My submission for the October Trek Hurt and Comfort Fic Fest 2019

Thanks to escapewithstories for ironing the wrinkles! 3


While Kathryn had no interest in explaining the particulars of Chakotay's behavior to the Kradin ambassador, she assured him that her first officer's actions were merely the result of the trauma he had experienced in the clash zone. The Doctor supported her explanation with his medical data, at length. Fortunately, the ambassador was not offended enough to cause yet another rift with a Delta Quadrant species. When Kathryn accompanied him to the transporter room, the Kradin leader assured her of his people's support in any further conflict.

Now, however, as she stood in front of Chakotay's door, conflict was the furthest thing from her mind. One step at a time, she'd told her crew, chomping at the bit to make rash decisions for one of their own. Chakotay had been rescued. Tuvok had returned unharmed. The Kradin had been appeased and sent back to their home world.

On to the next.

Kathryn waited for Chakotay's voice to permit her entrance, but he granted no such access. She tried again, with the same outcome. For a second, she considered using her authorization code to override the lock, but she knew that after the invasion of the mind Chakotay had endured, she could not further impede on his control. Still, as she turned to leave, she couldn't help but wonder if his desire to be alone was wise. He needed someone to tell him what was real and what wasn't, for he could no longer rely on his own memory.

"Janeway to Chakotay."

Silence.

"Chakotay, please respond."

He could be performing a religious ritual. He could be in the shower. He could have taken a hypospray to help him sleep.

He could be hurting.

"Chakotay, if you don't respond, I'm coming in." Surely a warning would make this intrusion easier to live with. When silence mocked her once more, Kathryn gave the computer her override code and held her breath as the door slid open. Would he do this to her? Violate her privacy if she needed help? Did it matter?

Without the answer to any of her questions, Kathryn stepped into the permeating darkness of Chakotay's quarters. Light from the hallway only pierced the abyss briefly, but it illuminated the room enough to show Kathryn that Chakotay wasn't in it. The silence unnerved her more than the darkness did. Whenever she spent time in Chakotay's quarters, the vitality of the space manifested in sound. Pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, wine trickling into a class, steady breathing during meditation, laughter that wrapped her heart in warmth.

Now nothing.

Anxious to disturb this unnatural state, Kathryn called out to Chakotay, even though she knew where he was. "You're worrying me." She couldn't even hear her footfalls as she crept toward his bedroom, and her hands grew clammy when she considered an unthinkable possibility for his silence. Standing in the bedroom doorway, she ordered the lights to 20 percent illumination, damning her fears in her persistent pursuit of hope.

On the floor at the foot of his bed, Chakotay sat with his hands squeezing either side of his head, which hung between his bended legs. His slow breath contradicted his tense muscles and sweaty arms, exposed by his uniform tank. He was coiled, like an arrow poised for release. Instead of speaking, Kathryn eased down on the floor next to him, careful not to touch, and waited for him to feel her presence. Even if he never acknowledged her, or even knew she was there, her mind would be at ease knowing that he wasn't harming himself or others.

Chakotay surprised her by speaking only a minute or two after she settled on the floor. "You shouldn't be here."

Ignoring the sting of truth in his words, Kathryn said, "After what happened down there, I can't in good conscience leave you by yourself."

"That sounds like the Doctor's call, not yours."

Kathryn paused, pondering the advisability of her choice to invade his space. "Would you like me to leave?"

Chakotay's momentary silence sucked all the air out of the room. "No." Only one syllable, but his voice broke.

Kathryn ached to reach out to him, to comfort him with a steady hand and sage advice like he had done for her so many times, but he had to make the first move. "I know you don't want to talk about this, and I'm not asking you to. But I won't let you suffer alone."

In the silence that followed, the cadence of Chakotay's breathing had lost its regularity, replaced by shuddering breaths. "It's like it was happening all over again." The slaughter of his family and friends, the betrayal of the organization he'd sworn his life to, the urge for vengeance. "I just…lost control, and I can't get it back."

Long suppressed memories invaded Kathryn's consciousness. The dank and claustrophobic Cardassian cell, Owen Paris' screams, her mother's lullaby, Justin. "That's going to take time."

For the first time since Kathryn entered the room, Chakotay lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes red and wet and furious. She hadn't seen rage like that reflected in his eyes since they stood toe to toe when they first met, when he thought her bureaucratic and naïve.

He'd lost his peace.

"That's a story for another time." Palm up, Kathryn's hand rested between them, waiting for contact. "Please let me support you." Just this once.

One ragged breath escaped just as a tear made a run for his chin. "I don't know what I need to get past this. I don't know what there is for you to do."

The muscles in her arms ached from holding herself back. "When confronted with pain, I start with a good cry."

Lowering his head again, Chakotay tried to guffaw, but the sound came out hoarse. "No, you don't. You keep fighting."

"In the Delta Quadrant? I don't have much of a choice," Kathryn said. "But back home? I've cried quite a bit." She paused, allowing time for a rebuttal or reflection. "Chakotay, please look at me." She waited until she could search his face for the trust painfully absent from him thus far. "You don't have to fight your way through this. Take the opportunity to process this, to let go. I'll catch you." More forbidden words lumped in her throat as she watched Chakotay unclench his hands and reach for her open palm.

The second she threaded their fingers together, he broke.

"It felt so real," he said, ragged breaths breaking up his words. "Just like before, I couldn't do anything to save them." Before. When his father died defending his colony's rights in the face of the Cardassian invasion.

Kathryn reached over with her free hand topull him close. He buried his face in her neck, and she skimmed her hands up and down his shaking back. "As hard as it is to accept, they didn't need saving," she murmured. "They used you, used your drive to fight against oppression, and I'm sorry we couldn't save you from that." I'm sorry I didn't save you from that. "We're he—" No. "I'm here now. And you'll get through this, one step at a time." She raked her fingers through his hair as her uniform absorbed his tears. "You're not alone."