Disclaimer: Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager.  I don’t.  Only borrowing                

                     them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Rating:         NC17.

Summary:     When Naomi goes missing, it re-opens Kathryn's painful past.

                      This story covers the subjects of child abuse and incest.

                      Please read the warning below before reading the story.


WARNING:      PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY BEFORE
                           STARTING THIS STORY.



This story is the result of many requests to take on this subject.  It is about the highly sensitive issues of child abuse and incest.  I thought long and hard before undertaking this, well aware of the enormity of the task and of how some readers will take it.

I researched this endlessly and spoke with a victim, whom I shall name here as Sarah.  My eternal gratitude and admiration go to her – along with my deep thanks for her trust and openness.  Many of the issues raised and the words spoken in this story, come from her.  The emotions are all hers, as unfortunately, are many of the experiences.


Living in Ireland, this subject is close to home.  After more than 50 years of physical and sexual abuse in Church and State run homes, up to 6,000 victims are now suing the State and Church.  This is only those who have come forward.  Many died in these places, their bodies buried with no questions asked.  Most victims were boarders whose families didn’t believe them - or orphans, with no one there to speak out on their behalf.  If a child cut school or committed a petty offence, they were sent to these places.  Only now are the victims given the right to fight for compensation, although nothing can return those lost years or erase the pain and memories.  Those abused as day pupils in these schools and institutions are entitled to nothing, as it is considered that they ‘were in the care of their parents’ at the time.  One paedophile priest was jailed for abusing over 80 boys and girls from the 1960s onward.  Most victims, those like Sarah, survived, only to live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

For one child to suffer abuse, physically or sexually – that is one child too many.  Silence and ignorance are the accomplices of every abuser and it’s up to the adults to break that cycle.  Unfortunately, all too often, society fails the child.  From family, friends and carers  -  to teachers, the medical profession and social services – the signs are often ignored or misunderstood, sometimes tragically, until it is too late.  In the case of this Country, an entire generation refused to see or believe what was happening.

Blind trust is mostly to blame.  We see a priest’s collar, a cop’s uniform, a doctor’s white coat and we trust blindly.  Family can be the same.  ‘Daddy or Uncle Joe could never do that.  We can trust them’.  A child will not lie about something like this.  They trust us to be there for them and keep them safe.  Listen to them.  Educate yourself and learn the signs to look for.  If you suspect anything, please call the appropriate authorities to save even one child from this evil.  These are our children, our future.  We OWE them the right to grow up in a safe and loving environment.
If you are or were a victim of abuse, I urge you to please seek help.  It is never too late to reclaim your life and there is no shame.  Claim it all back and beat your abuser.  Don’t let them win and continue their control over you (Sarah’s words).



THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER.


By KAT LADY.





PART ONE.




Chakotay entered his Captain’s ready room, his eyes searching her out, not finding her behind her desk.  It vaguely registered with him that the lights had been dimmed to about 50% but the room was still illuminated enough for him to see well.  He looked towards the viewport and saw her, her back to him, ramrod straight.  She made no move to turn around and he wondered how long she had been standing there or if she had even heard him enter.  He took just a moment, drawing in a breath before speaking, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on her.

“We found her.  She’s fine.”  He saw a barely visible shiver, a tremble almost, then her shoulders drop a little, before stiffening again.

“Is she…was she harmed…?”  Her voice was low but he heard a tremor in it.  She still didn’t turn to face him.

“No.  She’s just fine.  She wasn’t harmed in any way.  Doc is with the search team and he checked her over.”  He moved a little closer.  “She’s shaken…a little confused but…”  He saw her nod.

“But she wasn’t touched…harmed…in any way…?”  He knew suddenly what she was asking.

“I don’t believe so.  They’ll be back here shortly and the Doctor wants to take her to sickbay for a full check up.”  He saw her shoulders stiffen again but she still didn’t turn to look at him.

“Keep me informed.  Get down there.  I’ll join you shortly.”  Her tone was dismissing him rather than her words.  He nodded silently, wanting to reach out and touch her.  He held himself back and stood for a moment more, watching her back and trying to make out her face in the reflection of the viewport.  As if reading his intent, she lowered her head.

“That will be all Commander.  I’ll be there in a few minutes.  Dismissed.”  The message was loud and clear this time and Chakotay turned and headed for the door.

“Aye Captain.”  He glanced back at her for a moment and saw that she hadn’t moved an inch.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay waited in the Doctor’s office as the Medic scanned his confused and frightened patient.  He watched Sam, the child’s mother, hover close by, seeing the struggle there to control her emotions.  She had been to hell and back while her child had been missing, running through a gamut of emotions, kept sane only with the love and support of her fellow crewmembers.

Chakotay looked down at his hands a moment as they lay in his lap.  He flexed his fingers then twisted them together, making steeple shapes with them.  He let his mind drift back to earlier in the day and offered up a prayer of thanks that the day was almost over, everything back where it should be in their lives.


^^^^^^^^^^

Thiros was a beautiful planet, rich in resources.  The natives were friendly and trade with ‘off worlders’ as the locals called them, was welcomed.  Voyager was basically in good shape but thinking and planning ahead like any good Captain, Kathryn took the opportunity to stockpile what they could.  She had learned through bitter experience to take chances where they were found, the Delta Quadrant being far from predictable.  The crew never knew when their next opportunity to trade would come or whether the next race they encountered would fall under the category of ‘friend’ or ‘foe’.

After two days in orbit of the planet, most of the crew had managed a few hours shore leave and Chakotay had even managed to drag Kathryn down to the surface for some time away from the ship, spending a few hours with her as they walked together, before enjoying the picnic lunch Neelix had lovingly prepared for them.

Their friendship had begun to deepen slowly and Chakotay let Kathryn set the pace, knowing that to rush things between them, would only result in her fleeing back behind the walls she often built around herself.  They had been here before, things going well between them, until something would send her scurrying back inside herself.  Each time he hoped it would be different.  He constantly longed for more than friendship with her but sensed that she felt unwilling or unable to give more.  Chakotay often found himself comparing Kathryn to a deer, venturing out into the forest, sniffing the air to see if it was safe, only to flee back to safety.  Many times over the course of their friendship, he had sensed that she was about to remove the invisible barrier that seemed to exist between them, yet each time, she backed away.

Of late, he had watched as she once more moved slowly towards him, testing the ground almost, yet he still felt the presence of some unseen shadow between them, one which Kathryn seemed unable or unwilling to dispel by shining the light on.  And so as usual, he gladly took what he was given, as he bided his time and watched quietly as she once more grew comfortable with him around her and the relationship they had.

Upon their return to the ship from their shore leave, he had gone with her to inspect the supplies they had negotiated for.  Voyager’s stores were bursting at the seams and Kathryn hadn’t felt this content in months.  The cupboard was full and it was a good feeling, one she revelled in.  Chakotay had tried his best to stifle a laugh as he had watched her survey their supplies, a self-satisfied smile on her face.

“Is mother happy now?”  Kathryn turned to him and made a face.

“Come on, Chakotay, admit it.  Being this well stocked with all we need is the best feeling.”  His laugh left him and his face softened into a smile.

“Kind of reminds me of holidays when I was a kid.  The house was full of food, with logs in abundance just outside.  I always felt we could just close the door and be self-sufficient, safe from all harm.  We had everything we needed there.”  He saw the smile drop from her face to be replaced by a deep sadness and something else he couldn’t read.  “Kathryn…?”  She jerked away from wherever she had been and pasted a smile on her face, one he knew was for his benefit.

“Yes…I’m sure…”  She seemed to be talking to herself as she turned away to study the supplies again, then drew her shoulders back.  He watched as she schooled her features to fit her Captain’s mask.  “Well, I’d better get back to the bridge.”  She was past him and out the door before his mind registered the fact, leaving him standing there, totally confused and a little worried.  Neelix bursting into the store broke into his thoughts then, the Talaxian as excited as a child on Christmas morning, as he scanned the supplies, his mind already planning menus for the next month.


^^^^^^^^^^

It was their last day in orbit of Thiros and Chakotay strolled the corridors, his thoughts taking him back to the previous evening.  He remembered how relaxed Kathryn had been when she had joined him on shore leave, but she’d been quiet since their conversation in the stores, her walls coming up again.  Since then, she had even seemed to be avoiding him.

He thought back now to how she had acted when he’d mentioned childhood holidays and frowned a little but then dismissed her sudden melancholy as homesickness.  Talking of and remembering things like that, often had the same effect on him.  What puzzled him now was her instant dismissal of his offer to again join him on the planet for a few hours, citing too much work as her excuse.  In his mind, she needed more time away from the ship and he thought it would be the best thing for her, perhaps taking her mind off thoughts of home and happier times.  He remembered her expression as she had turned down the offer, one he knew only too well.  This was Kathryn pulling back into her shell and he knew what the next few days would bring.  She would be quiet, spending her time alone, until she decided to come back to them all.  He’d seen it so many times now.  Something would be mentioned by himself or one of the crew, usually regarding home, and she would pull back, her eyes telling him that although her body was still present, her mind was definitely elsewhere.  He’d also seen it occur when she thought he was getting too close.  This time, just like on all previous occasions, he was at a loss to explain her behaviour.

He entered the mess hall now and picked up a tray, his mind still on his Captain.  Was it just homesickness?  He shook his head to himself.  Surely she was well past that now, just as they all were, past the place where missing home so much took a grip on you and could cripple you for a time.  He even wondered if it was perhaps to do with their deepening friendship, which had seemed to be going so well, with Kathryn setting the pace herself.  He shook his head slightly and frowned.  Something just didn’t feel right.  The change in her had been too abrupt, when usually her pulling back was more gradual.  He found now that he couldn’t shake a feeling that there was more to this and a pattern to it, which he just hadn’t picked up on, some clue he had missed.  One look at Neelix’s offering for lunch took his thoughts in a different direction then.  Needing all his concentration to look interested in the goo before him, he let his mind snap back to the present.

^^^^^^^^^^

After lunch, Chakotay was on the bridge, Kathryn in her ready room, when the call came in from the surface.  Naomi Wildman was missing.  Chakotay immediately hailed his Captain and she was on the bridge in seconds.

Over the next four hours, Tuvok and his security team joined forces with Thirosean security as they searched for the missing girl.  Chakotay liased between the surface and Kathryn, bringing each report to her personally as she hid out in her ready room, something which surprised him greatly.  He tried to gauge her mood each time he came in but failed, seeing that she was keeping a tight rein on her emotions, her Captain’s mask securely in place.  This time, she stood quickly and snapped at him.

“What the hell happened down there?”  Chakotay was shocked at the venom in her voice.

“I told you.  She was with Sam and several others.  She seems to have wandered off for a moment.  Kathryn, this isn’t anyone’s fault.  Sam feels bad enough as it is.  She’s inconsolable.  Look, we’ll find Naomi…she can’t be far…”  Kathryn turned on him.

“Why weren’t they watching her more closely?  Anything could have happened to her…”  Chakotay moved towards her now.

“Kathryn, calm down here.  It’s no one’s fault.  Children have a habit of exploring and wandering away all the time…”  Kathryn only half heard him.


“Don’t tell me to calm down…  Anything could happen to her…  She’s only a child…”  She made for the door suddenly.  “I’m going down there…I have to find her…  I’ve wasted too much time here.  I should have been there all along…”  Chakotay grabbed her arm, careful not to grip too tightly.

“Kathryn, take it easy.  Everyone is looking for her already.  They’ll find her.  You need to stay here and let them get on with their jobs….”  She pulled from his grip and turned away.

“It’s my fault…”  Chakotay threw his eyes up.

“It’s no one’s fault.  Kathryn, stop this.”  Her behaviour was beginning to worry him now.  “What’s wrong with you?  Why are you acting like this…?”  Kathryn turned suddenly and stared at him, seeming to snap back into control but the shadow of something he couldn’t understand, remained in her eyes.

“You’re right…  I’m sorry…”  She turned away as she saw him try to read her face.  “Thank you Commander…keep me informed…”  All he got now was her back.  He wasn’t willing to let it go at that though.  He came up behind her.

“Why do I get the impression that there’s more to all this…something you’re not telling me…?”  She turned away as he approached her.

“I’m just worried about the child.  That will be all, Commander…”  Her tone of voice warned him off but he ignored it.

“Kathryn, you’re worrying me here.  In fact, even before this…  What was that in the stores yesterday?  Something seemed to change in you as soon as I mentioned holidays and home…”  As if not hearing him, she moved a little further away.

“Contact the search team again.  Check their progress and report back to me.”  He was dismissed and so was the subject.  Chakotay sighed deeply, then nodded and left.  There was no talking to her when she was like this.

An hour later, Tuvok hailed Chakotay and reported to him that Naomi had been found safe and sound.  The Doctor was already on the surface, thanks to his mobile emitter, and had given the child a quick check up, declaring that she was unharmed.  Chakotay heaved a sigh of relief and arranged for Tuvok to make a full report to him when he returned to the ship.  For now, he stood and made his way to the ready room to report to his Captain.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay snapped out of his memories of earlier in the day as the Doctor approached him.  The smile on the face of the Medic told him what he needed to know.

“She’s just fine Commander.  There wasn’t a hair on her head harmed.  She was a little upset and frightened before, more as a result of seeing her mother upset than anything else.  Once I played it down with her, she relaxed more.  I’ve given her a mild sedative and she’ll most likely sleep through the night.  She’ll get over all this in a day or two.  Children are remarkably resilient.  Her mother is far more upset by all this than Naomi is.  She’s managing to hide that well now, so Naomi isn’t picking up on that anymore and reacting to it.”  Chakotay blew out a breath.

“The Captain was worried that…  She wasn’t harmed ‘in ANY way’?”  The Doctor understood quickly.


“I know what you’re asking, Commander.  No.  I can tell you quite plainly that she was not interfered with in ANY way, as you put it.”  He shook his head.  “I’ve seen the Thirosean man who took her…”  Chakotay looked up quickly at this.  The Doctor shook his head.  “He was quite upset really…  He seemed to believe that Naomi was his own daughter.  Commander Tuvok will report to you in full as soon as he returns to the ship…but I don’t believe Naomi was ever in any danger, at any time, from this man.”  Chakotay nodded his head slowly.

“Has Sam taken Naomi back to their quarters?”  The Doctor nodded.

“She was already falling asleep from the sedative I gave her.  Ms. Wildman is still upset but she’s just more relieved than anything else now.  This will stay with her longer than it will with Naomi.  She’ll be overprotective for some time, but she will eventually learn to relax and feel safe again.  I doubt she’ll ever forget this though.  Still, getting Naomi to forget this is more important.  Sam is a grown woman and will learn to move past it.  She has plenty of support.”  Chakotay nodded again and looked up to see Kathryn standing behind the Doctor.

“Captain…  The Doctor was just reporting to me…”  Kathryn was staring at the Doctor only, her expression set in stone.

“How is she…?”  The Doctor smiled gently.

“As I was reporting to the Commander here, Naomi is just fine.  She was completely unharmed.  She wasn’t touched or interfered with in any way…”  Chakotay thought he saw a strange flicker in Kathryn's eyes and frowned.  “I gave her a mild sedative and she’ll sleep until morning.  She was a little upset and frightened…confused even…but once she sees the adults around her playing this down, she’ll forget about it quickly.”  Kathryn seemed to take his words in but still stared at the Doctor.

“You’re sure…absolutely certain…that nothing happened to her…?  She didn’t say anything…?  You checked her completely…?”  The Doctor frowned now.

“Captain, I checked her thoroughly.  She is completely unharmed.  Nothing happened to her.  I spoke with her even.  The man brought her to his house and played games with her.  He didn’t touch her at all, except to hold her hand.  He gave her some sugar treats, as she called them.  That was what he said they were.  As I reported to Commander Chakotay, this man seems to need help himself.  He appeared to believe that Naomi was his own daughter…  He didn’t harm her in any way…”  Kathryn seemed lost in thought as she listened to the Medic’s words.

“So you’re sure…one hundred percent certain…there was nothing…?”  The Doctor seemed annoyed now.

“Captain, I can keep saying this and it won’t change.  She was unharmed…wasn’t touched in ANY WAY whatsoever…  I can’t make it any more clear…”  Kathryn held up her hand.

“I apologize Doctor.  I just wanted to be sure…”  The Doctor frowned at her again and nodded.

“I understand.  Mr. Tuvok will be returning shortly.  He’ll be able to tell you more about what happened.  From the medical side of things, my work is done.  She’s fine.”  Kathryn glanced at Chakotay and saw the worried look on his face then looked away.

“Thank you Doctor.  Commander, please inform Commander Tuvok that I wish to see him immediately upon his return…”  She turned quickly and left, leaving the Doctor and Chakotay staring after her.

“She worries too much about this crew…  I wish she’d worry half as much about herself…”  The Doctor moved around behind his desk.  Chakotay shook himself.


“Sorry Doctor?  Oh yes…  yes…you’re right…”  He rubbed at his face, trying to push down a nagging feeling inside himself, the one he couldn’t seem to grasp a meaning for.  “Well, I’d better get back to the bridge.  Thank you again Doctor…”  He stood and left, leaving the Medic sitting there with an amused look on his face.

“I’ll never understand them…never…”

^^^^^^^^^^

An hour later, Tuvok stood in his Captain’s ready room and made his report.  Kathryn sat behind her desk and played with a padd in her hands, glancing up at her Security Officer occasionally.  Chakotay stood close beside him and listened to the report but found himself watching his Captain more.

“I’ve spoken with the Thirosean authorities.  The male who abducted Naomi was known to them…”  Kathryn's head snapped up.

“He’d done this before…taken a child…?”  Tuvok frowned slightly.

“No Captain.  He was just known to them.  These people live in close community groups.  Crime is extremely rare on their world.  Abducting a child is unheard of.  This man, Thal Rios, has never committed any crime before.”  Kathryn barely nodded and played with the padd again.  Tuvok continued with his report.

“His wife died in childbirth some years ago.  He raised his daughter on his own.  She was apparently the only family he had.  Several months ago, there was a school outing to some nearby mountains.  There was a tragic accident…a landslide of some kind.  Several children were hurt in the accident.  The daughter of Thal Rios was killed.  She was the only fatality.”  Kathryn looked up quickly.

“I’m sorry…”  She whispered the words, almost an apology to someone who couldn’t hear it.

“His friends and neighbours tried to comfort him and believed he was coming to terms with events.  I was shown images of this man’s daughter.  Naomi resembles her in many ways.  It would appear this man simply saw her and in his grief and present state of mind, believed she was his own daughter.  He simply took her back to his house and cared for her…played some games…gave her candy treats.  I’ve spoken with this man.  He truly believed this was his own daughter.  He understands now what he did and sees that Naomi was not his daughter.  In their own Medic’s words, he simply ‘lost touch with reality’ for a time.  Grief from a tragedy like this can be extremely powerful and can affect the mind in strange ways.  Our own Doctor concurs with this opinion.”  Kathryn didn’t raise her head and Chakotay continued to watch her closely.

“What happens to him now…?”  Tuvok looked towards Chakotay a moment.

“According to Thirosean law, his punishment must be decided by the injured party.  In this case, as Naomi is not of age, that decision falls to her mother.”  Kathryn nodded slowly.

“Can you explain that to Sam?”  Tuvok frowned once more.

“I imagined that you would want to speak with her yourself, Captain.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“I’ll speak with her later.  Can you contact her now and find out what she wants to do?  Give her a full report…?”  Tuvok nodded but seemed reluctant to leave.  “That will be all, gentlemen…”  Kathryn placed the padd on the desk in front of her and made her way to the replicator, where she ordered coffee.  She looked behind her and saw that neither man had moved.  “Was there something else…?”  Tuvok shook his head quickly.

“No, Captain.  That is all…”  Kathryn nodded and turned back to the replicator, taking her coffee.

“Dismissed.”  Tuvok turned and left, leaving Chakotay hanging back a moment.  Kathryn turned and saw him.

“What is it, Commander?  I’ve a lot of work to get through.”  Chakotay remained quiet for several moments.

“I was hoping you could tell me what it is.  There’s something more going on here.  This isn’t like you…”  Kathryn met his eyes and glared at him.

“Commander, unless you have ship’s business to discuss with me, I would suggest you let us both get back to work.  If that is all…?”  When he didn’t move immediately, she turned away from him, sipping at her coffee.  “Dismissed, Commander.”  Chakotay just shook his head sadly.

“Fine Kathryn, when you’re ready…you know where you can find me…  You know you can always talk to me.”  He turned and left, having no other choice.  Trying to talk to her when she was like this, was like trying to get blood from a stone.  As the doors closed behind him, he didn’t see the tears run down Kathryn's face as she leaned against the wall for support.

^^^^^^^^^^

The following day, Kathryn and Chakotay accompanied Sam down to the planet to meet with the Thirosean authorities.  Tuvok was also in attendance.  Chakotay noticed how Kathryn stood well back as Sam took a seat at a table in the room they had been shown into.  Within minutes, a small man was shown into the room, flanked by two slightly taller aliens.  This race was humanoid in appearance, with skin colouring very similar to that of Naomi and her mother.  They had ridges on their noses and above, again very like Naomi.  Their hair colour varied though, from very fair to shades of yellow and orange, darkening as they aged.  As Chakotay looked around him now, he could understand now Naomi could be mistaken for one of their race.

Thal Rios sat nervously in the chair he had been shown to and barely glanced at Sam.  They could all clearly see tears in his eyes.  An Official read out the charges against him, making sure that Sam understood all that was said.  She nodded slowly.

“I understand.  I would like to hear what this man has to say though…”  Thal looked up at her and met her eyes properly for the first time.  Tears ran down his face.  “Please…I’d like to understand…for you to tell me in your own words…”  He nodded slowly and traced idle patterns on the table before him with his fingers, trying to hide the shaking of his hands.

“I’m so sorry…what I put you through…  I really thought…  She looked so like…”  Sam smiled softly and nodded.  Thal Rios then spoke about his wife and daughter.  He told of how much he had adored his wife, how they had tried for several years to have a child.  He showed Sam an image of her.

“We had been mated from childhood…our families close…”  Sam smiled and nodded, looking at the image.

“She’s very beautiful…”  Thal smiled sadly.

“She was…  My friends envied me so much…  Crea…that was her name…  Crea and I loved each other very much.  We longed for a child…to complete our happiness…and when we learned that we would be parents…we were so happy…”  He smiled, his eyes vague now as he remembered.  There was happiness there for a moment, then the clouds passed over them, and the deepest sadness filled the dark orbs.  “I’m sorry…”  Sam reached over and patted his hand, handing the image back.

“Cretha…our daughter…  We knew we would have a girl…named her…”  He shook his head sadly.  “On our world…the first born takes the names of both parents…  We try and combine the names…”  Sam nodded her understanding.  Thal lowered his head now.

“Crea did not survive the birth…  It was difficult…  I don’t know why…and the doctors had no explanation… ‘It can happen’…they said that…”  Tears fell from his eyes again and he looked up at Sam, begging her to understand.  She smiled sadly at him and nodded.  Chakotay felt this man’s grief also and looked towards Kathryn, standing back from them all.  Her eyes were vague, a mixture of sadness, pain and something else there.  Her arms were folded but he saw that her hands were in tight fists as she listened.

“Cretha was all I had left…all I had…all that kept me going…”  Thal handed Sam another image and smiled sadly as she drew in a sudden breath.

“She’s very like…”  Chakotay leaned a little closer and saw the image of the alien child, instantly seeing the likeness to Naomi.  He looked back at Kathryn and saw that she also seemed shocked by the likeness.  Sam gave the image back immediately, seeing that the man before her was anxious to have it back, drawing a kind of comfort from holding it.  It was all he had left.

“When she…the accident…”  He spoke on haltingly about how he’d lost his only child, tears pouring from his eyes.  He held the image of his daughter tightly, his only connection to her now.  Chakotay saw Sam crying also and felt close to tears himself.  He looked to Kathryn and saw that her expression hadn’t changed, still retaining her vague look.

“I didn’t know what I was doing…and I beg your forgiveness.  I saw her…your daughter…and I just saw Cretha…  I didn’t think…  I don’t remember really…  I just knew my daughter was there…and I took her home…cared for her…”  He looked at Sam now, a panic in his eyes.  “I swear to you…I didn’t harm her…  I swear to you…I wouldn’t…couldn’t ever…  I couldn’t harm any child…much less my own…  I’m sorry…  I mean…a child I thought was my own…but any child…never…  I’m so sorry…”  He broke down completely and Sam reached for his hand, squeezing it tightly.  As Chakotay looked at Kathryn again, he saw a lone tear fall down her cheek.  She turned away quickly.

Finally, Thal regained a little control, Sam still holding his hand tightly.  He wiped at his face with his free hand, Sam mimicking his actions and wiping her own face.  Finally she spoke.

“Thal, I’m so sorry for all your pain…”  He looked up at her, eyes filled with agony.

“I’m at your mercy.  I don’t care what you decide for me…  I’ve nothing left…”  Sam took his hand in both of hers now.

“Thal…I’m not going to do anything to you.”  She saw his shock.  “I can’t pretend to know your pain or what you’ve been through, but I can understand a little.  Losing my child for even a few hours was the most painful thing imaginable to me.  It was nothing to what you’ve been through but it gives me some idea of your pain.”  She shook her head sadly.

“Losing your wife…    When we were stranded out here…”  She smiled slightly.  “You know about us…our ship…?”  He nodded slowly and Sam smiled again.  Well…I lost my husband…  Oh, he’s alive.  I know that.  He’s back on Earth.  I also believe I’ll see him again some day…  but the fact is, he could die before we get home or…  I could die out here…”  She sighed.  “What I’m trying to say is…  I know a little of your pain…  of losing your partner…raising a child alone…losing that child…even for a very short time…  Out here…she’s all I have…”  She squeezed his hand again.


“Thal, as awful as it seems now…  they would want you to move on and be happy.  I know it’s very soon but…  I hope someday you’ll allow yourself to live and then love again…  make a life again…  Don’t waste it.  It’s too precious.  I think you know that.”  Tears flowed from both their eyes.  Even the Official seemed moved.  “Will you do that for me?  If you ask me what I want for you…that’s what I order for you.”  They stared at each other for a few moments until the Official spoke.

“Am I to understand that you do not want this man punished for his crime?”  Sam looked up at him.

“There was no real crime.  He meant no harm and my daughter wasn’t hurt in any way.  This man needs help…not punishment.  I just hope he takes what I’ve told him and acts on it…”  Thal nodded slowly.

“I’ll try…and thank you…   Again…I’m so sorry…  I can’t thank you enough for your mercy…  You truly are a wonderful people…your kindness and compassion…”  Sam stood now, walked around the table, and hugged the man.  Chakotay bit on his lip and turned to the side, lowering his head a moment, feeling as if he was intruding on a private moment.  He felt very proud of Sam Wildman.  He looked up at Kathryn and caught his breath.  The look of pain on her face was unreal.  Before he could move to her, the Official spoke again, declaring the ‘trial’ over.  His words snapped Kathryn out of it and she nodded then left the room quickly.  Chakotay followed immediately but by the time he left the building, she had already beamed back to the ship.  He didn’t see her for the rest of the day, Kathryn making sure of that.

^^^^^^^^^^

They broke orbit of Thiros the following morning and over the next few weeks, Kathryn practically shut herself away from the entire crew.  While Chakotay hoped for her usual few days of isolation when she seemed to get what he termed her ‘homesickness’ or felt they were getting too close, this stretched on and on.  He knew something wasn’t right, especially after what he had witnessed on Thiros, but every time he tried to corner her, she backed away from him.  Because of their growing closeness before, he now felt her absence more than ever.

At the end of a month, he began to get seriously worried about her.  He constantly tried to drag her to ship’s functions or cajole her into having dinner with him, but she repeatedly turned down all his invitations, preferring to remain alone.  She still refused to talk to him outside of ship’s business, claiming she was ‘just fine’ and the more he pushed, the further away she seemed to get.

Her work was of its usual high standard and although she opted to spend more time than usual in her ready room, no one could fault her performance on duty.  Chakotay hated seeing her like this but in the end, he had to accept that how she wished to spend her off duty time, was really her own business.

The only time Kathryn was seen now outside of duty, was when she spent time with Naomi.  Chakotay watched, confused a little, as she seemed to spend more and more time with the child, taking her for outings to the holodeck and inviting her for tea in her quarters.  He found himself almost jealous of the child.  He also noticed Sam watching them, usually with a slightly anxious look on her face but she never said anything.

Chakotay just stood back and watched, knowing there was nothing he could do, not understanding what he was seeing anyway.  He watched Kathryn as she watched Naomi, acting almost like a security detail.  He observed her quietly as she hovered around her, seeming almost wary when anyone else was near the child.  If other crewmembers paid any attention to her, which they did a lot, just as they always had, Kathryn moved a little closer, her eyes never leaving the child.

Chakotay took in Kathryn's behaviour and Sam’s silent observance of it.  If she ever sensed herself being watched, Kathryn would pull back immediately and paste a false smile on her face, before making some excuse and hurrying off, always with a backwards glance to check on Naomi once more.

^^^^^^^^^^

A week later, Voyager came into orbit of an uninhabited planet rich in Dilithium.  With no warning buoys or evident claims to the world, Kathryn agreed with her senior staff that they should take the opportunity to mine the mineral while they had the opportunity, despite not needing any.  They knew they would always be able to trade any surplus later on if they needed something else.

Mining the Dilithium took two days, the crew spending a few hours on the planet in turn, walking in the sunshine.  This world wasn’t all that vegetated but still reminded some of the crew of home.  Chakotay pushed this time, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer and badgered Kathryn into spending even an hour walking in the sun with him.  Part of him hoped it might also be a chance for him to try and talk with her about what had been troubling her recently.  He’d watched as she had become more and more remote, instead of bouncing back as she usually did.  Outside of Naomi, she kept herself removed from everyone.

“Kathryn, you need this and you know it.”  He watched her closely as she kept her head down.  “Kathryn, come on.  Look, in my mind, we’re good friends.  Where’s the harm in spending some time off with a friend.  A little time spent feeling the sun on your face will do you the world of good.  Besides, I miss chatting with you.”  *Maybe you’ll even open up to me and tell me what the hell has been troubling you so much…*   He kept that thought to himself.

It was more in an effort to get him off her back that she agreed and they beamed down that afternoon.

^^^^^^^^^^

“Isn’t this better than recycled air?”  Kathryn smiled a little and nodded.

“What do you want Chakotay, a medal…?  You got me here and I’ll walk in the sun with you.  I only have an hour though.  I promised Naomi I’d take her to the holodeck…”  Chakotay shook his head and swallowed his annoyance.

“Look, we’ll just walk to the top of that hill and back.  Can we agree on that…?”  Kathryn looked up to where he pointed and sighed.

“That’s more than an hour’s walk…”  Chakotay grinned to himself.

“Maybe two…”  Kathryn stared hard at him.

“An hour is all you get.  I told you…”  Chakotay was suddenly irked.

“I know, I know.  You have to get back for Naomi.”  He sighed deeply.  “Kathryn, she’s fine.  You don’t have to wrap her in cotton wool you know.  She wasn’t harmed…”  He saw her tense at his words.  She turned away and moved off quickly, her way to dismiss the direction the conversation could go in.

“To the top and back, you said?  Well, we’d better get moving then…”  She took off at a fast pace, Chakotay trying to catch up with her now.

“Slow down Kathryn, it isn’t a race.  You need to watch where you’re going around here.”  He watched as she stepped off the worn pathway, taking a shortcut.  “Kathryn, try and stay on the trek…there are old caves and mine shafts…”  As if his words predestined it, he saw Kathryn trip and begin to fall, the ground opening up around her.  Without thinking, he dived for her and made

a grab for her arm, sending them both plummeting down the hole, before landing heavily among a pile of rocks.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay groaned loudly and rolled onto his back, his body protesting at the movement.  He stared above him at the opening, the light shining down on him.  He heard a moan beside him and looked around quickly, his head spinning at the sudden turn.

“Kathryn?  Are you all right…?”  His worry was clearly evident in the tone of his voice.  She moaned again and he saw her pushing herself up.  “Kathryn?”  He moved to her but she brushed his hands off.

“I’m fine…”  She looked at him, her eyes apologizing for her.  “Sorry.  Are you hurt…?”  He took a quick mental check of his body and pressed a hand to his head, feeling it warm and wet.

“I’ve cut my head…and I think I’ve done something to my arm…  Otherwise…I’m fine…  What about you…?”  He moved to her but she backed away, limping.

“I’m fine…  I just cut my leg…”  She looked around her.  “We need to find a way out of here.  I’ll try this side and you try over there…”  She pointed behind him.  Chakotay sighed deeply and nodded.  Suddenly there seemed no sense in arguing.

^^^^^^^^^^

Within five minutes, they both had to accept that there was no way out for them.  They were in a small cave, the opening above them which they had fallen through, offering the only way out.  Knowing it was impossible to reach that, they had no choice but to wait for rescue, their comm badges useless underground from something in the rock.

“Kathryn, just stop pacing.”  He shook his head as he looked at her.  Limping or hobbling was more like it.  He’d managed to get a closer look at her leg when she wasn’t watching him and saw that it was more than a ‘cut’.  “You’ll wear yourself out and use up all the air.”  He knew the last part wasn’t true, as he glanced back up towards the gap in the roof.  “We’ve established that there’s no way out.  Voyager knows where we are.  They’ll find us.  We just have to sit and wait.”  He eyed her warily.  If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was claustrophobic.

“I have to get back…I promised Naomi I’d take her to the holodeck this afternoon…”  Chakotay slid down into the floor of the cave.  His arm throbbed now and he pressed  his fingers to the side of his head again.  When he checked his hand, he saw that the bleeding had lessened considerably.

“She’ll understand.  You can take her again…”  His attempt at reassurance went unheard.

“I promised her…I can’t break my word…”  She seemed agitated now and Chakotay stood again, a slight groan escaping him.  He moved to her and placed a hand on her shoulder to still her.  He didn’t miss how she jumped at his touch.

“Kathryn…she’ll understand.  Now stop this.”  She met his eyes for a moment and then looked away.  Chakotay took both her shoulders now and held her.  “Kathryn, you have to stop this.  You’ll only increase the blood loss from that wound.  You need to sit down and let me take a look at it.  You’re only aggravating it.  You have to stop moving around on it.  You’re limping badly as it is…  Kathryn, come on…see sense…”  She shrugged his hands off and hobbled to the wall of the cave, turning and leaning heavily against it.  He watched as she hugged herself, as if trying to hold herself together physically as well as emotionally.


“I promised her…”  She sounded almost like a child whose favourite toy had just been taken from her.  Chakotay shook his head slowly.

“What is it with you and her lately?  You spend every spare minute with her…  What is it with you even…?”  Suddenly it all fell into place and he dropped his head back.  “Of course.  Why on earth didn’t I see it before…?  How could I have missed that…?  It’s so obvious.”  When he looked at Kathryn again, she had a stricken look on her face.  As soon as his eyes met hers, it disappeared, as if running and hiding behind a now closed door.

“I don’t know what you mean…I’m just spending time with the child…there’s no harm…she needs the company…help with lessons…”  She sounded a little panicked.  Chakotay moved towards her, shaking his head as he went.

“Me thinks the lady doth protest too much…”  Kathryn stared at him.  “Kathryn, I’m not accusing you of anything here.  It’s good that you spend time with her.  Just as long as it’s for the right reasons…”  Even in the dim light, he saw her face pale before him.  “Kathryn…?”  He watched as her mouth opened and closed several times, before she found her voice.

“There…there are no reasons…I just…just want…”  Chakotay moved a little closer.

“Kathryn, I know you and I know what you’re feeling.  I see it all now.  Maybe that bang on the head I just got has helped me.  This is to do with your guilt, totally misplaced guilt I might add…”  She went to move away from the wall but he blocked her.  “I know you Kathryn.  You feel responsible for what happened to her and you’re blaming yourself and now this is your way to try and make up for that.  Well you weren’t responsible.  It wasn’t your fault in any way…”  Kathryn suddenly pushed at him and he saw that he’d really hit a nerve.

“I am responsible.  I’m the Captain.  It’s my job to protect her.  As Captain and as an adult, it’s my job.  I let her down…failed her…”  Chakotay grew alarmed now and grabbed her shoulders, pressing her back against the wall.  Her eyes were wild.

“Kathryn, stop this.  Listen to me now.  She was on shore leave.  You weren’t there.  Her mother was with her.  Kathryn, you’re her Captain but you’re not her mother…”  He saw a stab of pain cross her eyes at that.  “You’re not at fault here.  Her mother was with her.  She was responsible for her own child and even she couldn’t protect her…”  Kathryn pushed at him again, tears balancing on her eyelids now.

“Are you saying Sam’s responsible?”  Chakotay shook his head quickly.

“I’m not saying that for a minute.  I’m just trying to get you to see that you can’t watch a child every second.  These things happen unfortunately.  Sam felt the way you do for a time but even she has the sense to see that some things are just beyond her control.  That’s something you accept as a parent.  You can’t always keep your child safe.”  He saw a flash of deep pain cross her eyes.  “Kathryn, Naomi is fine.  She remembers it but it doesn’t bother her.  She wasn’t harmed in any way except for being frightened.  I think the lecture she probably got from Sam about talking to strangers and wandering off, scared her more.  Once it was all over, she let that go and got on with her life.  Getting back to her normal routine is the best thing for her, the best way to feel safe again.  Treating her differently won’t help and you’re smothering her…”  Kathryn's tears fell down her face.

“You think I’m harming her…?”  Her voice was plaintive and he saw panic in her eyes now.

“Kathryn…that’s not what I’m saying at all.  I just think that maybe…”  He sighed.  “All this extra attention is only going to make her feel different.  She needs to be as she always was and move on.  The risk she was under needs to be played down.  If you treat her differently, she’ll think that way about it all.  Anyway, as we know now, there wasn’t any risk.”  He shook his head as he watched her.  “Kathryn…look…  Sam hasn’t said anything…but I see her watching you with Naomi…and I get the impression that…  Kathryn…she needs to spend time with her own child and you’re…”  Kathryn dropped her head.

“You and she think I’m trying to take Naomi from her…?”  She sniffed loudly and drew in a choked breath.  “I’m not…I’m just trying to…”  Chakotay put a hand under her chin and lifted her head up, feeling her tremble.

“Kathryn, I know you mean no harm but you have to stop treating her differently.  Just leave her with her normal routine.  We all need to play down what happened.  If she sees that it’s important to us…something to worry or be concerned about…she’ll pick up on that and think that way too.  Suddenly she’s getting all this extra attention from her Captain and that’s bound to make her think that what happened to her is…well that there’s more to it…”  He watched sadly as tears coursed down Kathryn's face.  She shook her head weakly.

“I just wanted to be there for her in some way…  I wasn’t there for her when it mattered…I wasn’t there to stop it…”  Chakotay took her face between his hands and felt her cringe now.

“Kathryn, you were not responsible for what happened to her.  You have to accept that and as cruel as this sounds, you have to let her mother do her job and stop trying to do it for her.”  He knew he was hurting her but it had to be said.  “Let go of your guilt because it wasn’t your fault.  Spend time with her now and then…just the way you always have…but you can’t do it this way.  You’ve become like a shadow to her.  The sooner Naomi’s life is back to normal, back to the way it was, the sooner she’ll forget all this…  Nothing happened to her.  Anyway, she’s safe now…on the ship.  She’s back with us…with her family.  No one onboard would do anything to hurt her so you don’t have to watch her all the time.”  He watched Kathryn closely for a few minutes, letting his words sink in and saw something in her eyes which he couldn’t make out, but the accompanying pain with it was unmistakable.  Finally she just nodded, her tears continuing.  She shifted her weight onto her good leg and he felt her body stiffen, accompanied by her sharp intake of breath.

“Kathryn, let me look at that wound.  Come on now.  You’re in pain and losing a lot of blood.”  She stiffened against him once more and seemed to be fighting something within herself.  Finally she nodded her head but he saw that she seemed almost removed from where she was.  He sensed something building in her, something anonymous, barely controlled and he realized suddenly that the seeds of whatever it was, had been planted some time ago, stretching back to their time on Thiros.

Chakotay let her put her weight on his arm as he helped her to sit down.  The light from the small opening they’d fallen through was just about enough for him to see the deep gash in her upper thigh.  He pressed a hand on her shoulder.

“Kathryn, can you lie back for me?  Can you lie down while I try and see…?”  Once again, he felt her body become almost rigid.  “Kathryn?”  She didn’t answer him.  “Kathryn, I can’t work with you in a sitting position.  I need to be able to see what I’m doing.  I’ll try not to hurt you.”  She was staring at him and he saw a battle taking place in her eyes, one he didn’t understand.  She looked almost ready to shatter at the slightest touch, hanging onto a tenuous control to ward off imminent panic and hysteria.

Finally she nodded again and began to lie back, a frightened yet faraway look in her eyes.  Chakotay felt something stir inside him, something he couldn’t put his finger on, tying in with her recent behaviour in his mind.  Parts of thoughts sought out others, trying to find each other and connect, in order to make some sense for themselves.  She seemed to be fighting desperately for control and he frowned now as he removed the water bottle from his belt.  He then pulled off his tunic, followed by his tee shirt, intent on using the white cotton to clean and bandage the wound, knowing the dye from anything else he wore would only cause infection.  As he pulled his tee shirt off, exposing his chest, Kathryn cried out and tried to pull herself along the floor away from him.  He saw the pain and fear in her eyes and was shocked.  Suddenly he saw her lose it, her last foothold crumbling beneath her, sending her crashing over the edge.

“Kathryn, what’s wrong?  Kathryn?”  He felt a fear build in him and reached out a hand to her, causing her to react almost violently.

“No…no…please…don’t…”  She slapped at his hand as tears poured from her eyes.  She spoke and sounded like a little girl, her last fragile grasp on her control finally gone.

“Kathryn, it’s all right.  I won’t hurt you…”  Instinct just told him to sit back from her.  He watched her carefully as she cried, pressing herself back against the wall as much as she could, her eyes carrying a glazed look, as she stared at something that wasn’t there, at least nothing he could see.  She drew her legs up, despite the pain he saw it cause her, trying desperately to curl her body in on itself.

Chakotay sat for almost ten minutes as Kathryn slowly cried herself out, some gut feeling telling him to wait.  Eventually she had nothing left.  Her tears seemed to dry up and she almost dry sobbed as she stared at the floor before her, her mind obviously somewhere other than in the cave with him.  Chakotay just sat and waited.  Eventually, she began to come back to herself a little and he watched as she raised her eyes and looked at him, the blue depths filled with pain and embarrassment, shame even.  Her voice was a hoarse whisper.

“I’m sorry…”  He just nodded, not knowing what to say nor understanding what he had just witnessed.  “I’m sorry…”  He tried a small smile.

“It’s OK.  You’ve nothing to apologize for.”  He reached for his tunic and slipped it back on, leaving the tee shirt off.  “I’m sorry if I upset you…”  She watched him closely, relaxing slightly as he covered his body.  “If I give you the water and this…”  He held up the white cotton.  “Can you clean the wound yourself?  White is better…the dye from anything else would only infect you…”  He watched her face and saw her understanding.  She pulled herself up a little and eased her legs out before her, catching her breath with the pain.

“It’s OK…  I’m…OK…”  She was quiet for a few more minutes and Chakotay could see the internal struggle taking place within her.  He had strong suspicions now but was afraid to listen to them.  He felt things begin to click together in his mind but pushed them away for the moment.  What he was starting to think, was the last thing he ever wanted to consider, even if it did make sense and explain things to him.    He watched as she settled herself as well as she could then looked directly at him.

“Chakotay, I’m really sorry.  I…”  He shook his head.

“Kathryn, it’s all right.  You never have to be sorry with me.”  He reached out slowly, to hand her the bottle and tee shirt.  She looked at them and then back at him.  She drew in a deep breath as if gaining strength from it and seemed to reach a decision.

“No…I trust you…I…please…if you could…I can’t…”  He nodded and smiled softly.

“OK Kathryn.  I’ll do it.  I promise you can trust me.  I won’t harm you in any way.  Cleaning the cut might hurt a little but you’re safe with me…  You know that.”  She stared back at him and saw into his eyes, into his soul almost.  She also saw that he knew now, suspected at least.  She drew on all her courage and her instinct that she could trust this man, then confirmed his fears for him.

“I haven’t…been like this…reacted…in a…a long time…years…”  When he just nodded understandingly, she knew for sure.  “You know then…guess at least…?”  He nodded again.  “My behaviour…I couldn’t hide it…I’m sorry…I thought it was gone…”  Chakotay just smiled gently at her, knowing what it was costing her to let him see her like this.  He didn’t miss how badly her hands were shaking.


“Kathryn, it’s all right.  You’re safe with me.  You know that.  I’d die before I’d ever harm you in any way.”  She nodded slowly.  “I’ll clean this wound and then if you want…only if you want…we can talk…”  She drew in a shuddering breath and nodded again.  Chakotay moved towards her very slowly.  He made sure every movement he made was slow and that she knew and could see what he was doing.

“I’m going to have to tear the material here.  You can keep everything on.”  There was no way he would ask her to remove her pants, even though it would make it easier to get at the wound.  She nodded and tried to lie back a little, turning slightly so he could treat the cut.  He could almost see the deep tension in her body as she watched his movements closely.

“I’m going to tear this now and then examine the gash, Kathryn.  You’ll feel my hands on the area.  There’s a lot of blood.  I need to wash that away before I can see how bad the cut is…”  He kept talking to her, trying to reassure her, telling her everything he did.  She flinched when he touched her leg and he guessed it was more from fear than pain.

“Sorry…I know it hurts…”  He played her fears down.  The fabric ripping sounded loud in the small space.  “There…that’s better…I can see the cut now…I’ll just wash the area.  You’ll feel me pouring some water over it and then I’ll wipe it clean.  I just need to tear this tee shirt into strips…”  He saw her nod again, her eyes flicking from his face to the wound on her leg.  Her battle to regain control was clear to see.

“OK Kathryn.  I’m pouring the water now…”  She hissed in pain as the cool liquid made contact with the deep cut.  “I’m sorry…”  She nodded tearfully.  “I’m going to wet this strip now and clean around it…”  She nodded again and grunted in pain as he worked.  “Kathryn, I’m sorry…I hate hurting you but this has to be done…”  He looked up at her and saw that she understood.

Chakotay worked on for about ten minutes, cleaning around the wound as best he could and then pressing dry strips of the cotton against it.  Eventually the blood flow lessened.

“There.  The bleeding has eased considerably and the wound is clean.”  He dabbed  around the area with more strips.  “I’ll just try and bandage it now.  It’s the best I can do until we get you back to sickbay.  I’m sure it won’t be much longer…”  He smiled up at her and she nodded again, still staring at her leg.  He wrapped the strips around her thigh, having pressed some folded strips over the gash first and then tied them off.  “OK, that’s it…”  He used the remainder of the tee shirt to cover where her leg showed through her torn pants and then sat back.  “Have you much pain?”  She studied his work for a few minutes and then shook her head.

“No…it’s not too bad…a lot better than it was…  It stings more than pains…”  She met his eyes nervously.  “Thank you…”  Chakotay just smiled gently at her but he could see she was in pain, despite her denial, yet knew there was nothing he could do about it.

“Glad I could help…”  She nodded and was silent for a minute.

“I meant ‘thank you’ for…  I’m sorry…  I wasn’t…  I’m sorry…  You shouldn’t have had to see that…”  Chakotay remained where he was, despite just wanting to pull her into his arms and hold her to him tightly.

“Kathryn, it’s all right.  You’ve nothing to be sorry about.  I told you that.  You don’t ever have to keep anything back from me.”  She looked into his eyes and nodded, then smiled slightly, appearing shocked with herself that she was able to.  Her face almost hurt from the effort, her skin dry and sore from her salty tears.

“I guess this explains a few things to you…about how I’ve been lately…with Naomi and all…?”  Her eyes were scared as she looked at him.  He smiled softly at her, trying to put every ounce of reassurance he could into the expression.

“It does a bit.  I’ve been very worried about you.”  He saw her nod.  “Kathryn, I’m here for you…just like always.  You can talk to me.  We’ve been the best of friends for a long time now.  There isn’t anything you can’t say to me.  You can tell me anything and it won’t change how I feel about you.  Please know that.”  He watched her very closely.  He didn’t know what else to say.  They were quiet for a time until finally Kathryn broke the silence, her voice low.

“You do know what we’re talking about here…don’t you…?  You know what I’m trying to tell you…to say…?”  Chakotay nodded, instinctively knowing she wanted him to say the words because she didn’t feel able to just yet.

“Child abuse…”  He felt himself wanting to run from the words, to jump back from them as if from a physical blow.  It took a lot for him to say the words even.  He couldn’t bear to think that she’d been through anything like that, couldn’t stand to think of any child in that situation.  He prayed he was wrong, wanted her to laugh and deny it, say that it was something else she was trying to tell him.  He held eye contact with her, desperate to show his support and understanding and saw her nod her head, confirming it for him.  At that moment, he felt a pain begin in his heart, one he knew would never leave him completely.  As the knowledge that had put the pain there now existed, then so too would be pain.

“I just needed to…be sure you knew.  I’ve…never…never spoken…about it…to anyone really…except…a counsellor…but no one else…”  He heard the pain and fear in her voice and knew what she was asking him.

“You can talk to me, Kathryn.  I think you need to talk about this…that it’ll help…and you know you can trust me.”  Her eyes were filled with uncertainty.  “I think I’m right in that…well…in thinking that you’ve wanted to tell me before…tried to perhaps…”  She lowered her head and nodded, then looked up at him again, an almost frightened look on her face.  Chakotay smiled softly.  “You can tell me anything.  It won’t change how I see you or feel about you…won’t change things between us.  You’re my best friend and nothing will ever change that.”  He reiterated the point and saw his words put some of her fear to bed.  She tried a weak smile, her face accepting it a little better now.

“Thank you…”  She studied her leg for a moment.  Chakotay brushed some dust from his trouser leg.

“Am I also right in thinking…that what happened…just now…  Kathryn…did you have a flashback…?”  She looked at him tearfully and nodded.

“I haven’t had one in…well…a very long time…a lot of years…  Most people wouldn’t recognize them…  How did…?”  He just smiled gently at her.

“I’ve seen a few people have them before…during the war…”  She saw him think back briefly then smile softly again.  “As I said already, you can talk to me…but only if you’re comfortable doing that…  Just know that you can.  I’ve told you that you can trust me and that I’m your friend.  I just want to be here for you.  I do however, believe you need this…need to do this…  Kathryn, we’re good friends and we have a wonderful friendship between us.  We love and trust each other as friends and there isn’t anything that can change that.”  He knew he was repeating himself but he was desperate that she understood him and accepted his words.  She nodded her head slowly and tried to find another small smile.

“I think I was always afraid…that if I said anything to anyone…it would change how that person was with me…  Not to mention how I’d feel…  embarrassed… ashamed…”  She watched his face closely but all she saw was his love for her.  She knew she could trust him.  It was written on his face clearly for her to see.

“I’m here for you, Kathryn.  You can tell me anything.  You know that.  You can trust me.”  She bit at her lip and nodded slowly, a ghost of a smile on her lips as she blinked to clear her eyes.

“You must think I’m very weak…”  She saw him shake his head.

“You’re not weak, Kathryn…”  She bit at her lip.

“I can be so strong in all other areas of my life…but this…it just…  I’m sure you think I should be well past it…”  Chakotay shook his head again.

“Kathryn, some things never leave us.  It doesn’t matter how long ago they happened.  Something from childhood can be the hardest.  You, however, are not weak.  You’re the strongest person I know.  You wouldn’t be here now if you weren’t.”  She nodded slowly, acknowledging his words as best she could.

“I thought I’d dealt with it all…put it away.  I spent enough time with a counsellor to make sure of that.  At times I felt I’d reached a stage where I could almost believe it hadn’t happened even.  It would surface briefly now and then…some small thing…but I controlled it easily…”  Chakotay just nodded silently.  That answered his question about her withdrawal periods.

“It all came back though, when Naomi was taken…”  She swallowed.  “I felt I’d failed her…hadn’t protected her…let her down…let this happen to her…the same way I’d felt let down…”  She looked at Chakotay briefly.  “I was so sure the same thing would happen to her and I hadn’t stopped it…had let it happen…”  She shifted slightly to try and find a more comfortable position.  “When you told me you’d found her and that she was fine…that nothing had happened to her…  I couldn’t believe that for a while…had to be sure…  Eventually I was convinced though and the relief…”  She managed to smile slightly, hiding her pain behind it.

“I still felt responsible though…as if I’d let her get into the position where the risk was there…hadn’t protected her from that…”  She stared at Chakotay deeply, her voice rising.  “It could have gone that way…it could so easily have come to that…  It’s not something that’s just confined to Earth…”  She caught herself and lowered her voice again.  “I’m sorry…”  Chakotay just shook his head, his gentle smile trying to reassure her.

“Kathryn, you have nothing to be sorry about.  I’ll keep telling you that.”  She sighed deeply.

“After that…I think I just tried to…”  She laughed now.  “Oh I know what I was trying to do.  If I’m totally honest with myself, I know very well.  I was trying to be there for her…take it all away…in the way that no one did for me…”  She let some tears fall and was quiet for a few moments.  She finally looked up at Chakotay and shrugged helplessly, seemingly at a loss, the gesture taking the place of the words she felt unable to speak.  Chakotay just smiled softly at her.

“I’m here for you.  You’re safe now.  You can tell me.”  She barely nodded and he saw the deep pain in her eyes.  “If you don’t want to talk about this…”  She shook her head tearfully.

“I need to.  Since this happened…I can feel it getting a grip on me again and I can’t allow that.  It’s controlled too much of my life as it is…  Oh I was fine for years…have been fine…mostly…  I did all the counselling…dealt with it…accepted it… put it behind me and moved on…  I knew in ways of course, that it would always be there.  Kind of like a dark space in a well lit room and I was always aware that it could come back…that something might trigger it…and I was taught how to deal with that…  I could manage the small reminders…deal with them.”  She shook her head, almost in disbelief.

“I guess I always knew the big one could come, even if I didn’t want to believe it.  I just didn’t expect it to be like this…”  She played with the torn fabric of her pants.  “I thought it might be a sound…a smell…some situation…  I didn’t think it would come from the threat to another child…  That threw me off course big time…and I didn’t want to face how what happened was affecting me…yet I could feel it building up and up…and I tried to stop it…tried to deal with it and work through it…but I couldn’t…so I shut it out and instead concentrated on Naomi…”  She looked up.  “I guess I went overboard a bit…”  Her attempt at humour failed and she shook her head, fighting her tears.  Chakotay kept his voice gentle, encouraging her.

“What happened Kathryn?”  It suddenly struck him how easy it was to ask a question, one you didn’t want the answer to.  A part of his mind railed against asking, didn’t want to know.  He knew that once the words were out, once they were spoken, all this would be real, couldn’t be taken back and that it would have happened and could never be undone.  In his heart though, he knew it had happened and all he could do now was be there for her, bear witness to her pain and help her through it, supporting her in any way he could.  And so he shut his mind off and searched inside himself for the courage he needed to be strong for her.  Kathryn came first and she needed to tell more than he didn’t want to hear.  She looked back at him, eyes filled with pain and sorrow and a dozen other emotions vying for attention.  He softened his voice still more and repeated his question.

“What happened Kathryn?”  She looked down at her leg again for a few moments and he saw her prepare herself for her answer.  She then slowly looked up at him, eyes unreadable save for the pain he saw there.



ON TO PART TWO.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX ONE.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.



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