It was her screams that woke him. A painful, soulless shriek that rent the air and chilled the room. So loud that it seemed as if she were lying next to him, not in the next room, separated as they were by a bulkhead.
There were more barriers between them; the bulkhead a physical, tangible thing that kept them apart. That could be overcome. But there were more, so many more. All in her head. Protocol, duty, rules, regulations. Fear. Things they could neither see nor touch, but there they were nonetheless, serving to keep them apart.
She screamed again, and he could no longer lie still. He pulled on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt and was out of his quarters like a shot. He quickly keyed in the override Kathryn had given him for her quarters and went straight through to her bedroom.
She was thrashing in the bed, sheets twisted around her, trapping her. She fought with them, tried to free herself but that only made it worse. And she was getting more agitated. Pushing, pushing them away, but they kept on coming and coming and coming....
She screamed again and he was suddenly by her side, throwing himself forwards to the edge of her bed, ripping the sheets away and untangling her from the mess. And then he took her in his arms and held her, holding her so tight he thought she might break, but he couldn't lessen his hold on her. Pressing desperate kisses into her hair and murmuring words of comfort to try to soothe her.
She slowly stopped fighting, seeming to feel the warmth and comfort of his embrace.
He knew she was awake, freed from the horrors that gripped her in sleep, when she started to sob. Deep, heart-wrenching sobs that wracked her body and near broke his heart. And all he could do was hold her while she cried, releasing her fear and the agony she felt. She clung to him desperately - her lifeline in the sea of troubles that pressed down on her. He felt helpless as he hugged her tightly, continuing to murmur softly into her hair.
After what felt like an age, her sobs quietened, but the tears still coursed down her face and her breath hitched as she tried to calm down.
Finally she pulled away from him slightly, looking up at him with glistening eyes, tears still tracing lines down her unhappy, tear-stained face.
Seeing the love and concern in his eyes set her off anew, and she leaned into him again, pressing so close that there was no breath of air between them. "Oh, gods!" The words ripped from her in desperation.
And he kept holding her, rocking her back and forth until she calmed.
He relaxed his hold on her and brought one hand around to tilt her face up to his. He brushed away her tears with his thumb, only to have them replaced by fresh tears that rolled down her face. He kissed her forehead, a small gesture of comfort, an attempt to chase away her demons.
"Want to talk about it?" he asked her softly.
She shook her head almost imperceptibly, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. "I'm sorry I woke you." Her voice was rough from her screams and her sobs.
His hands began to move lightly over her back, rubbing up and down, as he spoke. "I told you before, don't be."
"But it's the middle of the night. You haven't had a full nights sleep for two weeks."
He raised his eyebrows at her as if he could reflect her comment back at her. "I'll be fine, Kathryn. I've gone without sleep before. And you," he made sure that his gaze held hers, "You are far more important. I'm worried about you."
It had been two weeks since she had returned from the Borg cube, and every night he had awoken to her screams of terror as nightmares gripped her. They seemed gradually to be lessening - a scary thought given the intensity of her horrors still. The Doctor had said that they would fade with time. He even gave her a hypospray, which would, in theory, allow her a deep and dreamless sleep. It didn't work.
And so for two weeks he had been woken by her nightmares. For a time before that, he had been woken by his own nightmares when she was on the Borg ship. Her count of two weeks in which he hadn't had uninterrupted sleep was an underestimate - but he wasn't going to admit that to her.
She said nothing for a moment, just hugged him and let herself be soothed by his presence, his warm embrace, the calming motions of his hands on her back. "Thank you," she said softly and he had to strain to hear her.
After a time, she moved, slipping from his arms and crossing the room to the bathroom where she filled an empty glass with water from the tap. Her hands, he noticed were shaking slightly. Still.
He simply sat on the edge of her bed and waited for her to return.
She came to stand in front of him. "Thank you," she said again, her voice still soft and slightly rough.
He took her hands in his. "You sure you don't want to talk about it?" he asked her. "It would help you to get it all out." She remained still and silent, eyes staring unfocused out of the viewport, but he could still she was listening. He squeezed her hands. "Doc agrees with me."
That coaxed a smile from her. "I just...." Her smile disappeared as if it had never been there. "I can't relive it again." Her voice cracked and a tear rolled down her cheek.
His voice was soft but intense when he spoke. "Kathryn, you're reliving it each and every night, it's plaguing you. Talking about it, releasing your feelings, and your fears will help you move past it. It's not a weakness to be afraid, to admit that you're scared. It scares the hell out of me - there's nothing more frightening than the Borg.
"You know I'm here for you if you want to talk to me, any time. Day or night. Or if you don't want to talk to me, then there's the Doc. Or the holodeck. Or Seven, she understands more than anyone. Just talk to someone. Please."
"I don't know where to start or what to say. I can't begin to describe..." she broke off, and she looked as if she was about to fall to the ground.
He pulled her onto his lap and she sank gratefully into his arms.
They sat in silence for a time, she returned her attention to the passing stars and he alternated his gaze between those stars and what he could see of her face. The occasional tear still escaped from her eyes.
And then she spoke.
"It was horrible," her voice was haunted. "I think if I had been properly assimilated it would have been different, to be one with the Collective, to achieve perfection. But I wasn't. It was in my head, all in my head and I couldn't escape it, couldn't be rid of it, couldn't channel it or sort it, just one big noise in my head, like the deafening roar of a waterfall as it falls over a cliff or a massive explosion. It was relentless. I couldn't have any privacy and it pulled at my thoughts and feelings and took them. Took them all. I didn't feel like me anymore.
"And then She was there." Chakotay didn't need to ask who She was. "Speaking in my head, I could pick it out, louder than everything else that was there, sifting through my memories and everything that makes me me and she threw it all at me, the pain, the fear, the loss, the regrets, it was overwhelming. She knew what we were doing and she was trying to break me.
"Oh gods!" Her exclamation was pained. "She almost did. Gods, she nearly did. If you hadn't arrived when you did.... And they were everywhere. Borg everywhere, assimilating, adapting, perfecting, trying to drag me into them, make me one of them, relinquish my individuality. I was so afraid. So very afraid. I just wanted my Mom and my Dad to come and take me away. I wanted to be five again, where the scariest thing in my life was a thunderstorm. But I couldn't. And I wasn't. And they just kept on coming and coming. I don't want to be Borg."
She looked into his eyes then, pleading with him not to let her be taken and he let all his love for her show in his eyes. She wasn't crying now, it seemed as if she had cried herself out. Now she was left with the horror and the fear.
He held her tight for a time, then lifted her and took her through to her living area, setting her down on the couch. "I'll be back in a minute," he told her.
He went back through to her bedroom and began stripping her bed, the sheets twisted and sweat-soaked. Now damp and cold, they were hardly ideal for sleeping. He turned to put them in the recycler to find her there in front of him, standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall for support.
"Didn't want to be alone," she admitted to him quietly, fear still in her voice. He knew how much that admission must have cost her, the person who never showed her weaknesses or fears.
He kissed the top of her head as he passed her and then exchanged the dirty sheets for fresh. He quickly changed the bed, leaving the covers pulled down, ready for her.
He extended a hand to her and she reached for it, took it, moving closer still to wrap her arms around him and burying her face in his chest. His arms went around her and squeezed her tight, then he relaxed his hold and helped her into bed.
Despite his offers, they always started off in separate beds, in separate quarters when they went to bed at night. He always asked her, and she always thanked him and turned him down.
He hadn't woken alone in the morning for two weeks.
She didn't need to ask to him to stay.
He didn't need to ask if she'd like him to stay.
He simply climbed into the bed beside her and pulled her close, wrapping her tight in the warm circle of his arms, her head resting in the crook of his arm, one of her hands on his chest, right over his heart.
With a soft kiss on her forehead, a mere brush of lips, barely more than a breath, she snuggled closer to him still. He listened as her breathing evened out. And only once she was asleep would he allow his own eyes to close so that he might follow her.