ASK HIM

~PG~

Okay, I'm fairly certain that this is not the way Kathryn would react to this situation - but isn't that the point of fanfic? :-) I wrote this story forever ago - back in '98. It was my first J/C fic and I haven't changed anything about it since then (even the little oopsies) except for some rather atrocious spelling :-) Remember, this is Kathryn's POV.

It is 0330, I haven't managed to sleep more than five minutes all evening. There are too many things weighing on my heart tonight...

I had prepared a special holodeck program, reserving some time there on Sunday. I had it all planned... it was something that I knew he would love. Something he'd never expect of me.

I invited him on Friday, keeping to myself what was on my mind. He was excited about it all day, trying to get out of me what I was up to. I refused to give in, I didn't even give him any clues. He was like a kid trying to find out what he'd gotten for his birthday before it was time to open the presents.

That was Friday. On Saturday all hell broke loose.

We never saw the little ship until it was almost on top of the shuttle. I'd sent Chakotay and Tom out on what was supposed to be a routine atmospheric survey. Instead it became a dogfight eleven kilometers above a class-K. Voyager's little craft took a severe beating and began spiraling towards the planet's surface. I can't remember it all but somehow we were able to get the men beamed to sickbay before the shuttle made impact. It was completely destroyed.

I didn't wait for the Doctor's report. The other ship had vanished as quickly as it had appeared and I wasn't needed on the bridge, so I handed the con over to Tuvok and ran to sickbay. I ran. I didn't know why I did it at the time, but somewhere inside me there was a little voice telling me I had to be there - quickly.

I got there out of breath, more from frightened worry than the stress of my sprint. Tom was already on his feet, a gash across his cheek the only indication that he had been on the targeted shuttle. I opened my mouth to ask if Chakotay was alright, but before I could speak the Doctor stepped away from the biobed and I saw for myself.

I remember standing there with my mouth hanging open. The sight of Chakotay had shocked me so bad I almost forgot to breathe. His face was pale white on one side and burned black on the other. There was blood everywhere, soaking through Chakotay's uniform and into the sheets on the biobed where he lay. He was perfectly still... and deathly quiet. His eyes were wide and staring up into the air above him. They were staring, but unseeing.

Somewhere in the room I could hear the EMH barking orders at Tom, his voice was distant and hard to hear past the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. The world around me stopped dead as the reality of the situation set in. I fought for air... it felt as if someone had punched me square in the chest.

A minute or so later I was standing by Chakotay's side, holding his blood-soaked hand. The Doctor went about his work, trying to explain to me what happened. The attackers had used an unstable, unpredictable type of energy in their disruptors... that much I already knew. One discharge hit the side of the shuttlecraft where Chakotay was seated... and traveled through the hull and into his body. They never even had the chance to raise shields.

I asked what the prognosis was. The Doctor shook his head, frowning, as he walked away. That was more than I wanted to know. It's amazing how much that one look can say.

I closed my eyes, holding tightly to Chakotay's lifeless hand. I felt my own life begin to spin horribly out of control. I stood a seven-hour vigil that evening, staying at Chakotay's side and praying all through the night. I tried to convince whatever powers that may be to let him live. I begged, I threatened, I bargained... he still didn't move. Eventually the Doctor made me leave, telling me I had medical authorization not to return to duty that morning... severe exhaustion, he said. I didn't feel tired, I felt lost.

It was Sunday by then. At first, after leaving sickbay, I was on my way to my quarters, but somewhere along that trip I turned around and instead went to the holodeck. Swallowing hard, I instructed the computer to load my program.

New Earth was as lovely to visit as a holoprogram as it had been to live on as a real planet. Now though, it felt so empty... I felt just as empty inside. I walked around our recreated home, smiling a bit at how every little thing reminded me of Chakotay. I'd made the program thorough, right down to the sand-art picture he had made to brighten the flat beige interior of the Starfleet shelter we shared.

Somehow he'd managed to turn it into a home when all I thought of it as was an inconvenient sojourn. It took me a while to come around to his way of thinking but I did... finally. Then life took another turn and we were pulled... no, torn away from the one place I will ever think of as my home. Our home.

I never doubted that the crew meant well in coming back for us. They thought they were saving us from... what? Exile? A life with him alone? I could have lived out the rest of my life there with him as my only companion. If we had stayed it might have traveled far beyond companionship, beyond friendship. We could have been so much more. Back on Voyager it was a return to protocol. I reasoned that a relationship would create a breach of discipline, so I denied myself... denied us... the right to be together. If I'd only known then how much I would come to regret that decision I never would have made it.

I left the holographic New Earth with tears streaming down my face... I couldn't be there alone. I walked back to the sickbay, wiping away the warm, salty water that fell from my eyes. The Doctor looked at me from across the room. No doubt he noticed the red streaks on my face, but, he said nothing about them.

Chakotay was covered just up to his bare shoulders with a thin blanket, his chest barely moving with each aided breath. I began to wonder which of us was more helpless at that moment. When I sat next to him this time, I didn't pray. I leaned in close and spoke to him, softly and uncertainly. I asked him the things that my head would never allow my heart to reveal until then... I asked him if he still felt the same, if he still loved me. I asked if he would let me love him. He didn't answer.

The next two days were long ones. We were able to track down the assault ship that had pounded the shuttle. The pilot and her companions were no more than children... teenagers out for a little target practice. It made my blood boil, knowing that all this agony had been the result of nothing more than rebellious kids in search of a small thrill. I clenched my jaw and left the matter to Tuvok. If I stayed and handled it myself I'd have either beaten those brats to within a centimeter of their lives or used up all my self-control in an effort to keep myself from doing just that.

I went to my quarters and slammed my fist into the bulkhead, shattering my knuckles. There was another thing I'd never done before... but for some reason then I just had to. I let myself be angry. Though I hadn't intended it, that outburst became another excuse to go to medical. Another reason to be within arm's reach of Chakotay.

I visited him often, spending more time in medical than on the bridge. I would hold conversations with him in my mind, hoping that he would open his eyes and talk to me. I missed his voice. I missed his way of speaking with his eyes.

The news the Doctor had to give me was never good, so I stopped asking for it. During the first few days I slept a total of eleven hours... all by Chakotay's side. On Wednesday morning when there was nobody but us there I leaned over and pressed my lips to his brow. I'm not sure if it had been my wishful thinking or not, but I was certain that at that moment he breathed a little deeper. I asked him softly if he had felt my kiss. His life support equipment beeping was the only response.

I slept in my own quarters that night but my rest was choppy and split apart by dreams. I had dreamed the same dreams for every moment I had managed to close my eyes since the... the accident. I could never remember them well, but they were always there. Sometimes I felt as if they were the reality and this waking world were the fantasy. Sometimes I wished they were. The sleeping mind has ways of playing tricks and more than once I woke with a start, convinced that Chakotay was there in the room - wide awake and smiling at me.

That wasn't what woke me the last time, it was the Doctor's voice over the comm sometime around 0430. He told me that I should come to sickbay. I felt the life drain out of me.

I walked slowly, like a pallbearer in a funeral procession. I was vaguely aware of people going past me in the corridor, offering nods and "good morning"s. I drifted by them, numbness reaching into every limb and freezing my mouth shut. I was intent on getting to sickbay, though I knew deep inside of me that it was the one place I didn't want to be... that what was waiting for me there was the news I'd been dreading.

The door to sickbay slid open with a hiss. From where I stood in the I could see the Doctor by the bed where I had spent many hours this week. The EMH lifted his head and motioned for me to join him there. During the many seconds that I hesitated he waited patiently.

I bit down on my lower lip until it bled, letting the pain spur me forward. Looking down at Chakotay, I bit even harder. His tattoo stood out in stark contrast to his pale skin. In my heart I knew that his was a spirit that would never give up... that he had fought with all his strength. I began to trace out the lines of his tattoo with a fingertip and I suddenly realized that he felt different... warmer. I put my full palm on his now-warm cheek. My other hand flew up to my mouth as I spun to face the Doctor.

The EMH smiled.

Without once speaking, the Doctor said everything. Chakotay was going to recover. It might take time, but it would happen.

New tears found their way to my eyes for a wonderful reason. Though I knew I should hide them I welcomed them as they clouded my vision. The Doctor put an arm over my shaking shoulders. Despite myself, I turned and wrapped my arms around him. I had no idea what the Doctor had done and right then I didn't care... all I could do was thank him over and over again, burying my face into his holographic uniform. I looked up at him and he smiled. I smiled, too... for the first time in so long.

Today is Saturday. Chakotay still hasn't woken up but the Doctor told me he is making a quick recovery and that he will call me first if... when he wakes.

I never told Chakotay the things I wanted him to know... I put it off or tried to deny them to even myself. I will never do that again, I have to learn to take the chance before all my chances are gone.

I don't know how he is going to answer my questions or if what he tells me will be something that I don't want to hear... all that matters right now is that I have another chance to ask him.

End