For six days, Voyager was a dream world. Kathryn ate breakfast with Chakotay, snuck coffee as soon as he went to the bridge, and let her life be calm in that way it had been on the best days in the Delta Quadrant. Seven had volunteered to help with the last of the survey of the Yaris nebula, and somehow, she was even getting along with B'Elanna as the work progressed. Harry had a whole new level of responsibility as security chief and she enjoyed seeing him comfortable in power. Tom was everywhere, both busy and charming, and Chakotay's ship echoed the captain's dedication to duty. It ran well, and since the captain was there, Kathryn found herself in the foreign position of having nothing to do.
She didn't even have bureaucratic nonsense or useless paperwork to fill out. Kathryn hated not being busy, but somehow she'd survived a few days. She observed without providing suggestions unless asked. She assisted Seven's analysis of the traces of dark matter found in the depths of the nebula. Seven didn't need her, and B'Elanna didn't need her to supervise her tests on the engines or the experiments with the shield grid. She was the extraneous member, an off-duty admiral with as much extra time on her hands as she had extra waistline.
Kathryn had been restless on Earth, overwhelmed with everything she couldn't sort out on her own. Maybe she'd needed to be back in space, or perhaps she'd needed Chakotay to be real instead of a voice on the other side of subspace. For all she worried that years of denied feelings and residual attraction wasn't weren't enough to build a relationship, their relationship seemed to have delivered itself. They fit, melded together and somehow, all they'd needed was to stop fighting to fit together as if drawn by gravity.
For the first time in either of their lives since they'd met, they allowed themselves to be happy, and they were. Even as she'd feared their relationship and dreaded the arrival of their baby, once they were together, she found the peace in it. When she lay next to him, listening to his breathing in the dark, Kathryn let herself imagine hearing that for the rest of her life. She let her mind wander to the idea of their baby sleeping in the other room, and that baby growing into a little girl who would run in mornings in search of breakfast. She hadn't told him that she knew the sex of the baby, the surprise had seemed important to him and it was easy enough to keep it a secret. He'd forgive her, if she ever told him. The baby would be born by then and he'd be so happy that her mother's impatience would matter little.
In that frame of mind, half-asleep and absolutely content, Kathryn nearly didn't notice the first tightening of her belly. Like the orgasms she'd been experiencing since they'd been back together and exploring the extra sensitivity of her body, this sensation tightened her belly around the baby, turning the already firm curve into a sphere of contracted muscle. It wasn't unpleasant, not yet at least, and she rolled to her back, looking up at the ceiling. With her hips in that position, the next twinge was worse, so she rolled back to her side.
Resting her head next to Chakotay's shoulder, Kathryn was nearly asleep when her belly tightened again. Everything about early labour that she could remember told her not to panic. The more she relaxed, the more she might possibly be able to sleep.
Letting her mind drift between seeing her mother with her granddaughter and the problems the sensors encounter with near-subspace folding in the parts of the nebula with the most gravitational forces, she lost track of time. Chakotay had an early staff meeting, kissed her goodbye and left, presuming her asleep. Pulling her knees up close to her belly, she lay there in the blue light from the windows above her and waited for her body to work towards the next step.
Torn between thinking she was hungry and wondering if she should eat, she left the bed eventually and was surprised by how good it felt to be on her feet. Kathryn stood in front of the replicator for a long time, rocking on her feet when contractions cramped down around her belly and dragged on her spine. Leaning forward helped, and rocking back and forth did something that she couldn't explain. She eventually replicated scrambled eggs, thinking she'd need the protein. Eating them a few bites at a time, she hovered over the table instead of sitting. Now that she was up, sitting was too stationary, like she was trapped. Still in her nightgown, she paced Chakotay's quarters, humming to herself in the quiet.
When the contractions became strong enough that she couldn't ignore them just with force of will, she told the computer to start reading to her. Luckily, her favourite gothic novel was still in the database. She knew it too well, and she could follow the narrator's voice as the plot unravelled. Echoing the dialogue, she followed along as much as she could, imitating the narrator's accent until the next contractions took her breath away.
When she couldn't speak through them, and she had to stop walking and rock, dancing in place, Kathryn tapped her commbadge and asked the computer what Doctor Sahn was doing. By then the governess in her novel had fallen madly in love with the master of the house and the ghost stories were beginning to sound true.
Sahn arrived in uniform, her short red hair neatly in place. Her immaculate appearance made Kathryn realise she was still in her nightgown, face red from exertion, and her hair was unkempt.
The doctor smiled, trying to place the novel as it continued to play in the background. "Sounds like she's in trouble."
"Nineteenth century heroines usually are."
Sahn's tricorder beeped and chirped; she nodded, her smile remaining. "The baby's head is in a good position, your cervix is effaced and beginning to dilate. You're at three centimetres now, we'll keep an eye on it as the contractions get worse."
"Why is it you doctors never have anything good to say?"
Kathryn grabbed the wall, tightening her grip around the edge of the doorway between the bedroom and the living room. She hissed through her teeth, something she hadn't noticed when she was alone. Sahn touched her back, running her fingers lightly down Kathryn's spine.
"All they teach us in medical school is how to make normal people suffer. It's a failing of the system."
Her hands were cool through Kathryn's nightgown, and she appreciated the pressure as the contraction peaked before it eased.
Sahn kept rubbing her back slowly, smiling in sympathy. "Several hours, I'm afraid. I hope you tried to sleep?"
"As long as I could. I ate too."
"Good. Eating is good if you're hungry. Keep drinking too, juice or water, we want to keep your electrolytes up."
In the novel Kathryn had forgotten was playing, the heroine kissed the man of her dreams. She smiled and tried to catch sight of the time on the replicator. How much time had passed since the morning? Chakotay was coming back for lunch, wasn't he? She hadn't noticed him being late.
"Thirteen twenty-one," Sahn answered the question Kathryn hadn't asked. "When did you start having contractions?"
"Before Chakotay left. I didn't look."
"Do you have any other pain or discomfort? Headache, pain in your legs, anything sharp or tingling?"
Kathryn shook her head, wondering if she should brace and then losing the ability to speak as it the next contraction hit her. She panted, then found the strength to breathe through it. The slower she let the air out of her chest, the less it hurt.
"That's it, you're all right. You can handle it."
Everything the doctor said faded in to the narrator's unflinching voice as the computer played back her book. Both voices were rumbling around her, and neither needed her to listen. Fading in and out with her body was distracting only when someone wanted to talk to her, and she appreciated that the doctor didn't seem to want anything.
"Since you're having the baby here, I'd like to move some things around, like the bed. If it's all right with you, I'll ask B'Elanna and Seven of Nine to come help me rearrange the bedroom, and if you are ready for him to be here, I'll call Chakotay down from the bridge."
"I don't need him yet." It was still bearable, and he had work to do, didn't he? Some of it was important.
"Would you like him to be here?"
Kathryn pondered the question. It seemed to roll around in her head without finding purchase or logic. Would he be upset if she didn't say anything? Did she want him here? What would he do? She reached up, pushing her damp hair out of her face.
The doctor miraculously pulled a tie from her pocket and tied Kathryn's hair back, out of the way.
"Sometimes it can feel like you're imposing, taking someone's time when you're not sure if you need them or not. You're not in a great deal of pain. You feel it's under control."
"Chakotay will want to be here when I tell him you're in labour because he loves you, and he loves this child. He's not coming because he feels obligated or commanded to do so."
Kathryn's mind drifted, following the novel as it spiralled into the epilogue and the happy ending.
The doctor waited for her, patient and unassuming. "Would you like to wait a little longer?"
"I like the quiet."
"Okay. We'll try and keep that."
The doctor tapped her commbadge, issuing instructions as she ran her hands down Kathryn's back in a slow, steady pattern. Her voice was calm, quiet, with no hurry in it. She asked and those she spoke to answered. Their voices were familiar, yet far away. No one spoke to her. No one demanded anything.
B'Elanna arrived with a shy smile, and she came and squeezed her hand. Seven took the doctor's place, running her cool, steady hands up and down Kathryn's spine as contractions made it impossible for her to speak. The three of them spoke around her, coming to agreement without asking her opinion. They didn't matter. They were outside herself and her world was shrinking.
In one of the pauses between contractions, Sahn- Preia- that was her first name, touched Kathryn's cheek, drawing her attention.
"Will you drink this?"
Kathryn began to nod, wondering what this was before she felt a cup at her lips. Other hands than hers helped tilt it back, and she gulped down something she didn't recognise, faintly sweet, but tasting of nothing in particular. She swallowed again, finishing most of what was in the cup.
Preia's voice was light and pleased. "Good. Thank you."
As they worked in the bedroom, they rotated. One of them, B'Elanna, Seven or Preia came to her and said nothing. They offered their hands if she was walking, and rubbed them across her back, always down along the aching curve of her spine, never up. Down was important. She had to remember that.
Time continued to pass, running away without the background voice of the novel keeping her company. She found a path, from the replicator to the wall by the window, past the sofa, and around back to the door of the bedroom. It was hard to tell the women apart, and sometimes Kathryn could not. Seven was taller, but that didn't matter when she didn't look up. B'Elanna had strong hands, and she murmured, whispering things Kathryn needed to hear without knowing she heard them. The doctor was the gentlest, never rushing, speaking without questions.
She didn't have answers. She had pain: a deep, consuming kind of pain that was welling up from some part of her soul Kathryn had not yet discovered and desperate to get out. Sweat formed a sheen on her skin, then coated it, as if she were made of water as much as she was flesh. That drink came again, and like a baby she swallowed when it touched her lips and ignored it when she was not thirsty. Ignoring was easiest. The outside world was full of rushing sound and movement. In her mind, deep within herself she had the warm blue light of the nebula, and the background hum of the ship and friendly voices. Letting those sensations cocoon her, she allowed herself to forget everything else.
She was with B'Elanna the first time she cried. She didn't mean to; she hadn't before, but she was worn. Something was wearing away at her, as if everything she was was being eroded, giving birth to this new part of herself along with the baby. Her fear, the unrest that had been stalking her through this pregnancy like a predator in the dark, that was what she had to lose. It wasn't the baby she feared, or the change in her own life, it was herself.
She was what she needed to defeat. Her own monsters were what had to wash away. Pain was for that. It would cleanse her, purify what remained so she did not have to be afraid. She never had to be afraid.
With both hands on B'Elanna's shoulders, she smiled when her former chief engineer dried her face. Kathryn was so wet with sweat she hadn't felt the tears.
"Chakotay can come."
B'Elanna turned Kathryn's whisper into speech, something that Preia understood. Kathryn recognised the chirp of a commbadge, and the hiss of the door. B'Elanna held her, as steady as the ship beneath her feet.
"What do you need?"
"Don't need. I'm all right."
If she was confused, B'Elanna nodded anyway. "Chakotay is coming. He'll be here soon."
Kathryn missed the hiss of the door. She didn't focus on the voices around her, they didn't matter because the well was active. Pain: a kind of pain she'd never felt before, the tearing, downward pain enveloped her and made everything else fade into grey. Her hands switched, trading B'Elanna's small steely ones for dry hands that were big enough to dwarf her own. Momentarily confused, she took a step forward and put her head on his chest. The smell she knew as Chakotay. The deeper rumbling was his voice. She had no answers for him, but the others were talking. Everything was all right.
There was no time. The light of the nebula outside the windows was constant and the warm blue glow bathed them all. Seven was there, and then she was gone. B'Elanna was gone, and then she came back. Chakotay took over the task of rubbing her back, but the pain was enough now that she couldn't feel his hands. The heat of her pain was enough to burn the sensation of other hands away from her flesh. When her legs began to tremble, and her feet would not hold her, they went down. She was wet, inside and out but there had been no rush of water on her legs.
Was something meant to happen? Was the pressure meant to build to a breaking point? There was a rushing she needed to find. Something about water. Cold hands ran across her face, letting her rest her head against their knees. Her hands were on the floor, sinking into the carpet.
"Her water hasn't broken."
"That's all right. There's no rush. It might be taking the edge off some of her contractions. It'll break before delivery or it'll break with the baby, everything looks fine."
Chakotay's hands were the ones on her back, and Preia, she was the one with Kathryn's head in her lap. She was soft, gentle and without hurry. Somewhere, outside of her dream world, Kathryn was mildly aware of her own whimpering, and the foreign, almost growling sound that emerged from her throat. Her pain rushed and receded, drawing closer each time and backing away less. It wanted more of her, all of her, and she was fighting it. She was always fighting. She had to be in control. She couldn't surrender.
She hadn't surrendered. She'd spent a life without, always dredging up some new part of herself to fight on, but now, now it was all right. The pain came like warm water, washing up and washing away. There was no need to be afraid. She was safe. The pain couldn't overwhelm her, because it was her. She'd been sinking down into the place without light: a wet, dark cave in the centre of her being. She needed to be there.
So she surrendered. When the next contraction came, brimming over the edge of consciousness and raw with pain and energy like the beginning of the solar system or the nebula outside, Kathryn let go. She allowed Chakotay's warm, steady presence to be forgotten, and sank into the last part of herself. There she stayed, sealed within her emotions and so far beneath her thoughts that she was a universe onto herself. Her own end and somewhere, past the breathing, the wet on her thighs and the sweat on her skin: there was a beginning.
That was important. Beginning had something to do with the pressure between her legs. She needed something. There was something she had to do. Like sex, or food, or the simple constant need for air: her body was trying to translate instinct into impulse.
Sitting up was like emerging from a dream. Chakotay was behind her, his hands on her shoulders were familiar and warm. Her eyes barely worked, barely focused, but slowly, colours like red and pink became hair and skin.
"I-" She ran her hand down, sliding it across her sweat-drenched nightgown and down until she found her own wet skin. Beneath the sweat-plastered hair of her pubis, the baby's head was round and firm, a foreign ball of bone inside of her own. It was that low. So far down that it was inside of her hips. It needed to get out.
"Do you want to push?"
Preia's hands followed hers along her skin, trusting Kathryn's instincts.
"It might feel like you desperately need to be down."
"Yes." Kathryn nodded, meeting the doctor's eyes.
Chakotay said something and the doctor said something else, then she was up, held between their arms. In the bedroom, the bed had been collapsed, so that the mattress was flat on the floor. Two ropes hung from the ceiling and Kathryn stared at them.
"Small starships like this one aren't designed with the right facilities to delivery babies. Pulling on something, like a rope, contracts all the right muscles to push. We're going to try to convince her to push with each contraction. It might feel best standing up, or on her knees, or squatting down. If one position doesn't work, we'll help her switch."
Chakotay stroked her cheek, then kissed where his hand had been. "You're doing great."
She stood near the bed, feet sinking into the carpet. She held on to Chakotay with one arm, and the other slipped down her belly again, feeling between her legs. She was wet, slick with fluid, and when the contraction began she could feel something pressing into her hand, like a jellyfish or a swollen balloon.
"That's your membranes, behind that is the the amniotic fluid and the baby's head. It may break, it might not. Either way, everything is fine."
Kathryn moaned, biting the sound back at the cost of her lip. She couldn't stand up; she needed to get down. Preia read that in her, and then Kathryn was down. Chakotay held her shoulders, steadying her against his legs. Preia's hands went beneath her, feeling the waters bulge against their hands. Watching the doctor's smile, Kathryn's widened her eyes in shock.
Breathing was easier now, more like running a race and less like drowning. The contraction passed, and with it left the desperate urge to push, open her legs and be down near the floor. Chakotay helped her up, and they stood, her catching her breath and him holding her. This too had a rhythm but now she was in control again. The pauses between contractions were long enough to breathe and see; the pain pressure instead of agony. Being down helped. Pulling on the rope helped, and millimetres at a time, the baby moved down into her hips. The hard curve of the baby's head was beneath her hand, slipping down as the water behind her membranes began to seep through.
She didn't know how long they were there. Time was still something of the outside world, and only her universe within was part of her concern. She kept her hand between her legs when she could, waiting for the baby's head to be flat against her hand. At first there was only flesh, her flesh, being stretched from within. Then that began to part, making way for the slick membrane holding back the water, and behind that, bone. She stood again, leaning against Preia's chest to catch her breath as Chakotay rubbed the white hot pain in her spine.
Then they crouched together, the doctor down with her and Chakotay holding her steady. The more she pulled up on the rope, the better it felt. Her throat was raw, her hands were sore from grasping, and her entire body trembled from effort spent, but this was right. The unshakable idea that she was exactly where she was meant to be settled over her like a shield, protecting her and the baby.
"There, there, feel that?"
Kathryn couldn't speak. The stinging in her lowest parts was like a ring of fire and only hissing through her teeth kept her breathing.
Preia guided her hand, helping her to the wet, hard circle that fit into her palm. Bone.
"That's the baby's head. Keep breathing. You're crowning. You're almost done."
"I'm here." His voice was just behind her head, as if he was inside her, close enough to almost be part of her universe. "When you're ready, push and our baby will be here. You're doing great, Kathryn. You're doing great."
"It's all right." Preia promised, holding Kathryn's hand steady wrist. "You can hold it here, wait until you want to push. You're fine. The baby will wait for you."
She panted, regaining her breath. The ring of fire was still there, it still burned, but she was above it. She was above everything. She was part of the water. The well within her had been preparing her for this, washing away her weaknesses so she could bring this baby out of her into the world. She took a few more breaths, filling her lungs, then she pushed. All muscles in her abdomen, no matter how abused or exhausted, worked in tandem, fighting against the flesh to bring the baby forth. She lost her breath and fought it back, clinging to the rope she'd found so odd hours ago. Another pause came and went, lost in the struggle to keep her breath. She pushed again, drawing on the reserves of her strength, the parts of her she used to fight the Borg and what she'd used to bring her crew home. This was home. It was safe.
The baby's head slipped free and liquid followed, gushing out through the temporary gap. The head that had been a curve in her hand was a ball, and she ran her thumb along it. There was hair. The baby was slimy and still, but she had hair.
"Just the shoulders now. When your contraction comes, push and we'll have the baby."
"Chakotay, can you see?"
Kathryn didn't have time to wait for the answer to the question, because then she had to push, and the first shoulder slipped free, then the next. After that, the water did the rest. All the fluid that had been waiting behind the baby poured forth, running down her thighs onto the floor as the baby slipped out into the doctor's hands.
"Now I see." Chakotay whispered behind her head, his voice thick with gratitude and joy. "Kathryn, I see her."
Kathryn rocked back on her haunches, and Chakotay caught her, holding her against his chest in a sitting position as Preia handed the baby to her. At first she was grey, covered in white something and slime and the red smears of blood. Kathryn stared down at her, wondering how she could be alive.
"Blow on her face. Let her know it's okay to breathe."
Kathryn blew, gently introducing her daughter to the air. She twitched, her lips moved, then her nose and a moment later she gasped and went from grey to pink. Once she was pink, the baby mewled, a little gulping sound that turned into a full-throated cry.
Chakotay kissed her cheek, holding both her and the baby in his strong arms. The baby squirmed against her chest, still wet, but Kathryn was wet. It was right. Everything was all right. The tricorder came and went, and from Preia's smile, she knew everything was fine.
"You have some very minor tearing. Nothing to worry about. Your baby's in perfect health. Blood gases look great, and her vitals couldn't be better. When you're ready, nursing should help your uterus contract and expel the placenta."
Preia activated a handheld cleaning unit, cleaning the blood and slime off the baby with a sonic field. She worked quickly, then sat back, putting away some of her equipment and taking out some of the rest. The dermal regenerator hummed, and the residual stinging in Kathryn's flesh disappeared. The contractions were gone too, but something like aftershocks, weak and without much purpose, ran through her abdomen.
The baby's lips moved and her eyes opened, deep blue and searching.
"See if she'll nurse."
Chakotay's suggestion surprised her, and Kathryn turned her head, trying to see him.
He helped free her breast, removing her nightgown from her shoulder. Together they held the baby up, willing that little searching mouth to find the nipple and latch on. For a moment, the baby fumbled, then instinct won out. The little damp head that had so recently been inside her, latched to Kathryn's breast and began to suckle. As love and gratitude raced through her chest, sending her into a kind of euphoria she'd never felt, Kathryn's uterus began to contract again, but there was no pain. These were slow, quiet contractions, and it took a few minutes for the afterbirth to slip free.
It was a moment of wetness against her thighs, then it was gone. It looked strange, like an alien creature washed ashore on an uncharted sea. Preia checked it over, turning it over in her hands before she double checked with her tricorder.
"Everything's good. The placenta's intact and your uterus is clamping down nicely. I'll help you get settled in bed and cleaned up, then I'll let you three get acquainted. Let her nurse as much as she wants. Mom should eat when she can, and keep drinking fluids. If she starts bleeding, call me back or bring her to sickbay."
Chakotay took that in, which was perfect because Kathryn was still lost in the new universe that was their baby.
That baby, who needed a name, was pulling on her breast, taking life from Kathryn's body and making it her own. Why had she been afraid of this? Why hadn't she done this before? This was perfect, a single moment where everything was right. They'd done it. They'd made this baby and brought her out, and now they'd guide her through the world.
Once she had a name.
Chakotay caught Kathryn's searching glance. "I'd like to call her Melissa."
How did he know that was what she was thinking? How did he know that the baby needed a name?
"The spirits think we should call her Melissa Xihalli."
"You might have to teach me to spell the second one."
He laughed, full of more joy than she'd even seen. "I can do that."
"What does it mean?"
"Do all names mean something?" Her suspicious look made him keep laughing.
"She who walks with stars."
"I could spell that."
"It's more fun with an X."
Kathryn closed her eyes, trying to imagine their little girl learning to spell her middle name with an X. It might not be bad. She'd loved the fact that she had a Z in Elizabeth. Phoebe didn't have any interesting letters in her name.
"Okay. Melissa she shall be."
Preia winked at them both, putting her medical supplies away. "Thank your spirits. The Prophets will be pleased with that one. I'll make out the birth certificate."
When Melissa lost interest in nursing, she went to her father. Kathryn's legs, to her great surprise, were sturdy enough to take her to the shower, and even hold her up as the mess of childbirth was lifted away.
She had more tea, and more juice that she learned was something from Bajor called a rushya fruit. She stripped off her nightgown, putting little thought into modesty, and the doctor helped her change as Chakotay, baby in one arm, cleaned the bedroom. The bed was still on the floor, but that was all right. The floor was close and friendly.
Melissa went into the centre of the bed, but she cried as soon as Chakotay set her down. Kathryn crawled in beside her, lifted her up and the crying stopped. Against her chest, Melissa watched her sleepily, then shut her eyes. She stayed there, in her mother's arms, or on her father's chest for the rest of the night. Kathryn learned later, days later when she had begun to care about such things again, that her labour had dragged into the wee hours of the morning, and that Melissa's birthday was April twenty-eighth.
Which, when she finally found time to talk to her mother, over pancakes the next morning, was agreed to be a perfectly wonderful day.
- finis -