Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events.

Author's Note: Set immediately after season 5's "Bliss," better known as the telepathic pitcher plant episode, in which the crew learn that their greatest desires have come true...and then wake up to reality.


In Darkest Night
by Dax's10thHost

It wasn't fair. Not after all she'd gone through. She felt her fists clench, but she was too angry—broken?—to work them loose, to pretend that she was all right and that she'd make it through this. Again.

Again? No. This was different, entirely different. Before, it had been new, and she'd been angry, and she hadn't known what to do about it. But now, the second time around, she remembered those long months of nothing and knew she would not go back. Never. Not if she could help it.

And so she let her fists clench, let her feet roam the corridors of the emptiest decks, let her heart twist and break all over again, because it was better than the gray. Better than the nothing.

The silence coating her tongue tasted better than that bitter Override, and she didn't try to chase it away with words. They would do no good, she knew, because she'd tried them already, back when he'd first told her of the massacre and the death of her last tie to the Alpha Quadrant.

That day marked the day she'd known she had no desire to return, no drive to reach the blue-green orb that every other human on this ship called home. Oh, sure, she'd wanted to go back and make them pay, rip all their throats out and watch their lives trickle into the gritty dust of the caves where they'd murdered her friends, but revenge only lasted a second, and the Delta Quadrant offered more than that. Here, she'd found a home, if only a fragile one, subject to the faces she encountered every day or the lips she kissed at night.

She'd thought, after that day in the holodeck, with his hands bruising her terrified skin and his eyes probing all her wounds, that that was the end of it. Or rather, that the sharp, warm bite of maple and banana was the end of emptiness and the beginning of hope. Of healing. And it had been…for a while. She'd gone back to laughing, back to lip-biting, back to caring and smiling and feeling.

Some days were harder than others, like when he would look at her and she'd know what he was thinking, could picture the face he held in his mind, the memory that tore at his heart. Those were the days when she sought out the mess hall, engineering, the shuttle bay—anywhere that was sure to have people, but not so full that she couldn't melt into a corner. Somehow, being with them, visible but unnoticed, kept her from running back to deck six and the danger it represented, back to the hell she could resurrect if she slipped just once and let herself—

But no. She was done with that. She had to be.

Resistance is futile…

She blinked away the words and realized she'd roamed her way to the mess hall. It was dark and silent, almost eerie in its loneliness. But she entered anyway, because she was alone, and the stars beckoned her. She slipped into the darkness, made echoing in its emptiness, and moved to the bank of viewports. She stood there, hugging herself like she always did when she looked out at them, and felt herself gathering the strength to go on.

The stars always seemed able to do that, quiet her with their steady presence. Even as they smeared trails of fire across her vision, forever changing, always giving way to those ahead, they remained, never to run out.

She needed steady, unchanging, forever.

To her left, the doors swished open and footfalls tapped out a rhythm of thought and comfort. She didn't turn, because she knew who it was, and she could hear the understanding in his stride. Slow, measured, as if savoring the sight of her standing there looking out at the stars. She wondered if she'd ever told him how important they were to her, but she couldn't remember.

His hand slipped across her shoulder, rubbing a message all its own into the yellow of her uniform, fingers reaching up to feather her neck, brush back her hair. She'd let it grow out this month, and it liked to fall across her face. Whenever she complained about it, he just smiled and tucked it behind her ear, the tingle of his fingers against her jaw the only kiss she needed to know he'd always love her.

Both hands were on her shoulders now, and she leaned into his touch, closing her eyes and letting the memory of the stars burn into her mind. This…yes. She needed this. Needed the silence, his touch, the stars.

"How're you holding up?" he asked, voice soft in her ear, thumbs digging into her straining muscles. She felt the knots in her back begin to untangle, and she relaxed deeper into his touch. Don't ever let me go.

"Okay, I guess. It would be easier if I could work, but…I don't want to. Not yet."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there when you woke up."

"Don't be. I was a mess."

"Don't let me off the hook like that. I should have been there."

"You had your own…problems to deal with."

"Nothing like yours."

"Then he told you?"

"The Doctor? Yeah. He said I should find you, help you work through it."

"Mm," she hummed, not wanting to think about it. She just wanted to be. To live. Breathe.

He dug deeper, burrowing into flesh that felt bruised and tight, and she couldn't help the little gasp that left her lips.

"Sorry. Didn't meant to hurt you."

"No. No, it feels good. I mean, it hurts, but it's a good kind of pain."

They were silent a moment, and she could feel his heart beating against her spine, his breath misting her neck, his hands circling across her shoulders and back, up and down, side to side, around, around. Steady. Steady like the stars.

"Did you…was it hard? Waking up, I mean?" The words felt clumsy on her tongue.

"You mean after we escaped? Yeah. I guess it was. But…nothing I haven't dealt with before."

"Your father?"

"Well, yeah. And a lot of other things in my life. The hardest part was believing he'd convinced me it was all true, just like that. I've been a chronic failure too long to fall that easily."

"Don't say that." And she meant it. Oh please don't say it. It's so easy to start believing it. Don't. Just don't.

"Okay. Whatever you say."

"How'd you know—that it wasn't true?"

"I don't really know. It was more of a feeling, like I'd been let down or something. Or stood up by an unbelievably hot date."

She snorted, but sobered quickly. "I didn't. The Doctor had to tell me, when I started asking where they were."

"The Maquis?"

"Yeah. It was…awful. Like I was going through the whole thing with Chakotay again."

"Did it take him long to convince you?"

"No. I…I knew as soon as he walked in. He had that look on his face. But I was awake for a while before, and I couldn't figure out where they'd all gone."

"How many were there?"

"A lot…the whole group, actually. Of the ones I knew. It…it felt so real. And they were telling me how it all happened, the mistakes, Starfleet's cover-up. The way the brass had forced Sveta to write that letter. It all made perfect sense. And they were right there, in front of me. I could have reached out and touched them if I'd wanted to."

"Hmm," he breathed, nose pressing into her hair.

"Sahreen…she was the hardest."

"The pilot who broke you in?"

"Yeah," she said, and smiled around the word. "She had a soft spot for the newbies. I still remember—" she half-laughed, "—my third day in Chakotay's cell, I stormed up to him and demanded to speak with him, and Ree's—Sahreen's—eyes got really wide and she started shaking her head so hard I thought she'd pass out."

"What happened?"

"Like a fool, I ignored her, and ended up on the deckplates."

"He punched you?"

"Yeah. But he didn't do any physical damage—just ruptured my pride. He never hit me again, though, even when I gave him reason to." Her voice trailed off into her thoughts.

"So…she was there? In sickbay with the others?"

"Not sickbay, really. I'm not sure where it was. But yes, she was there."

"You'll miss her."

She didn't answer, not with words. Just leaned into him and closed her eyes, trying to keep the tears pressed down inside her.

"Hey," he said, and turned her to face him. "It's okay. You'll make it."

She looked up at him, searching those blue eyes she knew so well, desperate to trust his words. If only…but she could believe them, because she'd made it through this once, and she could do it again. Right?

No.

"I can't. I can't do this alone."

He smiled that soft sad smile of his, tracing his thumb along her jaw. "Silly. Why do you think I spent the last two hours chasing you all over this ship?"

She smiled, because it was the easiest thing to do, and leaned into him, threading her arms around his waist. Oh, this felt so good, so right, him here, and the stars, and the steady through the ever-changing. Maybe he was right, and she could make it through this.

She hoped so.

"I love you," she whispered against his chest, knowing it was enough. Knowing she'd said so much more. "Thank you."

He settled his cheek against her hair, and she could feel his smile. "Anytime," he whispered. "Anytime."

Finis