Endurance

Endurance

By Eydie Munroe

February 2001

Disclaimer: Paramount owns them? When did that happen?

Please send any feedback to eydiemunroe@hotmail.com

The first person that Chakotay ran into on his way from the mess hall to the bridge was Voyager's chief engineer, who approached him in a most aggravated state. She laid out the details of an altercation between herself and her Borg adversary, whose perfectionism had been driving her mad ever since Seven of Nine's arrival on the ship years before. This time they had fought over the schedule of the warp core repairs, which B'Elanna had predicted would take six or seven days. Though Seven's expertise was mainly utilized in Astrometrics, she had felt the need to suggest that a most proficient course of action would entail nearly a month of traveling at impulse power. Chakotay tried to placate Torres, or at least calm her down enough to get her back into Engineering. She in return had fed him a few choice words, called him sir, and then spun on her heel and stalked back to the nearest turbolift.

The bridge was alive with its usual morning activity, with Tuvok seated in the command chair. The Vulcan rose to his feet as soon as the first officer appeared, giving him a brief but detailed status report. Chakotay nodded his approval, and after asking where Captain Janeway was, he rang the door chime to her ready room. When he walked inside, he found his captain hunched over her desk, rubbing at the base of her neck as she read B'Elanna's latest engineering report. She glanced up at him, the grimace plain on her face. He stopped halfway between the door and the desk and took a good look at her. "Rough night?"

"I woke up this morning with a hell of a headache," she tersely explained, leaning back into her chair and trying to stretch out her neck. "It was so bad that I stopped in Sickbay on my way here."

"Did it help?"

"No. It made it worse." Kathryn flashed him a wane smile. "Think you could assist a friend in need?"

He stepped up to the desk, eyeing her carefully. "You sure you want to risk it?" The look she shot him said it all, and he grinned as he took a place behind her. His massage gave her some momentary relief, but after the initial minute it ceased to be of any use and actually started to add to the pain. She turned in her chair to get out from under his touch, her expression more injured than before. "No good?" he questioned, her sudden movement making him pull his hands back.

Her eyes squeezed shut, a huff of air accentuating her frustration. "Sorry."

"It's okay." He watched her as she attempted to get herself under control, and it was quite obvious that she was failing. "Maybe you should go see the Doctor again."

"I'll be fine," she told him through clenched teeth. One more deep breath was enough to steady her nerves, and her eyes slowly opened to find him crouched at her side. An appreciative smile spread across her lips, and she laid a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks for trying." He nodded and stood up again, while she turned back to her work. "Have you heard the latest from Engineering?"

"First thing this morning," he said as he sat down on the other side of the desk. "I take it Seven has already voiced her opinion on the matter?"

"In a manner of speaking. Chakotay, I thought that they were getting along..." The captain's voice trailed off when another wave of pain radiated through her body, racing down her spine and reaching around her ribs toward the front of her body. She suddenly found it a lot more difficult to breathe, and her eyes squeezed shut again as she tried to deal with it.

Her first officer tapped his communicator. "Chakotay to Sickbay. Medical assistance to the captain's ready room."

"Acknowledged," the doctor's slightly tinny voice replied.

Kathryn had doubled over in her chair, her forehead resting on the polished surface of the desk in front of her. Chakotay was at her side in an instant, trying to figure out what was happening to her. "Kathryn?"

"I don't know …" she managed to gasp, letting him sit her back into her chair. Deciding that a walk might help, she got up and carefully stepped over to the railing that encircled the lower section of the office. Another wave overwhelmed her when she reached the step, seizing the muscles in her hips and thighs. She clamped onto the railing and kept herself from falling, hovering there until he guided her up to the couch and made her sit down again.

The doctor appeared then, coming in when Chakotay answered the chime. A quick examination left him with no answers, only more questions. "I want you to come to Sickbay," he ordered, "so I can run some more tests."

In no position to argue, Janeway agreed. She let the other two help her back onto her feet, but to save herself any unnecessary questions from her bridge crew, the captain summoned a burst of determination to straighten her body into a more or less normal stance. She asked for and received a status report from Tuvok, then left him with orders to continue on their present course. Once inside the turbolift her resolve disintegrated, making Chakotay catch her before she could hit the floor. They rode down to Deck Five without interruption, and on their arrival she again pulled herself up and traveled into Sickbay under her own power.

With Janeway half stretched out on a biobed and Chakotay hovering at her side, the doctor started to run a battery of tests on her. Her discomfort kept her silent, except for the short, stunted answers that she would give him about her personal history over the past few days. He eventually surmised that she was suffering from severe muscle spasms and he started to pursue a course of treatment for them. Pride made her wait nearly an hour before she reached her breaking point and asked for something to ease the pain. The doctor concocted a serum which he believed would force her muscles to relax, and before administering it he made sure that the cardiac support system was standing by.

The instant the medicine entered her bloodstream, every muscle in her body tightened in excruciating result. Her racing heart compounded her situation, and she cried out in agony when she was unable to keep it contained. "What happened?" Chakotay demanded.

"I don't know," the doctor replied, his calm demeanor serving only to infuriate the ship's first officer. He double-checked the medicine and confirmed that it was indeed the pain killer he had intended to give her. "The effect should have been instantaneous."

"Well it was," the other snapped.

The Doctor ignored him, and opened the biobed scanner to run a tricorder over his patient again. He frowned at the results. "I don't understand it. The sedative actually has made her condition worse."

"Of course it has."

Both men whirled around at the sound of the strange voice behind them. In the centre of Sickbay a pair of dark skinned, non-descript creatures stood, dressed in military uniforms. The shorter of the pair was holding some sort of device which projected a bluish forcefield around them. "Who are you?" Chakotay demanded.

"Sickbay to Security. Intruder alert," the doctor called.

The intruders were standing there, unfazed by the threat of ship's security or by the people in the room with them now. "We are members of Eylian Enforcement," the taller one informed them. "We are here to carry out the sentence against the one called Janeway."

Chakotay instinctively took a protective step toward his captain. At the sound of her name, Janeway studiously forced herself up on one elbow so she could see what was going on. "We've never even met you before," Chakotay countered. "How can you possibly charge our captain with a crime?" He felt her hand on his upper arm as she pulled herself up into a sitting position.

"It is simple," the alien with the device stated. "She exists."

The doors to the main corridor opened to admit Tuvok and a four member security team, armed with phasers. The team lined up as soon as they were inside, aiming their weapons at the trespassers. The aliens took no notice and continued on with their sentencing. "Janeway has begun terichna, which will continue for three days. After that she will be permitted to resume normal activities. Any attempts to ease her suffering will result in stronger punishment cycles." With that the two of them and their protective field shimmered and disappeared.

Chakotay turned to Janeway, who continued to examine the space that the aliens had just left. Her eyes were wide in shock, her mouth so tightly closed that the color had left her lips. He finally called, "Chakotay to Kim. Are there any vessels in the area?"

"Negative, Commander," the ensign responded. "We're alone."

The first officer turned to his security chief. "Tuvok, see what you can find."

"Aye Commander." The Vulcan led his team out of Sickbay.

The doctor was busy scanning the captain again, who for the moment was able to stay sitting up. "There is a faint trace of a poli-protein in your musculature," he reported.

"Why didn't you detect it before?" Janeway asked slowly.

"It didn't show up before." He continued to scan her, his face running through a variety of expressions as he worked. "It seems to be having a constrictive effect on the tissue."

Her patience was wearing thin, signified by the sarcasm in her voice. "You don't say..."

Chakotay questioned, "Is there anything you can do?" before the doctor could respond to the captain.

"At the moment I am at a loss." He continued to scan her, noting that the muscular constriction that had still been torturing her a few minutes before had eased somewhat. The doctor retrieved a cortical monitor from the nearby equipment stand and placed it behind the captain's left ear. "I'm going to release you to your quarters," he informed her. "The computer will continue to monitor your condition, and I will check on you in two hours. Commander," he directed at Chakotay, "I want you to stay with her. She is not to be left alone under any circumstances."

"Understood." Chakotay helped her down off the bed, once again at her side as she pulled herself together to travel through the ship's general population. Once inside her quarters she collapsed, and this time he wasn't quick enough to catch her. She hit the floor hard, resisted his offers to get her back on her feet and instead took some time to rest on the carpet. Eventually the pain dulled, and she was able to relax a bit. "You alright?" he asked quietly.

She opened her eyes, now seeing that he had sat down on the floor beside her and was patiently waiting. A shaky hand pulled the hair out of her face and secured it behind her ear, brushing over the cortical monitor on her neck. "No," she replied, a deep breath of air rushing out of her lungs. She looked down at her body, which was completely normal in appearance, her uniform hiding the true nature of her predicament. "Who did they say they were?"

"Eylian Enforcement," he replied, wary eyes still watching her carefully, "whoever they are."

Janeway shook her head. "I don't remember ever meeting them." She reached a hand out to her friend, who slowly helped her to sit up. Once there she stayed there, her back curved as she leaned forward over her knees. The pain had not disappeared completely, and a residual, dull ache filled every part of her body. "The first thing we need to do is find out who these Eylian are and why they seem to think I've done something wrong." She touched her communicator. "Janeway to bridge."

"Tuvok here."

"Any progress?"

"Negative, Captain." Tuvok had bypassed the command chair to set to work at the security console in his attempt to track down their intruders. "Long range scans have not revealed other vessels or inhabitations of any kind within two light years."

"Hold our position here for the moment," she ordered. "I don't want us to go anywhere until we've found out what's going on."

"Aye Captain."

"Janeway out." She cut off the commlink. "I guess I should turn control of the ship over to you," she said softly to Chakotay, a little humor creeping into her voice.

He smiled, but the serious undertone of his expression never left when he assured her, "We'll find them, Kathryn." Chakotay studied her, noticing just how much the attack had taken out of her. She was tired, considerably weakened by what seemed to be just the beginning of an undeserved ordeal. "You need to get some rest," he suggested, getting onto his feet and extending his hand to her. She took his help in standing up, then let him lead her back into her bedroom where she could lie down.

Kathryn leaned heavily against her friend, stopping short when she saw her unmade bed. "Oh hell," was all he could hear in her sigh, as she cursed herself for letting her headache that morning interrupt simple household chores.

He chuckled, unable to help himself. "You finally bring me into your bedroom, and it's a mess."

"Very funny." Despite herself, she recognized his attempt to keep her spirit light. If the next three days were going to be as traumatic as the past hour had been, she knew she was going to need all the help she could get. "Do you think you could help me lay down," she offered in a gruff taunt, "or is that too much pressure for you?"

"Be still my beating heart." Chakotay held her tightly around the waist, which allowed her to maneuver without actually sacrificing any of the support that was allowing her to remain upright She sat down at the edge of the bed, taking a few moments to work some residual tension out of her neck. He sat down next to her, helping take off her tunic when she began to shrug it back off her shoulders. "You know, this isn't exactly how I pictured this moment," he told her, crossing the room to drape the jacket over the back of a chair.

"Oh really?" Kathryn looked at him from under hooded eyes. "Just exactly how did you picture it?"

He grinned. "I thought maybe a little wine, some dancing…" He paused when she leaned a good way forward to clumsily remove her boots, momentarily concerned that she may lose her balance. The hunch was right, and he landed on his knees next to her just as hers hit the carpet. "And you in much better shape than this."

She groaned as he gently pulled her back upright, then pushed his hands away. "I'm fine."

"This is no time to be stubborn," he chided, lifting her back onto the mattress.

"I am not being stubborn," she continued to protest as he grabbed her ankles and swung them up onto the bed.

"Uh huh." He pushed her shoulders back, forcing her to lay down and covering her with the rumpled blanket. "How's that?"

"Fine," she murmured, clearly resenting being coddled.

Chakotay sat down on the edge of the bed, his weight pinning her in under the blanket. "Can I get you anything? Water, coffee, teddy bear?"

Eyes that had been closed in concentration fluttered open. "Who do you think I am - Tom Paris?"

He smiled at her reaction, helpfully offering, "I'm sure Naomi would part with her Flotter doll in order to help out her boss."

"Somehow I don't think it will come to that."

The pair spent the next two hours exchanging banter, with Chakotay's sole purpose to keep her entertained and coherent. The chime for her front door rang, and he assured her that he would return momentarily before going out into the main room to answer it. "How is she doing?" the doctor questioned, opening his medkit as he walked into the captain's quarters.

"She's resting for the moment," Chakotay told him, falling into step beside the hologram. When they stepped into the bedroom, they found Janeway in a tightly curled ball, her body racked in spasms. The doctor set the kit down on the edge of the mattress and started to scan with his tricorder. Chakotay was on the other side, not quite sure of where propriety should allow him to be. He felt absolutely helpless.

"I thought you said she was resting," the doctor shot at him.

"She was."

The whirring of the tricorder could hardly be heard over the captain's moans. "I'm detecting highly elevated levels of the poli-protein," the doctor reported. He continued to scan, eventually revealing, "and a field of rotating energy signatures."

The first officer hit his communicator. "Chakotay to Bridge. Tuvok, scan the captain's quarters for any rotating energy signatures."

He waited with baited breath until the answer came back. "There seems to be a type of transmission directed at the captain's quarters," Tuvok reported.

"Origin?"

"Unknown," the reply came back.

"See if you can track it down. Chakotay out." The doctor continued to scan, and he looked to Chakotay for some answers. "She was resting fairly comfortably when I left her to answer the door," he told the doctor again.

The room lapsed into silence, save for the sounds of the captain's suffering, for the next few minutes. Chakotay paced the length of the room, his frustration quickly mounting. As soon as he recognized this, he realized that he wasn't going to be any good to anyone, and so he left the captain in the doctor's care and headed to the bridge to attend to routine ship's business that had been overlooked since the day started.

The next five hours yielded no answers, which not only continued to trouble Chakotay but the rest of the crew as well. They were no further along in finding the origin of the energy signatures, but they had determined that they rotated on three hour sequence. With sixteen or seventeen more rotations to go, it was the opinion of Tuvok, Torres and Kim that they would be able to determine the location of the transmission in half that time. But that didn't mean they weren't going to try to find it much sooner than that.

Chakotay finished the meeting with them, and then he retreated to his office to think. His nerves were frazzled, and he was at a loss. Seeing his friend in agony like this was wearing at him, and he didn't know how, but he knew he had reclaim the calm demeanor that he usually carried. The last thing Kathryn needed to see was him deteriorating under a stress that didn't even come close to matching what she was going through.

When he finally did return to the captain's quarters hours later, she was just at the tail end of another painful session. The doctor had been able to collect a bounty of data and readings, and he took them back to Sickbay to continue his work on finding a way to block out the poli-protein's effects. But he left an active tricorder on her night table to continue monitoring.

She asked for an update, and she was not encouraged by the outcome. The pain had subsided for the moment, allowing her to roll down onto her back and stretch out. "You know," she mused with a sigh, "I'm beginning to think that I angered somebody in a previous life."

The doctor had moved another chair in from the front room, and Chakotay pulled it closer to the bedside when he sat down. "I didn't think you believed in reincarnation," he said with a grin.

Kathryn looked out from under the hand that she had covered her eyes with. "You'd be surprised by what I believe in," she told him, a wane smile pulling at the corner of her mouth.

"If there's one thing that you've never stopped doing over the years," he told her, "it's surprising me."

She laughed. "Well it's nice to know I haven't lost my touch."

He started to laugh too, though the laughter quickly evaporated into the air. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, counted to ten and then slowly released the air from her lungs. They were silent, and while she concentrated on getting her bearings, he settled back into the chair to guard her. He knew that she found comfort in his presence, so for the moment he resigned himself to waiting until the next cycle began.

In the meantime, Kathryn was able to coax her muscles into some long needed relaxation. It wasn't enough to let her sleep, but she had managed to reach a place where she could push the ache back into the recesses of her body. She used the time to exercise her mind, to concentrate on anything other than what was happening to her now.

Her meditative state was broken by the sound of a gentle snore from the corner. Chakotay's frustration and exhaustion had finally caught up with him, and he had half-curled into the chair in an attempt to find a comfortable position. She turned toward him, smiling a little when she saw that he was finally getting some rest. She knew that she hadn't slept since the punishment cycles began, and she was pretty sure that between his work on the bridge and his near-constant vigil over her, that he hadn't slept either.

The need for water forced her onto shaky legs to make the short trip to the replicator. The glass was unusually cold in her hand, compounded by senses that had been heightened by what was happening to her. Wrapping a napkin around the glass seemed to solve the problem, but as she started back toward her bed she was drawn to the stars outside her window. They were captivating, reminding her that lately she had started taking their calming presence for granted. She sat down on the couch and stayed there for a while, just looking out into the galaxy. Frustration and anger melted away, leaving a tranquil sensation that hadn't been there for more than a day now, and Kathryn stayed at the window until the first pangs of the next cycle hit her.

Chakotay had turned on his side, and in doing so he had lost a comfortable place to rest his head. She glanced around the room, then retrieved the decorative pillow from the lounge at the end of her bed. The pain was quickly increasing, causing her to fall back into her previous pattern of deep breathing as she made her way over to him. She gazed at him for a moment, a mixture of emotions pulsing through her. He hadn't left her side since the morning before – not really since we came to the Delta Quadrant, she remarked to herself. The more she thought about it, the closer she felt to him. But a tinge of remorse filled her reflection, as she knew she could never endanger the smooth operation of her ship to satisfy her own feelings. The feeling was compounded by the fact that even though she always remained hopeful, the likelihood of Voyager getting home in her lifetime was slim. She would never be able to allow herself to be given the option.

A pang through her back reminded her of what was coming, so with the greatest of care she lifted his head and placed the pillow beneath it. Despite the gentle nature of the gesture, he woke to find her standing over him as she laid his head back down. As soon as she saw this, she smiled. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay." He saw the pillow, then put it down on the floor when he sat up. She was still standing there, but now had both hands pressing down on the base of her spine. "Is it starting again?" he asked. She simply nodded, and he watched as she started to pace the room, as she had done during the last cycle when the doctor had suggested that movement might help. She became mesmerized in her own breathing pattern, using it as long as she could to control the pain. It hit her twice as hard this time, only taking a few minutes to defeat her resolve and collapse her at the foot of the bed. He was next to her in a second, shifting down into a sitting position when she decided that she was going to ride this round out on the floor. As the ache spread through her body she curled up at his feet, allowing him to try and rub some of the tension out of her back.

The punishment ran its course for more than an hour, leaving her drained and pale, trembling on the carpet. They had been through this enough times that he recognized the completion of the cycle, and with the patience of a saint he waited until she started to move again. Kathryn gradually pulled herself up to slump back against the mattress, but for a reason she couldn't explain she turned away from him. A surge of shame took control of her, signaling a rapidly approaching release of emotion. Her arm was resting on the edge of the bed, and she laid her forehead down on it when she started to cry.

Behind her, Chakotay wasn't exactly sure what he should do. He had never seen her cry, not like this. It was quiet. And consuming. Her shoulders shook. He started to reach for her, drew away when a moment of trepidation caught him, and then finally laid his hand on her shoulder. She straightened abruptly at his touch, sniffing as she futilely wiped tears from her cheeks. "It's alright," he whispered to her.

The shaking started to spread, permeating her voice when she glanced back over her shoulder and confided, "I can't do this."

Chakotay gently pulled on her shoulder to turn her around. Tears were streaming down her face, despite her jolting efforts to stop them. He lifted her chin to look her in the eye when he reassured her, "You're going to make it through this, Kathryn. You have to believe that." She tried to speak, but anger and remorse prevented any sound. So he pulled her into his arms to comfort her, stroking her hair and slowly rocking her when he advised, "Let it out, Kathryn. Let it out."

She was still fighting her emotions, though she collapsed against him as she took consolation in the sound of his heartbeat. His voice rumbled through his chest, filling her ear when he whispered to her, "I wish I could do something to take the pain away."

"Trade bodies?" she quietly suggested without moving.

"I would if it were possible."

They lapsed into relative silence for a while, remaining together on the floor. She would go through a period of calm and control, but then it would be broken as a quiet string of sobs took her over again. Every time they did he held her a little tighter, wishing the same wish that he had before – to relieve her of her ordeal. She grew very still, and he thought that maybe exhaustion had finally got the better of her. Her breathing evened out, and the clenched fingers of her right hand loosened their unconscious grip on his tunic. A growing pain started creeping up from his hip, and forced him to shift his position. As soon as he moved, she started and tried to pull upright. "It's okay, Kathryn," he soothed, stroking her back and keeping her in his grip. "Just relax."

His words continued like a mantra, eventually lulling her into a brief but necessary slumber. And when she was gone the words stopped, but he would not allow himself the same luxury. He tried to find something – anything – to keep his mind focused and alert. The onset of the next cycle was fast, jerking her out of sleep with an alarmed cry that shook both of them. She latched onto him with a terror that he had never thought possible in her, tears flooding her eyes again. She had no will to resist anymore, no fight left, proven as she broke down into continuous streams of tears. The mantra started again, his voice and her cries mixing into a soft cacophony that filled the small room.

***

"A bath?" he questioned. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Well I can't think of anything else," she snapped. "You have a better idea?"

He didn't. So they contacted the Doctor, who also had immediate objections to the plan. But he also saw the benefit, and as long as it was in between cycles and that the tricorder was with her in the room, it was alright with him. Once the channel was closed she turned to him, reaching a hand out to silently request his assistance. He helped her across the room, but stopped at the entrance to the bathroom. She didn't notice right away, and was pulled back when he didn't follow. "Chakotay?"

"This is usually where I say goodnight," he told her quietly.

Her knees buckled under her, slumping her against him. They both got her back up on her feet, and she looked up at him. "I need your help, Chakotay." She saw the concern flicker through his expression, and in order to quell his fears she said, "Looks like this is your lucky day, mister."

Chakotay shook his head at her bad humor, but then sighed as he nodded his agreement. He sat her down on the edge of the tub, making sure she was stable before moving to the other end to run the water and add some bath salts from the bottle she kept on the edge. She had removed her turtleneck by the time he got back to her, and with his help she managed to shed the rest of her clothing. Then with great care, he helped her into the water.

She immediately settled against the sloped back, a groan escaping her as the heat enveloped her. Her eyes slid shut, the running water being shut off when the level reached her chin. She sensed that he was still there, and after cracking one eye open, she caught him in an unguarded moment. Chakotay was keeping as strong a professional front as possible, but was unintentionally staring at her, taking in every bit of her body as one takes in a great work of art. He soon realized that she was watching him, and to cover what would rapidly become embarrassment, he gave her a small smile.

"Don't worry about it," she assured him before he could say anything. He wasn't convinced, and in an effort to dispel his fears she added, "Just think of it as practice."

That got his attention. "Practice?" His eyebrows knitted together, and he queried, "What exactly are we practicing, Kathryn?"

She didn't answer him, instead noticing the mess that the front of his uniform had become. The black fabric was smeared with remains of her makeup from the morning before, tearstained and crumpled, not to mention wet where he had leaned against the tub. "You look like hell," she told him.

Chakotay looked down at himself, huffing a small laugh when he understood what she meant. "It's terrible, isn't it?" he asked, looking up with his customary grin on his face. "Listen Kathryn, I think you're not the only one that needs to get out of a day-old uniform. Will you be okay if I go to my quarters to change?" She murmured something unintelligible, her head falling back against the tub. His panic level jumped, and he grabbed her arm and gave it a gentle shake. "Kathryn?"

"I said I'll be fine," she bit, using every ounce of strength to jerk her arm back.

He smiled and told her, "Just don't fall asleep," before heading out.

She was about to protest, but the words dissolved in her throat when Kathryn saw the futility in them. Like it or not she was stuck with him for the long haul, and he was not about to let something like drowning in a bathtub end the life of the woman he loved. So she counted her blessings instead, and reached for the small control console in the wall that ran the jet system. Water immediately started beating against the back of her body, finally giving her some of the relief she had been seeking. But after a while she started to feel unevenly distributed, and so she slowly turned onto her side in order to let the running water get at every surface.

That's when it hit her – another paroxysm like the one in Sickbay when the doctor injected her. An arm flung itself over the edge of the tub, and she hauled herself up as far out of the water as she could before the compulsion to curl into a ball could pull her under. The scream of agony built in her chest, but it lacked breath to bring it to fruition. Breathing was suddenly impossible, and she heaved to get small amounts of air into her lungs. Blackness was already starting to knock at her mind's door, and that's when she heard the doors open in the front room.

Chakotay had barely made it back into her quarters when he heard what sounded like a muffled bang, followed by a splash of water. It started him at a run, and as he moved, the banging continued in desperation. He found her hammering against the side of the tub, face turning red as she fought to breathe. "Kathryn!" was ripped from him before he even realized it, dropping to his knees when he reached her. "Chakotay to Sickbay!"

"I see it," the doctor replied, obviously working in a hurried frenzy.

"Can we beam her to Sickbay?"

"I'm already ahead of you." The sound of a transporter filled their ears, but instead of the room dematerializing before his eyes, Chakotay saw a small object materialize in front of him. It turned out to be a hypospray. "Inject the entire dosage," the hologram lectured. "Quickly."

Chakotay did as he was instructed, pushing all of the medication into her neck. She fought for a second or two more, and about halfway into a frantic pull for air, her system opened up and gave her more than she could have possibly needed. A fit of hard coughing overtook her, and he grabbed onto her to keep her shaking arms from collapsing and dropping her head on the tiled surface. "It worked," Chakotay reported, seeing that her face was starting to return to its normal color. "She's breathing a little easier."

"Agreed. I'll be up there right away. Doctor out."

He nodded, then watched her for a few moments as she concentrated on getting her bearings back. "You trying to give me grey hair?" he tested, pushing some stray strands back out of her eyes.

She coughed a little and grumbled, "No more than you have already."

Chakotay grinned. "Thanks a lot." They looked at each other, and he could see that she had had just about enough. Her forehead fell forward to rest against his shoulder, her hands weakly gripping the arms of his new mauve shirt. "Just hang on," he whispered to her before kissing her hair. "Come on, let's get you out of here." He started to lift her, and she mumbled a complaint. "Do you want the Doc to catch you in the buff?" Kathryn grumbled something again, and he couldn't help but chuckle a little as he reached down to pull her from the water.

After helping her into her floor-length grey robe, they slowly made their way back into the bedroom. She collapsed on the bed, rolling onto her left side and curled into a half-ball, valiantly fighting the urge to just shut her eyes. The Doctor arrived, as promised, a few minutes later, and was relieved to see that there was no longer any breathing difficulties. Chakotay, who had suddenly become consumed in thought, was pacing at the foot of her bed. When the Doctor closed the tricorder he had brought with him, the first officer asked him to step into the front room.

"I want to move her to Sickbay," the hologram stated before the other could say anything. "She's extremely weak, and if her heart stopped and she was here, I don't know if I'd be able to revive her."

"Agreed," Chakotay grumbled, absently rubbing a hand over the wet patch that Kathryn had left on his shirt. "I wish we could do something to make her more comfortable." As soon as the words left his lips, it occurred to him. But rather than say anything, he silently motioned for the Doctor to follow him out into the corridor. As soon as the doors closed behind them, he called, "Chakotay to Tuvok."

"Tuvok here."

"I want you to meet me at the captain's quarters immediately."

"On my way."

The Doctor was obviously on the same line of thought. "Both times she was attacked, we were trying to ease her suffering."

"Which means," the other finished, "that she's been under observation the entire time."

Tuvok stepped into view, and the two men that were already in the corridor cut the distance between them to try and insurance a bit of privacy. "Tuvok, we're going to move the captain to Sickbay. When she's gone, I want you to examine her quarters for any kind of surveillance technology."

Before the security chief could respond, they heard a call. "Bridge to Commander Chakotay."

"Chakotay here. What have you got, Harry?"

"Another round of transmissions is starting up, Sir."

"Can you locate the source?"

There was a brief pause, but then a triumphant, "I've got it! Coordinates 32749.6 – distance twelve light years."

"Set a course, maximum warp." He cut off the channel and then told his companions, "Let's get moving."

They headed back into the captain's quarters, finding her in the process of dematerialization. "Kathryn!" Instinct caused him to launch for her, but she disappeared before he even reached her. "Chakotay to Bridge!"

***

Kathryn suddenly found herself suspended bare centimetres above a cold stone floor, and after a second or two she was unceremoniously dumped down onto it. She let out a tired groan, lacking the strength to even cry out in pain. The momentum rolled her down onto her back, and she forced herself to pry her eyes open and examine her new surroundings. It seemed to be a small room, carved out of stone with bits of dusty light filtering in from a couple of cracks in the far wall. Cold was rapidly creeping through her robe, accelerated by the damp fabric.

She moaned, "Oh god…"

***

Voyager's first officer was pacing the decks of the bridge, a caged lion with no hope of escape. He didn't even try to disguise his frustration any longer, secure in the knowledge that everyone else felt it too, though to a lesser degree.

"We're approaching the planet," Paris announced, dropping them out of warp.

Harry added, "We're being hailed."

"Onscreen." Chakotay set his jaw, turning to face whoever was calling. As soon as the Eylian appeared, he abruptly introduced himself. "I'm Commander Chakotay of the starship Voyager."

"We are aware of your identity," the alien answered. "Welcome to Eylia. If you'll please wait a moment…"

The screen switched back to the approaching system. Tom muttered, "I've got a bad feeling about this."

The viewscreen came back to life before anyone could add their thoughts on the matter. A different Eylian appeared now, dressed in what passed for civilian attire. "Greetings, Commander. I am Metsata Pryell, the head of discipline for Eylian Enforcement."

Chakotay was exercising absolutely no patience, demanding, "Why have you abducted Captain Janeway?"

"We have not abducted her," Pryell replied. "We have put her into protective custody."

"What do you mean?"

"We had to prevent any further damage to her. You were warned that any attempts to relieve her suffering would result in stronger punishments. But you have refused to adhere to those conditions. This is a measure to protect our prisoner – to keep her safe until her sentence has been completed." With that he ended the connection, ending any possibility of negotiation.

Paris slumped back in his chair a little. Kim braced his hands on top of his console, head hanging in defeat. Chakotay resisted the urge to slam his fist into the nearest object. B'Elanna actually did. Tuvok announced, "Commander, there is another message coming in. It is addressed to you – and marked confidential."

"In the ready room." He practically flew into her office, the doors barely opening in time to let him through. Time was too precious, making him stop at the nearest side of the desk, spin the monitor around, and glower over it as it activated. Kathryn's crumpled body appeared before him, cold and moving slightly on the bare stone surface. "Oh Jesus," he gasped, shaking fingers brushing over her image.

"Commander Chakotay," Pryell's voice returned over the image, "your mate is safe for the moment. But if you attempt to reclaim her, she will suffer." He proved his point, and she screamed in terror as her muscles constricted.

"No!" Chakotay had to clamp onto the edge of the desk to keep any measure of sanity about him. "There must be some room for negotiation here," he tried. "You've never even told us what crime she's committed."

"Do you remember dealing with a man named Malak Toren?"

"We met him at a trading colony a few months ago. He was able to supply us with Benzanite crystals that we weren't able to find anywhere else."

"That is because they were stolen."

She was still on the small screen, writhing in agony, making it very hard for Chakotay to concentrate on the conversation. "What's that got to do with the captain?"

"Toren was captured and executed for his crime. And every person that dealt in that same stolen merchandise must be punished for their relation to the criminal."

"But she didn't know the crystals were stolen!" Chakotay protested. "What if we made reparation to you? We can return the majority of the crystals, and compensate you for what we've already used. Just stop punishing her!"

There was a pause on the other end of the communication, and thankfully the feed from Kathryn's containment cell did not include any sound. "Very well," Pryell finally answered. "I will meet with you aboard your ship."

The voice terminated, but the image remained. Her body relaxed, slumping to the stone when she lacked the strength to hold it otherwise. He let out a held breath, but was no less relieved from the frustration he had been feeling a few minutes before. "Just hold on. Please…" he whispered, once again touching her image. Then he headed out onto the bridge, barking, "Any progress?"

Harry Kim, the Doctor and Tuvok were clustered at the Tactical station, and all looked up when they saw their extremely agitated first officer storming out of the ready room. "We think we've found a way to block the punishment transmissions," Kim announced, his customary cheer dampened.

"But?" Chakotay prodded, instantly knowing there was more.

All three hesitated, but it was the Doctor who finally spoke up and said, "It could very well kill her." He went on to explain that a signal jam could be produced by a cortical monitor, but the catch was that a cortical monitor drew its power from the body it was attached to, and in the captain's weakened state it could very well interfere with her synaptic functions. As well as the fact that she would not be able to be transported with the monitor functioning, as it would scramble her pattern. Therefore, changing the configuration of the monitor that she was already wearing was out of the question.

The first officer thought a moment, hand rubbing at his chin. "What if somebody else wore it," he thought aloud, "but was close enough to protect her."

"It could work," the doctor agreed, "but that person would have to be in close physical contact with her in order for this to work."

"Tuvok, you'll be in command while I'm gone…"

"Commander," his second-in-command interrupted, "I believe it is more prudent that you stay on board Voyager."

The look he got said it all.

***

The Delta Flyer departed from Voyager twenty minutes later, with Paris, Chakotay and Torres aboard. Tuvok was left in charge of the negotiations with Metsata Pryell, who they figured would reach Voyager by the time that the away team had found the captain. The plan was that Chakotay had suddenly become indisposed, complete with a holographic representation of himself in Sickbay to show their visitor. Though they all knew it was not his strong suit, the Vulcan would be in charge of detaining the Eylian long enough for the Flyer to return.

Tom tucked the Flyer into the shadow of Eylia's fourth moon, which got them as close as possible without immediately being detected. They were able to run limited scans, and eventually Torres announced that she had located human life signs on the southern continent. They knew that they would be detected as soon as they left their shelter, so with lightening speed Paris took them down through the atmosphere, and Chakotay beamed down into the stone cell.

Janeway was nearly unconscious, her groan the only indication that she had just been thrown into another extra punishment. He dropped to his knees beside her, gingerly reaching down and taking her cheek in his hand as he turned her face toward him. "Kathryn?" he called softly, saying it again when she didn't hear him the first time. "Kathryn, it's me."

Her eyes slowly opened, taking him in for a moment before realizing that he was actually there. She clutched at his tunic, giving her something tangible to hold onto. "Help…"

"Listen to me," he told her. "We've got a way to stop the cycles, but we have to beam you out of here before we can use it. Tom and B'Elanna are waiting in the Flyer for us. You just have to stay close to me, okay?"

She gave him a weak nod, and breathed, "…kay…" barely able to hear her own voice.

"Delta Flyer to Chakotay."

He slapped his commbadge, then started to gather Kathryn in his arms. "What is it, B'Elanna?"

"You'd better get moving. We've got three vessels closing in on us, and they're powering weapons."

"We're ready down here." By this time, the captain was tucked safely against her first officer, still weakly grasping the fabric of his uniform. He looked down at her, quelling the rise of emotion in his chest when he ordered, "Energize."

They appeared in the cabin of the Flyer without incident, curled together on the floor beside the Ops station. B'Elanna glanced down at them, and did a double take when she saw how pale Kathryn was. "Jesus," she breathed, leaning over and handing Chakotay the cortical monitor that was resting on top of her console. "Get us out of here, Tom," she said softly, not wanting to disturb the captain any further.

"Hang on," he called from the helm, matching her tone as he tore his eyes away from their newest passenger. They started to move up toward the ionosphere, the proximity alert sounding after only a few seconds. "Those three ships are moving fast," he announced. "Two thousand kilometres."

"Give it all she's got, Tom." Chakotay looked down at the monitor in his hand, then to Kathryn's white cheeks. A flick of his thumb activated the small device, and he quickly placed it behind his right ear. As soon as he did, his entire body was seized with a pain that he had never even imagined possible. He doubled over, not realizing that his grip on Kathryn's arm had tightened into white knuckles.

"Chakotay?" Torres left her station to kneel down in front of him. "Chakotay, what's wrong?"

"I … I don't know…" he gasped, barely able to pull breath into his body.

Kathryn stirred under him, licking at cracked lips when she made her presence known. "… let … go …"

B'Elanna wondered what she was talking about, but then saw as Janeway unsuccessfully tried to pull herself from his iron grip. "Chakotay, you're hurting her," she whispered, slowing pulling at his fingers until she was able to separate them from the captain's arm. She then snatched a tricorder from it's holder in the console and ran it along the length of his body. "It's the monitor. It's not deflecting the transmission - it's widening the target area instead."

"Maybe he'd better take it off," Paris suggested over his shoulder. "Has the intensity increased?"

She shook her head. "No, the signal is being diluted between the two of them."

"No!" Chakotay managed through clenched teeth. "Half the signal on her is better than the whole thing."

"Chakotay…" Kathryn's eyes finally opened, and she reached a shaking hand up to his cheek. She summoned a burst of determination not unlike the one that got her from the ready room to the turbolift on the first day. He forced himself to look down at her, and she told him, "You can't do this."

"Yes I can," he argued. "You'll die if I don't."

She couldn't help the wane smile that crossed her face. "Give me a little credit, huh? I can handle it." He didn't respond, and she sighed. "This is no time to be stubborn."

"I'm not being stubborn."

Kathryn smiled. "Alright, if you won't listen to me, then at least let me help you." Kathryn let her hand drop to his shoulder, then felt her way down his arm until she closed her fingers over his hand – the one that B'Elanna was still holding onto. "Just hang onto me," she whispered.

He wasn't moving, so B'Elanna told him, "Tom needs me, Chakotay, or we're never going to make it back to Voyager." To make her point, a phaser bolt threw the Flyer on its port side, throwing Torres into the side of her console and Chakotay and Janeway with her.

Chakotay was withdrawing, but was alert enough to his surroundings to know what was going on. So he let go of B'Elanna's hand and latched onto Kathryn's instead. Torres climbed back to her seat as Chakotay pulled Kathryn even closer, close enough that no one else could hear her soft words of encouragement to him.

The Flyer started to climb, barely dodging the disruptors that were trying to fell them. Tom and B'Elanna maintained an unending stream of communication between then, drowning out any sound from their passengers. "They're gaining on us!" Torres shouted over the din.

"Try and knock out their engines!" her husband suggested, lifting the Flyer further through the exosphere.

She fired, and B'Elanna could see one of their pursuers quickly drop off her screen. "Direct hit!"

Tom checked his readouts. "One down." He summoned another burst from the impulse engines, finally freeing them of the Eylian atmosphere. As they raced past their original hiding place, he let out a held breath when he saw that the craft chasing them returned to the surface. "Paris to Voyager."

"Kim here."

"We've got the captain and we're on our way back."

"You'd better make it quick," his friend advised. "Tuvok's not having a lot of success with Pryell."

"Understood. We'll be there in six minutes."

Kathryn listened to their conversation, her eyes never leaving Chakotay's face as he tried to shut out the pain. "Who's Pryell?" she questioned.

He forced his eyes open, though not by much. "Head of discipline for Eylian enforcement."

They were silent the next few minutes, until Paris requested docking clearance. Then she told him, "I want to see him."

His eyes slowly filled with confusion as he looked down here. "You're in no shape to see…"

"I have to, Chakotay!" she snapped, or as close as her weakened body would allow. "I will not let them get away with this. Now are you going to help me or not?"

Her friend shook his head, a resigned smile playing at his lips. "Isn't that what I've been doing all along?" he asked with a sigh. Kathryn's grip on his hand tightened, her eyes sliding shut with a ghost of a smile that immediately faded. "Hey, you okay?"

The smile returned, albeit briefly. "I'm not going anywhere," she whispered. "Got too much here to live for."

Unable to help himself, Chakotay leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead. Fortunately, Tom and B'Elanna were too busy landing the Flyer to notice. Paris set the craft down with a gentle thud, instantly powering down the engines and securing the helm. He headed back to where the captain and first officer were still huddled, though they were starting to negotiate movement. "How are you two doing?" he questioned, scanning them with the tricorder his wife had used earlier. The pair murmured an incoherent response, and once satisfied with his readings, Paris flipped the tricorder shut. "You think you can walk, Captain?"

Kathryn fixed him with a look, but determination was already filling her features. B'Elanna moved up behind her head, carefully reaching under Kathryn's shoulders to support her body as the trio lifted her to her feet. She let out a groan at being put in a vertical position, then when her feet were touching the deck, she lifted her arm from Tom's hands to see how steady she could be. Stability was with her until she tried the same thing with the other hand, her knees instantly buckling under her. Chakotay caught her in his fast grip, his reflexes not at all dulled by the pain coursing through his body. Kathryn leaned heavily against him, but felt the need to smirk to the medic, "With a little help, I think."

The two men flanked the captain as they slowly led her out of the shuttle bay, with the chief engineer following closely behind. The few crew members that they passed stopped cold, stunned by the captain's physical condition, not to mention the fact that she had to be supported by members of her senior staff. But they remained silent, giving the small group a wide berth as they made their way to the nearest turbolift. Chakotay made sure she was securely attached to his left arm when he reached up to touch his commbadge. "Chakotay to Tuvok."

In the briefing room just off the bridge, the normally impassive Vulcan was reaching the limits of his patience due to their 'guest'. Pryell's head snapped around at the sound of the man who was supposedly laying at death's door in Sickbay, but his host answered the call before he could say anything. "Tuvok here."

"We're back on board. What's your location."

"The briefing room. Mr. Pryell is anxiously awaiting your arrival."

As they stepped into the turbolift, Chakotay nodded. "Understood. Chakotay out."

"Deck One," Paris commanded, getting a confused look from the first officer. "Thought it might be better to avoid the bridge," he quietly explained.

They arrived in the briefing room a few minutes later, Janeway managing an air of defiance despite everything that had happened. "Captain." Tuvok's word was a statement rather than a question – he knew that she wouldn't be there unless she was well enough to insist.

The captain was definitely in the lead, even if she was using Chakotay as her main support. "Why are you torturing me?" she demanded, never one to mince words.

"It is not torture," Pryell contradicted. "It is merely punishment for your crime, Captain."

"And what crime is that?"

She listened to the alien as he described the reasoning for her conviction. And when he was finished, she stared at him with burning, angry eyes, but said nothing. "It is not torture," Pryell reiterated.

She could feel Chakotay tense beside her, and already had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do. So she nodded her approval, and in a quick, strong motion her first officer grabbed the Eylian by the arm and yanked him up against the two of them. Pryell cried out as the punishment raced through his body, which was compounded when he tried to twist out of Chakotay's grasp. His right arm was now pulled up high behind his back, muscles straining against the break that was sure to follow.

Kathryn gripped Pryell's free shoulder, intensifying the pain. She hissed at him, "Now you tell me this isn't torture." A few minutes passed and nothing was said. Then she told him, "Stop this now, and I'll let you free. Deny my request, and you'll be staying with us until the sentence is completed."

Much to their good fortune, Metsata Pryell was not a man with a high threshold for pain. "Let me go," he gasped, "and I'll issue the order."

Chakotay pulled harder on his arm. "You stay here until the cycle is terminated."

Pryell held on a few seconds longer, then grudgingly agreed, "Alright, I'll do it."

A communication was opened to Eylia, and after a minute or two to convince his underling that he hadn't lost his mind, the signal was terminated. The Starfleet officers nearly collapsed when the pain ended, allowing Pryell to wrench himself free. But Tuvok made sure their guest wasn't going anywhere.

Once her composure was regained, Kathryn pulled herself up and actually let go of Chakotay in order to approach the man now cowering in the corner near the windows. "Now get off my ship," she ordered in a menacing growl. "And if I ever feel the agony that you've put me through again, I will come back here and kill you. Do I make myself clear?"

The alien gave her a nervous nod. "You'll be left in peace. I promise."

She stepped back in order to let him pass. Pryell looked from the captain to every other person in the room, and squared his shoulders before he skirted past her in order to be escorted off the ship. Kathryn watched him leave, fists at her sides, fury being the only thing keeping her together. And when the object of her rage disappeared, so did her tenacity. She collapsed, hitting her head on the deck and pulling one of the tall-backed chairs down with her as she did so. The other three were instantly on the deck with her, B'Elanna gently cradling the captain's head in her hands while Tom scanned her with a tricorder.

Chakotay called softly to her, making sure that she was actually still conscious, and then he looked expectantly to Paris. "It's okay," the medic informed him. "No sign of the transmission. Just plain and simple exhaustion, combined with some muscular atrophy." He holstered his tricorder, and then leaned down to speak to his patient. "Come on … let's get you to Sickbay."

***

A few hours later, the captain was released from the Doctor's care, and into her best friend's instead. After helping her into some pajamas he put her to bed, settling down on the edge of the mattress and stroking some of the hair that had fallen down over her shoulder. Her eyes slid closed, and he was sure that she had fallen asleep. Just as he was about to sneak out, she called, "Chakotay?"

The weight he had lifted from the mattress was replaced when he sat back down. "You should be sleeping," he told her softly.

"I can't." She slowly gazed up at him, through unclouded eyes that he had not seen in what seemed like years. "I want to, but I can't."

He smiled, resting a hand on her arm. "How come?"

"My mind is spinning." Though her eyes closed again, she continued to speak. "I can't stop thinking about what happened. It was so easy for them just to decide to punish me, for something that I didn't even know I did." She sighed. "And the fact that I threatened to kill Pryell."

"I can understand that," he assured her. "I honestly don't know how you did it."

"Did what?"

"Survived the punishments. I went through half a cycle with you, and I thought my body was going to tear itself apart." His smile faded a bit as he grew serious. "You've truly shown me that you are stronger than anyone I know."

She looked at him again, reaching a hand out to touch his arm. "Only because you were here with me.

He took her hand into his, thumb rubbing lightly across the knuckles. "You know I'd never leave you," he told her, "especially when you need me here."

The look in her eyes said it all, but her voice confirmed it when she asked him, "Don't go."

Their eyes locked, neither willing to break the connection for the longest time. But then he did, briefly turning his attention away as he toed off his boots. Then he laid down beside her, resting a strong arm around her waist and pulling her gently to him through the blankets that separated them. Despite her weakness she was fidgety, unable to get comfortable beside him. "Here," he whispered, helping roll her onto her side and slightly away from him. He then slid closer behind her, and let her body roll back against his chest. She let out a sigh, and was finally comfortable. He nestled his cheek into her hair and whispered, "You want to hear something funny?"

"Funnier than the fact that we're laying in bed together?" she tested, some more of her humor coming back to her.

"Do you want me to tell you or not?"

"Sure," she mumbled, readjusting her head on his arm.

"When Pryell sent a message after you were taken, he called you my mate. But he waited until I was in private to say it."

"We do seem to get that a lot, don't we?" Kathryn sighed. "You have to admit, though, we just don't act like typical best friends."

"No we don't." They were quiet for a while, listening to the other breathe. Eventually he said, "Do you ever wish that people saw us differently?"

With his help, she turned down onto her back so that she could look at him. "You mean that they would just see the officers or the friends, and not read any more into it?" He nodded, and she gave him a half smile as her eyes closed. "It would be a lot easier, wouldn't it? I mean, they wouldn't be a constant reminder of the one thing that we can't have."

"But we're both happy, and relatively well adjusted," Chakotay reminded her. Then he laughed. "Unless you listen to B'Elanna." At her questioning look he explained, "She keeps telling me to just forget and move onto somebody … anybody else."

He half expected her to be annoyed with the chief engineer's interest in their relationship, but what would have upset the captain a few years earlier now just intensified her smile. "Well, maybe once the baby's born those two will be too busy to try and trap us together in a compromising situation."

"You mean like this one?" he teased.

She laughed. "Yeah, like this one." Then she reached up to the hand beside her head, and he responded by lacing his fingers together with hers. "I may not demonstrate it very often, but I do love you, Chakotay."

"Wait till I tell B'Elanna." She rewarded him with a weak elbow in the ribs, and both of them burst into more laughter. "I know you do," he said. "And you know I do too." Then he kissed her temple and whispered, "Now go to sleep, Kathryn."

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