All my life, I've prided myself on my intelligence and intuition, trusting myself to always know the right thing to do and for the most part I've been successful. Starfleet, my father before that, even my mother, all taught me well and yet today I find myself, within the space of one short hour, making two of the biggest mistakes of my life. Guess I'm finally playing catch-up in the stupidity stakes and true to Janeway form, I'm doing nothing by halves.
We've only been on this beautiful planet for two days. Yesterday was taken up with first contact, endless meetings and negotiations and so I welcomed today as a chance to rest, put the captain behind me for one day and finally let Kathryn out of her box to breath the fresh, sweet air, a chance perhaps to let her live again. Oh, I so wanted that chance and it took me long enough to decide to take it, when I'd always been so sure of myself making decisions. Well, except in one area. Four long years of back and forward, to and fro, sure and unsure, never knowing what was right, which to put first, the ship, the crew, me. Of course, ever the scientist, I finally solved my mind's quandary, my heart's dilemma and discovered what my reasoning had neglected all those years - co-existence – the essence of all life, living and working side by side in perfect harmony, one benefiting the other, my own internal collective.
For weeks now I'd thought it through, debated with myself endlessly into the night, weighed it all up and in the end I came to my decision and as a result I came to myself and my prize awaited me – Chakotay.
Or so I thought.
I think back to this morning and the joy I felt. Today was the day I'd tell him how I felt - about him, about us, about how very much I loved him. I planned it all out, the picnic, the gentle stroll afterwards, how we'd talk and remember, share, and then we'd just look at each other and know. I'd then tell him my heart and finally hold nothing back from him. I'd open the window to my soul and give him full view of all that lay within.
My dream came true. All unfolded as it was meant to be, like a beautiful flower waking to the morning sun, only then it withered, dying before it had a chance to live, and my dreams fell and became as glass, falling at my feet and shattering into a million pieces, scattered underfoot for all time. In their place I was left with the truth – I'd waited too long, pushed him away one too many times. In all my calculations I'd neglected that one equation, that he would feel differently now, would have moved on with his life, would only now see me as a friend for all time.
I remember the look in his eyes as I spoke my words, my mind denying what my eyes were seeing, as I pushed on, spilling my heart to this man and I remember his head dropping, shutting me out, sparing me what those same eyes would tell me. He spoke my name once, hesitantly, a prelude to kind words which might spare me some pain.
And so I ran. The fearless Captain Janeway ran. I don't know where I went, in what direction and I cared even less. Tears blinded me and my thoughts danced crazily and painfully inside my head and so I didn't notice my foot miss the feel of the soil beneath it until it was too late and I was falling ever downwards into darkness. I know my fall was halted twice during my plunge to this place. Pain tore at my side as I hit off something and then at my head and finally the explosion of raw agony as I hit the bottom and then nothing.
I came to here in this place, a faint glimmer of light far above me. Pain fills me, inhabiting every fibre of my being and I can physically feel my blood drain from my body. I know I landed on rocks or some other equally hard surface and my body lies in a strange position which I'm unable to correct, refusing me feeling in my legs. Pain washes over me but yet it's Chakotay's face which stays with me most and I try and draw comfort from it, denying myself that truth of earlier and cling to the dream which I hope will nourish me in this time.
My comm badge won't work and my voice fails me, even if there was anyone to hear and so I lie here and wait for one of two things – rescue or death - and as the time passes and I feel my life ebb, I fear the latter more and more. No one will think to look here and I believe I'll be long dead before they miss me or find me. I don't want to die alone in this black place and yet one thought comforts me. At least I got to tell Chakotay that I loved him and I cherish the knowledge that he did at least, at one time, love me too.
The light above me grows dimmer and I feel myself growing lighter as if my body is drifting on a gentle breeze. My pain dims a little and I wonder if this is death.
Damn that woman. Nobody I've ever known can match her for timing. Four years of loving and waiting, hoping and wishing, prayers to any Deity who would listen and then just as I'd given up any hope, she comes to me and speaks the words I'd longed to hear, dreamed of hearing through many a dark and lonely night and what do I do? I lose my power of speech and scare her off. God alone knows what she must have thought of me.
I sit here and think what it must have cost her to come to me like this and tell me of her love and so I damn myself along with her.
I was in shock. I've no other excuse to offer. When she suggested this picnic today, my heart accepted it for what it thought it was, two friends sharing a simple meal. Too many times, I'd dared to hope only to see that same hope dashed and now caution was my constant companion where Kathryn was concerned. 'Take as I find' were words that spoke to me many times a day and I learned to heed them. Never had I expected to hear her speak of her love for me and so I looked away, desperate to try and make sense of what I was hearing and feeling. Her name escaped my lips but it travelled alone and so she ran and I watched her back as she left me standing there, a grown man reduced to a helpless child for those minutes and now I sit here and wish with all I have that I could have those minutes back again.
Slowly I rise and make my way forward. I've no concept of how much time has passed or in which direction Kathryn went and I quickly realize the futility of wandering this vast parkland seeking her, to try and undo the damage I've done. I do what common sense tells me, what Kathryn would do, and I beam back to the ship and attempt to locate her with the sensors. I'll speak with her then and try to right the wrong, and suddenly I find myself filled with hope and I allow my love for her to come out from its hiding place and stretch, readying itself to meet the other half of its soul.
I can feel the life leave my body, slowly draining away and I'm scared, really scared. I've faced death before but fear like this never came to me at those times as much as it does now and I believe it only visits me now because this time I know what I'm leaving behind. "I love you, Chakotay" – my voice is a mere whisper and my throat and chest make strange rattling and gurgling sounds, but my ears need to hear these words just once more.
I wonder has he missed me yet, if the crew know I'm missing, if they'll ever get home and once I start on this track, a million other questions follow which I'll never now find answers to.
The image of Chakotay won't leave me and my mind brings me his face, the soft sound of his voice and the gentle feel of his touch.
I know my death creeps closer all the time and I feel myself shiver more now and know I'm in shock. I cough more and pain tears through me, leaving me gasping for air and I taste blood in my mouth and feel it escape the side of my lips. The back of my head feels on fire and slowly I feel the numbness of my legs spread upwards, taking some of the pain away. I'd always been taught that pain was a good thing, told you that limbs and such were still working and as it leaves me now, I know that's another bad sign for me, that when the pain and feeling stops, I'll probably be dead.
I find myself amazed at what sensations I'm aware of. I feel the trickle of blood from my ear and know my head injuries are severe. I know my leg is broken as earlier I felt the angle it was at before the numbness set in. My chest feels ready to explode and I know ribs are broken and possibly my lung punctured as each breath I try and take only gets harder.
I fight to stay awake knowing what sleep can do to me now but I know I'll lose. This is not how it was supposed to be, not how it should have ended. I always felt I'd go out in a blaze of glory, go down with the ship, at least doing something useful, doing some good, saving someone, not a worthless end like this. I never imagined it would be in some filthy, black hole on an alien planet light years from home, alone and light years also from love and happiness. I guess I often thought it would be as an old woman, fulfilled and happy, back on Earth and in my own bed, a loving family around me, but I know we seldom get what we want in this life.
I drift to thoughts of Klingons and their concept of an honourable death and I know now that there'll be nothing honourable or noble about mine. It's painful, cold and lonely, with only my sad memories and thoughts of wasted time to see me over.
I find the only thing I can wish for now is that someone finds my body. I don't want this place to be my grave…my tomb. I want to float among the stars where my spirit can journey in death where it journeyed in life.
I can actually feel my insides begin to collapse and I imagine I feel the blood begin to cool in my veins as the cold beneath me pulls the warmth from my body.
This is a slow and lingering death and I fight with myself as my body struggles to let go and release itself from this pain that rips through me, but my mind has other ideas and Chakotay's image pulls me back, keeping me here, but it grows ever weaker as does my body and I feel my body win.
Hours have passed and still there's no sign of her. When I first beamed back, a part of me believed she might have returned to the ship and when that failed me, I checked the surface to locate her comm badge.
Why did I let her go? I torture myself with this question a thousand times over but never once does the answer come to me. All these years I've waited to hear her speak those words and when she finally does, the setting perfect, what do I do? I panic, look away and let her down. The most important moment between us and I fail her.
I just wasn't prepared, never expected this, never once expected to hear those words from her lips, hoped to hear them always, in my dreams, but realistically knowing or believing it would never come to be.
I fear dreadfully what the next hours will bring and would give anything to turn time back and undo what happened between us or rather my part in it all.
All I can do now is pray and hope.
My mind drifts and I'm unsure if I passed out or just wandered somewhere I no longer remember. I'm still lying here and I can still see the light above me, mocking me with its distance. My thoughts take me on a tour of my life and I find myself skipping by most of it and I realize how unimportant so much of it has been, the rush to get somewhere or the silly possessions we think are important, a lipstick, a dress, items that are meaningless and I realize suddenly that the love we have is all that matters in the end, all we can take with us.
Only my life with Chakotay brings peace to me now and I suddenly find myself desperate to leave something for him. I move my left hand and pain surges through me but still I push it. I feel the warmth of my own blood across my chest and side and I move my fingers through it, feeling for my other arm now which lies useless at my side and I trace my finger slowly along the flesh there, his initial and the word 'love'. With the last of my strength I manage the word 'sorry' also and pray that if they ever find me, he'll be able to read it. This small movement drains the last of my strength and the dimming of the light and the lightness of my body returns and now I feel the cold seep in, my body shivering. My pain eases slightly and I feel consciousness slip from me and this time I know I shall not awaken. My love for him comes to me and with it, so much sorrow and regret for what I wasted. With my last ounce of energy, I whisper his name before my eyes close and my world ends.
We've had a full scale search up and running for the past five hours now and my fear for her increases by the minute. There's nothing in this planet's atmosphere which can hinder our sensors and the Government are giving their total support, along with their profound apologies that this could happen on their world. I know deep within me that something has happened to her, something terrible, and as the hours pass, my fear becomes almost a corporeal being which stands at my side. Guilt stands close by it.
I pray harder than I ever have for us to find her. Where could she have gone? What if she's in trouble, had an accident, can't call for help, is lying somewhere badly injured? What if she's already… No, I can't think that way. I can only ever think of her alive and vibrant, eyes shining, bouncing along with excitement at some discovery or other, laughing at some silly joke. I can't ever imagine her cold and lifeless, no longer part of us, part of me.
Tuvok is working flat out and despite everything, all I feel from him is his concern for his captain and his support of me. Not once has he even suggested that I'm to blame, despite how he sees me feeling. Maybe he feels I can do more than enough to myself.
I can wait here no longer and I hand over command to Tuvok and join the crew searching on the surface. Voyager only has a skeleton crew manning her and even those crewmembers are desperate to join with their comrades.
Within minutes, I join B'Elanna's group and the look of support and pity on her face speaks for her.
"We'll find her, Chakotay. She didn't just disappear into thin air."
Her words offer me little comfort and she knows it. I stop a minute and look around me at the trees and the beauty of the place mocks me. I feel tears come to my eyes when I think of how this day should have been and I instantly push these thoughts aside.
I hear the voices of the others carry on the breeze as they call out, in the hope that somewhere their captain can hear them and will answer. I'm instantly alerted by another shout now and I look around quickly to see B'Elanna, half way down a small opening in the ground, a local of this place clinging to her arm with all his strength, trying to pull her out. I rush to them and together we pull her free. This alien male explains that this area was once a mining operation, covered over many years ago but that still the occasional small opening appears in the ground.
Alarm bells go off immediately and I lock eyes with B'Elanna. I hear her ask this man if there's anything in the rock which would affect our sensors and he nods in the affirmative.
Something in me takes over and within minutes our search patterns change and we enhance our scanners to try and penetrate these deep mines beneath us. I order the crew to begin searching for entrances, anywhere the ground might look recently disturbed and within ten minutes, we hear shouts off to our right.
My feet take me to where Tom and some others are, shouting and pointing. I see Tom slap his comm badge and vaguely hear him call for equipment. As I run towards him, he steps in front of me, halting me.
"Easy, Chakotay. The ground's not stable." I know every emotion is written on my face but my voice fails me.
"It's hard to see well but it looks as if something is down there. We'll know in a minute…" Even as he speaks, scanning and rescue equipment materialize on the ground in front of us and Harry and B'Elanna jump into action.
With Tom still keeping me back, I hold my breath until B'Elanna looks up at me and I see her face yet can't fully read her expression, a mixture of relief and worry.
" Life signs…human…very faint…" I push forward against Tom and see B'Elanna climb back to her feet.
"Chakotay, listen to me now. This won't help. If we disturb the ground and it falls in…" I nod, knowing her clear thinking is what's needed here.
"I'm going down…" I'm a fool rushing in but B'Elanna is still the only one thinking this out properly.
"No. I'm going down first, with Tom. I've far more experience of this and Tom's medical training… Chakotay, I'll let you know immediately. Please stay here." I see her nod to Harry and he takes Tom's place.
"All right…just hurry…" The pain I feel inside me at this moment is spreading.
Within minutes they've set up a hoist and are on their way down the shaft. It seems as if time has slowed to a crawl and I'm growing more and more desperate. Finally, B'Elanna's voice calls up to us.
"She's here. She's alive…" From her voice, knowing her so well, I know it's bad.
"Harry, get the Doc down from Voyager now." Harry instantly obeys B'Elanna's order.
"I'm going down." Harry knows by my eyes that nothing will stop me now and he nods and stands back. The others help me and then I'm being lowered into the shaft and as I reach the bottom and my eyes adjust to the darkness, I hear my cry escape and echo around this small cavern. The sight before me brings me to my knees and then I'm at her side.
My hand reaches out slowly to her face and I'm aware of the amount of blood around her and how cold she feels and I see the desperate struggle of her body to draw breath.
"Kathryn…." I'm capable of nothing more.
I feel B'Elanna grip my arm tightly and I'm aware of Tom shouting up to the others, telling them what he needs.
"Chakotay…" B'Elanna's voice is soft and I hear tears in the sound of it. I look at her and she draws my attention to Kathryn's arm and shines her light there. It takes me a minute to make out the markings in the blood on her skin and suddenly they clear in my mind and their meaning hits me. Pain seizes me and I'm almost sure I'm suffering a heart attack.
"Oh sweet God…Kathryn…" I desperately try and pull myself together. "Where's the Doctor? Why isn't he here?"
Tom grips my shoulder. "He's on the surface. His emitter wouldn't work down here."
My mind swirls and I can't take anything in. My eyes stay on Kathryn and panic grips me. I hear sounds above us and realize a makeshift stretcher is being lowered to us.
"Chakotay, come on…please. We have to move her…" My brain is working enough to understand this.
"Tom, moving her could kill her…"
He grabs my arm tightly now. "We've no choice. She's dying, almost dead now. If we don't move her… Chakotay please…" I know he's right and that his harsh words are what are needed to get through to me. I stand back and let him work as he and B'Elanna gently lift Kathryn and place her on the stretcher, securing her as best they can. Finally I can move and now I can help and we lift her slowly onto the hoist and all I can do is watch the slow climb to the surface and the Doctor, praying it's not too late.
I can't remember getting out of the shaft, only being back above ground and watching the Doctor and Tom battle to save their captain before moving her again, trying desperately to stabilize her condition before time runs out.
Within minutes, we're all transported back to the ship and now the real battle begins.
I refuse to leave her and the Doctor doesn't fight me on this, even letting me help as Tom prepares to assist in the surgery. In the light of sickbay, I again make out Kathryn's last message to me on her arm and I see the Doctor has also noticed it. Our eyes meet briefly and I see the understanding there. As I help undress her and we slowly and gently remove her torn and bloody dress, time stands still a moment. There on her shoulder, a replica of my tattoo and my breath almost stops. For the third time today, this woman has told me she loves me. I hear the Doctor's voice from somewhere, urging me to hurry and then time starts again.
Within minutes, we have her ready for surgery and now Tom takes my place and I move to the Doctor's office knowing there's nothing else I can do now but hope and pray.
Hours pass and not knowing is killing me. It constantly comes to me that she could die this minute and I won't know it or feel it.
B'Elanna's voice breaks into my morbid thoughts. "He didn't mean it the way it came out…" I can't focus on her meaning.
"Tom…what he said…the way he said it…when we were in the cavern… He'd never be so hard but…" I sit back and nod my understanding.
"It's all right. I understand. Someone had to get through to me. I know what he meant." I see her tears and know the woman fighting for her life means so much to my old friend too and I do all I can and reach for her hand and so together we sit in silent communication and shared pain and do the only thing we can. Wait.
How much time has passed I don't know but suddenly the Doctor is before me and I look to him to tell me what I so want to hear. I catch sight of Tom beside him, the movement of his head telling B'Elanna to leave us and I watch, my fear building, as they leave me alone with the Doctor.
"Commander, sit please." My body obeys.
"She's come through the surgery." I breathe again, only now realizing that I'd stopped.
"Will she be…" He sees my pain and quickly sits beside me and I'm aware of his hand on my arm and then a small smile.
"I believe she'll recover given time. Her injuries were severe, I don't need to tell you that." My memory fills in the blanks as I see her in my mind as we found her, lying in a pool of her own blood, her breathing so laboured.
"There was severe head trauma, chest injuries… Her leg and arm were broken…several ribs. Right lung punctured…massive internal injuries." I see by his face that he knows his words are hurting but we both know the truth must be faced.
"She also had very severe spinal injuries. It will be some time before she recovers full feeling in her legs but it will return. We just have to wait for the swelling to go down." Finally, I find my voice.
"You said head injuries…"
He nods. "There's still some swelling of her brain… Commander, I don't believe there'll be any lasting effects of this injury. We had one thing on our side. The fact that it was so cold down there…" He sees I understand.
"The coldness slowed the rate of deterioration. The fact that she was unable to move with the spinal injury slowed the blood loss, which in turn kept her internal organs from shutting down. Her entire system was in shock but this is the body's self defence if you like. She's very lucky to be alive, I have to tell you that. Whoever watches over ship's captains did their work today." He smiles gently for my benefit and I try and return the gesture but it doesn't quite come off. He stands now.
"She'll be unconsciousness for some time yet. The human body sets its own timetable and I prefer to bow to its superior knowledge." He knows me well and answers the question I haven't yet asked.
"Sit with her, go on. Not too long though. I don't need another patient."
I move slowly out of my chair and make my way to her. Despite the Doctor's words, I know I won't leave here until she's back to me and I know he understands that also.
I sit and hold her hand, gently cradled in mine but I can't find words to say to her, even in her unconscious state. I'm still too ashamed of myself but I can't leave her side. She lies so still, the slight rise and fall of her chest the only indication that she's still with us. Her face is so very pale, mostly from the massive loss of blood, despite the numerous transfusions she's received. I once again give thanks for the miracle our Doctor and Tom have pulled off in rebuilding what was so broken and I marvel at the fact that Kathryn survived the fall at all.
Tuvok has been by and given me a brief report. He's been to the surface and examined the shaft and cavern where she lay alone, in pain and bleeding for so many hours and we know now how her body smashed off two rock outcroppings before hitting the bottom and I cry again to think of the pain and fear she endured alone, believing as she must, that she would die there, that where she lay would become her tomb. I wonder if she ever held out hope of rescue, and if she did, how long before that hope abandoned her to the darkness.
The Doctor has now admitted to me that she'd have been in and out of consciousness and this knowledge causes me more pain. I find myself wondering what her mind went through during those hours, what her last thoughts were and I have to stop my own thoughts from following along this road in order to keep sane.
I know now she'll come back to me and I want nothing more than to look into her beautiful blue eyes, see her wonderful smile again and hear her speak those words once more and this time I'll have the guts to be there for her, to tell her in return how much I also love her, to speak the words openly for once and not hide behind an invented legend like the coward that I am. Shame at my actions and lack of courage sits solidly upon my shoulders and I pray I can explain everything to her and that she'll understand and forgive me for what I've put her through.
I remember again her last words to me, written in her own blood and I look at her arm, clean now. Her words may be washed away from her skin but they're forever burned in my memory. I think of the pain the movement must have caused her to write them, how important I still was to her, for her to want to speak to me from what she must have considered her grave.
I think again of the tattoo on the back of her shoulder which she marked on her skin and how sore she must have been from it. I wonder where she got it and when, who did it for her. To know she wanted this and that she carried my mark for so long fills me with even more love for her than I ever thought humanly possible and I know the depth of her feelings for me from this act, the lengths she must have gone to in order to carry a part of me so close to her.
So much wasted time and yet I know the moment had to be right for her, that she had to be ready for this, only when she was, I wasn't there for her. I torment myself with the knowledge that her last hours were probably spent believing I no longer loved her, had moved on and I pray she didn't torture herself as I am now, with doubts and regrets for what cannot be undone and despite the pain it causes me, I return to the shaft again in my mind and to how we found her and I know the image and memory of it all will haunt me for a long time, that only she can take it away.
I slowly become aware of the Doctor standing beside us, checking readings and it's almost as if he knows my thoughts.
"She had me do it for her some time back, shortly after you both returned from New Earth." I look up startled and puzzled. "The tattoo, the copy of your own. She swore me to secrecy, didn't say why she wanted it or anything but it was simple enough to figure out. I'd say it tells you something." The Doctor looks down at his hands.
"She never told me…" My voice is a whisper and I see the Doctor lean forward so he can hear me properly.
"She never spoke of the tattoo…never told me of her feelings either…until today…" I stand quickly and turn away. It somehow seems unseemly to me for this man, this hologram, to see me cry but just as quickly as this thought enters my head, it leaves and I turn back, unashamed now. These are my feelings and I don't care who sees them. They are as a result of my love for Kathryn Janeway and that is what I am most proud of in my life.
I find myself telling this man everything, pouring it all out to him and he listens, never judging, only supporting and I gain a new respect for him as a person.
"Commander, listen to me. She'll recover, you know that. As to the rest… It's simple really." He motions for me to sit again and I do.
"You love her and she loves you. That's all there is to it."
"I let her down…"
He stops me, his hand raised. "She loves you. Do you really think she'd have left that last message to you if she didn't? She would have had very little strength with the injuries she sustained and yet with all that, she still put herself through more pain to move that bit and fight to leave her words to you. If that doesn't tell you of her feelings…" I know he's right.
"Once she's conscious, everything will be fine. You mark my words." I manage a smile for him this time and he leaves us alone again.
This time I manage words and I speak to her now, finally able to tell her what I've wanted to for so long and I know I'll have the courage now to repeat them when she's able to hear me. I continue this way and now feel my exhaustion catch up with me and despite my fighting it, I feel my eyes close and I lay my head down beside her and slowly drift off.
Awareness comes to me before my eyes open and I feel myself reach out with my other senses for understanding. Warmth, my pain almost gone, I'm aware of these first, small sounds I'm unsure of, lying on something soft, some sensation in my legs again and gentle pressure on my hand and I wonder if this is death, if I've passed over to somewhere else. I imagine I feel a presence beside me and finally force my eyes to open slowly. I'm aware now that it's lighter than it was but my vision is blurred and I blink, desperate now to clear my vision and slowly I turn my head.
Something stirs in my consciousness, something telling me to open my eyes and then I'm aware of slight movement beneath me. I'm instantly alert and look to her face and see what I've waited for. My vision is filled by the sight of my Kathryn, her eyes finally open.
I hear my name whispered and I follow the sound until I'm looking into brown eyes and his wonderful face and I can't understand how all this can be. I find myself confused and as if he reads my thoughts, he whispers softly to me again that I'm in sickbay, that they found me, that everything will be all right.
And then memories flood my mind and I remember it all, how our last time together was, how I made such a fool of myself and I slowly turn my head away, too embarrassed to face him, then feel his hands on my face, pulling me back and I'm too weak to resist. Tears spring to my eyes and blur his features. I feel him gently wipe them away as they escape my eyes and I whisper the only words I'm capable of.
He doesn't answer me, just leans in and brushes his lips to my forehead and the tenderness of his action breaks me completely and I feel myself shatter.
I sob harder and suddenly I'm aware of the Doctor and then the hiss of a hypospray pressing to my neck and I fight it but still my world fades and yet I still feel his hand stroking my face and it gives me comfort.
My voice failed me again. I'm the one who needs to apologize. She's done nothing wrong and I have to make her understand that. All I wanted to do was gather her up into my arms and crush her to me but some part of my brain at least was thinking straight and I found myself leaning to her and kissing her forehead instead.
She's sleeping, the sedative the Doctor gave her ensuring that. I understand why he gave it to her so quickly. She needs to take this slowly, not get upset so soon and I didn't help there. She twitches occasionally, some dream filling her mind and I pray it's happy.
I can feel movement in my hand, her fingers gripping at mine and see her waken slowly. I pray I get it right this time.
Once again awareness returns and I have to force my eyelids to open. Chakotay's still here and I can't make sense of why. As I look to him, he smiles at me then reaches out and brushes my hair back. I manage to utter his name but this small effort exhausts me.
"Just take it easy. Don't try and push it." His voice sounds wonderful to my ears and I nod slowly but my mind fills with a thousand questions and I find myself so afraid. As usual he knows what I need, and I find myself thinking of how he's always there by my side doing all the giving.
"I'm sorry…embarrassed you…waited too long…" I can't say any more and I try and turn away, not wanting to see his pity for me but he has other plans and pulls me back to him again.
I pray to get this right.
"Kathryn, I'm so sorry. I let you down." I see her confusion and push on, forcing my voice to work.
"Listen to me. Kathryn…" I look up annoyed as the Doctor approaches and tells us he needs to check on his patient and then I feel guilty. Her physical condition must come first and I stand back and wait, using the time to once more rehearse what I need to say.
I see the Doctor nod with satisfaction and then smile at me, giving me the reassurance I need and I move back to her. All my words vanish as I look into her eyes and I hear myself speak words I haven't even thought out.
"Kathryn – I love you. I love you. I love you." I see her try and make sense of what I've just said, the desperation in her eyes to believe she's heard me correctly.
"Three times today you told me you loved me and I need to tell you the same." I explain slowly then how I got her last message and how I know of her tattoo, how these told me of her love just as much as when she'd spoken the words and I see her make sense of this in her mind.
"Kathryn, I was just so overwhelmed when you told me and I handled it all wrong and I'm so sorry for that. Please know that you could never be too late, that I'd have waited for all eternity for you. I keep thinking you should have known that but I'm the one at fault here. I should have told you honestly and openly how I felt but I was afraid you'd feel under pressure. You needed to do this in your own time and when you did, I let you down…" I choke up and drop my head and I feel her hand stroke my hair briefly and then it falls away. I look back to her and see her exhaustion but also her eyes shining at me and I read the love there, love I don't feel I deserve.
I feel as if I've just been reborn, reborn to a life I never knew could exist. He tells me of his love, how sorry he is for what he feels is his failure but all I can hear, all I want to hear is that he still loves me, is still there for me.
I have little strength and I try and reassure him that he's never let me down and I tell him again how much I love him and try and say how sorry I am for all the years I've kept him waiting. We whisper softly to each other until I feel myself drift off, no fear now and as he sees me fight to stay with him, he gently kisses me and tells me to sleep, that we have the rest of time together and I let go, his strong grip on my hand anchoring me to him for all eternity.
This time will live with me for all eternity, these moments of quiet sharing and love where nothing else exists outside of our two souls joining as one. All of my life has led me to this and I believe it's the reason for my existence and as I sit here and watch her sleep so peacefully, I offer up my thanks to the spirits who've watched over us this day, who saw us through the darkness and brought us back into the light.
There are only two things I'm absolutely sure of in this life. One is that I know some day I'll leave here and pass to somewhere else and the second is my love for Kathryn, which I know I'll take with me on that final journey. Nothing else matters.
It's taken me four weeks to get my legs working as they used to, four weeks of physiotherapy and pain, but throughout it all, Chakotay has been by my side, taking each step with me.
It's also been four weeks of love and tenderness beyond anything I could have ever imagined. He stayed with me when I was released from the Doctor's constant watchful eyes and hasn't moved since and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Our souls, our spirits, united that day in sickbay and I know it's a bond which will never break, not even through death.
Last night, he asked me to be his wife and when I answered 'yes' I know I'd never been more sure of anything in my life and as he carried me to 'our' bed and our bodies joined, I gained the answers to all those questions I had ever had and I understood the meaning of it all, the reason why we're here.
We whispered and touched late into the night, joining bodies and souls and sharing our discoveries and we learned the true meaning of life.
We are here to love each other, nothing else. The rest is all window dressing.