THANK YOU to escapewithstories for staying up with me (way past our bedtimes) and helping me transform my shitty first draft into this.

Enjoy!


Before, the color green evoked memories of home, of her favorite tree, of life.

Now, as soon as she recognized the green light that engulfed her, Kathryn shut her eyes and stopped breathing.

Her hands flew to her face and scalp, feeling for implants and emptiness, but she only found clammy skin and damp hair. Though she knew keeping her eyes shut was foolish, she couldn't open them. Blind, petrified, and alone, Kathryn forced herself to breathe the tainted air of the Borg cube.

Since she could not see, she relied on her other senses to orient herself. Cautiously she reached out, hoping not to touch a force field or a dormant Borg. Instead the air she touched was so cold that she felt it like a bite on her hand. She jerked her arm back, rubbing the back of her smarting hand. Unable to move or see, she knew that her only hope was to calm down, but every time she drew breath, the air bit her lungs just as sharply as it had her hand. She gasped through each breath and strained to hear any drones. At first she only heard the sounds of a spacecraft functioning at peak efficiency. Steady hums and grinding gears and hissing doors—

Footsteps. Clanking metal. Screams.

Damning the pain she knew she'd feel, Kathryn backed away from the sounds and cursed her fear for blinding her. She had not taken three steps before she backed into a solid body, warm, perhaps human. The second its hands touched her shoulders, her wish to see was granted, but she wished she could take it back.

Borg drones, eyes blank, faces pallid, perfection achieved, surrounded her.

"Recognize anyone you know, Kathy?"

Q's grip on Kathryn's shoulders tightened when she tried to run away.

"Go on. Take a good, long look."

Kathryn struggled, but her body was no longer her own. Q hadn't snapped his fingers, but she knew he didn't have to in order to control her every move. As Q commanded, her eyes lingered on each face. Tom, Phoebe, Seven, Christine, Owen, Tuvok, Kes. Justin. Daddy. Junior lay on the floor in front of the line of drones, blood oozing from the wound at his jugular, wide, lifeless eyes fixed on Kathryn.

"You and your meddling and your self-righteousness and your pride," Q hissed in her ear, his breath cold as space. "You did this."

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry—

"Sorry doesn't bring any of the seven hundred eighty-seven people back." Somehow Q's volume matched that of the misery in the other room. "That infernal racket you hear comes from the loved ones you don't see here. There's still time to save them, Kathy. But whose lives will you ruin to get what you want?"

Feeling only pain on impact, Kathryn was on her hands and knees in a pool of Junior's blood, without knowing how she got there.

"You can't sacrifice your godson. You've already checked that box."

Take me, she wanted to say, but no sound came out. Take me take me take—

Q made a clucking noise with his tongue. "No-can-do. Your favorite option isn't on the table this time. You have to choose who to save and who to squander. That's your job, isn't it? As goddess of the universe?"

With a deafening crack that must have been a snap of Q's fingers, Kathryn appeared in another room, where the sound of agony tripled. Q still held control over her body with a vice grip, so she couldn't shut her eyes against the horrors in front of her. Harry, Miral, Mark, B'Elanna, Neelix, Naomi, Sam. Mom. Chakotay. All wailing as their body parts were replaced by machines.

"You've got to pick one, Kathy. Which one?"

I love them all. Please—

Q wrapped his wrath around her neck, suffocating her without lifting a finger. "You should know by now how dangerous love is."

Cheeks wet with tears, Kathryn heard Chakotay calling out to her.

"Chuckles certainly knows."

Kathryn!

Already the love of her life sounded so far away.

Kathryn!

Q's hold faltered.

"Kathryn!"

She blinked, and the green light disappeared, replaced by welcome darkness. Chakotay loomed above her, alive and free and whole. Kathryn bolted upright and flung her arms around his neck, where she buried her sobs while he whispered platitudes to her.

"Kathryn, it's alright. You're safe. I'm here."

Violently shaking her head, Kathryn crawled into his lap and wound her legs around his waist, clinging to every inch of the man she loved, so no one could take him away again.

Chakotay ran his hands up and down back, drenched in cold sweat. "Just be here with me. Breathe. Breathe with me. You're hyperventilating."

Now that he mentioned it, a couple of Kathryn's vital organs did feel a bit overtaxed. She wouldn't have cared if she passed out if not for the certainty of leaving Chakotay's arms for sickbay. So she struggled to mimic the slow, cadenced expansion and contraction of his chest. The task lost its futility as the rest of her senses gradually returned. She listened to Chakotay's whispers and tasted the salt of her tears on his shoulder. She breathed in the scent of Chakotay's skin and exhaled as the air on her soaked skin sent a shiver up her spine.

Warming her thighs with his hands, Chakotay tsked. "You're freezing."

"Someone likes it when I sleep half naked." Her uneven breaths ruined the dry delivery she'd intended.

Chakotay wasn't amused. "Only if I can keep you warm. Let me get you under the covers."

Hesitating, Kathryn kissed Chakotay's chest. "Just don't let go," she whispered. The gentle kiss with which Chakotay sealed his promise indicated that she scared him somehow. God knows what she'd done while she was sleeping.

I just want to stop hurting him.

After ordering the computer to increase the room's temperature and cocooning Kathryn between the sheets and his body, Chakotay wrapped one arm around her waist. He would always be her anchor.

"I'm sorry for waking you. Scaring you," Kathryn whispered, eyes trained on the pillow below her instead of on the man behind her.

"Don't be, please. You don't have to deal with this alone." When Kathryn didn't respond, Chakotay rubbed her arm, the motion hypnotic. "Focus on your breath. I'm here."

Kathryn closed her eyes to concentrate, but the image of Miral kicking and crying as a drone drilled an implant into her eye was etched on her eyelids. She fixed her gaze on the comm badge within reach on the bedside table, her eyes stinging with tears she didn't dare close her eyes to expel.

Holding her tighter, Chakotay kissed her neck. "It's over, I promise. I'm not going anywhere."

Tearing her eyes from her comm badge, Kathryn rolled over to face Chakotay again. Since he returned, she caught herself staring just to ensure that he didn't disappear. "I've only been back two days, and I lost you already." And seven hundred eighty-seven other people.

"But you found me again. I'm here. That's not going to change."

Kathryn bit back another sob. His words warred with her memory of his shuttle disappearing into the void, of her moments alone on the bridge after Q left in a blaze of fury. She was prepared to bear life without him, but wrapped in his arms for the sake of her own sanity, she couldn't remember where she found the strength.

"How can I help? Do you want to talk about it?" Chakotay asked, his voice like oxygen for Kathryn's peace.

"You are helping." Kathryn drew imaginary swirls on Chakotay's bare chest. She waited, relishing in the feeling of Chakotay's thumb stroking her hip through her tank top, the sound of Voyager at warp 7.2, the sight of stars streaking past her. No matter what she remembered when she closed her eyes, no matter what horrors tumbled out of her mouth, she was safe.

Easier thought than believed.

Patient as Chakotay was, Kathryn knew that if she waited long enough to gather her thoughts, they would never leave the bed. One last deep breath, then…

"I was on a Borg cube." Each word caught in her throat. "Q was there, furious. I couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't breathe without his permission." She held tight to Chakotay's offered hand. "He let me see where I was, blinded me, then refused to allow me to look away from my loved ones who…were assimilated." Tears streaked fresh tracks down her cheeks, but Chakotay didn't dare let go of her hand or her hip to brush them away. "Justin and Daddy were there, Chakotay."

Chakotay slid his arm more fully around her waist, tugging her close enough for her to bury her face in his chest.

"And Junior—" Her voice broke, and when she spoke again, it trembled like the rest of her. "Junior was in a pool of his own blood. And Q told me that I had a chance to save the rest of my family, who I could hear screaming in the next room. All I had to do was choose someone to die."

"Gods," Chakotay muttered. Her cries made it nearly impossible to speak, so Chakotay eased away to see her face. His eyes reflected the suffering she felt, and again Kathryn was consumed by the desire for all of the pain the universe hurled at them to desist.

Leave us alone.

"We can take a break. You don't have to do this now."

Kathryn sucked down a shuddering breath and shook her head. "I have to get this out of my head, Chakotay." Maybe, just maybe, she could forget the terrors if she let them escape. Maybe Chakotay could take her fears and horrors and tell her how to crush them.

"Q could hear my thoughts." Kathryn gulped down the bile of Q's violation. "I begged him to take me instead, but he wouldn't let any of you go. He took me to another room, and everyone else I loved was there, losing limbs to crude instruments and being assimilated." She inched forward so her forehead rested against his, desperate for strength. "Samantha and Naomi Wildman were there. Mom was there. You were there. Everyone was there" she whispered. "Suffering because I love you."

Chakotay rhythmically combed his fingers through her hair but did not dare pull away. "Loving you completes my life, Kathryn. I was lost before I met you, and I never want to feel that way again. Even when—" He drew a shaky breath, and Kathryn heard his tears land on the pillow they shared. "Even when you were gone, and I didn't—I didn't want to live without you, I had to, because you taught me to never give up. Love doesn't destroy. Hatred and malice and anger could take any one of us, but none of it can be prevented by not knowing or loving you. My love for you sustains me. Never doubt that."

"I love you so much," Kathryn whispered. "Having you in my life is…like a dream." She threaded her fingers through his hair until her fingers rested at the nape of his neck. She felt Chakotay's breath, warm and sweet, on her lips. "But it's real. You're real." My nightmares are not. It felt silly to think, because of course it was true, but it helped to finally grab hold of the truth.

Tears and starlight glistened in Chakotay's eyes. "That's what I think every time I look at you." He sighed. "I know I've apologized for the other day, for…losing it on you when you were trying to explain the impossible. I didn't—"

Kathryn shushed him softly and covered his lips with her fingers. "It was too much to take in. I should have handled it better, but I don't think any scenario would have made it any easier for you." Her eyes followed his lips as he kissed each of her fingers and flattened her palm against his cheek.

"It doesn't matter how hard it was. I'd do it again if I had to." He tried to smile. "But please don't make me prove it."

Kathryn shook her head slowly. "Never."

"You're here now."

Kathryn smiled. "You're here now."

"Always."