FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW
Rating: PG-13 K+
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Janeway and Chakotay. No copyright infringement is intended.
Coded: Chakotay, Justin Tighe, JT/J, and the promise of J/C
SUMMARY: While nursing his drink in a tavern on a planet lightyears away from Earth, Chakotay meets Justin Tighe, Kathryn Janeway's fiancé. Don't worry, there's the promise of J/C.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: My grateful thanks to Katlady for the betareading. She's a very busy lady but has graciously taken time to look at the story.
FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW
He wasn't much of a drinker, but the golden liquid in his glass, poised between the counter top and his mouth, provided enough inducement to down the contents in one gulp. Half a stare, half a second of hesitation was overridden by the cold that had seeped into his body. That, and the image of his father's face which filled him momentarily with scorn, made him swallow the cognac quickly, causing him to suck in his breath sharply before he gave a short cough.
The bartender, a middle aged human, gave him an irate stare. Chakotay grimaced, ignoring the outrage that followed and proceeded to gaze at the bottom of the snifter as he cradled it in his hand. The cognac burned through his body, creating a warmth he welcomed. The clear bottom mirrored the bartender's face, seeming to echo the old man's instructions of drinking a twelve year old vintage. Yeah, he had to prevent the bouquet from escaping by pressing his lip just so; he had to hold the base in his palm to warm the cognac; he had to swirl it for thirty seconds, then sniff, inhale and lace it around the top part of his tongue to get its flavour and smoothness.
All it seemed to do was make his brain a little fuzzy. Shaking his head, he managed to clear his mind, the room coming into focus again. Yet he didn't release the glass with its balloon-shaped body, actually enjoying its warmth.
Chakotay expelled a soft sigh. This planet was the coldest in the system. He knew if he stepped outside, he'd be walking ankle deep in snow. Even inside the tavern the cold seemed to infiltrate every corner. He shivered, his parka not warm enough to prevent the chill seeping into his bones, his fingers gripping tighter around the glass.
He felt miserable too. His mother was sick on Dorvan V and his father seemed to blame him for her illness, stating in his soft, firm, ancestral-like voice that she missed her first-born contrary son whom she had not seen since he was fifteen. He sighed again, this time an inaudible sound. He hated being made to feel guilty, yet it was impossible not to feel that way. He had had so many opportunities to return like a prodigal and prostrate himself before his father. He had never thought of himself as a coward, yet anyone who knew of his circumstances would have told him to his face that he was one, a man too afraid to face his father. Why couldn't he just go home and get it over and done with, was what they'd have said. They'd talk of 'it's no big deal' and 'you're too yellow livered to show how much you're a part of Dorvan.'
No, he was no coward. It was pride that had kept him away all these years, communicating only sporadically via subspace with Kolopak and Hannah. Of course it was not enough. He was too proud to admit that he was wrong and that his father was right. The blood and the spirit of his ancestors flowed through him. How could he ignore it? But to admit that he was wrong and apologising? It was a human failing, the inability to admit to wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. His father and mother he knew, would welcome him with open arms, no questions asked. They were the epitome of gifting one with forgiveness if that person asked for it. "Forgiveness," his father used to say, "must be without condition." He would go now, since he was on a three month break and once the effects of the cognac had worn off. He'd swallow his pride and visit them. Yes, that was what he'd do. He'd go and prostrate himself before them.
Yet tonight he sensed something, something about this place that would link him inextricably to it. Earth to him felt distant, unfamiliar. He had gone every year to Mexico to vanish for the time he was back on leave. This year Earth, Mexico, held little appeal. For some strange reason he had chosen to meditate elsewhere, to close himself off from the rest of humanity. He had chosen this planet to meditate and reflect. The last time he had been here, he'd been a cadet taking the Kobayashi Maru test. At the time Starfleet brass had decided that they do the simulations on a constellation class starship in this part of the galaxy.
"So, did you make the Kobayashi Maru?"
He had been so deep in thought that the voice, sharp yet humorous, made him jump, his heart thundering. He frowned. Chakotay opened his eyes, hardly realising that he had closed them in the first place. He must have. He always did meditate best with his eyes closed… The bartender seemed to have vanished to the back and now his only company was the owner of the voice.
Did the newcomer read his thoughts? "No," he replied. "What's it to you?"
The man sat on the stool next to him. He looked to be about thirty, no more than a couple of years older than Chakotay. He was broad shouldered, muscular, the torso tapering to his waist. A well-toned body, one used to rigorous exercise, was Chakotay's thought. Probably Ranger material too, despite the rank pins indicating him to be a Lieutenant Senior Grade. His piercing blue eyes held a kindness though, one at odds with the fierceness of his character, but one that put Chakotay at ease.
"Nothing, really. You were so deep in thought, and since this planet is this year's host to the Kobayashi Maru - "
"I was only nineteen when I took the test, er…?"
"Oh, forgive me. Tighe. Justin Tighe."
Chakotay smiled, the cloud of his father's spectre suddenly lifting and the friendliness of the stranger a balm.
"I'm Chakotay. I serve on the Pendennis. I'm currently on leave. And yes, I failed miserably that first time."
"Nothing to be ashamed of. No one from my own class did either on their first or even second attempts. Eventually I decided command track was not my forte."
Chakotay placed the glass he had held like a jealous lover in his hand on the counter. Justin Tighe was a presence in his Starfleet uniform.
"So, what brings Justin Tighe to this outpost?"
"Admiral Janeway designed a highly manoeuvrable and heavily armed prototype ship. I'm taking it on a test run. It's called the Terra Nova."
"Terra Nova… New Earth… A rather odd name for a small battle ship?"
The expression in Justin's eyes became warmer. He looked…proud. A smile formed and softened what Chakotay thought were hardened features. He had the stealth of a panther, a predator that could pounce in an instant. This man had known hard times, yet a far-off gaze in his eyes made Chakotay think someone was responsible for taming Justin Tighe.
"It's because of Kathryn," Justin replied.
"My fiancée. She liked the name. Said it reminded her of the promise of a new earth."
Chakotay felt suddenly raw at the way Justin Tighe's voice had changed when he spoke of his fiancée. It had dropped a tone, became almost mellow and full of warm nuances. The man was obviously in love and it resonated in his voice when he spoke of this Kathryn. His own empty life was amplified by Justin's words. He too had dreams of someone needing him, someone who could tame his own savage heart, someone whom he could love with his whole being, for whom life would have no meaning if such a woman was not in it.
"Did your Kathryn tame you?" he asked Justin, wanting to bite back his words for being so bold and thoughtless.
But it seemed that his companion did not mind him asking such a personal question.
"I'd like you to meet her, Chakotay. Yes, I think you should meet her. She and her father - "
"Oh, didn't I mention it? She is Admiral Janeway's daughter. Kathryn and I met while we served on the USS Icarus for the Arias expedition." Justin's eyes clouded momentarily before he shook off some distant memory. "She's very smart, very stubborn and very strong. Command material."
"She's in Starfleet?"
"A junior grade lieutenant now, science officer."
There was a pause. Chakotay felt warm now, glad of the conversation with the stranger who had introduced himself as Justin Tighe. Yes, he decided, this man was in love, and very deeply in love. He felt a sudden admiration, trying to picture the fiancée; instead, he only experienced his own vacuum of loneliness.
"You are blessed, Justin, to have someone who is the other half of you, with whom you'd like to grow old…"
Chakotay had a sudden vision of his parents growing old without seeing their first-born son and the old guilt boiled briefly in him. This Kathryn loved her Justin; she surely loved her father. Such strong family bonds…
"I am, Chakotay," Justin's reply broke into his reverie. "She is wonderful. We didn't hit it off at first but she is my world…my world… Look, would you like to meet her? She's with her father on the Terra Nova. I came by here for a drink. I told them I'd meet them in half an hour. You can meet her. You'll like her."
Chakotay laughed. "Until a few minutes ago we were total strangers! I've never seen your Kathryn and you know for sure that I'll like her? Will she like me?"
"Oh, yes," Justin said warmly, his hand touching Chakotay's free hand lightly. It felt light as a feather, the touch, as if there hadn't been contact at all, yet Justin's hand - long tapering fingers - rested over his in a manner of complete trust.
"You sound very convinced. Okay, I'd love to see the woman who puts the light in your eyes. My little runabout is outside. If you can stand walking the hundred metres to the launching pads… It's freezing out there…"
Justin's face broke into a wide grin. "I can manage," he assured. "Don't worry. You won't be disappointed, my friend."
Chakotay liked the sound of 'friend'. He warmed naturally to this man who had broken through his reserve and seated himself next him as if he sensed Chakotay needed company. They rose from their stools and moved towards the door. At the door Justin paused briefly and gave him a smile - enigmatic, brooding, his piercing blue eyes suddenly darkening. Chakotay thought he looked sad, pensive.
"Why the look?" Chakotay asked as they exited the tavern and headed for his shuttle. The icy cold hit him with a suddenness that took his breath away. The sun was setting, a reddish glow beginning to swell in the sky. He could see his vessel, a tidy little runabout he had bought two years ago from a retired Starfleet admiral on Mars. He had nicknamed it the Limpet…
There was no wind, their boots crunching the layer of ice under the snow sounding like echoes. Wisps of snowflakes floated around them, creating an eerie beauty in the dying of the light. They walked in step. Then Justin paused a moment, turning to face Chakotay. The older man seemed oblivious of the cold, dressed only in his uniform with no extra covering. It made Chakotay pull his parka closer trying to cloak himself in warmth, little tendrils of steam escaping as he exhaled.
"I don't want to lose her, Chakotay," he answered at length. "I feel I can trust you saying these words. I love Kathryn Janeway with my whole heart."
Chakotay nodded, honoured to be the recipient of such an open-hearted admission. Justin's expression was devoid of the early humour inside the tavern, his words sombre. In fact, he looked almost pleading. For a brief moment Chakotay wondered what Kathryn would do if she lost her Justin. He had not met her, but he sensed that she could not have given her heart lightly to this man, that she would worship him in the fullest measure.
"Let's go, shall we?" Chakotay motioned as the hatch of the runabout opened and they entered. Shivering, he took his place at the conn, rubbing his frozen fingers furiously for a few seconds. Glancing sharply to his right, he smiled as Justin seated himself in the chair next to him.
"You won't lose her and I am honoured to be meeting her. Don't worry," he assured his new friend as he initiated the start-up sequence. "Everything will be fine. Trust me, okay?" He touched Justin's shoulder, gave it a quick squeeze before concentrating on the conn panel.
Justin's smile reached his eyes this time, enough evidence that he was reassured. "Here are the coordinates…" he said, giving Chakotay the information.
Seconds later they took off. Chakotay maintained a very low altitude, soon leaving the tavern and the training station behind. The red glow of the planet's sun reminded him of Earth as it slowly began setting behind the horizon, reluctant to leave day behind. It cast the two of them in a deep glow inside the cabin. They flew over the last of the habitable regions of the continent, the snow-covered rocky landscape changing dramatically into an uneven landscape punctuated by giant ice caps and flat ice sheets. He frowned, the cold forgotten as he began absorbing the warmth of the runabout's increased temperature. They were flying near the northern polar region, over a body of water covered by large ice sheets. Would Kathryn and her father be waiting for them here? he wondered. A quick sideways glance at his companion, seeing Justin's intent gaze at the viewscreen, gave Chakotay some assurance that Kathryn Janeway and her father were at the coordinates he had keyed in earlier. He wondered whether the Terra Nova had landed on one of the great ice plates that passed like slow moving images below them.
When the last of the sun's rays relinquished the light like soundless sylphs, Chakotay drew in his breath at the beauty of the scene before him. Justin's voice broke the silence.
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…"
Glancing sharply at his companion, Chakotay asked, a little smile on his face, "Dylan Thomas?"
"See? See? I just know Kathryn will love you, Chakotay. She loves poetry."
"It was long shot, my friend," Chakotay replied, having quietly decided that he could call Justin 'friend'. "I know only a few great poems."
Chakotay looked at the viewscreen, now frowning heavily as he noticed they were flying over ice sheets that seemed to dance on the heaving water. In the distance he could even see steam rising from the water, as if someone had hurled burning objects into it. Then he noticed the long snow banks with enough flat surface along the edges to land the shuttle. They were nearing the coordinates and a quick scan of the area visible on the viewscreen revealed no Terra Nova. Where was the ship?
He didn't look up when Justin said, "You can touch down here. This is good…"
"Okay," Chakotay answered, entering commands to land the runabout where he knew the ice underneath the snow was firm enough. "Now you have got to tell me where the Terra Nova is, Justin."
There was no response. It was quiet in the Limpet. Too quiet. He looked around in the cabin, at the rear section. It was deathly quiet. "Justin…?
Chakotay froze. Justin was not there. It was as if he had never been there, Chakotay realised. Was it his imagination that brought him out here, his imagination helped by the hastily swallowed cognac that dimmed his senses? Did he imagine the entire conversations with Justin Tighe, a stranger who until a short while ago, he had never before met in his life? How did Justin disappear like that? The exit hatch was still closed firmly. He couldn't have walked out of the Limpet while it was still airborne.
The runabout touched down with a thump, throwing Chakotay out of his seat. He landed with a thud on the floor. He blinked several times.
"Justin?" he called again, knowing it was futile as he searched the shuttle. There was no response. He was sitting in the middle of nowhere with only a conversation he'd had with a man not much older than himself as a vivid memory that there had been someone with him. Someone who had mysteriously vanished as if he'd never existed in the first place.
"Then what was all that talk about his Kathryn and her father and a vessel called Terra Nova ?" Chakotay muttered to himself.
He decided to explore his surroundings anyway. When the sun had bathed the firmament in a deep russet glow, it had awakened old memories of Dorvan, a yearning to touch the sky before the dying of the light. A command he keyed in opened the hatch. Immediately a waft of cold air entered the shuttle. He attached his wrist light, then he pulled on a pair of thermal gloves, and checked his phaser and tricorder. Once he stepped outside the shuttle, he flicked on the wrist light. Instantly the area directly in front of him was lit.
"What the…?" he murmured as he saw deep footprints in the snow, footprints leading away from the Limpet. "This cannot be… I have never walked here. They're not mine…"
Yet, something drew him inexorably to follow the footprints. They were fresh, as if a person had walked there only seconds ago. He traced the steps slowly, stepping into each indentation left by what he thought to be a man's size boot. To his right he noticed the ice sheets still bobbing slowly on the water. While it was dark, light given off only by the planet's moon and his wrist light was sufficient for him to see metres ahead, to his right and left. Straight ahead were large ice caps.
The footprints led further and further away from the shuttle. He was so intent on placing each foot in a dent that he was almost on top of a piece of debris before he noticed it. He toed it aside, a piece no bigger than thirty centimetres.
"Spirits…" he whispered as he flicked on his tricorder, his fingers instantly frozen as he took off one glove and scanned for signs of life.
"One lifesign…" he whispered to himself and he began hurrying forward, passing more debris, one a large piece that appeared to be the tail section of the vessel. He was breathing hard by this time, his nose running, turning frosty. He pushed away the offending frost from his face. The signal became more insistent. In his haste to move faster he stumbled, pulled himself up and trudged forward, not bothering to dust the snow from his jacket and hood.
His eyes hurt as he peered into the dark distance. Then he noticed something in the snow. For a moment he wished there was more light. It didn't look like debris, didn't have the sharp jagged contours that broken pieces of the wreckage would have. More rounded contours like a…body…? It was! he realised as the light flickered like mad on his tricorder. He ran the last ten metres towards the stricken victim. Heaving from the exertion of trudging through the snow, he bent down and turned her face towards him, careful not to aggravate her injuries.
"Oh, spirits!" he cried softly when he realised it was a woman dressed in the red of command. Kathryn. Justin's Kathryn. It couldn't be anyone else. Justin…Justin knew and had led him here.
"Kathryn…?" he called softly, touching her cold cheek.
There was no response, but his tricorder revealed an array of injuries that made him suck in his breath. She was critical.
"And her lifesigns are failing…" he whispered, alarmed.
He stripped off his other glove and pushed her lifeless hands in them. Then he removed his parka.
"I know this will hurt, but it will help," he murmured as he wrapped Kathryn in the thick jacket, still warm from his body. Kathryn moaned in pain. He turned, determining the Limpet to be about a hundred metres away. A hundred metres was nothing if he carried her carefully to the warmth and safety of the runabout. She was blue in the face, her hair was scorched, secondary burns on her neck and arms, much of her uniform looked like rags pasted on her body. Her commbadge was missing, probably lost on impact.
He lifted the unconscious woman for now he knew her to be Kathryn Janeway. He wanted to die himself causing her pain when she moaned again as he lifted her in his arms. She was as light as a feather. It gave him courage. He ran to the Limpet, breathing heavily as he finally entered the runabout and placed Kathryn gently on the bunk in the rear. He touched her face lightly. She gave a little cry, turning away from the touch.
She was in pain. Her leg was fractured in two places, both arms were broken, as well as several fractured ribs. She was struggling to breathe.
He removed the med-kit from a panel, filled a hypospray and administered a sedative. Within seconds she was restful again. Although her eyes remained closed, he thought he heard her whisper the name of Justin.
"You were right, Justin," he whispered softly. "Your Kathryn is beautiful…"
Satisfied that he had stabilised her for the moment, he made his way to the conn and opened communication. Within seconds he was in contact with Admiral Finnegan. The last place they could have been before coming to Tau Ceti Prime was the Mittern Station. Justin mentioned that the Terra Nova was a prototype, a heavily armed battle ship and Mittern Station was the last post before pilots brought vessels to the Tau Ceti system for test flights.
"There has been a crash, Admiral," he said quickly as the old man's face filled the viewscreen. "I found Kathryn Janeway. She is alive but critical. Here are the coordinates…"
And I hope he doesn't ask me how I knew it was Kathryn Janeway…
There was a shocked silence before the admiral responded. His eyes became watery. Were he and Admiral Janeway friends? Lifelong friends?
"We dined together last night, Lieutenant. Admiral Janeway and I studied at the Academy together. Any news of the rest of the team? Admiral Janeway and Lieutenant Tighe?"
"There was no sign of them as far as I could determine at the time. I haven't seen them, Admiral. They could be trapped under an ice cap. I picked up only one lifesign, that of Lieutenant Janeway. I'll try again to search for the others. I've made Lieutenant Janeway as comfortable as I can. My runabout is close by the crash site."
He didn't want to tell the admiral that he had seen and spoken with Justin. A Justin who came to the tavern to warn him of their crash and lead him to Kathryn.
"Thank you. I'm alerting the training station on Tau Ceti Prime as well as informing Mrs Janeway. Please, find the others…"
"Admiral, I think you should expect the worst, I'm afraid."
"I know. Finnegan out."
After he closed communication, he returned to the bunk.
Rescue teams would arrive from the training station soon. He gazed down at the woman whom he thought to be beautiful despite the ravages of the crash. She lay snug in his large parka, peaceful for now. Something in him broke, washed over him. Her father and Justin were dead, he was certain of that. How was she going to take their passing? How was she going to get through the next few days, weeks, months knowing she was the only survivor of a crash in which her fiancé and her father died? How would he react if Kolopak and his mother died?
He touched her cheek gently again, giving a low sigh before leaving the Limpet to search for the bodies of her father and Justin. Suddenly beset by doubt, he wondered whether Justin could really be alive and whether the person who spoke with him in the tavern was real. Was there really one? he wondered as he made his way back to the crash site. He ignored the cold this time, intent only on determining where Kathryn's father was, or the remains of their vessel. He had changed the setting on the tricorder and soon the readings were positive.
He found them minutes later, submerged under an ice-cap.
"Two bodies," he said softly. "Justin is dead…"
Chakotay looked up to see the arrival of the rescue teams.
Several minutes later, a medical officer was tending to Kathryn Janeway in the Limpet. Chakotay stood with the rescuers waiting for them to extricate the bodies from the wreckage. Kathryn's father and Justin had been trapped in the main cabin. He felt an indescribable sadness. If they drowned, they had still been alive after the impact. How long did it take for the main cabin to sink under? Did Kathryn Janeway see that part of the wreckage go down? It was possible. She had been moaning in pain when he carried her to the Limpet. It was possible that she had been awake, had seen through her own terrible pain her father and husband-to-be die… He closed his eyes at the way his thoughts were running, shaking his head at how that could have been the way it happened… Justin had told him that Kathryn was smart, stubborn and very strong. How would even the strongest cope with such grief?
"We're going to transport their bodies out before tractoring the cabin to the surface. They drowned, you know?"
"I thought as much."
Two stretchers were ready. His heart hammered as the bodies of Admiral Janeway and Justin Tighe materialised on the stretchers. He moved closer. The older man had to be Kathryn Janeway's father. The other victim Chakotay recognised instantly as the man who had spoken with him in the tavern and in the runabout. A man who had loved Kathryn Janeway with his whole heart.
One who was afraid that he'd lose the love of his life…
Another rescue worker tapped his shoulder. "We've transferred Lieutenant Janeway to the medical cruiser, Lieutenant. You can see her before we leave."
"Thank you," he replied, grateful for the chance to see her before they took her away, even if she was still unconscious, if only to make sure that she was safe.
Moments later he was standing in the dimly lit cruiser's medical bay. He stared down at Kathryn. The scratches were gone now and her cheeks looked smooth. She was still sedated. He touched her cheek. She didn't flinch like she had earlier in the Limpet. He remembered Justin's words, "I just know Kathryn will love you, Chakotay. She loves poetry…" He stroked her cheek, felt a stirring in his heart, the sting behind his eyelids.
When he stepped outside, the doctor stood waiting for him.
"A question, Lieutenant," said the CMO. "This crash was in the middle of nowhere. No one knew of the accident. No one would have found them as quickly as you had. There were no recordings of distress signals, no indications of danger or warnings. I understand from Admiral Finnegan that the vessel was fitted with revolutionary warp thrusters. If they crashed, it happened very, very quickly. Lieutenant Janeway is lucky to be alive."
The CMO looked at Chakotay, a query clear in her eyes. "How did you know?"
Chakotay looked at Justin Tighe's body. If not his own life, then he saved the life of Kathryn Janeway. He remembered the words from the poem,
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…"
Justin had come to him to lead him to the only survivor of the crash. He followed the footprints in the snow to the site of the crash.
He understood. Would others?
So he gave a wan smile and told the CMO, "I had a glass of cognac. Then I came out for a spin to clear my head. I found…her…"
"You saved Lieutenant Janeway's life."
No. Justin Tighe saved Kathryn's life…
He had to leave now. Getting away from such scrutiny was better than lying about his contribution in the rescue. His heart was heavy, the anguish he knew Kathryn would experience once she regained consciousness already bearing down on him. Her pain had become his. Right now his mind could not absorb the magnitude of that feeling. One day when he could sit down and think clearly again, he would ponder on everything that had happened tonight.
As Chakotay turned in the direction of his runabout, he felt something, a presence. A figure appeared out of the darkness. It was still, without guise - an unhurried movement which touched him with familiarity, like pausing to speak to an old friend. His arms were folded across his chest. Chakotay stopped and nodded to him. There was a smile on Justin's face as it was lit by the light of the moon. It was the face of a man bathed in an aura of peace. Justin spoke. Perhaps he didn't speak. The moment was so heavy, so full of reverence that communication through speaking was instantly lessened by a higher, divine power.
The message drifted to him and touched his soul. Chakotay knew implicitly that only he could see and hear the deceased man's words:
I trust you, Chakotay of Dorvan. I understand your heart. It is lonely. I know Kathryn will be safe with you. It may not be now, for while you will recognise and understand her grief, you will not share it or lighten her burden. She will reach out to you one day. When that day comes, you will know that your destinies are woven together forever. Teach her that there is not a man alive who can promise not to die. As much as man seeks to rage against the dying of the light, he must accept that death is part of the circle of life. Remember what I told you. Go well, my friend.
Chakotay stared for long moments until Justin's figure began to merge with the darkness. He raised his hand in a salute.
"Be at peace, my friend."
1. This story is very loosely based on a very obscure short story I read in school and which formed part of an anthology of short stories called "A third book of modern prose" compiled by Margaret Flower. I read the short story forty years ago, but remembered hazily some aspects of it. I wanted to bring Chakotay and Justin into the same "frame" and thought of this premise.
2. The way to drink cognac - got this from the web site: /cb/Cognac/
3. I've used the events of Tau Ceti Prime as described in Jeri Taylor's "Mosaic". Tau Ceti is a star system almost 12 light-years from Earth's solar system.
4. Do not go gentle into that good night - Poem by Dylan Thomas, quoted here in the story.