"Kathryn…please…answer me…Kathryn…" Silence still.
"Please God…KATHRYN…" A faint stirring.
"Ahh…Cha…Chakotay…" At least she was alive.
"Kathryn, are you hurt badly? Kathryn, talk to me please…" Silence for a few moments.
"Chakotay…I'm not…not sure…what…what happened…?"
Chakotay closed his eyes in the darkness. "I don't know exactly…something hit us. We came down either way…" He heard her try and stifle a groan before she spoke.
"Did you get a distress call off…?"
He gritted his teeth as he tried to move his legs. "Yeah…I got it off. You hit your head…got knocked out almost immediately. I got it off…then we hit the ground. That's the last I remember. I can't reach the controls…sensors…" He gave up the effort and heard Kathryn try to move. "Kathryn, don't try and move…" He heard her groan again.
"I can't anyway. Something's lying over me…pinning me down…legs…"
He tried to comfort her. "Voyager will get the distress call. They'll be coming for us." He heard her try and draw in a deep breath, followed by a moan of pain. "Kathryn, we just have to hang on…"
"Guess we just wait then…not that we have much choice…"
Chakotay wiped at the blood he felt on his forehead. "So what do you want to talk about…?" Kathryn coughed and a silence followed. "Kathryn?"
"It's all right…"
He knew that tone. "Kathryn, what is it? I know you…"
She smiled softly to herself. "You do know me…sometimes too well…"
He smiled to himself too. "So tell me then…"
She debated and then decided it wouldn't matter much now anyway. "I think I coughed up a little blood…well a bit more than a little…" She immediately regretted telling him.
"They'll get to us…" She heard the fear in his voice as he tried to control it but Kathryn suddenly didn't want false comfort. "Chakotay, we both know they will. They'll find us most likely…but I think we'll be long gone by the time they do. The air in here won't last…they're not that near and they still have to find us. Besides, you know me. I prefer the facts…" The effort of talking was causing more pain.
"Damn it, Kathryn…I'm just trying to…" He heard her try and cough more quietly this time.
"Sorry, Chaktoay…I know what you're trying to do and I appreciate it… Sorry, I just… I don't want to waste my last hours in denial…avoiding…"
"I understand…really… I guess I just prefer to look forward…"
She was quiet for a moment. "I think we can only look back now…to the past… because I can't see a future to think or talk about… Sorry…I'm not helping you…" She could almost hear him thinking.
"No, you're right. We have to accept what is." He paused a moment, trying to move slightly to see if he could lessen the pain. "Seeing as we're talking like this then, can I ask you something?" He heard her once more try and hide a cough.
"Ask anything. You're not going to tell anyone else now… Sorry…that wasn't fair."
He smiled. "No, you're right. We're facing facts here so let's be totally honest."
tried turning her head towards where she knew he was but the pain
"What did you want to ask?"
He took a moment. "Just… Did you ever see it all…well…I guess…ending like this?" They were both quiet a moment as the question hung in the air.
"I don't think so. I always tried not to… God, I'm talking in the past tense already. Sorry. I always TRY not to… Oh hell…we're being honest. I always TRIED not to think about it…" She paused to try and control herself. "I always thought it would be either as an old woman in bed…family around me…that kind of scene…although the chances of that passed me by. That or in a blaze of glory…going down with the ship like a good captain. Going down with the shuttle doesn't have quite the same ring to it…" They both smiled.
"How about 'In The Line Of Duty' then…?"
She considered this. "Yeah…that sounds good. I can live with that. Sorry…bad choice of words. Does 'I can die with it' sound better?" He didn't answer. "My apologies. Melodrama doesn't sit well with me, does it?"
"It's OK. What do they call it? Graveyard honour? It just takes getting used to…" He heard her try and move again and then she cried out. "Kathryn? Kathryn, what is it…?" She took a moment and he knew she was fighting pain.
"I'm fine…it's fine…"
Suddenly he was angry. "For God's sake, Kathryn, don't lie to me about what you're feeling. You're always doing that…"
She answered immediately. "I don't lie to you about…"
He cut her off. "Kathryn, you do it all the time. You lie to me about how and what you're feeling, certainly the physical feelings you do. The emotional ones, you just deny them constantly, even to yourself. You probably lie to yourself about your feelings almost as much as you lie to me about them…" He heard her sniff in the darkness and knew he'd hit a nerve. "Kathryn, I'm sorry…"
She cut him off now. "No…you're right. I do that. You're right. We said we'd be honest here…" She was quiet for a minute. "All right. I…I can't…feel my legs…" They were both quiet now, not knowing what to say.
She thought about it. "Whatever is crushing me is across my lap. I can feel nothing below the waist. All the pain is…my back and chest…my head… I think my right arm's broken…and I…I think something inside… I keep tasting blood in my mouth…when I cough…" He didn't answer. "Your turn…"
He considered his body. "I have most pain in my legs but I can't… Something is pinning them. I've a bad cut on my head…keeps bleeding. I guess something inside too… I feel strange…" He heard her try and laugh.
"We sound as if we're in competition…"
He tried to laugh too but a spasm in his legs stopped him. "Kathryn, do you have…any regrets…about your life…?"
She blinked back her tears. "A few. Oh, my childhood was great. It just feels sometimes as if it was someone else…another life…doesn't feel a part of me somehow at times…"
He knew that feeling. "I know that well. I regret… I wish I'd been closer with my father…paid more attention to what he was trying to teach me. I think I hurt him many times. I thought I knew it all…"
Kathryn smiled. "I think that's part of growing up…thinking you know it all, that you know better. It's a shock when you grow up and find you knew nothing at all and that you never will know it all. I feel I wasted so much though. It's like at this age, I'm at the top of the hill, starting to head down the other side now, only I missed some of the climb up the first side. It's like someone transported me to the top and I missed the stuff I should have been picking up along the way and now it's too late. I don't just mean too late with being as we are now but with my age…"
He tried to look towards her but couldn't see anything. "What did you miss, Kathryn?"
She smiled sadly to herself. "Oh, the kind of things most women take for granted though I'm probably being silly…"
He cut her off. "Kathryn, our dreams or what we want in life is never silly…" He heard her fight a sniffle.
"Maybe not… I'd have just liked… I'd have liked to have gotten married…the wedding day…all the trimmings… I mean I know it's just one day and it's the marriage itself that's important… It's just a childhood dream…"
He knew nothing he could say would help. "What else…?" He heard her drew in a breath and she was quiet for a few minutes which he gave her to herself. When she spoke he could hear the tears in her voice.
"I so wanted to be a…be a mother…" She let her tears fall, knowing they were hidden with the dark. "Oh it's just… There's this huge hole inside me…what I saw and learned from my own mother… It's like I have all this knowledge to impart…all this love to give…memories to share and pass on… and now it's wasted. It'll die with me…rot away with my body and the memory of who I was…" She couldn't continue and he gave her some time.
"Kathryn, you're wrong with that. Kathryn Janeway won't be forgotten easily…"
She snorted. "Oh, I will. The most I'll get is a dusty portrait at Headquarters that passers-by will look at and they'll see the image in the paint and never think about the person who was, what I was like. People who knew me will remember for a while but they'll go on with their lives, and don't get me wrong, that's as it should be but it's just a sad thought. I know. I saw this before, remember…that alien and his matrix…?"
He wished he could reach for her and tried but failed. "Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you think that we see those who went before us?"
She thought about that. "I'd like to believe that. Whether that's for comfort or whatever… I guess I'd like to think it's a place of peace, free of all pain, physical and emotional, somewhere we get to do and experience all that we missed here…" He leaned his head back and a sharp pain caught his neck.
"I find my beliefs very comforting. It took time to come to them though… I always believed before that there was nothing…just sleep…although I guess that wouldn't be too bad either. You wouldn't know about it…"
Kathryn tried to control her breathing to ease the pain in her chest. "Makes you realize how much you take it all for granted, each moment… I left my quarters this morning…smiled at people…spoke with them…not knowing that it would be for the last time. We just never know when…"
Chakotay nodded to himself. "That's probably just as well. If we thought about it too much, we'd never live…" He was silent a moment. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." When she didn't answer, he filled in the blank. "Something from Tom's 20th century music collection."
Kathryn coughed again slightly. "I think it should have said that 'death' was what happened while you were making plans. It makes you think how little control you have over your life. The only certain thing about life is death, not the how or the where or the when…only that it WILL happen…though I guess if you kill yourself, that gives you some control. I mean at the time it does but before you thought of it you didn't know…"
Chakotay rubbed at his head again and realized that the bleeding had slowed. "Did you ever seriously consider that? Killing yourself…suicide…?"
was quiet for a while and he knew she was thinking more of if to
answer rather than what to answer.
"A few times…" He knew it had taken a lot for her to say that. "After my father and Justin…and then…in the void…"
He nodded to himself. "I guessed about that…the void, I mean, although I wasn't sure how close you were but I worried about it. I didn't know about the other… I knew you'd had a bad depression but… Was I any help…in the void, I mean…?" He reached out again, needing the gesture and suddenly his hand brushed hers and he knew she'd have to have reached out too. He grasped her hand and squeezed tightly and she returned it.
"Yes, you were. You got me through. I'm sorry I never told you that…" She squeezed his hand tighter and he knew it was from her pain. "What about you…your regrets? What did you want?"
He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. "I guess I always wanted a bit of land…somewhere peaceful… Get married…raise kids and corn… a rocking chair on the porch…" They both laughed at the image.
He smiled at her, knowing she couldn't see it. "God, Kathryn, it takes dying for us to talk like this…"
She squeezed his hand again. "Death The Leveller…."
He frowned. "What's that…?"
She sighed. "A poem. James Shirley, I think, how death comes to all… I guess it makes you appreciate what's important. Death can clarify life like nothing else can, especially when you're staring it in the face. Every day I put on my make-up and something like a lipstick is important to me and yet now, it's just something to be thrown away and recycled…meaningless to anyone. All those unimportant things that seem so important…the material stuff…when the only thing you really take with you at the end is the love we have for each other. The people… I think only of them now…nothing else. It's not a case of getting the SHIP home but getting THEM home. Oh, I know Tuvok will do it. It won't be as much fun for them with him instead of us but you can't have it all…" They both laughed at the image.
"Kathryn Janeway, you made a joke. Nice to see you haven't lost your sense of honour…"
She twisted a little and stiffened for a moment. "Laughing in the face of adversity…"
He squeezed her hand again. "Something like that. That or it's just total denial of the situation. I guess in the end it's like looking in a mirror. You're left with yourself. 'At the end…we come to ourselves'… Can't remember what that's from…" They were quiet for a while, just sharing the physical contact.
"Kathryn, what have you missed most out here…from home or your life…?"
She let out a long sigh. "Apart from real coffee…?" They both smiled. "I think I miss who I was most…" That shook him but he understood. "I don't regret what I've learned out here or the people. A part of me wishes, of course, none of it had ever happened, but another part is glad in a way, wouldn't have missed it. I wouldn't have known you all and I'd never have gotten so close to any other crew. It just isn't done. I wouldn't be who I am now without this Quadrant, although some days I don't like what that is at all. I'm not sure I like what I've become. Actually, I don't. You know only too well…Ransom and the Equinox… I hated what I saw in myself and what I saw myself do to you…"
Chakotay sighed. He wasn't going to reply to that. She had enough guilt. "I don't miss who I was at all. That man would be a stranger to me now, one I don't think I'd like either. I had all that anger and hate…the troubled soul… Sitting here dying…I think I'm more at peace with this than when I was full of life back then. I wish I'd done it differently…but then, of course, I'd never have met you…" He wanted to hold her so much and wondered if she'd allow that, even now.
"Would you really have done it differently?"
He didn't know the answer to that. "I honestly don't know. Most of it was forced on me in a way…left me with no choice. What about you?"
She ran her finger over his. "Without the benefit of hindsight? I don't know either. I guess you have to accept that it was right at the time, that you worked with what you had." She paused a moment and he filled the silence.
"Kathryn, do you miss…well…miss sex…?"
She managed to laugh at this. "I wondered if that would come up. Sorry, bad choice of words again…"
He laughed now and then was quiet. "I don't mean just… I mean both sides of it. There's the physical release and there's the holding and the closeness, the whispering in the dark. They're two separate things."
Kathryn squeezed his hand. "Whispering in the dark? You mean, like we're doing now?"
He chuckled, feeling bold. "Guess we could just masturbate and continue whispering to each other. It's the best we'll manage."
Kathryn laughed out loud and then coughed. "Oh God, Chakotay, you really know how to lower the tone of the mood. You forget though, I can't feel anything there so it wouldn't do me any good. I'd have to rely on memory and mine's not that good…"
Chakotay suddenly stopped laughing and the gravity of the situation hit him. "Has it really been that long?"
She nodded silently in the dark and he could sense it. "The night before we left home…"
He was shocked. "I thought…"
Kathryn laughed. "I know you did. Everyone did. Chakotay, he was a hologram. I mean, I was lonely but I wasn't that desperate. Kashyk was…one kiss… But yes, I do miss it…both sides of it…" She felt her tears return.
"Don't you…well, you know…on your own…the physical release at least…?" He suddenly wondered if he should have asked. Kathryn remained quiet, knowing exactly what he meant. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. I know I joked a minute ago about it but asking this… I've embarrassed you and it's none of my business. I'm sorry."
Kathryn didn't answer for a minute. "It' all right. Actually, it's refreshing to talk this openly. I've missed that. In answer to your question… Yes, I do. Not very often though. I guess it just makes me feel lonelier. It's not the same…even physically I mean… Well, you know what I mean… As to the other… I miss that more, the holding someone or caressing…" She stopped and he heard her swallow and sniff quietly. "Sorry, Chakotay…we're sharing what is probably the most intimate moment we've ever shared, the kind of intimacy that doesn't involve sex and I get like this…"
He stroked a finger over the inside of her wrist. "I think at this moment in time, we have a right to be any way we want to be. Seriously though, Kathryn, why are you so afraid out here? Why couldn't you ever come to me like that…and I'm not just talking about sex? I'm always there for you, always have been. You could have combined the two." He shook his head. "You know the saddest thing? It's not that you'll die so young but that you've denied yourself what you could have had, what was there for the taking, if you'd just reached out and taken it. I don't mean to sadden our last hours even more but admitting this to yourself… Well, it's resolving it at least…one less regret…"
Kathryn didn't try and hide the fact that she was crying now. "One less regret? What about the hundred it leaves in its place…?"
He gripped her hand. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. Please…I'm sorry…"
She sniffled. "No, it's OK. You're right again. I always do it. I could have married Mark long before… I guess I kept putting that off too. Despite wanting to get married, I somehow got scared to take that step. I'll face anything physical, but the emotional? It scares the hell out of me. It took me a long time to get as far as I did with Mark. If it means anything…I regret us most of all…not, you know, letting you in…but thank you anyway…"
He frowned. "For what?"
She let out a breath. "For everything…all you've given me, taught me, done for me, put up with from me… You've enriched my life, Chakotay. You made it worth living out here. And you stayed with me, despite all the pain I caused you. You're even making my dying easier to bear. I'd have so hated to die alone…I guess the way I've made myself live…" She heard him cry too.
"Oh Kathryn… You know what I'm going to say to that…"
She smiled through her tears. "I know. I'm never alone."
He smiled too. "Kathryn, it's true. Even when you've been on your own, you've never been alone. Can you understand that?"
She nodded again, gripping his hand tighter. "I do understand. I've missed…in my childhood I had it…this… I miss time alone, the kind of alone you have when you know you have a choice not to be alone, that someone is there waiting. It's…being on your own…alone…as compared to being lonely…where being alone is a break, a relief and not a painful burden. Do you know what I mean?" He nodded and moved slightly.
Her voice broke the silence. "Chakotay, are you…are you afraid…of dying, I mean…?" She choked up.
"Not really. Some things I've faced in life have been harder. I guess there's some fear…the not knowing what's really after this. The hardest part is leaving things behind…the people I love…care about… My faith and beliefs help me face it though. You just have to accept it and it makes it a little easier." He drew a deep breath. "Kathryn, are you afraid…?" He gripped her hand tightly as if he could give her strength and heard her control a sob.
"I guess a little…" She stopped and he knew she was deciding if she should say more. "Since this is it and we're being honest… I feel it's not so bad…dying, I mean…since I have no control over it. Well, I have no choice in the matter. Somehow, it's not so bad. I mean, I've been…"
She stopped again a moment, then took the plunge. "I've been depressed, I guess, for some time. I don't exactly look forward to the future…look towards it… Well, aside from getting you all home, which I knew you or Tuvok could do just as well…" He heard her swallow her tears. "I've nothing waiting for me there. Not really. All I have is this task of getting you home. Now I've even failed at that…" She dropped her head and stiffened a little with the pain. "I won't miss the guilt though… and as I'm not leaving anything behind… I guess I actually don't mind dying at all…" She regretted her words now, knowing how they'd upset him but she felt better for having said them.
"Kathryn… Oh God, love… Why didn't you ever talk to me…tell me you felt this way…?" He was feeling a different pain now.
Kathryn tried to lighten the moment. "What…and make you depressed too…?"
Chakotay parried the joke and shook his head. "Before…you said… When I asked if you'd ever thought about suicide…" He listened to her breathing for a moment. "In my book, a few usually translates as more than two…" She stayed quiet, knowing what he was going to say. "Kathryn, have there been times recently when…?" He didn't want to say the words.
"I think you can guess the answer to that. Chakotay, I'm sorry. I never wanted you to have to know this. Look, I did think about it but I don't believe I would have. Just like before… Thinking seriously about something and planning it are… Well, they're different. I'm not sure I'd ever have had the guts to actually… Things just built up lately…made me think like that…"
He sighed deeply. "Kathryn, it never had to be like that. There was so much there for you. Without trying to sound trite, your guilt was self-inflicted. No one ever blamed you. You did that to yourself. The rest…it's been there for you all along…me…the others…friends…love… Depression and self-pity…whatever they are… They become addictive. It can almost become enjoyable to wallow in them. It becomes easier to feel that way than to try and change it. Did you ever stop to think though, how your death will affect others…the pain they'll go through at your loss…?" He heard her swallow a cry.
"They'll all be fine. I won't be missed. Tuvok will get them home and they have each other. My family…those at home… Well, Mark's all right. Mom and Phoebe…I guess they're well used to me not being there now so that won't be so bad. The crew will be fine too. I'm just their captain. They don't really need me. They'll manage very well without…" She closed her eyes, the tears escaping anyway and heard Chakotay crying also.
"Oh God, Kathryn, you saying this… The fact that you think and believe it even more so… It hurts me more than these injuries…"
She squeezed his hand, regretting having been so open. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you all that."
He felt angry now. "No, I'm glad you did. I just feel I failed you now. Why I didn't see this before… But, Kathryn, I'm sorry. You have to take some of the blame here. You should have come to me…and I know you'll say I had enough to cope with or some other excuse… Oh God, if you feel this way then it was all such a waste…what you did with your life…your personal life, I mean… Another thing…how can you be so blind? Right, Mark is married and moved on. Big deal. Your mother and sister? Just because they don't see you every day… They know you're alive and they live in hope of seeing you again. If you can't see that your dying won't crush them… And the crew… You say you're 'just their captain'… I can't believe how blind you've been. They love and respect you, look up to you all the time, need you and depend on you… Oh Kathryn, why didn't you see all that?" She was openly sobbing now and he held tightly to her hand. "Can you not see what I'm talking about? Your death will leave a huge hole in a lot of lives."
She nodded. "I…just never…never thought…that way…couldn't maybe…" She managed to control her sobbing. "Chakotay, you never failed me. You kept me going…and I do see what you're saying…"
He turned to her. "It's been your own guilt…which was unnecessary…that has you like this. I think you've been punishing yourself for too long. I know you, Kathryn. You feel to have to suffer as some form of stupid payback. You deny yourself what you falsely believe you've denied us. Well, you're wrong and before we die, I want to know you believe that and hear you admit to it." He shook her hand, making sure he had her full attention. "Come on…" He heard her crying harder. "Kathryn, please…."
"Sorry. It just hurts. I mean, the truth… It hurts. You're right…in all you say. I'm sorry, Chakotay. I'm so sorry. Too bad I've learned all this too late…" He so badly wanted to just pull her into his arms. Holding just her hand felt so inadequate.
"Kathryn, humour me on this. Just tell me that if we manage to get out of this, by whatever miracle… Promise me that you'll remember all you've…all we've spoken of, all we've experienced here in the dark, all we've learned and all you've learned and understood. Promise me that you'll take it as the gift it will have been and that you'll use it and not let it all be wasted. Promise me you won't just forget it all and go back to business, back to what was. Even if you make it and I don't… Promise me…" She was openly sobbing now.
"I'll promise you, but…only if we both make it. I couldn't do it on my own… Oh, Chakotay, I'm going to miss you more than anything else. I'm just so sorry it took dying for me to see all this. When I said I wasn't leaving anything behind, I didn't mean you. I mean, you're here with me. I wish you weren't, for your sake… It breaks my heart that you're… I don't want to even think of you dying, and yet having you here… You know what I mean… And with that, it sounds selfish but… I hope we pass over or whatever together…at the same moment. If not, I hope I go first because… To be alone without you, even for a moment… And yet to think of you dying alone…" She couldn't go on and broke down. She felt his hand gripping hers tightly, offering the only comfort he could.
An old saying came to mind for him. "May you live my life plus one day, because I couldn't bear to be here without you…"
She remembered hearing that before but it just made her cry all the harder. "Chakotay…" She fought to control her voice. "I love you…"
He was quiet as he fought his own emotions. "I love you too, Kathryn."
No more needed to be said as they both struggled to stop their tears. Chakotay eventually spoke again, knowing they needed to rest from all that had been said. "So, Kathryn, have you ever wanted to do anything else with your life and miss out on all this?" He got a laugh from her and it eased the charged emotion of the moment.
"Chakotay… Oh God…" She forced herself to think about his question. "In all honesty… No, I haven't. I feel as if I knew this was what I wanted to do before I was even born. I don't mean command but to go into space. Command came later, as you know. Space though… Even as a young child, I'd lie on the grass and stare at the stars, knowing all I wanted was to go there, even before I realized what my father did. It was just always there…" She felt him flinch as he experienced pain. "Chakotay…?"
"It's all right. I'm getting used to it now. Almost forgotten what it's like not to have pain…" He tried laughing but it fell flat. "All I ever wanted was to study archaeology, despite joining Starfleet. Everything else just happened, but you know all that…"
were quiet again for a while and Chakotay suddenly heard Kathryn
fighting to control her breathing.
"Kathryn? What's wrong?"
She coughed and managed to control her breathing. "Just getting short of breath…" She tried to laugh. "That's really all death is, you know. Shortness of breath. 'She died of shortness of breath'…" The laugh failed her miserably and she coughed again.
He knew she'd brought up more blood and heard it. "Kathryn? Oh God, love…"
She was almost panting and she gripped his hand tighter than ever. "It's OK. The pain's…actually fading…" Her words came out in gasps and she gripped him tighter still. "I'm not sure if that's good or bad… Guess it'll make the end easier… Oh God…"
He heard her drop her head back. "Kathryn, God please…"
He heard her grunt. "It feels as if my insides are collapsing… Sorry…you don't…need to know…that…" She finally managed to control her breathing. "I'm just so tired, Chakotay. Just want to go to sleep…."
He shook her hand sharply. "Kathryn, no, you can't. Fight it. Fight it as long as you can. Stay with me, come on now…"
She groaned quietly. "Chakotay…I can't…please…I'm sorry…let me go…"
His tears poured down his face and he shouted at her. "Dammit, Kathryn Janeway, where's the captain in you? Fight this. Stay with me." He knew he was losing her, could hear her breathing slow, could hear a gurgling sound from her chest as her body fought.
"Kathryn…please, love. Don't leave me alone…" He felt her try to grip his hand but she was growing too weak. He held tightly to hers, willing what strength he had to her body. It took him a few minutes to realize that her hand was limp in his, that she'd let go, either to death or unconsciousness and he prayed for the latter.
"Kathryn, if you can hear me…please fight this…stay with me…". He held her hand tightly and continued talking to her, not knowing if she heard him somewhere or how much time had passed. He drew some small comfort from the feel of the faint pulse he felt at her wrist and kept his finger gently against it, praying that it would continue.
Sometime later, the only awareness he had being that of Kathryn's hand in his, the warmth slowly leaving it, and her thready pulse, he felt himself slip away slowly. If darkness came for him, he didn't notice it. He felt his eyes closing and vaguely thought he saw a glimmer of light. Was this death? Was Kathryn waiting for him there? He couldn't feel her pulse anymore and felt his hand slipping from hers. Was there a light when you died? It was too difficult now to think. Better to just let go when Kathryn wasn't here anymore. With his last effort, he whispered her name and surrendered.
The light was back, bright this time and he squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of it. He thought he heard a voice and the light lessened. He fought again to open his eyes and stared, his brain fighting to catch up with the information his eyes were sending it. Voyager's EMH was looking down at him with a kindly smile on his face.
"Welcome back, Commander." He struggled with this information and suddenly only one word came to mind and he tried to sit up.
"Kathryn…." He felt a hand try to push him back down gently. He turned his head quickly…too quickly. A wave of dizziness passed over him and he fell back. He managed to turn his head slowly and scan the sickbay, but there was no sign of Kathryn, all the other beds empty. "Oh God, Kathryn…no please…" The hand moved to his chest.
"Commander, she's not dead…" Four words and they started his world again.
"Where is she? Please, Doc…" He saw the sad face of the Medic.
"She's in the surgical bay…"
eyes pleaded with the Doctor and he saw what looked like a deep sigh
escape the Hologram.
"How is…is she…?" His eyes stayed on the Doctor's, demanding the truth.
"She had stopped breathing when we got to you both but I don't believe it was long enough for brain damage to have occurred. Her legs were broken in several places along with her hips, as well as six ribs and her arm. She had severe spinal injuries and there's still a risk of paralysis. I won't know until she's conscious. The internal injuries she suffered were…extensive…punctured lung…haemorrhaging…but I've taken care of that. Between concussion and the internal blood loss… Well, she's in a deep coma. It's up to her now to come back to us."
Chakotay nodded slowly. "She'll be all right though… I mean, she'll live…"
The Doctor looked away a moment. "I'm hopeful. She came pretty close but she's a fighter. You know our captain…"
Chakotay nodded, a million memories of their 'last hours' passing through his mind. "Yes, I do. I know her." He turned when the Doctor coughed. "Please, can I see her? Please…I need to see her…"
The Doctor nodded and helped a very weak Chakotay off the bed and into a standing position. Painfully, leaning on the Medic for support, they made their way slowly across the room and behind the privacy screen the Doctor had erected. Tears filled Chakotay's eyes when he saw Kathryn lying on the bed. She was so pale and still but he managed to see that she was breathing. He closed his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding.
The Doctor's voice filled the silence. "Commander, in case you're interested in your own injuries… You broke your pelvis and both legs. You had a nasty laceration to the forehead and you suffered a concussion also. You had some internal bleeding which was brought under control fairly easily. You will, of course, make a full recovery. I want to keep you here for at least another two days." Chakotay nodded, both of them knowing he'd be here anyway. He moved slowly to Kathryn and reached his hand out and stroked her face.
"Fight this, Kathryn. Don't give up now." Some lines of poetry came to him and he leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Kathryn, you have promises to keep…and miles to go before you sleep… Kathryn, you promised me. Come back to me now. I need you."
He felt the Doctor's hands on his shoulders pulling him up. "Come on, Commander, time for you to rest. You'll be no good to her if you're exhausted." Chakotay nodded. He stared down at Kathryn, taking in every detail of her face.
"I'll see you later, Kathryn. I love you." He didn't care that the Doctor heard him.
It was another four days before Kathryn came out of her coma. The Doctor had banished Chakotay to his quarters to rest and now alerted him when he saw the signs of her regaining consciousness and so Chakotay's was the first face she saw when she opened her eyes.
"Kathryn…you're in sickbay. We made it. They found us just in time." He saw his words slowly sink in. "How do you feel?"
She licked her dry lips. "Sore and I'd kill for a cup of coffee."
He laughed. "Oh, you're back with us, all right…" His face grew very serious.
"It was that close, huh?" Afraid to speak, he just nodded. "Chakotay, it's all right…" He looked up and away, trying to hide his tears from her. He felt her hand reach for his and let her hold it.
Finally, he found the courage to speak. "Sorry…it was just…too close…" He looked down at her and saw her eyes were awash with tears too. "I thought you'd gone…at the end…"
She nodded her understanding. "Me too. I couldn't hold on, but I heard you calling me." They both fought to control their emotions.
Chakotay stroked her face. "You're back now. That's all that matters." He saw her remember everything they'd been through and suddenly realized that she was embarrassed. "Kathryn, don't be embarrassed. Please. What passed between us… It stays with me, you know that." She nodded slowly but avoided his eyes and he felt a fear grow in him. Suddenly he was aware of the Doctor standing beside them.
"Mind if I check my patient?" Chakotay stood back but kept his eyes on Kathryn until the Doctor got in the way.
"Captain, I need to check a few things with you." Chakotay saw him drop his hand down to Kathryn's legs without letting her see him. He saw the pinch he made to her thigh but there was no reaction from Kathryn. Chakotay felt a fist grip his insides. He saw the Medic pinch her other leg with no reaction there either. He held his breath and prayed as the Doctor pinched harder and Kathryn suddenly moved.
"Can you feel that, Captain?" He continued to pinch her legs.
"A little. Why? What's wrong?" Kathryn was starting to panic and tried to sit up but the Doctor pushed her back down. Suddenly she remembered. "Oh God…I couldn't feel anything after the crash. Am I? What's wrong?"
The Doctor smiled softly. "There's feeling in your legs, Captain, and that's good. There was damage to your spine and it'll take time to heal. I'd be worried if you'd no feeling there at all…"
Kathryn leaned her head up and they saw the strain on her face. "Why can't I move them then? I can't feel them. I can't move them at all." Her tears started and she looked to the Doctor for some hope.
"Captain, I've told you. The area was damaged." He paused a moment and decided to tell her more. "Captain, there are gel packs around your legs and hips. The bones were badly crushed, not just broken. I've repaired the bones, good as new. You need to keep still for a few more days to let the bones regenerate properly. You can't move your legs because I've made it so, not because they won't move themselves." He saw her absorb this and accept it and she relaxed a little. "There is reduced sensation in your legs but that's to be expected after the trauma they suffered. You just have to be patient." He smiled. "You have to be a patient in body and patient in mind…" He laughed but Kathryn wasn't ready for a joke. "Captain, just take your time and give yourself a chance to heal. I'll be honest and tell you it will take time but you'll get there, all right?"
Kathryn nodded tearfully. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I'll try. It's just… If I couldn't walk…if I was paralysed… I'd be useless to…to everyone…" The Doctor patted her arm and smiled, playing down her comments.
"Commander, let her get some rest now. You can come back later." Chakotay nodded and saw the Doctor press a hypo to Kathryn's neck. Within minutes, she was asleep. He looked up at the Doctor.
"You obviously want to speak with me?" The Doctor nodded and motioned towards his office. When they were seated, he got straight to the point.
"Commander, you have to understand that her legs and hips…the bones were badly smashed. The front of the shuttle on her side…well, it caved in on her. They had to cut her out while I worked on her. With you also but that was easier." Chakotay closed his eyes, fighting the images that came to him. The Doctor gave him a moment and then continued.
"She has little sensation in her legs. I pinched hard enough to bruise and she barely felt it. She should also have been able to move them a little but wasn't. I'm hoping this is just due to the swelling that's still around the sites of the injuries but I can't be sure. We'll know more as the swelling goes down. Either way, she has a long and hard road ahead of her. She'll need a long rehabilitation period and it won't be easy. There'll be a lot of tears and frustration before there'll be smiles and results. I hope you're up to that challenge, Commander." Chakotay glared at the Medic as if the idea of anything else was crazy. "All right, let's see how we go then."
Kathryn managed to control her impatience over the next week as she lay unable to move her lower body. Chakotay sat with her as often as he could and he knew that most of her control stemmed from fear. She was quiet most of the time and he wasn't sure if she was just worried about her injuries or if she was depressed about everything else. He kept their talks casual but supportive, carefully avoiding anything sensitive. At the end of the week, the Doctor removed the gel packs and Chakotay stood back as he examined Kathryn. Once more, he saw the Doctor pinch Kathryn's thigh, hiding the movement from her eyes.
"Ow. What was that?" She felt another pinch to her other thigh and then her lower legs. "Ouch…stop… What are you trying to do to me?" She glared at the two grinning men watching her before it sank in with her that the sensation was coming back.
"Captain, I'm sorry. I had to check that. There was a possibility that you might be paralysed…" They saw the fright on Kathryn's face. They knew she'd suspected this but hearing it spoken made it real. "This worry was obviously unwarranted." Kathryn let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I didn't want to say too much before, at least until I knew more myself."
She nodded slowly. "It's all right. I understand why you said nothing."
The Doctor smiled. "Right, Captain, here's what's next. You will need a lot of physiotherapy and I'll give you exercises to do. I can release you to your quarters within another two days. After that, I'll come to you for your physio and you can do your own exercises the rest of the time. I highly recommend swimming to help your muscle tone and strengthen those same muscles. You can also use the gymnasium program on the holodeck to work out. I'm sure the Commander will be only too happy to help you but if not him, you must have someone with you at all times until the strength returns. Have you any questions for me?" They watched her think.
"How long…and will I get back to the way I was before…?"
The Doctor nodded. "You'll be good as new. As to how long, anywhere from two weeks to a month before you get close. All in all, I'd say about two months before you're back to normal. It depends on how well the therapy works for you and how hard you work at it but Captain, you have my word that it will work in the end."
She nodded. "OK, that's fine. As long as I know that I can get there and I have a time frame in my mind. Of course, I'll do it in half that time…" They saw she was serious.
Over the next two weeks, Kathryn threw herself into getting her legs working properly again. She allowed Chakotay to stay in her quarters and work her legs with her. She even put up with him having to carry her around and help her with her daily personal care. He took her swimming on the holodeck and put into practice all the Doctor had taught him, holding her in the water as she followed his instructions. Kathryn worked tirelessly and only occasionally would her frustration show, especially if she fell but she was always quick to try again. She used the gym four times a day and Chakotay worried that she was pushing herself too hard but the Doctor assured him that she was fine. Now and then she'd accept a painkiller as she worked herself to a sweat but Chakotay saw she hated admitting the pain. Most of the time she was quiet, teeth gritted as she forced herself on, other times she cried when it started to become too much but she persevered. By the end of a month, Kathryn was almost back to normal, walking with only a slight stiffness.
Throughout their time together, they never discussed what had happened during what they'd believed were their 'last hours' on the shuttle and Chakotay didn't push it. He knew she'd talk to him eventually and that she needed all her concentration for getting her body back on track. After six weeks, she was back on duty and walking as if nothing had ever happened. Chakotay delighted in the progress she'd made and bided his time. He was determined that she keep her promise to him.
A week after her return to duty, they sat in her quarters one night after dinner and Chakotay finally guided the conversation around to their 'last hours'. He knew she was uncomfortable with the subject, but he wasn't going to let it go.
"Kathryn, you made a promise to me and we're going to discuss this. I've kept quiet while you recovered physically and now, we address this."
She shifted herself on the sofa but stayed silent.
"You know what I'm going to say. I know you've been…I suppose…embarrassed by everything. We both said things to each other, believing that we were dying and you know none of that will ever go any further, that you can trust me on that, but I'm begging you…don't waste what we learned down there, Kathryn. We shared something so special. It sounds awful but a part of me wouldn't change those hours for anything. We were so close to each other, as close as it's possible to be. I'd hate for us to forget it all." She kept her head down and he allowed it.
"Kathryn, knowing what I know now… I can't just sit back and watch you waste away like that. You forget, I know you better than ever now and for a while, after you came around from the coma, I got the impression you'd rather have died there than face this. However, when I saw you fight to get back, to walk again, that gave me hope. I want to know that you haven't forgotten what was between us there, that you'll keep your promise and act on it. Kathryn, please don't forget it." She lifted her head and he saw her smile, tears slipping down her face. What he had thought would be a battle and would result in her denial of everything, came to nothing.
"I won't ever forget. And I meant it, what I told you. You have to know that. I do love you. It wasn't just the knowledge that we were dying. It took that to finally tell you but… Chakotay, I meant it. I love you. If you still feel the same…" She saw him close his eyes and open them again and just stare at her as if imprinting the moment on his memory for all time. She stayed quiet and let him and then his hand came up and caressed her cheek, his thumb wiping the tears from her face.
"I love you, Kathryn. Nothing could ever change that. Just let me into your life and let me be there for you the way you deserve. Let me give you what you don't have and fill those dreams. Let's share it together while we still have the time. I want to marry you and have a child with you. We can do those things and still run this ship and get this crew home. It never has to be an 'either or' situation. It can be both if you just give it a chance." Kathryn choked back a sob and he leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. When he pulled back, he saw her smiling at him.
"You thought you'd have a fight on your hands, didn't you?"
He smiled and nodded. "I did think, since you hadn't spoken of it, that you were denying it all, trying to pretend it hadn't happened or at least forget it." He looked deeply into her eyes and saw her love for him shine from them.
"Chakotay, I'm so sorry. All I could concentrate on was getting on my feet again and walking properly. That had to come first. It had to come before I could… I didn't want… The crew needs a captain who's whole and you didn't need a cripple…" She saw the anger on his face immediately.
"Oh Spirits, Kathryn, how can you think…?" He stood up and paced and she regretted her words when she saw how upset and angry she'd made him.
"Chakotay…please. I didn't mean that. I didn't mean that it would matter to you. It's me, how I felt. If I came to you, I wanted to be whole. Please, Chakotay…"
He finally looked at her and saw the pain in her eyes. His anger quickly dissipated and he fell to his knees before her, gasping her hands in his. "Kathryn, I've told you I love you. You, Kathryn, not whether your legs work or anything like that. You have to see that you're worth everything to me and believe that in yourself. You deserve all your dreams and all the happiness and love you can get, no matter what way your body is. Can you accept that?" She nodded tearfully and pulled him to her. They held each other for a long time.
"So Chakotay…was that a proposal?"
He pulled back and smiled at her, tears filling his eyes. "I'm already on my knees, woman. What more do you want?" His face sobered. "Kathryn Janeway, will you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?" He watched the tears spill from her eyes, revealing the love and happiness shining in them.
"I'd love to. Yes, Chakotay. I'd love to be your wife."
Not waiting for anything else, he stood and swept her up into his arms and then sat on the sofa with her in his lap. He pulled her to him tightly, feeling deep desire stir in him. He kissed her lightly and nuzzled her neck.
"Is this all right? Can I make love with you? If you'd rather wait…" Her hands came up to his face and she pulled him to her and kissed him with a passion that left him breathless. Having his answer, he forgot everything else but the woman in his arms.
He languished kisses on her soft cheeks, tasting the saltiness of her tears there. His thumbs moved to wipe away the moisture before nibbling down her neck and teasing her earlobe between his teeth. She gasped and moaned, fighting the fasteners on his uniform jacket. Finally, they came undone and in seconds, it lay on the floor. Her nails pressed his spine from bottom to top, removing his turtleneck and it joined its counterpart in the beginnings of a pile that soon included Kathryn's garments as well.
Chakotay twisted and moved her back somewhat, gentle pressure on her shoulders, forcing her to rest against the back of the couch, her head tipped backwards, baring her neck to him. He couldn't resist it, the skin so soft and pink, so smooth, rippling with ticklish delight as his lips worked over her, punctuated by his tongue in spots. His nose nuzzled her nipples to hardened peaks under the lace of her bra, tearing gasps from her throat, before he reached behind her and undid the restricting garment, licking along the angry red lines it left around her breasts. Only then did he reveal her beauty underneath, suckling carefully but anxiously at her bare chest, giving equal time to each breast.
When he'd had his fill, he moved lower and his tongue dipped to taste her musky wetness, spreading her thighs carefully with his fingers, titillating spider webs of sensation flowing around them both. Her hands on the top of his head urged him toward her, uninhibited, guiding him, keeping him her prisoner, though he had no wish to leave, then or ever. His thumb pushed back on her hood, exposing her core of pleasure and she shuddered as the cool air, both from the room and more so from his pursed lips, blew over her in ripples, ruffling the downy curls between her legs. With the tip of his tongue he tasted again and again, before burying his face close to her, holding the back of her thighs apart as he nipped, nuzzled and licked at her folds.
"Chakotay," she ground out, almost sounding desperate, as he chuckled against her. It was her undoing. "CHAKOTAY!"
Her hands dug into the cushions of the couch and her thighs tightened around his head. His grasp had been purposeful, to prevent her from closing them and a warm deluge of liquid gushed to his lips. Not quite allowing her to recover, he shifted upward slightly, keeping his mouth against her centre and slipping first one finger, and then two, into her warm depths, hearing her cries as distant music to his ears, chuckling again as she bucked against him, almost tearful in her pleas.
"Chakotay, please… I can't take much more… ohhhhhhhhhh..." Her back arched as she climaxed again, limply falling back onto the cushions.
Incoherent whimpers were all that escaped her lips as Chakotay moved upward, dancing kisses along her belly, between the valley of her breasts and fastening his mouth over hers once more, wrapping an arm around her shoulders to lift her against him, settling her head against his shoulder. Tenderly he picked her up and carried her, almost limp in his arms, to the bed.
Once in her bedroom he lay her on the bed, stripping his pants down, kicking them away, hiding nothing from her as his member stood erect. She surprised him, rolling over onto her side, grasping his member in her small hands, examining, stroking and finally encasing him in her mouth, between her tongue and palate.
He groaned as she pulled him to the bed, somehow ending up on all fours on top of her body, though her head was level with his groin, allowing him to take control and thrust in and out of her mouth. He was ever gentle about it, trying to gauge her depth, desperately afraid she would gag or choke and ruin this experience that was purely pleasurable for both, though he was sure she'd never let it come to that.
She pulled away from him before it was too late, thankfully. He'd been almost to the point of stopping her. He did not want their first time together to be in that way, though it had been wonderful to see and feel her losing her inhibitions previously. She pushed herself towards the pillows just in time for his mouth to fasten gently onto hers and he slid inside her effortlessly with one smooth thrust.
The urgency abated then, though neither could explain it. A sense of completion washed over them, a tidal wave that threatened to drag them both out to sea in its wake. He stilled inside her passage, supporting himself on one elbow, his fingers lazily drawing patterns against her skin. He felt her hands against his back, tracing the contours of his muscles, sliding downward through the sheen that had accumulated to coat his body, caressing his buttocks.
"I love you," he whispered into her ear.
"And I will always love you," she whispered back.
His movement inside started, the rapid build-up of pressure becoming even more so, another tidal wave approaching, one that both could feel but not resist, nor did they want to. Chakotay thrusted inside once, twice and then it was over, her muscles clenched around his length and he cried out as his seed spurted from him, filling her with its life-giving warmth.
Kathryn shuddered, the tremors growing more intense, the ripples moving downward through her belly that was tightly pressed against Chakotay's. For long minutes neither could move, simple, light kisses all that were exchanged and then he rolled them both to their sides, unwilling to leave her depths or her arms. He kissed her forehead and the cheek that was not pillowed against him, watching as her eyes drooped despite a steadfast effort on her part to hold them open.
"Kathryn," he whispered. "Go to sleep, love. Tomorrow is another day for us."
Only when he was sure she was asleep did he give way himself, tucking her tighter against his body as if to keep her there, no matter what she wanted, even though she did want the same as him. He was sure of it now and he was asleep before he could finish the thought.
ONE YEAR LATER.
Chakotay stood and leaned against the side of the newly constructed archway between what had been his quarters and Kathryn's. He watched her nurse their tiny daughter and felt his vision blur as his eyes filled with tears. He glanced to the cabinet behind her and the holoimage of their wedding ten months ago and smiled as he remembered the day. Kathryn had had the wedding she had dreamed of as a child, every crewmember giving up something to ensure there were enough replicator rations for the occasion. Now he watched her, holding the tiny life she'd presented him with just two days ago. Suddenly he was aware of his wife watching him and he smiled gently at her. She motioned with her head for him to take their daughter from her and he leaned down and picked up the tiny infant, marvelling again at the fact that she was now a part of their lives. He watched Kathryn slip her breast back into her shirt then he laid the now sleeping child into the crib he'd carved himself. He felt Kathryn come over beside him and lean against him and he slipped his arm around her. They watched for some time as the tiny movements of hands and feet slowed until they stilled in deep sleep. Chakotay turned on the monitor and led Kathryn out of the room to their bedroom. He pulled her down on the bed beside him.
"Time for our nap too, love." They were both tired from being up half the night but they loved it. He kissed the side of her face and felt her smile. "Thank you so much for her and for you…" She turned so she could look into his face.
"I thank you more, Chakotay. Just over a year ago… You know what I mean. We came so close to dying. I never thought it possible to have what I have now and it's all down to you, because I've never been happier." She studied his face and traced her fingers over his forehead. "We've so much to give her as she grows but I think the most important thing we can pass on to her is what we've learned from all this, what we learned and especially what I learned during those hours. If she grows up knowing all that, she'll be all right." Chakotay pulled her to him, careful of her sensitive breasts.
"She'll know. We'll teach her all the important things in life, just as we learned them." They slowly drifted off to sleep.