Summary: “You’ve had close calls before, Commander, but that was too close.” Sometimes, so is she … but never quite close enough.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: Characters are Paramount’s. No infringement intended.
Note: Written for the Kathryn Janeway Needs a Hug fest.
“How are you feeling?”
She stood in the centre of her room, twisting her fingers together in front, her hair loose and tumbling around her shoulders. The lights were too low to make out her expression. Maybe that was why he heard the ragged edge to her voice: all of his other senses were attuned to her, even more than they usually were.
He moved further into her quarters, letting the doors slide closed behind him. “I’m fully recovered, thank you, Captain.”
“Good.” She turned away to pour something into a glass on the coffee table – whiskey, he identified as she offered it to him, her own glass in her other hand. “You’ve had close calls before, Commander, but that was too close.”
“Here’s to lucky escapes.” Chakotay raised the tumbler to his lips and sipped.
She hadn’t followed suit. Her head was bent over the glass.
He moved closer, trying to catch her eyes. “Are you –”
“How soon before our luck runs out?”
“Too close, Chakotay,” she repeated softly, looking up at him. The glass tilted in her hand and he reached to steady it. Her fingers were warm, and he expected her to pull away, but she didn’t.
Her eyes were still on his, dewy in the starlight, and Chakotay found that he didn’t know what to say.
It had been easier in sickbay, when he was lying on a biobed gritting his teeth and sweating with pain. Her face was set as she’d rested her hand on his shoulder, one of the few places on his body that wasn’t abraded or broken. He’d asked after the rest of the away team, then made some feeble joke about his own clumsiness, about the collapse of the tunnel where they’d been mining the dilithium. And her voice had been perfectly steady – just the right blend of tender and chiding – when she replied that the dilithium didn’t matter, as long as he was all right.
Their standard routine: one of them barely escaping death and making light of it, the other hovering by their bedside with worried eyes and gentle touch. And then their unspoken pact never to mention it again.
Except that this time, she wasn’t keeping to the agreement.
“We’ve been out here for nearly three years,” she said, when he remained silent, “and do you know how many times I’ve thought you were dead, or dying?”
His lips parted, but she didn’t wait for him to speak.
“Eighteen times,” she said with emphasis. “Eighteen. That’s how many times I’ve come too close to losing you. And I can’t,” her voice grated in her throat, “Chakotay, I cannot lose you. I don’t want to do this without you.”
“Kathryn.” He found himself wrapping both hands around hers on the whiskey glass, squeezing gently before taking the glass away and setting it on the low table. When he straightened up her fingers were still folded into his. “You’re not going to lose me.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“Okay, that’s true,” he conceded. Then, to lighten the mood, “but it’s my duty to stick around to save you from paperwork, and I take my duties very seriously.”
Although the corner of her mouth twitched in response, the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
“Hey,” Chakotay softened his voice, “Kathryn, is something wrong?”
It was too dark; he couldn’t be sure if she’d just shifted infinitesimally closer. The quiet shape of her in the starlight – her nearness, the smooth slope of bare shoulders under her tank, the intensity of her gaze on him – he couldn’t read her.
Maybe their journey was weighing especially heavy tonight, or maybe this was just one of her mercurial moods. Maybe all she wanted was his presence, and all she needed from him was the slightest encouragement to unburden herself.
But then, as he looked at her and tried to decide what were the right words to say, which the right tone to speak them in, she gave the faintest shudder on an outward breath and slanted her eyes away from his.
“I think I just,” she hiccupped a laugh, “I just need someone to hug me.”
At that, a tangle of affection and warmth unwound inside him, threaded through with the slenderest filament of regret. He tucked it away behind a smile and lifted his free hand to her shoulder.
“All you ever have to do is ask.”
He thought, but couldn’t swear, that her eyes glistened gratefully before she stepped into his embrace. Her arms went around his waist and she clung to him tightly, and he felt the warm cloud of her breath against his throat. Her hair was still faintly damp at the roots and smelled like apples.
“Oh, why don’t we do this more often?” she sighed.
Chakotay kept perfectly still, willing his breathing to stay steady. In his arms she felt supple and warm and real, and it was hard to imagine that there would ever be a time that holding her wouldn’t overwhelm him.
Why? he thought. Because you know as well as I do that this can never be just a hug. Because when we stand too close, it’s never quite close enough.
“I don’t know,” he answered, when he was sure his voice would hold just the right amount of warmth and lightness. “You know I’m always here when you need me, Kathryn.”
She was quiet for a long beat, then, softly: “I told you. You can’t promise that.”
But there was a question in her voice, this time, and he knew the answer.
“Yes,” he said. “I can.”