Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Paramount and TPTB. The plot is the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Warning: Rated M Violence, angst, and adult situations included but nothing overly graphic.

Under My Skin: Chapter 8

Chakotay

I'm not dead. That's the first thought that swims to the front of my consciousness. I hurt way too much to be dead. I hear a voice say my name. I manage to open my eyes and squint immediately against the lights of sick bay. Someone leans over me. I want to see a crown of red hair and a blur of red and black, but instead my eyes focus on Belanna's concerned features. I push myself to my elbows and immediately regret it as the room spins.

"Hey, take it easy." Belanna admonishes me as I clamp down on my rising bile. Something must've happened or it wouldn't be Belanna standing over me. I manage to open my eyes again and lock gazes with Belanna. I see my concern mirrored in her eyes. She anticipates my question and nods her head at the bed next to mine. "She's right there."

I look over to my right and see her small form. Kathryn. She is dressed in blue medical garb same as me. I release a breath I didn't know I was holding as I see her chest rise and fall in an easy rhythm. Her color looks better than the last time I saw her, but I know she isn't simply sleeping.

I sit all the way up despite Belanna's hand on my chest and attempt to swing my legs off the bed. The doctor stops me, "Commander, you must remain still. You've gone through quite a lengthy procedure and you simply cannot be up walking around yet."

I begin to protest. I have to know, but I'm afraid to ask. "Doc…"

"Lay down Commander." He admonishes me and pushes me back. "The captain will not be happy if she wakes up to find that we got you back only to lose you because you couldn't sit still."

That gets my attention. "Then she's…"

"She's going to be fine." He assures me and begins running scans over me. "The removal of the device was more traumatic for her than you. Her body needs time to recover. I'm keeping her sedated for the time being. It's the only way to keep her still. Your body needs rest as well."

I lay back down and realize how true his words are as my body berates me for all the sudden activity. I look at Belanna, "What happened to the Cardassians?"

"They shot at us. We shot back." She shrugs. "We got lucky and one of our shots hit their weapons hold. There weren't any survivors."

I considered her answer for a moment. "Who was manning tactical?"

She fails to suppress a small grin, "Ayala."

I should've known. Exploding a weapons hold as a means of disabling a ship is a Maquis tactic. "Maybe I can get him a commendation."

"He's going to need a new commander if this one doesn't get some rest." The doctor scolds me and pointedly looks at Belanna. She raises her hands in surrender and promises to return later to check on me. I'm more than happy to take the doctor's advice for a change. I turn on my side so that last thing I see before I drift off is Kathryn.

Kathryn

I open my eyes slowly. I'm in sick bay. My entire body aches, but I have no idea how or why I'm here. This happens way too often for my liking. I raise a shaky hand to my head and then hear a soft voice, "How are you, Captain?"

I turn my head slowly and see Tom scanning me with a tricorder. His concerned blue gaze never leaves my face. Tom. He followed me into the ready room. The ready room. The Cardassians. Oh. God. Chakotay. I start to rise up. Tom's hands are on my shoulders. "Captain you have to stay still."

A strangled noise escapes my throat. I have to get out of here.

"Kathryn."

I freeze when I hear him say my name. I look away from Tom and then I see him. He smiles down at me and takes my hand in his. "Hi."

Tom retreats and I slump back against the bed all the fight gone from my body. I exhale, "Hi."

His thumb rubs against the palm of my hand. I revel in his touch for another moment before closing my eyes against the pain that sweeps over me. It's nauseating but nothing compared to the past couple of days. I swallow, "What happened?"

"What do you remember?" he asks cautiously.

"Everything." I tell him quietly. "Last thing was Tom and I in the ready room."

"Our family saved us and brought us home. Between your behavior and my hand signals they were able to figure out what was going on. When they blocked your transport the Gul lost it." I shudder when he mentions the Gul, but I nod for him to continue. "He set the device to kill you. Paris got you to sick bay and the doctor was able to use the medical transporter to remove the device. Your body completely shut down from the shock, and they lost you for a few minutes."

He doesn't continue. I squeeze his hand. "I'm still here Chakotay."

He nods. I give him a minute. "What about you?"

He shrugs. "I've been a guest of Cardassians before. The accommodations they provide are all the same."

He smiles slightly at his joke. He must be physically alright, he's already out of sick bay.

"Captain," the doctor approaches the bed with Paris trailing behind him. "How do you feel?"

"My body feels like Voyager landed on me, doctor."

"No, just Mr. Paris." I raise an eyebrow in his direction and see an embarrassed look on Tom's face. I'll have to find out about that later. The doctor continues, "You need to rest Captain. I've kept you sedated to allow for healing, but your body still needs more time. I want to keep you here for another twenty-four hours of direct observation before releasing you to your quarters. And then you will take the next week off. At least."

I'm too tired to spar with the doctor right now. I'm sure he'll take that as an agreement. I'll let him believe what he wants for now. I've already closed my eyes when I feel a soft feathery kiss on my forehead as Chakotay releases my hand. We definitely have to talk later, but for now sleep takes over me.

Belanna Torres

It's late and it's been a long several days. Tom and I decided to run Sandrine's and spend some time together unwinding. With the commander and captain out of commission, Tom's been doing double shifts on the bridge while I've been putting Voyager back together again. Tonight is the most time we've spent together since this latest Delta quadrant incident began.

Tom was able to have the evening off because Chakotay came back on duty today, and I left Vorik completing the last of the repairs on the thruster assembly. Chakotay may be back at work but I'm still concerned about him. Hell, we're all still concerned about both of them. Tom told me they had a very tender moment together in sick bay, but no one's seen them together much since then. No one's seen the Captain much at all since then. Chakotay says she's recuperating in her quarters. I know she's under doctor's order to rest, but she's never listened to the doctor before. And that also doesn't explain why I've seen her on the upper decks of engineering at all hours of the night when she thinks no one's watching. I sigh.

"I know what you're thinking about," Tom gives me a small smile. "He'll be alright."

"I know. I just worry about him." He starts to say something and I cut him off, "The same way you worry about her."

He concedes the point to me with a shrug. "You about ready to call it a night?"

"Sure." I stand and grab my jacket. Tom slings his arm around me and we move towards the exit. It opens before we reach it and allows a newcomer. Speak of the devil.

Tom takes his arm from around me and greets her, "Evening Captain."

Her head snaps up as she realizes she's not alone. Instinctively her back straightens, her shoulders pull back, and her chin comes up. I realize now it was Kathryn that walked in here, but it's the captain that faces us now. "Tom. Belanna. How are you tonight?"

"Just fine, Captain." Tom waves his hand around the settings. "We haven't run this in awhile and thought we'd come in and relax."

She looks around and says quietly, "It has been awhile hasn't it."

"We were about to call it a night," I offer, "Unless you'd like some company."

"Hmm? Oh no, Belanna. Thank you." She smiles at me and then gestures towards the pool table. "I think I'll just sink a few and then call it an evening."

"I could stick around and give you a good game, Captain." Tom offers.

"Since when?" She graces Tom with her half smile. "No, you two go on. I know you've both been working long hours."

"Good night then." I surprise myself and her both as I reach out and take her in a hug. "If you need anything, Kathryn, you know where to find me."

She returns the embrace for longer than I would've expected, but then she releases. Her eyes are bright but her voice is steady, "Thank you Belanna."

I nod at her and move towards the door. I see the momentary indecision on Tom's face before he quickly embraces her as well. She chuckles and swats at him as he releases her and moves away.

Once in the corridor, Tom pulls me to his side again. We walk for a few moments in companionable silence. Then it hits me. I hit my comm. Badge, "Torres to Chakotay."

"Go ahead."

"Commander your presence is needed in holodeck one."

"On my way."

Tom stares at me. Then his stare turns into a smile. "Sure wish I'd thought of that."

I shrug and we enter our quarters. Maybe now everyone will be able to get some sleep tonight.

Kathryn

I've already made my usual late night stroll of the ship. Twice in fact. If I show up a third time in engineering I'll make the crew nervous. I'm so tired, but not tired enough yet. I find myself at the holodeck and it's got one of the open door programs running. Might as well go in. It's so late; I'll probably find myself talking to holograms.

"Evening Captain." Tom's voice breaks into my thoughts. I really wasn't expecting anyone to be here. Hoping really. It looks like its just Tom and Belanna though, and I've managed to greet them on autopilot before my mind catches up with mouth. I hope I haven't interrupted anything. I know they've both been working extreme hours covering for myself and Chakotay. I also know how much work the two of them put into rescuing us.

I follow Tom's gesture as he waves an arm towards the empty bar, but my thoughts are elsewhere. When was the last time I relaxed here on the holodeck or anywhere really? It's been awhile. I know they're leaving. I know they'd stay if I asked them. I don't want to put them out. I gesture to the pool table, "I think I'll just sink a few and then call it an evening."

Tom offers to play a game against me and I manage a joke at his expense. They start to leave and Belanna surprises me with an embrace. She calls me by name and I'm so surprised by the gesture that the walls I've been hiding behind almost come down. I swallow hard and release her. I think she can see in my eyes how close to the edge I am, but she's enough like me to know I don't want to fall. At least not right now. She nods and moves away. Tom hesitates momentarily before wrapping me in a bear hug. I laugh at the brief intensity of the embrace. He's probably worried I'll demote him again. They leave and I smile at their departure.

I turn back to the pool table and rack the balls. I select a cue from the wall and place the ball so that I can break. But I don't. Tom and Belanna's presence was a welcome momentary distraction, but now that they're gone my fatigue returns. I lean on the stick and try desperately to not think about anything. I don't even hear him come in.

Chakotay

I was surprised when Belanna called me to the holodeck. I can't imagine what kind of technical problem would require my help. I enter and am surprised to find Sandrine's running. What's even more surprising is the single figure standing next to the pool table. She hasn't turned to acknowledge my presence. I circle past her and see Kathryn leaning on the pool cue, asleep on her feet. I smile sadly and shake my head. I've been hearing from all over the ship that she hasn't been sleeping. The entire crew has been keeping an eye on her while she makes her late night strolls. She'd hate it if she knew they were all watching out for her. She'd be furious if she knew they were letting word get back to me about it. Oh Kathryn, why won't you let anyone in?

I move back to the doorway and clear my throat. I see her jump slightly, "You know Kathryn, those balls aren't going to break on their own."

She looks at me confused as I move to her side. I gesture at the pool table and reach for her cue. "May I?"

She hands me the cue and tucks her hair behind her ear. "It's awfully late for a game, Chakotay."

I put the cue down on the table and smile up at her, "Well, in that case maybe I should walk you home before you fall asleep on your feet."

She starts to protest and I cock my head to one side grinning. She gives me the glare at about half power. She sighs and acknowledges lamely. "I haven't been sleeping well."

I lean back against the pool table next to where she's standing. "I know, Kathryn. We share a wall."

She looks up and panic strays across her face. "I'm sorry if I bothered you."

She turns to leave.

"What bothers me is listening to my best friend wake up screaming every night." She freezes halfway to the exit. "And yet, when I ask her how she is in the morning, she tells me she's fine."

She keeps her back to me. I walk towards her. "Kathryn, please talk to me."

She doesn't respond, but I can make out the slight shaking movement of her shoulders. She's crying. I reach out to her, and turn her around. She buries her face in my chest and I wrap my arms around her. I feel my own tears rolling down my face as her body heaves with sobs. Her head is tucked under my chin and I let my tears roll into her hair. We hold onto each other. She continues to hold me tightly as the sobs begin to dissipate. After several minutes, her breathing slowly returns to normal. I bring one hand up to push her hair back from her face. She hiccups. I look down at her and she actually laughs. "I guess I needed that."

"We both did." I answer her. She looks at my face and I know she can see the tear tracks. She nods and sniffs. She relaxes her grip on the back of my uniform. I let her step back from me. "Do you think you can sleep now?"

She surprises me when she takes my hand. She looks down as she asks quietly, "Will you stay with me?"

"Always."

"Do you mean that?"

I lift her chin with my finger until her eyes are looking into mine. "What are you asking Kathryn?"

"I'm tired, Chakotay." I sigh thinking she is going to evade me again, but she continues, "I'm tired of being alone. I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of a damn protocol that will be the least of my transgressions when we return to the alpha quadrant. I'm tired of every alien we run into saying the things to you that I should be saying. I'm tired of holding back from you. Chakotay, I love you."

I can barely breathe. I've wanted to hear her say this for so long, but not like this. Not when she's this vulnerable. "Kathryn, you've been through a lot these last few days. You're exhausted."

"Yes, I'm exhausted." She cuts my objections off. "But that doesn't mean that I'm delusional. These thoughts aren't new to me Chakotay. I've just been afraid to say them, and now I'm afraid to not say them."

A new emotion crosses her features. She steps away from me letting go of my hand. "I understand if you feel differently, but I still wanted to say what I've been thinking. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."

I pull her back to me and hold her face in my hands, "I love you Kathryn. I always have and I always will."

Our first kiss is gentle and undemanding. It doesn't last long, but it holds all the promise an entire universe can offer. I smile down at her. Her eyes are still closed, but she is smiling. I repeat my question from earlier, "Do you think you can get some sleep now?"

She opens her eyes and reaches up to caress my tattoo, "Will you be there when I wake up?"

I put my arm around her shoulder and guide us towards the exit. "Kathryn, I'm never letting you go."

We walk towards her quarters. We are finally home.