“Abandon Ship. Abandon Ship.” The computer intoned.
The klaxons echoed loudly off the bulkheads as the Red Alert lights flashed ominously along the darkened corridors. Upon discovering that Voyager was responsible for inadvertent destruction of its home, the lifeform retaliated with the threat of death by shutting down life support and forcing the crew to evacuate. It intended to turn Voyager into a hospitable environment for itself, despite the captain's attempts to explain that the ship and by extension said environment could not be maintained without the ship's crew.
As the bay doors opened, he turned toward her with a wave of his hand, “That’s everybody but the captain and the first officer.”
“After you,” Captain Janeway said with a nod.
“When we're clear of Voya--” Chakotay turned as he spoke, his gaze meeting hers a split second before the doors slammed shut. “Kathryn!”
An arc of energy jumped from the panel as he reached to key in his override. When the manual release failed to activate the door, he thumped his fist against the gray access panel. Chakotay paced angrily in front the doors as he tried to strategize another to way to open them. He and the captain were slotted to use the Aerowing in case of emergency evacuation, but the yacht was tucked securely in Voyager’s primary hull, so using the craft’s phasers to blast open the bay doors wasn't an option.
Racing to the hatch of the Aerowing, he ascended the access ladder and climbed inside. As quickly as he could, he ran through the pre-flight diagnostics, one of those being the ship’s transporter system.
Why take her hostage? What did the entity want now? It didn't make sense ... unless...the life form realized that it needed the crew to maintain the ship, but why prevent only Kathryn from leaving. Why not both of us?
“Spirits!” His fingers flew across the panels as the yacht’s sensors came to life. Breathable air was being sucked out of the corridor and flooded with nebulae gas. “I can’t get a lock, there’s too much interference.” Slamming a fist against the side the console, he bellowed. “No!” Angry tears clouded his vision Kathryn’s lifesigns destabilized.
Sliding down the ladder until his feet hit the deck again, he ran back to the door, pounding his fist repeatedly against bulkhead. “Damn it! We did what you asked! We’re abandoning ship, what more do you want?!” He shouted as his knees hit the deck.
Without warning, the computer’s voice announced. “Access to all systems has been restored.”
He exhaled raggedly as the bay doors swished opened but his momentary relief evaporated as Kathryn fell backwards into his arms. That had been all together too close.
The familiar tightening in chest was back as he held her limp form in his arms. It was the same pain that took up residence whenever he saw her lying motionless or injured in Sickbay. Her fingers curled around his and squeezed as she coughed harshly. Placing her oxygen mask over her face, he encouraged her to breathe.
"Slow, deep breaths, Kathryn."
Soon her coughing lessened but her chest heaved repeatedly. The alarm in her blue eyes communicated that this wasn't a voluntary action. Chakotay pulled her against him firmly, her back to his chest in an attempt to lengthen her torso.
"Kathryn, you have to slow down. Breathe with me, concentrate and mimic my rhythm." He held her securely against his chest and took a deep breath, slowly letting it out, repeating the technique several times until she stopped hyperventilating and her breathing returned to a normal cadence.
With a shaky hand, she pushed the mask from her face as her head lolled back onto his shoulder. "Thanks." Her voice was rougher and deeper than usual. "It's empty now."
“Kathryn.” Chakotay dropped his head and pressed his temple against hers as his arms tightened around her waist.
She turned in his arms and cupped his jaw. “I’m okay,” she whispered, briefly touching her lips to his eyelids.
Why am I only able to hold her like this when she's battered or bloodied? He savored the feel of her in his arms and basked in relief that she was safe. All too soon, the force of harsh coughs battered her small frame and shattered the tender moment.
“Slow deep, breaths Kathryn, in and out. That’s it.” He said, placing his oxygen mask over her face once more.
After a few minutes, she nodded and pushed the mask away. “Chakotay.” She turned her head and coughed, “We need to retrieve the crew.” Her body heaved as she started another coughing fit.
“Can you stand?” He asked as he placed a hand under her arm and slowly stood up.
“My legs work--” she coughed again, “--just fine” she said hoarsely as she clutched his arm. She closed her eyes and then nodded. Her first few steps were unsteady and then her legs began to buckle.
Chakotay caught her around the waist and steadied her. “First things first, a trip to Sickbay is in order.”
“I’m--” her standard answer was interrupted by another ragged cough.
“You’re not fine. Besides the sooner you’re breathing easier, the sooner we can head back to Engineering.”
Thankfully, the entity had restored the turbo lifts and they were able to get to Sickbay quickly.
“Computer, activate the EMH.”
“Please state the - - Captain, Commander.”
Kathryn’s harsh coughing set the doctor in motion. He waved a medical tricorder from her head to her torso. “You’re alveoli are chemically burned –“
“Just give me a dose of trioxin,” she said hoarsely.
“Trioxin is to be used only as an emergency stop gap not a complete treatment. You need –“
“Now!” She glared at him as she coughed again.
The doctor harrumphed and pressed a hypo to her neck.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Thank you.”
“You Commander, have a minor dislocation of the acromioclavicular joint.”
“You're hurt?” Kathryn asked as she placed a hand on his arm.
“Ten deck free fall in the turbo lift earlier today.” He turned to face the EMH. “Doctor, just give me something to take the edge off.”
The doctor rolled his eyes and pressed a hypo to Chakotay’s neck. “When this latest crisis is over, I expect to see both of you for the appropriate treatment of your injuries.” He said as Chakotay and Kathryn moved to exit Sickbay.
“The crew?” She placed her hand against her throat as she walked down the corridor.
“We can send out a subspace hail once we reach Engineering. Voyager’s in no condition to attempt to retrieve everyone. The shuttles can return quickly enough, but the escape pods could take up to two days.”
Kathryn nodded. “We need to find an area on the ship that we can convert into a micro nebula for the entity.”
“What about deck twelve? We could set up a controlled environment away from the main computer core and we wouldn’t need to relocate crew quarters.”
“Good idea. We could be looking at weeks or months before we find another J-class nebula. Once we have the deck evacuated and force fields in place, restrict access to a level six security clearance.”
That damned woman had done precisely what he’d asked her not to do. She’d put herself in a vulnerable, dangerous position and had almost gotten herself killed. Again. Damn it!Only now, four days later, with the crew accounted for and Voyager safely underway, had he taken the time to view the security feeds. What he saw both angered and worried him. The two emotions grappled for dominance.
Anger, that she'd unnecessarily put herself in harm’s way - again; and worry because her behavior was fast developing a dangerous pattern.
She wasn't a woman averse to taking risks; he knew that. What concerned him was her seemingly increasing addiction to it. The matter concerned him enough that he'd actually researched the medical database. Apparently, the concept of risk addiction, or sensation-seeking, as the experts referred to it, wasn't uncommon at all. The psychologists in their published journals were adamant that such an 'affliction' was actually a well-documented personality category.
One author suggested that often risk takers are not aware of the danger they put themselves in. They only know they must continue to beat the odds. They are oblivious to the danger to both themselves and to those around them, such as loved ones. His research revealed that individuals who had a tendency to live on the edge also exhibited high levels of dopamine. This brought his thoughts back to the aliens that used Voyager as a giant petri dish. They'd been meticulous about steadily increasing Kathryn's dopamine levels at the time. Had their experiments done irreparable harm? Had the Doctor missed something? No, it was more likely that her behavior stemmed more from guilt than anything else - a need to push herself as penance for stranding them in the Delta Quadrant. They'd had that conversation more times than he cared to admit. How often had she justified placing herself in harm’s way by saying “because I'm the captain,” or some phrase along those lines. Would she ever learn to let it go? When would she see that for many of the crew being stranded out here was the best thing that could've happened? Didn't she realize that her decision, instead of condemning the crew to a living hell, most likely saved one hundred and forty lives? If the reports they received from HQ were anything to go on, he was thankful not to be entangled with the ongoing war with the Dominion.
Chakotay stopped just outside her quarters and inhaled a deep breath. With a little luck, he wouldn't need to do what he had in mind. At most, she might throw him in the brig for what he planned but he was doing this for her own good. Taking another deep breath, he pressed the chime on her door.
The door slid open and he stepped across the threshold far enough to allow the door to slide close behind him. As his eyes grew accustomed to the lower illumination, he spotted her clad in her tank top and pants, standing in front of the view port with one hand at the small her back and the other cradling a cup of coffee.
“I have the last of the repair and incident reports,” he said as he held a PADD up in the air.While taking a sip of her coffee, she turned and held out her hand expectantly. “Great, after these I can call it quits for the night.” Her hand waved toward the replicator as she sipped her coffee again. “Help yourself.”
Chakotay ordered a spiced tea and debated whether to stand or sit. If he remained standing, she'd know instantly that something was wrong, so he opted for what he thought of affectionately as 'his chair'. He shook his head as he watched her sit down to read and compare his PADD to those already scattered across the coffee table. Her lips were moving but he was only half listening.
“I met with B'Elanna earlier; she thinks we should reinforce structural integrity on deck ...” With a shake of his head, he leaned back in the overstuffed chair opposite of the couch and watched her. She was going on as if the whole ordeal 'was just another day at the office'.
“Of course, that means realigning....”
How many more times would he be forced to stand on the sidelines and watch as she flung herself into one life threatening situation after another? And there would be a next time, and a time after that, and more times after that. Did she realize the risks she took? When did near-death experiences become the status quo?
“I ordered Seven to program continuous scans for ...”
Chakotay leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he clenched the mug in his grasp and shook his head. The lower decks joked that Captain Janeway had nine lives but eventually Kathryn's luck would run out, and the thought of facing that day not only terrified him but also angered him. What was it she'd said to him once? That she couldn't handle being in a relationship with him, because she couldn't bear the thought of watching of him die - of sending him to his death - because the grief of losing him by her own command would be her undoing. Wasn't that exactly what she was doing to him? Anger warmed his belly while he turned his thoughts over in his mind. Sometimes, subtly didn't work with Kathryn, sometimes to get her attention he had to throw her for a loop. Hence, the report and her wide-eyed expression as she read his account of the day’s near disaster. She looked up abruptly and waved the PADD in the air. “What the hell is this?”
“The preliminary incident report.”
“I know that.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’m referring to the contents of the report. The section that states I failed to follow proper evacuation protocol. I was right behind you -” She said as she pivoted to her feet.
“No.” His voice was soft as he placed his mug on the coffee table. “No, you stopped.” A coiled calmness radiated from his being as he stood and walked toward her, “You stopped for one last glance of your ship.”
“Don't tell me we're going to have this conversation again. How many times do I have to tell you, I'm the captain, it's my responsibility...”
“Bullshit!” He stalked closer. “Your hesitation is what prevented your escape. In those seconds while you were gazing around empty corridors, you allowed the creature time to capture you.” He shook his head, “Spirits, Kathryn. Why do you repeatedly insist on risking you life?” He raised a hand to silence her response. “Belay that. I know your standard response but this is more than just giving your all because of guilt. It's been six years, Kathryn. Don't you think it time you freed yourself of the albatross around your neck?”
“What are you talking about?” She asked with narrowed eyes.
“Don't try to play coy, Kathryn. You don’t wear it well. You're anything but coy. You know damn well, what I'm talking about. The mantel of misplaced guilt that you've had yoked around your neck since the Caretaker stranded us in this quadrant.” He ran a hand through his hair and turn away from her. “For a while, I thought perhaps you didn't intentionally endanger your life, but rather it was instinctual impulse, born out of your dedication to this crew. You know they love you and that terrifies you, yet what petrifies you is that beyond your best intentions is that you love them too.” He turned back to face her. “So, you push yourself, setting impossibly high standards for yourself, and readily expose yourself to danger all the time. And you know what? The crew knows it; they accept it, but they don't like it. Do you realize how much it hurts them to see the complete disregard you have for your own safety.”
Kathryn crossed her arms over her chest and lowered her head before meeting his gaze once more. “Are you finished?”
“Am I--” Chakotay balled his fists and approached her. “You--”
Kathryn lowered her arms and stood her ground as he approached, tilting her head back to hold his gaze as he towered above her. “Watch yourself, Commander.”
“You’re not going to pull rank this time, Kathryn. Or have you forgotten that technically I’m still a Captain as well.” He smirked at the startled realization that flashed in her eyes. She had forgotten. Maybe it was time he reminded her. “As we’re both captains, you should be able to tell me what your chief responsibility is as captain.” When she remained silent, he stepped closer, pressing his hips against hers. “Well?”
To her credit, she didn’t flinch or move away. “As captain, my chief priority is the wellbeing of my crew and –“
“Stop.” His nostrils flared and his hands clenched into fists. “The crew. Aren’t you and I members of the crew?”
“Of course, you are –“At his glare, she amended her response. “Yes, we’re members of the crew; your point?”
“My point? It was an unnecessary risk, Kathryn! That’s my point!” His hands cupped her face as his fingers tangled in her hair “What the hell, were you thinking? I pray you don't actually believe what you told Naomi about 'going down with the ship.' Do you realize how much this crew needs you? How do you think your death would affect this crew? Let me tell you. It would devastate us! When are you going to get it through your head, that you’re more important to me than this damn ship?!”
The anger, hurt, and worry that Chakotay previously felt, boiled dry with his outburst. He closed his eyes when he realized what he’d just said, ‘you’re more important to me than this damn ship?’ Damn it!!
Usually, he was more adept at suppressing his feelings for her. He'd understood her need for his friendship and professionalism, both of which he gave without question. His love for her however, was unspoken. They never talked about their feelings; they only ever skirted around them. This wasn't the first time she'd taken a risk with her life, and he was sure it wouldn't be the last - it was just her way - but this incident had shattered his calm professional veneer. He hadn’t meant to reveal so much and now that he had, his admission created a new kind of tension between them. His gaze swept over her upturned face, wide eyes and inviting mouth. Before he could stop himself, his lips captured hers in a desperate kiss as he pushed her against the bulkhead.
Her entire body stiffened, her lips unyielding beneath his, until gradually she returned his kiss with matching passion. His hands slipped beneath the hem of her tank as her hands tugged at his jacket. How many times had he imagined what it would be like to hold her in his arms, to kiss her senseless, to make love to her until she cried out his name in pleasure? Not once had he thought they'd end up in a tangle of limbs dry humping each other. Well...maybe once or twice...but not like this.
He slipped his hands from beneath her top and grasped her hands before slowly easing them out of the kiss. Cupping her face, he kissed her tenderly, memorizing her flushed features, dark eyes and swollen mouth. His lips quivered against hers as he leaned forward to kiss her once more.
“I love you, Kathryn. You know that I do, but I can't ...” He slipped his hand from hers as he stepped back and turned away from her. “Do you realize --” He ran a hand through his hair. “You know the really twisted thing?” He asked as he turned his head to the side. “You once told me that you couldn't handle being in a relationship with me while we were on Voyager because of your fear that you might have to send me on a mission that I might not return from...of losing me along the way.”
With a sigh, he shook his head and turned to face her again. “It's ironic really,” he said with a humorless chuckle, “the one situation that you fear the most is the same situation you've forced me to live through on a regular basis.” Genuine surprise flitted across her features, her dark eyes widened briefly, as her mouth fell open slightly.
Her baffled expression fueled his frustration and stoked the embers of his anger as she made the usual excuse. “The crew depends on me; they trust me with their lives. I --”
“Don't,” He interrupted. “Just...Don't. I know what you're going to say. I know you believe the crew blames you for stranding us out here.” He said with a wave of his hand. “Why can't you see, we're better off out here? Had you returned us to the Alpha quadrant six years ago, we'd all be dead by now.”
With a shake of her head, Kathryn turned away to gaze out the view port. “You don't know that.”
“Think about it, Kathryn. You lost a third of your crew after Voyager was pulled to Delta Quadrant. Who’s to say we would've survived the trip back if we had used the array to get home? Let's say by some miracle we did survive with minimal damage and you had managed to retain command of Voyager once we reached the Alpha Quadrant. Most of the Starfleet crew would have later died in this war with the Dominion. The Maquis crew would have been extradited to Cardassia and those who escaped extradition would have been massacred on Tevlik's moon.” His eyes met her devastated gaze in the reflection of the viewport. “You never thought of it that way before, did you?”
A quick shake of her head confirmed her reply.
“Look, I won't apologize for telling you that I love you. I know you need my support and friendship more than my love right now.” With a sigh, he moved toward her door. “Once...we had an understanding...that we would explore our relationship when we got home...but Kathryn, I fear for you.” He said quietly. “I love you now, then, and for always. I'm not asking anything from you in return. I know you're a survivor, but you have to do more than merely survive. I – we, the crew need you to lead us home.”
Kathryn stood rigidly with her back to him, arms crossed over her chest, only the tight grip of her fingers around her biceps betrayed her distress. She lowered her head and turned slightly to face him. “It's late, Commander.” Her was voice was rough, as if she spoke around gravel in her throat.
With a curt nod, he turned to exit her quarters. “When you're ready, you know where to find me. Kathryn, you don't owe this crew your death; you owe them your life. When are you going to realize that?”
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he contemplated the last week. Had it really only been a week? Time seemed to stretch into eternity. He wasn't sorry about what he'd said to Kathryn, it needed to be said but he regretted the manner in which he'd told her. What a way to tell someone you love them. She hadn't been ready to hear the words the first time on New Earth, and six years later, she still wasn't ready to hear them. So, she did what she always did when faced with something of a personal nature that made her uncomfortable – she ignored it.
In the early years, he was certain that she loved him too. It was the way she teased him, the touch of her hand to his chest and the rare occasions when she cupped his face. Then, she hadn't been ready to admit it to herself, let alone to him. Yet there was a mutual unspoken agreement between them, or at least there had been. Maybe she truly believed his feelings for her had died since their sojourn on New Earth. Something fundamental had shifted, he couldn't pinpoint what or when but something between them had changed. With a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair and sat back on the couch. He and Kathryn barely spoke outside of ship’s business anymore. She wasn't rude or dismissive... just preoccupied. How many times had he found her staring vacantly at the viewscreen or through the viewport in her Ready Room? She was turning something over in her mind. Whatever it was, she'd come to him and ask his opinion when she was ready.
Not a moment sooner.