She stared out the window at the stars, so stationary and familiar. She knew that the sight should bring her pleasure and triumph after so long away, and while those feelings were there, they were muted and hollow, eclipsed by life-draining loneliness and sorrow.
They were home. She had done it, risked everything -- in more ways than one -- and brought her crew home, dealing a crippling blow to the Borg at the same time. She was Starfleet's golden girl, a fantastic public relations coup in a time of struggle and rebuilding, and yet, it wasn't enough. She'd had difficulty readjusting to a chain of command without her at the top and had taken an eight-month leave of absence after all the debriefings and celebrations had ended. Even Indiana couldn't soothe her -- though her family was grateful to have her home, everything there only served to remind her of how life had gone on without her. She spent her days in her Starfleet apartment, trying to decide what to do with her life and thinking wistfully of days and years that she'd thought she would be more than happy to put behind her.
In the dark, seemingly endless nights in the Delta quadrant, she'd dreamed many times of the way her life would unfold once Voyager reached Earth, and while some elements had always been in question, she'd thought she could depend on one thing, that it was guaranteed.
She folded her arms tightly across her chest, battling to keep in her raging emotions. She would not give in to the pain; she would not give in to the regret, or the loneliness, or the anger. Especially the anger. She had no right to feel angry.
She jumped, startled by the sharp sound of the comm terminal. She glanced at the chronometer, noting with shock that it was after 0200; she'd been staring at nothing for hours again. Her stomach fluttered with trepidation as she crossed the room. Even the knowledge that the call could be from anywhere -- a different time zone, a different continent, even a different planet -- didn't stop the feeling of dread inspired by a call in the dead of night.
She flicked on the screen at her desk, sitting down hard in the desk chair at the sight that greeted her. B'Elanna, grim and looking exhausted.
"It's Kathryn now, B'Elanna. Something's happened. What is it?"
That one word sent a spike of fear straight through her, and she could feel the color drain out of her face. She knew it was taking her too long to respond, but she wanted to be sure that the words wouldn't be wrenched from her in a sob. Even after the long pause, her voice was unsteady.
"Oh God. Is he...?"
"No. He's alive. But the doctors don't know yet how serious the damage is, or if they do, they won't tell us."
"What... what happened?"
B'Elanna's face crumpled, and a sound escaped her, something between a laugh and a sob. "Shuttle crash."
A similar sound emerged from Kathryn, and then she was silent, a hand raised to her mouth.
"I don't know all the details. We're at Starfleet Medical. I think you should be here."
Kathryn closed her eyes... he was so close; she could see the Starfleet Medical building from her window. But he wouldn't be alone, she was sure of it. "I... don't think so, B'Elanna. Maybe later. Watch over him for me?"
"Captain... Kathryn... please. He needs you here. Come for him, please."
"I'm not sure that he needs me there, B'Elanna. I'm sure Seven's there with him." Though she tried valiantly, she couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice.
B'Elanna's visage grew angry, her words, clipped. "She is. But he's not calling for her. He's calling for you. He needs you, not her. Now get down here, Kathryn. Don't make me leave him to come get you!" And she closed the link.
Kathryn stared at the dark screen, B'Elanna's words echoing through her mind. He's calling for you. She came to a decision. He was in pain and he wanted her there. He was injured, and he might not make it, and she wouldn't let this last opportunity to be there for him slip through her fingers. If nothing else, she wanted to be there to tell him goodbye. God, please don't let it come to that...
Making no effort to stop her tears from flowing this time, she flew through the apartment, tripping over things in her haste and in the dark, changing -- in red-alert mode -- from her nightgown into clothes. She didn't stop to put on any makeup and only ran a cursory comb through her hair.
She ran through her building and down the block to the transport station, garnering worried looks from those around her, most of whom recognized her from the endless Voyager news vids. When she finally reached Starfleet Medical, she paused for a moment to catch her breath. She asked for -- or rather, demanded, in full Starfleet Captain fashion -- the location of his room, and walked quickly there, not wanting to run in the hospital. She thought of all the times she'd used this exact measured pace to get to Sickbay -- heart pounding, legs weak -- to see him, generally after an aborted away mission... or a shuttle crash. She vowed to personally find out who'd given him control of a shuttle and throttle them.
She turned the corner and saw Tom and B'Elanna in the hallway, just holding each other, leaning against the wall. Oh God, please don't let me be too late...
Tom glanced up, and she had to physically bite her lip to keep from barking, "Report!"
He heard it anyway, unconsciously drawing himself to attention. Part of her mind whispered, Routines, familiar routines, we've been doing this for years. "Captain... well, he's alive, and his condition seems to be stabilizing, but he's not out of danger yet. He's still fading in and out of consciousness, and he's generally incoherent. He keeps mumbling in what sounds like his native language, and the only understandable thing we've heard is your name -- he keeps repeating that. I don't know exactly what happened, but from what I can tell, he has head trauma and multiple fractures, including several fractures along his spine, as well as some internal bleeding. He looks pretty beat up. I don't know how bad it is -- they won't let me look at his chart. I feel so goddamn helpless!"
B'Elanna placed a hand on his back to calm him down but continued to look at Kathryn. "Thank you for coming," she said softly.
Kathryn squared her shoulders, commanding her body not to betray any of the emotions roiling within her. "I figured it was about -- "
Her voice faltered as the door to Chakotay's room slid open and her former protégé stepped out.
Seven looked good, Kathryn had to admit. She was wearing looser clothing, although most of it still clung to her curves, and she had taken to wearing her hair down, with bangs, which helped to soften the appearance of her facial implants. Her face was pale, and Kathryn was amazed that she could easily see grief and anxiety in her features. And anger. There was definitely anger smoldering in her eyes as she regarded her former mentor.
"Seven, I'm not your captain anymore. It's Kathryn."
"Very well. You have won... Kathryn."
Kathryn was stunned at Seven's choice of words and surprised at the anger those words kindled in her. She struggled to speak calmly, not wanting to compound the awkward situation.
"Seven, this was never a contest, and I'm sorry -- for him and for you -- that you seem to think it was."
"When I arrived, the doctors inquired if my name was Kathryn. It was... quite painful to have to admit that I was not the woman he has been... begging for. He has not acknowledged my presence. I knew that he had given you his heart; I was not aware, however, of how completely you still hold it. You would do well to take good care of it. He deserves no less. Excuse me, there is... I must regenerate now," she finished, turning away to hide the slight tremor in her voice.
She stalked down the hall without a backward glance, but Kathryn saw her arm reach up toward her face, and she knew that Seven was wiping her eyes. She stared at Tom and B'Elanna.
"Was that really Seven of Nine?"
Tom smiled softly, acknowledging her surprise. "When she called to tell us, she was crying. She's opened up quite a lot emotionally, which, unfortunately, means this is hurting her a lot more than it would have six months ago. Chakotay's been very good for her, but he doesn't love her. Not the way that he loves you. I don't know if you want to hear that, but it's true, and if you go in to see him, you'll probably hear it anyway, from him. He's not in any state to hide his feelings right now."
"I know. It's okay, neither am I. Not anymore." She smiled ruefully at their stunned looks. "Now, if you'll excuse me..." They nodded, and she took a few deep breaths and entered his room.
She told herself that she was being ridiculous, that she'd seen him injured before, that he'd even come back from worse than this. But that had been different; it had always been different. Voyager's open sickbay had never seemed as stark and sterile as this small, grey room, and his bronze skin looked remarkably pale in the harsh lights. The sharp beeps and clicks of the monitoring equipment seemed unnaturally loud and out of place without the Doctor's acerbic comments or Tom's reassuring smile. He seemed so alone in here.
She couldn't see much of him except his face and neck, but what she saw wasn't reassuring. The doctors had mostly cleaned him up, but his face and neck were badly bruised, evidence of trauma that the quick dermal regeneration couldn't affect. His hair was disheveled, and she noticed fleetingly that it was lighter, with grey again prominent at his battered temples. The elegant lines of his tribal tattoo were distorted and partially concealed by the bruising and swelling. She could see the forcefields and restraints holding his thrashed body in place to keep him from exacerbating his spinal injuries.
He was silent and still, unconscious, but the tension in his face showed her that he wasn't at rest. As she moved closer, he stirred and pain lanced across his features. He struggled to open his eyes, and she gasped at the unfocused muddiness of them. There was none of his normal sparkle or life there, only pain. She bent over him, bringing herself into his line of vision, but still his eyes didn't clear. He groaned softly, muttering something she didn't understand, and then winced again, moaning, "Kath -- "
Her tears fell on his face, and he jumped, crying out softly. She reached out to stroke his brow, at the familiar, beloved lines there, murmuring, "I'm here. Calm now. Rest, and get well."
At her voice, he gasped and his eyes widened, finally clearing some. He whispered, "Kathryn?"
"Yes, it's me. Go to sleep, Chakotay. Let yourself heal."
He tried to speak again and she placed a hand on his lips, quieting him. He closed his eyes, calmed by her touch, and the corners of his lips turned upward under her fingers. She stood watching him until a couple of nurses came in to check on him. One of them glanced at a reading and then looked again, peering more closely, and Kathryn's heart leapt into her throat.
The nurse smiled at her. "It's what's right. His pulse and breathing have evened out, and he seems to have slipped into normal sleep. The intercranial swelling has gone down a tiny bit too. I don't know what you did, ma'am, but it seems to have worked!"
Relief rushed through Kathryn, and she lightheadedly swayed on her feet, suddenly aware that she hadn't slept for almost twenty-four hours -- and even that sleep had been restless and troubled. The nurse hastened to push a chair under Kathryn before she fell flat on the floor.
"Are you okay, ma'am?"
"I'm fine," Kathryn whispered. "And please, don't call me ma'am."
The nurse gave her an odd look but nodded and went back to his monitoring. He and his colleague finished their tests and checks and left the room, leaving Kathryn alone again with Chakotay. She scooted the chair closer to his bed and placed both of her hands around one of his large, immobilized ones. Though it was awkward, she bent herself to place her head on his chest without letting go of his hand. She listened to his now-steady heartbeat until the rhythm lulled her into much-needed sleep.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
When the nurses exited Chakotay's room, Tom waylaid them and questioned them mercilessly about his friend's condition. He followed them down the corridor, not giving up until he was satisfied with their answers. He informed them that he and B'Elanna would be in the waiting room down the corridor and were to be notified of any change in status, good or bad.
He led his wife into the empty waiting room and settled onto one of the couches. B'Elanna paced, despite the weariness he knew she felt.
"B'E, sit down. Relax and rest for a few hours. Miral's sleeping at home -- Mom knows where to find us if she needs to -- and Chakotay's going to be fine."
"How do you know?" she demanded.
"From what the nurses said, the swelling in his head is going down, the internal bleeding has stopped, and the spinal fractures will heal with no further damage as long as he doesn't move. If he does, he might injure the spinal cord itself, and that would be bad, but they've got him immobile to make sure that doesn't happen. He's sleeping peacefully now -- I think he really did just need the captain. It's amazing, what she does to him... now come on, sit down. They'll tell us if something changes."
She curled herself into his chest, and though she didn't move or make a sound, Tom could feel his shirt slowly growing damper, saturated by the tears she was shedding for her friend.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Tom awoke, groggy and uncomfortable. Glancing at the chronometer, he saw that he'd been asleep for several hours; B'Elanna had fallen asleep just a little bit before he had. He hesitantly woke her -- between Miral and Chakotay, she desperately needed sleep -- and she jumped up instantly, with a worried, "What's happened?"
"Nothing, B'E. At least, I don't think anything has; they haven't notified us -- we both fell asleep. Go check on him, and I'll call Mom to see how Miral is."
When he got to Chakotay's room several minutes later, he found B'Elanna just inside the door, watching her former command team. Kathryn was holding Chakotay's hand, with her head on his chest, and Tom knew she'd have a killer neck ache when she woke up. He thought of all the times he'd seen almost the mirror image in Voyager's sickbay -- Chakotay would have never presumed to place his head on her chest, though.
"Miral's fine," he said quietly. "Still asleep. Looks kinda familiar, doesn't it?" he added, nodding at the tableau before them.
B'Elanna smiled at him through her tears and said, "Yeah, just a small change, but what a change!"
Tom laughed softly, and the sound woke Kathryn. Groaning, she pulled one hand from Chakotay's to rub at her neck, and then she noticed Tom and B'Elanna. "How is he?"
Tom shrugged. "I don't know; he seemed to be doing better, from what the nurses said earlier. The doctors should be by soon to check on him." As Kathryn looked on, he seemed to come to some sort of decision. Nodding at the bed, he said, "This image makes a change."
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Do you know how many times Chakotay slept in that exact position for days while you were laid out for some reason or another?"
Kathryn was nonplussed. "He did?"
"Yep. He'd go without deep sleep for days just to be near you, waking up every time you groaned or moved. And then, when his off time was up, he'd go to his quarters, shower and change, and go back to the bridge. And he never missed a thing either, even without sleep. He was always exactly on time, never forgot a briefing or report, and he caught every glance between me and Harry. And as soon as his shift was over, he'd go back to sickbay to sit by your bed again. Being with you calmed him, in a way that nothing else could. If he couldn't be near you when you were hurt, he'd get nervous and jumpy -- don't get me wrong, he was still in perfect command of his faculties, but you wouldn't have recognized him that way."
"I never knew..."
"He didn't want you to. He always managed to be either gone or up and standing and perfectly professional when you woke up, even if nobody had any clue that you were about to rejoin us."
"I knew that he sat by your bedside, B'Elanna, whenever you were... but... why didn't anyone ever say anything about it to me?"
B'Elanna spoke now, and her voice was soft as she spoke of her friend. "He was already in so much pain whenever you were hurt, and the whole crew knew it. His ability to function as Voyager's commander never seemed compromised, so not even Tuvok felt it necessary to tell you. Telling you would have led to... repercussions, which would only have hurt him more. We all just wanted to give him -- give both of you -- as much as we could. You have to know that the entire crew wanted nothing more than for both of you to be happy. I almost killed him when I found out about -- but that's for you two to talk about, when he's well. This is another chance, Captain -- Kathryn, don't give it up."
Kathryn was about to respond when she was stopped by a faint groan. Instantly, all three of them were around the head of the bed. Chakotay opened his eyes, and they were all relieved to see that the dark orbs were focused, if a bit cloudy with pain. His attention was entirely drawn to Kathryn.
"Kathryn... thought I dreamed you... hallucination."
She smiled. "No, I'm here, in the flesh. Rest."
He struggled to concentrate. "Bradley."
They looked at each other. Tom said, "What?"
"Bradley... cadet in the shuttle with me. He okay?"
Kathryn looked at Tom and B'Elanna, but they looked just as confused as she was. "I don't know," B'Elanna said, "Seven didn't say anything about anyone else being brought in with you..."
Chakotay's eyes widened slightly. "Seven... where's Seven?"
Kathryn's spirits dipped slightly, and the younger couple looked at her, their relieved smiles fading. Your call.
God, what do I tell him? What if I'm wrong? What if he really does love her and all this was just trauma-induced rambling? "She's... not here right now, Chakotay. We'll get her for you, okay?"
He nodded wearily. "'Kay." Then he added, "Stay?" and his voice was already blurred with sleep.
Kathryn nodded, setting aside her disquiet. "Of course," she said, but he was already asleep again.
Just then, the door opened and a team of doctors trooped in and ordered everyone out. They waited in the hallway, B'Elanna and Kathryn nervously pacing while Tom leaned against the wall, trying to stay out of their way.
After what seemed like hours -- but probably was only about a quarter of an hour -- the doctors came back out. Most of them left, but one stayed behind briefly to answer their questions, and he had nothing but good news. Chakotay was on the mend -- the swelling in his brain was down, and it didn't look like any permanent neurological damage had been caused by the head trauma. The internal bleeding had completely stopped, so surgery wouldn't be necessary. Now that there was no danger to his damaged organs, osteoregeneration on his spine and other broken bones could commence. It would take several treatments over several days due to the delicate nature of some of the injured areas, but there would most likely be no long-term effects except for some residual weakness for a few weeks.
"We've given him a light sedative to help him sleep off the pain, but he should be feeling a lot more like himself when he wakes up in a couple of hours. He'll most likely be in some pain for several days, until the treatments are concluded, but he can be given medication to ease the discomfort. Unless something occurs to necessitate an earlier visit, we'll examine him again tonight and begin treatments tomorrow morning. In the meantime, he just needs to lie still and rest."
"Thank you, Doctor," Tom replied, since Kathryn was too busy silently thanking whatever deities were listening.
"Do you know if anyone else was injured in the crash?" B'Elanna asked suddenly.
The doctor shook his head, "No, I don't, but his chart says he was brought in by Academy Medical. Maybe you can ask them."
He waited for more questions, and when none came, he nodded, smiled, and left. They stared at each other for a while. Academy Medical? They went to the public comm terminal in the waiting room. Kathryn waited outside while Tom left a message at Seven's home to tell her that Chakotay was doing well and that he had asked for her. Then, the three of them crowded around the small screen to contact Academy Medical, during which call they were bounced from department to department.
A petite woman with light brown hair finally showed up on the screen. "I'm Captain Carter. What can I do for you?"
B'Elanna, now frustrated and practically growling, replied, "We're trying to find out about a shuttle accident that occurred last night involving our friend Chakotay and possibly a cadet named Bradley."
Carter nodded. "Well, Cadet Bradley is fine; he walked away from the crash without a scratch. I believe Captain Chakotay was taken to Starfleet Medical;" she glanced behind them at the décor. "But it looks like you already know that. I'll be taking over his Tactics classes while he recovers, and I remember hearing that Commander Mikhaylov is covering his Exo-Anthropology course. I'm afraid I can't tell you anything else about the accident, as it's still under investigation. Is there anything else I can help you with?'
All three mutely shook their heads, and she nodded and closed the link. They stared at each other for even longer this time. Finally, B'Elanna broke the silence.
"I'm going to kill him. That p'tahk! He didn't tell me!"
Kathryn found her own voice. "What? That he was promoted, or that he's teaching at the Academy?"
"Either! I can't believe this!"
Tom said softly, "B'E, you guys didn't exactly part on very friendly terms the last time you talked."
Kathryn stared at B'Elanna, watching in astonishment as the younger woman colored slightly. "What happened?"
B'Elanna looked uncomfortable, which was a rare state for her. "We... disagreed about his relationship with Seven."
Tom snorted. "Among other things, you called him an idiot and a middle-aged fool and told him not to contact you again until he'd regained his senses!"
She looked defiant now, a much more common state for her. "It's true! He was unhappy with her. He was trying really hard, I could tell, but he doesn't love her. He smiled a lot, but it never reached his eyes -- you know how I mean -- and I hated to see him like that! You must have seen it!"
Kathryn's amusement faded. "I... haven't talked to him since the Welcome Home Ball."
"What?! That was five months ago! Kahless, the only reason I was okay with not hearing from him was because I figured he was talking to you. Oh, he must have been miserable, keeping everything to himself, especially this news! Why haven't you talked to him?"
"I couldn't... I tried to be happy for him -- and Seven -- but it hurt too much to see them, and I didn't want... oh, I don't know. God, I've been sitting around feeling sorry for myself... at least he's doing something with his life. I always thought that when we got home -- " she stopped, sighing. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this..."
Tom leaned over and took her hand, surprising her. "Because we're your family. Or, if you're uncomfortable with that, then we're friends. We lived together in very close quarters for a long time, and we always tried to be there for you, Captain," he said, purposely using her rank. "We're not on Voyager anymore, Kathryn; there's no command structure here. Apparently, you're willing to see that now about Chakotay... can you see it about us?"
She simply nodded, moved by his words. After a few minutes, she said, "Thank you, both of you. I've... missed the family we created. I kept myself isolated for so many years on Voyager that I have trouble interacting with everyone who was here at home while we were out there. Nobody here -- "
" -- really understands," B'Elanna finished. "We know; we all feel that way. But we talk to each other -- Harry, Sam, Aya, everyone else -- we get together and we talk. You haven't done that, with anyone. We tried to contact you at first, but, well, after a while... You know, even Chakotay had Seven to talk to, although I'm sure he didn't have many profound heart-to-hearts with her. Have you even talked to Tuvok?"
"He's with T'Pel, and his children..."
Tom sighed. "Captain -- Kathryn, you distanced yourself from us unnecessarily for seven years... don't do it anymore. Now, no more lecturing -- although it was kinda nice to be the one lecturing you for a change -- "
"Watch it, Mister," she said with a small smile.
He laughed. "Yes, ma'am. Let's go check on our wayward pilot. Honestly, who gave the man a shuttle?"
B'Elanna snorted. "Starfleet. I don't think they read Voyager's shuttle maintenance logs very carefully..."
Kathryn laughed and immediately felt guilty for doing so. But he's doing well, she argued to herself. He's going to be okay, and he'd want me to get closer to Tom and B'Elanna. I haven't laughed in weeks... It feels good, she thought, following the other two down the hall to Chakotay's room.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
They were greeted by a familiar but unexpected sight when they entered his room. A bald head was bent over Chakotay, scrutinizing him without touching him.
"Doc!" Tom called softly. "What are you doing here?"
Voyager's EMH looked up. "Why didn't anyone contact me? I've been in a lab upstairs all night. I need to talk to his doctors. I bet they don't know -- "
"Doctor," Kathryn said, halting his prattling with a small smile. The Doctor was showing his concern for Chakotay, in the only way he knew how, by fussing over him. "I'm sure his doctors have his complete medical file from Voyager, and unless you forgot something -- which I highly doubt -- they know everything you do."
"Yes, but I'm sure that -- "
"This has to be a nightmare," said a weak voice from the bed.
The Doctor looked insulted, and Chakotay spoke again while the others tried to suppress their laughter. "How are you, Doc? What are you doing here?"
Indignation became exasperation as the EMH replied, "I'm fine, thank you. The question is, how are you, Commander?"
"Captain, actually," B'Elanna said loudly, and Chakotay closed his eyes with a groan that was not caused by his injuries.
"What?" exclaimed the Doctor. "Why doesn't anyone -- "
The door slid open, and all the noise in the room stopped.
"Hello, Seven," Chakotay said softly. "Um, if the rest of you will excuse us..."
The others practically fought each other to be first out of the room, although Tom had to grab the Doctor by his sleeve. Nobody exhaled until the doors slid shut behind them.
"What's going on?" the Doctor asked.
"They have things to talk about," Tom answered quickly. "So, Doc, you say you've been in a lab upstairs? What have you been doing? We would have contacted you but we didn't know where to find you..."
"I'm heading the Exo-Neurology department here at Starfleet Medical. The post is brand new; I was waiting for the official announcement to be made before contacting everyone." Though he tried to temper it, the Doctor's ever-present pride made its way into his voice.
"Congratulations, Doctor. That's wonderful," Kathryn said, trying to keep her mind off of what was being said behind that door.
"How is my lovely goddaughter?" he asked B'Elanna. "I've been longing to go and see her, but Starfleet just gave me my emitter back a few days ago... I think they've been trying to figure it out... I'm actually rather surprised they returned it to me at all."
"She's wonderful; she's so smart," B'Elanna answered, pride and wonder in her voice. "You really should come see us... we're staying with Tom's parents for a while."
Kathryn was surprised. "Really?"
Tom tried to be matter-of-fact about it, but she could see the happiness in his eyes. "Yeah... my father asked us to, and I'm really trying to patch things up with him. He adores B'E and Miral, and since we're still on leave, we figured we'd take some time to catch up. You should come too; I know my father would love to see you."
"When did he get promoted?" The Doctor asked, jerking his head toward the door before them.
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "We don't actually know; he didn't tell -- "
The door slid open again, and Tom muttered, "That was fast..." Seven nodded to them and continued down the hall wordlessly, though they all noticed in the strong light of the corridor that her eyes were full and bright. The Doctor looked from Kathryn's suddenly pale face to Seven's retreating form and said, "If you'll excuse me, I think someone should talk to her." He took off after her, nearly knocking over a startled Harry Kim.
"What's going on?" he asked Tom. "I called your house because you didn't show up for breakfast, and your mother said... oh, hi, Captain."
"It's Kathryn, Harry," she answered in a distracted voice.
"How's Chakotay? Your mother said there was an accident, Tom."
B'Elanna was watching Kathryn, who was staring at the door. "Go on in," she said. "We'll fill Harry in."
She moved forward hesitantly, activating the door sensors but not going in when they opened. Maybe he wants to be alone...