It was nothing really or at least it appeared that way at first, just as she seemed to believe herself. Of course later on, I began to suspect that she understood far more at the time but the ship always comes first.
It was the heat of battle, with Kathryn Janeway in full captain mode, as sparks flew and consoles exploded and we fought back against the alien ship which was attacking us for no reason. Perhaps the shape of our ship didn't quite please them or was the wrong colour but whatever their motive, there was no logic in their attack.
A simple trip against a ruined console as the ship was hit, not overly forceful and I heard her grunt as she was caught across the midriff, the wind momentarily knocked out of her. He of course reached for her immediately, his concern showing plainly but she shrugged him off, as usual allowing no sign of weakness to show. I saw his hurt, quickly hidden and yet remaining underneath his expression.
The moment, the distraction, is quickly forgotten by her and she's barking orders again. I'm aware of her holding herself and see that he's also noticed and I watch the worry on his face which she is either unaware of or chooses to ignore.
Mr. Paris lets out a whoop of joy, stating the obvious in his unique manner which translates to the fact that Voyager has seen off yet another enemy and I hear our captain order us out of there. I watch as she reaches out her arm and grasps the rail, keeping herself erect, her other hand still holding herself. I look away a moment to enter a command and when I look up, I hear her cry out and I see her go down, clutching her stomach and falling to her knees as a trickle of blood escapes her lips, her face paling as I watch and then she vomits, a torrent of blood covering the front of her uniform and pooling on the carpet beneath her. He is at her side instantly and I hear her scream then, not with the pain she is obviously in which shows clearly in her eyes, but in denial that this is happening, that something so simple can beat her on her own bridge, at the injustice of it all and perhaps at the discovery that she is not invincible. I see her fight it, railing against what I know she perceives as weakness.
Her hand slips from the rail and she falls into his waiting arms and in that moment I actually feel dread, for in her eyes I see fear and the knowledge that, this time, maybe she won't beat the odds, won't complete the journey. I hear his shout for transport to sickbay and have to inform him that transporters are off line. He swallows his barely controlled panic and lifts her, heading for the turbolift, all eyes on them and as they pass, my eyes meet hers and in that second I see the captain leave and Kathryn remain, a mixture of pain, vulnerability and the woman within, normally so well hidden. I feel a fear grow in me, despite years of discipline, that I am looking into the eyes of my friend for the last time.
I manage to alert the Doctor to their imminent arrival and then the waiting begins, nothing to do but wait and think. I order repairs to get underway but my mind is severely divided and mostly it is filled with the man and woman in our sickbay and the emotions I saw on his face which he tried to hide so well. Does he really think that none of us see the love he has for his captain, the heart he wears on his sleeve? I shake my head and wonder if she has any idea of the depth of the love she's turned her back on and then think that maybe she has and that second thought is far sadder than the first.
A call comes to the bridge from the Doctor, asking for the assistance of Mr. Paris and as he hurries by, he looks to me and while nothing is spoken, much is understood and we both silently acknowledge the gravity of the situation. As he leaves, I watch the others, each afraid to speak of their fears or their worries and yet there is no need as our minds all share the same words and images.
Half an hour later and I turn to the sound of the turbolift doors opening and he steps out, his eyes registering nothing. He doesn't speak as he crosses to her ready room and enters, the doors closing quietly behind him, not disturbing the silence already on the bridge. There is a deathly stillness all around, each of us lost in our own thoughts and memories and I know that none of us has missed her blood covering the front of his uniform or the way he moved, his body on autopilot and I fear that we have lost the greatest part of all of us, the woman who led us, the woman who was our captain but most of all the woman who was our friend.
I understand why he has returned to the bridge and why he will stay here, because he knows and believes that is what she would want. My eyes scan the bridge and I see Mr. Kim, Ms. Torres and others, all looking to me, perhaps to tell them that this past hour has been some alien trick, a play of their minds, an alternate universe, anything but what it is.
I move towards the doors of her ready room, the walls where she frequently sequesters herself and I feel their eyes still on me, silently pleading with me to right the wrong, undo what can't be undone, to start time again and erase all else.
I receive no answer to my hail and expect none. I enter my code and enter and at first I don't see him but then I locate his hunched figure, sitting on her sofa, stroking the fabric with a deep reverence and I know now why he has come here. He has come to find her again, to seek what he has lost, connect with some trace of her, to make believe he can turn the clock back.
Slowly he looks up at me and I see such pain in his eyes, pain and fear I never want to see in any eyes ever again. I once again see her blood staining his chest and hands, a last part of her he has either not noticed or is hanging onto until the end. My voice breaks the silence.
"Commander, the captain…" He lowers his head, his fingers tracing what I notice is her initial on the upholstery and I wait, fearing his words will pronounce death on our captain.
"He made me leave…and she'd want me here…" His voice is choked and I give him the time he requires despite my desperate need for the knowledge he holds.
"She's…surgery…" I let out the breath I find I've been holding and realize how easily my inner walls are falling this day.
"What did the Doctor say?" Suddenly there is hope, all not lost yet and still the despair I see in him speaks of the opposite and I feel another inner wall crack.
I nod my head, waiting to see if he will say more.
"Tuvok, there was so much blood. How can she survive losing so much…?" He looks to me, his eyes pleading for answers I cannot provide him with. I tell him what I know he needs to hear, unsure if I believe my own words.
"Captain Janeway is a strong woman and our Doctor is the very best." I see him nod, wanting desperately to cling to my words, willing them to be true, having no choice but to believe them just to get him through.
"Commander, may I suggest you get some rest. I'll take command of the bridge and stay in touch with sickbay and of course I will let you know the moment I receive any word…" He stands suddenly, seeming lost in a place that is so familiar.
"No…no, I can't…I couldn't rest…and she'd want me here…expect me to be…" I move towards him and lay my hand on his arm, knowing how humans gain such comfort from gestures such as this.
"She will come through this because she is a fighter…" He turns to me, allowing my hand to remain on his arm.
"Tuvok, I saw the Doctor's face when I carried her in and he scanned her. I've never seen such a look of hopelessness… You know he called Tom in?" His fingers run through his hair and lock themselves within it.
"Stay here and try and get some rest, Commander. This crew is quite capable of taking care of repairs and running the ship. You will be no good to her or them if you are exhausted." I see him accept the logic of this and he moves to her sofa again and sits, turning to stare out at the passing stars and I imagine he sees her there in his mind as he mimics one of her habits as a means to be close to her. I turn and leave him and see he is unaware of my departure. I leave him to his vigil out amongst the stars, to his self-imposed exile, when so many are here for him. I leave him here, praying that this room won't become a shrine to her because I know that if she dies, he will never use it. He would rather die than take on the mantle of captain at her cost.
I always prayed, those times when I thought of it, that I would never see her like this. I've never wanted to see anyone I care for like this, but especially her. She always seems so indestructible, larger than life, and yet lying here as the Doctor operates, the computer breathing for her, I feel such total despair. Her face is so white and she seems so small and fragile. The Doctor shouts his orders and I obey without question, seeing his desperation.
Her blood covers everything around us and I'm amazed at the fact that life still exists within her with such massive haemorrhaging. Twice now her heart has stopped, my own almost along with it and yet twice she's fought her way back, refusing to let go and I wouldn't expect anything less of her, because that's her nature. It's what has us so much closer to home, her indeterminable will, her unshakeable belief and I pray again that this time, it'll be enough to get her through.
I think of Chakotay and the look on his face, of what I can only describe as pure agony. He's a large man, strong and yet this small woman can bring him to his knees so easily and I wonder if she has any idea of the power she has over him. He would gladly give his life for her and yet she turns her back on him, constantly pushing him away. Many times, I've seen the pain she inflicts on him, willingly or unwillingly and still he takes it all because it's her and he loves her. He awaits the crumbs from her table and in that way, accepts her indifference towards him because it is of her and it's better than nothing.
The blood flows from her body faster than we can replace it and for the first time ever, I see fear on the Doctor's face as he struggles desperately to save our captain, not because he's been programmed to do this, but because he cares so much. Finally, it turns and starts to go our way and slowly the bleeding lessens and then stops. I look down at her as the Doc closes the surgical wounds and runs the dermal regenerator over the area but I know we still have such a difficult road ahead of us, that this is just the first battle in the war.
Her face is still a ghostly white and her breathing almost non-existent so we leave her on life-support. As we settle her and try to make her as comfortable as possible, Doc looks at me properly for the first time and I see what appears to be fatigue but is probably more akin to uncertainty and I know it sits uncomfortably with him.
"I'll inform our other patient." He sees me frown and continues. "The commander. If she dies, I suspect he won't be far behind her." Even our hologram sees what our captain refuses to. I shake my head.
"No, you're wrong. Inside he'll die but he'll exist to get us home because that's what she wants and expects of him and that means more to him." I see him digest this information and nod his head.
"I believe you're right, Mr. Paris. I hadn't thought of it that way. Put a chair beside her, will you? I expect he'll be spending most of his time here. I gave up a long time ago trying to move him when she was here." We stare down at the silent and unmoving woman before us, both hoping for a miracle.
I enter sickbay and see him sitting there, holding her hand and whispering softly to her and know he has barely moved in the last two days since the Doctor allowed him to return to sickbay and be with her. I remember the denial I read in him at the Doctor's dour prognosis, as he turned away, refusing to hear it, working to his own agenda that she would recover and come back to him.
I study him for some minutes and realize the unshakable faith he has, as though if he believes enough and wills it enough, he can bring her back and maybe he is right, maybe faith can move mountains and love can conquer all.
I see him stroke her hands and face and never have I observed such tenderness and love and I wonder briefly how she would react were she able to witness this but then I know her and believe she would never allow this. I have always agreed before with her decision to adhere to protocol despite our location, but these past days have, for the first time, found me believing she was in error. What she has here, she will never find again and I don't believe it exists in any galaxy, any quadrant, any place outside of this room and I mourn for what she has turned away from. All life, particularly human life, is too short to turn away from something so good and once again I find myself with un-Vulcan like thoughts but this woman has that power.
I see her as I have never seen her before, small and weak, lying there so still, her chest gently rising and falling, the only indication that life exists at all within her body. Her face is so pale as I watch him stroke her cheek and I sense his inner turmoil at this. I know he would far rather live without her in his life, would accept her hatred even, than see her this way, would gladly take her place if he could and yet it is because she is like this that he can speak of and show his love.
He leans in, still stroking her cheek and eyes, her hand tightly held in his and I hear him whisper to her, how much he loves her, to come back to him, words he can never say outside of this moment and I feel I have no right to intrude on what I have just witnessed and yet I also feel privileged. I know within me for certain now that if or when she comes out of this, I will counsel her to start to live to accept him. I believe now that she would be a better captain for it and that this ship and this crew would benefit and be far more content as a result.
He turns slowly and sees me standing there and I move towards him, seeing more closely the pain on his face. He doesn't remove his hand from hers but he pulls his other hand from her face and sits back a little. I move a chair so I may also sit and he looks slightly more at ease. I look closely at the face of my captain, appearing almost drained of blood, despite the transfusions she has received and I marvel at the fact that she is still alive but I know the strength of this woman, physically and emotionally, and from that, I know she will not let go of this life easily, that she will cling on with all she has. I try and convey this to the man before me but he is beyond logical thought and his world now is the woman lying before him.
I've never felt in such turmoil about anything in my life as my time in sickbay this past week. Well, except maybe where a certain Klingon was concerned. A part of me falls back to my quarters having witnessed Chakotay with the captain, the love and despair battling within him. I can see without the Doctor pointing it out, what all this is doing to him and I see him become a shell of the man he was.
I remember him when I knew him briefly in the Maquis, the anger and hatred within him, never at peace and yet within weeks of this woman being in his life, that man was dead, replaced with the one I would give my own life for, along with everyone else on this ship. Slowly that man changed too though, as the love he had was rejected by the woman it was for and yet I've never seen him give up hope and so I got used to that man, yet another I came to know well. Day by day, I see that man slowly drain away and yet the love he has for her and his faith and belief in miracles, fight desperately to keep him alive and I know that what I witness, watching him with her, will stay with me forever and can only ever enrich me as a man. What I see before me is what love really is, a lesson for us all and I pray with everything that is in me, that the woman lying there gets her chance to learn that lesson for herself, if only she'll listen.
He speaks little to anyone, B'Elanna and strangely Tuvok, two of the few who can get through to him. He speaks to me occasionally but mostly only to ask about her and so when I hear him move and a sound escape his throat, I turn and wait for his question, one I won't be able to answer because I am no Deity, nor a seer.
When I look to him, he's not looking at me but at her and I see him stand and as he moves and turns to me, I see his face light up and my eyes fly to the woman on the biobed and I see her eyes flutter open. I call immediately for the Doc and turn back to watch the miracle before me unfold but suddenly it is tinged in sadness at what I see.
As she awakens, I watch as he pulls back, hiding once more his emotions and love, back to how he knows she wants him to be, to what she'll allow him to be, back to business, and I want to cry.
He still visits and speaks quietly with her but there is so much hidden beneath the surface. This past week, I have kept her here and she hasn't once complained and that causes me great concern. She is quieter in her manner, now that she knows at her own insistence, just how close she came this time. I see her watch him as he chats casually about ship's business and the crew and I still can't believe she doesn't see what is before her own eyes. Other times, I believe she knows very well and I wonder if that terrifies her but still she denies.
Mostly I observe them when one is unaware, like when he watches her as she sleeps or she watches him when he's not looking at her. Those are the times I see more and wonder if what I'm seeing then is the truth.
I'm a doctor, programmed to save life, all life, and this past week I have discovered just what life means. It is not just the physical body, the blood flowing through the veins, the air being inhaled and expelled, cells and organs, skin and tissue. It is also the thought processes, the emotions, the love and hate, compassion and empathy. Seeing is not just the process of how the eyes work but processing what those eyes see. Speech is not from the throat and tongue, but the meaning of the words which are spoken. The heart is not just an organ which pumps blood throughout the body but the seat of love.
I watch her as she sleeps and sickbay is silent and empty of all but my program and the woman before me and I know my job is incomplete. Her body is healing well and my work there is almost done but I believe I now have another task, to heal the rest, save the other life that dwells within her walls. I hail Mr. Tuvok.
She has been back in her quarters two days and returns to duty in another two. She appears to welcome my visit but there is something reserved about her. She seems extremely restless and I suggest we visit the messhall, empty and quiet at this time of the evening and she accepts this, the walls closing in on her.
I let her serve me, knowing she needs to be doing something and I watch her as she replicates tea for us and she tells me the Doctor has forbidden coffee for a while and I'm surprised to find her obey any medical order.
I study her closely as she sips at the soothing beverage and if she is aware of my close inspection, she doesn't let on. I intend to speak my mind to her this evening, feel it is my duty, to her and to this ship. She is quieter than I ever remember and I wonder about the effect all this has had on her.
Finally, I set my cup down and speak, words well-rehearsed and so I tell her all I have witnessed, my observations of these past days and I see her eyes reflect all her inner pain as she slowly acknowledges my words as the truth they are and the validity of them sinks in. She doesn't protest my words and all at once I know that she has probably had a similar discussion with herself.
Suddenly I see inside her, as her eyes meet mine and her very soul is there to be read. She knows how close she came to losing it all, to losing him, to lose him by leaving him behind and I see that this has scared her more than the thought of dying, the fear of the unknown.
"Captain, it is my duty to counsel you and I have to tell you that I believe you are wrong in the matter of Commander Chakotay." I see her look strangely at me.
"Under normal circumstances, a relationship MIGHT be frowned upon. but out here, we are on our own. As a group, we are all we have, only each other, but together we are stronger, as you've spoken of yourself. I remember an old adage from Earth along the lines of 'united we stand, divided we fall'. I believe this also applies to the individual." I watch her absorb my words, quietly digesting them and her eyes never leave my face.
"Humans are not by nature solitary animals. Solitude and loneliness in extremes eat away at the human heart like a cancer. You would, I believe, be a far greater leader if you allowed yourself to be human in your personal life as well as your professional one." I see hurt cross her features.
"Captain, I am also your friend and have been for many years. I don't say this to deliberately hurt you but because I…I care. I believe 'cruel to be kind' is also an old Earth saying." It has taken much for me to say these words and I see that she knows this.
"Kathryn…" My use of her name makes my point. "Kathryn, I saw him. Just because I do not express emotions, does not mean that I do not recognize them in others. I do have emotions. I just suppress them. Kathryn Janeway, you are not Vulcan." A faint smile sits on her lips but mostly there is sadness there.
"Tuvok, I know how much he loves me and I…I love him…" I wonder if this is the first time she has spoken these words, even to herself. "I've constantly denied it all, ignored it even, pretended it wasn't there and all because of… I guess I don't really know why." I feel she is being honest with herself for the first time. I try and answer her question, the one she has not asked directly.
"You are afraid and you believe others will see you as weak." Her face tells me the truth can hurt. "Kathryn, why must you see it as a sign of weakness to need somebody, to need him? Perhaps you feel it would be too difficult to command this ship and have a relationship with him at the same time, but there is no logic there. I truly believe it is the weaker path to travel alone. I believe you would be far stronger if you were to let him into your life, that it would take a stronger woman to make that decision. Perhaps you are afraid of being hurt but surely the hurt already there is worse." She lowers her head and is silent for many minutes and I almost imagine I can see her inner turmoil sitting beside her.
"I've hurt him so much, so very much, Tuvok, and the pain of that lives with me every day. I fear for my soul, you know, the torment I'll suffer for what I've done to him and then I realize that I'm already suffering that torment, that I deserve it, that it's nothing compared to what I see on his face every time I turn away from him." She is silent for a few minutes and I don't speak, letting her absorb her own truth.
"How can he still love me, when all I do is hurt him and throw it all back in his face?" Her pain is extraordinary and I see tears balancing on her eyelids.
"Captain, it is my understanding that love forgives all things, especially the love he has for you. However, love also has to include ourselves. We must also learn to love ourselves, to accept ourselves and in the end, to forgive ourselves. Kathryn…" I see her hang on my every word, hunting amongst them for her salvation. "It's not too late and I ask you please not to let it be too late. I am loath to say this, not even wanting to think it, but if there is a next time, none of us may be this lucky again." I see my point hit its mark and know it scares her as nothing else can.
"Kathryn, he loves you and you love him. This entire crew, senior staff included would welcome a relationship between their captain and First Officer. Only you are stopping this." I see her tears run down her face and she either does not notice or is not ashamed of them.
"Tuvok, I do love him…so much. I hurt him so much…so many times. He can't love me now. I don't deserve him…" She drops her head, her shoulders shaking.
"Isn't that for him to decide?" Her head comes up at my words and she wipes at her tears with the back of her hand and suddenly she freezes, staring off over my shoulder and slowly I turn. Standing behind Mr. Neelix's counter is our First Officer, tears staining his own face, his eyes riveted to his captain.
I turn back to her but she hardly knows I'm there. I stand and whisper quietly to her. "I did not arrange this. I give you my word on that. In my mind, that makes it…fate. Remember, Kathryn…don't wait for it to be too late." She nods slightly and her hand reaches for mine and I allow the gesture but her eyes never leave his.
As I exit the messhall, I look back briefly and see my captain and First Officer in each other's arms, kissing passionately and I… No. Vulcans do not smile.