Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17. Kids go play elsewhere. Contains adult material.
When Voyager is boarded by alien soldiers and Kathryn is seperated from her crew and held on the bridge. As she struggles just to stay alive, Chakotay must come up with a plan before it's too late to save them all.

There But For The Grace Of You

by Kat Lady

Part One.

The large vessel was cloaked in a manner they'd never seen before. It wasn't there and then suddenly it was, sensors having detected nothing, and before they even had time to register this fact, the soldiers were already aboard Voyager and there was nothing they could do. Their cloaking technology obviously extended to life forms as well as ships and Voyager and her crew were prisoners before anyone even had a chance to fire a single defensive phaser shot.

They entered the bridge and had disarmed everyone in a matter of seconds and the emotion that rose up in Kathryn, surpassing even her fear for her crew, was anger. Anger that they'd not even had a chance to defend themselves, that they'd been unable to see this coming and that she now appeared powerless to stop whatever was about to happen, the weapon in her face daring her to even try.

She forced herself to try and remain calm, knowing that her calm would somehow give reassurance, she hoped, to the bridge crew. The invaders were not of a race they'd ever come across before and yet seemed to resemble the Kazon in manner and appearance, a fact which appeared to have already imprinted itself on the others on the bridge.

One of the invaders, obviously by his manner the leader, strode towards Kathryn and before she had a chance to register his hand rising, he backhanded her across the face, sending her sprawling backwards onto the floor. Chakotay had reacted immediately but the speed of the soldiers surpassed his own quick movement and the next thing he knew he was on his knees holding his head which had been hit with the butt of one of their weapons. He quickly realized that two of these soldiers were holding him in place and it then registered with him that the leader was hauling Kathryn to her feet, screaming at her, telling her to control her crew. Chakotay watched helpless, along with Kim, Paris, Tuvok and Torres, as Kathryn was dragged by her hair to the centre of the bridge. He saw the leader nod to two of his men, who stepped forward and gripped Kathryn's arms like vices. The leader then proceeded to, as he put it, teach her a lesson on behalf of her Officer, and he indicated to Chakotay to show who he meant.

Chakotay fought against the strong hands holding him down to no avail, as he was forced to endure the sight of Kathryn being punched in the face and stomach. He couldn't help but marvel at the fact that she fought so hard against crying out, despite the obvious pain showing in her eyes and he knew she was using her anger to control both her fear and her pain. Thankfully, the leader seemed to tire of hitting her pretty quickly. He leaned forward and again grabbed Kathryn by her hair, pushing her against one of the consoles. He withdrew a length of cord from his belt and roughly pulling her hands behind her back, proceeded to tightly tie her wrists. When he appeared satisfied with the tightness of his knots, he shoved her to her knees and pushed her head down.

"That's the way you'll stay until I decide otherwise." He spit his words at her. "If you cause me any problems, it's your crew who will suffer." He turned towards Chakotay and the others and looked them over then issued his order to his men. "Take these to the cargo hold and place them with the others." As they were pushed forward and into the turbo lift, Chakotay craned his neck to see Kathryn. She was still on her knees with her head down, denying Chakotay the chance to even meet her eyes and silently communicate with her.

When Chakotay and the others entered Cargo Bay Two, he quickly realized that the entire crew was being held there. He noticed however that there was no sign of the Doctor and this gave him a small feeling of hope. He glanced towards Tuvok and instantly registered that the Vulcan had come to the same conclusion and as their eyes met for those few seconds, he suddenly realized the extent of the respect he felt for this man. He reflected how he'd once thought him his enemy, when he'd discovered that the Vulcan had been Kathryn's spy, but he knew that at this moment there were few others he'd rather have on his side.

Chakotay knew he had to start thinking straight and push the images of Kathryn out of his mind, that he'd be useless to her otherwise. He quickly set about establishing for certain that all crew were indeed present and once this had been achieved, he assigned one crewmember to a group of twenty or so, matching abilities as best he could. He knew it was far easier to communicate plans to a few, who could then pass them on to their respective groups. Having covertly spoken with as many crewmembers as possible during the next several hours, he took the scant information he'd gleaned back to Tuvok, Paris, Kim and Torres.

They sat together, feigning an air of resignation, and quietly discussed the situation. They noticed that there were only ten guards assigned to them, obviously with the belief that being armed, there was little need for a greater number.

Chakotay and the others were quiet, all deep in thought, the soldiers glancing their way occasionally. Tuvok was the first to notice the change in temperature, being used to the Vulcan climate. Chakotay was aware of him rubbing his hands up and down his arms and was just about to ask if he was all right but Tuvok saved him the question. "I believe, Commander, that the temperature has fallen by several degrees since our arrival here."

Now that Chakotay thought about it, he realized that it was indeed colder, and looking at the others, had this confirmed. He looked towards the soldiers and noticed that they actually looked more comfortable and this told them much.

Tuvok spoke Chakotay's thoughts. "Obviously our temperature is unsuitable for them. This is something that we might be able to use against them." Before he could say more, the door of the Cargo Bay opened and two more soldiers entered carrying some supplies, water and food. These were set in the middle of the floor and the two soldiers returned to the door and brought in more then left.

Chakotay suddenly realized that at least ten or twelve hours must have passed since they'd all been brought to the Cargo Hold and feeling guilty for even thinking about it, realized that he was actually hungry. He knew they all had to eat and drink as much as they could in order to keep their strength up, that to do so could make all the difference to any plans they'd try and execute.

When the soldiers were satisfied that everyone had eaten, the lights were suddenly dimmed.
"Obviously lights out time." Paris tried his best to keep spirits up but his audience were unwilling recipients of his humour.

"It would be wise to try and sleep, Commander." Tuvok spoke matter of factly. "A lot of the crew have been working all day and will be useless to any plans we come up with if they are fatigued."

Chakotay knew he was right. He knew that to be armed with a full belly and a night's sleep was almost as important as being armed with a phaser.

As everyone around him tried his or her best to settle and get some rest, Chakotay's mind refused to leave Kathryn. He prayed she was all right and that they hadn't hurt her any more. The image of her being beaten burned itself into his brain and he cried inside to think of how helpless she must be feeling, knowing how much being in control meant to her. He finally forced his mind to shut off and tried his best to get some rest.

Kathryn had rarely felt this helpless in her life. The leader of these invaders, whose name she had discovered was Trajor, strutted around the bridge showing an arrogance beyond belief. He'd taken the habit of smacking her in the side of the head every time he passed and he and his men seemed to find this highly amusing. Kathryn fought her pain bravely but it was wearing her down. She'd tried earlier to ask Trajor what he wanted of them, but this had only earned her a barrage of painful kicks which knocked her backwards off her knees and with her hands bound tightly behind her back, most of the kicks had landed on her exposed ribs and thighs.

After some time, Kathryn also noticed the drop in temperature and the cold was starting to affect her, making her pain worse and clear thinking harder. She heard her stomach grumble and realized that she hadn't eaten in a long time. Her thirst was also getting to her. She risked raising her head to look at the chronometer and realized that about twenty hours had passed since Voyager had been boarded. Trajor instantly spotted her raised head and was on her in an instant, screaming at her again. Kathryn once again felt his hand grab her hair and she was painfully pulled to her feet. Trajor's face was inches from her own and the venom in his voice terrified her.

"You don't learn, do you Captain?" He pulled her head back and dragged her to the centre of the bridge. "Do you want your crew to suffer?" Kathryn was afraid to answer and afraid not to. "This time, I'll let your crew off, but you, Captain, you have to be taught to obey. You need to be shown your place."

Fear grew quickly in Kathryn as Trajor pulled a knife from his belt and then stood back from her. She was unsteady on her feet but managed to keep herself standing. Trajor studied her for a minute or two, knowing the effect this would have on her, letting her own imagination do his work for him. He watched her battle with her fear and felt satisfaction when he saw fear winning. He stepped back to her and slipped the knife into the neck of her jumpsuit, pulling it downwards slowly and laughing as the material cut easily against the sharp blade. Kathryn did her best to fight the tears that were starting but quickly lost her battle and Trajor laughed as he saw them, gaining even more satisfaction from his work and relishing the reaction of his audience of soldiers. He continued cutting until Kathryn's uniform fell away from her body, leaving only her polo neck and tank but Trajor was determined to rid her of these also.

Kathryn now stood only in her underwear and endured the laughs and sneers of the soldiers and Trajor. She knew this game was called humiliation and knew also that he'd won. Trajor pushed her down on the floor onto her back and for a horrifying few minutes, Kathryn feared the worst. Trajor seemed to read her mind and once again decided to let her imagination work in his favour. He walked around her lying helpless on the floor and took great satisfaction in her fear. Suddenly he reached down to her and pulled her legs up, removing her boots and socks. Kathryn closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable but it didn't come and when she opened her eyes, she was met with Trajor's sneer.

"I don't think so, Captain. Your species is too ugly for me, but break any more rules and I might be forced to reconsider." His sneer bored into her and then she was once again pulled by the hair to her feet. "Stand there until I say otherwise, head down." He physically spit at her this time. "Move and this time your crew will suffer and maybe also you…" He let his words trail off and slowly slid a finger down her arm, letting the meaning of his words sink in.

For the next ten hours, Kathryn was forced to stand, semi-naked on the bridge of her ship. The cold seeped into her bones and despite that same cold, a dreadful fatigue bore down on her. Many times she felt herself falling from lack of sleep, food and water. Her thirst was desperate but she knew better than to ask for any water. Her mind wandered to Chakotay and the others constantly and she prayed that they were being treated in a kinder manner than she was.

Once Trajor had witnessed her struggle to stand, he'd assigned a soldier to stand beside her and prod her painfully every time she wavered. Kathryn fought desperately and found herself reach into reserves of strength and courage she never knew she had. She saw how the skin on her thighs and stomach area was rapidly discolouring and her ribs felt as if they were on fire but she refused to let herself give in and used the image of Chakotay's smiling face to give her the strength she so badly needed. She knew she had to survive this for him and for the crew. She refused to deny the promise she'd made to herself and them. She would get them home.

Chakotay's face at that moment was anything but smiling. He'd spent the last ten minutes trying to convince B'Elanna to stem her temper. One of the soldiers had taken a keen interest in her, appearing fascinated by her cranial ridges. Chakotay had realized that there was nothing sexual about the soldier's interest, that he was genuinely mesmerised by the half Klingon and saw this as an opportunity to gain some semblance of trust and hopefully learn something useful. He also desperately needed to find out about Kathryn and saw this as a way of achieving this. As he explained this to B'Elanna, he saw her instantly soften and knew that Kathryn was the reason for it. Mention of her name turned the key that would lock away B'Elanna's temper in order to obtain the information they needed. He knew that B'Elanna and Kathryn had started to develop a good friendship alongside their mutual respect for each other and had openly encouraged it and he prayed now that at the end of all this, they'd be able to continue that friendship. He knew in his gut that Kathryn, if she came through this, would need good friends and prayed that she'd allow him to be there for her also. He knew he'd always be there for her as a friend at the very least, but he constantly craved for more.

Chakotay pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind now and concentrated on the matter at hand. He'd already discussed with Tuvok a way to get one of them to sickbay in order to activate the Doctor and get his help. He knew now that the reason the Doctor was nowhere in sight was due to the fact that he must have been deactivated. 'First things first' came to mind as he noticed B'Elanna smile towards the soldier, who seemed to have developed an even stronger fascination with her.

He watched as the soldier slowly approached and looked more closely at B'Elanna. She stood slowly and moved a little closer to him. He was immediately on the alert but settled a little when Chakotay motioned to the others to move back a bit. The soldier gave what they took for a smile and went to reach towards her face and then drew back, glancing towards his fellow soldiers but they appeared almost comatose with boredom. Chakotay knew better than to think rushing them at this point would be wise. They needed more tactical data to go on before they could make a move.

"It's all right. I don't bite." B'Elanna smiled at the soldier, and Chakotay thought she deserved some kind of award for her acting skills. "You can touch them. It's OK."

The soldier reached out his hand hesitantly and let his fingers gently feel the ridges before his face broke into what they all recognized as a smile. B'Elanna spent the next half hour explaining to the soldier about her race and told him about their journey and where they were all from. He seemed genuinely interested and grew more at ease with each piece of information he was learning. Finally a breakthrough and he started to tell B'Elanna about his race and how they'd lost in a war with a rival sect. He told her how their ship had been failing and how they were now trying to get home too. He got so lost in his story that his loneliness for his home and the family he constantly mentioned eventually broke down his training and he repeatedly let slip much of the information Chakotay and the others needed.

Quite suddenly B'Elanna doubled over in apparent pain and the soldier showed instant concern.
"It's a medical problem. I'm pregnant. Please, I have to go to sickbay. Please help me." B'Elanna struggled with each word and the soldier immediately called to the other soldiers for help.

For a minute, Chakotay and the others almost fell for it themselves and shock and worry showed on each of their faces, convincing the soldiers of the truth of B'Elanna's pleas. She'd bargained on this and knew that this was the only way to act. Her 'new friend' immediately helped her to stand up and gently took her hand. "I'm sorry but I can't let anyone else go with you. My orders. Please understand." He sounded legitimate in his words and Chakotay nodded understanding. He locked eyes with B'Elanna and tacitly reassured her as the soldier led her away.

Kathryn had reached the stage of thinking where she now believed she would die before any kind of rescue could be undertaken. The pain in her arms and hands was getting worse from them being pulled back and bound and the bindings dug into her wrists. Trajor seemed at home on her bridge and was having little trouble with the ship's controls. She'd started to notice with the odd stolen glance at the soldier beside her that a semblance of pity seemed to be entering into his demeanour and his prods when she faltered, were not as painful as they had been. "Maybe I just can't feel anything anymore." The thought was sluggish in her mind.

Kathryn's thoughts at this stage felt as if they too were freezing. She felt herself fall forward again but this time the prod was agonizing and she cried out. She looked up to see Trajor in front of her and he was shouting at the soldier, yelling at him for not doing his job. Once he'd finished bawling out the soldier, Trajor turned on Kathryn. He pushed her to the ground and kicks rained in on her, several landing on her head and face. She felt her nose gush with blood and gagged as she felt it run down her throat.

"I'll keep you awake, whore." Trajor walked away and returned a few seconds later with what looked like a hypo spray. He pulled Kathryn up into a sitting position, causing her to scream with pain and fear. Before she knew what was happening, he'd injected a drug into her.

"That will keep you awake. Either that or it will kill you." He laughed at his own joke but this time his audience didn't respond. If he noticed, he didn't let on. "We use this with our species all the time to keep awake. I can't say, Captain, what it will do to you but then who cares." He pulled her to her feet again and despite feeling the drug starting to work, mainly causing nausea and dizziness, Kathryn was cognizant of the maniacal look on Trajor's face. She knew something was coming apart in his mind.

Trajor watched as she studied him and something snapped inside him. "You arrogant bitch." He screamed into her face, grabbing her and shaking her. "I'll teach you to look at me like that." He suddenly jerked Kathryn around and pulled her towards the turbo lift and she was in no position to fight him.

Once in the turbo lift, Trajor roughly pushed her to her knees again. "Let's see what your crew make of their almighty captain now. You won't feel much like a captain once they see you like this. This will teach you a lesson in respect and show you who's in charge here. It will also show your crew who's in charge."

As if to further emphasise his point, he stepped towards her and going around behind her, stomped on her feet, letting his full weight down on them. Kathryn screamed out in pain but this only delighted Trajor even more. When the lift stopped, he hauled Kathryn up and proceeded to drag her down the corridor, the pain in her feet making walking almost impossible but this made little difference to him. The drug was starting to kick in but it wasn't having the intended effect. Kathryn felt disorientated and the corridor appeared to swim in front of her eyes and she felt her stomach churn. What thoughts she was capable of seemed to float around her mind, attaching themselves to nothing. Her mind was going as numb as her tightly bound wrists and hands.

B'Elanna had returned from sickbay, apparently feeling 'much better' and was chatting in an almost friendly manner with the soldier. He saw her into a sitting position and told her he hoped all would be right with her and her baby, then excused himself and went to join his comrades.

Chakotay and the others were around B'Elanna instantly. "Good thinking, Lieutenant." Chakotay was really proud of her. He noticed a strange look on Tom's face and looked back at B'Elanna.

"How did you fool them? Surely that soldier was with you in sickbay and wouldn't have been fooled." Tom stopped his words as he searched B'Elanna's eyes.

She was smiling at him and him alone. "Well actually, I didn't need to fool him and once he knew I was telling the truth, he stepped aside and gave the Doctor and me the privacy we needed."

Chakotay's eyes flew to Tom's face and the look there was priceless. "You mean…" It was all he got out.

Chakotay smiled softly despite the situation. "Congratulations, you two, but let's hold the celebrations until later. B'Elanna, did you achieve your other business?"

She nodded. "Oh yes, it went perfectly. Doc even managed to scan my little friend without him even noticing. He was so busy watching my scan…" She stopped suddenly and looked at Tom. "Tom, I'm sorry. It should have been you first. seeing that."

Tom smiled loving at her. "Honey, getting us all out of this is more important. Protecting this life…" He gently laid a hand on her stomach. "That's more important than anything." They shared a secret smile for a few seconds and then B'Elanna got back to business.

"Doc's going to access the environmental controls and bypass them. He'll use his own codes, which only he'll know and literally turn the heat up. We were right. Their body chemistry can't take anything above a certain temperature. It's going to take about an hour to achieve but by that time, they should be dropping like flies."

Chakotay patted her arm. "Maquis training. That's my girl. I knew we could depend on…"

Suddenly his words were cut off as the door to the Cargo Bay opened to the sound of screamed abuse. Chakotay's heart seemed to stop at the sight that met his eyes and he was dimly aware of the cries from the others. Trajor stormed into the Cargo Bay dragging Kathryn roughly alongside him. She could barely stand and Chakotay was on his feet instantly. Trajor spotted his movement and put his weapon to Kathryn's head. "Do you really want to try that?" He sneered at them all. Chakotay didn't move. He knew he couldn't risk Kathryn.

A surge of raw pain went through Chakotay as he took in Kathryn's appearance and the fact that the bastard had stripped her. There didn't seem to be an area of her body that wasn't badly bruised and he could clearly make out the imprints of boots on her skin. He felt his tears come and didn't even try and stop them. He allowed one thought. 'Focus, man, focus. You can't help her this way'. He knew he had to detach himself as best he could but the sight of the woman he knew he loved before him in this state made that almost impossible.

Trajor was acting demented. "I see you lot have eaten and been given water. Good for you. I hear you've had a good night's sleep. That's good too. Please do though, spare a thought for your dear captain here. Look at her. Would you believe that she's had nothing to eat or drink at all since we arrived? Poor woman. She's had no sleep either. Can you believe that in the last almost two days and a night she's stood to attention all that time? Well, most of that time. The rest she spent on her knees and the odd bit of time on her back." He roared with laughter and let his words sink in, knowing his last words would make them think.

"She's not so high and mighty now, is she? Strip away the uniform and suddenly you find there's nothing underneath." His laughter and entire manner seemed to shock even the soldiers. Chakotay stared at Kathryn and his heart was breaking. 'Please, oh Spirits, don't let him have…not that…'.

He tried again to detach himself and assess her injuries. Trajor had pulled her head up and he saw the dried blood on her face and more bruises. He also terrifyingly noticed the glazed look in her eyes and how she was unable to focus on anything. 'She's been drugged. Oh Kathryn, please fight this. Please love, don't give up.'

He tried to will his thoughts to her. He could see the trouble she was having trying to stand and realized that this was due to the bruising he could see forming on her feet as well as her exhaustion. As Trajor pulled her around, he also noted that the circulation was almost cut off from her hands, giving them a bluish tinge. She appeared to be having some trouble with her breathing and he knew that the cold would exacerbate a lot of her injuries and that they had to act quickly now.

"Lesson over." Trajor pulled Kathryn back towards the door but she stumbled and he reached for her hair again and dragged her out the door. Not once had she cried or screamed out, not even seeming to know where she was. Chakotay almost felt that if she had, he'd have felt a little better. He knew her lack of fight was a dangerous sign. 'Don't give up, Kathryn.' He willed his thought to her in his mind again. 'Don't give up, love. Fight please'.

When Trajor and Kathryn were gone, Chakotay slumped down on the floor and B'Elanna was beside him immediately. "She'll be OK, Chakotay. She's strong. We'll get her to the Doc very soon." She didn't sound as sure as she was trying to be and Chakotay just patted her hand.

"She has to be OK, B'Elanna. She just has to be. There are too many things I've never said to her." He stopped, half realizing what he'd admitted but one look at his old friend's face and he knew that this wasn't news to her.

"I know you love her, Chakotay, and I also know she loves you too. She's never said it directly to me but from one woman to another, I got her meaning." She could see that this gave comfort to him and silently prayed that they'd all get the chance to see that love bear fruit.

Tom noticed almost at the same time as Tuvok that the air around them was starting to get warmer and they all shared knowing looks. Chakotay knew that this was the start of it and prayed that they'd be in time to help Kathryn.

Suddenly B'Elanna's soldier friend was there, appearing hesitant and she stood up and walked to him.
"Your captain and him." He pointed towards Chakotay. "Are they are perhaps mates?"

B'Elanna played her gut instincts. "Yes, they are. You can understand how he feels seeing her like that." She saw the look of pity on the face of this alien and decided to play this out.

The alien soldier looked sad. "He never used to be like that. So cruel. A lot of us feel now…" The soldier seemed aware that what he was saying could amount to treason and cast a glance towards his comrades.

B'Elanna walked away from the others a bit, motioning for her 'friend' to do the same. "What happened to make him like this?"

He alien man sighed. "He lost all his family in the war. He's nothing left, only us and his desire to get us home to our own world and our families. I think it's all become too much for him, the constant struggle, the loneliness…"

B'Elanna saw her opening and grabbed it with both hands. "What's your name friend?"

"Gaal." He kept his head bowed.

B'Elanna smiled gently. "Well Gaal, we understand that and our captain understands better than anyone what that's like. I told you about us." He nodded. "Gaal, you know, all you had to do was ask at the start and we'd have given you a lift home, helped you in any way we could. All you had to do was ask. Despite all this, you know, we'd still do that for you. Ask my commander, he'll tell you." She indicated towards Chakotay who she knew had been able to hear.

Chakotay stood up, reading the entire situation quickly. "It's true, Gaal. We'd help you and your friends get home. It's what we're about also. And yes, we still would." He let his meaning sink in.

Gaal held up a hand and walked away from them. They watched as he approached his fellow soldiers and they held their breaths as they watched him speak with them, occasionally indicating towards the small group. They saw two of the soldiers leave the Cargo Bay and prayed that they weren't going to report this to Trajor. Their fear was unfounded when Gaal returned to them.

"My friends feel as I do about this. They are as sick of war and fighting as I am and as desperate to see their families. There are only about thirty of us in our unit and two of us have gone to talk with the others."

Chakotay didn't want to push but had little choice. "Gaal, we don't have much time. Our captain doesn't have much time. You saw the way she was. She needs medical help now."

He nodded. "I understand. I do understand and I know if it was my mate…" He looked towards the sound of the door opening and moved off to the other soldiers. One of them met him half way, said a few words and then nodded to the others behind him.

They all approached together. "We have little reason to trust you, less now after what we've done but..."

Chakotay cut across him. "We give you our word on this. Where we come from, that means something. We know you were all only following orders and we understand that but please believe us when I say we are sincere in this. I give you my word of honour that there will be no action taken against you and your men, only that Trajor, your leader, will be taken into custody. You and your men have been kind to us and we won't forget that. When we reach your home, we'll hand him back to you and what happens then is up to your own people. Understand that we're trusting you as much here. By taking you home, we open ourselves up to possible arrest and who knows what else but that's a chance we are willing to take." Chakotay held his breath while the soldiers talked among themselves for a moment.

Finally they turned to Chakotay again and one of them spoke. "I am Nardar, Gaal's superior and second in command to Trajor. My men agree on this but I also think we have no choice. We know what you have done with the environmental controls and we accept that. In your situation, we would have done the same. I agree that your mate has little time, knowing the way Trajor is now, so working together is best. All right, Commander. We have an agreement."

Chakotay and the others heaved a sigh of relief. Visions of Kathryn lying dead or dying filled his mind but he pushed them aside in order to think and act clearly. "What about your men on the bridge? Can you contact them?"

Nardar nodded. "This will take a little time and we may have to fight them. Trajor keeps those he trusts the most closest to him and they might be harder to turn. Let me assess the situation there and you wait in hiding to hear from me." They had no option but to go along with this.

No one had noticed the lone soldier leave the group and head towards the bridge. Trajor indeed had special loyalty from some of his men. Within minutes, Trajor had been apprised of the situation and was responding.

"Those who wish to come with me, those who are truly loyal, come forward." It took great courage but three of the soldiers stepped back and dived for the turbo lift. Trajor roared after them for their treachery then looked to the four men who had stayed with him. "All right, your loyalty will be rewarded but now we have to move. We must get to one of their shuttles and leave here."

One of the young soldiers showed his fear, despite his training. "Won't the others try and stop us?"

Trajor shook his head. "No, I don't think they will. We can use their transporters to get to the shuttle bay and remember, we do have something else on our side." He sneered at this and walked towards Kathryn, still kneeling in the centre of the bridge. He hauled her to her feet and she screamed out in pain. "We have a hostage, remember?"


Chakotay, Tuvok and the others, along with Nardar and some of his men made their way towards the turbo lift when they suddenly heard the doors open. Weapons were drawn immediately and minutes passed while Nardar and his men decided if they would trust these three young soldiers. Once the soldiers had reported to him, weapons were lowered.

Chakotay rubbed at his face. "Can we check if this transport has already taken place?"

Tuvok was already at the nearest computer access point. "Commander, they have already transported to the shuttle bay. May I suggest that I take the bridge along with Mr. Kim and the rest of you…"

Chakotay, Tom and B'Elanna were already running. "Tractor that shuttle if it launches at whatever cost and contact the Doctor." Chakotay shouted back over his shoulder. The Vulcan nodded to Nardar, then headed towards the bridge. Nardar and his men set off after Chakotay and the others.

Trajor saw his men aboard the shuttle and then turned to Kathryn, still in his vice like grip. She was struggling to stay standing and he noticed the glazed look in her eyes.

"I can't say it's been a pleasure, Captain. In fact you and your crew have caused me nothing but trouble, especially you." Kathryn was aware enough to see the madness in his eyes and she felt uncontrollable terror build in her. He dragged her towards some storage barrels and slammed her against them. "I should have finished you off at the beginning."

Kathryn screamed in agony as she hit the barrels and slid to the floor. She saw Trajor advance on her and felt him drag her to her feet. The pain of his fists raining down on her and his boots kicking her took over everything, knocking her to the ground again and she screamed and cried out continuously. She was aware of his laughter and then the kicks and blows ceased. She felt herself pulled onto her back but her hands bound there kept her half on her side. She looked up at this mad man through swollen eyes and saw the very devil himself. She saw him raise his weapon and knew she would die. Her only thoughts were that she wouldn't get her crew home and more importantly, that she'd never told Chakotay how much she loved him. At what she believed was the moment of her death, his face came to her and she filled her heart and mind with the image. She heard the weapon discharge and felt the pain of it hit her a split second before her world ended.

Chakotay and the others were quickly joined by Nardar and his men outside the doors to the shuttle bay. "On my mark." Chakotay looked to Nardar and his men and saw that military training changed little from world to world and he knew he could depend on them. They burst through the doors just as the shuttle doors were closing. Chakotay's fist smashed the wall. "Tuvok. Report."

The Vulcan's voice, calm as usual came back to him. "Attempting to tractor the shuttle now, Commander. Do you have the captain?"

"She's not here, Tuvok. The bastards took her with them." He was walking in small circles, pacing. Her face was all that was in his mind but it alternated between happy and smiling and as it had been the last time he'd seen her. "What's taking so long?" This was killing him.

"Tuvok to Chakotay"

Chakotay's head snapped up. There was something in the Vulcan's voice. "Report."

"Commander, I am unsure of what occurred but I have to report that the shuttle just…"

Chakotay felt his heart hammer in his chest. "Damn it, Tuvok, what?"

"Commander, the shuttle just…exploded."

Chakotay's world stopped as his pacing increased. "No, no, no." His mind was screaming. "Not Kathryn, not my Kathryn." He felt someone's hand on his arm but he shook it off. They were talking to him, saying something but for him there was only her face. His pacing circles were getting wider and more erratic and then suddenly he stopped as his eyes fell on something. He was vaguely aware of B'Elanna beside him and she followed his line of vision. He heard her gasp and knew what he was seeing was real. Sticking out at the side of one of the barrels was part of a foot and instantly he and B'Elanna moved.

As they rounded the side of the barrels, he stopped dead then dropped to his knees. Kathryn lay deathly still, an ugly wound in her chest. He quickly felt for a pulse and heaved a huge sigh of relief when he found one, however weak. He heard Tom call for a transport to sickbay and then suddenly they were there, lifting Kathryn onto one of the biobeds and the Doctor was running around and pushing him out of the way. He stood to the side and took in the sight of her battered and bloody body, her hands still tightly bound behind her back. The Doctor shouted at Tom. "Get this off her wrists now, Mr. Paris."

Everything else around Chakotay took on a surreal quality. He was aware of the Doctor scanning her, injecting her, doing things he didn't understand. He knew B'Elanna was holding onto him but only Kathryn occupied his mind.

"Ms. Torres, please take the Commander to my office. The captain requires immediate surgery. Please wait there with him." The Doctor didn't look up from his frantic attempts. Chakotay felt B'Elanna lead him to the medic's office and sit him down and then finally his tears came and she was holding him.

Chakotay sat in the Doctor's office and let his mind chase his erratic thoughts around inside his head. He was in some way aware of B'Elanna beside him throughout all this. Time became an enemy and a friend. In one sense, he wanted it to pass quickly because the waiting and not knowing was torture, but on the other hand, if the Doctor was going to come to him with bad news, then he wanted that moment delayed forever. Finally, that moment came and he was aware of the Doctor standing before them. He felt B'Elanna rise but he stayed sitting, not trusting himself to stand.

"She's out of surgery." The Doctor's voice slowly reached him and he looked up at the medic. "The biggest problem was the chest wound she sustained. It caused massive internal damage and bleeding, damaging her heart also. I've managed to stop the bleeding, although it was touch and go for quite a while. Her heart stopped twice during surgery and as a result of that, alongside the severe blood loss and shock, this has left her in a very weakened state." Chakotay felt himself grip the arms of the chair, fear becoming his master.

The Doctor continued grimly. "She also suffered a fractured skull and a blood clot had formed on her brain. From what I can deduce, she received several blows and kicks to the head." The Doctor's face reflected the disgust he felt. "I've been able to successfully remove this clot but I won't be able to tell how successful I've been until she regains consciousness." He paused a moment before continuing.

"She had several broken ribs and a punctured lung, which was taken care of easily enough, although her breathing won't be back to normal for some hours yet. Her weakened state doesn't help. Her body is physically and emotionally exhausted. She is also severely dehydrated and in dire need of nourishment, and she's suffering from hypothermia. That's being taken care of as we speak. I'm giving her fluids, nourishment and blood intravenously and I'll keep her heavily sedated for the next two days, mainly to prevent any swelling to her brain and also to give her the best chance of recovery. I healed most of the deeper bruises and the rest will heal in their own time."

He put his padd down on his desk. "There was some particularly bad bruising on her feet and several of her toes were broken. I believe her feet were stamped on. Later, she will require physiotherapy for her feet and also her hands. The circulation was cut off there quite badly. Her other problem, as if she hasn't enough, is the drug she was injected with. This reacted badly against her system and I'm attempting to flush it out."

Chakotay barely trusted himself to speak. "Will she recover, Doctor?" He felt B'Elanna grip his hand tightly and was aware that Tom had joined them.

The Doctor looked at Chakotay. "Commander, she's strong and a fighter. If anyone can win this battle, it's the captain. I believe she has a good chance and if anyone can make a full recovery, she will. The next couple of days will tell. If she comes through that she should indeed make a full recovery."

Chakotay felt more hopeful with this. When he'd first seen her in the Shuttle Bay, he'd feared she was already dead. The injuries she'd sustained he felt sure would have instantly killed a lesser person than Kathryn Janeway. He made his way towards her still form, lying on the bio bed and felt his throat close off painfully at the sight of her. There was still bruising evident on her face and she was extremely pale. He could see she was still not breathing normally and noted that the Doctor had placed her on oxygen. His eyes took in everything. The intravenous lines snaking their way into her body, the bandages on the chest injury showing above the sheet and her hands, still carrying a slight bluish hue. He noted also that the Doctor had placed thermal blankets around her to bring her body temperature back to normal. He heard the monitors keeping track of her vital signs and heartbeat.

He realized the Doctor was standing beside him and looked around to see if anyone else was close by but no one was. "Doctor, there was something else I wanted and needed to ask. Was Kathryn… Was she touched in any other way? That bastard insinuated that he..." He looked at the Doctor, pleading almost.

The Doctor knew what he was alluding to. "Commander, I can assure you that my examination of the captain was thorough and while there was indeed heavy bruising to her thighs, there was no evidence of any other crime committed. Even had she been unconscious I would have found evidence of that. I can assure you there was none."

Chakotay felt relief flood him. "Thank you, Doctor. I had to ask. You understand." The Doctor nodded and just patted his arm.

B'Elanna came up beside him and put her arm around him. "She'll make it, Chakotay, she will. You know her, the fighter she is. It'll take more than this to beat Captain Janeway the invincible."

He smiled softly and took B'Elanna's hand. "She'd better make it, B'Elanna. I know I couldn't live without her."

She squeezed his hand. "She will, old friend. You'll see."

Chakotay sat at Kathryn's side for the next hour, softly whispering to her and gently stroking her face and hair. He heard the door to sickbay open but didn't look up until he heard Tuvok's voice. "Commander, how is the captain?" Chakotay filled him in on the Doctor's report and Tuvok's comments almost mirrored those of B'Elanna. "I have known the captain for many years and I know she will also win this battle."

Chakotay looked up at Kathryn's oldest friend and again realized the respect he now felt for the Vulcan. "Tuvok, in case I don't say it later. Throughout all this, you've been…" He was unaccustomed to speaking on a more personal level with this man and vowed to change that. "My report will reflect your…well, you know. I'll be putting in a commendation for you."

Tuvok barely managed to keep his surprise and what appeared to be pride and satisfaction from showing. "Thank you, Commander. I must report that Nardar and his men have been given quarters and I have ensured that environmental controls have been set according to their needs. The controls on the rest of the ship have been returned to normal."

Chakotay smiled at that. "Two birds with one stone, Tuvok?"

The Security Officer frowned. "Commander?"

Chakotay ran his fingers through his hair. "This way we ensure that we keep our word, that they're not being held as prisoners but also that they won't venture out of their quarters as it would be too warm for them." Tuvok as usual showed nothing on his face. "Good work, Tuvok. Can you manage on the bridge for a while? I'd like to stay…" He didn't need to say more.

Tuvok nodded. "Commander, everything is running smoothly. We are en route for Nardar's home world, about three days away and the crew is coping well. I will keep you informed of everything." At this point he looked at Kathryn's face. "Her ship is in good hands." Chakotay actually saw the respect and affection that Tuvok felt for his captain on the Vulcan's face.

"She already knew that, Tuvok. She's always known that." Once again, Tuvok seemed to battle to control emotion.

"Thank you, Commander. That means a lot to me. I should return to the bridge. I'll report to you." He turned and was gone before Chakotay had time to answer.

"You know what, Kathryn?" Chakotay stroked her arm. "I think I've just witnessed a miracle. I believe I actually embarrassed him." He leaned down and brushed his lips to hers.

As Kathryn continued her fight over the next two days, Chakotay rarely left her side. He ate and slept in sickbay and only left to check on the progress of repairs and to speak with Nardar and his men. He knew now that the explosion on the shuttle had been caused by pilot error, nothing more, and again thanked the Spirits and any other Deity he could think of that Kathryn hadn't been aboard. He learned more about Trajor and it shocked him. It shocked him that the gentle family man the soldiers spoke of could change into the man they'd known and even though it scared him dreadfully to even think it, he realized that Trajor had once been Kathryn Janeway.

Chakotay was dozing next to Kathryn, his arm gently lying across her, when he suddenly felt her move slightly under him. He looked up and saw her eyes flutter open. For a minute there was panic there and then her eyes turned to him and he instantly saw the questions there.

"It's over, Kathryn. You're going to be fine. The crew is fine and the ship is fine." He knew this was all she wanted to hear, that other details could wait. She smiled gently at him and he watched then as memories came back to her, haunting her, her pain and humiliation, her loss of control.

He reached out and gently took her small hands in his. "Kathryn, it's over. Let it go, love."

She looked at him and he saw her eyes filling up. "It's not that easy, Chakotay."

He reached one hand up and wiped away her tears. "I know it's not easy, Kathryn, but you're strong and you'll get through this and you'll even be stronger for it but don't hold on to the negative things from all this. Look for the positive and take those things with you into the future. Leave everything else behind you where it belongs. You have a wonderful crew, a crew who are your friends and you know I'm there for you always."

She suddenly pulled her hands out of his and for a minute he thought he'd overstepped the mark with her, getting too close again. He knew his disappointment showed in his eyes and he quickly closed them, not wanting her to see it. 'Why won't she ever let me be there for her?'

This thought was stopped in its tracks when he felt her hands on his face. He opened his eyes and met hers. "Chakotay, I…"

"Ah, Captain, you're awake I see." Chakotay groaned. The Doctor had the worst sense of timing. "Sorry to interrupt but I need to examine the captain. Commander, if you don't mind."

Chakotay realized that Kathryn's hands were still on his face and he delighted in the fact that she'd left them there. She held his eyes for a minute longer and then smiled at him. "I guess..later?" He took her hands and gently squeezed them and just nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

The Doctor smiled gently. "Commander, may I recommend that you take yourself off to your quarters and get at least eight hours sleep before you fall down and then you won't be of any use to the captain or anyone else on this ship."

Chakotay nodded, not taking his eyes away from Kathryn as she smiled at him. "Go on, the Doctor's right. I need you in top condition."

Finally he tore his eyes away from her and stood up. "I'll see you later. OK?"

She smiled back at him and he saw true promise in that smile for the first time.

Chakotay should have known that very little could keep Kathryn Janeway tied down for long and true to herself she was out of sickbay to see Nardar and his men off Voyager when they reached their home world. She'd reached a compromise with the Doctor. Attend to the duty of seeing their 'guests' safely home and then back to sickbay for one more day. Taking Chakotay's advice, he having spoken with most of the crew, they decided not to take up the offer of shore leave which had been made to them. Kathryn wasn't alone in wanting to move on and try and put the entire matter behind them.

When Nardar, Gaal and the others had left and they were on their way again, Chakotay insisted that it was time for her to return to sickbay and keep her promise to the Doctor. She eventually caved in and Chakotay knew that a lot of her objections had been an act. He could see that the whole episode had affected her more than she was letting on and he worried about her. They hadn't had a chance to talk properly about it all and he knew that she'd be unable to heal emotionally until she did so. He also knew that despite her strong act for the crew and her insistence that she was fine, underneath it had all taken a heavy toll on her.

"Tell you what, My Lady Kathryn, how about dinner, on me of course, tomorrow night, once you're released from sickbay. Now tell me that's an offer you can refuse." He smiled down at her and noticed how weary she'd become in the last few minutes, letting go of the mask. He also noticed painfully, how she was trying to hide the difficulty she was having with her walking, letting herself link her arm through his for support.

"How can I refuse?" They'd reached sickbay and as soon as the doors opened, they came face to face with the Doctor. Kathryn sighed. "Doctor, we did promise."

He shrugged. "Just making sure, Captain. I know how much you love being here."

Chakotay saw her over to the bio bed and helped her sit up on it. She didn't object and this told him just how tired she was. "Just get a good night's sleep, Kathryn. It's behind us now." He saw the look that crossed her face and knew that it would take quite a while before it was behind her in her mind.

"Kathryn, I've told you before that you're not alone, that we'll face things together and this is no different but we can only do this if you let me help you and be there for you. You can put on any act for the crew but this is me and in front of me, in private, please let me be there for you. No matter what you think, needing a friend, needing a shoulder now and again, that is not a sign of weakness. For someone to admit now and then that they need a bit of help, some comfort, well I see that as a sign of strength. Please, will you do that for me? Let me be there?"

She smiled at him and there was just the slightest hint of mischief in her eyes. "I'll try, Chakotay, really I will but you have to understand that it's difficult to change the habits of a lifetime."

He returned her smile. "That's all I ask. Now get some sleep, obey the Doctor and if you're a good girl, I'll break you out of here tomorrow."

"You've got a deal." She lay out on the bed and before either of them knew it, she was fast asleep.

True to his word, Chakotay was there at noon the next day, a lock-picking tool in one hand. "Any sign of the jailer?" His smile lit up his face and infected hers.

"Oh Chakotay, you certainly know how to put a smile on my face." She was dressed and ready.

The Doctor came over to them. "All right, Commander, very funny. Captain, you may return to your quarters but I want you here for a check-up every day for the next week and for your physiotherapy, and during that week, even though I know I'm speaking to the wall there, plenty of rest and good food. You know the drill by now and I shouldn't have to go through this with you every time, but do you ever listen to me?"

Chakotay stepped in to be a buffer. "Doctor, I'll make sure she obeys this time. You have my word on that."

The medic accepted that. "Fine, Commander, I'll keep you to that."

Kathryn stood, hands on hips, showing a flash of her old self. "I am here, you two. I can actually speak for myself."

"Yes, Captain." The Doctor seemed resigned. "You can speak for yourself but unfortunately for me, you can never listen for yourself. Now go and please try at least to do some of what I've said."

Kathryn was already halfway out the door, Chakotay running to catch up.

When they reached her quarters, the first thing Kathryn wanted was a cup of her coffee. She sat on the couch as Chakotay replicated it for her and herbal tea for himself. He had to hold the cup for her, knowing that her hands were still unable to grasp anything with any strength and she allowed his assistance, despite her obvious dislike of being dependent. He could see she was still weary and despite her protests that she was fine, Chakotay insisted that she take a nap during the afternoon and once again she caved in. She was more tired than she let on and was asleep again almost before her head hit the pillow. Chakotay stood in the doorway of her bedroom for quite a while, just watching her and marvelling at how beautiful she looked to him. He watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest and it registered painfully with him how close he'd come once again to losing her.

'Spirits, Kathryn. I love you so much it hurts. Why can't you let me in? Why can't you admit that you need someone?' He stood there for several more minutes watching her and thought again of Trajor and what he'd become. There was no way he was going to let that happen to this woman. He knew what loneliness, feelings that life was wasted and the things left undone could do to a person and he'd die before he let that happen to her. He knew that someday she'd suddenly realize that life had passed her by and that she had little to show for it. He felt it himself occasionally. He wanted a wife, children, a home and not the bitterness that crept in when these things were denied to someone. She suddenly cried out in her sleep and he was at her side in one stride, sitting on the side of the bed, gently rubbing her back and whispering soothing words in her ear. As if she heard him, she eased back into a more peaceful sleep. He stayed a little longer and when he was satisfied that she'd settled into a good, deep sleep, he left to prepare for their dinner.

When Kathryn finally awoke, she was first aware of soft music playing and she stiffly got out of her bed and followed the soothing melody into the other room, slipping her robe around her shoulders on the way. Chakotay was lighting candles on the table and looked towards her with a smile, having caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye.

"I was just about to wake you. Dinner is just ready and you must be hungry." He gave her one of his dimpled smiles and was rewarded with one of hers.

"I actually am hungry, believe it or not. Must be all that exercise I had sleeping this afternoon. I'll just get dressed OK?"

She went to move back towards the bedroom and just managed to hear Chakotay's soft words. "You look fine to me just as you are." She turned back to him and saw his face redden when he realized that he'd spoken aloud. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" His tongue knotted up in his mouth and his brain followed suit.

She smiled at him again. "You mean I don't look fine like this or you're sorry I heard?" He didn't know where to look and his tongue stayed tied up. Kathryn was suddenly enjoying her teasing of him but finally decided to let him off the hook. "Chakotay, it's fine, honestly and I'm flattered. Don't worry about it. I'm not going to throw you out or kick you ass in the brig."

Maybe it was having stared death in the face but tonight she suddenly felt more alive and daring than she had in a long time. "Maybe I'll stay like this then, if you like it so much." She was rewarded by the look on his face, his mouth falling open. "Of course, if you'd prefer I change then…"

Suddenly he got the use of his vocal powers back. "No, no. I mean, you're fine. I…"

She smiled at that. "At ease, Commander. Let's just eat."

He nodded, relief pouring from him, replacing his earlier acute embarrassment.

During their dinner, Kathryn found herself feeling at ease for the first time since Voyager had been boarded. With a full stomach and a cup of coffee, she leaned back on the sofa and let her eyes close as Chakotay cleared away the dishes. She opened her eyes again as she felt him sit beside her and met his concerned face.

"Are you all right, Kathryn. If you're tired…" She reached out and took his hand in hers. "No, I'm not tired. I've done nothing else but sleep these past few days and to be honest…" She looked down into her coffee cup as if seeking inspiration there and then felt Chakotay's fingers under her chin, pulling her back to face him.

"Kathryn, what is it? Please, just talk to me, let me in." He saw tears invade her eyes and decided to stay quiet, giving her time to sort her thoughts and time to gain the courage she needed to open up.

"It's just…I'm…I'm afraid to sleep." She felt her tears roll down her cheeks but Chakotay just stayed as he was, giving her all the space she needed. "I mean, I do sleep but it's down to pure tiredness and then I dream, terrible dreams. The Doctor woke me a few times in sickbay from them. I feel so alone in those dreams and so terribly afraid and I keep reliving that moment…" She couldn't continue and this time Chakotay took her cup, putting it on the table in front of them and just pulled her into his arms, offering whatever security he could.

Chakotay rocked her back and forth like a child for some time, letting her gain back her control and uttered whatever soothing words he could. Finally she eased back from him and wiped her face. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. I've no right to put this onto you." The look of love on his face almost stopped her breathing.

"Kathryn, don't ever feel sorry for coming to me with anything. That's what I'm here for, what I want to be here for, either as a First Officer in a professional capacity or as a friend in a personal one. I really don't need to reiterate this."

She sniffled some more and gave him a weak smile. "I know that, Chakotay. Really I do." He pulled her tighter into a hug and then eased back, using one hand to tilt her face towards his.

"Kathryn, I don't mean to push you, and if you're not ready to talk about this, I'll understand, but you said that you keep reliving 'that moment' and…" She looked back into her lap at this and he could see her biting her lower lip but eventually she looked up at him and the pain he saw in her eyes tore at him. "Kathryn, please. You're scaring me. What moment? The Doctor said there was no evidence of anything…anything else…" He was terrified of what she might say.

Kathryn instantly understood what he meant and quickly reassured him. "Oh God, Chakotay, no. There was nothing like that."

His relief was almost corporeal. "What then? Kathryn please."

She met his eyes straight on and he saw her tears start up again and so he gripped her hands tightly. "It's just that moment in the shuttle bay. When Tra…when that bastard raised his weapon and pointed it at me. Chakotay, I was so sure that was it, that that was my last moment and I can't get it to leave me alone, the memory of it."

He felt her pull her hands from his and the next instant they were around his neck and she was hanging onto him for dear life. His own arms came around her slim form and he held her tightly to him. "Shhh love, I'm here, it's all right. It's done with, over now. He's dead and can't ever hurt you again." He held her tightly like that for a long time, feeling her shaking with the fearful memory and her tears.

When Kathryn eventually felt more composed and in control of herself, she finally opened up to Chakotay. She told him everything. She told him of the beatings, the humiliation, Trajor cutting away her clothes, how she believed he would rape her on the bridge in front of the soldiers, the kicks, injecting her with the drug and stamping on her feet in the lift. She told him how the pain had almost taken over everything, how the cold had eaten into her, her desperate hunger, thirst and tiredness. She told him of the vague memories she had of being dragged to the Cargo Bay and being dimly aware of the entire crew seeing her that way. She told him then of the beating in the shuttle bay and how she had actually felt the pain as the weapon discharged at her chest, how she had felt she knew with certainty that she was going to die in that second.

"How could he do that, Chakotay? What makes any life form do that to another? I know I've faced death before, but this…" She broke down again at this and couldn't continue.

Chakotay stroked her back and held her tightly. He spoke gently to her, feeling that if he didn't speak his mind now, he might never get another chance like this one. He didn't want to upset her any more than she already was, but this to him was a case of being cruel to be kind and so he told her what he knew of Trajor, what Gaal, Nardar and the others had told him of the man they had known, before a hard and sad life changed that man from a gentle, family man into the monster who'd had no other goal in life but to get his men home at any cost to him or anyone else. He watched Kathryn's face as he told her all this and could see that it was indeed hurting her to learn about it all. He knew that she'd equate it with her own life and her own determination to get her crew home.

"Kathryn, I'm not telling you this to hurt you, nor am I saying that you could ever be anything like him, but you have to see what being so tunnel visioned can lead to. You have to see what shutting yourself off and allowing no one into your life can do to you, and no Kathryn, I'm not saying this just to get you to let me into your life. I just want you to let someone in. I want to be with you more than anything and you already know that, know how I feel about you, but I'd rather be without you and see you with someone else, than see you on your own. Can you see what loneliness and blind ambition can do to someone? Spirits, Kathryn, the thought of that ever happening to you." It was his turn to feel tears spring into his eyes and now she was comforting him.

"Chakotay, I know you're not trying to hurt me, that you're saying this to save me, I guess. I didn't know about him, what his past had been, what turned him into what I saw. I do know that, and I hope I'm not being presumptuous here, but I know how you feel about me, that you love me, yes?"

He nodded. "I do love you, more than my own life."

She reached her fingers up to his lips and gently caressed them. "Chakotay, when I told you about that moment in the shuttle bay, I didn't tell you everything." She saw his worried look and continued. "What I didn't tell you was that I had another moment before that, a split second or so before that to be exact and I guess that's haunting me just as much if not more than when I thought I would die, although they are related, as moments in time."

"Chakotay, have you ever heard that someone's life can flash before their eyes at the moment of their death or what they perceive to be the moment of their death." His eyes were riveted to her face at this stage and he realized that he was breathing very slowly. "Well, I believe I experienced something like that. Not my whole life zipping by me but just what it was now, what I… No, it was more a case of what could be flashing past my eyes, what I thought at that moment would never be. Can you understand any of this? I'm not sure I can." She took a deep breath and continued, her eyes not leaving his for a second.

"Two things came to me in those seconds. I always thought fear of the unknown would have been uppermost in my mind, but that wasn't the case. Those two things, well one of course was that I wouldn't get this crew home, although I knew you or Tuvok would finish that job for me, but the second, the most important… Well, that was you."

Chakotay found at this stage that he was now actually holding his breath and his thoughts were swimming. 'Surely she can't be about to say… Can life be that good to me? Can she finally be able to admit?' Kathryn's next words changed his life forever.

"Chakotay, the last thing that came to me was you, your face, your smiling face." She cupped his cheek and stared deeply into his eyes. "My very last thought was that I hadn't told you that I loved you, and while your face was my last image and the only last image I would ever want, and while it brought me peace, it also brought me the greatest sadness I've ever known. I knew at that precise moment that I'd wasted my life and the reason for it. I knew that by denying myself letting you into my life, that it had been an empty life, devoid of its true purpose. By not loving you… No. By not telling you that I loved you and not letting you love me the way you want to… God, Chakotay, I wasted so much. I have to tell you now. Chakotay, I love you. Plain and simple."

If Kathryn had been about to say anything else, she was never given the chance. Her lips were suddenly covered by Chakotay's. The kiss was gentle and yet the most passionate kiss she'd ever received and she felt herself drowning in it. Raw emotion and pure love invaded every fibre of her being.

When they finally came up for air, Chakotay grasped her face in his hands. "Kathryn, you've made me the happiest man who ever lived. I love you so much." She traced his tattoo with her fingers, something she'd always wanted to do.

"Chakotay, I love you too. I guess it's true that something good can always come out of anything. I guess this is what you meant by finding the positive in all this and leaving the negative behind?" He just nodded and that was the only answer she'd get that night as his lips claimed hers again.