A/N: This is a companion piece to "Familiar Stars" from Chakotay's POV and is set in part during "Night". Written for Caesar's Palace shipping week, prompt "ignus fatuus". Also uses CP prompts "prisoner", "night", "monster", "unique" and "appearance".
Many thanks to Caladenia for betaing and helping make this read better!
From his earliest days, he had endeavored to know worlds beyond his own and to live among the stars. Whether shining in the night sky from the surface of a planet or outside a ship's viewport, their appearance had always provided a comforting presence. Stars had been used by his people from time immemorial as guideposts, denoting the familiar paths of the Sky People. Familiar or alien, it didn't matter much to him. As long as there were stars visible, he found a sense of security in their existence.
This made the total absence of stars disconcerting. But even more distressing was Kathryn's gradual withdrawal that began with a growing apathy and ended where he stood right now—inside the entrance of her darkened quarters, watching her stare out into the Void. Every effort he'd made thus far to draw her out had failed. The pretense of the Captain "taking a break" was flimsy—and the crew all knew it.
"I made an error in judgment!"
It all came back to that, of course. Sympathy for the Ocampa—and the assumption that her decision to help them at the expense of the crew's future had been misguided—had been one more addition to the demons that haunted her conscience. And, even without confronting her, he sensed that the comment had referred to far more than the destruction of the Array. From every crewmember lost to the Delta Quadrant to her more devastating personal losses, he knew she felt the fault was hers to bear.
"It was shortsighted and it was selfish..."
Once, he had promised her that he would help her lighten her burdens—and he had kept that pledge through the years of post-battle repairs, tense negotiations in hostile space and heated arguments over command decisions. In between the perilous times, they built a unique, enduring friendship. His heart often hoped for the next step, but he understood and respected her wishes on the matter.
Of course, she couldn't see the lie in her dark thoughts. Mired in a prison of her own design, the Void's false night formed the perfect mirror to reflect her guilt back in her face. For every loss Kathryn had endured, she'd borne a stubborn insistence on placing the blame at her own feet. And she had seemed intent on allowing the darkness of her thoughts to consume her, until the senior staff collectively put their foot down, refusing to accept her attempt at self-sacrifice.
The stars returned.
Voyager had safely escaped the Void, but Kathryn remained withdrawn, reluctant to interact with the crew beyond the parameters of duty. Chakotay could feel a slim sense of hope for her recovery flickering in and out of his grasp, like the fabled ignus fatuus of old-fashioned fairy tales. He would never abandon his promise, but that did not make the pain of knowing that she might still be lost nevertheless.
The stars' silvery light was the only source of illumination, silhouetting her against the dark that cloaked her quarters. He crossed the distance between them, wrapping her gently in his arms. She turned her face up to him with a soft smile. He cupped her face in one hand, drawing her closer and pressing a kiss into the softness of her hair, reveling in the sense of peace that filled his soul.
Facing the Void had allowed him to achieve the dream he'd held onto for these long years. Not that it meant things would be easy. The path home remained full of peril, and she still had her personal demons to contend with. But when she needed it, he would help her carry those burdens as well.