Kathryn rushed out of sickbay behind her first officer. "Chakotay?" she asked, letting her concern become obvious.
"I wish it were as easy to stop hating as it was to start," Chakotay said in a pained voice; then he turned and left.
Kathryn watched as Chakotay walked briskly away from her down the corridor; away from sickbay and the 'Kradin beast'. She ached to follow him, but her duties demanded otherwise. When he finally turned the corner and disappeared from her sight, she slowly re-entered Sickbay.
"I apologise, Ambassador," she said sincerely, with a small, sad smile. "The events of the past few days have been unsettling and he was led to believe that your people were the enemy. He's still trying to process all that has happened."
"I understand, Captain," the Ambassador said kindly. "I wish we could have helped him sooner."
"You did what you could, Ambassador. Your help was greatly appreciated, we could not have found him without your generous assistance."
The Ambassador smiled at her. "I am glad to have been of service in rescuing someone from the hands of the Vori. Please extend my sympathies and best wishes to your commander. I will take my leave of you now, Captain. Safe journey and long life," he spoke the traditional Kradin saying, accompanied with the customary shallow bow.
"Thank you, Ambassador," Kathryn repeated with a small inclination of the head.
"I shall escort you to the transporter room." Tuvok, who had been standing silently by, spoke up and gestured his hand towards the doors to Sickbay. He could see that his Captain was impatient to go after Chakotay.
Kathryn threw Tuvok a grateful look, and as Tuvok and the Ambassador turned right out of Sickbay, she turned left and broke into a run as soon as she was out of sight of the sickbay doors.
"Computer," she called out, "What is the location of Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters," the computer's monotone voice informed her as she entered the turbolift.
"Deck 5," Kathryn called out, tapping her foot impatiently. The turbolifts were being slow today; maybe she should get B'Elanna to check them out. As soon as the turbolift doors opened she was jogging down the corridor again. When she reached Chakotay's quarters she hit the door chime and waited for a response. There was none. She tried again. Still nothing.
"Computer, override door-lock 56A3. Authorisation Janeway 6-2-9-Alpha," she ordered.
The computer beeped and the doors slid open.
The lights were set to half-illumination. Kathryn saw that Chakotay was sitting eyes closed and cross-legged on the floor, a candle flickering on a nearby table and medicine bundle open before him. She felt immediately guilty for disturbing Chakotay if he was trying to meditate, and was about to turn and leave and apologise later but she realised that he was not being successful in his attempts to enter the spirit world.
Kathryn walked forward towards Chakotay, and the doors behind her closed with a gentle hiss as she moved out of the opening mechanism's sensor range. She regarded the man before her. His eyes were still tight shut, rather than gently closed, but she could tell he knew she was there. He was trying to ignore her, hoping that if he did not acknowledge her presence that she would give up and leave him be. Kathryn was tempted to do just that, if she was unwelcome, but she looked at him again, his body posture screaming that he was anything but relaxed.
She crouched down beside him and laid her left hand softly over his right, the hand covering the Akoonah. She carefully moved her fingers so that she grasped his hand and removed it from the Akoonah. At this, Chakotay's eyes opened.
"Hello," Kathryn said simply.
"I was trying to meditate," he replied harshly.
Kathryn was more certain than ever that she was doing the right thing. Chakotay was tense and upset, or he would never have used that tone of voice to say what had just said; and he was avoiding her eyes. Kathryn wouldn't let herself be deterred. "And failing as well, I see."
"It's hard to meditate when someone comes and disturbs you."
"I didn't realise," Kathryn said truthfully, "I'm sorry I disturbed you."
"The fact that I didn't answer the door chime didn't give you a hint?" he said sarcastically.
"You could have just left."
"I could have done, yes."
"Then why didn't you? So that you can berate me for my behaviour to the Kradin ambassador."
"No. I thought you might like to talk to someone about what happened."
"I do. I want to talk to my spirit guide, which is why I was trying to meditate."
"Well, it doesn't seem like you were having much luck, even before I arrived," she pre-empted his reply. "You need to talk to someone. If you don't want to talk to me then talk to B'Elanna, or Tuvok or Tom, or Harry or Neelix, or a hologram, someone, anyone." Chakotay remained silent. "Please."
"I'll be fine."
Kathryn released her hold on his hand and stood up. "Chakotay, your behaviour in sickbay," he looked up at her now, making eyes contact for the first time since she had entered. He rolled his eyes expecting the reprimand she had said she would not give so she continued quickly, "And your attitude towards me now is so unlike you. So don't tell me that you'll be fine, because you clearly aren't fine."
"You wouldn't understand."
"I don't have to."
Chakotay looked at her enquiringly.
"You need to talk to someone. Whether they understand you or not doesn't matter. You need to get it off your chest," she explained.
Chakotay said nothing, and so she walked towards the door. The doors slid open and she paused and turned back to face him. "Please, talk to someone." She spun on her heel and prepared to set off down the corridor, when he spoke and she froze. A small smile tugged at her lips.
"Kathryn, wait," he called out to her, getting to his feet. He walked over to her and grabbed the top of her arm, pulling her inside and letting the doors close. "I'm sorry."
"For my conduct. You're trying to help me and I'm just being difficult."
Impulsively, Kathryn threw her arms around him and hugged him. "It's ok, Chakotay," she said softly in his ear. "You had good reason to be difficult. You've been through a lot, and to top it all off I barge in and disturb you."
Chakotay chuckled, slightly taken aback by the hug but not caring in the slightest. He pulled her tighter, taking solace from the warmth. He felt his strength waning and suddenly felt incredibly tired. The adrenaline rush in his body had been on overdrive since he had crashed on the planet and was now slowly ebbing away, leaving him feeling weak and weary.
Kathryn noticed this and slowly pulled away from him. She took both his hands in both of hers and pulled him over to the sofa, where she sat him down. Then she crossed to the replicator and replicated a mug of steaming milky hot chocolate for him.
"Here," she said, passing him the mug. He accepted gratefully, but it was only when she cautioned him that the mug was hot that he seemed to register that it was hurting his fingers.
Kathryn sat down in an armchair, folding her feet under herself and waited for him to start talking.
"They used me." Chakotay's voice was so soft that Kathryn barely heard the words. "They used me, and I was gullible enough to take everything at face value," he said bitterly.
"What happened?" Kathryn asked. She knew the basic facts, and she knew that she would learn more from Chakotay's report, but unless she asked him now, she would never know the whole truth, only what he included in his official report.
"I picked up traces of Omicron radiation in the atmosphere of the planet so I decided to investigate. I came under attack, lost helm control and was forced to transport to the surface. Some Vori soldiers found me, bound me, and led me back to their camp; once they were sure I wasn't a threat they released me. I learned that they were the Vori, fighting a war against their nemesis the Kradin, and that anyone who wasn't a 'Krady beast' was a friend.
"I wanted to go and find the shuttle. Brone, leader of the fourth contingent, told me that they were due to rendezvous with the seventh contingent and that I could use the communications equipment there. I insisted on finding the shuttle and so he told me that it was sharper to wait until morning; he even offered to send someone with me in the morning. Eventually they convinced me to stay and gave me food and somewhere to sleep. I sat down and talked with a young man called Rafin. He was new to the clash, nervous and the others picked on him for that. He told me about the Kradin - how beastly they are, and all the atrocities they commit."
Chakotay's account was quite brief, he was simply telling her what had happened so that she would get some idea of what he went through, only enough so that she would understand his feelings at the ordeal. Kathryn knew it was because the memories were painful, and revisiting them for the report he had to write would be one time too many as it was. She guessed that perhaps Chakotay was also embarrassed by what had happened, that he had been manipulated so easily. No one else saw the situation in that light, but it was very likely that Chakotay did, and convincing him otherwise would be a hard task.
"Like what?" Kathryn asked gently.
Chakotay took another sip of his drink and then went on, his eyes staring into the warm liquid in the mug. "The Vori believe that the bodies of the dead should be left facing the ground, so that they may enter the gloried wayafter. To do otherwise is sacrilegious. The Kradin purposely leave the bodies of the Vori dead upturned." Chakotay paused a moment, and then went on with his account. "The next morning I set out with a soldier called Namon to find the shuttle. We found the site where the shuttle had gone down, but there was no sign of the shuttle. Namon wanted to turn back, but I kept looking.
"Suddenly we were ambushed and Namon was killed. The rest of the contingent arrived soon after and buried him. Then they presented me with his coverings and told me it would be sharper to walk with them to the seventh contingent, and that I could try and contact Voyager from there. So I agreed."
Kathryn noticed Chakotay's odd turn of phrase, yet more evidence that he had been completely involved with these people.
"That night we went back to camp and the following morning I was given a brief introduction to the weapons they carried by Rafin. Then we set out for the seventh contingent. We found one member of the seventh contingent dead, and attempts at communication failed, so Brone sent a group of warriors went on ahead to find the seventh. They found the seventh contingent all dead, massacred by the Kradin, and all upturned."
Chakotay stopped here and Kathryn drew in a sharp breath. She was no stranger to the horrors of war, but it still appalled her.
"Then we were attacked. Many were killed, I was injured myself and I lost the others. I eventually found a village, the Laharna settlement. The people were friendly, very welcoming to a soldier fighting against the Kradin beast. One girl, Karya, welcomed me to the settlement as a gloried defender and put a garland of flowers around my neck," he smiled fondly then went on. "I promptly collapsed.
"They fed me, treated my injuries and gave me somewhere to sleep. To them, I was an honoured guest. I explained to them that I was not Vori, and that I was trying to find a way to contact my ship, but it made no difference to them; the Kradin had taken everything they had, so anyone fighting the enemy was a 'gloried defender' in their eyes.
"A little while later, Karya came into the room where I was resting. She asked me about the war, if things she had heard were true, and why they were fighting. Then she told me about her brother, a brave warrior, she told me he was 'pleasing to glimpse in his colours' - she was very proud of him for fighting. He was with the seventh contingent."
Kathryn's hands covered her mouth and she gasped. "No," she breathed softly.
"She asked me to deliver a message to him. I tried to tell her that I wouldn't see him, but she was insistent, even if I couldn't deliver it, I could give it to someone else that could. I couldn't tell her," Chakotay looked up at Kathryn for the first time since he had begun telling his story and she saw the anguish in his eyes. "I couldn't tell her that he was†dead."
"When the new light came, Karya gave me her letter and her grandfather, Penno, and some of the other villagers gave me food. I had only been out in the trunks a little while when I heard a noise above me and saw two aircraft flying in the direction of the village. I rushed back to find the Kradin ransacking the village and herding the villagers. I tried to stop them, but I was captured too. They interrogated me, and then I was thrown into a cave with Karya, the little girl. I demanded to know what they had done to Penno - he was a kind old man, but frail and weak. Karya was very worried about her grandfather, and scared. Eventually she fell asleep on me.
"In the morning more Kradin ordered that all of the villagers unable to work be taken to the extermination facility. Penno was dragged out, and Karya ran after him, but she too, was restrained, and they were pulled away from each other. Karya continued to struggle and call out for her grandfather, while the Kraden holding her back mocked her; but they became fed up with her protests and ordered her to be taken to the extermination facility too. I tried to stop them but they knocked me out. When I came to, I wasn't far from the village. They had left me there to die, hands tied and body upturned to the ground when Brone found me.
"I asked him what had happened. He told me that the fourth contingent were all dead and that all the people from Laharna settlement had all been taken with Karya and Penno. He intended to join the fifth contingent and save the villagers. I asked to go with him.
"We fought hard to rescue them, but in the end we had to fall back. Some of the Kradin surrounded us, and one came forward, arms raised in surrender, talking directly to me."
"Tuvok?" Kathryn asked, knowing the answer.
"Yes. He made me remember what had happened to me, made me realise what they had done. I was so... so," he searched for the right word, "So angry. I felt used, and betrayed. I had cared for those people, I had been willing to give my life for them all because they had manipulated me!" He looked at Kathryn, seeing the sympathy on her face. "And I was angry at myself for being so gullible and so easily manipulated. Some Maquis warrior I turn out to be." He looked down.
Kathryn's heart went out to him; he looked, and sounded so sorry for himself. She leant forward and placed one hand over his, resting on his knee. "It's not your fault, Chakotay."
"I should have realised."
"No. You shouldn't. They manipulated you, yes, but that's only because you are a caring person. If you didn't care for those people then it wouldn't have worked, but you did care, and caring is not a bad thing, Chakotay. It was a carefully woven deception; anyone would have done what you did. I certainly would. So don't eat yourself up about it," Kathryn said, as she wrapped her fingers slowly around his and squeezed his hand. He looked up and into her eyes.
"I didn't want to believe him, but then Tuvok took me back to the Laharna settlement, and Penno and Karya and the others were there, and it was exactly as it had been before." Kathryn watched the emotions flicker through Chakotay's eyes. Anger, hate, confusion, embarrassment.
"It was as the Doc says: a highly sophisticated form of propaganda," Kathryn said, "It had been so carefully designed to make you do the things you did. They used emotional manipulation," Chakotay winced and Kathryn immediately regretted the words, "And they are highly advanced in psychotropic manipulation. There was nothing you could have done."
They sat in silence for a few moments and Chakotay lifted his mug to his lips then grimaced. "Cold."
"I should probably let you get some rest," Kathryn said, standing and preparing to leave.
"No," Chakotay said quickly, rapidly standing as well. "If you want to stay, I'd like the company. I don't really want to be alone with my thoughts right now."
Kathryn's lips curved up into an enigmatic half smile. She was pleased to have her best friend back again. She was as angry as he was at the whole situation, that they had used him, but she was only angry at them, not at him; and she hid her anger from Chakotay, for if he knew how she felt, he would still be berating himself.
She took Chakotay's mug from him and walked to the replicator, ordering a cup of tea for Chakotay and a coffee for herself. Chakotay sat down on the sofa where he had been sitting, and gratefully accepted the drink from Kathryn. "Thanks."
Kathryn smiled in response, and was about to sit down in the armchair again, then changed her mind and sat down next to Chakotay on the sofa. To her right was a large expanse of empty sofa, to her left, solid thigh and warm body pressed against her own. Then she removed the clip from the base of her neck and shook her hair free. She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. "It's good to have you back," she said with a small smile.
Chakotay stared in a surprise for a few moments at the hair tumbling over his shoulder and hers then kissed the crown of her head before resting his head atop hers. "It's good to be back."