The Art of Holding Hands

Rated R

Summary: Written for CF for the 2013 Vamb Secret Santa exchange. A ‘Void’ post-ep story told from Chakotay’s point of view.

Thanks to Audabee and Corinna for casting their eagle eyes over this story. All mistakes, however, are mine – they can’t have them. 🙂

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

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As the shimmer of the transporter faded, Chakotay hazarded a glance in Kathryn’s direction.

Her stoic demeanour wavered for a heartbeat but it was long enough for Chakotay to catch the brief flash of regret that clouded her features with the loss of their latest allies.

She camouflaged her moment of weakness by moving to his side and casting a wistful eye towards the empty transporter platform.

She smiled sadly. “It was almost like being part of a federation again.”

The plaintive note in her voice tugged at Chakotay’s heart and in an effort to lift her spirits, he countered with an upbeat, “The real one’s only thirty thousand light years away.”

She leaned back to look him in the eye, her mouth twisting into a wry grimace as she tried, but failed, to match his mood.

With a careless wave towards the door, she quipped, “Well, what are we standing around for?”

He admired her gritty show of determination but the dull glint of resignation in her eyes told a different story as the mantle of responsibility settled heavily over her shoulders.

Those thirty thousand light years might as well have been a lifetime.

Jaw set, he watched as she waged a silent battle with the encroaching ennui and with her usual stubbornness, she won the battle if not the war and straightening her shoulders, she steadied her gaze, ready to face whatever challenges the Delta quadrant saw fit to throw in her path. AFter pulling her resolve around her like an impenetrable cloak, she spun away from him and exited the room without a backward glance.

Chakotay followed half a pace behind her, matching her purposeful stride along the corridor towards the turbo lift.

To anyone else, Kathryn appeared her usual stalwart self but Chakotay knew that their time within the anomaly had taken its toll. She’d already assumed responsibility for all the mishaps and problems that had occurred within the Void – the incident with the alien, Bosaal and the stolen polaron modulator was a case in point. Although, the alien’s actions had been entirely beyond her control, she’d taken herself to task over the matter, assuming blame for ignoring her instincts and failing to recognise Bosaal’s malevolence before he had the chance to perpetrate his atrocities.

This was nothing new. Chakotay had spent years witnessing her mental self-castigation over every perceived failure and mistake, and he could see from her body language that she was about to follow her usual modus operandi and – if given the chance – withdraw. However, this time, he intended to intervene before she had a chance to shake him loose.

When they reached the turbolift, he took a resolute step forward and placed his hand on her arm.

He could feel her muscles tense under his touch but it had the desired effect.

She stopped; a questioning frown creasing her brow as she turned towards him. Her eyes lingered on his hand, before she lifted her gaze to meet his. “Commander?”

He smiled, his fingers slipping from her arm. “Would you join me for a cup of coffee, Kathryn? It’s almost the end of our shift and Tuvok has the Bridge. I think we can risk a bit of down time and I know I could do with a break.” He half expected her to decline the invitation.

Instead, her gaze softened and her lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile. “Are you suggesting we play hooky, Commander?” With eyebrows raised in mock reproach, Kathryn’s smile widened. “But I take your point.  A coffee sounds wonderful – if you’re buying, that is?”

“Of course.”

She seemed almost relieved to be delaying their return to the Bridge. They’d spent most of their waking hours there over the last ten days, with little opportunity for respite other than a few hours of sleep snatched in between crises or when their duties allowed – which hadn’t been often. It had been a tense time for the entire crew but, as always, the burden of responsibility rested on Kathryn’s shoulders.

The turbolift doors opened on cue and taking a decisive step forward, she entered the lift.

Chakotay followed.

Once inside the lift, she spun on her heel and stood ramrod straight, staring at the closed doors. “Deck three. Captain’s quarters.”

Chakotay was surprised by her requested destination; he’d assumed they would head to the Mess hall or her Ready room – but knowing Kathryn, it made sense. In the privacy of her quarters, away from the prying eyes of the crew and the constraints of duty, their roles were less rigidly defined and with the barriers lowered, perhaps she would be inclined to discuss their time in the Void.

He glanced at her profile several times as they rode the few decks to their destination and couldn’t help wondering what she was thinking. Self-reproach was the most likely emotion, fuelled by the obligatory feelings of guilt and remorse for not thinking or reacting fast enough to a slew of situations outside the realm of any of their experiences. He’d never known anyone as tough on themselves as Kathryn – except for himself, perhaps.

Maybe that’s why he understood her so well.

They shared a deep friendship; one that he cherished. It had evolved from an almost instant rapport and had been moulded and refined over the years by a never ending procession of battles, challenges and travails – many of which defied belief. A deeply ingrained thread of mutual understanding was the mainstay of their friendship and although they knew each other better than anyone else, there were still walls between them. Some were dictated by protocol but others had formed brick by emotional brick to hide feelings and needs that neither he nor Kathryn were willing to openly acknowledge.

Those walls were not impenetrable however, and he was well aware that no matter how high or how well-guarded they might be, those bastions of propriety were especially vulnerable at times like these. Stress and uncertainty weakened the foundations, making it all too easy to topple over the edge of friendship into something deeper. They’d been close to the precipice many times and both of them were adept at recognizing the dangers – as tantalizing and tempting as they might be.

The turbolift arrived on deck three and she glanced at him briefly with one eyebrow raised to let him know that she was aware of his scrutiny and probably his thoughts. The moment of connection was all too brief before she turned away and stepped out of the turbolift to head towards her quarters.

Chakotay once again followed and moments later they were seated side by side on her couch, coffees in hand, the stars of the Delta quadrant streaking past the viewport behind them and an uneasy quiet hovering between them.

There was a lot ground to cover. Apart from Kathryn’s obvious feelings of guilt and remorse, their recent encounter with the graviton anomaly had stirred up many unpleasant memories and long-buried tensions. The all too familiar sense of hopelessness had returned with a vengeance, along with the dread of isolation and the vivid reminder of just how capricious fate could be.

Kathryn had been confronted once more by the temptation to compromise principles and Starfleet ideals as the ever present possibility of failure with so many lives at stake loomed large on the horizon. All the old fears and concerns had again come into keen focus; the unwanted but unrelenting relics of the early days of their journey.

Chakotay knew they needed to address these issues but he wasn’t quite sure where to begin? Broaching anything contentious with Kathryn was problematical at best. She hated being railroaded and if not handled carefully, the attempt could be counterproductive. If she felt challenged or cornered, she would shut him down without a moment’s hesitation. It took a good deal of deft manoeuvring to run the gauntlet of Kathryn’s emotional minefield. He’d tried before with varying measures of success but this time he desperately wanted to help her see past her latest perceived ‘failure’.

He sat there, his thoughts swirling with dozens of half-baked ideas, each one systematically discarded, until, to his surprise, Kathryn breached the impasse.

After leaning forward to place her empty cup on the table, she turned towards him; her knee touching his and her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

He watched her struggle with her inner demons for several agonising seconds – the set of her lips and the crease between her eyebrows clear evidence of her dilemma, before she suddenly looked up and reached for him.

And as simply as that, he found himself holding her hand.

Their unique connection zinged between them as tendrils of warmth wound their way up his arm, spreading and diffusing into every part of his being.

With that warmth came acceptance and trust.

And then, she began to talk.

In a steady but quiet voice, Kathryn told him of her heartache, her despair, her yearnings and her hopes. Some if it he knew; much of it he surmised but to hear her articulate her innermost thoughts cleared the way for him to return the favour.

A dam walls burst.

And it was a revelation.

The conversation ebbed and flowed. When she faltered, he followed her lead and told her of his fears and longings, and when the words became difficult for him to find, she squeezed his hand and talked some more.

In the dim light of her quarters, he gathered every word and every nuance and, holding them close to his heart, his eyes took gentle inventory. Although her face was slightly flushed and her eyes were reluctant to meet his – the tension evident in the slight tremor of her voice – there was also a pervading sense of relief, of release and of having finally let go.

He barely moved as he concentrated on each and every word, and the gentle in and out of each breath. He feared that any sudden movement might break the spell.

She was entrusting him with her deepest secrets and doubts and he wanted her to know that he would honour that trust and willingly bear his share of the burden that until now, she’d so stubbornly but bravely borne alone.

It was time for the barriers to fall.

He knew it and so did she. The weight of responsibility was crushing her – one onerous incident at a time – and to survive, she had no choice but to relinquish a portion of the responsibility.

He willingly accepted his share.

This was about Kathryn and making her whole again and he would gladly bare his soul if that was what she needed. He’d long ago acknowledged the fact that he would, without question, lay down his life for her. To reveal his feelings was nothing compared to her survival.

He’d made a vow at the very beginning of this journey to keep her safe and that promise was the heart and soul of his devotion. He loved her. It was the simplest of truths.

As she talked and revealed the complex inner workings of Kathryn Janeway, he soon discovered that as vital as she was to his survival, he was the essence of hers. He hadn’t known this and the revelation brought with it a warmth and purpose that suffused his entire being.

As she slowly but surely unburdened herself, the tension between them also dissipated, as did the haunted look in her eyes.

Her hand was still in his; her thumb rhythmically stroking the skin between his thumb and forefinger. It was an unconscious gesture – he knew that – but it spoke of trust and affection, and she seemed more than content to leave her hand enfolded in his as she continued to talk.

The unguarded nature of her touch lightened his heart and his gaze rested upon their entwined fingers.

Their differences were glaring – his hand, tanned, calloused and large; hers, pale, slim-fingered but strong. In many ways, it was a reflection of their life together – their differences highlighting their similarities. The discrepancies sent a trickle of yearning through his middle. The continued contact also gave him hope that the rules that they’d lived by for so long were finally peeling away; each layer discarded as they revealed more and more of their inner selves to one another.

This was about survival – hers and by default, his. From the moment they’d met, his existence had been inextricably linked to hers and although at times the link had been stretched to its limit, he’d never doubted the veracity of their connection. Some things simply were as they were meant to be.

Eventually, her words began to slow and little by little they drifted towards one another until her forehead pressed against his, their breath mingling in the small world that extended outward from their clasped hands.

A heartbeat later, their lips met; the taste and feel familiar but new.

And from there, their bodies followed.

It was as effortless as it was profound.

They merged, as their lives had done, with grace and strength; their treasured friendship sliding smoothly and inexorably towards something deep and intense; the rise and fall of their joining echoing the ebb and flow of the last seven years of their journey.

They cried their joy to the cosmos, their bodies arching, yearning, needful, until finally sated, they collapsed as one amongst the tangled sheets of her bed.

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Hours later, as he lay beside her, skin to skin, holding her as she slept, he pondered this remarkable but inevitable change in their lives. He listened to the slow, in and out of her breathing and found it soothed him in ways that he couldn’t begin to explain.

In the end, it needed no explanation. He would accept this for what it was and he knew she would too. It was quite simply what they needed at this time and in this place. As much as Kathryn revered Starfleet and its conventions, she was a pragmatist at heart and tonight she’d willingly accepted what he’d known for years – they were one another’s salvation.

This changed nothing but it meant everything to them. In so many ways, it was merely a natural extension of all they’d shared up until this point.

The Void – isolated, inescapable and filled with danger – had been a microcosm; a multifaceted prism through which they could view their existence. It showcased an intense reflection of their lives over the last six and a half years as they traversed the light years of unknown space on this epic journey home and highlighted once more their strengths and their weaknesses, their needs and their fears.

The morning would bring more challenges – their lives in the Delta quadrant forever teetering on a knife-edge – but together they were stronger than they were apart, and they would find a balance because this was too important to risk losing.

Kathryn reached for him in her sleep, her hand curling over the skin of his chest. He laid his hand gently over hers and his heart swelled as she breathed a contented sigh. His Kathryn, so strong and so resilient but this unconscious need for him welded his love for her permanently in place. He pressed his lips to the top of her head and made a silent vow to keep her from harm and when necessary, save her from herself.

She settled back into sleep; safe and secure in his embrace. He would keep vigil, his place forever etched by her side.

Light from the passing stars cut a swathe through the darkness and turned her naked shoulders silver against the white of the sheets. Tucking his arms tightly around her, he revelled in the feel of her breath fanning against his throat and as a fragile peace surrounded them, he waited and watched until the steady beat of his heart lulled him to sleep.

fin

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