," Neelix said.
"I don't remember it all. Something about four phases will falter, the fifth... um a new hope arises," Kathryn said in frustration. She leaned on the nearest chair to her, which was Craig's. "It was very detailed on these phases, but I don't remember I'm sorry. I heard it from a few protestors on Krralef. You know how they are, very spiritual. It's why I automatically jumped to Voyager. It could have easily been made up after they encountered us."
"Maybe James heard them too," Neelix said.
"Oh boy," Tom sighed.
Harry's face brightened, "I'll ask Tira." It immediately faded away, "though she isn't what you call a believer in things like that. Maybe a few members of her crew can help."
Kathryn shrugged her shoulders, "I shouldn't have brought it up. I mean..." The light flickered on her head at the same time something about the story came back to her. "Oh, um with the second phase comes darkness, heralded by the beacon of a haze. The third phase begins with a choice." Nobody looked any of the wiser after that, which made her a little embarrassed. "It's likely a load of Damien, not worth listening to."
Damien scowled, "that's contradictory. I'm great, definitely worth listening to."
"Sure," Kathryn laughed mockingly. "That does bring me back to you though."
"Oh joy," Damien groaned sarcastically.
"Does a Game Subspace Scanner ring a bell to you?" Kathryn asked.
Damien froze for the moment, he turned an odd shade of white and a little blue. "No," he answered finally with a fake smug smile.
"Oh sorry, I meant the Damienator Sub Game Detector," Kathryn said, not sounding sorry at all.
Everyone stared at Damien, very curious about what was happening. They all witnessed Damien getting paler and a bit anxious. "That's an infantile name, how ridiculous."
"Yeah I thought so too," Kathryn said honestly. "I'll explain for everyone, since I'm mistaken about your genius." Damien obviously flinched at the second smack to his pride. "In a parallel dimension to ours, a scanner was invented for the sole function of detecting Game Cubes before the warning cloud even appeared. The interesting part was that it would detect it in subspace, as it travels to its destination."
"Why would our Damien know about it?" B'Elanna had to ask.
"Oh, just that the Tolg had no previous awareness of this specific dimension and this device until he was assimilated in 2376," Kathryn replied. She noticed Damien shaking while clenching his teeth together. "Just a coincidence, I suppose. I guess I got mixed up with all the other dimensions he introduced to them."
"Oh boohoo, who cares," Damien grunted.
Kathryn approached him, her hands back on her hips. "They knew about Voyager's final year in that dimension, nothing after that. So much detail, it got my interest. During that time period you were a member of the crew. You died with them."
Damien swung his chair around to glare at her. "Who's fault was that? As per usual, all you cared about was precious Jamesy." When his anger fizzled away he groaned and rolled his eyes, "oh what does it matter?"
Kathryn smiled while the rest of the senior staff were wide eyed and worried about what was going on. "Oh so you do remember? I was wondering how the Tolg got that information when you didn't. Mystery solved!"
Damien growled, "you're treading thin ice here Janeway."
"Please, I was on your list long before I knew you. I couldn't care less," Kathryn muttered. "I should thank you though, at least we have something that may be useful and dare I say, good."
"Oh god," Damien groaned in disgust. It even made him gag a little. "No, it was like a lifetime ago, I don't remember the specs for it. I definitely wouldn't have when I died. So too bad."
"Uh," Tom raised his hand to get their attention. "Are we still talking about the Damienator? We're already in the sphere, how will detecting a game in normal space help us?"
Kathryn smiled broadly, "it already did." Another groan from the so called villain made her laugh briefly. "The readings from the initial tear matched the subspace the cubes travel through. Exact match."
B'Elanna sat up, her face lit up with curiosity. "Blue and red, the Games Matrix? Of course."
"Uh hold up," Tom was suddenly very nervous about this news. Everyone turned to him, unsure why. "In Daniel's latest vision, a tower is destroyed, a black wave spread through space. People burned to death, with a giant sun on the horizon. All came true. The final image, Voyager's hull buckles with red and blue colours reflected on it."
The news made the Conference Room feel so much colder than it did before, as well as tense and awkward. Nobody said anything. Damien's laughter briefly broke the silence after a minute, he stopped it as if he didn't mean for it to happen.
"Sorry, full circle. It's beautiful," he said, struggling to stop from laughing again.
Kathryn's eyes narrowed in his direction, he smiled back. It all came flooding back to her. "The first phase begins and ends with a shattered circle. Come the second phase, influenced by a mother's love and with it the second phase ends in darkness, heralded by the beacon of a lavender haze. The third phase begins with a choice, shattered by death's cruel embrace. On the fourth the stars begin to align, offset by the span of time. Ends on a painful scream. Four phases all falter, birthing the fifth phase and the cloud that moves the cosmos. The ship with a door closes the final link. The cosmos begins a new day."
"Wow," Tom mumbled. "Now that is corny."
"So that's everything settled then, is it?" Rachel asked hopefully.
Jessie had been focusing on the bedroom door while her mother spoke. The question pulled her around with a judgmental look on her face. "It's about as settled as a meal cooked by Neelix is."
Rachel wasn't going to let that put her off. "He's home, he's fine, and I've got some news."
"Oh, don't let me stop you," Jessie groaned sarcastically.
Rachel obviously didn't notice so she started to talk, just as Jessie headed for the bedroom. "Well as you know, me and Antony..." Then she realised her daughter wasn't interested in listening to her. "Jessica, I'm serious, this is important to me."
Jessie irritably walked back over to her. "Jess... ie."
Rachel rolled her eyes, "Jess. Your sister-in-law is in with him, I'm sure he doesn't need you now." Her eyes lit up, "oh that reminds me. Your sister left you a message. Something about transferring to the Enterprise. Anyway, getting back to me and..."
"What, that's it? Has she had the baby yet?" Jessie cut in to Rachel's annoyance.
"Um, she didn't say. She did say to thank you for warning her about the pain and I quote grossness," Rachel said.
Jessie raised her shoulders slightly while she smiled awkwardly. "I'm sure I did. In my defence, I tend to miss it. Three out of five ain't bad."
Rachel sighed impatiently, "yes, that's funny dear. Now, I've got some great news that should cheer you up."
"I thought you wanted to talk to me about Antony," Jessie said.
"Yes," Rachel said, trying not to sound offended. "As you know our wedding day was last week and..." Jessie's eyes widened, she looked worried. "Correction, as you should know our wedding day was last week, but since we're stuck in this silly game we couldn't reach the church we booked."
Jessie relaxed for moment, relieved she hadn't missed anything. She tried to laugh it off nervously, "I hope you didn't sent the invites before you got lost."
"Hysterical," Rachel briefly formed a fake smile.
Jessie's face tightened, any awkward nervousness and relief she had flew away. "Look, my family's lives have been turned upside down by a stupid little chip, planted by a stupid little jealous cow with a Kazon fetish. Ten sodding years ago. You're lucky I'm still here listening to you at all. I'm really trying here not to sound all doom and gloom."
Rachel could only blink a couple of times. She sighed as the guilt spread to her face. "You're right, I'm sorry. I was just thinking you could do with a distraction."
"Fine. How is your wedding being missed good news?" Jessie asked half-heartedly.
"Well we can always rebook it when we return, but Antony and I decided we've been waiting long enough. We'll have a small official ceremony on the Enterprise, and just have a ceremony for show at home," Rachel replied.
"Okay?" Jessie said as lightly as she could, hoping it would mask the dread.
"Two days time it's our anniversary, it seemed appropriate," Rachel said. Before Jessie could react she added, "I've found the perfect dress for you."
With the dread confirmed, Jessie shuddered in horror and revulsion. Not just at the dress part either. She tried to look disappointed, "oh, then I'm sorry, I'll definitely make it to your flashy show wedding. I assume that one's casual dress."
Rachel looked on, confused at her reaction. "Sweetie, I don't do casual dress."
Jessie groaned, the disappointment all the more real now. "No, neither do I."
Rachel beamed proudly at her, "that's my girl. Now, don't worry. There's nothing you need to do but show up and walk down the aisle before me. You've got enough on your plate."
"Yeah that's the problem. James won't be better in two days. I wish he could be, but that's not realistic," Jessie said, wiping the smile from Rachel's face. "I'll be at the second one though, promise. Since it's not the real one, I'll pick what to wear. Yeah, agreed. Great."
"If this is about the dress, I..." Rachel then laughed, "no of course it isn't. We have similar tastes."
"No, it's about James. But yeah, we don't have similar tastes," Jessie said.
Rachel sighed knowingly. "Don't I know it," she muttered, but not about the dress. Jessie was none of the wiser though as she still looked awkward. "You haven't seen it yet, you'll love it."
"Is it a dress?" Jessie asked.
"You know it is," Rachel answered with a frown.
Jessie winced through her teeth, "then no I won't." Her mother stared at her as if she suggested wearing a scruffy tracksuit to her wedding. "I don't wear dresses, or skirts. Long story."
"Oh, you did say something about that before," Rachel said, disappointed. "What did you wear for your wedding?"
"Um... trousers," Jessie lied, and Rachel saw right through it making her groan. "I couldn't find anything wedding-y, James suggested I should try, Danny suggested designing one. Ironic, it wasn't really wedding-y either." Rachel smiled, seeing her chance. "But two days isn't do-able. I won't ask you to postpone it, and I'm not saying that to avoid the dress."
"You'll be there," she said with a confident smile.
Jessie was starting to get annoyed with her again. "No."
"What's the big deal? So his family watches him for an hour. No big deal," Rachel said with a laugh. "Though why he needs to be watched at all is a bit strange. Sometimes when a guy is having one of his tantrums, he should be left alone. No attention and bam, they're fixed. They can be right children."
Jessie stared at her blankly. "Have you been listening to me at all? Or have you just been thinking wedding, wedding, wedding while I've been talking?"
"Sick people don't go for a shuttle ride for two weeks. I'm not buying it," Rachel said bluntly. She pointed her finger at the bedroom door Jessie tried to go in earlier. "I've seen it before. A new baby comes along and they get a bit needy. Don't cater to him."
"What?" Jessie muttered, not believing a word of what she was saying. If it was a joke, it wasn't that funny to her. "That's the worst way to get attention I've ever heard."
Rachel just shrugged, "you said he was clever."
"Ugh, clearly you were thinking about hideous dresses when I mentioned chips in brain, hallucinations, post traumatic stress dis..." Jessie said.
"Psychotic breaks. Yes, I heard you," Rachel said too casually to be serious.
Jessie shook her head, "I didn't say that."
"Oh, wonder where I got that from?" Rachel asked herself out loud, prompting a scowl from her daughter. "It's one hour darling. That Leanne can babysit him while you're gone. He's not going to drop dead in that time."
"Lena," Jessie corrected her.
Rachel sighed irritably, "oh, I suppose that's short for something too."
"No and you can't accuse her of having a masculine name. What she used to go by though, yeah," Jessie mumbled. She shook her head at the change of subject. "It's no big deal. So I don't come to one of your weddings, it's..."
"It's why we put it off so long, remember? So you'll be there," Rachel snapped, making Jessie freeze a little. Her mother settled down, breaking into a smile but Jessie remained still with a feeling of guilt. "It will get your mind off all this sadness. It'll do you some good. Oh and, I'd clear your schedule for tomorrow evening too."
Jessie nodded lightly until the last sentence clicked with her. "What, why?"
Rachel giggled, "rehearsal dinner of course."
"That's fine. I don't need to practise walking and not putting on a dress," Jessie said. She tried again to escape to the bedroom.
"It's only a name. It's a party and you're going to it, if I have to magic you there I will," Rachel teased, stopping her yet again.
It took all the effort Jessie could muster to not shout at her mother for failing to note the seriousness of the situation. All she could manage was covering her annoyed face with her hands.
The only thing keeping Commander Chakotay from losing his mind and wallowing, was watching the three men in the parallel cell to his bicker about their now tenth escape plan. Like every other time one of them would sit down in what Chakotay could only describe as a bad Yoga pose, and mutter nonsense for five minutes. When nothing happened as always, the other two would give him grief for a while before sulking in different corners until the next round.
Unfortunately during their sulking stage, or when they were sleeping, there was nothing to really distract him. He would think about anything and it would eventually lead back to his current circumstances. Everytime he would ask himself how he got there. At least then his mind would go blank, as he had no answer.
The door to the brig opened, instantly causing a rift in the routine. It was likely a visitor for the three men, as it always was. The only exception was a Security officer getting confused as to which brig he was in and quickly leaving as it was the wrong one.
It took a while before he noticed something about this visit was different. The three men were whispering their plans to each other, their eleventh escape plan more than likely. They wouldn't do that if they had a visitor, that usually came immediately afterwards.
Chakotay forced himself to look up and check. The sight of the new arrival hit him hard, it took his breath away. His throat closed up, making it difficult to get it back. He started to consider that perhaps he had fallen asleep and was dreaming her. It wouldn't be the first time, so he braced himself for it to end in a horrifying nightmare as it normally did. It seemed like it already had progressed that far as he noticed the scars and the complexion of her skin, the metallic features and her almost white eyes staring right at him.
"We have a lot to talk about," Kathryn said, her voice was neutral. It was difficult to know what she was feeling. "I debated what to and how to start, then I realised why should I? But I know you're not one for defining parametres, so I thought I'd tell you a story. An ancient legend I heard on my travels."
Chakotay tried to get rid of the lump in his throat, with no such luck. It didn't matter, it wasn't what was keeping him from saying anything. Her words brought some meaningful memories back.
"It's about an angry warrior, who lived his life in conflict with the rest of his people. A man who couldn't find peace. He struggled for years with his fear and fury. The only satisfaction he ever got, came when he passed it on to others. This made him a pariah amongst his people, but the warrior still longed for the truth buried within himself."
He wanted to say something, badly, to put this to an end. Another side of him wanted to let her finish.
"What caused it? One fateful day, the warrior sparred with a fellow warrior. A woman he allied with. She called on him to support her, because her own tribe were fighting against her and her kin. The woman warrior knew her time was running out, she knew there was only one option left. The angry warrior had swore to himself that he would stay be her side, doing whatever he could to make her burden lighter. That her needs would come before his. It was the peace he had long fought for."
Her head shook, yet her voice and face remained neutral despite the words she was saying. "On that day, he turned his back on her. The woman warrior was lost in battle, but not in spirit. She had entrusted that with him, so she could keep fighting to protect her kin even in death. He left her side, did whatever he could to make her and her kin's burden heavier. His needs came first." Her voice turned cold for the last sentence, "and in that way, the warrior began to know the true meaning of darkness."
Chakotay tried to look composed, he thought he pulled it off. Inside though he was dying. He said the only thing he could in response, "is that really a story you heard?"
He knew exactly what she was going to say next, so he prepared for it as she stepped closer to the forcefield separating them. "For your sake, I hope so." She may as well have punched him in the face, it felt like she did. "Perhaps you have a version of your own."
"I... I wouldn't know where to begin," Chakotay stuttered.
Kathryn's arms folded, her neutral face slowly faded into a one of contempt. "From the beginning. I really can't stand vague prologues based in the future, twenty years in the past, or something in the middle. It's lazy."
"I'm not sure where the beginning even is with us. I..." Chakotay said.
"Allow me," Kathryn said. "You didn't believe me, yet the first thing you did was take your anger out on James and your daughter." The air rushed from his lungs, making his chest heave. He didn't expect her to open with that. She stared him down, making him feel even more uneasy. She didn't fancy waiting for him to reply so she cut in, "in your mind, I wouldn't be dead if it wasn't for them."
"No," Chakotay protested but far too quietly.
"No?" Kathryn pretended to sound surprised. "You never liked James, you resented him, so unfortunately I can understand hitting him. But Lena? All she did was rightly ask why you didn't come to her mother's funeral. The nerve of that, huh? How selfish and inconsiderate of her to need her father at a painful time."
"Kathryn," Chakotay interrupted.
"Losing her daughter to the Q, her mother being murdered. That spoiled little girl deserved more than a slap for daring to..." Kathryn grumbled.
Chakotay couldn't take it anymore, "stop! That's not what happened."
"Well, if nobody tells me, I have to fill the gaps in the story for myself," Kathryn said. "I know you didn't expect me to know any of it, but still. I do."
"I didn't think it was possible, I couldn't accept it," Chakotay said. Even he was tired of hearing the same old excuses he had just spoken and were still in the queue to be, he grunted in disgust. "I should have listened, had faith in you. Then you died and... I couldn't, wouldn't accept that you were right. James was there, bloodied and freaked out, I thought it would be so much simpler to accuse him. I was so stubborn, I even started to believe it. I became lost in the delusion."
Kathryn's eyes drifted away, her lips tightened together, he saw her cheek bones flex.
"When I was linked to the Tolg, the delusion became even more convincing. It all made sense to me. He had to exist so that you would die. He was too weak, so Lena suffered and died as well to make that right. The Soft targeting Earth, for god's sake space time itself, all because of him," Chakotay said. He could feel that old resentment building up again as he spoke. He feared it would make him fall for it all over again. He couldn't risk doing that, not now. "I know. I know what I've become. I deserve whatever you think of me."
Kathryn shook her head slowly. "That doesn't explain Lena, unless you blame her for the same thing." He tried to protest but she was too quick for him, "it doesn't explain what you did to Jessie. All of those efforts you made to go against my wishes, to disrespect everything I stood for. And why, you had to bring him into this."
"Damien?" Chakotay said, trembling from the wrath of her rage.
"He recovered his body, he got what he wanted. What did you expect him to do?" Kathryn snapped. She seemed to realise something, she gasped in an over the top fashion. "Oh that's right, without Damien being revived into his old corpse, you wouldn't have had any idea how to do it yourself."
"No," Chakotay muttered.
"No? Because that whole hoping he'd betray you, steal the shuttle and leave you behind plan was so convoluted, it made our Lena's origin story look like a children's book," Kathryn said. Chakotay's sigh frustrated her further, she stared intently into his eyes which he shut as soon as he noticed. "Damien was never going to hold up your end of the bargain, Chakotay. Remember that hatred, that blame you had for James. He has that for me."
"It was simple. He needed his body back, I needed you. The Tolg would never do a straight, one for one exchange. I could never give you up to them," Chakotay said, the pain pouring out of his every word. "He was going to leave us there, it's what he does. He only cares about himself. But he did nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Screens filled with alien languages, electronic charts and ship schematics lined every wall. Unlike a Borg ship, every surface shone under its piercing lights. Instead of a murky green, they favoured an iced blue and white colour scheme. Creepy in an entirely different way, it felt like a soulless hospital from far in the future.
Chakotay thought it was ironic that the collective who favoured the dead had ships that looked so pristine and bright, while the Borg's was so grimy and dark. Somewhere along the way, they got their ship designs mixed up, he assumed.
"Negative on both accounts," their collective voice replied. "We cannot accept the loss of this drone without the agreed replacement."
Damien seemed almost too gleeful as he pointed at the torpedo casing standing between him and Chakotay, and the quartet of drones ahead of them. "Well she's right here. Don't worry, all that coffee must be way gone by now."
Chakotay didn't even think about it. His hand swung across the back of the other man's head, causing him to scowl viciously back at him for it.
"Ow, it wasn't an insult you fool!"
"Excellent. We will zombify her into our collective, then we will return your body," the collective said.
Chakotay nodded, that was exactly what he expected. To his confusion and worry Damien wasn't particularly happy with the offer. "The agreement was that I'd get my body back first," he said.
An elbow to the ribs would fix it temporarily, "it doesn't matter, either way is fine."
He didn't see it, but Damien stared at him in contempt while his attention was on the casing. Three of the drones approached it, leaving the one that they had come for behind. Only two of them picked the casing up, the other kept walking toward them. Damien was instantly on his guard, he stumbled back a step.
"Wait a minute. I know how to swap bodies without the help of you zombies," he spluttered in a panic. He briefly looked to Chakotay, his eyes were wide. "You..." The drone grabbed his arm roughly.
Chakotay stepped forward, a similar look was on his face. "We had a deal!" he snapped at the room, knowing the collective would hear him.
"We will honour it," the collective responded.
Damien's relief was short lived. The hand holding him tightened, blood rushed to the surface. His skin felt like it was being punctured with thousands of tiny needles, setting his arm ablaze with an intense heat. The rest of his body was overwhelmed by a crippling cold on every heartbeat. On his last breath, the last thing Damien saw was Chakotay's look of indifference at his fate.
Damien's latest host lay lifeless on the white metallic floor, and yet the drone wasn't done with him. It peeled a small part of its own technology from its forearm. Before Chakotay could wonder about what was happening, it forced the tiny device into the host's skull. As soon as it did, a light blinked from it.
"Now you have your payment," Chakotay said. He noticed movement in the corner of his right eye. A slow turn of his head allowed him to see the drone resembling the true Damien standing beside him, staring straight through him. "It's time for the exchange."
"Correct," the collective said.
Chakotay breathed in deeply as if for the last time. Fear began to overwhelm him, his survival instincts tried to kick in. Angrily he attempted to push them aside. No hesitation, no regret. "I assume you've noticed. Get it over with," Chakotay said, offering his arm to the familiar drone next to him.
In those few seconds he knew how Damien felt in his final moments. The pain, the crippling heat and cold draining his life away. That was nothing. It was the stupidly bright room he was in fading to black while that was happening. He could barely see the outlines of closer objects when his brain was pierced. It didn't hurt but he was very aware of it. From what he saw of Damien, he knew he shouldn't be. He should be dead. Chakotay then wondered what would truly happen to him now. Would his restless soul linger for eternity, would he be pulled away against his will? Or just fade into the dark?
He had to focus or all would be lost. It was then the wave of voices struck him, drowning his own. So many images forced their way in, billions of them in a single second. Even still there were a few he could single out and see clearly.
Through his own perspective, multiple times over surrounding her from above, Kathryn's body lying in an open stasis unit.
And through only one, the inside of the shuttle, Damien's original face reflected in a console.
Kathryn stared at him pitifully as he once again tried to replay that event in his mind, his ego and sense of self shattered around him. "He ruined everything."
She didn't come here for anything like that, someone had to put a stop to it. "Damien did exactly what you wanted. His host was given to them as payment, he ran away."
"He knew. He knew all along that I was playing him," Chakotay muttered. He rolled his eyes and huffed, "but still, he never did anything. He played along right until the end."
At the helm of the shuttle Damien sat on his own, quietly seething towards a screen. His eyes scanned it multiple times, trying to make sense of it. Frustrated he couldn't he flung himself back in the chair.
The message on the neighbouring screen, still unfinished waited for him. He lingered on it, looking for anything hidden in it that could mean something else. It was only the final part that screamed to him.
"I know you will consider simply assimilating all of us, and why not? Do so and the information stops flowing. You lose a tantalising opportunity in your greed. With your thirst for knowledge, I'm sure you will find this offer more than satisfactory for the both of us. If you're interested, meet us at the co-ordinates..."
Damien slammed his finger down on the command that would transmit the message. The door behind him opened, allowing Chakotay to enter. He with a look of disgust on his face, and Damien with a one of fury. Each face was replaced by a mask as the former Commander sat down in the chair next to him.
"Not used to doing things on your own?" Damien asked lightly.
Chakotay faked a smirk, "a sarcastic quip about lazy commanders, from the guy who enslaved people to clean the toilets. Good one."
"It is much easier that way," Damien grumbled.
"Ironic isn't it?" Kathryn said, putting an end to the memory. "That Damien, the fool that hates me the most, and you the man who claims to love me the most. And he's the one that helps me."
"No, no, don't!" anger flared in Chakotay's eyes. "Do you have any idea what you asked me to do? What you expected of me? There was no guarantee that the Tolg knew anything."
Kathryn glowered at him with her usual death stare. His anger made him immune to it. "Chakotay..."
"No proof, no explanations, just oh Chakotay, when I die toss me to the zombie Borg, would you. Oh and darling, what should we do for dinner?" Chakotay snapped, making her stare flicker hesitantly. "It's just like you. Only you would think of something so ridiculous. No, that's not true. We have a daughter who would stay on a planet about to die, in the middle of power draining cloud, just to save a few extra people."
Kathryn's eyes glazed over at the last sentence, he wasn't done though.
"Then there's your son, who's no better is he? Who cares about everyone else's feelings, people are in danger and the only solution, is my solution. People who love me be damned," Chakotay's rant ended with a pained sigh. He didn't feel better for it, he had no idea how long he had been harbouring these particular feelings. Something about it was strangely liberating.
Kathryn stared solemnly toward him. It didn't help him feel any less guilty. "I'm sorry," she said, horrifying him.
"No, I don't want an apology. All I wanted was for you to understand, heck for me to," Chakotay said.
"Do you?" Kathryn asked gently.
Chakotay shook his head and scowled more toward himself. "No. You owe me nothing. I understand the isolating helplessness that comes with being the parent of a Slayer. You got it twice over. You wanted to help them without adding to their burden. For Lena, I should have trusted, believed in you. The evidence was right there all along. Yet, all I thought of was myself. You died and my peace was shattered.
"You think that trying to turn Jessie so she'd revive you, or hitting James while he grieved for his recently deceased mother were my lowest moments. You'd be mistaken. I don't even deserve your scorn, let alone an apology."
"Don't misunderstand. I'm sorry I asked something so horrid of you," Kathryn said. "I'm not taking the blame for your actions."
Chakotay nodded. "Good," he said honestly, out of relief. "He tried to pay me back for what I did to his wife. He didn't know about you. The first chance I got, I tried to kill him. Twice."
Kathryn's face froze, what little blue was left in her eyes fired to life. "Why?"
"I told you. I had convinced myself it was his fault," Chakotay answered bitterly. "He did it personally, or his failure to kill Frenit lead to it. His part in the paradox. Everything. I hated everything he stood for."
"If he's talking about who I think he is, join the club," one of his fellow prisoners whispered to another.
Kathryn made a mental note to slap all three men behind her, she wouldn't know which one spoke after all and that suited her fine. "Warlocks?" Chakotay's eyes shifted, lips curled slightly to confirm it. "Lucky me."
"I know he's your son and you love him deeply, but..." Chakotay said hesitantly. "There's an air of truth to what I said, even if I don't carry that hatred anymore."
"It's not James' fault that things have ended up this way. He didn't ask to be born or chosen," Kathryn reminded him gently. "He didn't demand more strength so he would literally be Chosen. He's just the easiest to blame. It's like blaming the white wash being ruined on the stray red sock. The blame falls on who put it there. It didn't get there on its own."
"You mean Q?" Chakotay questioned.
Kathryn's features darkened, her eyes were strangely haunted. "No, me."
"In your analogy, that's like blaming the washing machine," Chakotay disagreed. He pulled a face, "that sounded so much less offensive in my head."
"If I had known what it really entailed... Q was right, I wouldn't have made such a sacrifice," Kathryn said as her voice strained. Chakotay felt a rush of instant regret coming out from it, something he wasn't used to hearing from her. It was unnerving to say the least. "This would have fallen on someone else's shoulders. It'd be their burden. Q chose us because he had faith in us, or even in me, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, I wonder what would be if I refused."
She made eye contact with him as if preparing for the final act, "I do know we wouldn't be here, having this discussion."
"What? How do you know all this, what are you talking about?" Chakotay stuttered.
Kathryn managed to smile through the pain and hesitance, something that he was sure she had stolen from him sometime during this encounter. "From what you said, I assumed you knew. I suppose without any Tolg technology left, it's only what you work hard to remember that remains."
"Kathryn, I know about the diverging timelines. Kes told of us of a one without Lena, and about the one where she was born. I saw a brief glimpse of a one where James wasn't on Voyager. If there was one where you actually had a choice in this circus, I'd remember it vividly," Chakotay said.
"Hmm," by Kathryn's tone, she sounded disappointed and somehow relieved at the same time. Her face had changed so he couldn't read it and find out which it was. "Doesn't change my point, does it?"
Chakotay wasn't sure what she meant again, his head shake told her that.
"Your blame was pointed in the wrong direction. James and Lena never hear of this, understand?" Kathryn said determinedly. "I've inflicted enough on them and so have you. We need them to be strong, with nothing to hold them back. They need us to be a united front to aid them. All of us are crucial players in this game. I need to know if you'll willingly be one of them."
There was no hesitation, nothing to regret that he could think of. "Of course."
Lena felt like she had been there hours. The silence was painful. Everytime she considered breaking it her mind would go blank, or she'd think of something to say and quickly realise it wasn't good enough. For now she leaned by the door, keeping a watchful eye on her brother as he stood at the window, staring into literal space.
The warning that the Doctor had given her and Jessie still weighed on her mind, which was likely why nothing she wanted to say was any good. James had very likely heard everything she thought of so far, still he didn't respond. Was there any point in saying anything? Apart from when he hallucinated, his side was closed off. She had no idea what was going through his head, or whether or not the drug the Doctor had given him was numbing his telepathy in any way.
What to talk about hit her suddenly, she doubted he had time to really make sense of it before she said anything. "You remember the story I told you about my timeline James? About how he felt when Zare and her brother were killed on that ocean colony? I never told you the rest of it. I'm sure you have your own version of it, considering..." She hesitated briefly.
"Doesn't matter. It was just a routine mission for supplies. Turned out that a group of vampires were stranded there, waiting for any ship to come along to feed off, steal parts from," Lena said anyway.
James didn't move, however Lena felt a little flicker of recognition from him. There were no words, to Lena it felt like the story was familiar to her as if she experienced it. Nevertheless she didn't let that put her off. "He told me the parts they stole from his shuttle were vital. However he later admitted that he wanted to make up for running away in the incident with Zare. Their deaths kept him up every night, especially the boy's. He was just a kid, who wanted to save his sister.
"That was when my James first met Frenit," Lena said a little hesitantly. She waited to see if there was a response to that, when there was nothing she continued. "I was right, you have your own version. However this'll be where it differs. My James wasn't as strong as you. He did things he regretted to stay alive but it was no use, Frenit won. Somehow, his team got him out of there and took him back to Voyager. While they were occupied the vampires fixed their own ship and left."
Lena breathed in deeply, her shoulders raised and then lowered as she breathed back out. "Zare and Rean weren't the sole reason for that James' guilt. Those vampires ravaged every planet they picked and expanded their own group doing it. In his mind it was his failure to stop Frenit, not retrieving that part, that killed so many people. That was what took him a while to get over. And he did, you know. It wasn't his fault. It took two us, two Chosens to finish Frenit off. That James was a Natural, he couldn't have stopped him. Besides, even though the odds were against him, he still in his words at the time cleaned up his mess. I dunno how, he never said.
"Those times where he isolated himself out of guilt, he'd always come off worse, he'd make mistakes and cared less and less everytime he was injured. The more broken down he was, the harder things got and the more things went wrong. Then he would feel bad about that. A vicious cycle. It took him a while to realise it. He wasn't a weapon, he acted that way because he was Human. It's such an obvious realisation to some, but for us, it's still a question. What's better? In his case acting like a weapon; not bothering to heal, refusing to sleep and eat, just focusing on the job, got him into so much trouble and nearly killed him. The times where he remembered he was still a guy with a family, important for more reasons than just being strong, were when he excelled. He'd survive to keep on fighting.
"The point is; even though that James had to fight by himself in my timeline, he wasn't alone. He said that he wouldn't have survived without Jessie, their kids, mum, me. I'm struggling here because I thought you had already reached that realisation, years before my James did. I mean, this is the same argument you used to talk me out of the same thing. So I don't get it James," Lena started to stutter as her confusion sank in.
She tried to calm herself down before she started to shake. "Everyone's blaming the chip. This has been going on long before then though. It's not just me, Jessie thinks so too." While she was speaking, his head turned very slightly to the right toward her. She continued without realising it, "so whatever is causing this, it must be something that happened here and not in my timeline. Then I'm right back to where I started, thinking that a few kills that you can't be blamed for managed to break you. And I refuse to believe that. You're so much better than that. It took a lot more to almost break the other James and yet, it didn't, not to this magnitude so..."
"Go," she heard him mutter, startling her enough to cut her off completely and lose her train of thought. The only word he spoke then registered with her, it stung.
"What?" she whispered.
His head lowered ever so slightly, that was when she realised the movement he made while she was talking. "Go," he repeated. "You're just going to get hurt."
Lena rushed forward, anger taking over. "Going? You don't think you've hurt me enough already?" she blurted out without thinking, immediately regretting it.
James closed his eyes and turned his head away. In that moment Lena felt something from him, and she wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not. She tried to explain it to herself, but the only word that came to mind was acceptance. Thinking the word made her realise that maybe she was proving whatever point he was trying to make. At least that settled whether it was good or not.
"James, acting like this hurts the people who love you. If you're bothered about that, then the answer here is simple," she said.
That did something. He shook his head, as he did she felt so much bitterness and self hatred swarm out of him she had to try and close off her own telepathy to avoid it taking over. It made her skin crawl, she stepped back instinctively.
"You're better off without me," he said. "Everyone is."
She could still feel what he was feeling, lingering behind. His words added onto that made her throat swell. "That's not true."
"Safer," he mumbled.
"Safer?" Lena whispered. "Where's this coming from?"
It took a while for him to answer. "Everyone dies..." Lena froze before he could finish. "Around me. No argument. It's fact."
"No, you're wrong," Lena said quickly as if that would instantly change his mind, or before he could say anything further. Her mind raced to think of a more useful response, something that would convince him. Then a horrible realisation hit her. He may have a point. Their mother, his big sister, step mother, step father, Jessie, even herself. He'd lost two babies, one stillborn thanks to the same jealous Q that created Kiara, and Amy's twin sister gone for no reason that the doctors could find. His living children were lucky to be here as well, even their latest one had a brush with death when she was barely a few hours old. His father probably counted in his mind and twice, so there was another.
Lena was trembling viciously once she finished running through them all. She couldn't stop it. James stood there, staring at the stars. Now that she knew what was on his mind she wished she was still ignorant. The whole situation chilled her to the bone, no, to her very soul. For a brief moment, she wished that Ylara was in her place again. The selfish thought made her a little mad at herself, it was enough to calm her even a little. Now she knew, she had something to work with. It was how that was the tough part.
"That's not your fault," Lena said. She expected a rebuttal so quickly continued, "I know, I know. Your step mother was murdered to influence you. Mum was murdered by Frenit to get to us. That doesn't make it your fault though. You didn't do it personally. The only one that I can think of that was you directly, was your father and then you weren't even yourself. Considering what he did to you, it's a testament to who you are that you had to be evil to even touch him. I mean come on. Dad slapped me and I let him have it. I dunno, I don't get it. If I were you, as soon as he showed up on Voyager I would have given him a taste of his own medicine. But..."
"I don't blame him," James said quietly.
Lena wasn't sure what to make of that. "Blame him? I thought..." Then she understood what he meant, it made her angry again. "He was a mons... no, a coward. Only a weak, pathetic little idiot would smack around a little kid, his own son. You did nothing to deserve that, no kid does."
The silence took over. Lena waited for a minute for him to say anything, or do something for that matter. Desperate for anything, she opened her mind to see if she could hear anything from him. Immediately she felt like she was all alone in a dark room. Pressure slowly crushed her chest, as a horrible feeling she couldn't name flooded around her. Panicked she closed her mind again, just in time to hear the words, I did, echo in her subconscious.
She looked at James, still frozen in the same spot. His head turned only slightly toward her. The jaw clenched, just a little, but since he had gotten so thin it was so clear for her to see. "I'm sorry," he said and it was the only thing he said with any real feeling behind it. He meant it, the apology was riddled with guilt. It was probably the only emotion he was capable of so that didn't surprise her.
"Don't be. You didn't cause all of this pain, you're the one living it. You're not alone," Lena said. "Jessie, mum, me, we're all behind you, no matter what. We won't abandon you this easily, no matter what you do."
Kathryn hurried down the corridor, eager to get to her destination as quickly as possible, and to avoid more people seeing her. In her haste she neglected to notice someone step out of a nearby turbolift, and then follow her. She was almost by the door, finger raised to press the door chime, when the follower decided to get her attention.
"Grandma?" The young girl's voice stopped her completely in her tracks. The girl though used that as an opportunity to catch up and approach her. Her face brightened the closer she got, seemingly not put off by her appearance. "So the rumours were true for once. I can't believe it."
"Kiara?" Kathryn whispered. The shock lifted, quickly replaced by joy at hearing her. She turned to face her with a smile spreading. "You're back?"
"Yeah, you too," Kiara said with a relieved look on her own face.
Kathryn resisted the urge to reach for a hug, thinking that with the way she looked she would scare her. So far the girl didn't seem that put off, but she did have her hood up covering most of the damage. "I'm so glad, I bet Lena was too. How was the Q training?"
Kiara pulled a hesitant face, "oh, this could take a while. Maybe later."
"How did you know it was definitely me?" Kathryn asked.
"Please," Kiara scoffed, her finger raised to point at her. "Only you would do up your hair while wearing a robe like that."
"Hair?" Kathryn mumbled, as her hand flew up to check. Then she noticed that her hood wasn't up like she thought. "Oh. Well, that doesn't matter. You're another person I didn't expect to see here, another nice surprise."
Kiara smiled, then she spotted where they were standing and her face fell. "It can wait. You're going to see James right? I heard he was back."
Kathryn sighed a little in annoyance, "news still travels fast, I see." Kiara nodded a few times. "I'll be honest. Considering what I knew and where Voyager was, I only expected him and Jessie being onboard. I'm not complaining, I just, I'm not sure what to do. I need to help him but..."
"It's okay. I already said it can wait," Kiara said.
"No it's not okay. I need to make time for you. You, Lena and I..." Kathryn said.
"Yasmin," Kiara added on.
Kathryn stared at her blankly, "Yasmin's here too? I understand James, technically Lena, and you could go where you want. But why Yasmin, she's a civilian. She should be at home."
"I dunno, I wasn't here when they picked the crew," Kiara answered.
"Next you'll be telling me Phoebe's here, or my mum," Kathryn said, only partly serious. Kiara shook her head and shrugged, all with a smirk on her face. "Wow, they've really gone out of their way, haven't they?"
Kiara was confused, "who have?"
Kathryn gave her a warm smile, "just muttering. Look, give me an hour to check on him. Lena and I will join you and Yasmin in the Mess Hall then, okay?"
"But..." Kiara said uncomfortably. Kathryn's expression told her she wasn't going to budge on that. Instead of standing down and agreeing, it just made her inspired to speak her mind. "We can't do that. It feels like we're excluding James, abandoning him, just because he's sick. It's not fair."
Kathryn's smile wavered, though Kiara's protests made her feel prideful of her granddaughter. Ignoring her earlier concerns and fears, Kathryn reached forward to pull her into a hug. She was more than relieved when she hugged back tightly.
"We're not excluding him from anything," Kathryn whispered into her hair. "When he's better we'll have our family get together. You, Lena, Yasmin, James, Jessie and their children. What I'm suggesting is something to tide us over in the mean time. He meanwhile won't be alone, he'll have Jessie with him."
"Phoebe and your mum?" Kiara asked in a voice that sounded like she was teasing her.
Kathryn chuckled, "we'll just have to have another one when we get out of this game."
"What about Chakotay?" Kiara asked, her lighter mood instantly gone.
Kathryn pulled away slightly so she could look her in the eye. "For today, lets just invite the girls. Okay?" she said it as jokingly as possible.
"Right," Kiara didn't fall for it. "I don't feel right about you leaving James in exactly one hour, when the time runs out. It'll seem to him like he's a chore, part of the routine. Oh it's three pm, time for the next appointment."
Kathryn grimaced, she was right on the surface. However Kathryn wasn't sure if he'd even notice such a thing. Not that it made the insult any better. It lowered her mood considerably. "Still meet me there, sweetheart. If I need to stay with him past that time, I'll leave you a message. All right?"
Kiara still wasn't happy with the idea, her head shook, "but..."
This time Kathryn definitely wasn't going to budge. "I want to hear everything. The training, your life here. I so badly wanted to make up for lost time with Yasmin, as even though I tried when we were staying at my mother's house, it wasn't enough. I want to hear about Lena, and how she's managing with remembering her previous life."
"That... that's going to be more bad stories than good," Kiara said.
Kathryn smiled again, "I don't care. We can't ignore the bad, if we do, we only make it easier for the bad stuff to hurt us later."
Kiara couldn't help but giggle at her and she didn't know why. "Use that on James and he'll be joining us later."
"I may have to write it down, improvising isn't really my thing," Kathryn had to laugh too.
"Yeah right," Kiara said.
Kathryn raised her right hand to brush some of her granddaughter's hair back behind her ear. She smiled proudly at her, "my little girl. You've grown so much."
"Mum... stop, you'll make me get all teary," Kiara just laughed. Her head shook. "I mean grandma."
"I'll tell you what. You call me whatever makes you comfortable. As long as it isn't rude of course," Kathryn said. "I don't mind mum as long as it doesn't bother your actual mother. I really don't. You'll always feel like one of my daughters, okay?"
"I doubt it would bother her. I think she'll always prefer to be called Lena," Kiara said.
Kathryn gave her a brief wink, then an amused smile. "Maybe you should consider mummy, you're still only nine after all."
Lena shook briefly, causing Jessie to stare at her with a quizzical frown. "That bad, huh?"
"Something horrible's just happened," Lena mumbled.
"Sounds about right," Jessie said wistfully.
Lena fidgeted slightly as she leaned against the back of a chair. "I wanted to return the favour, but I really just made things worse."
Jessie looked at her sadly. "At least he's talking to you. You must be doing something right."
"Believe me, I don't think you want him talking to you," Lena said honestly, feeling the need to shudder again. "All I did was speechify and lose my temper."
"You're being too hard on yourself. I've known him for so many years and I can't figure out what he's thinking," Jessie said.
"Well we both know it's not as simple as guilt," Lena said, prompting a nod from Jessie. "Or the chip. If the culprit's intention was to destroy him, it worked."
Jessie averted her eyes, Lena wondered why. "That part's no big mystery, the demon in Nathan wanted to keep up its charade. James acting out was a way to point blame away, distract us."
"That doesn't explain the later damage to it," Lena said.
"It had unfinished business. When the Doc first said it was physically damaged, I knew..." Jessie said uncomfortably. "The demon wanted him to suffer."
Lena's composure started to fail her, "but how, why? How did he do it? James was already crumbling from everything that's happened to him. Debbie was already on his mind. It's still guilt, I felt it. It's just not the only thing." Her voice was getting higher and more strained, it started to tremble with her as her face turned whiter. "How did Nathan, no why did the demon use the chip to prey on that? It was already working. What was the point in making it more powerful? So he gets the memory visions more often?"
Jessie felt the same wave of panic that Lena did once she finished rambling. The younger girl finished with, "does James know Nathan did it, and that's how?"
"Why else would he activate a chip that not only forces him to relive painful and relevant to the situation memories, but also boosts his telepathy," Jessie said.
The two stared at one another, each with horror across every inch of their faces. Jessie stubbornly attempted to shake it out of her system. Lena though couldn't, she hugged her own arms tightly and bit her lip.
"No, it doesn't make sense. Yes finding out that Nathan was involved would hurt him. But it also absolves any guilt he had over his sister's death," Jessie quickly said to calm her down. It wasn't working but she had more to say, "it doesn't push him away from his life to do what he did. It doesn't add up."
"What if he saw it?" Lena trembled, she looked like she would throw up at any second. "Maybe that was the point in boosting the chip."
Jessie rushed forward to grab a hold of the other girl's arms, gently shaking them. "Lena listen to me. We don't know for certain. If we do, it explains nothing. James doesn't give up his beliefs, something he relied on, believed with all his soul because he saw his sister's murder. Unfortunately he's seen murder and horrible violence against family many times."
"Then what is it Jessie?" Lena snapped at her. Still Jessie kept a firm hold on her. Tears threatened to fall. "He thinks he's the reason why people he loves suffer and die. He blames himself for all the pain that he's suffering because of it. He's not responsible, he's a victim in this too, it's all tragic coincidences. Even through all that, hell even when he was evil he still didn't disappear into that faceless mask in there. I tried to reach him back there, but there was no person in there, just hatred. How..." It was all too much for her, she broke out into full on tears.
Jessie struggled to think of something else to say that would stop it, instead she just felt helpless. "He's as good as dead like this, why?" Lena said through the tears.
"He's... he'll want us to give up on him. Don't," Jessie stuttered. "If he thinks he's to blame for everything, we show him he's wrong, prove that what he's doing isn't only hurting him." While she spoke the door to the quarters opened, neither girl noticed. "He's done this before, I can..."
"What, exactly this?" Lena wasn't convinced.
The answer to that wasn't really that much better. Jessie chose to avoid it, "I've helped him through a breakdown like this before. If it's what you say, leave it to me. Don't worry." Her words broke Lena down completely, leaving her inconsolable and Jessie feeling terrible for it. She wasn't sure if it was how she said it, making her sound unsure of herself and desperate, or if Lena felt like she had been told she was powerless to help her brother. Unfortunately she felt it was the latter.
"Mum?" Kiara stuttered, startling Jessie as she hadn't noticed the new arrivals. When Lena didn't respond to her she hurried over to wrap her arms around her, her head collapsed onto her shoulder. Jessie's own arms fell to her sides. "Don't do this, it's okay. You're not alone, you never will be."
Kathryn carefully walked over to the pair, sharing a pained look with Jessie as she passed. Noticing her expression, Kathryn shook her head. "Don't you start with that," she gently scolded. Jessie swallowed the lump she didn't know was there before and turned her head away. "Sometimes there's nothing you can do. Things happen, you can only do your best. Buck up, all right?"
Jessie briefly smiled out of her control, "buck up?"
Kathryn meanwhile slipped an arm around her daughter's shoulders. It appeared that it wasn't necessary as Kiara seemed to be enough to settle her down.
"She needs a break, she needs her family," Jessie said.
"Jessie, we're all family here," Kathryn said.
"I know but..." Jessie blurted out, even though it was a lie. It was also a surprise to hear something like that from her. Then she thought that Kathryn obviously just included James in that comment. Putting that aside, Jessie forced herself to explain better. "If he sees her like this, he'll blame himself, add it to his list."
Kathryn appeared to consider it, she frowned and looked a little torn about it. While she did a realisation hit Jessie hard, it momentarily made her a little scared and unsure if she could do anything. "That's why he's hiding. If we knew what was bothering him, it'd hurt us and that's the last thing he wants."
"Typical. A stupid martyr to the end," Kiara said not seriously, or at least she made it sound that way. She felt her mother shake a little, then heard her laugh briefly and quietly.
"I hope you're not insisting we throw in the towel," Kathryn said.
Jessie shook her head, "of course not. Maybe hit him with a wet one, it may wake him up."
Kathryn responded with an amused head shake. "You're not doing this alone. We've all gone in one at a time so far and..."
"No. Lena says he's playing the blame game again. It's the only game he's never beaten me in," Jessie said.
Lena straightened a little, still with Kiara's arms around her. "You're going to no I'm worse cos of evil witch antics him to submission?"
Jessie felt her face flush with embarrassment. "No no, that's not what I meant. Although I could give him a run for his money there too."
"She means she's good at rebutting his self blame," Kiara said helpfully. Once she said it though she doubted it. "Right?"
"Right," Jessie said. "One of the reasons James and I work; I'll defend him to the very end, even if I have to fight him to do it."
Kathryn looked at her warmly. It meant so much more to her considering that in her state it must have been harder to pull off. "Oh we all know that."
Jessie smiled at her back. "Take a break, catch up, eat something. Leave him to me. You three have suffered enough over the last two years, you deserve a time out together. It may help him later if you do."
"Normally I'd agree but I've missed a lot since I last saw him," Kathryn protested. Jessie shook her head with a stern look on her face. Kathryn recognised that glint in her eye, she wasn't sure if she was pleased to see it or not. "Suddenly I'm remembering the real reason why I didn't like you two together. He's stubborn and fiery, he got that from me. You're almost as bad. You may as well argue into a mirror."
Jessie seemed almost offended, "almost? Give me more credit than that."
"I suppose I can do that. You annoyed me so much back then," Kathryn laughed.
"Good," Jessie smirked at her. "Now go. Invite Yasmin too, have fun. Bye."
Lena stared at her mother, surprised that she'd listen to her. "I'll be fine, I just needed five minutes." Jessie gestured to the door with an odd smile that was partly friendly and half command like. "What about the baby, the kids?"
"Mum and I had time to drop off some packed lunches at school, and come back while you were in there. How I know that? I heard the whole timetable for both weddings and how she picked her stupid dress," Jessie replied, slightly exasperated by the end of it.
Kathryn frowned while Kiara and Lena just laughed at her, Lena a bit more meekly. "I'm sorry," she said in good humour.
"Why? You're not my self absorbed mum. Now go, don't come back until you're less blamey," Jessie ordered.
Lena responded with a sincere smile, then she made her way outside with Kiara, leaving Kathryn behind.
"The Doctor told me what happened the last time you were alone with him," she said, apparently waiting for Lena to be gone to bring it up. "He said that the drug isn't strong enough to repress the hallucinations completely, just make them less often."
Jessie raised her palm to cut her off, "it's fine, I know. I'll be fine."
Kathryn stared at her, a little fear was there to Jessie's surprise. "If your plan is to let him attack you again, thinking it will snap him out of it, then I'll be the one kicking you out of here."
"It's not," Jessie said.
Kathryn wasn't assured at all with her answer. "He doesn't need more things to feel guilty about. He loves you deeply, and hurting you is the second worst thing to him."
"It won't come to that. I know what to expect," Jessie said.
"Do you?" Kathryn asked. "What if you're wrong? You forget how strong he and Lena are. It's a struggle to hold back with even menial things."
Jessie tried to repress the anger slowly building from what she was saying. "I know that. I grew up with him for god's sake."
"One hit could kill you. Whether or not you're revived from it won't matter. It'll destroy him," Kathryn said forcefully.
"It won't happen," Jessie said just as much.
"How can you be so sure? This isn't a predictable situation," Kathryn stubbornly asked.
"I know he won't do it again, because he's already seen what happens. If Lena's right, he'll fight to avoid that happening again. After everything that's happened, I still have faith in him," Jessie answered.
Kathryn sighed, her shoulders fell to signify her defeat. "I hope you're right."
"I am right," Jessie said with confidence. "Sometimes we need to suffer a little to get somewhere. It hurt yes, but I believe it was a necessary step forward."
"Without hardship there's no growth," Kathryn mumbled, relaxing slightly. "Fine. But you'll call me if..."
"I won't need to. Go," Jessie smiled.
As she left, still showing signs of reluctance, Jessie noticed movement coming from the mobile crib nearby. She hurried over to check, relieved to find her baby just kicking a little in her sleep. Apart from that, she looked content. Her hand reached into it to pull up the tiny blanket that had been kicked half way off. Just as she did she heard a voice coming from the bedroom. It was subtle, low she almost didn't hear it.
Then she realised that she hadn't thought kicking Kathryn and her girls out through. The idea of luring her mother back filled her with dread, and was a little embarrassing as well. Still, she couldn't be in two places at once, she certainly couldn't watch her baby and help James out at the same time.
The voice in the next room wasn't shouting, it didn't really sound that urgent either. It gave her a little time to think of what to do. She settled on using an open commline, one way only, so she could hear if she was needed. Jessie set it up, only just tapping her commbadge to activate it when something dropped in the next room, startling her.
Jessie rushed over to the bedroom. Before the door opened something inside her made her feel a little fearful for a fraction of a second. Her disgust for that feeling swiped it aside as she continued, allowing the door to open, but remained there so it wouldn't close behind her.
She wasn't sure what to expect, but she really didn't expect to see no sign of James at all. The bedroom looked fine, undisturbed. Jessie started to panic. The first scenario that popped into her head was him hacking into transporter controls and running away again. Before she could think of and worry over a second one, she spotted the top of his head just on the other side of the bed. Just barely, he would have had to be sitting on the floor, crouched down. Then she heard him whispering to himself, which she couldn't make out.
Even with the open comm system Jessie didn't want to leave her daughter on her own. At the same time she feared he'd freak out like he did before, and the noise of it would frighten her. Not that a closed door would mute it out completely, but it would help slightly.
"Sorry," she heard finally from him. "I'm sorry." He said it over and over. "Please, I didn't mean to." He sounded frightened to her, helpless too. The urge to go over was too strong. If she understood the Doctor's warning well enough, she didn't have to, he'd hear her. It was possible he already had.
"James." As she hoped he looked up sharply. "It's not real, it's..."
"No," she heard him say, his voice shook. "No, no, no." He sounded more afraid than before.
"You're home, you're safe here. Try to remember that," Jessie said softly.
He jumped to his feet, then she could see for herself how panicked he was. Once again she felt a pull to go over and comfort him from whatever he was seeing. It didn't matter, something was pushing him toward her anyway. Even though his body language, his voice screamed fear and uncertainty, his face was still the blank slated mask. Jessie stalled upon seeing it, instantly on her guard.
"No, no..." he was still saying, only louder than earlier. This time he was looking right at her, she was sure of it. "You should go. Leave me alone."
Jessie felt her lips and her lower jaw quiver as she tried to think of a response. "James, calm down. Whoever you're seeing isn't really here. It's just me, we're alone."
"Jessie," he said not in surprise, but fearfully.
Jessie wasn't sure what to make of it. Had he only just noticed her? "You want me to leave?" she asked to make sure. He kept his distance, his head turned away. Jessie knew exactly why, still the words didn't make sense.
"I shouldn't be here. Anywhere but here," he said. Jessie noticed his attention was directed at one of the computer panels. She felt a wave of panic at what that could mean. Instinctively she stepped forward once, instantly making him back off a couple. "No, don't come near me."
Jessie's throat started to throb, "you won't hurt me again."
"Yes I will," he stuttered in response. The next words chilled her to the core, "I'll kill you."
Jessie hated that they had made her tremble a little. "You... you don't have it in you."
"When I see... I..." he said, stalling as if forming words were difficult for him. "I don't see you."
"Yes I know," Jessie said. "That's why I know you didn't attack me. It was someone else."
"I'll do it again."
"No," Jessie protested a little too quickly. It was the only time there was any kind of movement in his face, it was barely a twitch but it meant something. "I'm not abandoning you." He looked calmer after hearing that. Jessie knew better than to let her guard down though, it was only one tiny step. "I don't care if you accidentally kill me. I'm staying put."
"It's... not worth it," he said plainly.
Jessie bit her lip briefly and shook her head. "If you think that I'd give up on you now, you don't know me as well as you think. If you also think that you'll let something like that Sickbay incident happen again, the James I know would avoid it at all..."
"He's gone," James said in the same blank tone. "There's nothing to save."
Only then Jessie noticed he rarely blinked at all, his eyes seemed much wider than normal despite the bags under them. The blue that always brightened them regardless of his mood, were lifelessly grey. Coupled with his words, someone else would have believed him.
"You've said barely anything, all the while hiding in your head. But when there's a risk you may hurt me, you're suddenly talking, even emotive sometimes," Jessie said. "James is still there, or you'd still be staring out that window. You wouldn't be reacting to these visions of yours. Hell, you wouldn't have even left the ship at all."
"I can't... stay here," his face grimaced for a moment. Then he turned back to face her. "Move aside."
"No," Jessie muttered stubbornly.
"You'll die. You'll all die." Jessie felt that cold chill again as he spoke. "I fight, I kill. Nothing more."
"James, you're more to me," Jessie said. "If you want me to get out of the way, you've got two choices..."
"There's nothing... to talk about," James said, clearly responding to what she was thinking, not saying aloud. Jessie shook it off as her just being obvious. He backed off slightly, then began to walk back to where the encounter started. Jessie had no idea why, her thoughts were only about the possible mind reading and what to say next. "Brig, Thirteen. Not here."
Jessie stepped forward, unintentionally setting the doors to close behind her. "You belong here. Not in a prison, not in a demon trap."
"I'm sorry," he said as sincerely as he could manage in this state. His head began to turn back to the window. "I brought you nothing but pain."
"What? No you..." Jessie protested, but not quickly enough.
"I was selfish, a coward. I wasted your life," he muttered, watching the planet the ship was orbiting come into view. "Sorry doesn't fix it."
Everything he said brought it all back like a déjà vu injected punch in the face. She almost wished he had literally done so, it would have hurt a lot less.
"What does it matter? I'm a curse to everyone I know," James said, his voice seething with hatred toward himself. "If it were not for me, you wouldn't have been bullied so much. You wouldn't have been expelled, you wouldn't be here."
"I don't care about that," Jessie stuttered all those fifteen years ago.
"You'd be better off without me. Everyone would," James mumbled so quietly she almost didn't hear it.
Only three hours later she found him, lying in a pool of his own blood at the bottom of the stairs. Jessie remembered screaming so much in anguish, that her throat felt like nails had been dragged through it. She nearly fell down the same stairs in her hurry to get to him.
Jessie stared toward James, struggling to keep it together with that memory fresh in her mind. He must have seen it as well, with his enhanced telepathy. He must have been aware of how much he was hurting her, but still he remained completely still, staring away from her. His eyes shut, she noticed a subtle tremble.
"See, I can't stop," he said.
"You can," Jessie managed to say through her throbbing throat. She felt a tear drop onto her cheek, she hadn't noticed she was even crying. "Just fight. You're better, stronger than this. We can get through it, together, like we always have."
James' head shook slowly. "No we. It was a mistake."
"What do you mean?" Jessie stuttered, although she had a good idea. "All these years, you don't regret them do you?"
"Yes," was the answer she didn't want to hear.
Laughter rang out from the Janeway table as Yasmin told her story, she smirked all the way through it. "The next day I found her hanging from the end of the ladder with a jar in one hand."
"You didn't?" Kiara giggled.
Yasmin grinned at her, "she may as well have handed it to me. She was never going to get back on the ladder with one hand, I helped her."
Kathryn covered her face with her hand, "oh Phoebe. Why couldn't she just put it under her pillow like when we were kids?"
"That sounds uncomfortable," Lena muttered.
"And way too obvious," Yasmin smiled at her.
Kathryn nodded knowingly, "oh, that's why." She turned to Lena, "your turn."
Lena's laughter faded awkwardly, "um, I thought about cutting my hair, maybe a new colour."
"Red's nice," Kiara added helpfully.
Kathryn felt a little bad for what she said, she reached over to gently grip Lena's hand. "Sorry, didn't mean to put you on the spot like that."
"No it's fine. I have stories, they're just mood killers in comparison," Lena said.
"That's not true. What about Annika?" Kiara suggested.
"Huh?" Lena was momentarily confused. "Do you mean the note she left crumpled in my door?"
It was Kiara's turn, she stared at her curiously. "No. That's got to be a far better story."
"Well it's short. The picture she drew for me took up most of the page," Lena said. Yasmin and Kathryn tried their best not to laugh. "And she crossed out a lot of what she said."
"So a letter saying she's the better ex Borg, and a drawing to illustrate her reasons why?" Kathryn had to guess.
Lena pulled a disgusted face, "more or less, yeah."
A few tables away Rachel and her fiance Antony had just finished their meals, only their drinks remained. She glanced over towards the Janeway table every few seconds, making Antony frown at her.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Is that her?" Rachel asked while she was facing him.
Antony tried to take a peek at the same table discreetly. "Looks like." He looked worried as Rachel immediately climbed out of her chair. "Rach?"
"Leave it to me," she said.
"She's clearly occupied. Maybe later," Antony said.
Rachel disagreed, "it will only take a few minutes. Be right back." She rushed away before he could argue any further.
"I dunno," Lena said uncomfortably.
Yasmin wasn't put off though. "Why? You could retake the Enterprise, show Harry Pandy how its done."
Lena shifted in her seat, dismayed by the thought. She got to her feet, "that letter will be much funnier in person. I'll go get it." There was no time to say anything to stop her, she hurried off as soon as she was done talking.
"Yasmin, she clearly doesn't want the pressure of command anymore. Commanding the Enterprise took its toll on her," Kathryn said.
"But..." Yasmin protested.
Rachel arrived at the table. "Excuse me," she said, cutting Yasmin off.
Kathryn looked up at her first. "Yes?"
"Hi, I'm Rachel. You're Captain Janeway correct?" Rachel said.
"Kathryn Janeway, yes," Kathryn said with a polite smile.
"Well my fiance and I were due to be married a week ago. But well, you know, we missed it," Rachel said.
Kathryn blinked while her eyes looked towards her daughter and granddaughter, all the while her friendly smile remained fixed on her face. They looked just as confused as her. "I'm sorry to hear that. We've all had a bad time here, I guess."
"I heard a Captain can perform the ceremony, so now that you're back..." Rachel said, her tone hinting.
"Oh," Kathryn sighed, now that she got it. "I see. You're asking me cos Tom can't."
"Yes, two days," Rachel smiled.
"Wow, short notice," Kathryn muttered to herself. "I'm sorry, but I can't."
Rachel's smile disappeared so quickly Kathryn thought she had imagined it. "What, why not?"
"Well, as you can see I'm here with my family, catching up on two lost years. Perhaps later when things have settled down," Kathryn replied.
Rachel glanced briefly towards Yasmin and Kiara, then at Kathryn again. "In two days, surely..."
"Surely what?" Kathryn's friendly facade almost broke.
"A wedding ceremony takes what; five, ten minutes. Hardly a problem, so..." Rachel said.
"Excuse me, but I said no," Kathryn said as nicely as she could, despite her wavering patience. She turned back to her family. "She just needs to get her confidence back. Maybe we should have a little music event later, encourage her to take part."
"Music event?" Rachel stammered with disbelief.
The table ignored her. "We all know she belongs in a Captain's chair, not on a stage dancing around," Kiara said.
"Yeah, holding a sword on her lap, ready for action," Yasmin giggled.
Kathryn groaned into her hand, "you're both jumping the gun."
"I'm not asking for much. Only ten minutes," Rachel butted in. "Surely that's more important than some concert."
Kathryn scowled up at her, "no. You can get married any time. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not in the land of the living here..."
"But," Rachel protested.
"I can't stay this way forever and it's a huge risk to cure it. Every minute I have is precious," Kathryn said.
Lena then returned to the table, but was put off by what was happening, so she stayed back a little with a curious glint in her eyes. Rachel meanwhile grunted as her temper slipped away from her. "It's ten minutes, not an hour or a day."
"Ten minutes I could be spending with my two daughters, my grandchildren. Ten minutes may be crucial in saving my son," Kathryn argued passionately.
"What's going on?" Lena whispered to the younger girls.
Rachel's eyes flickered and widened when she spotted her. Her anger toward Kathryn grew once she looked back. "Of course, I should've expected this kind of attitude from you."
The death stare switch was flipped on by that comment. Yasmin and Kiara knew to shift their chairs a little backwards, although Yasmin had a small smile on her face as she did. "I beg your pardon?" Kathryn said dangerously.
"Selfishness must run in the family," Rachel muttered, clearly oblivious to the trouble she was in or not caring about it. "No care about anyone but yourself and your ridiculous family."
"Hey," Yasmin moaned.
Kathryn leapt out of her seat so suddenly it made Kiara jump, even though she knew something would happen. Rachel's face seemed oddly proud. "Who the hell do you think you are calling me selfish? Or ridiculous? I'm not the one whining about some stupid wedding ceremony I can have later. My family's falling apart, that's so much more important."
"With you, I'm not surprised," Rachel retorted.
"That's it," Kathryn growled. Lena quickly put her hand on her arm to stop her, just in case. "Get out of my sight or..."
"Or what, violence?" Rachel snapped.
Kathryn seethed, "tempting, but I've already said you weren't worth wasting ten minutes on and I've already wasted nine."
"Mum stop," Lena stuttered.
"Typical. Now I see where your dead beat runaway son gets it from," Rachel said.
"Don't you dare bring him into this!" Kathryn snapped at her.
Rachel shrugged her shoulders casually, "why not? After what he did to my daughters, you owe me."
Kathryn stared at her strangely, "your daughters, what?" She looked back at Lena who was busy wincing, she noticed and lightly nodded. Kathryn swung her head back, "you're Jessie's...?"
"Yes, I'm Dannielle and Jessica's mother," Rachel said with pride.
Kathryn rolled her eyes, "oh dear lord, somebody had a lucky escape."
"Meaning what?" Rachel asked coldly.
"So let me get this straight. You abandoned your daughter, I abandoned my son. I lost twenty years or so with him, you thirty with her. I lost another two for my other children because of the pesky being dead problem. Here I am catching up with my daughters and granddaughter. You're here to make sure you snare your fiancee before he sees your true colours, and you're making a stink because...?" Kathryn said as neutrally as she could manage. She pretended to work something out in her head, while pulling some overexaggerated faces. "Hmm, I'm not sure. There's no differences between us that I can see."
Yasmin snickered quietly, Kiara tried her best not to do the same. Lena continued to cringe at the situation.
Rachel of course was furious. "We are not alike!"
Kathryn clicked her fingers as if she had helped her figure something out, "oh that's right, it was so obvious. I wanted to be with my son, help him through his trauma. Only your daughter sent all of us away as my daughter was upset, to give us some rare time together, to regroup, all the while she's left to deal with a tough situation on her own. The selfish mare."
"How dare you insult my daughter!" Rachel shouted at her. Doing so got her fiance's attention, he chose to intervene so he climbed up out of his seat.
Kathryn's silly faces and gestures were gone, in their place a stone faced glare. "No, you're the one doing that all by yourself. It just shows you doesn't it, the difference between the two of you. She suffers and fights on her own selflessly to help others, while you fight for your wedding night to come sooner. How fortunate for us all that Jessie was raised without a smidgen of influence from you."
"Lucky for you, and your delinquent murderous son," Rachel muttered.
Kathryn's eyebrow twitched. "Yes, lucky for the both of us. Lucky for her that we consider her a member of the family, when she's got fools like you in the background." Lena smiled at the final sentence just as Antony arrived at the table. "I won't stand here silently while you insult any of us. Especially not over a wedding. Take your spoiled tantrum somewhere else and get a grip."
Rachel was momentarily shocked and silenced by her speech, she didn't notice Antony gently put a hand over her shoulder. "Rach, remember? Count to ten next time you're mad," he whispered.
Kathryn shook her head in disgust as she sat down, choosing to take the high road and ignore her from now on. Lena though stared at her, concerned at what just happened. The older woman stared at her back with a tiny hint of malice in her eyes. Finally she walked away, leaving the Janeway family alone.
"I'm sure Jess will be thrilled that you think of her as a Janeway," Kiara said with a smile.
"Nobody tell her," Kathryn said half jokingly.
The feeling in her legs had gradually drained so much so that Jessie had shakily sat down on the nearest object regardless of its height or comfort. She wasn't entirely sure what it was other than it was so low her weakened legs had to curl slightly on the floor. It forced her to occasionally strain her neck up to see if James was still there at the other side of the room. Everytime he seemed further away, only in her mind's eye as he remained fixed to the spot with the same exact expression.
"Inducing death so you could save me from a murderous ghost?" she said as soon as it entered her thoughts.
"Couldn't live without you. Nothing selfless about that," James replied a little too quickly.
Jessie scoffed. "Oh? Did you miss the death part?"
"I wouldn't, I didn't," he said plainly, then hesitated for a moment. "Pathetic attempt to impress you."
"Are you serious? Are you listening to yourself?" Jessie stuttered in disbelief. "You're not like that."
"Not now," James said quietly.
Jessie sighed, hoping for the twentieth time so far that she was only dreaming this. It didn't feel real at all. "Sacrificing yourself to the anomaly. There was no doubt at the time it would vaporise anyone going near it."
"Dead anyway if I didn't," James answered that one just as quickly as the last.
"Good god," Jessie muttered to herself to keep from losing her temper. She knew to save that one till later, thinking it would be difficult for him to argue against. Of course then she realised he heard her thinking about it near the beginning, and knew how to respond in advance. Maybe he always thought that way. She shook that away, determined not to go down that path. "Fine, so why do anything at all?"
"Why not?" James said quietly.
Jessie felt her back starting to give her complaints, she shifted slightly, forcing her to move her legs so they were slouching the other way. She straightened her back, determined not to slouch again as it was far more painful that way. It was something she had to concentrate on, and her mind was focused on more important things.
"Pain in the back. It's just the same," James said, creeping her out a little as there was no way he saw her.
"What?" Jessie stuttered.
"I slouched," he said.
Jessie moved her arms so her hands pressed against whatever she was sitting on, supporting her straightened back. "It was easier to jump into an anomaly that would kill you?"
"You would die first, I saw it. Didn't want to handle it, didn't want to think about it," James said, almost muttering. "It was my easy way out. You're the one who suffered, not me."
Her hands gripped the edge of her makeshift chair tightly, "we both know that isn't true. Something happened there that you never told me about. For what reason, I don't know. I knew you were suffering, but I didn't know what to do. I just stood by you as I always have, hoping you would finally be as happy to be back as I was."
"And forget the pain I put you through, as I always have," James said, clearly using her own words against her. It was no accident. What she didn't know was who was the one forgetting, him or her?
"Who made the first move, hmm? Who wanted to take things further?" Jessie said quickly and urgently, so he had no time to hear her think it first or interrupt her. "Who confessed love first? Who chased who to their new home to be with them?"
She waited to see what ridiculous answers he had for these questions. As she half expected, he said nothing. "See. I did those things because I thought you were worth it. I still do."
"I didn't... shouldn't," he mumbled, stalling again. "I could have walked away. How I feel, I wanted to protect you. Instead... I did the worst thing I could do."
Jessie desperately tried to think of a response that he couldn't turn around on her. Before she knew it she was back to listing things he had done, hoping one would convince him he wasn't a selfish monster.
Finally one came to her that she knew would likely hurt him, but even he'd have a hell of a time trying to spin it to something bad on his part. If he did, it'd definitely make no sense. He had glanced in her direction, so she knew he had heard it already. Still, she said it aloud. "Why did you choose Miral over Sasha? If you were selfish, and in your mind protecting people you love counts, then why didn't you let them threaten Miral instead, leaving your daughter alone? Yes she'd still be in the room, but safe from harm, with you."
"I didn't want her to see..." James stuttered his answer.
Jessie could tell he was winging it, she cut in quickly, "no, no. What was your reason then?"
"Sasha, she would hate me. That's all that mattered..." he answered. Jessie was sure it was just another way of saying what he attempted to before.
"You would be in great pain if anything happened to Sasha. I know, we both know it. You wouldn't even try to live with it, you'd probably give up just like this," she said with great difficulty. Even the mere thought of that happening made her sick. "But your so called selfishness was more concerned about Sasha going in a huff with you? Really?"
He turned his head away so she couldn't see any kind of response other than that.
"It had nothing to do with you caring about someone other than you? That you didn't want to put another child at risk. Or you thought that having two children in the kidnapper's hands was far worse than one, even if that one was yours," Jessie said calmly. "How many people would have been able to make that same choice? Not many I bet."
"Most people aren't soulless," James said in a near whisper.
Jessie's resolve started to waver as before, the tears in her eyes were trying badly to escape. There was no way she would let them, not now. "So that's how you're going to play it now, huh? With me of all people. No, that won't work with me. We've shared so much together, so many years. You're far from soulless. In fact, it doesn't even make sense with anything you've said so far. Soulless people wouldn't get so attached to people that they're bothered when they're hurt or die."
"Doesn't matter," James said. Jessie felt some anger come from him in that moment. Doubt made her think she imagined it, mistaking it for her own. "If I truly loved you, I would have stayed away. Instead, I selfishly put you in danger."
"James, that's..." Jessie stammered as his words left her a shivering wreck.
"And there it is. I hurt you anyway," he whispered. His head dipped slightly so he was seemingly staring at the floor. "Not just you. Everyone suffers, everyone dies."
"What about Debbie?" Jessie asked reluctantly. She noticed his shoulders tense only a little. It gave her a push of strength to finally stand up to his issues, figuratively and literally. "What happened there?"
She could see his face far more clearly this way. When she had first sat down the mask was firmly in place. Now it was starting to slip, there were cracks. As they always were, his eyes were what was betraying him. They showed fear, helplessness. Exactly how they were when the hallucination took hold in Sickbay.
"You know what," he answered as plainly as he could, but it was clear he was struggling to do it.
"Not really. I know you were three years old, maybe excited about your birthday." The final word seemed to strike him in the chest, as it heaved only once. "Maybe you did what most kids that age do. Run around without a care, full of innocence. Then..."
"I ran away," James said defiantly, and with it a little anger. This time she knew she wasn't imagining it. "I was thinking of only me. She paid the price."
Jessie walked forward, determined to keep going without breaking down herself. "What were you running from?" She waited for an answer that never came, she knew it though. "Your father?" His continued silence was answer enough for her. "No one can blame you for that."
"It was all for nothing. I could never get away from it. She died and I'm still running," James said.
Jessie quickly pondered what he meant, the father theory felt like it had been stamped out. All she got in that short space of time was one thing, "it wasn't the first time, was it?"
"It... it doesn't matter," he said hesitantly. "I killed her, just like every..."
"No!" Jessie cried out. "No you didn't. You were barely three years old, frightened so much of a violent father that you fled. It's not your fault that someone preyed on that moment. If it didn't happen then, it would have happened later. If you didn't know that, you do now. Debbie was a target, regardless of your actions."
He blinked, allowing a tiny tear to escape. Jessie only saw it when it rolled down to his cheek and the light from the window reflected off it. "She was a target... because of my existence."
All of her fears about what triggered the situation were confirmed, she was right. It hit her hard and left her a little breathless. The ache throbbing through her throat had spread to her chest. The shaking couldn't be held back no matter how hard she tried. "Even if that were true, it's not your fault. You did nothing wrong."
"It is and I did," he said.
"I doubt Debbie would agree. You're taking the word of somebody who by nature wants to hurt you," Jessie argued. He knew but she didn't know if he knew everything, now was the time. "A demon, it wanted you to be this way. It's winning, it's laughing at us. Debbie wouldn't..."
He turned to face her. "Debbie died for nothing!" his voice raised so high he almost shouted toward her. "I wasn't worth it. I ruined her life, so why? I was just free to ruin everyone elses."
Jessie frowned, a little confused as to what he meant again. "You ruined her life so why, what?" He appeared to be shocked about what he said, or what she was thinking. This time he turned his back on her. "James please, tell me. What did you mean?"
"Her, dad, Susy," James mumbled. "One family gone, wiped out because of some... stupid kid no one wanted. That shouldn't be here."
"James," Jessie tried to stop this, all the while approaching him.
There was no doing so now, he was rambling with very little pause in between. "That wasn't enough. Why not the step dad who tried to save him-"
Nevertheless Jessie tried to interrupt him the best she could, "you're not at fault there."
He continued talking as if she hadn't said anything, overlapping most of her words. "Expose him to the stuff only he should be, then not care when the vampires take him-"
"Your step dad chose to fight for his city," she tried again. "You can't be blamed for that. You weren't even there."
"What about his real mother? I'm sure not killing one vampire with a personal vendetta will end well-" he said before she had even finished talking.
Frustrated, she raised her voice. "You're not to blame for what Frenit did, and if you could have killed him you would've."
"One sister isn't good enough, why not just smack the other around a little while she's possessed, that should do the trick-"
Jessie was close to shouting by this point, desperate to be heard. "Possessed by an Evil Slayer trying to destroy Earth. My god, you didn't kill..."
Still he continued his word rampage, "how many times did I kill you, huh?"
Jessie had been desperate for him to listen and respond, but when he finally spoke to her directly instead of ranting she instantly regretted trying. The question threw her for a loop. "Zero," the answer was simple enough for her.
"I lost count," he said bitterly. His eyes seemed to glaze over, somehow the grey was even fading. The anger started to disappear as well. She knew what that meant. Even though their conversation had been the most painful one they ever had, she was determined to keep it from ending. The alternative was him hiding behind his mask again. Her hand reached out for his, and with no surprise on her end he pulled it back. "It's too late now, isn't it?" he asked quietly. "Either way, I hurt you. Not just you."
"If the either you're speaking of is what I think it is, I speak for us all; your mother, your sisters, our children. We want James back, we want him to want to come back. We want him to fight this, not for us, but himself. I personally didn't marry you with blinkers on. I knew that you being the Slayer would make our lives tough, I'm not naive. I thought you were worth the risk, like anything worth having is."
He didn't say anything, he did nothing. Jessie was sure though he wasn't retreating again. Worst case scenario he was thinking of way to turn her words into something negative. What she really thought was that he was finally listening to her.
"That's all this is. You're a victim of circumstance. You've been given all of this pressure, and one tragedy after another. It's so much easier for you to blame yourself. I know I did when my first foster family were murdered," Jessie soldiered on. His grey eyes flickered toward her. "I had nothing tangible to blame, and neither did you. Debbie and an unknown assailant. Your father's shuttle crash. Susy and another unknown assailant. John and what could be any vampire. Lena and her depression. Even your mother and Frenit. It was so much easier assigning all of that to one thing, your curse, especially with Nathan the part demon and Daniel the watcher being the mystery attackers. That way you can deal with it all at once."
"That's not it," James mumbled.
Jessie stared at him with sympathy in her eyes. "That's exactly what it is. You didn't kill any of them. Deep down, you know it. Why deal with all that pain, when you can just brush it away and claim that you don't deserve to. You overestimated how much blame you could take. I saw it slowly crush you, especially over this last year. I can't and I won't help you carry it any longer."
"What do you mean?" James stuttered.
Jessie finally got close enough to reach up and stroke his cheek. He tensed for a moment, but still allowed her to do it. She smiled in response. "I thought I was helping by waiting, and never asking about your sister. I didn't want to hurt or pressure you. By doing so, I was helping you bury your head in the sand. I waited until you were drowning to finally bring it up."
"Don't. It's not your... fault," James said so quietly, she had to read his lips.
"See how upsetting it is?" Jessie asked gently. "Don't keep doing this to me... no, not to me, to yourself. You've made mistakes, we all have, but nothing as bad as what you think. You've done so much good, you're capable of more. If you continue on this path you'll never help anyone again. I know that bothers you."
"I can't help sticking my nose in everything," James muttered, a little resentment coming back to the surface.
Jessie shook her head, her smile grew slightly as she knew exactly what to say to bring him out of it. "You noticed. You know why, right? Because you're a hero. You're my hero."
He responded as she expected, somewhat mildly disgusted and awkward. She felt him fidget behind her hand. "No. You promised you'd never say it," he complained.
"I don't remember promising that," Jessie said with a cheeky glint in her eye.
"But, it's so cheesy and you're so much..." James sighed. She closed the gap between them so she could wrap her other arm around him. "Better than that," he mumbled hesitantly.
He eventually raised one of his own arms to hold her back. He barely had time to touch her when a voice called out from the other room. "Jessica? You here?"
Jessie groaned angrily, "damn it, not now."
"Jessica. I know you're here. You shouldn't leave a baby alone," Rachel's voice continued, turning into a scold.
"Hypocrite," Jessie muttered as she pulled away. She gave James a tired smile, "I'll be right back."
"It's okay," he said.
Jessie gave him a nod before walking toward the door. As soon as it opened she was greeted by her mother standing right in front of it, staring at her impatiently. She was so close she almost bumped right into her. "We need to talk!" she spat abruptly.
"Eew, space please," Jessie groaned while side stepping out of the way.
Rachel sighed irritably. "It's about your mother in law."
Jessie briefly looked over her shoulder on route to the mobile crib. "Here I thought you were dying or something. Calm down."
"I am calm," Rachel said through gritted teeth, all the while swinging around so her back was to the door. "I've never met such a rude woman in all my life."
Jessie ignored her until she picked up her baby daughter and was half way towards the bathroom. "What did you do?"
Rachel stared at her blinking furiously. "Me? Why do you assume it was me?"
"Well Janeway has her moments sure, but you're on a whole other crazy level," Jessie replied, stopping at the bathroom door as it opened.
"We're not alike," Rachel repeated.
"Okay, fine. What happened?" Jessie asked reluctantly. Just as Rachel began to answer she stepped into the bathroom. She huffed and ran over to join her. "The door's open, I can still hear."
Rachel stopped as soon as she spoke. "I can change her. It's 1700."
"Already?" she heard Jessie stutter.
"Yes, and I think it would be better if you picked up your kids and not me," Rachel said.
Jessie emerged still with the baby in her arms, who was starting to fidget slightly. Rachel hurried over to take her instead. "You're right. I don't want you blabbing about their dad running off and coming back, do I?" she said as she made her way to the exit.
Rachel's jaw dropped as her head turned to follow her out. "I wouldn't do that. I'm not a blabbermouth."
"Yes mum, and Janeway was rude to you through no fault of your own. I know," Jessie teased. The door shut behind her before Rachel could respond.
Despite that Rachel just smiled and shook her head. "That's my girl." She headed for the bathroom with the baby. A few minutes later she emerged to put her into her crib. "It's okay, no need to fret. I'll deal with this." Once the baby was down and seemingly content, Rachel walked away, heading for the bedroom Jessie had left before.
The door opened for her, without hesitation she walked through to find James standing in a different spot, back to staring out the window. The door opening though made his head turn toward it.
"You don't look that sick," she said harshly. He stared at her blankly for a few seconds, his head began to slowly go back to where it was before. "Let me guess. Hand cramp from killing too many? Man flu, though that's stretching considering you're not one," she said holding back a laugh. "Feeling a bit left out now that Jessica's paying attention to a new baby and not you? Whatever you're doing, must be working a treat."
His silence started to annoy her, she took a couple of steps forward. "That poor me attitude won't work on me, so cut it out." He didn't respond to that either. "Fine, I'm not interested in what you have to say anyway. I just need you to listen. My daughter has suffered more than enough thanks to you. If you actually have any of that humanity you claim you have, which I doubt, you'll do the right thing here."
James lightly turned his head back her way. She took it as a sign he was listening and to continue. "You had the right idea before. I hear you were a pretty effective killing machine, so why come back? I know I wouldn't want to go back where I didn't belong, to screw up further lives with my presence." She noticed his eyes looking directly at her with a very subtle frown on his face. She smirked at it. "See, I knew you were faking it."
"Why would you...?" he began to ask.
Rachel raised her index finger while the rest of her fingers clenched, "ah, ah. This isn't a suggestion, or a request. It's a demand." She walked closer, all the while maintaining intense eye contact with him. "Leave. Don't come back."
James looked away, she continued staring at him, watching and hoping for any kind of visible reaction. When she got nothing she slowly stepped to the side so he would be forced to look at her again.
"If you don't, well, there are other ways of getting rid of you," Rachel said coldly.
Even though he was forced into facing her, his eyes weren't on her. "I'm not afraid of you," he muttered.
Rachel's smirk turned into a disgusted scowl. "Maybe you should start."
She kept eye contact with him as she backed towards the door. The only relief came when she disappeared through it. James kept on staring as if she was still there, his face tensed and shoulders tightened. His eyes meanwhile fell to the floor with uncertainty.
The nursery doors opened, Jessie dashed through them with the mobile crib on one arm, almost running into a waiting Lena in the process.
"What are you doing here, is something the matter?" Jessie asked her as she recovered to walk away.
Lena walked alongside with an anxious look on her face. "Well I stopped by your quarters and no one answered. I thought kicking the door down may trigger something."
"Oh, the Doctor popped by during breakfast, which I guess helps the your dad's just sick story. Maybe he didn't hear you," Jessie said.
Lena sighed in relief, "I knew I should have come back last night. I figured with your kids being home, I didn't want to make them suspicious."
"It's okay, I managed fine," Jessie smiled to reassure her.
"How is he?" Lena asked almost as if she didn't want to know.
They reached the turbolift. It didn't take long for one to arrive so they stepped in. Once it was moving Jessie attempted to answer, "it's hard to say. We had a rough start, then we talked for hours. Argued for most of it."
"I'm not sure if that's such a good thing anymore," Lena said.
Jessie's smile turned a little awkward. "At first it was so painful and frustrating, I wish I had a younger Tom around to punch or scream at." Lena bit her bottom lip lightly to avoid sniggering at the image. "I'd like to think I got somewhere eventually. He seemed better, but he's got a long way to go."
Lena couldn't hide her relief at hearing that, a grin almost broke out. "I'll be around tonight, definitely. I think he needs 24/7 pestering until he breaks," she said with a slight smirk that made Jessie think she wasn't entirely serious.
"16/7?" she said.
Lena shrugged, "mum doesn't have to sleep."
Jessie shook her head, laughing quietly. "Unfortunately he seems to think he doesn't either. I did wonder how we were going to handle overnight, but he muttered something about sleeping on the sofa since he left. Then he walked out. Turns out sleeping on the sofa means standing outside our quarters."
"What did you do?" Lena asked once they reached Jessie's quarters.
"What could I do? I have three kids who could very easily get up in the middle of the night. He couldn't stand around the living room all night. I offered to sleep on the sofa so he didn't have to leave. Oh no, god forbid. Staying in the room with me, no that's creepy," Jessie tried to explain. Lena mouthed the word creepy. "I guess I see his point. I'd be sleeping, he'd be standing or sitting around in a daze."
"Does this story end with you conking him on the head? Sedatives?" Lena asked.
"As I said. He stood outside. I barely slept, worrying about him," Jessie sighed. To Lena she sounded disappointed with herself. "Long way to go."
Lena nodded, her relief from before a distant memory. "Why didn't you call me?"
"Well, good thing I didn't if your solution was a conk on the head," Jessie said.
"I said sedatives," Lena said innocently.
Jessie's eyes narrowed mockingly, "yeah, my mistake." She walked into her quarters first, Lena followed closely behind. The pair were surprised to find somebody already there, waiting eagerly.
"Oh Jessica," Rachel spoke first, rushing forward to her daughter with a smile on her face. "Great news. Wedding tomorrow. I brought the dress we talked about."
Jessie's first reaction was to shudder before her mother had even gestured to it. She then looked over to see the horrid pink monstrosity lying on her sofa. She made a mental note to throw out the sofa later.
"How did you even get in?" Jessie asked. She gently put down the crib onto a nearby chair.
"The Doctor let me in, of course," Rachel replied.
Jessie rolled her eyes, "of course, you haven't teleported in without permission before. Look, that's great about your wedding and I'm happy for you, but I'm still not going. I'm definitely not wearing that."
Lena casually walked over to the sofa to get a better look at the infamous dress. She wished she hadn't, and she wasn't the one forced to wear it. The parts that weren't bright pink were a dazzling white and frilly. She was surprised that Jessie hadn't turned Evil on the sight of it and put her mother out of her fashion sense misery.
"You'll look so beautiful in it, darling," Rachel cooed at her daughter as if she was five years old.
Jessie actually had to repress a gag at the thought. "Even Annika would turn her nose up at it."
Lena stifled a laugh while Rachel gasped in offense. "Why must you be afraid of your femininity so..." she whimpered.
"On that note, excuse me," Lena said with her eyes wide in horror, pointing to the bedroom. She hurried away before anything happened.
Jessie firmly ground her teeth, determined not to make too much noise with her baby nearby. "The only thing I'm afraid of is that dress. And your eye sight. Seriously, is this why Dannielle turned insane, you dressed her up like a frilly marshmallow? I get it now."
"All right. I guess I can go for my second choice. I thought it was a bit too macabre for a wedding. If I change it from pink and black to pink and..." Rachel muttered.
"Ugh, no. No pink and I already said I'm not going," Jessie groaned.
Rachel's good mood soured. "Why not? He seemed fine enough to leave alone earlier. Besides, he has plenty of other women that can pet his ego while you're away."
Jessie stared at her, blinking far more often than usual. "Why do you keep talking about him like that? I thought you two were getting along."
"I just want my little girl at my wedding," Rachel sighed sadly, while putting on the sympathy eyes. "Is it too much to ask?"
It didn't work on Jessie though. "Right now, yes. You knew what was happening, but you still picked tomorrow. Surely having a wedding and an anniversary on the same day would mean less gifts and nights out." She smirked playfully, "don't let future hubby convince you it's fitting or romantic. Take a stand."
Rachel laughed at her, "nice try, but it was my idea. I like having less important dates to remember. Now, 1100 tomorrow. The rehearsal starts at 1900 tonight..."
"Mum really. Not going," Jessie cut in. "I'm not comfortable attending a wedding while my husband is suffering. Delay it, I'll come. Don't and I'll just come to that unofficial one. That's the choice."
Rachel stared after her as her resolve threatened to break. Jessie left her to it, assuming she was thinking about it. She was too engrossed to notice Jessie's attempt to pick the dress off the sofa with nearby objects, so she didn't have to touch it. A fork seemed to do the trick. Rachel got a bit of a shock when she found it in front of her face, her hands quickly reacted to catch it before it fell on the floor.
"I don't suppose you heard all of that," Lena had said not long after entering the bedroom.
Sitting on the bed straight ahead of her, James moved his head up to look at her. To her that was an improvement on its own. Yesterday he would have continued staring at the floor, wherever he was staring at before she came in.
"That Rachel woman's a bit off her head, putting it nicely," Lena continued, forcing a small smile.
"She's not exactly quiet," James seemingly agreed. "Or subtle."
Lena glanced over her shoulder briefly. "I had to get out of there before I witnessed Jessie choking her to death, with the pink shower scrubber she called a dress."
"I don't see the problem," James said quietly.
"Yeah, I could do with a laugh," Lena said, laughing anyway. She sighed to stop herself, in case it looked disrespectful to the situation. A medium bowl on the side cabinet caught her eye, it didn't look like it had been touched as it still had food in it. "You really should eat something. You don't want to make Jessie fret that she weighs more than you, you know how sensitive she gets," she said in a teasing manner.
James slowly looked toward it. He reached over to pick it up. "I doubt it."
"Oh I dunno. If you really were fighting all this time, you should have been eating more not less. I get the shakes just walking down the corridor when I haven't had breakfast yet," Lena smiled.
He stared at her with the bowl just sitting there on his lap. "You seem better today."
"You too," Lena said. "I wish I had been a little more help yesterday. The Doc says that you may pick up a few things, that... how do I put it? Well for example; me being hysterical probably made you feel like crap, cos you felt it too."
His eyes looked to one side, remaining there for a while. Finally he said, "so?"
"So, it sounded self explanatory," Lena said. "Does that mean I'm right?"
"Right now, no," James replied, looking back. "It's not something you should..." he stalled for no visible reason. "It's not your problem."
"Well that's stupid," Lena said bluntly. "How am I supposed to help you if I'm freaking out too? Sounds like my problem."
James looked mildly irritated, it was a small shock to her as he'd shown barely any emotion since he returned. "I meant not your fault."
Lena walked forward, then crouched down in front of him. "Would it be easier to talk telepathically?"
He looked at her with his eyes widened, "no. No, I'm sorry."
"Yeah, not a good idea right now," Lena winced, turning her head away to hide her embarrassment. "You just seem to be struggling. I thought..."
"It's worse in here, trust me," James confessed. Lena glanced back at him with concern. "You know that first hand."
"Not really. You didn't think that much, just felt," she mumbled.
James nodded as he moved the bowl to beside him, "exactly."
Lena cleared her throat as a hint while moving the bowl back into his hand. "Nice try."
"Not hungry. It's fine," he said.
"When was the last time you ate anything?" Lena asked. James looked down at the bowl. If it was an answer, Lena wasn't buying it. "You do realise I'd have the upper hand on you right now? I'll do it."
"I did. I had some," James said. There was nothing like deceit in his voice, it wasn't neutral like before either. It didn't seem as if he was lying to her.
"How much is some? A bite?" Lena questioned. She tried to smile again to hide the worry. "I'm not going to catch you in the bathroom later with your finger down your throat, am I?" Their eyes briefly met, she was certain there was a little flicker of mirth there. Even if it was imagined, it was something. "You're probably used to eating almost nothing. Maybe a few more some's, and I may stop pestering you."
His eyebrow twitched minutely. "May?"
Lena's smile spread, "more food and the odds go up."
"What, really?" Jessie stammered. Rachel stared at her curiously, all the while still holding on to the dress as if it was precious. "I'll be right there."
Her jaw dropped, she rushed forward as Jessie headed for the door. "Wait. Where are you going?"
Jessie stopped right in front of the door to pass a confused frown her way. "The bathroom. Where do you think?" She groaned when Rachel's eye drifted to a different door. "Sarcasm, look it up. Seriously, didn't you hear?"
"No, I was trying to think of a dress you won't throw in my face," Rachel muttered.
"I can see why that would be a struggle," Jessie commented. "My sister's had her baby. This is my first nephew, so... Can you watch her?" she said with a point to the crib.
"Well..." Rachel said uneasily.
"Thanks," Jessie said just as she hurried out the door.
Rachel felt a scowl coming on, she tried to push it aside. "Fine, fine," she muttered while fidgeting slightly. No matter what she did the scowl did come through, she exhaled to ease her impatience. Finally she dumped the offending dress onto the arm of a nearby chair, just in time for a door to open. Thinking it was Jessie coming back she swung around. To her disappointment it was Lena walking through the bedroom door. "Oh. Leanne."
Lena rolled her eyes, "Lena."
"Does it matter?" Rachel grunted.
"No, no it doesn't Racquel," Lena said, managing to smirk through her disdain. It helped that Rachel flinched at being called that. She walked by her on route to the replicator. "Where's Jessie?"
"Meeting a new nephew I believe," Rachel answered, disgruntled.
"Oh, the horror," Lena teased her, noticing her tone. "Cherry Coke, two cans."
Rachel pulled a horrified face, "ugh god. Nothing like a can of sugar crap to chase the doesn't give a craps away."
"Are you sure you're Jessie's mother?" Lena asked seriously, all while eyeing the dress.
Rachel's eyes narrowed maliciously, "yes, I was there."
Lena just sniggered to herself, "yeah, I wouldn't count on that as proof. Ask my mum." Rachel's expression looked even worse with some confusion mixed in. Lena shrugged, not letting it bother her. "Or not. Maybe you should try some of this, calm down."
"I'll pass. Excuse me," Rachel grumbled. She walked away.
"Wow," Lena sighed, turning back to the replicator. The sound of the door opening and closing signalled she was gone, so Lena focused on the crib sitting close by. "She's gone. You're welcome." The girl squeaked, it sounded like a giggle to her.
Unbeknownst to Lena, Rachel hadn't left the quarters. She had merely walked into the bedroom instead.
"You're still here, I see." James stared straight ahead of him, she took it as him staring at her. It rattled her further. "Maybe I didn't..."
"Not now," he said.
Rachel scoffed, her hand reached up to angrily swipe some hair behind her ear. "I don't really care about what you need. Tomorrow..."
"I know," James interrupted to push her further. "Before, your wedding is ruined. After, doesn't matter."
A small smile formed on her face. With it and her eyes glistening, she walked toward him slowly. "So you'll go?"
James closed his eyes and nodded once.
"You do realise that after doesn't work for me either. Jess will not come," Rachel said.
"If I'm..." James said, he grimaced as his words slipped from him again. "Okay, she will."
Rachel nodded. A chuckle escaped her, "you know you were right. Keeping this our little secret worked out for everyone." His eyes opened to stare back at her, catching the derisive glint in hers. "Except you, but who cares about you right?"
"Right," James agreed, no feeling in his voice.
"Jodie was so certain it would be a girl. She asked me if calling him Lindsay would still work," Jessie giggled while she lay a sheet on the floor by the bed.
"I hope you said no," James said.
Jessie picked up a plastic basket from a chair nearby, then she put it into the centre of the sheet. "Who do you think I am?" After answering she crouched to sit down. The basket was opened, revealing sandwiches and various snacks. James stood nearby, watching her as she started to spread the contents which were already in bowls and plates. "I said if I helped her, she could help us with ours. You gonna sit?"
James reluctantly did so, on the other side of the basket. As soon as he was down, she gestured to a couple of sandwiches nearby. He picked up the plate to hand them over, she shook her head whilst pushing them right back. "No, you eat. They're your favourites."
"Oh," he mumbled. He stared at one of them for what felt like ten minutes. There were a pair of eyes staring at him, he didn't have to look to know that. Reluctantly he clutched one half of it to raise it up to his mouth. Jessie watched him still, likely making sure he'd finish it. She wasn't eating herself, so it inspired him to pick up the pace. Good thing he did, once he was done with the whole piece, she started to eat.
"How is it?" Jessie asked with a smile.
James nodded. "Good." It was a lie but she seemed to buy it. Everything he ate tasted like nothing.
"Lena said you were a little quieter when she brought you a few things," Jessie said with concern. "She was worried she said something wrong."
"She didn't. I told her that," James said.
Jessie nodded a few too many times while trying to think of what to say, then how when she did. She wasn't used to doing this with him. Normally their conversations were easy, natural, but this wasn't a normal situation. She decided that the first thing that appeared in her head she would say, as she normally did.
"You going to your mum's wedding tomorrow?" he asked before anything came to mind.
This wasn't a topic she had in mind, not even close. "No."
"Why not?" James asked.
"You know why," Jessie answered.
"I... I never want to get in between you and your mum," James stuttered.
Something about his tone made Jessie believe that was the only thing he said to her this morning with any real feeling to it. It bothered her more than she liked. "Don't be silly. She knew it was bad timing and she did it anyway. Besides they've got this second, unofficial one in a church planned for when we return. I can just go to that one. The Enterprise one is just a registry office type deal, with probably no more than a dozen guests. No thanks."
"Then it won't be that long. It sounded like it meant a lot to her," James said.
Jessie cringed at the thought that came to her. "Oh god, you weren't exposed to her thoughts? I know she's loud, but you'd think she wouldn't shout in her own head."
He shook his head lightly. "I won't be alone, if that's why. I have Lena, mum..."
"Actually," Jessie said quickly. "Tomorrow is Saturday, Duncan won't have any class to go to, someone will have to watch him. And your mum, well..."
"What?" James frowned.
"She's the only one who can officially perform weddings. Mum said she had a change of heart," Jessie replied awkwardly.
"I don't get it. You were dead set against it yesterday," Lena said.
"Well, I thought about it and ten minutes to say a few lines wouldn't do any harm," Kathryn answered.
Lena couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You basically called her a spoilt brat. She insulted all of us."
"I stopped by to see how James was, she was there to see Jessie. We ended up talking," Kathryn said.
"I knew I should have kicked the door down when I was there the first time," Lena muttered.
Kathryn chuckled at her, "oh don't get me wrong, she's still really annoying and self absorbed. Maybe I'll slap her in between vows. If I don't, she owes me."
"Oh yeah? Why didn't you answer when I called, why didn't you stay to see him?" Lena asked, blinking furiously as her eyes had been wide a while.
"You mustn't have called when I was there," Kathryn replied. She laughed and gestured to her daughter's face, "keep that up and people will think you're doing a Seven impression."
Lena quickly blinked a few more times to get her eyes back to normal, all the while muttering, "eew."
"You want to know the truth?" Kathryn said, serious all of a sudden.
"During the vows you're going to say do you take this fist and hit her?" Lena asked hopefully.
"She was just angry yesterday. There's no need for that," Kathryn scolded her.
Lena scowled, all the while thinking what she said was more disgusting than the Seven remark. "You heard the way she talked about James, right? If you say oh she's his mother in law, it's normal, I'm going to start throwing the coffee into space. I don't care if you can't drink it yet."
Kathryn narrowed her eyes, "you wouldn't dare." Lena did the same back, all the while putting her hands on her hips. Kathryn couldn't help but giggle at that familiar habit of hers. "Lena, Rachel and I have more in common than I wanted to admit. She told me why she gave Jessie up and it sounded so familiar. And yes, I thought about hitting her but you know why? I'm still mad at myself for leaving James..."
"But mum, you believed you were doing the right thing. You still do, as he was better off once his dad was gone," Lena protested.
"Lena," Kathryn said sadly, her eyes cast down. "You did the right thing, didn't you? You understand."
The sentences slapped her right in the face. Lena was momentarily stunned, but anger took over quickly. "Letting Kiara go to the Continuum doesn't compare."
"No, it doesn't. I just mean you understand regretting something that you did for someone else," Kathryn said. "The thing is I know so much more now. How he was treated, what could have been. I know he found Jessie during all that mess and that's great, but look at him now. It's hard not to regret what I did when I look in his eyes.
"I understand where Rachel's coming from. All she wanted was to find her daughter so she could share her special day with her. That's all," Kathryn said.
Lena's eyes partly rolled, "yeah, she didn't want to find Jessie because she wanted to find her." Kathryn looked ready to scold her again. "If it was all about Jessie being at her wedding, she'd be the one wanting to put it off till later. But no, she wants it now. Everyone else be damned!"
"You're making too big a fuss over ten measly minutes. There's more important things to worry about," Kathryn said.
"Yeah, exactly. We have a Game Sphere we can't get out of, millions could be dead already, billions are at risk. James is suffering from a breakdown that could, no will end up killing him if we don't help him. If we find our way out of this sphere, you'll be a Tolg again, and we've not done anything to sort that out. This isn't the time for a wedding no one but the bride cares about," Lena ranted at her, her eyes flared wide open again. "Seriously, why is this even a thing? What's happening?"
Kathryn placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle shake. "Don't worry about it. This doesn't have anything to do with you."
Lena scrunched her face at her, then she rolled her eyes and pointed to something behind Kathryn. She looked over her shoulder to see what she was pointing at. The last two sentences her daughter had spoken suddenly made so much more sense. Only a few feet away, obviously spying on them using the corner to hide not enough of her body, was Annika pulling a strange stink eye expression. She didn't seem that bothered or she didn't notice she had been spotted.
"Did Damien die, am I next?" Lena asked.
Annika slowly pointed at her, then at herself, while mouthing something neither of them could make out. They both shook their heads. That annoyed her and she did it again. For some reason she followed it with a fist bump to her chest. Lena's face twisted in disgust even more than before. The strange vampire slinked out of sight while maintaining eye contact.
"What's er... Damien got to do with this?" Kathryn had to know.
Lena groaned, she felt a little defeated after all of that. "Forget it. It's just yet another thing to keep track of."
Jessie squinted her eyes at the image in front of her, her face scrunched in disgust. It was tempting to throw the offending PADD away, all she had to do was tap the command labelled next so she did that instead. There was a loud gasp from her, getting James' attention from the other side of the living room. "Oh god. I think mum's trying to get rid of me again."
"Can't be that bad," James mumbled.
"Oh it can," Jessie said with her eyes wide in fear. This time she did toss the PADD over her shoulder. "Forget it. I'm not going. All this has done has given me two reasons not to go."
James walked over and knelt down to pick up the PADD. At first glance the picture on the screen was of a scrunched up hanky with wings poking out from random places. The second glance didn't improve it much. It looked like an uneven dress constructed with multiple layers of silk, of varying colours. The things he saw as wings at first didn't look like anything now, just random bits of sparkly material sticking out of it.
"I... I don't think I want to know what she's wearing," he muttered.
Jessie nodded furiously, "neither do I! God, that pink chewing gum thing with frills was a masterpiece in comparison. Maybe I should go only to wear jeans and a tank top, see what happens."
"You should," James said.
Jessie sighed, it turned into a lazy laugh like she was faking it. "No. No wedding, no rehearsal dinner. It's bad enough she's wasting your mother's time." James watched her, his face faintly etched in concern. "We've got a lot to work through, talk about. You need me. It's not ten minutes, or an hour on Saturday, it's taking up our time now."
"You deserve a break. I'll be okay, on my own," James said.
Jessie's eyebrow raised, "you mean I deserve to be tortured by awful bridesmaid dresses."
"No. There's been no break. It's been one bad thing after another," James tried to convince her. "It's an hour away from it all."
"Forget my mum, this is important to you... but why?" Jessie asked with a frown. She didn't like that she started to feel a little paranoid. "Why are you so eager to be on your own?"
"I'm not," James answered, internally he flinched.
"I don't like this. I'm so used to trusting you, but... with everything that's happened, your behaviour, I can't help thinking that you're going to run off again," Jessie started to stammer midway. James closed his eyes, his head turned away instinctively. "That doesn't help."
"I'm not going anywhere," he said firmly. He continued but slowly, occasionally stalling now and then. "I keep thinking that it's selfish to... to stay here, constantly bringing risk to you, the kids just by being there. But... I know that leaving is much worse."
"Sorry, I'll stop you right there," Jessie quickly said. "Our kids and especially me don't want a mere bodyguard. They want and need their father back. I want my best friend back. We all need you, not an emotionless Slayer who thinks he's cursed us and only stays around to fight off the occasional demon."
James nodded, he looked directly at her. "I know. I don't want that either. I don't want to think that way anymore."
His voice and how easily he said it gave Jessie a little hope. He sounded like he really meant it. However a little voice in her head still told her that something was horribly wrong, he was still hiding. "That's something we should work on together. So that's settled, I'm staying here tomorrow."
"Why don't I go with you?" James suggested.
Jessie was more than surprised. "To the wedding? Are you sure you're up for that?"
"I don't know. Maybe we can try the rehearsal dinner first," James said.
Jessie didn't look so sure about it. "Even if you have improved, you're still sick. However a change of scenery and subject may help. Then I remember the chip again and I start to worry."
"The last dose he gave me, it helps," James mumbled, making her even more worried. He shook his head, "I don't want you missing out on time with your mum, because of me. Because you can't trust me, I don't blame you."
"James," Jessie tried to re-assure him that wasn't truly the case.
"I want to prove that... that I want to fight this," James said, though he clearly struggled to do it.
Jessie smiled for him, but she couldn't shake off her instincts shouting at her. She knew him too well to fall for it, unfortunately she didn't know what it was. "Five minutes. We show our faces, I say hi to mum, steal a few snacks off the buffet table, then we go."
James appeared to be considering it as his eyes moved to one side and up a little. "Ten."
"I'll call Lena to watch the kids, thought it hardly seems worth it," Jessie said a little wary of the idea. Before he could suggest anything longer than ten minutes she quickly raised her hand, gesturing him not to. "Maybe they should be out when we leave. They do know you're ill but..."
"Good plan," James nodded.
The party in the Mess Hall slowed down for a brief moment when they arrived, most of the guests had looked over in surprise or even shock in some cases. The majority of them returned to their drinks and food, their conversations taking a different turn.
Rachel didn't notice the atmosphere change, she was far too busy chatting excitedly with a female crewmember while proudly showing off her dress. Jessie spotted her first, she smirked up at James. Him looking around anxiously made her re-think making a joke at her mother's expense, instead she gently squeezed his arm she already had entwined with one of her own. "Do you want to go?"
He seemed startled for a moment, then he glanced at her. "No, I just think I... freaked everyone out."
"Don't worry about them. Try to ignore them," Jessie whispered to him and smiled. He sighed, already looking calmer to her. Still she held on to him as if he would run away at any second.
Rachel finally noticed her daughter had arrived. Her face lit up as she hurried over to her. Seeing James was with her didn't slow her down, but it did kill off the sparkle in her eye. She put on a happy facade once she got to them. "Jess, you came. You had me worried."
"Yeah, James can be a little stubborn sometimes, tough to argue with," Jessie said jokingly.
"Yes, I'm sure," Rachel said in a neutral tone. She reached forward to clutch the arm Jessie had mostly free. "Come, you must meet the Enterprise gang."
"Mum, I used to live there," Jessie said.
Rachel laughed sweetly, "and you knew everyone on it? Nice try." She tried to pull her away, her hold on James was solid so all Rachel achieved was stretching her arm. He tensed during all the whole thing, which didn't help either. With her face flushing Rachel let go of her. "Oh Jessica, he'll be fine. My crewmates are dying to meet you."
"Maybe I should..." James mumbled, gesturing to the put together tables away where the buffet was.
"Well yeah but..." Jessie stuttered. It was too late to argue, he was already moving away and Rachel made quick work of taking her hand to lead her away.
Half way to the table he slowed to a crawl. Every person he walked by seemed to have his eye on him. A few tried to be discreet about it. Some walked away quickly to avoid him. His face showed no hints that he had noticed or if he had, was bothered by it. He looked around in a daze, the world around him blurred and muted. One image became sharply focused, and that was the cold stare of Rachel as she looked over her shoulder at him. Her eyes clearly keeping track of his every move. James turned his head away to ignore it. Even still her stare had been drilled into his consciousness. It was all he could see, he missed somebody approach him with intent.
"I apologise for my future wife. I promise you, she means well," Antony's voice said sincerely. He sipped at his drink while James slowly turned his head toward him. "She just doesn't think before she speaks, words fly out of her at warp nine."
He could still feel her staring at him in the corner of his left eye. "It's fine, doesn't matter."
"No it does. Her being your mother in law is an excuse, don't let her use it, cos she'll abuse it," Antony said with a friendly smile. His hand gestured forward, in it was another glass. "You could do with a drink."
James refused by shaking his head, a little abruptly and even timidly. Antony studied him carefully while bringing back his hand. "You really don't look well. I doubted that you were faking, Rach has a vivid imagination after all," Antony said. He debated how to say what was on his mind for a moment. "You look like death not warmed over. Let me guess, Jessie wouldn't come so here you are?"
"Yeah," James said. A piercing cold abruptly washed over him, he found his attention wavering once again, this time drawn to something behind him. Antony continued to talk to him, his voice gradually drowned by a low muffled sound just like everyone elses. He looked over his shoulder, expecting something out of the ordinary or at least Rachel still looking at him. Neither were happening. Then silence, as if the voices he was hearing were switched off by a flick of a switch. The silence brought pulsating pain to his temple, each one more excruciating than the last.
The room around him felt like it was falling, as well as lurching gradually to the right. He felt a hand on his forearm, only then he realised that it was really him as it momentarily steadied him.
"I'll tell her. Go," Antony said. James looked at him, confused. "Jessie, I'll tell her you've gone home, or Sickbay's probably better."
James tried to nod but it just aggravated the pain and made the room move again. He made his way for the closest exit. The door didn't seem to get any closer, it just danced from side to side. It even started to blur then divide with every step he tried to make. The entire room span around him, a heavy weight slammed into his back winding him. Then it all faded away into darkness.
Everyone in the Mess Hall stopped what they were doing to gather around. A few crewmembers tapped their commbadges to call the same person. The murmurs from the crowd blended together, it was difficult to hear what they were saying.
Jessie tried to push her way through to the front, a desperate look had taken over her face. "Excuse me. Hey, please... get out of the way!" she grunted in the end when no one seemed to listen to her. Finally people started to part to let her through. Once she was finally at the front she dropped down to the floor on her knees to tend to the body slumped on the floor. "James?" Her hand flew to her commbadge.
"It's okay, the Doc's coming," one crewmember quickly told her.
She was trembling viciously as her hand reached to his neck to check his pulse. He still had one but it was weak, finding that out didn't make her feel any better. "I knew... I knew we shouldn't have come," Jessie stuttered as she dragged herself closer. Gently she raised his head off the floor so it could be supported on her lap. Her shaking hand brushed against his face. "Oh god... what happened?"
TO BE CONTINUED
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