It was dark and cold. All Chakotay wanted to do was sleep, but he knew he shouldn't. It was getting harder to remember why not, but he knew he shouldn't sleep.
The captain failed to find the strength to rise from her chair. The image on the viewscreen couldn't be real. A Borg cube she could face; she had faced, in fact, and more than once. The automated distress signal they had been following had made her edgy. This, its alleged source, a gaping hole in a glacier on the planet below, pulled the air from her lungs and she almost couldn't speak.
Only minutes ago, it seemed, Chakotay and Baxter had taken the Delta Flyer for a mission of such simplicity it really only qualified as an errand. Now, hours and a lifetime later - she pushed unbidden thoughts of Tau Ceti Prime from her mind - they needed a rescue. A rescue from an icy planet that seemed to taunt her on the viewscreen, gloating over the tiny ship it had claimed.
What strength remained she used to keep her face asneutral as possible, and she forced the necessary words up her dry throat. "Life signs?"
"I'm reading one human life sign, Captain," Ensign Kim replied.
She prayed that the pulse on the sensors belonged to Chakotay. Baxter's face haunted her for a moment, and her stomach rolled sickly. A piece of her die devery time she lost a member of her crew, but the piece that Chakotay held was vital to her survival. Perhaps Baxter was in an escape pod outside of sensor range. Perhaps, well, something. The crewmember on the sensors, however, had top priority. They had to focus on the person they had already located.
She rose from her chair. "I'm going down there. Tuvok, you have the bridge. Harry, keep looking for other life signs. Tom, you're with me."
Transporters were down due to a computer malfunction she refused to let Ensign Campbell explain, so they flew a shuttle to the surface. Fearing instability in the ice near the crash site, they had landed a fair hiking distance from the Delta Flyer's distress signal. Janeway forced her emotions down out of the way and stepped out onto the ice. Tom followed.
The surface felt familiar. That was because ice was pretty universal, she told herself. Ice always smelled the same; like the sharp blackness of a new tomb. Of course she had seen ice before, and there was nothing that made this one any more like Tau Ceti Prime than thousands of other frozen surfaces throughout the galaxy. She hurried, her eyes barely leaving the tricorder in her gloved hand.
Somewhere ahead, beneath the thick layers of ice, Chakotay waited for her to find him. The lifesigns on this tricorder proved it. Her eyes didn't leave the small screen.
"Captain!" Tom jogged to keep up with her, despite his longer legs. "Slow down. The ice isn't as stableup ahead."
“We're not stopping."
"Of course not," he said. "Just watch where you'regoing. Chakotay'll have my head if I let you step in a hole and twist an ankle."
It wasn't easy to tear her gaze from the tricorder and survey the landscape. She didn't want to see the way the sun glinted off the dazzling white surface. All that mattered was the reading on her tricorder, although she knew Tom was right. She didn't have time for a careless accident.
The crash site, when they reached it, was unmistakable. The Delta Flyer had torn a gash into the ice, and now lay submerged by the uneven blanket of reformed ice. She could picture the way the water must have boiled around the Flyer, could picture the way it had seemed to melt into the water to become one with the jagged ice.
It was buried. He was buried.
Her mind's eye revisited another ice covered grave. The faces of her father and Justin pressed into her thoughts. She always carried both of them in her heart, but today they were not welcome.
She bit her lip, using the pain to focus on the reality of the moment, and followed the tricorder. She hadn't had a tricorder on Tau Ceti Prime. There hadn't been lifesigns to follow. She stared hard At the screen, almost missing Tom's warning when she nearly did trip on a particularly rough patch of ice.
There was a hole in the ice. A final tunnel that had not yet closed behind the ill-fated little ship. She dropped her equipment, searching through it for the rope and pitons. It was only belatedly that she realized she might need a hand lamp and some other tools.
Tom knew his captain well, and he knew that she wasn't thinking with her usual clarity. He'd seen her keep it together in much worse situations. Chakotay had been missing before, even presumed dead. This time, though, the captain seemed to believe it.
He remembered the circumstances of her father's death, and wondered if she realized how much impact that was having on her current state of mind. He held his tongue. Right or wrong, voicing his thoughts would not help the situation.
Her face was pale and drawn as she tied a ropearound her waist and prepared to climb into the hole. She tore away her coat and flung it onto the ice. Even without the bulky jacket, her slender figure barely fit into the opening.
She was being reckless, but he knew he wasn't strong enough to keep her out of that hole without knocking her unconscious.
"Captain, if we widen the opening you won't have to leave your jacket behind."
"That could take hours," she answered, rather irrationally he thought, but she cut off his argument and threw him the rope. "Be ready to pull me up."
He nodded. "Two tugs and I'll pull you up." Agree with her, he told himself, and you'll survive to rescue her. She disappeared into the hole.
It was close and dark, like a Jefferies tube in a decommissioned starship, left cold without crew or warp core to give it life. She thought she heard a sound like pebbles falling in water. She couldn't seeanything with her hand lamp aimed awkwardly downward, and she had been forced to tuck the tricorder into her belt. When her feet unexpectedly touched water and she still hadn't found Chakotay or Baxter she was close to panic.
She lowered herself into the icy water, ignoring the stinging cold. She was waist deep when her hand lamp caught a bit of maroon uniform at the edge of her vision. She turned and saw Chakotay's face, ashen in the dim light, only a few feet away. She swallowed hard, pushing away the guilt at her relief, then wondered if her relief was misplaced. He was laying at an odd angle, supported by ice only inches above the freezing water, most of his body hidden by darkness. The rope tightened around her waist, and she realized with a curse that it wasn't long enough.
Forcing herself to be calm, she struggled with the knot with fumbling fingers. Apparently Tom mistook her efforts, and started to pull the rope up. She slapped at her combadge and heard the plop of it dropping into the water. A wave of nausea swept through her. She yanked a knife from her belt and cut it free. Let Tom worry about how to get her out of here. She had to get to Chakotay.
Even with the surge of adrenaline, swimming in the icy water while laden with gear and sodden clothing would have been impossible, and she was grateful when she found some sort of ledge beneath her feet.
“Chakotay." She yanked off her glove with herteeth and pressed her hand to his face, then felt for a pulse. For a desperate, horrible moment she couldn't find it. Her whole body started to shake. He couldn't be dead. She couldn't lose him.
It wasn't over; she hadn't lost yet. There were things she could do. She knew that, and tried to grasp her field medic training from the dreamlike haze that seemed to surround her thoughts.
She knew the procedure; had used it to save a few lives over the years. She was not helpless, even if she was almost waist-deep in water. Even though most of his body was inaccessible beneath an icy ceiling, and even though she knew she wasn't strong enough to move him, she still wasn't helpless.
"Chakotay, please." Her throat closed and cut off the words. She pressed her finger harder against his neck, desperate to find a pulse. Then she couldn't decide if it was wishful thinking when she felt something.
There it was again. He had a pulse, slow from hypothermia, but there. She put her face close to his and listened for breath. It was slow and shallow, but he was breathing.
She had to wake him up. She knew that. He was hypothermic and could easily slip into a coma.
"Chakotay," she said, her voice stronger. “Chakotay, wake up."
He made a sound which might have been a slurred version of her name.
She pressed her hands to his face. "Chakotay, wake up and talk to me."
His eyes opened and he stared through her with an unfocused gaze.
"You're awake," she said. "You need to stay awake. Can you do that?"
"I was trying," he said.
"To stay awake?" she asked. "Keep trying. Talk to me."
"Baxter's in the Flyer," he said. "You have to get to Baxter."
"We will," she promised. "Let's get you out of here first."
She found his hands, cold and blue as death. Frostbite, maybe worse. How long had he been like this? Would the Doctor be able to repair the damage? Not if he lost a hand. She opened her jacket, unmindful of her own safety, and stuffed his hands up under her shirt, against the warm skin of her stomach.
"Kathryn, don't," he said.
"I'll be fine," she told him. "Tom's getting us out of here."
He laughed a little.
"I won't have any blood left in my brain with my hands there," he said.
She smiled a little. "Just tell me you can feel them."
"They still hurt," he assured her. "Not numb yet."
"Stay awake for me," she said. "Help me figure out how to get you out of here."
“My leg is stuck," he slurred. "I can't turn around to get it loose."
"What are you doing crawling through the middle of a glacier anyway?"
"I could see light through here from the Flyer. I thought I could get to the surface."
She swallowed a burst of anger at his recklessness and aimed her handlamp down the length of his body. He seemed to be trapped in a narrow tunnel.
"I think there's enough room in there for me. Which leg is trapped?"
"Kathryn, you'll get yourself stuck," he said.
"Someone has to free your leg and Tom certainly isn't going to fit in there." She removed his hands from her shirt. "Stay awake."
She wedged herself into the opening, making every effort not to knee Chakotay in the face. Her body wiggled against his as she moved deeper into the icy tunnel. He groaned when she moved past his waist, so she knew he was still conscious.
His ankle was trapped under a fallen piece of ice. She looked up, fearing the stability of the ice above them. They could both easily be crushed.
The angle was awkward, making it difficult to move the ice. She didn't have the strength to lift it with her arm fully extended, and had to crawl in deeper to get a good grip. Then, using her own arm as a lever, she flipped the chunk of ice over and off ofChakotay's leg.
Then she faced the expected problem: she couldn't turn around. She began the tedious job of backing out of the tunnel on inch at a time.
Without her survival gear, the bitter cold of the ice crept through her. The uniform offered the best in breathable insulation, but not while soaking wet and laying on a slap of ice. Still, she refused to regret leaving the parka behind. She couldn't have stayed on the surface, helpless, while Chakotay lay trapped in an icy grave.
"Captain!" Tom's voice echoed from above.
She could hear bits of ice plopping into the freezing water as he climbed down after her. For a moment, she debated the wisdom of calling back to him. She didn't know if loud noises were likely to cause a cave-in.
She felt a hand grab hold of her ankle just as a loud crack rang through the icy cavern. Somewhere the ice had broken, preparing to bury them all alive. Instinct told her to fling herself over Chakotay, to protect him from the possible collapse. She forced herself to continue backward. Climbing out of the tunnel was the next step. Then, and only then, she and Tom could pull Chakotay out.
"Forgive me, Captain," Tom said. He tugged on her ankle and it hurt in a distant sort of way.
Her knee found the edge of the ice, and she levered herself backward. Tom kept her from falling as she emerged and landed on a foot that seemed oddly unwilling to find purchase on the ice.
A sprain, she realized, and pushed the fact away. Ankles were easily fixed in sickbay. Her attention returned immediately to Chakotay.
"You'd better be awake," she said, forcing a light, teasing tone.
He didn't answer.
She lurched forward, her teeth again tearing the glove from her hand. "Chakotay."
"He's unconscious," Tom said. "We have to get him back to the shuttle."
"I need to find his pulse," she said.
"Captain." Tom pulled at her arm.
She ignored him.
"Captain." Tom pushed a tricorder in front of her. "He's alive. He's breathing. We have to move him."
The readings took on meaning again, and she regained control of her panic. Together, she and Tom pulled Chakotay out of the tunnel and secured a climbing harness around him.
Tom hadn't leapt into the ice in a blind panic. Two climbing ropes hung down into the cavern, and a number of pitons strategically lined the walls. Using them, it was actually possible for the two of them to carry the unconscious Chakotay over to the ropes without incident.
A stretcher leaned against one of the walls. Tom lashed Chakotay to it and buckled both it and the climbing harness onto the end of a rope.
"Stay with him."
Kathryn nodded, admitting to herself that the officer whose brain still functioned was best suited to give commands. She pressed her fingers to Chakotay's neck, checking for a pulse despite the life signs clearly indicated on the tricorder.
This was why a captain wasn't supposed to fall in love, she knew, and yet she also realized that it was too late. She couldn't change her feelings. Years of denial hadn't lessened them.
“Don't die on me, Chakotay," she whispered. "I swear I'll make it worth your while, if you just stay alive."
Tom shouted down instructions, and she steadied the stretcher as it rose off the floor. She grabbed a rope and followed, pushing when it stuck on a bit of ice.
The stretcher slid easily over the ice and theyquickly reached the safety of the Sacajawea. They were settling Chakotay onto a bunk when the medical tricorder sounded a warning.
Kathryn nearly doubled over as fear punched her in the gut once again.
"Captain," Tom said, his voice too gentle. "I need you to fly the shuttle back to Voyager."
She started to shake. "I can't lose him like this, I can't."
“You won't, Captain. I promise." Tom laid a hand on her shoulder. "Let me work, and get us back to the Doctor."
Just finding the pilot's chair proved a challenge. She sat down, and the controls seemed for a moment to be the transporter controls on the Terra Nova. She shook off the crippling illusion and focused on the familiar controls beneath her fingers.
She could save Chakotay. All that she had to do was fly a shuttle. The Sacajawea rose smoothly into the air.
Sickbay. Chakotay lay unconscious, but breathing, on a biobed. The Doctor worked over him, repairing the damage from the cold. Walter Baxter had already been treated for a a broken arm and released. The Delta Flyer, damaged but not destroyed, was in the shuttlebay awaiting repairs.
Kathryn sat at the desk in the Doctor's office, torn between numb relief and stinging shame. From the moment she had seen the ice on the viewscreen, her ability to think had all but disappeared.
“Captain?" Tom stood in the doorway. He hadalready treated her frostbite. He had even brought her a dry uniform. What did he want now? To bring her lunch and cut her meat for her?
He placed a cup of coffee before her. She cringed a bit at the accuracy of her thoughts. "You panicked," he said.
She nodded. It was true.
"You let emotions, and the memories of events long past, override everything else." He reached across the desk and touched her hand. "Let me tell you what would have happened if you hadn't."
She looked up at him, prepared to argue, but something in his expression stopped her.
"You wouldn't have gone racing down to the planet. We would have used phasers to cut the ice from around the Delta Flyer. We would have towed it back to Voyager, and we would have saved Baxter's life."
"But we would have lost Chakotay," he said gently.
"It was Baxter's life signs on sensors. Chakotay's were weak, possibly masked by magnetic interference,and he wasn't wearing a combadge. We wouldn't have found him."
She swallowed hard.
Tom continued. "I've known you for seven years. I've seen you do some reckless things, but I've never seen you panic. Maybe it was instinct, maybe it was a higher power, but today you did exactly the right thing."
"So did you, Tom," she said. "Thank you."
She stood beside the biobed as the Doctor revived Chakotay. She held his hand in both of hers, and smiled when his first words were a mumbled question about Baxter.
"He's fine, Chakotay," she said.
"Something that almost couldn't be said about you," the Doctor scolded. "If it weren't for the captain's rather unorthodox methods, you'd be at the bottom of an ocean right now."
"I'll explain over dinner," she said, with a sharp glance at the Doctor. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," he answered. He flexed the hand she wasn't holding. "These still work."
"They'd better," she said. "I had to explain a frostbit stomach to Tom Paris, and I wouldn't want it to be for nothing."
He climbed off the biobed and she continued to clutch his hand. When the Doctor left them alone he squeezed her hand. "Kathryn?"
"We almost lost you," she whispered. She stepped closer to him and slipped her arms around him.
His arms closed around her, the comforting embrace of a close friend. As much as she cherished that friendship, it was no longer enough. She stretched up and kissed him lightly.
"Let's go have dinner," she said. "It's time to discuss a few things."
He looked down at her, and his hand came up to stroke her cheek. "I know what things, don't I?"
She nodded. "It's not just a reaction to – to what almost happened. I really think it's time -- ."
Her words were lost as he pulled her tightly against his body and lowered
his mouth to hers. This time, she didn't mind as her ability to think
temporarily faded away.
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