Disclaimer:   (Sigh) What can I say?  Paramount’s

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:  Why was Kathryn so obsessed with finding a cure so she and Chakotay could leave New Earth?  This story explains one possible reason.   Many, many thanks to Shayenne for beta’ing when she had so much else to do and so little time.
 
 

The Enemy Within

By Mary S.
 
 

           “I regret to inform you that I have been unable to find a counteragent for the virus which has infected you.  Since the planet seems to provide some sort of natural shielding, it would appear you have little option but to remain there.”

           For the umpteenth time, the doctor’s words echoed through Kathryn Janeway’s head, words which she stubbornly continued to reject.   There was a solution to their dilemma.   There had to be.  And sooner or later, if she just worked hard enough, she would find it.   Unlike Chakotay, her companion in exile, she wasn’t willing to give up and accept their new home, not yet, anyway.    As a Starfleet captain, her place was on the bridge of her ship, leading her crew, not isolated on some uninhabited planet deep in the Delta Quadrant.    Just as she had always done, she would find a way out, off this planet and back to Voyager.   The alternative was simply too appalling to consider.

           Deep in the recesses of Kathryn’s brain lurked a cold dread, a horror of being abandoned alone, never to see another living being.   It had first appeared many years ago, shortly after the deaths of her father and fiancé in a shuttle crash on Tau Ceti Prime, a crash which left her the only survivor, alone on that icy planet.    In later years, it would occasionally creep into her consciousness – a mind-numbing panic that would scare her senseless until she forced it back into the regions of her subconscious.   Most of the time, she could ignore it, or at least control it with her indomitable will.   But, now, with their sudden, involuntary isolation on this nameless world, her worst nightmare was turning into reality.

           She wasn’t alone, she kept reminding herself.   Chakotay was with her, unwittingly providing a balance to her fear.   ‘But what if something happens to him?’ whispered her treacherous brain.  ‘What if he dies, and I’m left here, all alone for the rest of my life?’

           Furiously, she bent over her computer.   ‘No!  I won’t let it happen!  And the best way to ensure that is to find a cure for this damned virus so we can get off this damned planet!’   Pushing away the fear once more, she cudgeled her tired brain, trying to find inspiration in the lines of data on the screen before her.
 

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           Day after day, Kathryn concentrated completely on her research, oblivious to anything else going on around her.   The only time she even set foot outside was to check her insect traps for specimens.

           With each passing day, Chakotay grew more and more worried about her.   He was well aware she was a very stubborn woman who would do all in her power to avoid defeat, and she did have powerful motivation.   She was desperate to return to her ship and crew – that was a given – but he couldn’t help sensing there was something more at stake, some hidden factor which he hadn’t yet discovered.    Kathryn’s struggle to find a cure was quickly becoming an obsession.

           One evening, over three weeks after their abrupt arrival on New Earth, as he had named the planet, he finally voiced his concern.
 
           Kathryn had been soaking in the bathtub which he’d built for her, the best place for productive thinking, so she claimed.   A sudden sound in the trees frightened her into calling for Chakotay, who came rushing outside, phaser in hand and Sims beacon strapped to his wrist.  However, their intruder turned out to be a small, curious primate.   Intrigued, Kathryn tried to coax the little animal into coming closer in order to examine it.

           For a moment, it seemed to hover as if undecided, before retreating to the safety of the nearest tree.

           Its appearance, however, provided new inspiration for Kathryn.   Once Chakotay had returned to the shelter, she wasted no time in climbing out of her bath and following him, hurriedly tying her robe as she went.    “Maybe we should be out looking for other primates.  I might be missing something important here.   After all, they must have to contend with insect bites, too.”

           For a moment, he regarded her bent head before coming to a decision.  Time to take the bull by the horns.   “Kathryn, the doctor worked for weeks trying to find a cure for this disease.”

           Her eyes remained focused on the screen.  “Yes?”

           Undaunted, he launched into his argument.  “You’ve been at it twelve hours a day, seven days a week since we got here, and we’re still no closer to a cure than the day we were infected.”

           Her attention finally caught by his words, she sat back in her chair.   “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

           Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned forward slightly.   “My people have a saying – ‘even the eagle must know when to sleep’.   Maybe it’s time we both considered that.”

          Bluntly, she threw his argument in his face.  “You mean quit, give up.”

           Desperate to convince her, he challenged her interpretation.   “Why do you have to see it as defeat?  Maybe it’s simply accepting what life has dealt us, finding the good in it.”  His words barely disguised his own unspoken longing – maybe she could join him in making a new life for themselves.
 
           But Kathryn was already turning back to the screen.  “Maybe someday, I’ll come to that point, Chakotay, but…I’m a long way from it right now.  I need to keep looking.”

           Head down once more, she didn’t even see his resigned nod of acceptance.
 

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           In the end, it was a force much more powerful than any words of Chakotay which finally changed her mind.

           The morning was filled with bright sunshine when Kathryn stepped outside, specimen container hanging over one shoulder.    “I’m going to check the traps in beta four,” she announced to Chakotay, who was sanding something.   Puzzled, she stepped closer to see what he was doing.   “What are you up to now?”

           He stepped back to show her his latest project.  “Making headboards.”

           “Headboards?”

           “I’ve noticed you sometimes like to sit up to read in bed.  I figured you might as well have a comfortable backrest.”

           Her face broke into a slightly guilty smile.   “That’s very thoughtful of you, Chakotay.   You’ve done so much to make our lives here easier.  Cooking, for example – I hate to cook!”

           Although her words were kind, he heard the muted reluctance in her tone, and decided to call her on it.   “But what I do makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?   Every time I add a personal touch to the shelter, you resist it.”

           Realizing that perhaps it was time for some plain speaking, she nodded.   “Sometimes, it seems as though you’ve given up, that you’re focused on making a home here instead of finding a cure that will let us leave.”

           That was the heart of the issue, he realized.   He wanted to stay – he already felt more at home here than he ever had anywhere – while she couldn’t wait to go.    Searching for the words that would help her see his point of view, he braced one foot on the log she’d sat down on and leaned forward, his voice filling with intensity.   “I can’t sacrifice the present waiting for a future that may never happen!    The reality of this situation is that we may never leave here!  So yes!  I’m trying to make a home here, something that’s more than a plain, gray box.”

           His forthright speech made her catch her breath at his bluntness.   To cover her sudden trepidation, she glanced down at her hands, forcing a lightness to her tone that she didn’t feel.  “Someday, I may have to let go, but not today, okay?”  Reaching for his hand, she let him pull her up.   “I have a feeling today might be the day I make a breakthrough.”   Quickly, she strode into the forest, anxious to escape before he thought of another argument that might strike even closer to home.   Whatever else, she must continue to hide her fear and maintain her façade as the calm, confident woman he believed her to be.

           Chakotay’s eyes followed her uneasily as she disappeared.  Something wasn’t right – her tone of voice had sounded artificial to his sensitive ears.   Every day, he was becoming increasingly convinced that Kathryn’s obsession with leaving was founded in more than just a determination to return to her ship.   There was something else at work in her head, but as yet, he had no idea what it was.  Sighing resignedly, he returned to sanding the headboard.
 

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           The plasma storm came out of nowhere.

           One minute, Kathryn was standing in warm sunshine, peering hopefully into a trap, the next, she was staring in horror at a sky suddenly filled with black, raging thunderheads.   Fear clenched her stomach, galvanizing her to hurriedly close her case and start to run back towards the shelter.   However, she was too late.

           Within minutes, the wind increased to a full gale, knocking her down time and again as she struggled forward, desperately clutching the case, their only hope of salvation from this terrible planet.   A particularly strong gust threw her to her knees, forcing out a despairing yelp before fear closed her throat.   It was all happening, just as she’d always known it would.   She was alone, staring disaster in the face.

           “Kathryn!”

           Chakotay’s faint shout barely penetrated her terrified mind.   Briefly, she lifted her head before letting it fall once more to the ground.

           “Kathryn!”

           This time, she could hear his voice clearly as sudden hope made her struggle to her knees.

           And then he was beside her.   “Kathryn!   Are you all right?”  Strong hands reached to grasp her arms, hauling her to her feet.

           “Yes,” she gasped.  “I couldn’t keep my balance and carry the case.”

           “Give it to me.”  As he spoke, he reached for it, wrapping his other arm tightly around her to help her move forward.

           All about them, the branches on every tree whipped back and forth angrily with the force of the wind.    Between gusts, they could hear ominous creaking and several times, a sudden crack as somewhere in the forest, a branch crashed to the ground.

           Laden down with the case in one hand, and at times half-carrying Kathryn, somehow Chakotay found the strength to make it back to the shelter.    Hurrying inside, he dropped the case on the table as a ripping noise from overhead made them both glance upward.   A large branch was falling straight toward them!   Desperately, he grabbed Kathryn’s shoulders and dived under the table, pulling her down with him, just as the branch landed beside them.

           With the roof open to the elements, the noise of the storm increased dramatically, while the force of the wind tossed objects around at random.   The cherished specimen case was thrown against a chair, causing it to open and spill its precious contents.

           Frantically, Kathryn reached out in a futile attempt to save it, but Chakotay’s strong arm held her tightly against him.   Wordlessly, he stroked her arms as she covered her face in despair.

           Her worst nightmare was coming true.   All her hopes were literally being smashed to smithereens by a force of nature that she had no power to stop.   They would be stuck here for the rest of their days.   This ghastly planet would kill him; she would be left alone to face her fear and she knew she wouldn’t survive.   Driven mad by hopelessness and despair, she would die a terrible death.
 
           Again and again, the same thoughts tore relentlessly through her horror-stricken mind, encouraged by the storm raging all around them.   But even as black despair poured into her very soul, she became aware of the warm body pressed against her back.   She wasn’t alone; Chakotay was here with her, protecting her, guarding her back.   Turning her head slightly, she gazed into his watching eyes, which were filled with concern.

           “Don’t worry, Kathryn,” he spoke into her ear so she could hear him.   “We’ll be all right.”

           Filled with sudden relief at his presence, she turned over to face him, then buried her head in his chest.   Gradually as she focused her mind on him, inhaling his scent, her demons subsided, retreating once more into the dark corners of her brain.   As she regained control, her breathing slowed and her body relaxed into him.

           Relieved that she seemed to have come to her senses, Chakotay exhaled a soft sigh and pulled her more tightly against him.   Whatever it took to give her peace of mind, he would do, but for both their sakes’, he hoped she would tell him what was really bothering her and permit him to help.
 

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           Several hours passed before the storm finally blew itself out, allowing them to start evaluating the damage.    A brief glance around the shelter was enough to convince them that the level of destruction was extreme.   Whatever had been lying loose inside had been tossed around indiscriminately.   Utensils had been thrown anywhere, while containers were tipped over, their contents strewn about at random.   Debris from outside, in particular the large branch poking through the roof, covered much of the floor and furniture.

           Outside, it was worse.   Kathryn’s traps were bent, torn from their branches and ripped apart.   Her protein analyzer was now a pile of junk.   Despairing, she picked it up, only to confirm what she already knew.   “None of this is salvageable, either,” she declared forlornly, as she let it fall to the ground.

           Behind her, Chakotay stood helpless, not knowing how to comfort her.   “I’m sorry,” seemed inadequate, but it was all he could find to say.

           At his voice, she turned to look over her shoulder, her eyes bleak.   “Well, I guess that’s one way of letting go.”

           Stepping forward to stand beside her, he placed his hand gently on her shoulder in silent sympathy for a long moment, then turned to walk back into the shelter.    A minute later, Kathryn heard him start to pick up bits of equipment.

           With a heavy sigh, she moved to follow.  Maybe if she worked hard enough, she would be too tired to do anything more than sleep, although somehow, she had a feeling that wouldn’t happen.

           Her demons crept forward, hovering on the edges of her conscious mind, ready, at the first opportunity, to pounce on her unwary brain.
 

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           By nightfall, both Chakotay and Kathryn were exhausted by the hours of physical labour they had put in; however, the shelter was once again habitable.
 
           Wearily, Kathryn prepared for bed, although she knew she was still too wide awake to sleep easily.   Hoping to make herself sleepy, she sat down at her computer and pulled up the dullest report of the doctor’s she could find – a long-winded analysis of the comparative physiologies of fruit flies and the Delta Quadrant equivalent, found on some planet months ago, she couldn’t remember now where.

           Sure enough, as she read, her eyes began to close and her mind to slip into a daze.   Her aching shoulders, however, were taking on a life of their own.   Groaning softly, she reached around, trying in vain to ease the knots of tension.

           At her muttered exclamation, Chakotay looked up from his latest carving.

           His movement caught her attention and she glanced over at him, grimacing at her discomfort.  “My knots are getting knots,” she explained, laughing at her own description.

           He gave her a sympathetic smile as he rose to his feet and went to stand behind her.  “Here, let me help.”   Lifting the loose hair from her back, he held it, caressing it for a second, before tossing it over her shoulder.  Gently, he laid his hands on her shoulders, then slowly dug in his fingers, finding each knot and working it out.

           In utter bliss, Kathryn’s head fell back against his chest as her eyes closed.   “Ohhh, that feels good.”

           “I’ve had a lot of practice at this.  My mother used to get sore necks all the time; she always said I was the only one she’d trust not to make it worse.”

           As he spoke, his head dropped, allowing him to bury his nose in her hair.   Inhaling her scent overwhelmed his senses until all he knew was her, filling his nostrils.   Unconsciously, the motion of his hands slowed, then stopped.

           Her conscience suddenly screaming at her, Kathryn hastily opened her eyes and sat up straight.   Good lord!  What was she doing??   Swiftly, she rose to her feet, turning to give him an embarrassed little smile.

           Caught off-guard by her abrupt movement, Chakotay had no time to hide his feelings.   His eyes were filled with all the love and devotion he felt for her, emotions he was uncertain she wanted to acknowledge, at least not yet.    By the sudden look of awkwardness on her face, he had no doubt she’d seen every one, although her words were mundane.

           “Thank you, that feels much better,” she assured him, trying to remain at ease.  “Well, I’m going to go to bed now.”

           What words could he say that she would be willing to hear, beyond the obvious?   Almost shrugging, he replied, “Sleep well, Kathryn.”

           Nodding, she answered, “You too,” before turning to slip into her alcove.

           Sighing, he resumed his seat and picked up his carving, but his mind would no longer focus on the work in front of him.  Several times, his eyes lifted to gaze abstractedly on her alcove.   He wanted, indeed needed, to tell her how he felt – but was she ready to hear it?   Her reaction would indicate that no, she wasn’t.    Forcing himself to concentrate on his work, he dropped his head and focused on the stone.   Only minutes later, however, his absorption was interrupted again.

           Kathryn had reappeared and was moving to sit on the opposite side of the table.   “We have to talk about this.”

           Setting down his carving, he folded his hands in his lap and gazed at her expectantly.  “All right.”

           Unnerved by the feelings he’d evoked in her with his touch, and unable to match his calm, she reverted to her captain persona and became all business.    “We need to define parameters.  About us,” she added, in case there was any question.

           For a moment, Chakotay stared at her in silence, his face wearing an unreadable expression.   Then he tilted his head slightly and picked up the carving tool, running his finger up and down it absently.   “I don’t know if I can…define parameters,” he began.  Before she could reply, he continued.  “But I can tell you a story, an ancient legend among my people.  It’s about an angry warrior who lived his life in conflict with the rest of his tribe, a man who couldn’t find peace, even with the help of his spirit guide.   For years, he struggled with his discontent, but the only satisfaction he ever got came when he was in battle.  This made him a hero among his tribe, but the warrior still longed for peace within himself.”

           Mesmerized by the story he was telling in his soft voice, Kathryn’s eyes never left his.

           “One day, he and his war party were captured by a neighbouring tribe led by a woman warrior.  She called on him to join her because her tribe was too small and weak to defend itself alone from all its enemies.   The woman warrior was brave and beautiful and very wise.  The angry warrior swore to himself that he would stay by her side, doing whatever he could to make her burdens lighter.  From that day forward, her needs would come first.  And in that way, the warrior began to know the true meaning of peace.”

           For several seconds after he stopped speaking, Kathryn continued to stare at him, her eyes full of unshed tears.   Finally breaking the spell he’d woven about both of them, she asked with a small, deprecating smile.  “Is that really an ancient legend?”

           Chakotay’s face was a picture of confusion, as he ducked his head, smiling shyly.   For a moment, he looked like an embarrassed five-year-old, caught kissing the little girl next door.   However, when he lifted his head to gaze into her eyes, she saw a man who loved her deeply and would no longer try to hide his feelings.   “No,” he answered honestly, “but that made it easier to say.”

           One tear, then another, slid down her cheeks as she finally acknowledged what he felt for her.   Reaching out, she clasped his hand tightly, as he wrapped his fingers around hers and lightly stroked her thumb.

           For a little while, they were content to sit, gazing at each other, the warmth of their contact uniting them.   As her eyes asked silent questions, his reassured her.   No longer would they be two separate individuals, but one couple, joined.

           Eventually, Kathryn shifted, then rose to her feet, reluctantly breaking their clasp.   “I’ll see you in the morning,” she murmured, her voice filled with expectation and hope.

           He smiled warmly.  “Goodnight, Kathryn.”  Shortly after she’d retired, he turned off the light and made his way to bed.  His heart was filled with contentment.   A promise had been given and received tonight; she might not be ready to fulfill it quite yet, but he could wait.   When she was ready, she would come to him.
 

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           As it happened, however, although she had gone to bed with her mind more at ease than she would have believed possible a short time earlier, Kathryn’s rest was soon disturbed by nightmares.    Her greatest fear crept into her dreams, showing her pictures of Chakotay snatched from her arms in countless different ways, all of which ended in his destruction.

           As she began to toss and turn, her body tensed and her eyelids flickered.   Soon, she was uttering low moans as different scenarios played out, each worse than the last.  Every time, she was left alone, terrified by some nameless peril.

           Less than an hour after he’d drifted to sleep, Chakotay was suddenly roused by a cry of raw fear.   Shaking his head to clear it, he scrambled out of bed and stumbled into the main room.

           For a moment, he could hear nothing, then the cry came again.   Now, he could easily identify it as Kathryn’s voice.   Instantly, he barreled into her alcove to find her thrashing about on her cot, the bedding twisted around her in tight knots.

           Bending down, he gripped her shoulders tightly and shook her hard.  “Kathryn!   Wake up!”  At first, she seemed not to hear him, and he was forced to shake her again.

           Gradually, her eyes blinked open and she stared at him, aghast.   In her muddled state, with the full force of the nightmare still playing through her head, all she could think was that some large monster was restraining her arms, yelling at her.  Panicking, she screamed in sheer terror, struggling to escape his grasp.

           Holding on to her arm with one hand, Chakotay reached behind him with the other, feeling for the light sensor.

           As the alcove glowed with illumination, Kathryn could see his face and abruptly stopped fighting him.   “Oh!” was all she could get out at first, her eyes still huge with fright.    Panting, she attempted to speak a coherent sentence.  “I, uh…I didn’t realize it was you!”

           Sitting down on the side of her bed, he released his firm grip on her arms, but didn’t let go entirely.   “What happened?  Was it a nightmare?”

           Her face paled at the memory of her dream, still excruciatingly clear.  “Yes,” she muttered hoarsely.

           “I’ve heard sometimes it helps to talk about bad dreams.”  His eyes searched her face carefully.

           “I, um, I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Kathryn babbled, looking away, hardly aware of what she was saying.   She couldn’t tell him that her entire dream had revolved around myriad versions of his death.

           His hand came up to cup her chin, and he tilted her face to look into her eyes.   “Kathryn, clearly whatever it was has upset you.  I think you’ll feel better if you talk about it.”

           But she shook her head decisively.  “No, it’s all right.  I’m starting to forget what it was all about, anyway,” she lied bravely.

           Debating whether to believe her, he remained still for another minute or two.   However, he couldn’t force her confidence if she didn’t want to give it.   Acquiescing, he rose to his feet.   “Think you’ll go back to sleep all right, or shall I make you some tea?”

           “I’ll be fine, Chakotay, thank you.”  She was regaining her equilibrium.   “I’m sorry to have woken you up.”

           Briefly, he gave her a dazzling smile before retreating out of her alcove.   “Anytime, Kathryn, it’s no bother.”

           As he left, he deactivated the lights, leaving them in total blackness once more.   Hidden by the dark, Kathryn allowed herself the luxury of shivering in apprehension, before lying back down.   Like it or not, she would have to manage her fears – she couldn’t let him see her as some weak ninny, terrified by a foolish nightmare.

           Closing her eyes, she lay in the dark, hoping she might sleep for at least an hour or two before morning.   However, her hope was in vain and she spent the rest of the night trying to wrestle her demons into submission.   By morning, she was worn out and exhausted, and no further ahead.   Tired and fed up, she finally drifted off just a few minutes before Chakotay rose to begin his day.
 
           When he heard no sound from her alcove, he peeked around the corner to see how she was.   Although she appeared to be deeply asleep, the purple bags under her eyes as well as her pale face told their own story.   She must have lain awake for hours after they returned to bed.   More than ever, he was convinced that something was wrong, and one way or another, he determined to find out what it was.

           However, when he attempted to broach the subject at lunch later that day, she clammed up completely, saying only that she could not recall the details of her dream.   He knew she was lying – she wouldn’t meet his eyes – but he decided for the moment to accept the fiction.   She still seemed very tired and he didn’t want her to fret needlessly.   However, once she was feeling more herself, he intended to try again.
 

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           That evening, Kathryn determined to retire early to bed, in part to avoid the questions she knew Chakotay wanted to ask her.  Making an excuse about needing her rest – which, she reflected, was no less than the truth – she retreated to her alcove shortly after dinner.   Exhausted, she quickly fell into a deep sleep.
 
           Several hours later, Chakotay had just climbed into his own bed when he thought he heard an odd sound.   Getting up again, he moved into the main room, activating the light as he did so.   The sound repeated; this time, he knew it was Kathryn.

           Just as he had the night before, he entered her alcove to find her bed in disarray as she threw herself about violently.  Sitting on her bed, he reached to pull her up, calling her name.   “Kathryn!  Wake up!  You’re dreaming again!  Kathryn!!”

           His voice snapped her into consciousness and she stared at him in confusion.    In her dream, he had just perished after falling off a cliff – how could she be hearing his voice now?

           “Kathryn!   It was a nightmare, that’s all.  You’re all right.” Lowering his voice, he spoke soothingly, hoping to ease her back into reality.

           “How…how is it I can hear you?” she muttered to herself, unaware she was speaking aloud.

           Chakotay stared at her in confusion.   “I’m talking to you.  Why wouldn’t you hear me?”

           He could barely hear her answer.   “You’re dead.”

           Suddenly, a lot of things started to fall into place.   If Kathryn’s nightmares included his death, that would explain both why she seemed so uncertain when she awoke and found him very much alive, and why she refused to discuss her dreams with him.   However, it didn’t explain why she would be dreaming of his death in the first place.

           Chakotay’s people placed a lot of faith in dreams, convinced that they were more than random meanderings, that they were a way for the subconscious to express itself.   In this, his tribe was not alone.  The traditions of many cultures involved the interpretation of dreams, some even likening them to oracles.   Although he didn’t necessarily subscribe to all his tribe’s beliefs, too many times he’d had an odd dream, only to discover it was actually a metaphor for a feeling or event tucked deep in his subconscious mind.

           The fact that Kathryn had apparently had the same nightmare two nights in a row would indicate that most likely it was her subconscious which was troubling her.   The trick now would be how to make her face her dream head-on.   Knowing she was a past master at the art of burying her feelings, somehow he had to find a way to make her acknowledge them instead.

           All these thoughts flitted quickly through his mind as he gazed into her troubled face.   Hoping to catch her off-guard, he decided to call her bluff.   “What do you mean, I’m dead?” he demanded, his voice full of determination as he tightened his grip on her arms.
 
           “I…it’s nothing,” began Kathryn, attempting to brush aside her words.

           “Kathryn,” he warned, “don’t lie to me.  You said I was dead.   Is that what you’ve been dreaming these last two nights?”   His eyes boring into hers warned her he would accept no less than the truth.   “Tell me what happened.”

           “Well…we were out hiking somewhere, I’m not sure of the location, you know how it is in dreams.   The place is familiar but you can’t say for sure where it is….”

           “Kathryn, you’re stalling.”  His voice was relentless.  “What happened on this hike?”

           “We, uh, came to the edge of a high cliff…and, uh, you went to look over the edge…and….”     Covering her face, she began to sob as the horrible images from her dream flashed through her head, overwhelming her reluctance to talk.   “You slipped on some loose stones, and before I could get near you, you slid over the edge.   I was so close to you…I could almost grasp your hand…I could see your eyes!  In an instant, they changed from curiosity to sheer terror!   I was trying so hard to reach you, Chakotay, and I couldn’t do it!   I couldn’t save you!”

           Gathering her into his arms, he stroked her back rhythmically.   “It’s all right, Kathryn, I’m here.  I’m not dead.”

           Clutching at his back, she continued to gulp out words describing her feelings.   “Every time I fall asleep, I dream of your death.   And every time, I’m too late to stop it, there’s nothing I can do!   And I’m so afraid of being left alone here for the rest of my life!   I can’t face it, Chakotay, I can’t!!!”

           ‘Ahh,’ he thought to himself, ‘now we’re at the root of the problem.’  Nuzzling her hair, he waited to see if she would say anything else, but she remained silent.

           “Sweetheart,” he whispered into her ear, “is that what you’re really afraid of?   Being left alone for the rest of your life?  Is that why you’ve been searching so relentlessly for a cure that will let us leave here?”

           For a moment, he thought she wouldn’t answer, but then he felt her head nod slowly.    Tightening his hold, he considered how best to reassure her.   The fear of abandonment was common to every humanoid species, although he had to admit she had disguised it very well.    Which led him to wonder why she had hidden it.   The answer came almost at once.   Starfleet captains couldn’t show fear – ever.   Regardless of the personal cost, they had to be a constant source of inspiration to their crews.   He had gone through Command School; he knew what was required to be a successful captain. Indeed, he had used a number of those Starfleet methods himself when captaining his own ship in the Maquis.   But such total repression of natural feelings could exact a terrible toll on an individual.   Stranded as they were, alone on this planet, without the distraction of a starship, it was no wonder her subconscious fears had risen to the fore.

           Bending his head, he placed a gentle kiss on her hair before leaning back slightly to see her face.   “I understand, Kathryn.   I know only too well how a captain has to sublimate her own emotions for the sake of her crew.  I’ve been there.   But sweetheart, here you don’t have to do that.   There’s only me.”  He felt her shudder at his words.   “I can’t tell you what the future holds for either of us, but I can promise that I’ll make every effort to be with you for the rest of your life, and I’ll do all in my power not to leave you.  All right?”

           Her eyes remained fixed on his as she drank in his words, then she nodded silently.

           “I think you know by now how much you mean to me, Kathryn,” he continued, deciding he might as well go for broke.   “I love you, and I intend to keep on loving you until my dying day and beyond.”   He watched her carefully as he spoke, looking for the slightest reaction to his declaration.

           “I…don’t know what to say,” she replied hesitantly.

           Chakotay, however, was breathing a sigh of relief.  There was a light in her eyes now that hadn’t been there before.    Although her head might not be quite ready yet to make a commitment, he suspected her heart was sure of what she needed.

           Shifting slightly, she nestled in his arms.   “I do know one thing, though,” she continued, “I don’t want to sleep alone tonight, or any other night.”  At his look of pleased surprise, she smiled contentedly.   “I’m so comfortable here….   I like feeling your arms around me, feeling you warm against me.   Do you think we might find a way to amalgamate our beds?”

           Suddenly, his heart was thundering.  “I….”  Swallowing, he started again.   “I think that can be arranged.”

           “Good.”   She relaxed against him and closed her eyes, serene in the knowledge that from now on, they would be together in every way.

           “Uh, I need you to move, Kathryn,” he told her after a moment.

           Smiling softly, she glanced up at him, before sliding out of his embrace and off the bed.   “Well then,” she announced as he sat there gaping, “let’s get to it.”

           Hurriedly, he got to his feet.  “Yes, ma’am!”

           In only a few minutes, they had hauled the mattresses off each bed and placed them side by side on the floor in the main room.    It was crowded, but Chakotay assured her that the very next day, he would rearrange the shelter so they could have a proper bedroom.

           Yawning, Kathryn spread blankets over their combined bed, before climbing under the covers on one side.

           After turning out the light, Chakotay settled down beside her, delighted that she immediately moved to lie next to him, one arm draped across his chest and her head on his shoulder.   Wrapping his arms around her, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, his mind at peace.

           Neither stirred for the rest of the night, or indeed, until the sun was high in the sky the next morning.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Days and weeks passed as the couple on the planet settled ever more securely into their new life together.

           Released from her fear, Kathryn relaxed completely, showing Chakotay a mischievous side to her personality that he never would have believed she possessed.    She was a consummate practical joker, he discovered to his chagrin, adept at plotting various tricks that invariably left him either dripping wet or in some humiliating situation which would send her into peals of laughter.   He was more than willing to endure her pranks, merely to hear her laugh so freely.    However, he wasn’t above resorting to various nefarious methods of his own to pay her back.

           Whether it was double-sheeting her side of the bed or placing a bucket of extremely cold water directly over her bathtub and then releasing it just as she was climbing in, he usually found a way to give as good as he got.

           Their days usually involved a mix of work and play.    Their nights were spent wrapped around each other, making love if they were so inclined – which, most nights, they were.

           Chakotay continued to work on projects which made their lives more comfortable, with the added benefit of turning the shelter into a permanent home.

           Kathryn, on the other hand, after looking around for something to keep her occupied, hit on the idea of creating a garden.    With Chakotay’s help, she dug out a good-sized plot, planting seeds which she’d found in one of the containers from the ship, as well as transplanting a number of promising native plants.    In no time, her first crop of Talaxian tomatoes had sprouted and now was busily sending up all kinds of new growth.

           On a bright, sunny morning, Chakotay found her sprawled on the grass next to her garden, the inevitable coffee cup beside her, as she smoothed the dirt around each little plant.

           “How are they coming?” he asked, as he knelt beside her.

           “Very nicely,” she replied in a voice filled with satisfaction.   “In a couple of months, we should have vine-ripened Talaxian tomatoes, unless this planet has the equivalent of tomato bugs.”  She took a sip of coffee.  “Ugh, they’re awful!”

           “I never would have thought of you as a gardener,” he grinned at her.

           “I grew up around farmers,” she was quick to explain.  “My parents insisted we learn basic gardening skills.”

           “Did you hate that as much as cooking?”

           “Of course!”  Her grin matched his.  “Who wanted to muck around in the dirt when you could be studying quantum mechanics?”  Leaning back on one elbow, she contemplated the plot.  “But I find it very satisfying now, watching seeds sprout and grow.”
 
           He climbed to his feet, then reached down a hand.  “If your tomatoes could spare you for a moment, I’d like your opinion on something in the house.”

           Gripping his fingers, she let him pull her up.  “Well, then, you’ve come to the right person.   I always have an opinion.”

           Rolling his eyes, he teased.  “Really!”

           Deliberately walking into him, she merely grinned in reply.

           Entering the shelter, he pulled around the computer, on which was displayed a drawing.

           At once, Kathryn forgot everything else.  “A boat!” she exclaimed in delight.

           “You said you wanted to explore the river,” he said.  “I think I could build this.”

           Her shining eyes were more than enough incentive.   “We could go on a camping trip.”

           Chakotay started to reply, only to pause as a burst of static suddenly echoed from a high shelf.

           Blinking, Kathryn tilted her head, puzzled.  “Did you hear something?”

           Moving to the shelf, he reached up to grasp their communicators just as they heard several broken words issue from one of them.  “…ger to…Jane    …pond.”

           Very carefully, he placed them side by side on the table.   Again, the voice echoed, more clearly this time.   “Voyager to Captain Janeway.  Please respond.”  Their mouths fell open in astonishment – the voice was Tuvok’s.

           Reaching out, Kathryn picked up the active communicator as if it might burn her fingers.   “This is Janeway.”

           “Captain, it is good to hear your voice.  We have news.”

           Automatically, she replied.  “What is it?”

           “We have medicine which we believe will effectively treat your condition.  We will be in orbit in thirty hours.”
 
           Stunned into silence, the pair stared at each other in disbelief.    Their ship was coming back.   In thirty hours….

           “Nooo,” moaned Chakotay softly, before turning to bolt for the door.   His footsteps faded quickly as he ran across the grass and into the woods.

           Kathryn continued to sit, motionless, holding the communicator.   When Tuvok spoke again, somehow she found words to answer him, although afterwards, she had no idea what she’d said.   After some unknown length of time, she rose to her feet and went in search of Chakotay.   By instinct, her steps took her to the river.   At first, she couldn’t see him and began to think she must have guessed wrong, but a soft moan caught her attention and made her look more carefully.   There he was, leaning against a large rock close to the bank, his head resting on knees pulled up to his chin.

           Quickly, she crossed the meadow to kneel in front of him, her hands automatically reaching out to stroke his hair.  “It’ll be all right, Chakotay,” she murmured.

           “How?!” he demanded angrily.   “How will it be all right, when you have to go back to being the captain while I have to become your first officer again?!”  His voice shook with emotion and he turned his head away so she wouldn’t see how close he was to tears.

           His words voiced her own fears and she knew he was right.   Their idyllic life was over.  No matter how they tried to get around them, protocol and duty would take over their lives once more.   That was how it was on a Starfleet vessel and there was no escape.

           Shuffling forward on her knees, Kathryn wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders.   “It won’t be the same, Chakotay, we both know that.   But there will be some compensations.  We’ll be with our friends again, our crews, and we’ll be going home.”

           “I am home, dammit!” he cried out.  “This is the best home I’ve ever had and I don’t want to leave!”

           “Oh sweetheart,” she murmured, “I understand.   But when it comes down to it, we have no choice.   We have to go.”

           He raised his eyes to hers, uncaring now of the tears which slid down his cheeks.   “Do we, Kathryn?  Do we have to go?  What if we just tell them we want to stay here?  What if…?”  His voice fell silent as he saw her shake her head.

           Already, she was becoming the Starfleet captain once more.  “You know we can’t do that, Chakotay.   They must need us, or they wouldn’t have come back.   We have a duty to them.   We have to return to Voyager.”

           Her grip on his shoulders tightened as he buried his head in his hands.   “I will make you a promise, though,” she continued, “a solemn vow that one day, when we get home, I will give my life into your keeping.   I may not be able to show it when we’re back on board, but don’t ever doubt how much I love you.   That won’t change – it can’t.   I promise I will love you until the day I die.”   Leaning forward enough to kiss him, her lips sealed her oath.

           His head had lifted at her words. “I’m going to hold you to that promise, Kathryn,” he whispered fervently, when she finally sat back on her heels.

           Somehow, she found a smile.   “Good.  I expect you to.”

           Pulling her down beside him, he kissed her again with all the love he had in him.   For a long time, they lay still, content to watch the clouds drift overhead, until long shadows from the setting sun reminded them that time was passing.

           Stiffly, they rose to their feet, brushing off bits of grass from each other, before starting to walk slowly back to the shelter.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           With Vulcan precision, Voyager contacted them precisely thirty hours after Tuvok’s original hail.

           By the time the ship arrived, Kathryn and Chakotay had moved through a whole range of emotions, from despair to anger to resignation and finally, grudging acceptance.    Grateful for the distraction of preparing for departure, they had both thrown themselves into the work, pausing only to grab a meal whenever they were hungry.    It astonished them how much they had accumulated in the three months they had been on the planet.  Now, there were numerous decisions to be made about what to keep, what to destroy and what to leave behind.

           After much debate, they decided to leave the shelter standing.   It could prove useful to someone else who might find themselves stranded there in similar circumstances.   Obviously, the garden would be left – nothing they had planted was anywhere close to harvest.   It went without saying, of course, that the shuttle would be returned to the ship.

           However, Kathryn had a real mental tussle with herself over the bathtub.   She desperately wanted to keep it and yet – it wasn’t small.   Even tucked in a corner of a cargobay, it would take up a considerable amount of room, which might well be better used to store valuable supplies somewhere along the line.   In the end, she followed Chakotay’s suggestion – take it with them on the proviso that if the space were needed, it would be jettisoned.

           Privately, he made a pact with himself that every corridor on the ship would be stuffed full before they abandoned the bathtub.

           Now, dressed once more in uniform, hair neatly brushed, boots polished and baggage all packed, they waited for their ship to arrive.

           “Voyager to Captain Janeway,” came Tuvok’s steady tone.

           This time she was prepared and her reply was delivered in a strong voice.  “Janeway here.”

           “Captain, we are presently assuming orbit around your planet.    We have identified your coordinates and will transport two hyposprays of antidote for the virus.   Please notify us when you have administered them.”

           “Very good, Mr. Tuvok.”

           A minute later, the two hyposprays materialized beside them.

           Chakotay’s face was pale under his tan, but his hand remained steady as he picked one up and without hesitation, pressed it against Kathryn’s neck.   As he backed away, she took the other and did the same to him.   On impulse, she reached forward to grasp his hand in wordless reassurance before tapping her combadge.

           “Janeway to Voyager.   All done, Lieutenant.”

           “Thank you, Captain.  The doctor is requesting that you each submit a blood sample for analysis, to ensure the serum has been effective.”

           “Agreed.  Janeway out.”

           Walking across the shelter, she retrieved a medkit and extracted two clean blood samplers.   Again, she and Chakotay each took a sample of the other’s blood, then contacted sickbay to have it transported.

           As they waited for the doctor’s verdict, Chakotay wandered outside to sit on one of the containers.   He wanted his last memories of this place to be of verdant forests, green grass, blue sky and warm sunshine.   When Kathryn appeared a few minutes later to perch beside him, he mentally added the freedom to hug her to his list.   Like everything else, it was something he would lose all too soon.

           “Sickbay to Captain Janeway.”

           “Janeway here.”

           They could hear the joy in the doctor’s tone even before he spoke the fateful words.   “Captain, I’m delighted to report that there is no trace of the virus in your systems.   You are free to return to the ship when ready.   However, I wish to give you both a complete physical before I clear you for duty.”

           With effort, she kept her tone professionally neutral.  “Thank you, Doctor.   We will report to sickbay as soon as we arrive.  Janeway out.”

           Turning, she moved to stand beside Chakotay who was already in position.   For a minute, she faced him, her eyes seeking his, reaffirming her promise.

           “Ready?” he murmured.

           Nodding slightly, she tapped her combadge.   “Janeway to Voyager.   Two to beam up.”

           Seconds later, they were gone, and very soon after, the containers had disappeared as well.   All that was left of their three-month sojourn was an empty Starfleet emergency shelter and a garden filled with Talaxian tomatoes.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Late that evening, Kathryn sat in her quarters, trying to catch up on three months of reports.   A stack of PADDs still graced the coffee table, but she rather thought she had worked her way through nearly half of them.    Her eyes sore from reading, she got to her feet, thinking maybe she was tired enough now to go to bed.

           Truth be told, she was dreading the thought of having to sleep alone once more.    She had grown accustomed to Chakotay’s warmth wrapped around her each night, and while the environmental controls would ensure she was no colder than she wanted to be, they couldn’t compensate for the rhythmic sound of his breathing, or the feel of his hand splayed across her chest.    She was already missing him desperately.

           As well, deep in the recesses of her mind lurked her old nemesis – the fear of abandonment.   With Chakotay not there to chase away her demons, she was afraid they would come back to haunt her dreams once more.

           Moving into her bedroom, she stood and stared at the bed uncertainly.   She could call him, she knew, and he would come immediately; indeed, he would undoubtedly be delighted to.    “You’re a Starfleet captain,” she chastised herself firmly, “so start acting like one and stop looking for ghosts under the bed.”

           Resolutely, she turned back the blanket, took off her robe and climbed under the covers.    Lying on her back, she stared out the viewport at the stars racing by at warp speed.    Previously, she had always found the view of stars from space to be calming, but now she realized she’d gotten used to watching them from planetside.    “Close your eyes and go to sleep,” she ordered herself, using an authoritative tone. “There’s a ship load of people within easy reach – you can contact any of them and they’ll be only too glad to help however they can.”

           Gradually, her breathing slowed and her body relaxed as sleep claimed her, her subconscious mind once more under control – for now.
 
 

The End
 

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