They had never needed words to communicate. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d merely looked at him, and he’d understood her orders.
As they made their way back to the shuttle, she leaned heavily against him, and he wrapped his arm protectively around her waist. She reached up and grabbed onto his shoulder, needing desperately to hold onto something, to reality, to life.
After what had happened, she just wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
She told herself she’d fought because she wasn’t ready to die. Because her crew needed her leadership.
But really, if she were to be truly honest with herself, the image of Chakotay sobbing over her dead body had moved her most of all. In that instant, when she realized how much he cared for her, she desperately wanted two things. First, she wanted to alleviate his pain, and since the prospect of her death seemed to cause him so much suffering, she couldn’t help but struggle to ease it, to prevent it, to soothe it.
“Chakotay, I’m here.”
She remembered reaching out to touch him, to comfort him, only to have her hand go straight through him, to have him unaware of her presence beyond the corpse in his arms.
The second thing she wanted was much more difficult to accept. She’d seen the way he cared for her, the way he touched her, how much he loved her. And she wanted, desperately, to know that love, to melt into his embrace, to be present to enjoy it.
Only…most, maybe all of what she had seen was a lie, a hallucination of her own creation. She might have postulated that it was the alien’s narrative, but the alien wanted her in its matrix, and would not show her something that would motivate her to stay alive. So the only logical conclusion was that it was she who had wanted Chakotay to hold her, to cry for her, to love her. But this wasn’t reality, and now that she had fought her way back, she needed to accept it, to sort out her own feelings, to establish the parameters of reality, not the lonely fantasy of a starship captain away from home too long.
As he helped her to sit upon the shuttle’s bench, she looked into his face, and saw only relief, confirming her suspicions.
And yet, he didn’t let go once she was settled. Instead, he sat beside her, gently snaking his arm around her shoulders and almost imperceptibly stroking her upper arm with his fingers.
She couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t bear to look into his eyes and not see what she had seen in her hallucination. She felt her eyes begin to overflow as the images from her various hallucinations came to the center of her mind. Struggling for her last breath, in Sickbay, alone. Her crew, memorializing her, then moving on. Chakotay, telling her never to do that to him again…
She raised a hand to her mouth to stifle the sob she felt rising in her throat as the tears began to trickle down her cheeks.
He didn’t speak. He didn’t ask her what was wrong, or try to reassure her. Just as always, they needed no words.
He pulled her closer to him, and she rested her head on his shoulder. She could only hope that he needed the physical contact as much as she did, but right now it didn’t matter.
She was vaguely aware of the doctor scanning her as Chakotay held her, but her first officer shot the doctor a meaningful look, and he moved back to sit next to the Vulcan in the cockpit, leaving the two humans alone, in relative privacy.
She continued to silently cry, and he continued to hold her close, rubbing her arm, keeping her warm.
Kathryn told herself he was just making sure she didn’t fall back into shock, just doing his duty. She couldn’t believe it was more than that, she couldn’t hope.
She’d come back from death for him, and if she found out he would have been fine without her, it would break her.
“Sounds great. If I miss, I get to be captain.”
She remembered the flippancy with which he uttered those words, and the joke didn’t seem nearly so funny anymore.
Forcing herself to focus upon the rare physical contact they were sharing, she attempted to regain her composure, to take comfort from his touch even if he was just doing his duty, nothing more. It didn’t matter, did it?
Only it did…she found herself wanting to know how he felt, and at the same time, not being able to ask.
But they’d never needed words.
Sensing her dilemma, somehow, he bent down and kissed the top of her head, then pulled her even closer until she was forced to turn to face him.
She buried her face in his shirt and he stroked her back. He was trying to tell her that he did care, that he did love her, that he was as glad to have her back as she was to be alive.
The moment was cut short when they heard Tuvok ordering the transport directly to Sickbay.
Chakotay loosened his grip on her, allowing her to turn and look up into her security officer’s face.
Tuvok seemed to understand that the transport to Sickbay was slightly less important, now, than the captain’s propriety. He’d ordered the transport “on his orders” but was waiting for permission.
Pulling away from Chakotay, and feeling a startling loss as she did so, she wiped at her eyes and sniffled, then looked up at her first officer, silently asking him whether she was decent to appear, how much of a mess she was.
He smiled at her, nodding slightly. You’re okay.
He helped her to stand, still supporting her around her waist, and turned to the Vulcan, who completed the order, and they shimmered out of the shuttlecraft.
Chakotay helped her onto the biobed and she lay quietly while the doctor completed his examination. She considered asking her first officer to stay, but somehow he knew she needed him there…he wouldn’t force her to beg.
In any other circumstance, she would be fine alone, but after what she had experienced, she knew she would break down completely if it weren’t for his presence.
They needed no words. He stayed.
He held her hand throughout the examination, and then, after the doctor pronounced her physically fit, walked her to her quarters, still in silence.
The commander knew his captain would talk when she was ready.
As her door opened, she gave him another look. Her tears had long since dried, and she regarded him with deep gratitude and permission to leave.
In a final gesture of reassurance, he bent down once more and kissed her on the forehead, and his hand lingered upon her shoulder as he smiled sadly.
They both knew this couldn’t last, but the feelings between them would remain, perhaps be always-present.
She smiled back at him before disappearing into her quarters. Perhaps her hallucination wasn’t completely a lie after all.
There were no words. Only love.