Disclaimer: none of the characters or the universe belongs to me, I'm just borrowing them for a little while. No infringement of copyright intended, dears!
A/N: I wrote this more than two years ago, but never got around to posting it. Finding it now, and reading it again, I don't know why I didn't, because I think it's quite cute, if not overly realistic. I hope you like it at least as much as I do and please review!

"I'm sorry, Kathryn, I know how much you hate sleeping alone, but this'll just have to do until I can join you." With a sad smile, Chakotay thought back to his wife's little quirk and how it used to amuse him.

The first time he'd seen it had been in their sixth year, just a few days after their run-ins with the Equinox. He had been hurt and angry about how she'd handled that situation when one night, he had awoken around three AM to the sound of screams that emanated from the room next to his. Without as much as a single thought, he had been out of his bed and halfway down the corridor between his quarters and the Captain's. The door to her rooms had deterred him for a moment, but another scream had erupted from within and he had quickly overrode her lock and sprinted to her side.

She was thrashing around in her bed and he realized she was having a nightmare. Calming her down had proven difficult and all the while her terrified shrieks had torn through his soul, but finally she had woken up, tears trailing her face and her bed cloths soaked with cold sweat. It had been a long time before she'd stopped trembling, clinging to him with a seemingly desperate force all the while and whispering how sorry she was for the way she'd treated him over and over. It hadn't been difficult for the anger he'd forgotten at her first scream to disappear completely.

Once she'd calmed down enough, she'd told him of her nightmare. In it, she had relived the last few weeks, and how she had felt horrified at her own behaviour. But the worst part, she'd said, had been when, at the end of the dream, she'd come to him to apologize and ask him to come back and he'd been extremely angry, refusing to accept her apology and demanding to be left at the next habitable planet they passed. At her look of horror, he had merely laughed, sardonically saying that she hadn't expected that, now had she? At her pleas to stay, his smile had turned even more evil.

Her monologue had been interrupted by the occasional sob and Chakotay unconsciously tightened his grip while she rested her head against his chest. Once she'd finished speaking, they stayed that way for a while, until she lifted her head to look up at him.

"I'm really sorry, Chakotay." Her deer-in-the-headlight eyes and hushed whisper were almost too much for him to take and he gave her a tender smile, his hand stroking her face.

"I know, Kathryn. Don't worry, it was just a dream."

The naked fear in her eyes didn't diminish. "Was it? I take you for granted, thinking you'll always be here, but will you be? Sometimes I don't even know why you're still here."

"Whenever you need me, I'll be here. You're not alone, Kathryn." For a moment he thought her tears would start anew, but she just smiled a grateful smile that had made his heart contract.

"What did I do to deserve you, Chakotay?" She whispered. He smiled, and softly kissed her forehead.

"Just being you, Kathryn. Just being you." Those words had brought the shine back into her eyes, driving out the lingering shadows. Quickly though, those shadows returned, this time as cold doubt. She ducked her head, stopping him from seeing her face.

"Chakotay?" she timidly asked, "would you stay here, just tonight? I know I'd sleep much better with you here…" Her voice hesitantly trailed off. She had turned to face him again and he knew the moment he saw her pleading eyes that he'd do anything she asked of him. He didn't even answer, simply picked up the pillow that had tumbled off the bed and waited for her to settle down comfortably before he climbed in next to her. She snuggled into his arms and almost immediately drifted off to sleep, not waking even once until her alarm clock sounded in the morning.

He made breakfast while she showered. They ate together before he went to his own quarters to change. It wasn't until almost three years later that he learned the significance of both her words and the discarded pillow he'd picked up that night.

It had been almost a year after Voyager had gotten home. Debriefings had passed, the Maquis had been pardoned, Kathryn had gotten her Admiralty and had started teaching at the Academy, he was teaching anthropology and the two of them were happily married. One day, he had come home from a long fieldtrip – a week at the excavations on Ork II – and found the dog in their bed. He had burst out in loud chuckles that had awoken his wife and scared away the dog at the funny sight. When he'd finally gotten his laughter under control, Kathryn – still blushing slightly – had explained to him that she had trouble sleeping alone.

As a little girl she'd had a stuffed animal that accompanied her on every holiday and slumber party she remembered; without it, she couldn't sleep. By the time she went to the Academy, the toy had made way for a pillow or an old t-shirt. That trick had stayed with her as she climbed through the ranks, only abandoned for short periods when she was on Earth and had Justin, Mark or Molly. Once they'd gotten stranded in the Delta Quadrant, she had again sought refuge with this tested method. The only time she hadn't needed it was during their short stay on New Earth, when she'd had practically no trouble sleeping. When they returned to Voyager though, the sleeplessness had returned in full force and had only increased by the years.

Chakotay had been very surprised at first to hear that his brave and beautiful woman warrior had trouble sleeping alone, but soon it had become just another part of her, another unique trait. And he loved her for it. Over the years he'd grown used to the sight of his wife and daughter sleeping peacefully together when he'd returned from a trip. He had even gotten into the habit of coming home in the middle of the night, just to see that angelic picture.

Thinking about those moments now, tears sprang to his eyes. Their daughter was a grown-up woman now, with children of her own and Kathryn, his dear Kathryn, had died, last Sunday. Peacefully in her sleep she'd passed away, held safely in his embrace as always. And now, she would have to sleep alone in that dark and deep grave, until he could follow her to the next life. He didn't know how he could manage to live without her.

In the end, she didn't have to sleep alone for long.

Fine

PS. a small note to PattyWacked03
I know the planet 'Ork II' is not a real imaginative name, but the stuffed animal I've had since I was born was called Ork. Given the subject of the story, I thought it fitted nicely.