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 had 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 would 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 had 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 would 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 there 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 had 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 had 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…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 would 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…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…well 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.

“Yeh 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.

“Oh God…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 would drug me…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 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…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…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 would 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 felt 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 had 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.

“God Doc, I know how they feel…  I can’t get rid of it myself…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 nodded.

“Whose idea of 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…more a need thing…that just grew into an idea…when they met late at night in the mess hall…unable to sleep…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 would just drift off, drawing comfort as if 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…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…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.

“God 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 had been so sure she would 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 had 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 have received 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 across 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 had 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 are 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 to 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…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 had 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 had 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 face 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 to her mother now and 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 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 had 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 would 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 had expected her to seem more relaxed as time past, 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…God…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 God…I don’t know what I mean…”  B’Elanna bit her lip.

“How are you coping…within yourself I mean…?  Have to 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…thanked me for what I did…on the ship and with Aluki…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…wait until she was more ready to speak of this…but now it’s…there’s this strain…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…God knows 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…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 God 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…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 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…that it stayed with them…some even still…still hear me…though 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…came to me…and 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 had 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…an away mission…I mean things have happened before…but there was always Voyager…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…and 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.

“Captain…?”  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 will 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…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…and 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…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 had said anything…thought maybe I’d dreamed it or….I don’t know…but I knew really I guess…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…and 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 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…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…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 God…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…the most wonderful, joyous moment of my life…”  He heard her catch her breath.  “Kathryn…oh Kathryn…I wanted to say…and 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…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…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 and I waited to see if you would 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…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 round 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 had 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 had 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 the next morning.  He smiled slightly as he watched her brief confusion turn to embarrassment.

“It’s all right Kathryn…everything is 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 had 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 had 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 round 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 now.

“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.

“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.

“I know I’ll always remember what happened here but I can deal with that.  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 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.

“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…and 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 round 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.