Daylight Trilogy: 2
Under a glowering sky; with cold, hard rain falling steadily upon a landscape scarred by destruction, a child slipped from life. She was oblivious to the frenzied activity around her, to the shouts of those working to shore up damaged buildings, to the medics working on the survivors. I hope and pray that as she drifted away all she was aware of were the arms that held her and the soft voice murmuring lullabies to her.
As the child died Kathryn pressed a kiss to her forehead, she held the child close for a moment longer and then relinquished her. I could feel the cold and damp seeping into me, but I did not let go of Kathryn. She settled her weight against me, turned her face into my chest and slipped one arm around my neck. She was holding onto me as tightly as I was holding her and I no longer knew who was comforting whom.
I knew the moment she remembered who we were, where we were. I felt the jolt of her returning to reality. She didn't move at once, allowing herself a little longer. I didn't let her go, counting to sixty silently, guessing that she'd promised herself one more minute.
She pulled away from me exactly on queue - and this time I let her go, watching as she scrambled to her feet, the mud clinging to her clothes, almost as though she'd been marked by this experience, scarred. She went through the motions I have become achingly familiar with, running a hand through her hair, straightening her back and then striding towards the control centre to check on progress. Wearily I pushed myself to my feet and followed in her wake.
She wouldn't leave until we were sure that there were no more victims, until the buildings had been made safe. Several people suggested that she return to Voyager; that the situation was more than under control now, but she just nodded and told them she would stay to the end - perfectly polite, entirely dismissive.
I dogged her footsteps, keeping her within my line of sight, wondering why she didn't tell me to go away and leave her alone. I planned to make sure she saw the Doctor when she got back to Voyager, I wasn't sure if she hadn't noticed that she'd cut her face, or if she knew and was ignoring it. Either way, a couple of hours crawling around a collapsed building can't be good for you.
Maybe the Doctor would tell her to take some time off, if I was really lucky she might even listen.
We were the last to beam up. It seemed the right moment to go, to leave the bereaved to their mourning. It sounds harsh and I don't mean it to, but I was more concerned about the crew, about one person in particular and the control with which she was holding herself together. It might be better for all of us if, just once, in a safe environment she would let go.
I thought I was a safe environment; Kathryn might not agree.
We had our first argument in the transporter room. She wanted to go to the bridge for a status report, I wanted her to see the Doctor. The transporter operator wisely left the scene, leaving us to slug it out. I suggested a compromise, I would go to the bridge if she went to Sickbay and then I would bring her the status report. I could see her wavering, sure she'd like to tell me where I could stuff my deal, but unfortunately there was nothing wrong with the arrangement, it made a lot of sense. Instead she spat a clearly disgruntled 'Fine!' in my direction and stomped off to sickbay, leaving me to trail mud and weariness across the bridge. Somehow I knew we'd never get the stains out.
Battle two was a no holds barred, knock 'em down, drag em out affair with the Doctor and Tom. Round 1 was still going on as I arrived. I stood in the doorway unnoticed for a while and watched the combatants square up.
The captain's uniform lay in a crumpled heap on the ground, dressed in one of sickbay's thin gowns she looked smaller, less untouchable somehow. It was also obvious that her arms were heavily scratched and bruised. I didn't want to think about how she'd got those injuries, which small spaces she had pushed herself through. The Doctor was still treating the marks on her face, Tom checking some test results. Kathryn was squirming and fidgeting all the time, talking about the status report. Finally the Doctor sighed and said,
'If you don't want to be here for the rest of the night I suggest you sit still and be quiet.'
The promise of a speedier release at least persuaded her to allow him access to her face. Before he had finished the treatment Tom drew him away for a whispered consultation and I had the feeling round two was brewing. Her gaze slid away from them to fix on me, 'Status?'
'Everything's fine. Tuvok has rotated the shifts so that everyone who was involved in the rescue gets a couple of extra hours rest. We're going to continue with the trade agreement, but I was wondering if you wanted to cancel the shore leave?'
'Postpone it, until we find out what happened down there, I don't want the crew wandering around if there's any possibility this wasn't an accident.'
'Fine. I'll see to it'
'Commander, you look awful, I hope you're planning to get some sleep.'
'I am.' The Doctor had appeared at my shoulder and nodded, apparently satisfied by my response. I had the feeling he was preparing himself for a far more daunting conversation.
'Captain,' a thousand scenarios flooded my mind, all of them with horrible endings. I imagined mysterious illnesses, deadly diseases - all before the Doctor had finished the sentence. 'Frankly, I don't know how you're still standing, you have two cracked ribs,' she opened her mouth to argue but he got there first. 'I'm not finished yet, your blood pressure and blood sugar levels are far too low, which I suppose is a change from your blood pressure being too high. I'd like to keep you in sickbay, if only to make sure you sleep, but I don't suppose you'll agree?'
'I'm not spending the night here because I have two cracked ribs.'
'You don't just have two cracked ribs.' She didn't even deign to reply to that one, the Doctor told her to lie down and Tom and I retreated while he repaired her ribs.
Half an hour later, after what could be described as a full and frank exchange of views between the captain and her CMO - or a stand up row if you prefer, I found myself following Kathryn along the corridor towards the senior officers' quarters. We were moving at a pretty smart pace, anger or some other equally strong emotion propelling her. I don't think she was mad at me, or not specifically at me, but I wouldn't say she was at her happiest either. I was here because - well, she hadn't told me to get the hell out of her sight yet.
On the same principle I stepped through the doors to her quarters immediately after she did. Normally I would have waited for an invitation - but I couldn't be sure she even knew I was there. The lights came on at her command, but I don't think the command was a conscious one, it struck me as more of an automatic gesture, to be calling for illumination. She must have been able to see my reflection, must have known I was standing beside her, but she made no move to acknowledge me. Instead her gaze was fixed on the planet tumbling gracefully beneath us, a rich and verdant planet which was even now reeling from a tragedy.
'I don't need someone to talk to Chakotay.' It was such a typical reaction I don't even know why I was surprised. The sound of her voice sent shivers down my spine - tight, controlled and she still wasn't looking at me.
'No, all right - you don't need someone to mouth platitudes to you, I can understand that.' I didn't have the energy to argue with her, but my response was unexpected enough to catch her attention, enough anyway to persuade her to turn to look at me.
'How about someone to hold you? Do you need that Kathryn?'
'I'm fine.' She forced the words out, her eyes making a liar out of her even as she spoke, but she wouldn't budge, couldn't. I envied her that.
'Well, I need that. I held that child as well, watched her die, helped to pull the others out of the rubble, waited hours to see if I was going to have to do the same for you. I'm not like you Kathryn, I can't find other ways to manage my feelings, my needs are much more simple than that. When I'm hurt I need solace, comfort - you!'
I wasn't looking at her, couldn't. Confessing my deepest needs to her was humiliating enough without having to see the pity creep into her eyes. The sound made me look up, the harsh intake of breath that was almost a strangled cry.
She'd reached me in two steps, drawing me into a tight embrace. I grasped her back, couldn't let her go, not now.
'It was terrible, wasn't it?' she whispered.
She didn't cry.
She didn't cry. We held each other all night, shared whispered endearments and soothing caresses, trying to keep the darkness at bay. It was an extraordinary experience - a level of intimacy I haven't experienced with some lovers.
In any other circumstances I'm sure I would have been burning with desire - having her so close was reminiscent of too many of my secret fantasises. But you don't think about sex when the woman you're in love with has her cheek pressed to your chest and is telling you how it felt to crawl through a small makeshift passage in the pitch black. Instead you hold her that little bit closer and thank every deity you've ever heard of that she got out alive.
Kathryn should probably have gone to bed, got some sleep - as the Doctor had instructed, but she showed no sign of moving and I certainly wasn't going to try to persuade her. I expect we made quite a tableau, all curled up together on her couch, with our contrasting features, light and darkness blended by the stars, light and darkness, a dance in the shadows.
Time passed, minutes, hours an eternity. Our heartbeats and breathing drifted into sync and I think, for a while at least that Kathryn slept. It almost seemed like too much of a gift, that despite everything she had somehow relaxed enough to fall asleep, or perhaps she was just dead tired.
The chime of her terminal roused her and she pushed herself back from me, looking like a sleepy child as she rubbed her eyes and shoved her hair back behind her ears. I thought it strange that someone would send her a message rather than contact her over the comm channel - but then I remembered that she was off duty and that the Doctor had probably given instructions that she wasn't to be disturbed. He wasn't to know about the unusual arrangements we had made for ourselves.
I couldn't see her face as she called up the message and read it, but when she turned back to me a single tear had escaped her and was burning a path down her cheek.
'It's details of the first funerals,' she said quietly, 'the authorities would like us to attend.'