Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc. Besides, I can't do any worse than you know who. An illiterate snail could do better than him.
R (for violence)
Voyager is boarded and the crew held by an alien race seeking their technology. Kathryn is seperated by her Senior Officers and tortured for information, the crew forced to listen to her screams. Rescue comes and as Chakotay sits with a badly injured and drugged Kathryn waiting for the Doctor, she finally tells him she loves him, leaving him unsure if she was aware of her words. The battles now, both emotional and physical, have only just begun.

And The Truth Shall Set You Free

by Kat Lady


When it was thought about and spoken of later, Voyager's crew and senior staff would accept that they had never stood a chance. Most would tell stories of how it had been a day like countless others of late, of how they'd been going about their duties, repairing something, or sharing a meal with friends in the mess hall, walking down a corridor or simply passing from A to B, when it had been an ordinary day one minute and the next, they'd been boarded and taken over, the weapon of an Aluki soldier in their face. The experiences would vary but one thing would remain consistent. It would be a long time before any of them felt safe again or before the sounds which came to visit them at night, left them.

"Let me understand you here, Mr. Paris. You want me to partner you in the pool tournament but my identity must remain a secret until the moment of the match?"

Tom's face was serious, a perfect study of innocence. "Captain, I've no idea who's going to partner B'Elanna so it's only fair that I get the same consideration."

Kathryn smiled to herself, trying to avoid laughing aloud. "And replicator rations and my reputation as a pool player have nothing to do with this?"

Tom's eyes widened in mock hurt. "Captain, how could you even think that I would…?"

Kathryn held her hand up and allowed some laughter to escape. "Because I know you. Anyway, I must turn you down, just as I did B'Elanna when she asked me. This is strictly between the two of you. I want no part of it."

Tom's mouth fell open. "She asked you already? Why that little…"

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "Careful, Mr. Paris. Ever hear the saying about 'the kettle calling the pot black'?"

Tom shook his head. "I don't believe she did that. She played me at my own game. Well, this is war."

Kathryn smiled and shook her head. She turned and smiled at her First Officer beside her and saw that he was already watching her. Kathryn blushed as she met his intense gaze and saw his face redden before he looked away.

Kathryn recovered quickly. "So, Commander. Are you going to attend this battle of…?" She thought a moment. "We'll have to find a suitable name for this contest."

Chakotay turned back to her, having composed himself somewhat. "Maybe it would be better to ask the Doctor to come up with a name. After all, he's going to have more to do with it than any of us. Someone's going to have to repair all those broken bones Tom will have…"

Voyager's pilot swung round in his chair, feigning deep hurt. Kathryn smiled broadly at the look on his face and watched as it fell away quickly as he stared off over her shoulder, a few seconds after she heard the lift doors open. Instantly knowing something was wrong, she turned around just as Tuvok shouted a warning. What she saw froze her for a moment.

At the door to the turbo lift stood four alien soldiers, heavily armed. Kathryn jumped up immediately and reached for her phaser. It briefly registered with her how they laughed just before she fired and immediately, she understood why. Her weapon was useless. Chakotay was now at her side, his own phaser drawn but she saw that his too wouldn't fire. Within seconds, the bridge had been taken.

Kathryn fought down the rage that rose within her and faced the four large aliens. "Who are you and why are you on my ship?" She drew herself up to her full height, putting every ounce of authority she could into her voice and stance. The soldiers ignored her then turned quickly when they heard the lift doors opening. A slightly taller alien entered on his own and nodded curtly to the others. He strode onto the bridge, his weapon hanging loosely at his side.

"Which one is the captain?" He directed his question to his men, ignoring the bridge crew, but seemed to know the answer already, as he moved towards Kathryn and looked her over. One of the others moved to his side quickly and stared hard at Voyager's captain.

"This female here, Lor." The leader nodded and continued looking up and down at the woman before him.

"Mmm, I see. This species actually allows females to lead them? No wonder they were so easy to take." He laughed to himself as his men politely joined in. The second he grew serious again, they followed suit.

"We are the Aluki and my name is Lor Bren. You are now in our service. Obey and no one need die here today."

Kathryn let her hostility for this alien show clearly and faced up to him. "We are in no one's service and this is my ship…" He smiled down at her a moment, a look of amusement on his face as he turned away.

Kathryn never saw it coming. One minute she was facing up to this alien, the next his fist had made contact with her face and she was falling backwards, her head banging painfully off the arm of her chair. She lay stunned for a moment, hearing Chakotay and the others shouting and then it was quiet. She rolled over and looked up, feeling a trickle of blood escape her lip, only to see weapons pointed into the faces of her senior officers, daring them to object to anything.

"Commander…stand down…" She struggled to stand and felt Bren's hand on her arm, hauling her to her feet again.

Suddenly his face was in hers. "Captain, I'll let this go because you don't understand the rules yet and everyone is entitled to one mistake. You have my word that this will be your last one. If you cross me again or irk me in any way, a member of your crew will die. I give you my word on that." Kathryn remained quiet and let the contempt in her eyes speak for her. Bren just smiled evilly at her.

"Right, all of you, listen now. I shall not be repeating this." He moved away and smiled to himself as Kathryn steadied herself without his grip holding her. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and stared at the blood there for a moment. "As you will have deduced by now, your weapons are useless so we are in command. Our weapons, however, work just fine." He nodded to one of his men, who fired a shot at the wall, doing little damage but letting Voyager's senior crew see the truth of his leader's words. Bren stared back at Kathryn, making his point well.

"Firstly, our ship is travelling alongside yours but thanks to our technology, it is well cloaked. Our coming aboard this ship was well masked using that same technology, just to answer any questions you may have. Now you know." He walked in a small circle and studied the group before him.

"You, however, have some technology of your own which will greatly enhance ours and that is the reason we are here. We scanned your vessel so we know exactly what we're looking for. We want your replicators and several of your ship's weapons. Some of your warp technology will also be useful. Nothing else interests us but we'll check through your computer database to be sure." He moved back to Kathryn and looked down at her.

"Once we have what we came for, you may be on your way again. We are a fair people. I won't take any life if I don't have to, but believe me when I say that I will not hesitate to kill if the need arises and it won't cost me a thought. What I can tell you is that I shall use any means necessary to get what I want and you, Captain, have something I want."

Kathryn returned his stare, refusing to be intimidated. "I can tell you here and now that I will never let you have any of our technology. We have a rule called the Prime Directive, which forbids us from trading or sharing that technology with anyone."

Bren just shrugged. "If you want to do this the hard way, so be it. We'll just take what we want. However, Captain…" He raised a hand and grabbed Kathryn's hair, pulling her head back. "I do require this ship's command codes so if you would be so kind…" He gripped tighter but saw the woman he held maintain her composure.

"I can't and won't give those to you. I'll destroy this ship first."

He shook his head and smiled. "I admire your courage, Captain, but it's wasted. I'll have those codes one way or the other. I honestly don't believe you'd destroy this ship and your crew along with it, just to protect some high ideal."

Kathryn stared back hard at him. "You can believe it. I'll never give you what you want and neither will any member of this crew."

Bren pulled her against him and lowered his face to hers. "I really don't think you want to test me on that, Captain." Kathryn caught Chakotay out of the corner of her eye as he jumped forward in her defence, not thinking about the consequences. In a second, a weapon was pointed in his face, making him think again.

"I thought I had made myself clear." Bren moved back, taking Kathryn with him and pulled a knife from his belt which he held to her throat.

Chakotay held a hand up quickly. "Leave her alone. It was my fault. A reflex action." Bren pressed the cold metal against Kathryn's throat, pressing down and drawing a thin line of blood along the edge of the blade. Chakotay watched, knowing his emotions were written on his face. Bren took a moment to consider, then laughed and removed the knife.

"All right. I think my message has been made clear now." He pushed Kathryn away from him and walked around the bridge, studying everything he saw. "Now, Captain, all non-essential crew have been taken to the Cargo Bay and the rest are being watched closely under armed guard as they run this ship. These lot…" He gestured to the bridge crew. "They can stay here and do what they do. They'll be well guarded. Besides, I don't trust the brains of the ship out of my sight." He looked up suddenly as the lift doors opened once again and another alien strode on to the bridge, carrying a black case.

"Ah…about time. I have some work for you, Doctor…" He smirked at Kathryn, who held a hand to her neck, and nodded. "This female here is your patient…" He moved towards Kathryn to make his point and stared hard at her. "Don't make the mistake of thinking he's here to treat that cut either…" He pointed to her neck and laughed as he saw her try to control her fear. He turned to two of his soldiers and nodded to them. "Take her to her office." The two men moved to Kathryn's side and grabbed her arms roughly, then dragged her across the bridge towards her ready room. She heard Chakotay and the others shout and raised her voice above theirs.

"Stand down, Commander…" She managed to turn her head and meet his eyes for a second. Their eyes locked and she tried to draw strength from what she saw there before the doors closed behind her.

B'Elanna was fighting a battle on two fronts, one against the soldiers watching her every move and one within herself against the red mist of rage that threatened to control her. She was aware that the soldiers never took their eyes of those they guarded and she resorted to communicating with her engineering crew by eye and a series of cryptic remarks, finding they all actually understood each other. She found herself briefly thinking back to her first days aboard Voyager, believing then that she'd never fit in or get on with these people and now they were family, depending on each other every day.

They spoke 'engineering speak' to each other, masking many messages being passed to and fro and the Klingon glanced back at their guards frequently, seeing that so far, no suspicion had been aroused. The act they all put on, mere 'worker bees' going about their jobs, appeared to look natural to the guards and told B'Elanna a lot, mainly how the personnel situation on their ship worked. She knew herself from experience, that Voyager was a unique ship where its crew was concerned, that it was rare, if not unheard of, for a crew to share such a closeness. She smiled slightly to herself, thinking that it was also unheard of for a ship to be stranded so far from home. She looked up now as the doors to engineering opened, admitting another soldier. This one exuded an air of command about him as he marched to the centre of the work area. "Who's in charge down here?"

B'Elanna stepped around him, checking readings as she went. "I am and you're messing up my day." She glanced up at the man a moment.

For his part, he stepped over to her and grabbed her arm. "And you are…?"

She pulled her arm from his grasp. "B'Elanna Torres. How about the same courtesy?"

He smiled down at her, his amusement evident. "Feisty. I like that. I'm Lor Crel, second in command to Lor Bren."

B'Elanna placed a hand on her hip, a habit subconsciously picked up from her Captain. "What's this Lor? Some kind of title?"

He watched her a moment and nodded. "All senior Aluki soldiers have the title of Lor. It is highly desired."

B'Elanna merely nodded. "Right. Well, Lor Crel, I have work to do. This ship won't keep moving unless I make it so." She moved away from him but he followed her.

"You don't seem too put out by us being here. Do I take it this happens to you a lot?"

B'Elanna barely glanced up and went on with her work. "No, it doesn't, but I want to get home and as long as this ship keeps heading in the right direction, I really don't care who's in charge." She looked squarely at him and watched as he studied her.

"No loyalty to your captain?"

B'Elanna shrugged. "Some, I suppose. It's more to the rank than the person. As long as we're heading home, I don't care who wears the pips. If they do right by me, I'll give them my respect." She held his gaze a moment longer then went back to the readings she'd been working on. She felt him watching her a moment longer as she worked a console.

"Do all the crew feel that way?"

B'Elanna let out a sigh. "Some, I suppose. We've been stranded out here a long time and most of us have families waiting at home for us. We just want to get back to them. Getting there is our first priority. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who gets us there as long as someone does. Listen, the senior officers, they're up there and we're down here. Surely it's the same where you come from. Look, I've work to do and I'm sure you have too. I can't speak for the others." She shook her head and moved away again, leaving him with something to think about.

Lor Bren watched the doors close behind his soldiers and Voyager's captain. He turned and met Chakotay's eyes, seeing the venom there. He merely smiled to himself and ignored it.

"Tell me, where is your own doctor? Your sickbay seems deserted." He addressed his question to Tuvok.

"Our Medic was killed within the first week of this voyage. Our 'Doctor' is an Emergency Medical Hologram. It works well enough. The program is only activated when needed." Tuvok's calm manner was very convincing.

Bren nodded slowly. "One of you take one of these prisoners down there and check it out." A soldier stepped forward and grabbed the arm of Harry Kim, pushing him towards the lift. Bren held the eyes of the Vulcan and nodded to him. "We'll see." Tuvok merely raised an eyebrow.

Kathryn sat in the chair one of the soldiers had pushed her into and tried to control her breathing. They stood in front of her, their weapons trained on her as the 'doctor' sat on her sofa. No one spoke, all obviously waiting for Lor Bren to join them. Kathryn forced herself not to think of what might be ahead for her and instead used her time to try and study the weapons the men held. Bren had made sure that they knew the Aluki weapons worked and she saw that they appeared similar to the phaser rifles Voyager had on board and so she tried to work out how they could operate when their own phasers were useless. Kathryn tried to force her mind to tactical matters rather than let this invader have his way. She knew this waiting was his way of building up more fear in her mind but she was determined not to play that game with him.

The young soldier wasn't rising to the bait as Harry tried to engage him in conversation and he eventually gave up. They reached sickbay and entered.

"Go on." The soldier used his weapon to make his point.

Harry threw his eyes up. "Computer, activate EMH."

The Doctor shimmered into place. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency." He stood staring ahead of him, no trace of personality showing and waited patiently. The soldier lowered his weapon and moved around to study the sight before him. He used his weapon to poke at the man who had appeared out of thin air and met solid matter. The Doctor merely looked in his direction and repeated his question.

"Seen enough?" Harry acted as if he wanted to get back to the bridge but the soldier was still studying the hologram. Harry tried to show impatience. "Look, you have all non-essential personnel locked down in the Cargo Bay, the engineering staff at their posts under guard, the senior crew on the bridge, also guarded, and the captain in her office with your own doctor and two of your men. Your ship is cloaked and travelling along beside us. Your weapons work and ours don't which is obviously why you've left them with us. There's no threat. This is a hologram as you can see. What else do you want to know?"

The alien finally turned back to Harry. "I've never seen anything like it. It can treat all injuries?"

Harry acted bored. "It can perform surgery even. It can do whatever it's programmed to do and nothing more." Harry winced inwardly, knowing he'd pay for his words later, that the Doctor was most likely blowing internal circuits as he spoke. "Anything else?"

The soldier shook his head, paying more attention to the Doctor. "No…nothing…" He finally dragged himself away. "All right…how do you shut it off…"

Harry sighed. "You just tell the computer to shut it off." The soldier was watching him and smiled now. Harry saw the Doctor nod at him behind the man's back, letting the Ensign know that the tactical information had been received and understood.

"Can I do that?"

Harry nodded. "Just tell the computer to 'deactivate the EMH'."

The soldier laughed and gave the order and looked like a little boy as the Doctor disappeared before his eyes. "That's so…" He caught himself and turned back to his prisoner. "We'd better return to the bridge."

Harry nodded and made for the door, hearing the man behind him still laughing to himself in wonder.

Bren turned when Harry and his guard returned to the bridge. Chakotay locked eyes with Harry, trying to read him. Harry barely nodded, letting his First Officer know that the Doctor had 'performed' well.

"Sir, it is as he stated. I even shut down the program myself and saw it disappear. It speaks even…" Bren nodded and gestured for the man to retake his position.

"All right. I'll see for myself later. This technology might be useful to us. Besides, if I don't get what I want, your EMH will be needed." He turned to Chakotay now. "I need those command codes. Can you give them to me?"

Chakotay glared at the man before him. "Even if I had them, I wouldn't give them to you."

Bren shook his head and laughed. "I imagine only the captain has what I want…" He moved towards the ready room, letting his meaning hang in the air as a fist of fear gripped Chakotay's insides.

The Doctor shimmered into view in plain sight of the assembled crew in Cargo Bay Two and looked around him. Immediately Samantha Wildman and a few others rushed towards him.

"Doctor, what's happening?"

The Medic held up a hand. "The ship has been taken over. I estimate about forty soldiers. I saw that no one was guarding you from in here. They obviously believe that no essential systems can be accessed from here. There are, however, about ten soldiers outside the door."

Samantha looked to the others. "Is there anything we can do from here?"

The Doctor nodded. "I believe so but I need to speak with engineering first." He tapped his arm. "Thankfully, I have my mobile emitter. It allows me to appear and disappear at will. I'll speak with Lieutenant Torres and get back to you. Now, how many are here? How many have phasers?" He did a quick head count and nodded. "I'll be back as soon as I can. We'll get out of this, don't worry." He leaned down and patted little Naomi on the head, getting a small smile to replace the look of worry.

Bren strode into the ready room and Kathryn looked up quickly, meeting his eyes, determined not to show any weakness, despite the knot of fear she felt in her stomach. He stood and studied her for a few moments.

"Feel more like talking to me now, Captain?" Kathryn remained tight lipped and just stared hard at him, using her contempt to smother her fear. "I see I'll have to loosen your tongue then."

He advanced on her and pulled her from the chair. Using one hand to hold the front of her uniform, he repeatedly struck her in the face, leaving her dazed and with blood pouring from her nose. He then nodded to the two soldiers to hold her and proceeded to punch her in the ribs and stomach several times, as Kathryn bit down hard on her lip, tasting her own blood, but determined not to cry out in order to spare Chakotay and the others on the bridge from hearing her.

Bren seemed to tire of his game quickly when his victim didn't cry out and stood back now. He nodded towards the chair and turned away. The soldiers dropped Kathryn into the chair and laughed as she slumped back, her breathing erratic as she fought her pain. She saw Bren shake his head and turn back to her, studying her.

"No… this won't do." He moved behind the desk and pulled the other chair out. "Put her in this one. More suitable for what I need." He smiled slyly at Kathryn, hoping to see some fear from her but was disappointed. The soldiers pulled her up and forced her down into her own chair, laughing as she groaned in pain. "Much better. Doctor?"

The alien Doctor nodded slowly and stood up, bringing his black case with him. Kathryn swallowed quietly, forcing her fear down as he opened the case, showing an array of surgical instruments and what resembled old-fashioned syringes. She saw thin intravenous tubing and coils of wire, alongside containers of fluids. She watched as the alien doctor extracted the coils of wire and handed them to Bren.

"Now, Captain, I'll give you one last chance to give me those codes. I can assure you this will get extremely unpleasant if we move ahead…" He looked down at her, seeing a battle taking place on her face for a brief moment before she turned away from him.

"I've told you I'll destroy this ship before I give you anything." She turned her head back and stared at her captor, letting the steel in her eyes reinforce her words.

He merely shrugged. "Very well. Don't say I didn't give you a chance." He motioned to the two soldiers to hold Kathryn and stepped towards her. "Get that jacket off her…" Kathryn didn't fight them but she didn't cooperate either as the two men pulled her uniform jacket off. "And that…" Bren was enjoying his work and didn't hide the fact. Inflicting fear was food to him. The soldiers pulled Kathryn's polo neck off over her head, smearing the blood from her injuries over her face, and waited for further instructions. Bren looked at Kathryn in only her tank and smiled.

"Remove her boots and socks…" He waited until Kathryn had been divested of these items also and then smirked. "That's all right for the moment. Once I can get at her veins…" He laughed and uncoiled the wire he held. "Hold her in place…"

Kathryn grunted in pain and bit her lip as Bren wound the wire around her wrists and ankles, securing her to the arms and legs of the chair, the thin wire cutting into her skin, drawing blood. He moved behind her and wound some more around her throat, pulling her neck tightly against the back of the chair. Once more the wire cut painfully into her flash. Kathryn closed her eyes a moment, willing strength into herself, as she fought to control her breathing and her growing fear. She opened her eyes to find Bren grinning down at her.

"That's not bad at all. Not bad for a start anyway. Doctor…?" He smiled at the other man and stood back. Kathryn ground her teeth together as the doctor pressed needles into the veins on the back of her hands and attached some of the tubing to them. She drew in several deep breaths as he pulled a syringe of cloudy liquid from the case and pressed it against one of the tubes. He looked up at Bren, awaiting his order and Kathryn saw the alien leader nod.

She felt the cold of the liquid enter her hand and for a minute there was nothing. She calmed her breathing, hoping their drugs would perhaps not act with human physiology but that hope was quickly taken from her as she felt a surge of burning pain wash over her, spreading into every corner of her body. Despite her best efforts, she heard her own screams as if from a distance.

Chakotay's head shot up as Kathryn's screams echoed around the bridge. He looked around him quickly and saw his own pain reflected on the faces of the others, Tom barely holding himself in his seat, despite the weapon in his face. He heard a few sniggers from the soldiers and glared at them, causing them to laugh even more. As the screams slowly faded away, he dropped his head and fought to control himself. He'd be no use to her if he fell apart.

Kathryn's head rolled to the side, the wire cutting into her neck. A film of sweat covered her body as the pain slowly faded. She found she was panting, trying desperately to draw air into her lungs. She tried opening her eyes but her vision was blurred with tears and no matter how hard she blinked, the moisture returned, replacing what ran down her face. Muffled sounds slowly made their way to her now and she could make out the laughter of the soldiers around her. She felt a hand grab her hair and straighten her head and then Bren's face was before her.

"Did you enjoy that little journey, my dear?" He laughed again, the others joining him. "That was nothing compared to what you'll experience." He gave her a few minutes until she could focus on him again and then spoke to her.

"Let me tell you, Captain, what I plan to do with you." Kathryn fought to concentrate on his words. "The doctor has a drug here which would make you talk in seconds but I prefer a little pain first. Puts me in the mood, you could say." He watched her as she licked at her now dry lips and saw how breathless she still was.

"Are you going to tell me what I need to know?" Kathryn managed to turn her head away a little, unable to speak even if she'd wanted to. Bren stepped forward and grabbed her head again, forcing her to look at him. Kathryn grunted as the wire cut into her neck again and felt a trickle of blood run down her neck to her chest.

"I see. Very foolish, Captain, very foolish indeed." He stared hard at her for a moment. "You know, I would love for your crew to see you as you are but since that's impossible, I'll let them hear you instead." He laughed into her face and gave orders to the soldier beside him to establish a channel which would be relayed to the entire ship and to open it each time their prisoner screamed. He then moved back to Kathryn.

"Maybe it'll help motivate them if they have to listen to your screams long enough." He stood back now and nodded to the Aluki Doctor. When the alien medic was ready, Bren nodded to his men to open the channel and then spoke loudly.

"Attention, all Voyager crew. This is Lor Bren and I have a little message for you. I have your captain here who prefers not to co-operate with me. I'm taking steps to ensure that she changes her mind but first I'll have some fun with her. What you're about to hear is the audio of that encounter. Listen well to her screams, her weakness. I do hope you all enjoy the performance." He stood back now and nodded to the doctor.

B'Elanna felt her nails bite painfully into her palms at Bren's words and looked quickly to where Voyager's Doctor was hiding. He'd frightened the life out of her a few minutes previously when he appeared out of nowhere, causing her to drop the padds she carried. One of the guards had looked over, his attention drawn to her and she'd simply shrugged her shoulders, her body blocking any view of the Doctor.

"Hey, accidents happen all the time. You never drop anything?" She forced herself to smile at him and saw him return it, before turning away, his interest elsewhere now. B'Elanna had quickly picked up the dropped padds and turned her back to the soldier, feigning a study of the material before her, muttering to herself. She smiled a little, realizing how the habit of a lifetime which she'd exhibited earlier, was now proving useful. To the soldier, she appeared to be talking to herself once more, leaving her free to converse with the EMH.

"What the hell is going on…? B'Elanna continued moving her lips as she scanned the padds, listening as the Doctor filled her in on all he knew.

"Our first problem is finding out why our weapons are useless and theirs work perfectly well. From what I can gather, their weapons are similar to our phaser rifles."

B'Elanna laid the top padd on a console near her and studied another one. "It has to be some kind of dampening field that renders our weapons useless. The question is how do they get around that with theirs. Some kind of frequency perhaps…" The Doctor saw her thinking hard, her lips still moving. She turned her head slightly, apparently deep in thought as she tapped the padd against her hand. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Lor Crel and whispered quickly to the Doctor to take cover. Crel simply smiled over at her and she forced herself to return the gesture. At that precise moment, Kathryn's screams filled Engineering, causing everyone to stop where they were.

Naomi huddled tightly against her mother in the Cargo Bay as Samantha tried to cover her ears.
"Mama, make it stop…make them stop hurting her…please Mama…" Samantha fought to control her own emotions and looked around her quickly at the other crewmembers being held hostage with her. Their faces mirrored her own.

"Shh honey…it's not that bad. The captain will make it sound worse than it is to make them think they're hurting her more. It's an old captain's trick she told me about." She met the eyes of the Delaney sisters as they nodded their approval of the lie.

Jenny leaned over and rubbed Naomi's arm. "Hey kiddo…it's the truth. She told me that when I first came aboard. Even Tom Paris and Harry Kim know about that. Look over there. Even Neelix knows and he's not Starfleet…"

Neelix fought his own emotions and had a smile in place before Naomi looked up at him. "Oh, I remember the captain telling me about that one night. I'd just caught her in my kitchen…late, it was…and she was…" He slapped a hand over his mouth. "I shouldn't really say…"

Naomi seemed to gain interest now and as Kathryn's screams died away, she leaned over to her Godfather and managed a small smile. "What was she doing…?"

Neelix met Sam's eyes and smiled a little. "Well…she was…helping herself to some of my secret coffee stash and that's not too bad but…" He hesitated again.

"Uncle Neelix…"

He sighed and threw his hands up. "Oh, all right…but I never told you this. The captain will be mad at me." Naomi was down into the story now, her captain's screams almost forgotten. "Well, I'd baked this huge, enormous coffee cake. It was a surprise for the captain, but she found it." He shook his head and smiled, Naomi crawling closer to him now.

"Well, as I say, she found it, and Captain Janeway being Captain Janeway, she just couldn't resist it, the cake being coffee and all that…" Naomi was giggling at this stage and Sam smiled her thanks to him behind her daughter's back. "Now you understand that the captain didn't know this cake was for her and that's what makes this so naughty… Well, I came in to check on something and what do you think I saw?"

Naomi was tugging on his arm now. "Tell me…tell me…please Neelix…"

The Talaxian shook his head. "I walked in, turned on the light, and there's the captain, her hand to her mouth and between the two was the biggest slice of coffee cake you've ever seen…" Naomi's eyes were like saucers. "Icing and cream and crumbs…all over her face…on her hands…even down the front of her uniform…and then she saw me…"

Naomi was giggling now. "What did she do…? What did she do…?"

Neelix shook his head again. "Well, you can imagine how embarrassed she was, and she couldn't say anything because her mouth was full of cake, so all I got was 'Eelx urrr ott ennn ou' or something…"

Naomi was in peels of laughter now. "What does that mean?"

Neelix shrugged. "I never found out. I think the first bit was meant to be my name but the rest…and I know a few Delta Quad languages but I'd never heard that one…"

Naomi looked back at her mother, her giggles infectious now. "Can we ask her later?"

Sam shrugged. "Neelix isn't supposed to have told you that. If you ask the captain, don't you think as smart as she is, that she'll know where you got the story?"

Naomi turned back to her Godfather now. "So when did she tell you…?"

Neelix sighed and guarded it well. There was no getting anything past this child. "That was when she'd finished eating my cake and had managed to clean herself up a little. I got her more coffee and we talked for a while. That was when she told me. She said you always had to let your enemy think he was beating you so that you could win. Now honey, you know that works. You've played all those games your Uncle Tom taught you. I know for a fact that he taught you how to play poker and that's the same thing. Letting your opponent think you're losing and then…wham…got him…"

Naomi thought about this and finally seemed to accept it. "OK, Neelix, I think I understand. I want to ask her about the cake though…"

Neelix smiled and shook his head. "I'm sure she won't mind too much…"

As Naomi climbed back onto her mother's lap, Sam and Neelix locked eyes, both praying the child would get that chance.

Chakotay fought a bitter battle within himself as Kathryn's screams surrounded him, invading his heart and tearing it to pieces. It seemed to go on and on and he heard nothing else, not even the laughter of the soldiers around him. He felt more helpless and useless than he'd ever felt in his life and fought desperately with himself to control the tears he felt threatening, determined to show strength before these aliens. And through it all, he prayed harder than he ever had before.

Finally, the agonizing sounds faded and he dropped his head, willing his heart rate to slow. The screams were finished but their echo still reverberated in his mind and as he slowly looked up, he saw the faces of Tom and Harry, even Tuvok, reflect what he knew his own showed. They all knew the sound of their captain's agonized screams would stay with them and haunt them for a long time.

B'Elanna leaned back against a bulkhead and fought to keep her emotions hidden from the soldiers around her. She'd seen the look of pain and hurt on the face of the Doctor, despite being a hologram, as their captain's screams rang out around Engineering. As they died away, the young Klingon saw Crel approach her and muttered to the Doctor to hide.

Crel's face was serious as he approached B'Elanna and stopped in front of her to study her reaction to what they'd all just heard. "If you don't care, why should that bother you so much?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "Because I'm not that much of a bitch that I enjoy hearing someone suffer. Maybe you can enjoy that, but I can't. I don't enjoy suffering and I never will. I've seen too much of it in my time…" She met his eyes and saw him nod.

"Sorry. I'm not totally immune to it myself. However, it's probably necessary if Bren needs something from her...but still…"

B'Elanna thought she detected some pity from the alien before her but shook her head and moved away.
"This Lor Bren of yours is obviously immune to it. In fact, I'd say he most likely enjoys it. Is this what we can all expect from you? Are you going to beat and torture us all? There's even a child on board. Maybe you'd enjoy hurting her." She glared at the alien soldier and saw shock on his face.

"Is that really what you think of us? Do you think we're that uncivilized?"

B'Elanna shook her head, allowing a cynical laugh to pass her lips. She waved her hand in the air.
"What do you call that? Can you really believe it's civilized to treat another living being like that and inflict that kind of pain on them?"

Crel frowned and moved towards her. "You have no understanding of us…know nothing of how desperate we are." He pressed his lips tightly shut, suddenly aware of what he was saying.

B'Elanna used the opening though and went for it. Forcing herself to appear a little sympathetic, she softened her voice and expression. "You're right. I don't know. Why don't you enlighten me and help me understand?"

Crel silently studied her for several minutes and then sighed deeply. "Our world was beautiful before the attack." His eyes took on a momentary faraway look, memories obviously filling his mind. He shook himself and continued.

"They poisoned our planet, the Hanns. They came and blew it to pieces, poisoned the air and the soil, forced us all underground, took everything of use. Luckily some of our ships were hangered underground so we can at least leave the surface and hunt." He looked at B'Elanna and saw some understanding but also some anger.

"You hunt…and what? We're your prey?"

He shook his head. "It's not like that. Your technology is what we're after. With that we can improve our living conditions, trade with it for what else we need." His eyes were desperate. "The surface of our planet is… It's impossible to be there…the soil useless… We can't grow our food or drink the water…"

B'Elanna nodded her head in understanding. "How do you manage for water and food now?"

Crel shrugged. "There are several underground springs. The water is drinkable from them. It's not completely free of contamination but it's all right. We manage to replicate some of the food we need and trade for the rest." He smiled a little at her. "Oh, we were technologically advanced enough. We're much like you in that. Our supplies and power sources are running out though. We need to be on the surface to live but that's impossible and so…" He shook his head. "And so, we reverted to this…the way our ancestors would have lived…uncivilized…"

B'Elanna gave him a few minutes to settle his emotions. "What were the weapons these 'Hanns' used…?"

Crel seemed startled by her words and jumped slightly. He blinked a moment and then thought. "I'm unsure…some gas… That was never my area. I was a simple farmer… metalworker also…"

B'Elanna nodded. "Have you a family?" She regretted the question as soon as she saw the pained look on the face before her.

Crel nodded slowly. "I had…before this…a wife…two young sons…"

B'Elanna reached out a hand and laid it on his arm. "I'm sorry…" She remained quiet for several moments and then took a chance.

"Crel…maybe you're going about this the wrong way." His head snapped up and he stared at her. B'Elanna smiled and motioned for him to follow her then walked away. "Come with me…let's talk…"

Kathryn fought to drag whatever air she could into her lungs, which felt as if they were on fire in her chest. Her vision was blurred and there was a loud buzzing sound in her ears. Pain washed over her in waves as she struggled to breath, leaving her unaware of the blood which ran from her wrists, ankles and neck as her body strained against the wire tying her to the chair. Her throat burned from her screaming, the sound of which seemed far away to her. She vaguely felt Bren's hand in her hair, pulling her head up.

"Come on, Captain. We can't have you letting go too quickly on us now, can we?" His words filtered through to Kathryn's mind in fragments and she struggled to make sense of them. She slowly managed to open her eyes and stared at the alien before her, trying to clear her vision enough to see him. Stray thoughts rushed across her mind, Bren's face changing to that of a Cardassian for a moment and then back to his own.

Kathryn shook her head, now feeling the wire cutting into her, the pain of the action clearing her thinking a little. "You're not…not Cardassian… I thought…" She fought to keep her eyes open. "Where…am I? Who are…?" Her mind raced as she tried her best to focus her thoughts.

Bren shook his head. "Doctor, bring her back a bit. She's slipping too far. Having her in this state is useless to me." The alien doctor nodded and administered another drug into the tubing in the back of Kathryn's other hand. Almost immediately, she felt her body cooling a little and the pain eased somewhat.

The doctor looked up at his commanding officer. "Please understand… I have no way of knowing the correct doses with her race, even what these drugs will do to her."

Bren laughed. "I don't care what they do to her, not as long as I get what I need. She can die in agony for all I care when I get those codes from her…" He looked up and saw the shocked expression on the face of the doctor. "What?"

The alien medic shook his head. "Helping you like this is one thing. I don't want any part in killing her."

Bren studied the man before him a moment and then spit his words out. "You've just signed your death warrant, doctor. How dare you speak to me in that manner or offer your opinion in this way, especially in front of my men." He looked to the two soldiers with them and saw that he still appeared to have their respect. He looked at their faces more closely then and realized that the respect he saw there was more akin to fear. He shrugged his shoulders and carried on.

"Give her one more dose. Let her scream again, then we try the other drugs." His eyes bored into the medic, daring him to object. Sighing deeply, the man complied. Once more, Kathryn's screams filled the ship as her body burned.

Voyager's EMH wasted no time in taking action. He carefully mapped the ship and the location of the Aluki soldiers. Ten of them still guarded the doors of the Cargo Bay and another ten guarded Engineering from the inside. Internal scanners, still operating, informed him that ten more were on the bridge and in the captain's ready room, while the remaining ten were spread between the outside of Engineering and patrolling the ship on the off-chance that some crewmember might have escaped detection. He downloaded all the information he had unto padds and managed to mask the transport as he beamed them to the crew being held in the Cargo Bay. They'd need all the information they could get when their chance came. He then set about his next task.

Voyager's Doctor now smiled down at the Aluki soldier who lay on the biobed in the closed off surgical bay. The man was unconscious, as a result of the blow to the head he'd received, courtesy of a hypo spanner connecting with the base of his neck, and would remain that way for as long as the Medic wished it. The Doctor scanned the man before him now and nodded to himself. Working out the correct doses, he filled a hypo and pressed it to the man's neck then waited.

Chakotay stared down at the palms of his hands, watching the blood there from where his nails had cut into the skin. Kathryn's screams had died away a moment ago but they continued to echo inside his head and he knew they'd haunt him for a long time.

The soldiers guarding them weren't laughing as much now and Chakotay thought he detected a faint hint of respect for the woman whose screams of pure agony filled the bridge.

"Hang on, Kathryn. Please don't let go. Don't give in." He prayed silently and willed his thoughts to the woman on the other side of the door.

The Doctor sighed to himself and pressed another hypo to the neck of the alien lying before him, rendering the man unconscious once more. Most of the information he'd managed to extract from this soldier, matched what B'Elanna had learned, although the medic had no way to know that. He had, however, also managed to gain some knowledge of how their dampening field worked, learning that it could be deactivated only from their cloaked ship.

Stowing the alien's unconscious body in a locker, the Doctor set about beaming phasers to the crew in the Cargo Bay who were unarmed, masking every move he made, and then transported himself to them. He found them studying all the information he'd passed to them.

"OK, I take it you've been over all this? Has everyone got a phaser?" Several heads nodded at him. "Good. I need to speak with Ms. Torres first and then I'm going to try and transport to their ship. I can learn a lot there. When the time is right, hopefully I'll have shut down this dampening field, and then I'll get back here and get you out. After that, it's up to you to retake this ship." No one asked any questions and the Doctor smiled and nodded before leaving them again.

B'Elanna stood quietly and absorbed all Crel had told her. She saw him watching her closely.

"Does any of this make sense to you?" He'd accessed his ship's computer system to get the information she needed, leaving the Engineer with the opportunity to learn some of their access codes.

"Actually, it does. It makes a lot of sense and I believe there's something you…something we could do to help. Will you give me a chance to work at this?"

Crel stared at her. "What are you saying? Can you honestly do something about this? Our best minds have worked at this for a long time and never found a way."

B'Elanna shrugged. "Maybe they just weren't looking in the right places or perhaps we've just learned more over the years. Let's face it, we've far more experience of this Quadrant than you have. We've travelled though enough of it, encountered races and technology your people would never have heard of." She smiled now, showing she meant no offence. "Crel, I mean no disrespect or offence with my words. It's just that our unique situation has allowed us to learn so much more."

Crel smiled his understanding. "I know that. If there was something you could do…" His voice trailed off a moment. "If you could see the children and how badly affected they are…" He pulled himself back from the images which filled his mind. "What could you do…?"

B'Elanna thought quickly. "I need to analyse more data, work out the makeup of the gas which was used… then we can…" Crel watched as her face reflected the activity of her mind. "We need to work on finding something that will neutralize that gas, clean the atmosphere, take care of what's in the soil and water…" She licked her lips, her mind racing. "We could explode the neutralizer in the atmosphere and let it drift down…" She saw the hope on the face of the alien before her.

"Crel… our captain is the one with the expertise in this area. Without her…" She let her words sink in and saw that he understood.

"I'll see what I can do…speak with Bren…" Without another word, he turned and left Engineering.

Kathryn's world consisted of nothing but burning agony. Her body felt as if it was swimming in a sea of flames. Vague images and words filtered across her mind, none of them staying long enough for her to make any sense of them. At this moment in time, even her own name eluded her.

Bren turned away disgusted as he watched his prisoner, her eyes unfocused and whispers of meaningless words passing her lips, knowing they'd gone too far and that anything she said now would be useless.

"Try and bring her back a bit. She's useless to me like this." He roared his words at the doctor. "Try and get the dose right this time or you'll pay with your life." He glanced up and saw the faces of his men, and thought he saw traces of pity there. As soon as they realized their leader was watching them, they hardened their faces quickly.

The alien doctor quickly injected Kathryn, praying to himself that her body could take more drugs. Within minutes he saw a reaction and let out the breath he found he'd been holding.

Kathryn slowly came back a little, but her eyes were still glazed and unfocused. She tried to speak but still only unintelligible whispers escaped her lips. She fought the fog in her brain as she tried to focus on her surroundings. "Where… why can't…?" Her head lolled to the side before Bren grabbed her hair and forced her to look towards him. "Daddy…?"

Bren frowned. "Why isn't she coming back? She should be making more sense."

The doctor shrugged helplessly. "I don't know how her species works. I can't know what her body is capable of enduring."

Bren spit out a laugh. "More than you thought. She's still alive, isn't she?" He ignored the hard look the medic gave him. "Give her another dose. I need her clear headed." His eyes bored into the doctor's, daring him to disobey. The doctor finally nodded his consent and injected Kathryn again.

This time, the drug seemed to work better and Kathryn managed to focus her eyes a bit more. Bren leaned down into her face. "Can you understand me now, Captain? Am I getting through to you this time?"

Kathryn fought to control her breathing and tried to get her thoughts to order themselves. "Won't tell you… never tell…" She tried to turn her head away but his hand in her hair wouldn't allow for the movement.

"I've sent you to the fires and back, Captain. I admire your guts. This next drug, however, will make you talk. You'll sell your 'Daddy' when I'm through with you."

Mention of her father triggered something in Kathryn. She briefly worried about what she'd spoken of at the height of her agony but forced the thought away. "Go to hell…" She tried to spit the words out but they were a whisper to her ears.

Bren just laughed in her face. "We'll see, Captain. I've tortured your body… Now it's time for your mind." He nodded to the doctor beside him, the tone of his voice leaving no room for argument. "Give her the other drug. Let's see how she copes when the demons come for her…"

Despite expecting him, B'Elanna still jumped when the Doctor appeared before her. "Can't you give me some warning before you do that?"

The Medic shook his head. "I have important information for you." He went on to outline everything he'd learned, ending with how he'd passed on everything to the hostage crew and beamed in phasers to them. B'Elanna nodded and filled him in on what she'd learned.

"Will they buy that?"

B'Elanna shrugged. "I don't know. Everything I told him is based in fact and I find myself wanting to help them if we can, despite what they've put us through." She shook her head at the look on the hologram's face. "Crel and the others are only following orders. They're driven by desperation. Bren is the one who seems to have lost the plot…"

The Doctor shook his head slowly. "Maybe, but even as a hologram I can't get the captain's screams out of my memory." B'Elanna looked away from his gaze, her face betraying her own pain. The Doctor knew she wouldn't forget very easily either. None of them would.

Chakotay watched the soldiers guarding them and saw how their entire demeanour had changed. The constant screams filling the ship had affected them all, even the loyal soldiers on the bridge. Chakotay saw the pain on the faces of Tom and Harry and the other bridge crew and couldn't believe the emotions he saw on the face of Tuvok, no matter how well he tried to mask them. He'd heard the difference, along with the others, in the screams which surrounded them now. Kathryn's screams were now of terror as well as agony and he found himself praying harder than ever before.

He closed his eyes a moment, trying to draw on some inner strength. And then the silence returned, bringing fear again, and he felt now that the silence was almost as bad as the screams. When Kathryn screamed, he burned inside with pain but at least he knew she was still alive, despite the suffering he knew she was going through. When it stopped, he prayed her pain was gone for the moment, but not knowing if she was still alive, ate at him. His heart and mind overflowed with pain, alongside the conflict.

"Can we do it, Lieutenant?" The Doctor stared hard at B'Elanna as she forced herself to think straight.

"Doc… It can be done and maybe it would help, but I also want to see how far Crel gets with Bren. He's going to talk to him and put our idea to him."

The Medic nodded slowly. "But in the meantime, if I head over there, we could at least have the information we need."

B'Elanna thought quickly. "All right, I can get you there. I have the co-ordinates from when Crel contacted his ship and accessed their computer. I've given you the access codes I managed to see and I can mask the transport, but I can only give you a few minutes. We're being watched too closely."


Some part of Kathryn's mind longed for the fire to return, rather than face the mental agony she was enduring now. Images and horrors beyond anything stormed her mind, mentally assaulting her. Terrors she'd lived through and imagined horrors rushed at her, crowding her senses. Creatures crawled from the walls and advanced on her, slimy bodies with bulging eyes, fangs dripping with venom, as they slithered over her, biting at her. She vaguely heard her own cries and screams as the nightmare continued, some of the images blurring with memories of her own, the creatures attacking those she loved as they stood before her, screaming at her to help them, to stop the torture.

Chakotay's face came to her, flames erupting from his skin, as he begged her to help him, to end his pain. Her mother and father, her sister, all those she'd ever cared for, came and begged her to stop the agony. She relived the deaths of her father and Justin, finding herself in the shuttle with them. She saw her crew, those alive now, consumed in flames, pleading with her to save them. She saw those who'd died, writhing in the fires of hell, screaming at her, cursing her for killing them.

And then it eased, bit by bit, leaving Kathryn broken, both mentally and physically. As the images faded, they left in their place, a woman who would most likely never be the same again. Words fell from her lips, with meanings alien to her. She recognized them as words, vaguely knew their meaning, but they made little sense. She struggled with the last of her strength to stop them, some ingrained trace of her training still with her not to give in, some last vestige of self, determined to hold onto something, but with it came the knowledge that she would probably fail.

B'Elanna didn't jump this time when the Doctor appeared beside her. She saw him look at her, concern on his features as he witnessed the pain on her face and the tears in her eyes. "Again?" He didn't need to say anymore.

B'Elanna managed to nod. "The worst yet…" Her words caught in her throat and she swallowed deeply. "I can't take much more of this…"

The Doctor nodded his sympathy. "You won't have to." He handed her a padd. "You were right about the dampening field being controlled by a frequency. It's all on here. You'll be able to shut it down from here with what I set up over there but I failed to find a way to disable their weapons. We'll have to fight them but we easily outnumber them." He saw the Engineer nod her understanding. "I'll take care of the doors to the Cargo Bay and tell the crew to get ready…" B'Elanna scanned the information she held and nodded. "Any word from Crel?"

She looked up now and shook her head. "Nothing…I had hoped that…" She bit her lip. "I'll get onto this immediately."

Crel stormed down the corridor towards Engineering. He couldn't believe how his Commanding Officer had dismissed him so quickly, especially in front of his subordinates. The leader had refused to listen past the first few sentences, dismissing all the information he'd been brought.

Crel stopped a moment now, trying to clear his mind of the images it held. The sight of the woman, Voyager's captain, ate away at him. He shook his head a little, as if he could dislodge the memory and marvelled that she was still alive. He knew what Bren had done to her, saw the results, knew only too well what the drugs did, had heard her screams along with everyone else.

Making a decision now, one that went against his training but not his morality, he turned and retraced his steps. He would stop this now, take the chance the young Engineer had offered and maybe then, he might be able to sleep at night, without the image and sounds of the broken captain haunting him to the end of his days.

Events moved quickly after that. B'Elanna managed to disable the dampening field and together with her engineering crew, they quickly took back what had been taken from them, easily overpowering their guards with the element of surprise, but not before some damage had been done to the ship.

She quickly sent a signal to the Doctor and saw from the internal sensors which still worked, that the doors to the Cargo Bay had been opened, allowing her fellow crewmembers to fight back at last. Within minutes, word reached her that the ship had been retaken, with the exception of the bridge.

The doors to Engineering now opened and several crew entered, reporting to B'Elanna as the most senior officer available to them. "We only stunned them…locked them in the Cargo Bay. There was also a soldier sedated and locked in sickbay but we got him too." B'Elanna nodded to the young Ensign who was reporting to her as she watched the aliens who'd guarded her and her crew being taken away.

"What else…?"

He swallowed quietly. "We sustained a few injuries. Nothing serious, thank God. And no fatalities…but transporters are down now and…" He hesitated a moment. "I have to report that the Doctor was…damaged. He's off line…" B'Elanna knew the worried look on her face was a reflection of the one before her. "Lieutenant, he's offline…and the Captain…"

B'Elanna forced her emotions down. "Get working on him now. Top priority. What about the bridge?"

The Ensign shook his head. "They still hold it…"

B'Elanna nodded. "Where's Crel? He was second in command."

The young man sighed. "We put them all in the Cargo Bay and secured their weapons. I think they were…"

B'Elanna studied the young man. "Just say it, Ensign…"

He nodded. "Some of us got the impression they were about to surrender. I know that sounds strange…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "Maybe not as strange as you might think…" She thought a moment. "First priority is the Doctor…then transporters. I'll be back…just get on it…"

The young man was already moving away.

B'Elanna stood in the centre of the Cargo Bay, an armed guard with her. She looked down at the slumped figure of Crel on the floor at her feet. He came around slowly, and saw B'Elanna standing there, a hypo in her hand. "I need your help now. I took a chance that this drug would work and bring you around." She held up her hand, showing him the hypo.

Crel sat up slowly, holding his head, his headache obvious as he nodded his understanding. He looked around at the unconscious pile of bodies surrounding him and appeared shocked.

"They're only stunned. We're not like that."

He met B'Elanna's eyes and nodded. "I know that. I was trying to get them to listen to me. They were listening… before…" He slowly stood, using the wall as support.

B'Elanna shrugged. "We had to take the chance when it came." She saw he accepted her words.

"What do you need me for?"

B'Elanna moved towards him. "The bridge…they'll listen to you. We have to get to the captain…if it's not already too late…" She cut her words off, not even wanting to think about the possibility.

Crel nodded and pushed away from the wall. "Bren was in a side room with her…two men and our doctor with him. The others were on the bridge but they'll have heard…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "I cut all sensors to the bridge before we started."

Crel smiled softly. "Very good, Lieutenant. I didn't give you as much credit as I should have." He moved slowly. "Let's go then…"

B'Elanna nodded and stood back to let him walk ahead of her. She wasn't going to let her guard slip now.

Chakotay was sitting with his head in his hands, helplessness washing over him. Kathryn's screams had stopped some time ago, making him even more afraid for her. The change in her screams terrified him. He knew her earlier screams had been of pain but fear of what had caused those same screams to become ones of terror ate away at him. He raised his head now as he heard the lift doors opening and saw the alien he knew from before, step from the lift.

"Lower your weapons now. That's a direct order." Chakotay stared at the man and then looked around at the confused faces of the other soldiers. When the order was repeated, they finally complied.

As soon as the weapons had been lowered, Crel turned and nodded to some unseen person behind him. A second later, B'Elanna emerged from the lift with a security detail who pointed their own weapons at the soldiers before them. Chakotay didn't need to see any more. He jumped up and along with the other bridge crew, disarmed the men, surrounding them in seconds. Tuvok immediately took control of his own security team as Chakotay looked to B'Elanna now. "How did…?"

B'Elanna tried a smile and failed, her eyes on the door to the ready room. "I'll tell you later. The captain…?" She looked at Chakotay and saw the pain on the face of her old friend.

"I don't know. It's been quiet…" His words were cut off by the sound of the doors to the ready room opening.

Kathryn was fighting with the last of her strength to control her thoughts. Bren was still leaning over her, spitting questions at her. She found herself about to answer him, her mind outside of her control and then she'd struggle again, fighting to the end to deny this alien what he wanted from her.

His words invaded her mind, breaking down the last of her defences along with the drugs. She tried to summon Chakotay's face, desperately using the image to draw a little more strength to the rapidly waning courage she felt leaving her. She fought to use techniques half forgotten, to rebuild some wall in her mind, anything to hold him out a little longer. She saw him lean back now, before his fist connected with her face.

"You'll talk, Captain. Before I'm finished with you, you'll beg to talk to me. Come on, tell me the truth. Free yourself of all this." He moved over to the desk now and reached inside the black case. He came back into Kathryn's line of vision then, brandishing a knife.

"You'll talk or find this spearing that weak body of yours…" He looked up sharply as the doctor moved to him. "Don't even consider that move, medic. I could take you down before it even registered with you, now get out." He stared coldly at the man before him. "I said get out. I don't need you anymore. You were useless to me." He turned to the two soldiers on his other side. "You two also…leave us." Without waiting to see if his order would be obeyed, he turned back to the woman tied down before him. He laughed now.

"You're only a shell now, Captain. All that fine posturing of yours wasted. See how weak you are now?" He leaned over her again. "You're so weak, Captain, a puny female with nothing left to hold yourself together. You can't even control your own body." His words filtered through to Kathryn slowly. "Look at yourself, a quivering wreck. No control." He pushed the handle of the knife between her legs. "You couldn't even control your own bodily functions. Look at yourself."

Kathryn tried to shut out his words, knowing what he meant. Shame slammed into her and she knew her humiliation showed when she heard his laugh. The fact that she'd wet herself in the throes of her agony delighted him. She felt him grab her face now, making her look at him. His hand almost slipped across her skin in the film of sweat and blood which covered her face and entire body. She vaguely felt her nose bleed as she tried to draw in a breath and focus her vision on the beast before her.

"You weak little creature. Let me add to your pain." Without warning, he pushed the knife deeply into Kathryn's side. She grunted, her body tensing as she felt the cold metal pierce her skin and sink into her. Too weak now to scream anymore, she gasped loudly as she fought to breath, the air seemingly caught in her chest, as fresh pain washed over her. She felt her body jerk against the wire and grunted loudly again as he wrenched the knife from her body. It would be the last thing he did.

The alien doctor and the two soldiers entered the bridge, their shock showing for just a moment, before they were disarmed. Chakotay made for the door, B'Elanna at his side. He quickly took in the scene before him, as time stood still. Before he knew what had happened, Bren had turned and Chakotay watched now as a beam of light hit the man with the blade, sending him to his knees, the bloodied knife falling from his hands.

Chakotay spun around and saw that Crel had disarmed one of Tuvok's security officers before aiming the weapon at his leader and firing. He now handed the phaser back, his eyes empty.

"It was a kindness. No man should become what he became." He watched as his commanding officer fell forward, the last breath leaving his body.

Tuvok took over quickly, B'Elanna alongside him. Chakotay stood for a second, his body and mind turned to stone at the sight before him. He found himself moving forward then, falling to his knees before Kathryn. Suddenly all his training and instinct took over.

"Get the Doc now…transport us to sickbay…" He reached out tenderly and stroked Kathryn's face, holding her head back, his eyes taking in all her injuries, along with the needles and tubing which had been inserted into the veins of her hands. He saw the wire cutting deeply into her wrists and neck, even her ankles and the blood that flowed from the cuts but was afraid to try and loosen it. Pain swept over him then as he saw how she'd wet herself and he prayed she wasn't aware of it, knowing how proud a woman she was. He fought to swallow the tide of anger that swept over him, knowing his captain needed his support and calmness more now. He then saw the stab wound and quickly pressed his hand over it, trying desperately to stem the flow of blood. Kathryn moaned in agony.

"Hush, Kathryn…it's all right…it's over…" He turned away a moment. "B'Elanna, hurry…"

He saw her tears as she shook her head. "He was damaged…the Doc… Transporters are off too. We're working as fast as we can." She saw the terror and pain in his eyes. "It'll be a few more minutes, Chakotay. I promise we'll get him back…I…"

Chakotay turned away. "Do it now…" He leaned over Kathryn, whispering quietly to her. "It's OK…you'll be fine…we'll have you in sickbay in a minute…"

B'Elanna and Tuvok backed away, the Engineer now running to the nearest console to try and work a miracle.

Chakotay looked up a second and saw that he was alone with Kathryn. He looked back then and met her eyes. She tried to focus on his face and even tried to smile at him but he saw how much pain she was in, her face so pale, as if all the blood had drained from it. The whiteness of her skin stood out in stark contrast to the blood which smeared her face and beads of sweat stood out on her skin.


He shook his head. "Don't try and talk, Kathryn. Save your strength." He pressed harder against her side, feeling her blood warm and sticky over his hand. She groaned again.

"I'm sorry…I'm sorry…it'll be all right…" He fought his emotions to be strong for her.

"Didn't tell…don't think…tried…" He tried to hush her, telling her she needed to stay quiet but she didn't seem to hear him. "Afraid…tried not to…to scream…didn't want you to hear…sorry…failed…"

Chakotay fought his tears and emotions, knowing she needed his strength now. "Kathryn, you didn't fail. You beat him. He's dead. We have the ship back. Please, Kathryn…don't talk. Doc will be here in a minute. You'll be fine." He saw her try to keep her eyes open. "Kathryn, stay with me now…come on…" He watched her struggle.

"Let…let you…all down…"

He saw her fight for each breath and knew the pain it caused her. He blinked quickly, trying to clear the moisture from his eyes. His hand stroked her face, trying to comfort her in any way.

"Never…never, Kathryn. You didn't fail us and you've never let us down. You couldn't. I promise you that. It's all right now…" He strained to hear her as soft sounds filtered past her lips, words alien to him and he worried that she was hallucinating from the drugs. "Kathryn…please…try and save your strength. Don't try to talk. Rest, love…" He watched her try to understand his words and fight to hold her eyes on his face.

"Pain…fire…couldn't take…images…monsters…so afraid…on fire…" Chakotay swallowed deeply, trying desperately to control himself.

"It's over now. He's gone. It's all gone. You'll be fine. I promise you…" He prayed she understood his words as she continued to whisper softly. Then she seemed to try harder, more desperate now to try and speak.

"Chak…tell you…" He tried to quieten her again but she pushed her words out. "Please…have to…" Her pain was consuming her and he saw it. He tried to manage a smile for her, anything to reassure her and saw her fight to focus her eyes on his face once more.

"Kathryn please…save your strength. You can tell me later…"

She shook her head slightly, the wire cutting in deeper. "Too late then…please…" She continued to fight for each breath, and he knew she saw the pain on his face. "Get them home…and you…"

Chakotay let his tears fall. "Don't you dare talk like that…don't you dare let go or say your goodbyes…" He stared into her eyes, seeing her soul almost as tears slipped down her face, mixing with the blood and sweat already there.

"Please…let me…" She tried to block a cough and failed, bringing up some blood with it.

Chakotay fought his rising panic. "Kathryn…please…just hold on…" He continued to stroke her face, wiping away her tears and blood as he pressed harder on the wound in her side.

"No…tell you…wasted too much time…please…I love you…never told you…" The few words exhausted her.

A sob broke from Chakotay. "Kathryn…hang on…" He watched as she fought to stay with him and saw her fail. More words he didn't understand whispered past her lips as she lost her focus, her eyes glazed as they sought something they couldn't find and then they closed as her head fell against his hand. "No…Kathryn…no…stay with me…" He held her head back, tears pouring down his face. "Oh God, Kathryn, I love you too…please hear me…" She murmured something he couldn't hear and he prayed she'd heard him.

Within minutes which felt like hours, the Doctor appeared. It took Chakotay a moment to register his presence beside them. "Commander, keep your hand there…" The Medic was scanning his Captain, taking in the entire scene before him at once. "The stab wound is deep. Keep the pressure on it."

Chakotay forced his mind to work. "I was afraid to move her or even try…the wire…"

The Doctor nodded and shouted for B'Elanna. "Ms. Torres…get in here now…."

The next minutes were a blur to Chakotay. He watched as the Doctor worked over Kathryn, B'Elanna gently cutting the wires which bound her, leaving part of them still embedded in her flesh.

"I'll remove those in sickbay, along with the needles and tubing."

Chakotay and B'Elanna both heard the contempt in the Doctor's voice. "Getting her there now and treating that knife wound is my first concern…and the drugs in her system…." He didn't continue.

Finally the Doctor nodded to Chakotay to lift Kathryn from the chair. He gently slid her into his arms, trying to keep his hand pressed over the wound in her side and within seconds felt the tingle of the transporter beam take them. He laid her on the nearest biobed then stood back and watched, helpless again, as the Doctor went to work. He was aware of B'Elanna's hand on his arm, leading him away and pulled against her.

"She's going into surgery, Chakotay. You need to sit down before you fall down." He looked around at her as if he'd never seen her before. His eyes then fell to his hands, Kathryn's blood covering them. He looked up again, his hands still outstretched, as he watched Tom and the Doctor move Kathryn to the surgical bay.

"Fight it, Kathryn. Don't give up now. Don't leave me…" His words were a faint whisper but B'Elanna heard them. She gently pulled at him, leading him to the nearest chair.

"Chakotay, she's a real fighter. I don't have to tell you that. She'll get through this…" Her words fell on deaf ears.

Needing to do something, B'Elanna set about washing her Captain's blood from Chakotay's hands, even though he seemed unaware of her actions. He sat like a child being tended by its mother, his eyes boring through the door to the surgical unit. Suddenly then, he was aware of Tuvok standing beside him and something stirred in him.

"We don't know…she's in there…" His eyes filled with tears as he looked up at the Vulcan.

Tuvok merely nodded. "Captain Janeway will pull through this." Chakotay nodded, desperately needing the reassurance, his eyes returning to their previous vigil. "Commander, I need to report to you…" Chakotay stirred a little more now, his mind snapping back into some kind of order. It came to him that Kathryn wouldn't want him as he was, that she'd want him to take care of the ship for her and so he forced his mind to concentrate.

"Tuvok, I'm sorry. I'm not thinking straight…" He saw that the Vulcan understood. "What's our situation?"

Tuvok seemed more at ease now to be dealing with business. "Bren is dead. He died instantly. Crel managed to set the phaser he took to kill before firing it." He hesitated. "I apologize for the lapse and carelessness of my Officer. I'll have a full report for you later."

Chakotay shook his head, a hate in his eyes he didn't try to disguise. "It's not that important to me. I can't exactly mourn that bastard…"

Tuvok nodded his understanding. "Not one member of this crew will, Commander." He paused a moment before continuing. "I can report that all of Crel's men are still locked down in the Cargo Bay. Most are reporting minor pain but nothing which can't be treated. Their own doctor is already dealing with them. Crel has been in contact with their ship, which has now de-cloaked and they stood down and surrendered also. I have a team over there guarding the two pilots we left onboard." He continued with his report, filling his First Officer in on all that had occurred since they'd been boarded and how the ship had been taken back, including the major part the Doctor played, B'Elanna having already made her report. He now took a moment to sort his next words and then told Chakotay about the conversation B'Elanna had had with Crel and the history of these Aluki. Chakotay took it all in slowly.

"We should help them after this?" As soon as the words were out, he regretted them. "Sorry, that wasn't… I know what Kathryn would do…will do…" He rubbed at his face, suddenly noticing that his hands were clean now and then remembered B'Elanna washing them. He smiled a little. "OK, Tuvok, get onto repairs and then find out everything you can about the Aluki situation. Talk to B'Elanna and get all the facts. I won't make any decision before we have that. Then you call a meeting and we discuss this. I want your report and your gut instinct on this, and before you say it, I know you have one." He looked up and met Tuvok's eyes, a silent understanding passing between them. Tuvok now nodded and left.

For the next two hours, Chakotay refused to leave sickbay, dealing with all ships business from there. Anything that was needed from him, went through Tuvok or B'Elanna, the crew knowing that Voyager's First Officer needed to be close to his captain now. The feelings he held for her were no secret to the crew and they constantly waited to see something come from them. They were always disappointed.

Chakotay stood up quickly now as he saw the Doctor emerge from the surgical bay. Before his first word was out, the Medic held up a hand and nodded towards his office. Chakotay didn't miss Kathryn's blood covering the gloves and gown the hologram wore.

Once the Doctor had discarded his bloodied surgical gear, he entered his office and sat opposite Chakotay. His face gave nothing away.

"Doc, please…"

The Doctor nodded. "The stab wound was quite deep and did some considerable damage. It caused massive internal haemorrhaging and punctured her lung, which I've managed to take care of. She lost a lot of blood, internally and from the external wounds but I'm replacing that." He smiled slightly now and gave Chakotay some hope.

"Commander, I have great hopes that she will make a full recovery from this. There was serious damage also from the numerous drugs she was injected with, and they also caused damage to her internal organs. A great strain was put on her heart from all this." The Medic paused a moment.

"I can't tell what the drugs were exactly. I analysed the contents of the remaining phials which were left in the ready room so I know a little. I believe one of them was used to cause physical pain. The captain would have…" He measured his words as carefully as he could but saw that the man before him wanted only the truth. "It would have been like being immersed in fire… I'm sorry…" Chakotay stood up and turned away, trying to control the pain that washed over him.

"Commander, please. I know this is hard…" Chakotay turned back and nodded, taking his seat again.

"The second drug was, I believe, used to cause… It was a mind-altering drug from what I can see. It was used to induce horrors…things unreal except in the mind. I believe it also works as a form of truth serum." Chakotay held the Doctor's eyes a moment and then dropped his head. When he looked up again, his face was filled with pain.

"Will she recover? I know you said…but…" He choked up quickly.

The Medic nodded. "Physically she will, I'm certain of that. There were also some other, mainly minor, injuries…the cut on her neck…and others from I believe a beating…two ribs broken…her nose…a small fracture on her jaw… The cuts from the wire which were quite deep, needed more care. They had eaten into her flesh…" He rearranged the padds on his desk. "What I can't speak to is the damage this will have on her emotionally. That… He set out to break her, physically and mentally. He failed physically. I can't speak to the mental and emotional fallout from this. Only time will tell."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "Would she have known what she was saying? I mean with the drugs… Would she have…?"

The Doctor frowned. "Are you worried she might have revealed confidential…?"

Chakotay cut him off. "No…no… I mean…" He ran a hand through his hair. "She said some things… to me…when I was with her…"

The Doctor nodded his understanding then shook his head. "Commander, I can't say. Her condition was… Look, you saw her… what they did… She'd suffered unimaginable pain and horrors." The Doctor paused, instantly regretting his honesty, then continued. "She suffered severe blood loss and the effects of the drugs on her body and mind… I don't believe she understood towards the end…at least I hope she didn't. I mean, she was in shock… However, I'm sure you were a great comfort to her… that she knew you were with her…."

Chakotay closed his eyes. Part of him wanted to believe she'd known what she was saying when she told him she loved him but he had to accept now that it was the drugs and her physical and emotional state speaking, that she'd just been clinging to something, unaware of what she was saying or who she was saying it to. Perhaps it was just the drugs and the effects of them on her mind, causing it to wander. He looked back up at the Medic now. "Can I see her?"

The Doctor nodded and smiled. "She'll be unconscious for some time but you can sit with her for a while."

Chakotay nodded and stood, suddenly feeling twenty years older than he had that morning. "Thanks…for everything you did…this…before…you know… Thanks…" He forced a weary ghost of a smile for the Doctor and left.


Kathryn remained unconscious for the next few days. Chakotay sat with her as often as he could, still seeing her face and body covered in sweat and blood, cuts and bruises marring her skin, despite how she appeared before him now. He constantly heard her screams too but beside all that, his mind refused to let go of the time he'd spent with her in her ready room, just before the Doctor arrived. Her words continued to swirl round and round in his head, her words of how she loved him and he clung to them desperately, trying to deny to himself that it had been the drugs speaking. As time passed though, he finally admitted to himself that she couldn't have known or meant what she said but still her voice echoed in his brain and he clung to the memory of it, taking what comfort he could from it.

Tuvok finally made a full report to him and Chakotay called the entire senior staff to meet, listening to each opinion in turn. He went over every piece of information B'Elanna had downloaded from the Aluki ship and even spoke with Crel and some of the other soldiers. In the end, knowing it was Kathryn's influence, he made his decision. They would accompany Crel and his men, tractoring their ship with them now, rather than have it piloted, and return to the Aluki home world. It wasn't far, resources not allowing for these people to travel great distances in their search for a lifeline for themselves.

The following evening they arrived and Chakotay beamed down to the surface with Tom Paris, both men wearing environmental suits to protect themselves from the toxic atmosphere. What they witnessed beneath the surface would stay with them for many years. What had been men and women once, even children, sat around huddled in small groups, their faces gaunt from lack of proper nourishment and fresh air. Most were thin and wore rags. Their pale skin showed open and half healed sores, the legacy of the poison they lived with day in and day out. They all stared back at Chakotay and Tom, fear deep in their eyes, despite the presence of Crel and some of the others.

When they returned to the ship, Chakotay knew his decision was the right one. He gained some understanding of what had driven Bren but nothing would ever make him forgive the alien leader for what he'd done or the crimes he'd committed, no matter how desperate he'd been. It pained him to think that maybe he could've turned out like that too, if they hadn't ended up in the Delta Quadrant. Pushing these thoughts aside, Chakotay immediately ordered food to the surface, along with whatever medical supplies and clothing they could spare and sent Crel down with them to warn his people of what would follow. Chakotay then went to see Kathryn, still unconscious and told her of his plans.

"I've stood with you like this before, Kathryn. I think this time, though, you'll approve of what I'm about to do. Rest as long as you need to, but please come back to me." He bent down and brushed his lips to hers. "Come back to me please…"

The next two hours were spent firing and exploding neutralizing gases into the Aluki atmosphere. They stopped every so often to check their readings, B'Elanna overseeing the entire project. Chakotay had his doubts that this would work, but nothing would stop him at least trying. After another hour, their readings began to offer hope and within a further hour, the air on the surface was almost breathable. B'Elanna finally came to his office to make her report.

"The rest should clear on its own, most likely within a day. It should only take about a week for the water supply to clear itself. It comes up from below the surface and the water table isn't too deep. It'll cleanse the riverbeds itself and run off. Until then, they can use what they already have once we've treated it along with what we can supply." Chakotay's face showed his pride as he listened to her. "I can prepare additives for the soil which will work fairly quickly and once the clouds have lifted, natural rainfall will occur and take care of the rest. The sun will shine again and plant life will take care of itself. Nature will take over with a little help. We can give them some grains and such like to tide them over until they can grow food for themselves and they have replicators of sorts although their power sources are failing. We can help there too. They also have some animals with them which can produce food once they're treated. The Doc has already prepared treatments for the people and their animals…" She stopped and thought, wondering if there was anything else she hadn't considered. She looked up and smiled at the look of deep pride on Chakotay's face.

"I'm so very proud of you, B'El. You've done something wonderful here today. A race of people will live again because of you. Kath…The captain will be very proud of you too…."

B'Elanna actually blushed. "Come on, big guy, you'll give me a swelled head here. Thanks, though. By the way…when you're with me, she can be 'Kathryn'. I know you better than that." Chakotay blushed a little now. "Chakotay, I know you love her…the entire crew knows that…and I'm sure she feels the same way…" Her smile slipped a little at the look of pain which came to his face now. "Chak…what is it…?" He turned and walked towards the viewport of his office, B'Elanna following him. She remained quiet and waited for him to speak. Finally, he turned back and sat down, B'Elanna joining him. For the next twenty minutes, he poured everything out. He told her of his feelings for Kathryn and about what had happened in the ready room while they'd tried to get the Doctor back on line.

"When she told me she loved me, my heart soared, even though I was so worried about her…"

B'Elanna smiled. "I'm so happy for you…that she finally admitted it to you." She frowned when she saw the sadness on his face. "What? It's what you wanted to hear more than anything…"

He shook his head. "I know it was… but B'El…I also know it was the drugs speaking…everything she'd been through…"

B'Elanna gripped his hand and squeezed. "Chakotay, it sounds to me like the truth. Sometimes…well, it takes for us to be that afraid or down, hurt or vulnerable, before we can admit the truth. She's going to be fine, you know that. Tom told me and I know he was breaking a medical confidence but… Look, I know this will hurt but…she obviously believed she might die at that moment. She wanted you to know before…" The pain on Chakotay's face stopped her on that track for a moment.

"Chakotay, she loves you. I could have told you that before all this happened. I see the way she always looks at you, usually when you aren't looking. I think I know enough at this stage in my life to know love when I see it, and that woman loves you. I think she's just been too scared to show it before."

Chakotay shook his head. "Even if you're right, it'll just be back to normal when she's back on her feet. Nothing will change. She'll either not remember what she said and nothing will change or she will remember and want to forget or deny it. If I talk of it, she'll be embarrassed beyond words and sink even further back into herself." He paused and rubbed at his face. "I know the outcome of this…what it'll be." He shook his head again. "I know it was the drugs and her physical and emotional condition talking, that she either didn't know what she was saying…or... I just know she'd never have spoken to me like that, never have said that to me, not as herself…and I can't use that… I guess at least I'll always have the memory of hearing her speak them to me…those words…" He ignored B'Elanna shaking her head in disagreement.

"B'El, I spoke with the Doc. Look at what she'd been through…the injuries…all those drugs…the terror and pain she went through. Her mind wasn't… I know the second drug was a truth serum of some kind but in her body… We just don't know." He stood quickly.

"Oh Spirits, those images…when we got to her and how she was…. They just won't leave me. The blood…the tubes in her veins…the wire cutting into her…the stab wound…and still conscious…and it won't stop…" He looked back at B'Elanna, his face a mask of agony. "Her screams…they won't leave me alone…the ones of her pain and then…the terrors and horrors she…" He couldn't continue and B'Elanna stood and led him back to the sofa, knowing there was nothing she could say. Instead she just hugged him tightly to her. When he seemed a little calmer, she spoke then.

"Look, my friend, all I can say is this. When she comes around, just be there for her. Help and support her through her recovery, the way you would anyway. Just be a pillar for her to lean on until she's ready to stand on her own. I know she hates accepting help, but I get the feeling she'll have no choice this time, that even she will want and need it." She smiled gently at him and squeezed his hand. "Just be what you've always been for her. Her friend. When she's over the worst of it, well, the rest will sort itself out. You mark my words."

Chakotay tried a smile and almost made it. "You're right as usual…" He managed the smile now. "If you ever repeat that, I'll deny it completely…"

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "Oh, it's filed away in my mind. I won't repeat it to anyone but… Well, I might remind you of it from time to time…that you admitted that I'm always right…"

Chakotay shook his head now, his face serious once more. "Play it by ear seems to be all I can do…"


Chakotay and Tuvok met with Crel a few more times, overseeing the transport to the surface of all items which the Aluki would need to see them through until their first harvest. Crel assured Chakotay that with the normal weather conditions restored on their world, it wouldn't take long before that harvest was in. Their last meeting was on the surface as the two men walked in the sun, signs of new life already all around them. Children shouted and ran in all directions, the adults almost as juvenile in their happiness.

"We always reaped three, sometimes four harvests in a year. We were fortunate…blessed… We just never appreciated what we had…until it was taken away." The alien's face took on a faraway look, memories of kinder times revisiting him. He quickly shut the door on them and managed a smile.
"I'm sorry…I keep looking at the past. There's nothing there now."

Chakotay shook his head. "I know that well…" His own mind skipped back a moment before he stopped it. "However, in time… Well, there can be a comfort eventually in remembering those we loved…"

Crel nodded his understanding. "Maybe…in time…"

He pulled himself together now and switched to other matters. "Commander Chakotay, I can't ever really thank you properly, you and your crew, Lieutenant Torres…for all you've done for us…especially after…" He saw the pain on Chakotay's face and looked away. "I so wish I could undo… How is she?" He forced himself to look again at the man before him.

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment. "Improving. Physically she should make a full recovery…"

Crel met Chakotay's eyes and nodded. "I understand. Again, I wish I could… I constantly feel I should have stepped in sooner and stopped him…Bren. I wish so much…hate what he became…what the rest of us were becoming…"

Chakotay shook his head. "You can't change the past. I've learned that well…can't stop how you feel either. Besides, you have your own things you must deal with…" His eyes apologized for speaking the truth and the alien man nodded his understand.

"Yes, I have…" He was quiet for a moment, then spoke again. "You said…physically…she would recover?" Chakotay nodded. Crel nodded his understanding. "I understand…time needed for that also. At least she has you. You're there for her." Chakotay frowned a little. "You are her mate, are you not? I hope I didn't misunderstand your feelings for her. It seemed so obvious." He looked a little embarrassed now until Chakotay smiled.

"No, Crel, you didn't 'misunderstand' my feelings, and yes, I'll be there for her. We all will. We'll help her back." Crel nodded and looked out over the land. Chakotay let his own eyes scan the landscape a moment.

"Crel…I hate to ask but… What about the Hanns…?"

Crel stopped walking and turned quickly. "They passed on. It was always their way… We had heard of them before. They were known of. They came, destroyed what they didn't want, took what they did…then moved on. They never return. Still, if they do… This time, we'll be ready. We won't be so complacent." He sighed deeply. "I find myself wondering now if… Perhaps they were once like us and someone like them took from them first, making them what they are…much like we became. I just don't know."

Chakotay stood with his head lowered but looked up now. "My enemy, my personal 'Hann'… were known…are known…as the Cardassians." He told Crel a little of his life before Voyager and saw the understanding and sorrow on the alien's face. "I don't know if I'm strong enough to think as you're trying to. Maybe in time. I try now not to think, to just let it go and remember the people I loved…to concentrate on those I love now…the ones who bring me peace." Kathryn's face came to him and he saw that Crel knew his thoughts. They shared a smile.

"Perhaps that is the best way." Crel started walking again, Chakotay moving with him. "There's so much here to be re-built. That will take my thoughts now."

Chakotay nodded and smiled again. "Move on and not look back." They both nodded and shared a smile full of understanding. Neither man would ever forget the other.


When Chakotay returned to the ship, the Doctor hailed him immediately and he set off for sickbay, arriving in minutes. "Doc, what is it…?" His fear was written on his face.

The Medic merely smiled. "I believe she's regaining consciousness. I thought it better that you be here for her when she comes around…"

Chakotay nodded and moved to the biobed where Kathryn lay. He knew he wanted nothing more than to see her open her eyes but he also found himself afraid of what he'd see in those eyes or, more than likely, what he wouldn't see. He sighed deeply as feelings of hope and despair warred within him. He took a deep breath, trying to shut off his emotions and just be the friend to her he'd always been, to show her the familiar. He reached for her hand then called to her as he saw her begin to stir.

"Kathryn? Kathryn? Can you hear me? Come on…" He watched her fight to open her eyes and slowly win the battle. She took a few moments to focus on his face and he saw her confusion.


He smiled gently as he tried to keep his feelings hidden. "You're in sickbay. You're going to be fine." He squeezed her hand a little tighter as he saw tears fill her eyes now as memories rushed at her. "Kathryn, it's over. Everything's fine. The ship…the crew… Just rest and I'll tell you everything later." He watched as she bit her lip and fought to control her emotions. She nodded slowly.

"I…bits…pain…remember some…he…he…" She lost her battle and the tears returned. Chakotay automatically lifted his hand and stroked her hair, fighting to control his own emotions. He should have known that the violent memories would surface first.

"Kathryn…let it out. There's just me and the Doc here. Let it go." His words were all it took and he lifted her to him as the dam broke and she cried bitterly, clinging to him, her nails digging into his back. Chakotay held her, comforting her as best he could, relishing the feel of her in his arms, even in this way. Slowly, through exhaustion more than anything, she fell quiet and he laid her back down, his hands soothing her still.

"It's over, Kathryn. He can't hurt you ever again." He wiped at her tears.

"How…?" The word was a choked sound.

"Kathryn, you need to rest now. I'll tell you later." For a moment, there was a brief glimpse of the captain.

"Please…I need…" Chakotay looked up at the Doctor.

"Captain, you need to rest. You've been through a bad time." They both saw the haunted look in her eyes but she pushed it away with a will of iron.

"I need…to know…please. I can't rest if…" The Doctor nodded at Chakotay then shook his head in surrender.

"Very briefly then, Commander. Captain, I must insist you rest then." She managed a small nod and turned her eyes back to Chakotay. As briefly and quickly as he could, he outlined the past days until he felt her body relax a little. He watched as she tried to absorb all he'd told her, seeing more memories come back to her, her eyes reflecting her inner turmoil, as she tried to make sense of it all.

"You're telling me the truth…?"

He didn't take it in the wrong way and just nodded. "That's the truth, Kathryn. I'm not trying to hide anything from you." She nodded slowly and he saw how worn out she was by their short conversation. "Rest now. We'll talk again later." She looked back at him and managed a small smile.

"Thank you." He returned the smile, barely controlling himself. "I mean…" She looked away a moment as if trying to remember or decide something then back at him and he could almost see her mind flitting through memories and emotions, trying to sort what was real and remembered. "Thank you…and tell Doc and B'Elanna thanks…" Chakotay tried to read her eyes but couldn't so he let it go, telling himself it was too soon and that she'd need time for her mind to sort through all that had happened. Part of him wanted nothing more than to know what else she remembered, to ask her if she'd meant her words, to speak his own, but he made himself stay silent on the matter.

"Rest. Get some sleep. I'll be back later." He smiled as her eyes slipped closed again before his words were out.

When Kathryn woke the following morning, Voyager was still in orbit of the Aluki home world and against the Doctor's orders, demanded to beam down to the surface that afternoon, to see for herself the result of her crew's work. She let Chakotay keep his arm around her waist the entire time, holding her up almost, and he knew what it cost her to admit the need. He saw that she was grasping at anything to try and find her way back to what she'd been before their nightmare, to try and get a foothold in some way, to seek some security so that she could once again regain what had been before. He also knew the only way she could do this was to use the 'captain' in her to guide her. They stayed only fifteen minutes but he knew she was more at peace with having seen things for herself.

As soon as they beamed back to the ship, she sagged and let Chakotay transport them back to sickbay. After a short rest, she met with Crel and listened quietly as the alien spoke, informing and apologizing at the same time. She nodded slowly, saying all the right things but Chakotay saw the struggle for control, which lay beneath her eyes.

For Crel and the Aluki people, there was closure but as Voyager broke orbit that evening, Chakotay looked around the bridge, knowing it would take the crew a lot longer before they could let the past days go. With their course laid in, they continued on and Chakotay took a quick tour of the ship, stopping and chatting with crewmembers, seeing the effects everything had had on them all. As usual, Neelix was on top of things and had planned events and parties in his normal manner, but even he covered up his feelings, a fact not missed by Chakotay. He took the Talaxian aside and spoke with him.

"Tell me the truth, Neelix. How bad is morale and the effect of all this…?"

The small alien let his smile slip now. "It's bad enough, Commander. It'll take time before people feel safe again, but they will get there. They're a tough bunch…well trained. I'm not too worried about them with that side of it…" Chakotay knew he believed his own words and nodded. He waited for the rest, knowing there was more.

"Commander, it's just…" He sighed deeply, his own bad memories showing. "I hate to remind you too… It's just…"

Chakotay finished for him. "It won't go away…the sounds of…her screams…" They each saw the pain in each other's eyes and Neelix nodded. He went on to tell Chakotay about their time locked in the Cargo Bay and how he had helped Naomi.

"I tried my best with her but she didn't understand. It was all I could think to say…and now…"

Chakotay finished for him again. "She wants to ask the captain…"

Neelix nodded nervously. "She understands that the captain needs her rest for now…but in time… She'll ask and I'm afraid of what that will do to the captain. She doesn't need…"

Chakotay nodded. "Leave it with me. Give me some time with this. I'm sure Naomi will understand that Ka…the captain needs time too…" He gripped the smaller man's arm and nodded his thanks.

Chakotay entered sickbay and found the lights lowered. He nodded to the Doctor who was working in his office and made his way to where Kathryn was lying. He thought she was asleep and moved slowly towards her. He made a small noise and she jumped up, a look of panic on her face.

"Kathryn, I'm sorry. I thought you were asleep."

She relaxed a little and shook her head, strong traces of deep emotions still in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to jump. I was miles away…"

He saw from her eyes exactly where she'd been. "Kathryn, in time… Look, I'm here. We all are. Here for you. You're safe now." She looked away quickly and he moved around to her and sat down but she hid her eyes. When she eventually looked up, her mask was in place.

"How's everything?" The Captain was asking.

Chakotay sighed inwardly. "Everything with the ship is fine."

He saw she got his meaning and she looked away. "I'm fine too…" She finally met his eyes and saw that her lie was plain to see. "Chakotay, I just need a little time…a bit of rest…but I'm fine. I was just tired today…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Physically, you're fine, I know that…or will be in a few days." He watched her as she studied his face, almost as if she were searching for or trying to remember something. He found himself hoping and yet afraid. He pushed just a little. "What is it, Kathryn?" She quickly pulled her eyes from her study and tried to cover her embarrassment with a smile.

"Nothing. I'm fine. I guess I should try and get some sleep…" She looked down at her hands and Chakotay stood reluctantly.

"Look, Kathryn, we're back on course. All repairs, the few that were needed, are complete. As I say, we're back on course." His last words meant more and she looked up as if she understood. He wondered briefly if she did understand his meaning as she nodded slowly, an uncertainty showing clearly. He reached out and squeezed her arm. "You know what I mean. I know it won't happen overnight, that it'll take time to get past this but…" She moved her arm and nodded, sliding down on the bed.

"I know…" She was quiet then and Chakotay just nodded sadly to himself.

"Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning." Kathryn just closed her eyes.

Within another two days, the Doctor was content to allow his Captain to return to her own quarters. He smiled as she lavished her thanks on him for everything he'd done and his pride showed when she told him that his actions would be recorded in the official logs. He grew serious though when he insisted that she remain off duty for a further four days at least after that. Chakotay objected quietly to the Doctor but gave in when the Medic pointed out that she'd be better in her own surroundings. Kathryn didn't argue with the Doctor, leaving him more than a little concerned and he was worried enough to tackle her about it.

"Captain, I've done what I'm here to do and I've healed your body. I do, however, feel that there are still some…issues…you need to deal with." Kathryn shot him a glare which didn't have the same affect it had on the rest of her crew. "You need to address those issues and you know it. I, however, can't force you to talk with someone but I can refuse to declare you fit for duty until you do…" Once again the glare failed to have the desired effect.

Kathryn paced her quarters over the next two days, allowing her fears and bad memories to build up and up until finally she knew she'd no choice but to open up to someone. She hated being on her own now, with hours to think and remember and she felt scared all the time, unsafe even, jumping at small sounds, yet she was the one who'd asked to be left alone. Chakotay called to see her as often as he felt he could, without trying to crowd her. Each time he visited, he got the impression that she didn't want to talk and so within ten or fifteen minutes, he usually left her alone again, feeling she'd talk to him when she was ready. His insides felt like a coiled spring as he forced himself not to push her. He wanted to be there for her as her friend, to get her to talk about everything that had happened but he still craved for her to talk of their time in the ready room together, to confirm or deny her feelings for him.

With nothing to do with her time but think, Kathryn began to doubt her own sanity at times as she worked through her thoughts. She had images and flashes of scenes in her mind, unsure if she was remembering or imagining. She began to wonder what was real and what was not.

She sat heavily on the side of her bed now. She remembered her own screams and the pain most. They were real and she knew it. She'd even read all the reports which had been filed by the crew, each one testifying that all this wasn't some dreadful nightmare she might wake up from. The feelings of helplessness and letting her crew down, allowing the ship to be taken, they were real also. She sat quietly now and let the tears fall, sifting through her mind's contents. Finally, she knew that all she remembered was real, even the drug-induced images which had come to her. She knew they hadn't actually existed, but in her mind they'd been real, and that was enough.

She wiped angrily at her face and acknowledged the one area she'd been avoiding. Chakotay. The entire scene in her ready room with him came back and unfolded almost in front of her eyes. She remembered the pain and worry in his eyes and how helpless she'd seen him feel. She closed her eyes now as her shame came back to her, overshadowing everything else. She knew he'd seen everything, her emotions and pain, her shame and vulnerability laid bare for him, even how her body had failed her and still he'd been there for her, his hand stemming the flow of blood from the knife wound, his words anchoring her to the waking world as he helped her to hang on. And she remembered her words to him, spoken with an honesty she'd denied herself before. She knew she'd meant them, that they hadn't come from the drugs or the pain and she spoke them again now, almost testing herself to see if she could still say them.

"I love you…." They echoed quietly in the room around her and she cried harder. "Oh Chakotay…I'm sorry…"

Kathryn thought back to her time in sickbay, the hours she'd spent with him then and since and she shook her head sadly. Not once had he mentioned her words to him and with this thought came others, fuelled by her present state of mind. She was too late and he didn't want to know now. He'd seen her weakness and it disgusted him. He was letting her down gently by ignoring what had passed between them, acting as if she hadn't spoken of her love at all, perhaps hoping she wouldn't remember. She knew with certainty that if she'd spoken those words to him even a year ago, he'd never have let her forget them. Now he ignored them, letting them go. She never stopped to think he might be afraid also, that he might be waiting to see if she'd speak first.

She stood shakily now and her self-doubt filled her. She wondered briefly if she'd said anything to him at all but quickly scolded herself, dismissing the thought, knowing she remembered right, that she had told him of her feelings.

"You poor, stupid bitch…you sad, old woman…" Her words sounded soft to her but she knew she'd spoken them. "You're too late. What did you expect? You finally tell him…make what you think is a deathbed confession and you expect him to fall into your arms?" She moved to the wall and leaned against it for support, her legs suddenly weak. "Oh God…Chakotay…I love you. I need you so much." She felt herself start to slide to the floor and let herself. She sat in a crumpled heap then and cried bitter tears, the hours passing her by, just like her life.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing
them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Rating: R - For some violence.

Summary: Voyager is boarded and the crew held by an alien race seeking their technology. Kathryn is separated from her Senior Officers and tortured for information, the crew forced to listen to her screams. Rescue comes and as Chakotay sits with a badly injured and drugged Kathryn waiting for the Doctor, she finally tells him she loves him, leaving him unsure if she was aware of her words. The battles now, both emotional and physical, have only just begun.




Chakotay shook his head as he rang Kathryn's chime again and still received no answer. He entered his override and walked into dim lighting. It took him only moments to find Kathryn slumped in a heap on the floor of her bedroom, where he saw immediately that she'd cried herself into a fitful sleep. He was on his knees before her and gently shaking her, when her eyes opened sluggishly. "Chakotay…? What…where…?"

He smiled softly at her. "I don't know, Kathryn. You tell me." She looked around her and he saw how embarrassed she seemed. "Kathryn, it's all right. It's only me. Come on, let's get you to bed. You can't sleep here." He was trying to keep it light, until he felt she was ready, trying desperately to control how he felt, to just be with her as he always was. Instead he was shocked when she started crying again.

"Oh Chakotay, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" She was almost panting, trying to talk through her sobs. His friendship and kindness to her were too much, feeling now as she did, that they were all she'd ever have from him. Chakotay just pulled her to him and held her.

"Just let it out…it's all right…" He stroked up and down her back, trying his best to be a buffer for her but without knowing it, causing her more pain instead. Eventually she quietened, dry sobbing more than anything. She pulled back now and wiped at her face.

"Oh God, I'm sorry. You shouldn't see me like this. You've seen too much of me at my worst lately…"

She risked a look into his eyes but saw only kindness and support there. She tried to read more but couldn't and a pain filled her. Maybe she hadn't said anything to him after all. Maybe she had and it was too late, as she'd thought earlier. She battled the inner pain and confusion these thoughts brought and swallowed deeply to try and gain some control.

"Kathryn, you're my best friend. If you can't let go and be yourself with me…" He was trying to tell her more, test the waters, giving her an opening but she was too upset to see it and took his words to fit her own thoughts. All she heard was 'friend' and fresh pain washed over her. She nodded and sniffed loudly.

"I know and thank you. Help me up, please. I need the…bathroom…" He stood and helped her to stand, leading her to the bathroom door then turning discreetly away.

"Shall I get you some tea…?"

Her voice was soft when she answered. "Please, I'd like that."

When Kathryn came back into the living room, her face was washed and her hair brushed back. She smiled at him, a look of embarrassment on her face. "Sorry you found me like that. I don't know what…"

Chakotay stood and led her to the sofa. "Don't ever apologize to me. I'm here for you, just as you'd be for me…" He smiled down at her and she nodded.

"I know…it's just…"

He helped her sit. "Look, Kathryn, I know how hard all this has been. You need to talk about this, get it out. Please, just let me be here for you." She met his eyes and nodded slowly. She knew having him this way was better than not having him in her life at all, no matter how hard it was. She smiled sadly to herself and shook her head, hiding the action from him. Was this how he'd felt for years as he hid his feelings from her? Had he felt this pain when nothing came of it? Was this the payback for the hurt she'd inflicted on him, the pain she deserved? She smiled at him now and tried to shut that same pain away.

"I know I do, need to talk that is. It's just… There's just so much…" She took the tea he handed her and sipped at it slowly, sorting her thoughts as she drank. Chakotay for his part, remained quiet, letting her sort things in her mind. Finally, she handed the cup back to him and leaned back, then began to speak.

"First, I was angry…felt guilty…felt I'd let this happen…that I couldn't stop it and didn't see it coming." She shook her head. "I know I couldn't have. I grudgingly accept that…but that's how captains feel…that they should always be there to protect. You know that." She tried a small smile.

"When he took me into the ready room…all of that…" She looked down at her hands now, twisting her fingers together. "I was afraid, more of failing you all than what he'd do, although I was afraid of that too." She glanced up at Chakotay but his face betrayed nothing, only support and understanding.

"He smacked me around a bit but I expected that…was ready for it. Then he told the two with him to take off my jacket and shirt…my boots and socks…" She paused and licked her lips. "I half expected…" She glanced to Chakotay and saw that he knew what she was thinking. "Well, you do…being a woman. It's almost, you know, what you always expect in these situations…" She leaned forward a little.

"Anyway… He moved me to the other chair…used the wire to tie me down…and it hurt. I felt it eating into my skin…wrists and ankles…my neck…which was already cut." She leaned back again and rubbed at her wrists, as if still feeling the cuts there, then looked at Chakotay. "Are you sure you're all right with me talking about this because I'm not sure myself?"

Chakotay just smiled softly at her. "I'm sure and you need to, Kathryn. You know that." She nodded solemnly.

"Yeah, I know…even though I hate to admit that…" She smiled and shook her head. "It makes me feel weak."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "I wish it didn't. Kathryn, it's not weak. It's human. And also, it's me you're talking to…no mask needed…the place where you can always be 'Kathryn'…" She met his eyes and smiled then reached for his hand a moment, desperately needing to touch him, even in this way. His kindness only hurt more but she pushed it down.

"I know. Don't think for a minute that I don't…" He nodded and let her continue.

"I expected another beating…something… I don't know what. Pain, yes…but the kind of pain I thought I could take…could deal with…the kind that would be recognizable…" Chakotay saw the pain of the memories in her eyes.

"The pain is gone now, Kathryn. It's only a memory. It can't hurt you if you don't let it." She nodded, acknowledging his words but stared hard at the carpet.

"Nothing I've ever known could have prepared me for that. I saw the needles and the tubing and knew then that they'd drug me. I thought maybe something that would lower my defences…something…" She shook her head, lost in the memories now. "It hurt when the doctor pushed the needles in, and then I felt it, the cold of the liquid…and for a moment there was nothing…and I thought maybe it wouldn't work…but I also tried to prepare myself in case it did." She picked up a cushion now and hugged it.

"I didn't want to scream or cry out. I was determined not to, didn't want you all to hear, but then…" She hugged the cushion tighter. "Then I felt it…and…and…" She jumped when Chakotay placed a hand on her arm and stared at him. "The pain…like fire…agony…and it's a blur… I heard my own screams from somewhere but…there was only this fire…burning and pain…nothing else…" She was crying now but seemed unaware of it. "Just fire…pain…" Chakotay pulled her to him but she continued to appear lost in her own mind.

"It went on and on…endless…and then…then it wasn't so bad…and there was his face…and his voice…screaming at me…questions…and I couldn't breathe or see right…could hear them all laughing…and I fought…in my mind…and then the pain and fire again…and my own screams…and I…I worried that you'd hear and yet…didn't know if it was me or…" She turned to him now, tears pouring down her face. "You heard though…you all heard…?" He didn't want to lie to her, knew that she knew already. He barely nodded. Kathryn just shook her head.

"I wanted to spare you that…couldn't even do that…"

Chakotay shook her gently. "Kathryn, for God's sake…how could you…?"

She shook him off. "I should have tried harder…and I knew…heard him…knew he made you all listen…and…but then I wasn't there…I was…" Chakotay frowned now as she looked up at him. "I remember thinking I was…" She frowned in deep thought. "I thought he was Cardassian and then…then he was Daddy…and…I remember him saying…something about going too far and…bring her back…or…it's confusing…" Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and fought for control.

"It was like cool water on me…whatever they gave me…but then it was back…the fire…and I only remember that…and the pain…and later then…being back…and the other drug…and…and…oh God…what I saw…" She broke down now and Chakotay pulled her into his arms, rocking her to him.

"Kathryn, it's over. They're gone. Nothing can hurt you now. He's dead." Kathryn pulled back quickly, her face a mask of pain and anger.

"He's dead…but my memories…those horrors…they aren't…"

Chakotay fought his inner pain. "They'll die too in time…I promise you. We'll kill them together…" He pulled her back to him and she didn't resist. She let him hold her a moment, before she pulled back from him, tears pouring down her face.

"Those…images…monsters…and… You…and them…people I loved…some dead…most living…all on fire…crying to me…on fire….things… horrible…creatures…slimy… from the walls…their eyes…fangs dripping…crawling over me…eating at me…attacking you all…and Daddy and Justin…dying again and again…everyone I love…hurting…dying… And then he brought me back again…and then…then…the knife…and I felt it…felt it pressing in…cold metal…and the pain…and I couldn't even cry out anymore…couldn't scream…" She was crying and shaking badly and Chakotay pulled her to him again.

"Kathryn, it's over…it's gone…they're gone…" He held her for a long time before she stopped shaking and crying. He soothed her as best he could. "Kathryn…?" She didn't stir and her voice barely reached him.

"I want to sleep…forget…please…" He nodded and called the Doctor, who administered a sedative. They gently laid her on her bed and Chakotay covered her with a warm blanket as she drifted off to what he prayed would be a dreamless sleep.

"Thanks, Doc. I'll stay with her tonight…in case she wakes…"

The Medic nodded and handed him another sedative. "Call me if you need me…" He shook his head. "This needed to come out you know…had to…"

Chakotay nodded and sighed. "I know it did…and I know there's more. I just feel so damned helpless…just like before…" He turned when he felt the Hologram's hand on his arm.

"Commander, please don't go down that road. I don't need another patient." Chakotay nodded and tried a smile.

"How are the crew doing? Naomi…?" He'd spoken with the Doctor about Neelix's concerns.

"Not too bad under the circumstances. They'll get over it, the feeling that this could happen again. I mean they accept that we can be boarded like that out here… It goes with the territory…" Chakotay nodded in understanding, knowing what the Medic was going to say. "It's the other side of it…hearing…especially for Naomi…although she believes as Neelix said…that it was made to sound worse…but when she doesn't see the captain… Well, she thinks…maybe it was that bad and…" Chakotay shook his head and moved into the other room, the Doctor following.

"Oh Doc, I know how they feel. I can't get rid of it myself. I keep hearing it…hearing her…and not being able to…" He looked helplessly at the Doctor.

"Look, Commander, some of the crew have…well, they've set up little groups…eight or ten to each… Kind of support groups, if you like… They talk and share what… Look, you're there for the captain and that's good but you need someone too…"

Chakotay frowned. "Whose idea was that? The groups, I mean…"

The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "I honestly don't know. I'm not sure it was any one person in particular. It was more a need thing…that just grew into an idea…when they met late at night in the mess hall…unable to sleep… It started that way, I think."

Chakotay smiled. "This crew… They're amazing. The support and help that's there for each other."

The Doctor smiled. "Well, they have an amazing command team."

Chakotay looked towards the doorway to the bedroom. "They have an amazing captain more than anything…and I'll get her back for them."

The Doctor smiled and nodded. "Look, Commander, I know you will and tonight was a great start to that journey but…"

Chakotay looked at him. "But…it's not over yet. I know that. She still has a long way to go…but Doc, you have my word I'll get her there."

The Medic nodded. "I never had any doubt about that." He smiled his goodnight and left.

Over the next week, Chakotay took time off and stayed with Kathryn on and off. He sat and listened to her as she talked out her fears and emotions, trying to cleanse herself of the demons which plagued her mind and her memories, but he sensed there were things she wasn't saying, things she was holding back. He knew she had dreadful nightmares and he always came running when she screamed out, before soothing her back to a more peaceful sleep. Sometimes she knew he was there, other times she'd just drift off, drawing comfort as if subconsciously aware of his presence. He knew she had to deal with the horrors first before she could even begin to speak of anything else and so he waited patiently, trying hard to keep his own emotions in check. Finally, she spoke of their time in the ready room and Chakotay instantly sensed her hesitancy and his own nervousness.

"I don't think I really ever thanked you for being there with me…never thanked you properly, I mean…" She looked shyly at him, letting him know she remembered something but feeling as if she were walking on eggshells.

Chakotay just smiled, trying to control the hope which was stirring inside him. "Why wouldn't I have been…? I wasn't sure if you knew…remembered…" He was hinting a little and he saw her frown then shake her head.

"I remember… I don't know. It was… Some I'm not sure of…well, you were there. You saw how I was…" She swallowed loudly, for a moment about to ask him what he remembered, then changed her mind and switched track to safer ground when she read nothing from him. She also knew the shame she still felt was stronger within her, that she needed to speak of it more. "It must have been hard on you seeing me like that. It wasn't…pretty…nice… I know what I… how weak I was…"

Chakotay frowned now and leaned towards her. "Kathryn? You were injured…had been through so much…" He tried to measure his words. "You'd lost a lot of blood. Of course you were weak…"

She shook her head. "No…I mean…weak. I know what… He told me…prodded me there…showed me…laughed at me…took great delight in pointing it out…"

Chakotay frowned more deeply now. "Kathryn…I don't understand…"

She jumped up now, hiding her face, the humiliation she felt blotting out everything else. "You must have been disgusted by me. I know I was…"

Chakotay stood now and moved to her. "What are you talking about? I don't follow…"

She rounded on him now, angry tears on her face. "How weak I was…no control…"

Chakotay shook his head. "You were in terrible pain…"

She shook her head wildly. "You know how weak…I couldn't control… God, Chakotay…you know…saw…you must have. He certainly did…made sure I knew…"

Chakotay moved to her quickly and grabbed her. "Kathryn…what are you talking about?"

She tried to pull from him now. "That I lost control…wet myself…" She twisted from his grasp and fell to her knees, sobs racking her body.

Chakotay was shocked for a second and then dropped to his knees beside her, pulling her into his arms.
"Spirits, Kathryn…what the hell should that matter? I can't believe you'd think that would make any difference to me…"

She raised her head and glared at him. "It was weak…he made sure I knew that…"

Chakotay tightened his grip on her, his voice tight with anger. "What did he do…?"

Kathryn shook her head, her tears continuing and between sobs, told him how Bren had thwarted her, prodding her between the legs, laughing at her for her weakness.

Chakotay groaned and pulled her to him. "Thank God that bastard is already dead… Oh Kathryn…please…you have nothing to be ashamed of. That you survived it all is such a testament to your strength…when so many wouldn't have made it through all that…" He rocked her and soothed her, until she slowly quietened. Finally, he lifted her and carried her to her bed.

He sat for over half an hour, stroking her hair and face, whispering to her softly, reassuring her, until she drifted off to sleep with the aid of one of the sedatives the Doctor had left. He fought down his inner pain, at being this close to her, yet unable to show her his real feelings. He sighed deeply to himself. He'd been so sure she'd speak of her words to him and shook his head sadly now. He berated himself then for even thinking of his own feelings when she was still going through so much. Finally, he just sat and watched her sleep, allowing his own tears to fall in private.

The next night, he brought dinner for her and smiled when she seemed more rested and relaxed. "Doc tells me you got his permission to return to limited duty."

She smiled and nodded. "He was with me for some time this afternoon. He filled me in on the groups which have started…the support…" Chakotay felt the smile fall from his face. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He set the dishes down which he'd brought with him. "I didn't think you were ready for all that."

Kathryn nodded and smiled. "Thank you for thinking of me like that, but Chakotay, I can take it. And Naomi?" Chakotay looked up, sure he would receive an ear bashing. Kathryn smiled at his expression. "What? Thought I'd have a go at you?" He nodded. "Well, I understand that you were just trying to protect me…" She saw the flash of pain cross his face as he turned away. She moved to him quickly. "I think I'm not the only one who needs to talk…"

Chakotay shook his head, refusing to face her. "I'm fine."

Kathryn laughed and Chakotay turned to her at the sound, realizing sadly how long it had been since he'd last heard it. "You sound like me."

He smiled despite himself. "Let's just concentrate on you."

He saw the serious look on her face. "No, this needs to be addressed too. Chakotay, you can't always stop these things. I mean…it's taken me some time to realize that." He watched her closely. "I felt for a time there that I, as captain, should have been able to stop what happened, that I let this ship be boarded, let the crew be taken. Chakotay, I'm learning to let that go, accept that I don't have the control I think I should have, that no one can. I'm the captain, yes…but I'm still only one person and it's the same for you. You're also just one person. You can't always protect me. We can only try and do that as a team. Sam most likely feels she should always be able to protect Naomi from everything, but she can't. Chakotay, it's just life. None of us can do everything."

Chakotay stood shaking his head. "I sat there on the bridge…couldn't stop it…did nothing… It took B'Elanna and the Doctor…the others… I did nothing…" He met her eyes reluctantly.

"Chakotay, I'm sure Tuvok, Tom, Harry, the others…they probably feel that too…but there was nothing you could do. You'd all be dead if you'd tried." She turned her head away, not wanting to ever think of that.

Chakotay saw her turn away. "Maybe, but it doesn't help. I feel I was useless to you…and it's hard…that I couldn't stop…had to listen…" He instantly regretted his words as she turned back quickly.

"I know. I tried so hard not to…"

He was beside her in a second. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" She reached out slowly and stroked his face, knowing she was using the situation to feel close to him, to be able to touch him, having no idea of how much she was hurting him.

"I know, Chakotay. We all just have to learn to let it go. I'm learning that every day, but please…these groups…or whatever… Talk to someone too…besides me. Talk to Tom and Tuvok…Harry…share with them… It'll probably help them too. I'm learning all this slowly…not to take all the blame and to ask for help." He nodded slowly.

"Maybe, I will." He looked at her. "I never thought I'd live to see the day… What you're saying… Kathryn Janeway, you can always surprise me."

She smiled. "Well, sometimes I do listen to you." He returned the smile. "Come on. That dinner smells good."

He nodded and smiled. "OK, I'll feed you."

They spent a leisurely hour over their meal and then sat back, sipping their coffee. Kathryn was quieter now than she'd been earlier, as if she was waiting for him to say something. Chakotay for his part, was waiting to see if Kathryn would say anything. In the end, they made small talk and eventually spoke of Naomi.

"I'm back on duty tomorrow." Chakotay nodded, letting her finish. "I'm going to take off an hour earlier and invite Naomi over for tea. I'd like you there if you don't mind…with Sam." Chakotay nodded again. "Neelix filled me in…"

He finally looked at her. "Are you OK with that?"

She smiled. "Oh, I think I can manage that. I just have to come up with a good story about why I was stealing my own cake…and what I was supposed to have said to Neelix when I was 'caught'."

Chakotay smiled. "I'm sure you'll think of something. Seriously though, can you… Are you OK with talking about it all with others…remembering, I mean?"

Kathryn reached for his hand but just patted it in the end, the move not missed by Chakotay. "I'm fine…and she badly needs this." They were quiet then for some time.

Finally, Chakotay stood slowly. "Well, I'd better let you get some sleep for tomorrow." Kathryn stood also and they were awkward for a moment. "Goodnight, Kathryn." He moved away and let himself out. Kathryn stood for several minutes looking at the closed doors.

"I guess that answers that. I know for sure now."

The next day, Naomi seemed over the moon to see her captain again. She'd put on her best party frock and munched her way through a plate of cakes before stopping for breath. Kathryn and Chakotay watched with smiles on their faces, while Sam seemed more embarrassed.

"You'd think I never feed her…" The adults laughed as Naomi looked up, her face smeared with frosting.

"Sorry Captain…Commander…Mom…but they taste so good…and I know the captain likes cake too…" Her eyes grew wide now as she realized her slip. "Opps…sorry…"

Kathryn just smiled and leaned forward. "Naomi, Neelix told me what he told you. It's OK. I know you and your Mom can keep a secret."

Naomi nodded eagerly. "Will you tell me…?"

Kathryn nodded and leaned back, patting her lap for the child to come to her. Naomi was there in a second, wiping her face on her napkin as she went. Kathryn hugged the girl to her and began her story.

"Honey, I know you were upset when you heard me…heard me screaming…" Chakotay heard the faint tremor in her voice but she covered it well. "I know Neelix and your Mom and the others told you about the Captain Secret." Naomi nodded, her eyes wide. "Well, it's true. Everything they told you…all true. Look at me now. If I'd been hurt that bad, don't you think I'd be in sickbay?"

Naomi thought about that for a moment. "But Doc is real good at fixing people and I didn't see you for a long time…"

Kathryn kept the smile on her face. "Honey, I had a lot of work to do. We had those people to help and I had to go down to the planet with the Commander here. I had to talk to those people and help set things up for them…and I was tired too. I needed to rest after all that acting."

Naomi looked to her Mom now for reassurance and Chakotay looked to Kathryn, seeing the strain there. "You mean all that screaming made you tired…?"

Kathryn had her mask back in place when the child looked back at her. "It sure did. My throat was so sore for days."

Naomi giggled. "Doc told me once that cake is good for a sore throat…when I had one…"

Kathryn smiled at the child on her lap. "You think I should have some more coffee cake for my sore throat?"

Naomi giggled loudly now. "Uh huh…and I want to know what you said to Neelix…" Kathryn shook her head and smiled but only Chakotay could see what this entire act was costing her.

"I think it was 'Neelix, what are you doing here. I thought you were in bed' or something like that. I can't really remember but it wasn't any more than that." Naomi giggled as Chakotay smiled but inside he felt his worry build. The old Kathryn would have come up with something far more inventive. He listened to her speak on. "You know I was very embarrassed at the time…"

Naomi went into peels of laughter. "But it was your cake…"

Kathryn nodded. "I know that now…but at the time…"

Naomi surprised Kathryn then and hugged her tightly. "Well, I'm happy you're not really hurt, Captain. I was worried about you so much. I love you." Kathryn fought the tears that came to her but failed. Holding this child, being hugged like this by her, knowing she'd never have one of her own, being told she was loved, was just too much on top of everything. Naomi jumped back, a look of fright on her face. "Captain? Did I hurt you? I'm sorry…"

Kathryn shook her head, fighting for her voice. "No, sweetheart. I'm just happy. Sometimes people cry when they're happy too."

Naomi nodded and smiled. "Mom cries when she reads her books and they have a happy end…" She looked over at her mother.

Sam had a smile on her face, covering the concern of a moment ago. Chakotay was holding his smile in place too. "Come on, honey. We've kept the captain and commander long enough and you'll be sick if you eat anything else. Besides, there's homework I happen to know about."

Naomi pouted. "All right. If I'm going to be the Captain's Assistant, I have to study. I know."

Kathryn had recovered a little now. "You'd better believe it. Naomi, it was lovely to have you here and your Mom. You can see I'm just fine though. Tell you what, I'll get Neelix to bake a cake for us both next week and we can have tea again. Would you like that?" The sight of the child almost doing cartwheels answered that question.

Once Sam and Naomi had left, Kathryn made for her bathroom but Chakotay was too quick for her. "Kathryn? What's wrong? What was that?" She tried to get past him but he was having none of it.

"Chakotay, please…" She tried desperately to move round him, her tears starting again. "I'm just a little upset. I'm fine. Please…"

Chakotay held her shoulders tightly. "You're not fine…far from it…and you're more than a little upset. I knew this would be a mistake. You weren't ready…"

Kathryn stopped her struggle now and stared tearfully at him. "No, you're wrong. It wasn't that. Please, Chakotay, I need a minute to myself. Please…"

He stared long and hard at her and finally nodded reluctantly. "All right, Kathryn. Against my better judgement…" He let her go and watched as she ran for her bathroom, closing the door quickly behind her.

Chakotay waited twenty minutes before Kathryn emerged from her bathroom. He saw she'd washed her face and straightened her hair, but her eyes were swollen and red. She tried to avert her face from him but he stood and moved to her, his hand gently cupping her chin. "Will you tell me now what all that was about?"

Kathryn shook her head and pulled away. Every act of kindness by him, every touch or word of comfort, tore at her now, causing pain to rip through her. "Chakotay, it was just… I guess I'm just still a bit vulnerable and it was an emotional moment. It just got the better of me. I'm fine now." She moved away a little. "Really, I'm fine…but I'm tired…and I have the early shift…" She was quietly pleading with him to leave, terrified she'd break down in front of him or say more than she should. It was getting harder to be so close to him, knowing her feelings now and to know they'd never be returned as they once would had been.

Chakotay for his part, stood for a few moments, debating pushing the issue but finally gave in. "All right, Kathryn, but you know where I am if you need me or want to talk…" He saw her nod her head but she didn't turn around. "Goodnight, then…"

"Goodnight…" She still hadn't turned when he walked through the doors and looked back. As the doors closed, he didn't see her fall to the floor in a heap and cry her eyes out for the next hour.

When Chakotay returned to his quarters, he sat for a long time with the lights out. In his mind now, he knew Kathryn remembered her words to him and he shook his head sadly. Being there for her during this time was almost agony for him and yet he knew he'd always be there, no matter how much it hurt. She remembered, he knew that now, but she was pulling back from it all, distancing herself and he was letting her. He loved her too much not to.

Over the next week, Kathryn was quiet. She reported for her duty shifts and was pleasant to everyone but the crew saw the effect of the past weeks on her, just as they saw her fight it. Kathryn made a point of touring the ship whenever she could, speaking with her crew, reassuring them with her presence and her words that she was fine, and slowly they began to feel more relaxed.

By the end of her second week back, life settled down on board the ship and everyone went back to their normal routines. People were still remembering but weren't as nervous as they had been. The constant presence of their Captain reassured them and her mood seemed to improve daily when she was with them. As they saw her move on, they followed suit and by the end of the month, life was almost back to normal, the support groups meeting less and less and when they did, taking on the feel of a social gathering rather than a meeting.

On the bridge however, the senior staff saw the strain of all this on their captain, although it was always well masked. Kathryn spent a lot of her time now off the bridge, either touring the ship or in Engineering or some other department she just had to check in with. She rarely used her ready room, unless she had a meeting with someone and Chakotay knew she was avoiding being in there on her own. Whenever he spoke with her there, he always sensed how anxious she was to leave again.

Their own friendship seemed to carry on as normal to the outside world but between them, Chakotay knew a deep strain was there and it was slowly getting to him. He found himself growing confused about the entire situation. He'd expected her to seem more relaxed as time passed, to feel safer, that he hadn't made mention of her finally admitting she loved him. Instead he noticed her withdrawing into herself more and more and it puzzled him no end. She appeared to grow more nervous, even depressed and it worried the hell out of him. Being unable to discuss the situation with Kathryn, he sought out B'Elanna.

"She's just not the same woman anymore and I know with everything that has happened… Well, that's to be expected but it's more than that. I mean she puts on this great act for the crew and it works, but on the bridge or when her guard is down… Spirits, you've seen it. You must have. And I can't…don't know…" He looked up at his old friend and shook his head.

"Chakotay, look…I admit she's different away from the crew and that she obviously feels she has to reassure them, but she's going to take time to get over this and I guess she feels she doesn't have to put on the act in front of the senior staff as much." She paused a moment. "I know she avoids her ready room and that's understandable for a while but I really think she's better than she was…"

Chakotay shook his head. "I know what you're saying. I guess maybe it's just me. I mean, between us it's…oh, I don't know what I mean…"

B'Elanna bit her lip. "How are you coping…within yourself I mean? Have you spoken to the others…Tom or Tuvok?"

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "We've all spoken a few times now and it's helped a lot…knowing they felt as helpless as I did. And I think it's helped them too…even Tuvok…." They both smiled at that. "I know Kathryn spoke with them too…to thank them."

B'Elanna nodded. "Yeah…she came to me too. She thanked me for what I did, on the ship and with Aluki. She told me she'd entered commendations into the logs for us all." They were both quiet for a moment until Chakotay shook his head and spoke.

"She's fine with all that side of it, addressing all that. It's the situation between her and me that has me most worried."

B'Elanna nodded sadly. "Has she made any mention of what she said to you? You know when I mean…"

Chakotay sighed deeply. "No…nothing. I sometimes wonder if perhaps she doesn't remember at all or else does and regrets it and I'm too afraid to push her and ask. Oh, at first, it was… We were like close friends, like we always have been and I was determined to be that for her, no matter how much it hurt. I was going to wait until she was more ready to speak of this but now it's… There's this strain, this awkwardness even." He sighed deeply. "Oh, who am I kidding. She remembers and I know it and she's backing away from it. And I'm letting her."

B'Elanna leaned forward slightly. "Chakotay, did you ever stop and think that maybe, just maybe, she's waiting to see if you say anything first?" She watched him think about this, a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes.

"I don't know, and I'm too scared to bring it up."

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "You know it's possible that she's afraid to bring it up also, afraid you don't want to know and that you're avoiding the subject because you can't or don't want to talk about it. Maybe she's unsure if she actually said anything at all. I mean she was pretty bad when we got to her…" She saw the pain on his face at the memory. "Look, why don't I talk to her?" She now saw a flash of panic. "Easy, old man, I won't say anything but maybe talking to me would help her in a different way, and I could be a kind of sounding board."

Chakotay frowned as he thought. "Maybe. I know she needs friends now. She's not talking to me the way she was and she still needs to get so much out. I know she still suffers nightmares and I go to her, although most of the time she doesn't know I'm there."

B'Elanna reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'll talk to her then but know this, I won't discuss with you what we talk about."

Chakotay smiled. "I wouldn't expect you to."

The following night, B'Elanna sought out her captain and invited herself in for drinks, having brought two bottles of wine with her.

"I hope you don't mind but I'm here for a few reasons." She had plonked herself on Kathryn's sofa and leaned back. "I need another woman to talk to before I go crazy. I needed to get away from Tom before I hit him with something. I also…" Her face softened. "I'll be honest. I think you need a woman friend and I guess I do too…after all that…" She watched Kathryn's face closely, afraid she'd gone too far. She saw fright there for a moment and then something close to relief.

"B'Elanna, you're right. I guess I do need… I need to relax with a friend and just chat and wind down. I'm just not sure about the wine…"

B'Elanna frowned. "Captain, it's OK stuff. There's nothing wrong with it and it's quite a tame variety…and you're off duty. I checked." She watched a nervous look cross the older woman's face. "Captain?" Kathryn shook her head and smiled.

"Sorry, B'Elanna. I'm just being silly. I just have this thing lately about… I guess anything that affects me… I can't explain. It's…loss of mental control or something…" She met B'Elanna's eyes and saw the young woman shake her head.

"Oh, Captain, I'm sorry. I didn't think. I'm sorry."

Kathryn smiled and drew in a deep breath. "No, you're right. I have to let that go and get past it." She drew in another deep breath. "I'm having a drink…there." She fetched some glasses and sat down on the sofa beside the engineer, her expression telling B'Elanna that the subject was closed. She opened another one though. "Just tell me something, which I think I already know the answer to…" B'Elanna frowned. "Chakotay had something to do with this too, didn't he?"

The Klingon woman debated lying but in the end she smiled and nodded her head. "He was a small part of it but that's all." She smiled. "He worries. Captain, this is just us…two women…two friends. I hope I can say that?"

Kathryn nodded and smiled. "Of course, you can. Now open that wine."

They drank and chatted about trivial matters for a while but finally the wine started to work and B'Elanna saw Kathryn relax a little more, even though she only sipped at her drink. Her own Klingon genes giving her more of a resistance to the effects of the wine, she slowly guided the conversation round to the past weeks. "I think most of them are past the worst of it now."

Kathryn nodded, the wine lowering her defences a little. "I tried so hard not to… I didn't want them hearing me and now…" She looked up slowly. "I checked the Doctor's files. Not the crew's files, just his own reports. I know they all heard and that it stayed with them. I know some even still…still hear me, although I think Naomi is past that now…" She looked at B'Elanna. "What about you?"

B'Elanna swirled her drink in her glass. "Not at night so much now but in my head…the memory…" She met her captain's eyes and took a chance. "You?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I don't…when I…" She took a deep swallow of wine. "At the time, my own screams… They…they felt…like a dream then…not real to me…only the pain…" Her eyes were filling up and she blinked. "I don't hear them that way. It's different…" She took another drink and remained quiet now.

B'Elanna pushed a little. "Captain? How is it different?"

The older woman seemed to debate speaking on and then did. "My dreams…at night… Well, nightmares… And I wake…and thank God Chakotay doesn't hear…at least I hope he doesn't… I mean he did at first and he came to me. I think he still does the odd time…" Her eyes were filling up again and she didn't try and hide it this time. B'Elanna wasn't about to tell her the truth about Chakotay's nocturnal visits when he soothed his Captain back to sleep. "It's their faces…his face and…the pain…always that pain… I still feel…and the emotions of it all…fear…shame… anger…all of it…" She shook her head and finally admitted what she'd been denying, even to herself. "I can't feel safe…" B'Elanna reached for her hand but remained quiet.

"It's as if…if this had happened…somewhere else…on some planet or on an away mission… I mean things have happened before…but there was always Voyager. I could come back to feeling safe here…only now…"

B'Elanna squeezed her hand. "Because it happened here, there's no escape?" Kathryn met her eyes and nodded. "Have you talked to Chakotay about this? About feeling like this?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I was talking to him and it helped…and this is something I've barely admitted to myself…but he has his own demons to fight…and it's too hard now…"

B'Elanna frowned and shook her head. "I thought you could always talk to him?"

Kathryn smiled sadly. "That was before. I tried but…" She suddenly seemed to realize what she was saying and clammed up. She leaned forward and refilled their glasses, needing a distraction.


Kathryn turned back to her and smiled. "Kathryn…I think at this stage…in this situation…"

B'Elanna smiled and nodded. "OK Kathryn…thanks. Look, Chakotay will be all right. I know he feels bad about not being able to stop all this but he'll get over that. I know he's just worried about you. Also, there's no time limit on this. I know you let the crew see you bouncing back, dealing with it but you don't have to be like that with me or Chakotay. It's all right and only to be expected that you'll still be dealing with this. Please don't feel you have to be past this within a certain time frame." Kathryn kept her head down and B'Elanna took a chance and pushed on. "There's more going here though, isn't there?"

Kathryn's head snapped up. "What do you mean?" She met a slight smile on the Klingon's face.

"Just a gut feeling and some things you just said…about 'that was before' and that 'it's too hard now'. I just get the feeling there's more to all this." She stopped talking now and let her captain digest her words. She almost saw her working through their words in her mind, trying to reach a decision. In the end, she seemed to reach one and smiled softly, more to herself than at B'Elanna.

"You're very wise, B'Elanna. You see a lot. I also think Chakotay talks to you a lot." She looked the young Engineer in the eyes now but there wasn't a trace of recrimination there. B'Elanna for her part, remained silent. "It's OK. I'm glad he has someone to talk to. I guess he told you then. I wasn't sure he knew or maybe didn't hear me or was just avoiding…" B'Elanna frowned slightly, needing to make sure they were talking about the same thing.

Kathryn smiled and shook her head. "Is that frown a cover to make me think you don't know or is it because you want to be sure we're talking about the same thing?"

B'Elanna smiled a little. "Maybe a bit of both…."

Kathryn nodded and smiled too. "OK, but I want your assurance that this stays between us." She nodded, knowing the answer to that already. "I know and I trust you. I need so badly to talk about this before I go crazy." She took a moment to refill her glass, realizing for a moment how much faster than B'Elanna she was drinking, despite how she felt about losing control. She shut the thought away then leaned back, taking a deep drink before speaking.

"I'm not asking you to tell me what he said to you…" She looked straight at B'Elanna, needing to be sure. "This is about our time together in the ready room…before the Doctor arrived?" B'Elanna barely nodded. Kathryn smiled sadly and leaned forward, playing with her glass now.

"I said some things…one thing in particular actually…to Chakotay, I mean. I told him I loved him." She looked up at the other woman quickly and the lack of surprise or reaction there told her a lot. "I see you already know about that though." She laughed slightly. "It's OK. I don't mind that he told you. I trust you and as I say, I need to talk about this, hence how much I'm drinking." She lifted her glass a moment and smiled. "There were times I wasn't sure I'd said anything, thought maybe I'd dreamed it or…. I don't know, but I knew really, I guess. I knew I'd said it…knew what I was saying at the time…and now I know for sure…" She leaned forward and put her glass down then brought her hands to her face, her elbows on her knees.

"Oh God, I made such a fool of myself. I can't imagine what he must think of me…how embarrassed he must be…and I know he's tried to let me down gently…" She jumped slightly when she felt B'Elanna's hand on her shoulder.

"What makes you think that? If you were to talk to him about this…"

Kathryn shook her head quickly, almost panicking. "I don't need his pity or to hurt myself even more. I've made a big enough mess of all this as it is."

B'Elanna sighed. "Cap…Kathryn… Just listen to me here." She looked around the room then back at the older women, making her decision quickly. She licked her lips before speaking. "I can tell you that Chakotay did speak to me. What I can't tell you is what he said, no more than I'll repeat anything we've spoken of here tonight back to him…or anyone else for that matter." She sighed and shook her head. "That actually makes this a very awkward situation." She shook her head again. "All I can say to you is this. Talk to Chakotay. Tell him what you've just told me. I'll tell him to talk to you too. That's all I can say on this. Will you do that?"

Kathryn studied her, a very worried look on her face. "I don't…I can't… B'Elanna, please. I've already made a complete fool of myself. He doesn't feel anything for me anymore. I was too late. Maybe he never really did…"

B'Elanna shook her head, appearing a little annoyed now. "Kathryn, LISTEN to me. Listen carefully. Talk to him and tell him what you told me. I'm going to talk to him and tell him to talk to you too, tell him to tell you what he told me. Do you understand me? God, this is getting confusing." She watched an array of emotions cross her captain's face. Without thinking she stood up and walked to the door, heading out into the corridor.

Chakotay's smile met B'Elanna when he opened his door to her. It fell away when she reached in and grabbed his arm. "Come with me now."

He seemed too shocked to do anything other than allow himself to be pulled alone. He stopped dead though when he found himself being dragged into Kathryn's quarters and took in the sight of her sitting on her sofa, her hands wiping tears from her face. At her look of panic upon seeing him, he turned quickly, only to be stopped by B'Elanna.

"I'll say this one more time and I hope you can both understand what I mean. You've BOTH spoken to me and as I already said, nothing spoken of there will ever, ever be repeated, so this is the only way I can think of. This is what I'll say to both of you. TALK to each other. Tell each other EXACTLY what you both told me. Do you both understand that?" She looked from one terrified face to the other. "Say EXACTLY to each other what you both said to me." She shook her head and turned for the door. "Can I be any less obvious here?" With that she was gone.

Chakotay and Kathryn stared at each other for a good minute before they both looked away. Chakotay lifted his head first and slowly made his way to Kathryn on the sofa then sat quietly, his insides in knots.

"Can you understand what she said? I think I do but I guess I'm…afraid to say…" He looked at her, still wiping at her face. Slowly she looked up at him, her eyes filling up again.

"I'm scared to…in case…in case it's not…and I couldn't stand it…" Her pain tore at Chakotay and he felt tears of his own begin. Drawing in a ragged deep breath, he took the chance of his life.

"We're talking about those minutes before Doc arrived…in your ready room…" It wasn't a question or a statement and he saw her nod, seemingly afraid to look at him. He hesitantly reached out and took her hand, making her look at him. "I remember what you said to me…everything you said…" He swallowed and held his breath.

Kathryn barely nodded. "I…I…remember…"

He closed his eyes a moment and let out the breath he'd been holding, then took another one. "What you said…" He could feel his heart thumping in his chest. "Did you mean…?" His words dried in his mouth as he watched for her reaction. He saw tears spring afresh to her eyes as she slowly nodded.

"I meant them…meant it…"

Chakotay just stared at her, his thoughts a jumble, too shocked to say anything, having just heard what he'd wanted so much to hear.

Kathryn blinked, misreading his silence and her tears fell to her cheeks. "I understand though how I was too late, how I embarrassed you and that you were trying to let me down gently…not speak of it…and I'm sorry…so sorry…" She suddenly pulled her hand from his and jumped up, running blindly for her bedroom. Her sudden movement jerked Chakotay out of it and he was on his feet and after her in a second. He caught her quickly, his arms closing around her, holding her back to him tightly, even as she struggled.

"Kathryn…stop… Please listen to me. Listen." She stilled her movements but he could feel her shaking against him as she quietly sobbed. "Kathryn…just listen now…" His mouth was against her ear, his breath on her neck. "Listen to me please…" She stayed quiet.

"Kathryn, when you told me… When you said those words to me… I was so worried about you…your injuries and how bad it was…and yet… When you spoke those words to me, it was like nothing else existed. They were all I ever wanted to hear and… Oh, I know it sounds terrible when I was so worried about you but…that was…that moment… When you told me you loved me, it was all that mattered. It was the most wonderful, joyous moment of my life." He heard her catch her breath. "Kathryn…oh Kathryn… I wanted to say… I was so shocked…couldn't believe you'd finally…and then… Oh God…then you left me…passed out and you…you didn't hear me…didn't hear when I answered you… I finally told you…that I loved you too…" She suddenly sobbed loudly in his arms and he released her, turning her to him. Tears coursed down her face, as her eyes sought his.

"Kathryn…I didn't say anything after…in sickbay and since…because I thought… I thought you wouldn't remember…either from the drugs or how hurt you were…or if you did, that you'd regret it and if I said anything, that I'd only push you away again or scare you. I waited to see if you'd say something and you didn't and I was afraid to and…." He stopped suddenly as her hands came up to his face, her eyes searching his.

"You told me too…?"

He nodded and bit his lip. "You'd passed out and I was so scared…terrified…" He didn't try and hide his own tears.

"You still want me? You still feel something for me? How…?" He saw her fear and grabbed her face between his hands, his manner almost rough.

"Kathryn…why don't you know that? I'll always want you…always love you. Why don't you know that?"

Her face crumpled. "How could you? After all I've done…pushing you away…hurting you…"

He was nearly shaking her now. "How can you not know that? What I feel for you can't ever die. It's too strong…and I tried to tell you and show you so many times…"

She was sobbing hard now. "And I never let you. I hurt you so much. I shoved it all back at you…and you still feel…? I don't deserve…" He suddenly just pulled her to him tightly and started rocking her in his arms.

"You could kill me, rip my heart out and I'd still love you. I can't ever stop…couldn't… You're my life…all of me…" He felt her arms coming around him as she clung to him, sobbing harder than before. "Shhhh love, it's all right…it's all right…" He pulled back from her and scooped her up in his arms, walking to the bed where he lay her down and dropped down beside her, pulling her back into his arms again.

"Kathryn…let it all out. It's all right. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." She only cried harder, as if releasing every ounce of pain she'd ever experienced in her life. Chakotay just held her, absorbing every cry of pain from her. Slowly she grew quieter until only the occasional sniffle reached his ears. Even when she grew silent, he still held her close, rocking her to him, kissing the top of her head every few seconds. Finally, he eased back and saw that she'd cried herself out and had fallen into an exhausted sleep. He smiled to himself and just pulled her tighter to him until he slowly drifted off himself, a sense of peace and hope for the future surging through him, the likes of which he hadn't experienced before.

Chakotay was already awake and watching Kathryn when she woke up the next morning. He smiled slightly as he watched her brief confusion turn to embarrassment.

"It's all right, Kathryn. Everything's fine."

She smiled shyly, then nodded her head. "I'm sorry. I keep falling apart with you lately."

He leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. "That's what I'm here for." He pulled back then, his face serious. "I've been awake for some time now and thinking about a lot of things. I don't want to seem as if I'm taking over here or pushing you in any way, but hear me out and tell me what you think." She nodded slowly, a slight fear in her eyes. He tightened his arms around her and saw it leave her eyes.

"You've been through a terrible time lately and you need to get over that. We've dealt with some of it but I think there's still more there for you to work through." She nodded slightly, her admitting this to him giving him hope. "Us, Kathryn…our relationship and where we go from here…" He saw the fear creep back into her eyes and smiled softly. "I love you and you love me. We've established that." She nodded again, her eyes filling up this time.

When he saw her about to speak, he pressed a finger to her lips. "Let me say this first, please…" She nodded. "First, we get through this, get back to who and what we were before. Exorcise the ghosts and demons if you like…and then…then Kathryn…there'll be us. For now, there's no pressure. We know how we feel. We get past this, be there for each other as the good friends we always have been and always will be and then, and only then, we move on." Kathryn just stared at him for a long time, tears filling her eyes before they slipped down her face. He brought a hand up and stroked her cheek. "What do you think?"

Kathryn brought her own hand up and cupped his face. "I don't think, I know. I know I love you and yes, I agree. I know I still have areas I need to deal with and I want to get past them first. When we come together, I don't want anything else there to cloud or shadow that for us."

Chakotay felt his own eyes fill up and pulled her to him. "Then that's what we'll do. Oh, and I'll say it now when you can hear me. Kathryn…I love you. Never ever doubt that."

She managed a smile without bursting into tears. "I love you too, Chakotay…always…" They stayed cuddled together for a long time afterward.

Over the next few weeks, Chakotay led Kathryn through a healing, physically and emotionally gaining strength. She opened up to him as never before and spoke of how insecure she felt on the ship now and how she found it hard to feel safe. With time though, these feelings eased. She even told him how afraid she'd been to have a drink with B'Elanna, and her fear of losing even a small amount of control. She also finally admitted to him just why she'd been so upset when Naomi hugged her. Chakotay had simply pulled her into his arms when she told him that and whispered that they still had that waiting in the future for them. They addressed each and every issue and dealt with it all.

Occasionally, Chakotay would sleep over with her in her quarters but they just held each other through the night. Her nightmares had almost vanished now but Chakotay was always on the alert, even when he slept. He woke one night to find her side of the bed empty and called to her, thinking she might be in the bathroom. When he received no answer and checked the other room, he began to feel nervous. Requesting her location from the computer, he was informed in the monotone voice, that she was in her ready room. He checked the time and discovered it was 03.20. Dressing quickly, he made his way to the bridge, smiling at the confused face of Harry Kim.

"At ease, Harry. No emergency. Is the Captain in there?" Harry nodded and moved to his First Officer, so he wouldn't be heard by the rest of the skeleton night crew. If he wondered how his First Officer knew his captain was missing in the middle of the night, he gave no indication.

"She's been in there for about half an hour. She said she had something to do and she seemed OK. I wasn't sure…"

Chakotay smiled at the young Ensign's concern. "Thanks, Harry." Without ringing for admittance, he used his override and entered.

The lights were at a low illumination and Chakotay saw her staring out of the viewport, in a pose he knew well, but her face held an expression he didn't know. She looked around quickly from her place on the sofa when she heard him enter. He tried to read her expression but couldn't. "Kathryn…?"

She managed a small smile. "I'm fine, Chakotay. Just exorcising those demons we spoke of." He moved slowly to sit beside her. "I didn't want to wake you and I know I should have left a note or something…"

He smiled his understanding, silently telling her it was all right. "How's it going?"

She turned to him and shrugged. "You know, I've discovered that it's just a room. It's four walls, bulkheads, furniture, a viewport… At least it's that if I make it so." He smiled softly. "It's something else if I let it be. I know now that it just happened to be in this room…that it could have been anywhere…and I need to get past that. Things have happened on away missions and I've never let that stop me going on other missions. Sitting here tonight has helped me a lot. The battle ground where I need to fight all this is here." She raised her hand and pointed to her head. "In here…those memories… They're what need to be dealt with and I can do that…I know I can. I felt for a time and still do a little…that my safe haven had been violated but I refuse to let Bren ruin my home for all time. I know he doesn't have the power to do that, that he can only do that if I let him. I can move past this by deciding to move past it and I can do it because I know what's waiting for me at the other side…" She lowered her hand and reached for his.

He took her hand. "I'm so very proud of you, do you know that?" She smiled, a little embarrassed. "I am, Kathryn. You've come a long way and you've done so well." He squeezed her hand tightly.

She bit her lower lip moment. "I know I'll always remember what happened here but I can deal with that. I can look at it briefly when it comes to mind and shut it out again, then move on. I don't think I could have done that without you…and I wouldn't have you without a certain chief engineer, whom I've yet to talk to and thank for bringing us together." Chakotay smiled at the memory and nodded his head.

"She certainly knows how to get things done." They both smiled as they thought of that night. Kathryn then let the smile slip and shook her head sadly.

Chakotay frowned. "What is it…?"

She smiled at his concern. "It's just… I mean, when I think…" She shook her head again. "Without B'Elanna, maybe we'd never have known what the other was thinking. We were both so scared…misreading each other all the time. And then I also realize that, and this sounds crazy, but it helps to deal with it…but without…" Chakotay frowned as he watched her sort her thoughts. "Without Bren and all that happened… I guess a part of me should be grateful to him in a way, because without all that, maybe I'd never have had the courage to tell you how I felt and that…that hurts me. I try and tell myself I would have…but I don't know…" She was close to tears and Chakotay reached for her, pulling her around to face him.

"Kathryn, I learned a long time ago not to try and analyse certain things. It can drive you crazy. Accept what we have and enjoy it. Don't question it. We can't go back to the past and change things, only learn from them. Live the life that awaits us and cherish every moment of it. Just accept that we now know how much we love each other and let the rest go." Kathryn nodded tearfully and then smiled.

"You're starting to sound as logical as Tuvok." They both laughed and hugged each other. He watched her smile slightly and frowned a little.

"Kathryn…?" She shook herself and let her smile grow.

"Oh it's just something he said to me, Bren, I mean…" She squeezed Chakotay's hand when she saw a flash of worry cross his face. "It was just… I remember him when he was screaming at me to tell him…tell him what he wanted to know…and he said…that the truth would free me or something…" She smiled again and raised her hand to his face. "He was right about that. I finally told you the truth and it has set me free." Their eyes locked, their love for each other speaking silently between them. Finally, Chakotay sat back a little and helped her to her feet.

"Come on, lady, there are still some hours of sleep left. Let's make the most of them." Without a backward glance, they left the ready room hand in hand, ordering the lights out, shutting out the nightmare for all time. They didn't even notice the happy smiles of Harry and the other crew as they entered the turbolift hand in hand.