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“So, how is Harry?” Chakotay asked as Kathryn leaned back against the back of the couch in his quarters. He knew she had gone to see Harry towards the end of her shift before she had shown up on his doorstep.
“A little rattled by the whole experience, but I think he’ll be fine.” He put two glasses of wine on the coffee table and sat down next to her. “I gave him two days off to digest everything.”
“That was nice of you.” He lifted his glass and took a sip. “I know such an experience would shake me enough to need a few days off. “
“You would have done the same.” She waved off his compliment.
“Yes, I would.” He nodded, “And I would have requested the time for contemplation if I were in Harry’s place. But that doesn’t mean you’d have to grant it. My spirituality isn’t exactly part of the job.”
She nodded, understanding what he was saying. There were more than a few Starfleet captains who would not have granted the time off, claiming such spiritual endeavors belonged in the crewman’s off duty hours and should not influence his ability to perform his regular duties. But there were times in her own past when she wished she could have taken the time to really ponder her experiences and if she could help it, she would always make sure her crew’s wellbeing was taken care off, physically and mentally.
“Speaking of spirituality,” She looked at Chakotay, “do you think you could talk to Mr Kim? I think it might help him to talk to someone who isn’t quite so scientific.”
“And you think I have the expertise?” She nodded and looked at him expectantly, hoping it wasn’t asking too much, that she hadn’t offended him by even asking.
“I can talk to him, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be of much help.” At her questioning look he added, “The concept of an afterlife is a little vague with my people.”
“I thought all religions had some concept of what happens after we die,” she replied.
“Kind of,” he agreed, “but my people were influenced by so many different ancient cultures that views became a little obtuse in that regard. It’s basically agreed on that we are a part of nature and as such return to it in some way. You know, the whole ‘nature nurtures us, so we nurture nature after we die’ concept. It’s not really talked about that much. My people are more about living.” He shrugged.
“So, you’ve never considered what happens when you die?” She asked incredulously, thinking that a man so in tune with his spirituality would have a clear concept of what he believed about an afterlife.
“Considered it? Yes,” he conceded. “Come to a conclusion? No. I’d rather think how to fill my life with meaning. What about you?”
“What do you believe in?”
“In science, really.” At his grin, she explained, “I think there’s an explanation for everything. Sometimes we just haven’t discovered it yet, or may not be able to understand it.”
“What about an afterlife?” He challenged her, “Have you considered what happens after you die?”
It was a weird conversation. Here they were, talking about their deaths as if it was just theory, when they both knew that death was always an imminent danger, especially in their line of work. It was a sobering conversation though, being able to talk to someone who wasn’t so emotionally attached to them that they could barely stand talking about them getting hurt, let alone die.In a way, it was refreshing.
“From a scientific standpoint, I consider our consciousness nothing more than neural pathways and chemical reactions and energy transmissions,” She frowned, obviously carefully considering her words before articulating them, “But from a personal perspective, I find it hard to believe that who we are, the essence of what makes us unique could just wither away with our physical existence.”
“That is a grim outlook,” he replied watching her thoughtfully.
“But existing forever could become incredibly dull,” she asserted.
“I don’t know,” he said, “with the right person, eternity can seem insufficient.”
There was more to her than he originally thought. When he first saw her, she impressed him with a confidence and strength that betrayed her small stature, and it was clear that she was a no-nonsense kind of woman. From the very first moment she was clear and honest about her plans and motives and over the last few months that they had spent together he had learned that his first impression had indeed been correct.
But now, she showed a new side. Who’d have thought that behind the rational scientist was someone who longed for a deeper meaning to life and struggled with the seeming simplicity of rational thought? He understood now, that he had underestimated her yet again. Different to other high-ranking Starfleet officers he had gotten to know in his life, her Starfleet upbringing and education did not limit her. Behind the facade of protocols and regulations was a woman who demanded explanations for the unexplainable, the curious mind of a young girl dressed in the skin of woman jaded by experience.
He could see the struggle between logic and the incomprehensible dance across her features as she frowned and her eyes gleamed with interest, He could see it in the way her hands couldn’t seem to hold still, constantly moving between rubbing her creasing forehead and making grand gestures in the air around her. He listened to her animated ramblings about life and death, their lives and their deaths, and he felt a tug in his chest. A grim heaviness, like an iron blanket, that closed around his lungs, and grew tighter and tighter until he had to realize that after all these late hours, these long weeks of battle, these tiring months of their struggle for survival and harmony, he had grown to care for this woman. He realized that he did not want her to die. He did not want to envision her death, now or in the future.
He thought back to the last few weeks and couldn’t make out when exactly her visits to his quarters had become a regular occurrence. If they didn’t finish their shift together or if he didn’t invite her to dinner, she would just show up at his door and seek him out for a nightly colloquy of their latest venture over a cup of coffee or glass of wine. He was equally unable to pinpoint when he had started to expect her drop-bys, to delay turning in for the night in anticipation of their talks.
“Would you?” He was pulled out of his musing by her sudden question and when his eyes focused on her with mild confusion, she gave a low, throaty laugh. “Where did you wander off to?”
He hesitated a moment before he said, “Just thinking, sorry.”
She gave him a warm smile and regarded him silently. Trying to ascertain if she should ask him about his musing, but thought better of it. He would tell her if he wanted to share his thoughts.
“Would you want the answers?” She repeated her question, “If you could know what will happen after death, would you want to?”
“I’m not sure.” He admitted, “Would you?”
“Yes,” she said immediately, then backpedalled, “and no. I’d be curious and part of me would need to know, but what if Ptera’s experience would repeat itself? What if anything people believe in is wrong? What if what happens to us after we die is utterly disappointing?”
“Well, isn’t any belief in an afterlife just a consolation for loved ones?” He surmised, “And supposed to ease the fear of dying?”
“Exactly,” she exclaimed, “I always found that thought dangerous. If the afterlife is so paradisiacal, if I get to see all the people I miss dearly, what would hold me here? What would keep people living? Even if people believe in rebirth, like Ptera, what keeps them from just moving on to their next life, if they think their current life couldn’t get much worse?”
“Cultures who believe in rebirth usually have some rules about ascension and suicide.” He interjected, but she didn’t seem to hear and just kept talking.
“The way I see it, death is a natural progression and when I’m done, I’m done, not a minute earlier or later. There’s not much sense in existing further when I’m through.”
“That’s very pragmatic, Captain.” Chakotay tried again, “Without an afterlife of some sort, untimely and premature deaths are so much more senseless.”
“Yes, but if nothing awaits us after death, isn’t that all the more reason to live life to the fullest?”
“You get no objection from me. I always try to live life to the fullest.” He grinned at her and topped up their glasses, finally noticing that they had both finished their wine long ago.
She took her refilled glass, took a sip and leaned her head back on the couch, her feet propped up on his coffee table. She looked at Chakotay from the side and studied his face silently while he leaned forward and lifted his own glass to his lips. Her eyes traveled over the markings on his temple, taking in the intricate design that travelled from his forehead over his temple and into his hair. When he spoke of ‘his people’ she wondered who exactly they were and how in touch with his origins her First Officer was.
“What does your name mean?” She blurted out, before thinking about it.
He looked at her with surprise showing on his face, and she briefly wondered if the question was too personal. When he rolled his eyes with a chuckling groan, she knew that she wasn’t the first to ask this.
“My father always said it means ‘Man who walks the earth but only sees the sky’, but there’s no anthropological proof for that. Most likely it simply means Chaahk on earth.” He shook his head slightly, indicating that he was a little annoyed with the tale his father had apparently spun around his name.
“What is a Chaahk?” she queried further, genuinely interested.
“Not what, who,” he corrected her, “He was a god in one of the ancient cultures that influenced my people. He was a hooked-nosed god of rain and lightning.” He snickered, obviously not pleased with that association.
“Rain and lightning?”
“He would strike the clouds with his lightning axe and produce thunder and rain.”
“So he nurtured the land with a loud roar?” She laughed, amused at Chakotay’s antics, “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“He was a bloodthirsty god who demanded human sacrifice,” he explained with a laugh.
“Oh no,” She gave in to the laughter along with him. “Should I be careful around you then?”
“My lightning axe is safely stored and there are no clouds near,” He snorted, “so no human sacrifices today.”
“Well, your nose isn’t too badly hooked.” She couldn’t hold herself together any longer and burst into fits of laughter.
It took them a few minutes to calm down and when they finally did she wiped a stray tear from the corner of her eye and took a deep breath. It felt so good to just enjoy this leisure time with Chakotay. Somehow talking things over with him always seemed to calm her down or cheer her up. She could rely on him putting things into perspective when she felt unable to and tonight had proven no different.
She wondered if he had noticed how frequent their talks had become. If he had, he certainly had not said anything and in some way she was glad he hadn’t. She wasn’t sure if she would feel quite so confident to just seek him out if she thought he would think anything of it. There just seemed to be an easy acceptance of her showing up at his door and she had noticed that the last couple of times he had not even been surprised. Had he been expecting her to come over even?
Today had been a good day. While they did lose Ptera and almost lost Harry Kim, they had also made marvelous new discoveries that didn’t just stop at the new element. It had been a day full of wonder and amazement and when she had returned to her quarters after her shift, for the first time since they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, she didn’t record a private log for Mark. Without even thinking about it, she had grabbed a bottle of red wine and gone to Chakotay’s quarters.
For a brief moment she felt guilty for not missing her fiancé that day, for not wanting to share her day with him first. But she also realized that this was an astonishing step towards something incredibly valuable. She had formed a bond of friendship with the man next to her and she recognized the strength and serenity she was able to draw from that. Here in his quarters with him she felt some semblance of peace and she knew Mark could forgive a missed log entry if it meant she wasn’t miserable.
She looked at Chakotay and on an impulse clinked her glass to his.
“Here’s to living life to the fullest.”