Fall into Me
Author's Note: I'm going out on a limb by posting a story that isn't all the way completed yet, so I won't be able to post a chapter every day. I'm hoping feedback will give me the motivation to finish the story. For those who read it, I appreciate your patience, understanding, and support.
Disclaimer: The Voyager crew doesn't belong to me.
Her two weeks on Vulcan had been interesting. The conference had been informative, her visit with Tuvok and T'Pel had been relaxing, and sightseeing, as always, had been breathtaking. But two weeks on Vulcan had also been long and hot. Very hot. Hotter than she ever remembered. Tuvok had assured her that there had been no discernible climatological changes on the planet during the last twenty years so perhaps her memory of her previous visits as it pertained to temperature was faulty. Kathryn had readily laughed and agreed with his assessment. As she got older, she had no doubt that her memory was faulty. That and she was far more sensitive to heat and cold than she used to be. Years of living on a climate controlled starship was to blame. There were days when she found San Francisco's fog and drizzle to be almost unbearable, but, after two weeks on Vulcan, she welcomed the cold blast of air as she exited the transporter station near her townhouse. She could have transported directly to her front door, but she looked forward to the short walk.
Even at this late hour, San Francisco was still awake. People strolled along the sidewalks, ducking in and out of the small, intimate restaurants and clubs that lined the streets. The smooth sounds of music wafted out onto the night air every time a door was opened: mostly jazz and blues, but Kathryn heard some classical strands, twangs of country, and even the dissonance of Klingon chords. On many an evening, she would open the windows of her townhouse just to enjoy the ambiance of her neighborhood. She liked it here, and it was slowly, but surely, becoming home.
A few minutes later, she was climbing the brick steps, letting herself into the front door, and dropping her suitcases in the entry hall. Again, she thought fleetingly of adopting a dog - someone to be there waiting for her when she came home. How she'd loved having Molly all those years ago - all red fur, long legs, and lolling tongue. Kathryn smiled at the memory. She was with Mark and his family now. It had been good to see her, but she wouldn't dream of taking her back. Visiting rights had been fully extended and happily accepted. And since her trip to Vulcan had been her fifth conference in the four months since Voyager had returned, she realized, yet again, that having a dog was probably not the best idea at the moment. Soon, maybe, things would slow down. And to think she'd been hesitant to accept a position at Starfleet Headquarters because she was worried about being tied to a desk! She hadn't seen her desk in ages.
With an exhausted sigh, she stared down at the two suitcases at her feet. She'd unpack them in the morning, she decided as she moved into the living room. It was late, almost midnight, and the only thing she wanted to do was check her messages and go to bed. Quickly, she activated her desk computer and scanned the list of incoming calls. Most of them she'd already dealt with on the transport from Vulcan, but she did notice a new one from B'Elanna. It was text only: "Call me when you arrive. Immediately. Urgent."
Something had happened. B'Elanna Torres, who had faced countless engineering emergencies, rarely used words like "urgent" even in dire situations. Disregarding the time, Kathryn pressed the return comm link and was relieved when B'Elanna's image instantly filled the screen. Even though it was late, she could tell that her former chief engineer was wide awake.
"Thank Kahless you're home!" the younger woman breathed.
"B'Elanna? What is it?" The baby… "Miral?"
"No." She shook her head. "Miral's fine; Tom's fine. It's…" She hesitated, letting go of a shaky breath. She'd been waiting almost two days to tell her, and now she couldn't say the words - didn't want to say them - saying them made it more real than she wanted it to be.
But Kathryn saw it in her eyes, and she knew. "Chakotay…"
B'Elanna nodded quickly, and found her voice. "He's had a stroke."
"Oh, no…" Kathryn felt a fist clutch her heart and for a moment she couldn't breathe, and then she drew in a ragged breath and sat down heavily in the desk chair. "When? How bad?"
"Yesterday afternoon. Tom found him in his office at the Academy." B'Elanna made herself continue as if she were delivering a report to the captain - all facts, little emotion. "A blood vessel burst on the right side of his brain. His left side is partially paralyzed and his speech has been affected - there could be some memory loss… The doctors think that he'll make a full recovery… but it's probably going to take a long time and a lot of therapy. He's been in and out of consciousness since it happened, but… whenever he's awake, he's… he's asking for you, Kathryn."
The tears gathering in her eyes threatened to spill over onto her cheeks at B'Elanna's words – he was asking for her.
"I knew you were on Vulcan. And I knew you were scheduled to be home today. I would have contacted you earlier, but there was no way you could have gotten here any faster."
"No, you did the right thing," Kathryn assured her. "He's at Starfleet Medical?"
B'Elanna nodded. "Tom's with him. He's been staying at night. We didn't want him to be alone. Harry's been there. Seven's still on Bajor. I haven't contacted her yet." She hesitated. "They're still friends, you know, but… They haven't been as close these past few months."
"I know." She could tell that B'Elanna was uncomfortable talking about Chakotay's personal affairs - not sure how much her former captain knew about her former first officer's love life. She knew enough – more than enough – and she hurried to put her at ease. "Chakotay and I have talked about it. Seven will want to know, but we can wait. There's nothing she can do from Bajor right now besides worry."
B'Elanna's eyes widened. "Seven? Worry?" It wasn't an emotion she'd ever seen in the former Borg.
Kathryn smiled softly. "Seven worries about things. Believe me. And she cares deeply for her friends and crewmates."
Instantly, B'Elanna regretted her reaction. "I know she does. I didn't mean anything… I just…"
"It's all right." Kathryn took in a deep breath. "What room is he in? I'll go relieve Tom."
"Kathryn, you just got back from a long trip. You don't need to go tonight. Tom's fine."
"How long has Chakotay been asking for me?"
B'Elanna was about to answer when she realized that Kathryn's question wasn't meant to have an answer. The question was the answer.
"Room 825. I've told the nurses to be expecting you. You shouldn't have any trouble getting in." Kathryn watched the younger woman blink back her own tears. "I'm glad you're home, Captain. I'll see you in the morning."
B'Elanna terminated the comm link and stepped away from the computer console, watching the screen fade to grey and then black.
It would be all right now. Kathryn was home. And she knew. And it would be all right.
It had to be.
Reaching up, she rubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand. She hated to cry. She always had. Hated how vulnerable it made her feel. Open, unguarded…
If Tom were home, maybe she'd give in to the tears, let him hold her.
She walked through the darkened room to the window on the opposite side. When she'd come home earlier in the evening, she'd put Miral to bed, and she hadn't bothered to turn on any lights. Now the only illumination came from the streetlights that blinked up from the park below.
She stared at them, trying to make sense of the past thirty-six hours. But she couldn't. How could you find sense in something so utterly senseless? Something so unreal?
Something so… unacceptable.
And that was it… She couldn't accept that something like this could happen to him. Not Chakotay – not the stubborn, bull-headed Maquis turned First Officer who had always been there for her – strong, dependable…
Her heart had ached when they'd finally let her in to see him. He looked so… small and lost… so weak.
His eyes were open, but she really wasn't sure how aware he was of his surroundings. Wasn't sure if he knew that she was there. She leaned over and stroked his cheek, whispered in his ear.
The only words that made sense.
"Hold on, Chakotay. Just hold on. Kathryn's on her way. She'll be here soon."
Kathryn contacted Starfleet Headquarters and requested a site to site transport to Starfleet Medical. Moments later she found herself in the hospital's lobby. She took the lift to the 8th floor. It was after midnight now, the halls were dimly lit, and the only people present were the few nurses at the central desk area.
"Excuse me, I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway. I'd like to see Commander Chakotay."
She was expecting resistance - it was the middle of the night, long past regular visiting hours - but the young nurse seated before her looked up with a relieved expression on her face. "You're here. We've been waiting for you." And she smiled as she stood up and walked around the counter. "I'm Melissa Hartnell, one of the night nurses. The commander's room is right down here. Lieutenant Commander Paris is with him."
She led the captain to a room halfway down the hall and stopped. "I don't know how much you've been told about Commander Chakotay's condition."
Kathryn shook her head. "Not much. I know he's had a stroke and his left side is partially paralyzed."
"That's right. The paralysis has affected his facial muscles as well. It's difficult to understand him at times. Although, he does seem to pronounce your name rather clearly. And somewhat insistently," she added with a slight hint of humor.
Kathryn smiled. "He can be quite commanding."
Melissa returned her smile and continued. "I want you to be prepared when he wakes. He's experiencing emotional lability, which means his emotions are very changeable. He's frustrated, frightened, angry. Don't be alarmed if you notice tears. He's not in any physical pain, but he's very vulnerable and fragile right now. As he stabilizes over the next few days, his emotions will stabilize as well." She reached out and squeezed Kathryn's arm. "I think it's going to help a lot now that you're here."
"Thank you," Kathryn responded, appreciating her kind words and encouragement.
When Melissa activated the door, the first thing Kathryn saw was her former pilot asleep in a chair, head tilted back at an uncomfortable angle and long legs hanging over the sides. She couldn't help but smile. No matter how old he was, and despite his talent at the helm of a starship, he would always be the gangly, awkward teenager that used to stare back at her from the holoimages on his father's ready room desk.
"Please, don't wake him," she whispered as Melissa started to step closer to Tom. "I'll just sit with them both."
Melissa nodded. "There's a call button beside the bed." She indicated the button as she leaned over to check on Chakotay. Kathryn watched as she adjusted the IV that led into his left arm, and then she took a small cloth from the bedside table and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "We're hoping he'll sleep through the night, but if he doesn't, or if you need anything at all, don't hesitate to call us."
"Thank you. I'll be fine."
Melissa left quietly, but still the rustle of movement and soft voices caused Tom to stir and open his eyes. He blinked over at her. "Captain?"
"Kathryn," she whispered instinctively. She'd been trying for the past four months to break them of the habit.
Tom grinned in the half light of the room. "Yes, ma'am!"
And Kathryn smiled. That was a Tom Paris habit that she knew she could never break. She leaned over and kissed his cheek, pressing her hand to his chest in a half hug. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Tom took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders. "That's all right. I didn't mean to doze off." He looked over at the bed. "He's getting some good sleep tonight. I guess my body wanted some, too."
Kathryn stepped closer to the bed and gazed down at Chakotay. He lay very still, his head turned on the pillow. Even in sleep, the right side of his face seemed to be creased with tension, while the left was slack and smooth. Both eyes were closed, but the left one seemed to droop and the edge of his mouth turned down. She could see now that it wasn't just beads of perspiration on his forehead, but there appeared to be tears on his cheeks and saliva drooled from the left corner of his mouth. "Oh, Chakotay," she murmured.
Instantly, Tom was at her side, wrapping his arm around her. "He's gonna be all right. It's good that he's sleeping. He's been restless. In and out of consciousness… Calling out… Wrestling with some nightmares…"
Kathryn bit her lower lip, trying to keep the tears in her eyes from spilling over onto her cheeks. "B'Elanna says he's been asking for me."
"Every other breath when he's awake. But that's nothing new. You both do that."
She turned and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"On Voyager. Whichever one of you was in sickbay, regaining consciousness or coming out of anesthesia, you'd call out for each other. The Doctor and I knew to expect it."
She tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. "And you never told me this?"
"Hey, if your subconscious knows something that the conscious part of your brains won't admit, who am I to tell either of you anything."
"Which would be?" she challenged.
And Tom didn't look away. Instead, he stared straight into her eyes and met that challenge head on. "He's in love with you, Kathryn. And you're in love with him. It's about time you told each other."
She was a bit taken aback by his blunt honesty, but only a bit. After all, this was Tom Paris.
"Remember who you're talking to," she warned softly, only half teasing.
He shook his head and held his ground. "Uh-uh. You can't have it both ways. If you're going to be Kathryn, then I'm going to be your friend and not your subordinate. I'm going to tell you what you need to hear. You can't be the Captain only when it suits you."
"It suited me just fine twenty minutes ago when I needed a site to site transport at midnight. Captain Janeway still carries some weight in certain circles."
"True. Just don't bring her in here, and don't hide behind her. That's not who he needs."
Tears instantly pricked her eyes again, and she looked away, conceding to his words. Tom was right. She'd been hiding behind rank and privilege for too long now. Chakotay needed Kathryn, not his former captain.
"All right." She swallowed around the lump in her throat, and turned back to him, meeting his gaze. "Kathryn's here."
Tom smiled. "Good. Now why don't you take a seat?" He indicated the chair he'd been using.
"Only if you'll go home to B'Elanna and Miral. I know you've been here both nights."
He shook his head as he picked up the cloth from the bedside table. Reaching over, he gently wiped Chakotay's cheeks and chin. "I'm needed right here. Thanks to you and your vote of confidence seven and a half years ago, I've turned out to be a hell of a medic. The nurses would be lost without me."
Kathryn sank down into the empty chair, suddenly feeling very tired after her long trip from Vulcan. As usual, in his own way, Tom Paris had things under control. "I think Chakotay would be lost without you."
Tom looked back over his shoulder as he continued to run the cloth over Chakotay's face in soothing strokes. "I take care of the lives that belong to me, and I've had Chakotay's life for a long time now."