Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.
- Shakespeare, The Tempest
The time is oh-six-hundred hours.
Some mornings I wish I could just silence the alarm, pull the blankets over my head and make the whole world go away. You’d cover for me, wouldn’t you? You’ve often said the job of a first officer is to make his captain’s life a little easier. Every time you say it I laugh, roll my eyes a little and pretend you’re joking… but secretly, I’m pleased.
And every time you say it, I try to pretend I’m not falling a little further.
It’s not in my nature to trust easily. Oh, I trust your training and your experience. I trust you’ll do what you can to protect your people. But what about my people? Are we still separate, or will there really come a day when we are all one and the same?
Maybe that day will only come when I truly believe it, myself.
The thing is, I thought I could trust you. I thought we were more than a command team – I thought we were friends. I believed you when you said you’d do anything in your power to support me, that you had faith in my leadership, that together we would get them all home. I believed you. But these past few days, something has changed.
The time is oh-six-fifteen hours.
There have been times when the thought of seeing you makes my step bounce a little higher, my eyes shine a little brighter. I remember when I first recognised it. The night before, I had said my goodbyes to Mark, shut his picture away in a drawer and made my peace with it. That morning I leapt out of bed, hummed my way through a shower, applied makeup with extra care. And then I caught my own eyes sparkling at me from the mirror, my colour high, and it hit me: I was behaving like a young girl stupid in love.
These days, though… These days, everything is different.
I don’t know whether my stomach is twisted in knots from nerves or if this nausea is just Neelix’s cooking disagreeing with me. Either way, it seems both body and mind are telling me that something is wrong.
The time is oh-six-twenty hours.
If I procrastinate any longer I’ll end up late for my shift, and that means less time on the bridge beside you. Up until the past few days, the idea of spending time away from you might have made me pout.
Now, though, I just worry what you might do to undermine me in my absence.
“Captain on the bridge.”
I nod to Harry Kim as I step down from the upper level, noting as I pass that he looks a touch peaky. Maybe we all overindulged in Neelix’s casserole last night.
“As you were.” I take my seat and steel myself to turn toward you.
Your eyes hold a sparkle, the way they always do when you look at me, but something rings false about it this morning. Yet your voice is as warm as ever. “Sleep well, Captain?”
“Fine, thank you,” I lie. “Anything to report, Commander?”
You give the briefest pause before answering smoothly, “Nothing of note, Captain.”
“Captain,” Tuvok breaks in, “you should be made aware that the Doctor reports two crewmen were admitted to Sickbay overnight. He has not yet diagnosed their condition.”
“Is it serious?”
I rise. “I’ll be in Sickbay. Commander – you have the bridge.”
As the turbolift doors close I watch you watching me, but it’s not the same. That tiny smile that flirts with your lips when you think nobody is looking – it’s not there. All I see in your gaze is cool speculation.
It’s my fault. If I had brought you into my confidence when this all started, weeks ago – as I knew deep down I should – maybe we wouldn’t be where we are today. Maybe you wouldn’t be looking at me the way you do now, as if we’re back in the first tense weeks of our journey together.
Instead, I listened to Tuvok and kept you out of the loop, and I’ll regret that until the day our journey ends.
I smooth out my expression as I enter Sickbay. “Doctor, report?”
“In here, Captain.”
I move into the small lab in the back, where the EMH and Kes are bent over a protein analyser. The Doctor straightens up as I approach.
“I have two crewmen complaining of severe headaches and nausea,” he explains. “I’ve scanned them and taken blood samples but so far have been unable to identify the cause of their ailments.”
“It’s not food poisoning, then?”
The Doctor concedes my weak attempt at humour with a tilt of the head. “There are no enzymes present in their digestive tracts that indicate a food source could be responsible.”
“It’s possible,” he concedes, “though there’s something unusual about the protein structures in their blood. There’s an odd variance in the nucleotide sequences.”
“What kind of variance?”
“I’m not sure yet. Just another pleasant Delta quadrant surprise, I suspect.”
“Well, keep at it, Doctor.” I pat him on the shoulder and move back through his office into the main room, where Lieutenant Baxter and Crewman Mendez lie on biobeds. Mendez is hunched over on his side retching into a bucket and the sound makes my own throat constrict, so I skirt his bed and move over toward Baxter.
He tries to straighten at my approach, a wince clearly crossing his features. “Captain.”
“As you were, Lieutenant. How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better, ma’am, but I’m sure I’ll be fit for duty in short order.”
“You’ll be fit for duty when the Doctor releases you,” I remind him. “Until then, get some rest.”
“Yes, Captain.” He all but collapses back onto the pillow, and I step quickly out of Sickbay.
There’s no reason for my next stop to be anywhere but the bridge, and yet I find myself ordering the turbolift to deck eleven instead of deck one.
“Captain!” Over a year since I made her my chief of engineering, and B’Elanna still jumps like a guilty child when I enter her domain. “Is something wrong?”
“At ease, Lieutenant. I just came from Sickbay and wanted to let you know not to expect Crewman Mendez for his shift today.”
“Actually, Mendez isn’t the only one who probably shouldn’t be on duty.” B’Elanna gestures toward Susan Nicoletti, who’s sitting at a console, head supported on one hand. She looks pale, sweat dotting her forehead. “I was just about to send her to Sickbay. Did the Doctor say what’s wrong with Mendez? Is he contagious?”
“He hasn’t suggested that.”
“I’ll have someone escort Nicoletti to Medical,” B’Elanna promises.
I squeeze her briefly on the elbow and leave Engineering, comming the Doctor on the way to warn him to expect another patient.
Back in the turbolift, I hesitate to briefly wrestle with my conscience before calling for the most direct route to the ready room. “And inform Commander Chakotay that he has the bridge until further notice,” I decide. The computer chirps acknowledgement, and as I enter my ready room – I’m not sneaking around, I’m the captain – I try not to feel relief at the prospect of several hours’ alone-time. Even if the most exciting thing I have to do today is read Harry Kim’s report on subspace radiation.
The coffee doesn’t taste right.
Maybe there’s a problem with the replicators, or maybe Tom Paris has been tinkering with my recipe again.
Maybe it tastes wrong because you’re not sitting opposite me on the couch, your eyes catching mine with a silent smile as we churn through a stack of padds.
I brush the thought aside like a pesky insect and turn my attention resolutely to subspace radiation readings.
“Doctor to Captain Janeway.”
I jerk awake – was I asleep? – and the padd slips from my fingers to thud near-silently to the carpeted floor. The remnants of a dream catch at me, but all I can remember with any clarity is your dark eyes watching me, colder than I’ve ever seen them.
My fingers are trembling as I tap my combadge. “Janeway here. Go ahead, Doctor.”
“I now have four patients in my sickbay, all of whom appear to be suffering from the same illness. I regret to inform you that I haven’t yet pinpointed the cause.”
“Four?” My brain feels wrapped in wool, and I hold my eyes deliberately wide, trying to focus. “Who else is sick?”
“Lieutenant Nicoletti was admitted at 0945…”
God, that’s right, Nicoletti. I told B’Elanna to send her to medical – I check the chronometer – three hours ago. Why didn’t I remember that?
“… and Ensign Ashmore reported complaining of nausea, headache and dizziness an hour ago.”
“Dizziness?” I try to recall. “Is that a new symptom?”
“My other patients have also developed it. Crewman Mendez has fainted twice since you saw him earlier this morning.”
“Your hypothesis, Doctor?”
“It would seem we are, indeed, dealing with a viral infection.”
“Considering you now have four patients, I assume it’s contagious.”
“Make that five.” The Doctor sounds grim. “Lieutenant Foster has just been escorted in. Excuse me, Captain, I must attend to my new patient.”
“Of course. Janeway out.”
I reach for the coffee I abandoned half-drunk hours ago, sipping it absentmindedly; as the cool liquid touches my lips I feel my stomach lurch. Hastily I shove it across the low table beside me, pressing a hand to my mouth until the nausea subsides.
When I’m certain that nothing I’ve ingested in the past twelve hours is about to make a reappearance, I smooth my uniform and stride out onto the bridge.
You rise from your chair – not mine; you never take mine – and a frown briefly crosses your face. “Captain, are you all right?”
“Fine. I’ve just heard from the Doctor. We have five crewmen ill with what he suspects is a contagious infection. I think we should consider –”
“What kind of infection?” you interrupt, your frown deepening.
“He doesn’t know yet.”
The tension in your bearing has me flashing back to a memory: you, standing in my ready room five days ago, late in the evening after we got Tom Paris back from the Kazon. You stood so close to me, your body rigid with anger, scowling down at me as you told me scathingly, devastatingly, that your faith in me had been severely shaken.
Nothing has been the same since that night. And as your trust in me was tested, so is mine in you. Days spent in the company of your cold politeness mean I no longer look forward to our working dinners. Yesterday at the senior staff briefing I deliberately proposed a plan you should have taken issue with immediately, but you simply stared at me silently and were first to leave the room. If aliens boarded the ship today, I’m not sure I’d trust you to stand at my back.
This is no way for a captain and her first officer to be with each other.
I sink into my command chair, thumb and forefinger rubbing absently at the gathering ache in my temple, watching you as you turn to pace the bridge. You’re agitated, running a hand through your hair. This is the most animated I’ve seen you since that night in my quarters, and I have no idea what’s prompted it.
You turn to me, muscles bunched in your jaw.
“In my ready room.” Without waiting for a reply, I rise from my chair and walk quickly back across the bridge.
I can feel your reluctance to follow, but by the time the ready room door slides shut behind us you’re standing at ease, your gaze impassive, locked on a point above my head. With an inward sigh, I punch our standing order into the replicator. Maybe some caffeine will ease the pain in my temples. At the very least, sharing a drink together might help bridge the distance between us.
“Join me?” Carrying my coffee and your herbal tea, I tilt my head toward the long couch under the viewport and wait for you to silently take your place at one end.
“What do we know about this illness?” you ask, accepting the tea.
“The patients have complained of headaches, dizziness and nausea. So far only humans seem to be affected, but that may be because none of our alien crewmen has been exposed to it yet.”
“Kes has,” you point out.
“True. But if this is a Delta quadrant virus, perhaps she’s naturally immune.” I tap my fingernails on the side of my mug. “The Doctor said he’d found an unknown variance in the infected crew members’ protein structures. I’m going to assign Ensign Wildman to assist him in investigating it.”
“Sam Wildman is pregnant. Should she be exposed to an unknown active virus?”
“Ensign Wildman is the chief science officer and has a great deal of experience with xenobiological research. And she’ll take every precaution.”
You nod tightly. You’re the captain, I can all but hear you say. “Am I dismissed?”
“Not yet, Commander.” I sip my coffee, mentally phrasing my next statement. “On the bridge just now, when I mentioned the virus, you seemed agitated. Is there something I should be made aware of? Something you’re not telling me?”
You stare at me as though in disbelief, then smooth out your expression, straightening your spine. “No, Captain. There’s nothing I’m not telling you. Nothing you need to know.”
I don’t believe you for a moment, but the tension crawling across my skull is becoming unbearable and I’m beginning to regret the coffee. “Dismissed, then, Commander,” I mumble, barely noticing you leave.
“Give it back to me,” the woman hisses, dark eyes snapping furiously. She’s small and slight, her black hair streaked with grey and twisted tightly atop her head, Bajoran ridges pleating her nose. She’s right up in my face, and so angry I wholeheartedly believe she’d have no compunction over murdering me. “I know you have it, Janeway. Give it back to me. It’s mine!”
I take a deliberate step back, hands held up to pacify her. “Doctor, I don’t know what you’re referring to but I assure you –”
“Liar,” she shrieks. “You’re a liar, like all Starfleet. I should have known. Liar! You’re a liar!”
Heart pounding, I jerk awake. The nightmare is already fading from my consciousness as I rocket up from my desk and stumble to the small refresher, dropping to my knees. By the time I’ve vomited up what feels like every ounce of moisture from my body, the memory has slipped completely away.
Sitting upright, I rest my forearms on my knees and tilt my head back against the wall, breathing slowly. I have no idea how long I dozed for this time; these sleepless nights are really catching up with me.
The time is 1342 hours.
I groan aloud. An entire morning wasted. Half my shift spent napping in my ready room, and not a single call from the bridge. Surely somebody must be wondering what their captain is doing in here?
Or maybe not. Who knows what you’ve told them? And they’d believe your every word, assuming it came straight from me. After all, the entire bridge crew heard me leave you in command –
This is crazy. This is you. The man I’ve grown to trust with my life. The only person on this ship I can really talk to, really confide in. The only one who understands.
The man who – despite my intentions – has worked his way into my heart.
You wouldn’t work against me. You wouldn’t turn my crew against me, take my ship. It’s just not in you to do that.
God, I have to get it together.
I crawl over to the sink and down a glass of water before tapping my combadge. “Janeway to Chakotay.”
“Go ahead, Captain.”
“I need to see you in my ready room.”
Your eyes, as I haltingly, stumblingly apologise – again – for my failure to trust you with the plot to expose Seska’s accomplice, do not change. Your expression remains locked in its state of blank politeness. And when I ask you to join me for dinner in my quarters tonight, you hesitate briefly before accepting with the slightest of grimaces.
It’s clear that you don’t want to be anywhere near me. But it only makes me more determined to resolve things between us, to get us back to the easy working relationship we had before. We can’t go on like this.
And, since I’m the one who lied to you, I’m the one who must extend the olive branch.
Before I can broach the conversation I know we need to have, however, there’s an entire afternoon shift to get through and a medical mystery to solve. I send Ensign Wildman to Sickbay to assist the Doctor and take my place on the bridge. If the command team is going to present a united front for the crew, it has to begin with me.
You shift position occasionally in your chair, breaking your silence only to order course adjustments or acknowledge sensor data, or to respond monosyllabically to my attempts at conversation. At the helm, Lieutenant Paris, clearly sensing the tension I can’t seem to dispel, hunches his shoulders and glances warily back at us every so often.
The afternoon drags interminably, but finally, finally, Beta shift arrives and I escape to my quarters. I’ll have time to visit Sickbay for an update before I have to shower and change in preparation for our peace talks. If only this headache would leave me be; I feel as though my brain is too big for my skull.
“Doctor, report?” I ask as I enter Sickbay, and stop short at the sight before me.
The five afflicted crewmen – Mendez, Baxter, Nicoletti, Ashmore and Foster – lie on the only available biobeds. All of them are sleeping. Mendez and Ashmore are under the arch monitors. Kes bends over Nicoletti’s bed, taking readings with her medical tricorder.
Susan looks sickly pale, as do Foster and Baxter, whose face is creased with pain as he mutters and grasps at something that isn’t there. Ashmore’s dark skin has an ashen cast, and Mendez’ normally golden complexion is almost grey. I can hear their laboured breathing, and as I stare, a readout on Baxter’s monitor begins to flash and beep. Kes rushes to his side.
“Captain,” the Doctor greets me as he moves quickly past, attracted by the alarm on Baxter’s biobed.
“Doctor.” I press my lips together. “What’s that alarm for?”
“Lieutenant Baxter’s temperature has just risen above forty degrees Celsius.” The EMH applies a hypospray to Baxter’s neck and the beeping ceases. “That should stabilise the fever. For now.”
“Has that happened to the others?”
“Ms Nicoletti’s fever has been hovering upward of thirty-nine degrees for the past two hours, and the others are also exhibiting higher than usual temperatures.” The Doctor turns to face me. “However, the fever could simply be a natural immune response, and unless their body temperatures consistently rise above forty-two degrees it’s not dangerous, just uncomfortable. I’m more concerned about the mucous build-up in their lungs. As I’m sure you can tell, all five of them are having difficulty breathing. If it gets any worse I’ll have to commence oxygenation therapy. As for the hallucinations –” he indicates the tossing and mumbling Baxter “– I’m afraid those are only going to get worse.”
“Do whatever you can, Doctor. How is your research progressing?”
“Ah, yes. Thank you for sending Ensign Wildman to assist, Captain. With her help, I’ve identified that the cause of this condition is indeed viral. Unfortunately the protein coating of the viral organism – the capsid – seems to have the ability to mask the invader by mimicking the properties of the cells to which it has attached itself.” He shakes his head. “Ingenious.”
“Well, it’s clearly been engineered that way.”
The blood drains from my face. “Are you telling me this virus has been genetically modified? It’s not a naturally occurring organism?”
The Doctor nods. “Naturally occurring viruses with camouflaging properties aren’t unheard of, of course, but this particular pathogen is not one. At first I thought it employed a unique form of natural camouflage using DNA sequences that the host body would ignore because they mimic the host’s. That would allow the invader to penetrate the host’s cellular structure without triggering an immune response.”
“But that’s not the case?” I rub at my aching temples.
“No, Captain. The excess DNA strands are not there to hide this virus. They’re intended to target a different kind of host system.”
“Meaning?” Why am I having such trouble following this? I shake my head to clear it.
“Meaning,” the Doctor says patiently, “that they are infective but inert. Those DNA sequences have not been triggered during the invasion process because they don’t need to be. The ones that have been activated are doing the job quite nicely, thank you very much.”
“Are you saying,” my tongue feels thick, “that this virus has been engineered to infect several distinct host species?”
The EMH is nodding. “More than that, Captain,” he says earnestly. “This virus is designed to activate specific genes to give it the best chance of infecting the particular species it inhabits.” He clucks his tongue. “Whoever engineered this was a genius.”
“Or a psychopath,” I tell him sharply. “How do we stop it?”
“I’ve asked Ensign Wildman to concentrate on isolating the genetic sequence activated within the virus – the one that’s affecting the human crew members in my sickbay. If we can identify the exact programming sequence, we’ll have the first step toward a treatment.”
There’s something vaguely familiar about all this, something nagging at me, but my head hurts so badly I can’t focus long enough to nail it down. A stray pinch and rumble in my stomach reminds me that I haven’t eaten all day, which is no doubt the cause of my headache. Brushing aside the irritating sense of déjà vu, I rest a hand on the EMH’s shoulder for a moment.
“Carry on, Doctor, and be sure to keep me updated.”
“Of course, Captain.”
He’s already trotting back to his lab by the time I exit Sickbay.
Hot water beats down on my bent head, swirling in elegant spirals down the drain, my eyes drifting shut as the shower sluices over me. Soothed, cocooned in warmth, I squint down at my own hands. They clutch each other under the spray, washing away the day’s grime. Washing away my sins, I think idly, and the image behind my closed eyelids shows the water running red with blood.
My insides grip as faces float through my imagination. Darwin, Bendera, Durst, Cavit, Stadi. Countless officers I’d sent into battle or on deadly missions. Faceless Cardassians. All dead by my orders.
There’s so much blood on my hands.
The Bajoran with dark, accusing eyes looms into my mind’s eye. Give it back to me, she screams. It’s mine. It’s mine!
And as she rushes for me, hands outstretched, I jerk awake, crying out, barely catching my balance before I slide to the shower floor.
My hands are clean.
Forcing my breathing to slow, I shut off the shower and step out, wrapping myself in a towel. “Computer,” my voice is shaky, breathy, “what is the time?”
The time is 1908 hours.
You’re supposed to have been here for dinner at 1900. Racing into my bedroom, I throw on the first clothing I find and try to squeeze the excess water out of my hair. There’ll be no time tonight to apply my armour – makeup, impeccable hair, impermeable air of certainty. I’ll be greeting you in sweats, looking like a harried, half-drowned rat.
If you ever get here.
Tying my damp hair up in a ponytail, I close my eyes, trying to find my centre just as the chime rings at my door. My eyes spring open.
You enter in uniform. I see the flicker cross your face as you take in my wet and tangled hair, my baggy sweatshirt, my bare feet. You recover quickly, though, your features rearranging themselves into impassivity.
“Captain. Have I come at a bad time?”
“No,” I swallow, and deliberately use your name rather than your rank, “your timing is fine, Chakotay. I’m the one running late. Please come in.”
As graciously as I can, I wave you to a seat at the table and pour two oversized glasses of Shiraz without asking your preference. Sliding yours across the table, I sit opposite you. You watch without expression as I try to find words.
Small talk isn’t going to work tonight, so after a large gulp pf wine I jump right in. “I asked you here tonight,” I pause, “because it’s clear you and I are not what we used to be, or where we need to be. There’s a distance between us, Chakotay, and we need to bridge it. For the sake of the ship.”
You’d lifted your wineglass to your lips, but now you set it down deliberately without sipping. “Do you have a specific complaint about the way I’m performing my duties, Captain?”
“Of course not.”
“Have I offended you in some way?”
“No.” I take another long drink and set my wine down unsteadily. “But I’m aware I’ve offended you, Chakotay, by not confiding in you about the plan to expose Michael Jonas.”
Your face shutters again. “That was your call to make. You’re the captain.”
Between the wine, the tension and the hot shower I’ve just stepped out of, I’m sweating. I push at my sleeves irritably, regretting my choice of bulky sweatshirt. “My point is, Commander –” damn it! “– Chakotay, it’s bad for the crew to see us at odds. And I want us to trust each other again.”
You huff out a laugh, shaking your head briefly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snap before I can stop myself.
For a moment, your face darkens in anger and you look directly into my eyes, and I think you’re going to be honest with me – finally – about whatever is simmering under that normally unruffled surface of yours. But instead you glance away.
“Maybe it’s just going to take some time,” you offer, and your tone is cool but not unfriendly.
“I can live with that,” I mutter. “Shall we eat?”
The vegetable soup I set before us seems sour and unpleasant to me, but you eat as though there’s nothing wrong with it. I watch it dribble from my spoon back into my bowl, like water sluicing over bloodstained hands.
I jolt. “Huh?”
“Are you all right?” You’re looking at me with curiosity and a touch of concern.
“Oh. Yes, I’m fine. Just not hungry, I guess.” I try to smile at you before dropping my gaze back to my soup. I know I need to eat – my stomach is completely empty, and I’ve drunk a full glass of wine – but I can’t seem to bring the spoon to my mouth. My head pounds.
“It’s good soup,” you offer, almost kindly. “Family recipe?”
“I suppose you could say so. Mark used to make it for me when I was working late and wouldn’t take the time to sit at the dinner table.”
“Yes.” I smile at you. “It’s my first choice when I want something unchallenging and familiar.”
We fall silent again, and I think about how, a few weeks ago, you’d have encouraged me to open up to you, to talk about the things I’d left behind. Always kindly, always gently, trying to make me remember the sweet things without the bitter.
“What about you?” I ask awkwardly. “What’s your comfort food?”
You shrug. “I was never all that interested in traditional cooking when I was a kid. Pizza, I guess.”
“My Academy roommate loved it.”
“Oh.” I search for a way to keep the conversation going. “You and Lieutenant Paris have more in common than I suspected.”
You place your spoon deliberately in your empty bowl and meet my eyes. I flush. Bringing up Tom Paris probably wasn’t my smoothest move.
“Torres to Chakotay.”
Saved by the comm.
“Excuse me,” you offer politely, pushing your chair back and standing. “Chakotay here,” you tap your combadge.
“I looked into that file you gave me, and I found something you need to see –”
“Not now,” you cut her off hastily. “Meet me in my quarters as soon as possible. Chakotay out.”
“Something I should be aware of?” I ask as you turn back to me.
“It’s nothing, Captain, just a personal matter, but I need to attend to it.”
You’re lying. I don’t know why, or how I’m so absolutely certain of it, but you’re lying.
“Now?” I raise my eyebrows. “It’s that important?”
You straighten. “Am I dismissed?”
What choice do I have? I squint up at you through my blurring eyes. “This wasn’t an official meeting, Commander, but yes. You’re dismissed.”
The moment you’re through the door and I’m alone, I feel my stomach lurch in protest against the evening’s abuses, and once again I find myself running for the ‘fresher.
“Liar,” the Bajoran’s lips form the damning shape of the word, her dark eyes accusing me as the security guards all but drag her away. “You’re a liar and a thief. I never should have trusted you…”
“But I didn’t take anything from you,” I protest, though simultaneously knowing that I did. “I never lied to you.”
“You’ve been lying to me all along,” she fires back, and her dark eyes have become yours, cold and remote. “And I’ll never trust you again.”
Pain squeezes my chest. “But you can trust me,” I plead with you, hands grasping for yours. You look at me like something foreign and unsavoury. “Please, Chakotay, don’t leave me –”
But you’re already turning away, turning your back on me. My heart expands like a balloon filling with agony, pushing the air from my lungs as I scramble to escape…
I wake gasping, trembling and soaked in sweat.
“Captain Janeway, please respond.”
I don’t know if Tuvok’s voice is what dragged me out from under the layers of troubled sleep, but I’m grateful for it all the same. I feel weak and shaky, my head thudding like a beaten anvil. I force myself onto one side, snatching feebly for the combadge at my bedside. “I’m here, Tuvok.”
“Captain, are you well?”
“Fine. What is it?”
“I regret to inform you that Ensigns Kim and Baytart have both been admitted to Sickbay this morning. The Doctor has confirmed they are both suffering from the Fina virus.”
“A name coined by Mr Neelix. We have just passed the Fina system; I understand he thought it appropriate.”
Something about the name plucks the echo of a memory, but I can’t concentrate long enough to let it form. And besides, there are more important things at stake. “Understood. Please inform the Doctor I will be in Sickbay shortly.”
“Acknowledged. Tuvok out.”
I all but fall out of bed, blaming harsh and vivid dreams for my bone-deep fatigue. Ordering a double-strength espresso from the replicator, I carry it with me into the bathroom and meet my own eyes in the mirror.
God. I look awful. Pallid but for two spots of colour burning in my cheeks, my lips flaky-dry. Splashing water on my face, I down my coffee, avert my eyes from my reflection and force my flagging steps into the bedroom to dress for another day’s work.
“Lieutenant Paris brought him in,” the Doctor explains, gesturing to Harry Kim, lying half-curled and grimacing on a makeshift cot between two already-occupied biobeds. “Apparently Mr Kim didn’t report for duty this morning so Commander Chakotay sent Mr Paris to find him.”
Despite the environmental purifiers there’s a smell of sickness in the room, and I feel my throat clenching. Ignore it, I will myself. “Any progress on a treatment, Doctor?”
He shakes his head. “I’ve remained active around the clock, Captain, but I’m afraid I’ve never seen anything like this virus. I’ve had Kes working on tracing the virus’ origins – anyone the symptomatic crew have come into contact with recently, assuming the incubation period is the usual two to five days.”
He shrugs defensively. “It’s a small ship, and most of the infected crewmen have been all over it. Patient Zero is going to be quite difficult to track down.”
“We need to contain this or most of the crew will end up sick with it.”
“I’ve placed our patients under level one quarantine.” The Doctor nods toward Kes, entering the main sickbay clad in biohazard scrubs. “Kes is immune to the disease, but I’m not taking the chance she could inadvertently become a carrier.”
“As I assume all Ocampans are,” the EMH nods. “The virus’s genetic code didn’t respond when I introduced it to a sample of Kes’ DNA, which indicates that Ocampans are not a species the virus was engineered to target.”
“But humans are?” I ask sharply. “How can that be, if this is a Delta quadrant disease?”
The Doctor’s mouth drops open as he stares at me. “I – I hadn’t thought of that,” he stammers. Pushing past me, he mutters half to himself, “It can’t possibly be accidental. Why didn’t I think of it? This could be the first step toward a breakthrough…”
Watching him, I know I should feel encouraged, energised, but all I feel is exhausted. “Keep me informed, Doctor,” I mumble mechanically, turning to leave Sickbay.
Head down, dizzy with fatigue, I’m concentrating so hard on placing one foot before the other without passing out that I fail to notice the human wall in front of me until I collide with it.
Your big hands steady me, and the familiarity of your voice makes me want to lean into you, rest my head against your chest and close my eyes. You’d take care of me, guide me somewhere I could rest, bring me cool water and promise to shoulder all my burdens.
I’m on the verge of letting myself fall into your arms when you straighten me carefully and set me away from you. Squinting, I try to focus on your face.
“I was just on my way to Sickbay to check on the patients,” you offer into the silence between us. “How are they?”
I try to come up with the appropriate response. “Sick,” I answer, finally.
You frown at me. “Has the Doctor quarantined them?”
“Yes.” He has, hasn’t he? I think he said something about quarantine.
“Okay.” You’re nodding, your gaze sliding away from my face as though you find me distasteful. “If you’ll excuse me?”
“Right,” I mumble, standing dumbly as you move past me. “I’ll be,” the Sickbay doors close before I finish, “on the bridge.”
I can’t bear the prospect of sitting in that command chair, even if you’re not silent and brooding beside me, so I squeeze my eyes closed until my head clears, then comm Tuvok and order him to take the bridge. My ready room – my sanctuary – has seen more of me than usual these past few days.
God, this stuff is awful. Why do I drink this?
The words on the padd I’m holding are dancing, blurring before my eyes. Nonetheless, I press my thumb on the approximate spot where my authorisation is expected and move onto the next. I’ve approved three padds full of information I couldn’t recount through a Vulcan mind meld before the Doctor, once again, hails me from Sickbay.
“I have bad news,” he says grimly. “Lieutenant Josh Rand was found unconscious in his quarters thirty minutes ago. I’ve tried every treatment I can think of but he remains unresponsive. I’m afraid his prognosis is very poor.”
“You mean you can’t wake him up?” I ask dumbly.
The Doctor hesitates. “I mean he’s going to die, Captain.”
Through the throbbing ache in my head, his words finally register. “Are you telling me this disease is fatal?”
“Unless I can find a cure for the Fina virus within the next twelve to twenty-four hours, yes, I believe it will have an extremely high fatality rate.”
The Fina virus … Again, the name sparks a faint memory, and I frown, trying to grasp at it. But there are more important matters at hand. “And the condition of the other patients?”
“Declining. The auditory and visual hallucinations apparently worsen as this illness progresses, and most of my patients are running high fevers. I’ve had to inject Lieutenant Nicoletti with tri-ox to ease her respiratory distress and am about to administer the same treatment to Lieutenant Baxter and Ensign Ashmore.”
The Doctor kindly pauses to let this information penetrate my fuzzy brain.
“I do have some positive news, Captain. I’ve isolated the genetic sequences that have been deliberately manipulated, which means I can now scan crew members for the pathogen. Even those who are asymptomatic will test positive. I recommend we schedule all crew to report to Sickbay for testing over the next eight hours. We’ll begin with the human crew members, but the entire crew should be screened in case any other races turn out to be capable of carrying the disease.”
“Yes, carry on, Doctor.” I close my eyes, willing the room to stop spinning. “I want regular progress reports, please.”
“Of course, Captain. EMH out.”
Leaning my head back against the lip of the couch, my thoughts drift to elegantly designed pathogens and dark eyes that flash heat and burn cold. I think about the woman whose face keeps appearing in my waking dreams: the dark-eyed, furious Bajoran. She’s important somehow. If I could only think –
The knowledge, the memory, keeps slipping away, and the dark eyes of that angry woman become your eyes. Your eyes, icy-hot and accusing as you stood ramrod-straight before my ready room desk a week ago, wanting to know why I chose not to trust you. Wary and cool as you stood in that same position just over a year ago, sizing me up as I asked you to serve under me.
Your eyes, mischievous and laughing over a candlelit table, littered with the remnants of a shared meal; gentle and warm, your hand clasping my shoulder as I hesitated at the cargo bay doors, afraid to face the possibility of my crew abandoning me. Soft and unguarded in so many moments: on the holodeck, in the mess hall, moments you let down your formidable guard and I caught a glimpse of you, the man, underneath.
The man I’ve come to know so well, and want to know completely.
Closing my eyes, I conjure up a memory of the last time you smiled at me. It was over dinner, just before Tom Paris left on his undercover mission. I don’t remember what we were talking about; only that I was homesick, so terribly homesick, and you reached across the table without hesitation and took my hand. You held it and you smiled at me, and I wanted to stand up and pull you close and wrap myself into your arms. I wanted to press my cheek to your chest and listen to your heart beating, I wanted to press my hands to your hot skin and kiss you…
… feel our breathing synchronising, accelerating, as our hands begin to skim and stroke, your body flush to mine and your lips tracing the line of my neck …
My eyes slit open, then widen in horror. Shoving myself upright on the couch, I mentally replay the last few minutes. Was I fantasising? Oh God, did I make any sound?
How long have you been standing there?
I cough, and busy myself with the nearest padd, unable to meet your curious eyes. “What is it, Commander?”
“The weekly energy efficiency report.”
You’re holding out another padd, which I snatch and pretend to study. “Thank you. Dismissed.”
I wait for your retreating footfalls, but you remain standing before me.
“Was there something else?” I grate out reluctantly.
“Yes.” I sense your posture stiffening further. “I’d like to ask you a question.”
Sighing inwardly, I press my fingertips to my throbbing temple. “Take a seat, Chakotay.”
You lower yourself beside me, then hesitate, staring down at your loosely-curled hands. “This is going to sound strange, but – have you ever been to Quatal Prime?”
The question is so unexpected that I forget my headache and stare up at you. Your eyes are hot and angry, though your voice is soft, controlled.
“Yes, I have,” I respond, wary. “Didn’t we talk about this not long ago? I was there to mediate the border planet resettlement negotiations, soon after the Federation-Cardassian treaty was signed.”
You watch me intently. “And that’s the only time you were there?”
I open my mouth to answer, then close it again. I know I’m supposed to answer ‘yes’, but I’m just as certain that the answer is ‘no’.
My head spins lazily and there’s a sour taste in my mouth. I swallow against the nausea. “Why – why are you asking me this?”
Dark eyes, hot and accusing. Ridges above her nose … No. She’s not here.
You lean forward. “I know what you did.”
I blink as the words seep into my mind. “What?”
“I said, are you all right?”
“Fine.” My answer is automatic; there’s a buzzing in my ears. I’m finding it hard to focus on your face. Your eyes are as dark as hers. “Why did you ask me that, Chakotay?”
The momentary concern in your voice is gone. “I found something,” you tell me, carefully picking over the words. “Something that indicates you haven’t been entirely forthcoming with me about what you were doing in the Quatal system, and when you were there.”
Cold sweat prickles my spine. There’s danger here, of an unanticipated kind, and I need a clear head. If only I could think.
“Oh?” I draw myself up, fixing my gaze on your face and trying not to squint as the ambient light causes my head to pound, “What did you find, Commander?”
It’s clear you’re struggling with this; your gaze drops to your hands and your shoulders stiffen. But as hard as I brace myself, I never could have anticipated your next words.
You press your lips together briefly, then meet my eye. The words tumble out in a torrent. “I found evidence that you tampered with the timeline in order to assassinate a Maquis operative.”
The room tilts; I can barely catch my breath. “What?” I squeak out.
Anger is banked in your eyes, flavoured with regret. “Is it true?”
Is it true? You’re asking me if I violated the temporal prime directive and committed a murder? How can you even ask me that, knowing me as you do?
“Chakotay, of course it’s not –”
“Doctor to Captain Janeway.”
The denial melts on my tongue; wearily, gazing into your troubled eyes, I tap my combadge. “Go ahead, Doctor.”
“Two more patients have been brought to Sickbay exhibiting symptoms of the virus – Ensign Sharr and Crewman Telfer.” The hologram’s voice turns sombre. “And I regret to inform you that Lieutenant Josh Rand died from respiratory failure several minutes ago. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.”
It’s as though I lose time – just a moment or two, but one minute the Doctor’s grave words are echoing in my ears and the next, you’re kneeling before me gripping my hands and staring intently into my face.
“Are you all right?” you whisper.
What do you care? I think wildly. You think I’m a murderer!
“Fine.” I draw back from you. “Doctor, are you still there?”
“I suggest you implement level two quarantine. I’m on my way to Sickbay. Janeway out.”
Standing slowly and waiting for the slow wobble of my head to equalise, I stride out onto the bridge with you at my back, our conflict pushed aside. We’ll have to deal with that later.
Briefly, my gaze rests on the ops station, where Ayala stands in Harry Kim’s place. My heart lurches. Is Harry going to die, too?
“Captain.” Tuvok rises from my chair.
“Go to yellow alert,” I order. “Institute medical protocol 5B. Lock down all quarters and order all human crew members to contact Sickbay for immediate screening.”
Tuvok moves swiftly to his station and begins tapping in commands.
I turn to stare at the stars slipping by on the viewscreen, swallowing hard to steady my voice before I can face what remains of my bridge crew. “Lieutenant Rand is dead. If any of you suspects you have the virus, if you are showing any symptoms, report to Sickbay immediately. I will not let this virus kill any more of my crew.”
Tom Paris, turned from the helm, looks distressed. “Captain? It sounds like the Doc could use a hand. May I offer to assist him?”
I nod. “You’re with me, Lieutenant. Commander,” I avoid looking at you directly, “you have the bridge. I’ll be in Sickbay.”
The Doctor halts me just inside Sickbay. “I’m sorry, Captain, you can’t proceed any further without a biohazard suit. Standard level two quarantine protocol.”
“Of course. Lieutenant Paris has volunteered to assist you, but I’m just here for a report. May we use your office?”
Kes comes over with a containment suit for Paris as the Doctor leads me into his office. He nods toward Samantha Wildman, bent over a resonance scanner in the adjacent lab. “Ensign Wildman has just made a significant breakthrough. While studying the virus’s genetic structure she was able to identify the nature of the variance in the nucleotide sequence.”
He pauses dramatically, but my patience for his theatrics is diminished by the size of my headache.
“Yes, Doctor?” I snap.
“It’s temporal,” he announces excitedly. “The variance is caused by a temporal phase shift of point zero zero one.”
I’m staring at the padd in my hands. Numbers scroll before me, impossible numbers, numbers that shouldn’t be. My heart is choking me as I push the padd away and look up at Admiral Nechayev. “Is this real?” I ask her, and she nods grimly and says, “Now you understand why this mission is critical.”
The memory leaves me breathless. The Doctor’s gaze is expectant, but I can only stare at him.
“Captain, this is unheard of, and quite ingenious!” The Doctor leans toward his computer, tapping excitedly at the scrolling numbers on the display. My eyes blur. “Forcing the sequence out of phase has made it virtually impossible to halt the progression of the virus. Each cell the pathogen invades is also pushed into the time differential, which breaks down the cellular structures until eventually the host succumbs to complete metabolic and systemic failure.”
I can’t answer; my throat is thick with fear. In my memory, the Bajoran’s dark eyes pierce me, her face twisted in sadistic triumph.
“You stole it,” she snarls at me. “Starfleet principles – ha! You’re nothing but a thief!”
At the time I thought she was crazed, paranoid.
Now I know she was right.
I turn to stare through the window and into the main area, where patients lie on cots and biobeds, so many of them now that the space is cramped. Kes and Paris are moving between beds in their biosuits, but even from here I can tell that the best they’re able to do is try to keep the patients comfortable.
They’re all Starfleet. How could I not have seen it before now? Ashmore, Kim, Baytart, Nicoletti … Rand … All of them human; all of them Starfleet. Not one former Maquis in the lot.
“The Cardassians named it the Hafina virus after the first gul diagnosed with it, but we’ve classified it Contagion XA-64J-75,” Nechayev tells me. “So far, this pathogen has killed almost the entire crew of the USS Berlin – everyone with human or part-human genetics. It was originally designed to attack Cardassian DNA, but since the signing of the treaty it seems humans have become its new target.”
I should have known.
“Developing a cure is going to be quite the challenge,” the Doctor is prattling as the pain in my head threatens to overwhelm me. I clutch at the back of a chair for support. “If I can isolate the –”
“Forget it,” I interrupt him, my voice tight. “You won’t find a cure, Doctor.”
Quarantine won’t do us any good now either. The virus has already spread, and within a matter of days, we’ll all be dead.
I want to throw up.
The EMH is puffing out his chest. “Captain, if you’d just have a little faith in me –”
“It’s not about faith, Doctor,” I grate. “You don’t have all the information. But now I do, and I know what this virus is.”
He goggles at me. “How?”
Instead of answering him I turn to stalk out of the lab.
“Captain!” he calls after me. “I need to screen you for the –”
“Not now, Doctor,” I snap as the doors close behind me. In my head a sickening refrain repeats: Too late, too late. Too late to save them.
It takes less than a minute to reach the bridge. The turbolift doors open and, glancing around at the occupied stations, I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been. Ayala at Ops. Henley at the helm. And you, my faithful first officer, comfortable in command.
Stepping onto the upper level, I turn to Tuvok, the one person I can trust.
“Lieutenant,” I order as clearly as I can. “Take Mr Chakotay into custody immediately and escort him to the brig. Have your security teams remove Mr Ayala and Ms Henley. I want them locked down in quarters.”
Tuvok’s eyebrow almost leaves his forehead. “Captain?”
I let my gaze pan the bridge, searing, darkly amused by the stunned expression on Mariah Henley’s face, the gape of Ayala’s jaw. You rise slowly from the XO’s chair and I curl my hands into fists. Bitter anger twists my stomach and buzzes in my ears.
“Captain,” you murmur, and I want to punch the confused innocence right off your handsome, perfidious face, “what’s going on?”
“Mutiny, apparently,” I snarl at you. “And I’m putting an end to it right now.” Jerking my head at Tuvok, I finish, “Get these Maquis off my bridge.”
Security officers silently grip the arms of their erstwhile crewmates. At a nod from you, Ayala and Henley submit without objection to their escorts. The turbolift doors close and I walk shakily to my chair and collapse into it before my knees give way.
In my mind’s eye, the dark-eyed Bajoran folds her arms and sneers at me.
Gossip always did travel faster than warp speed on this ship.
I’ve barely turned from the replicator in my ready room, fresh coffee in hand, when the door slides open and B’Elanna Torres storms in without asking permission.
“You threw Chakotay in the brig?”
She’s almost quivering with fury, and her dark, furious eyes remind me of the Bajoran doctor’s, in the visions I know now are memories.
“Captain, what the hell?”
“Watch it, Lieutenant.” I glare at her. “Mr Chakotay is under suspicion of extremely serious crimes, and I haven’t yet determined whether he has accomplices. Your insubordination will not make me inclined to look favourably on your loyalty to this ship and crew.”
Torres gapes at me. “I – I’m sorry, Captain, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I am loyal! And so is Chakotay. I’d stake my life on that.”
Sinking into the chair behind my desk, I wave her to the seat opposite and study her. B'Elanna almost quivers with righteous indignation, but how can I believe her? She was Maquis, and she’s one of your closest friends on board. And if I can’t trust you – the man on whom I’ve staked not only my life, but the lives of my crew – how can I be sure she’s telling the truth?
“All right,” I begin, “then tell me what you know about the virus infecting the crew.”
Something flickers in her eyes, gone too fast to identify it.
“All I know is it’s serious,” she hesitates, then continues cautiously, “and that so far, only ‘fleeters have been infected.”
She picked up on that? I frown. Perhaps the question should be, why didn’t I pick up on it sooner?
“Why do you think that is, Lieutenant?” I ask her neutrally.
“I don’t know.” She clamps her mouth shut.
“Oh, I think perhaps you do.” Sipping my coffee, I fight to hold back a grimace as the hot liquid churns my stomach. “Cut the bullshit, B'Elanna. People are dying. Harry could die!”
She shrinks as my voice rises, worrying her lower lip with her teeth.
“So if you know something that could stop this virus and save them all, I need you to tell me. Now.”
She stares at her hands for a moment, then inhales and raises her head. “I don’t know much. Only that Chakotay found something in your service record that made him suspicious, and from what I can tell, it has something to do with a pathogen that acts exactly as the Fina virus does.”
Fina. No wonder the name Neelix gave this disease tweaked a memory. Nechayev had referred to it, in my mission briefing, as the Hafina virus. A coincidence, but one that should have rung a much louder bell for me.
I brush aside the self-recriminations and force myself to focus on Torres. “What did Chakotay find in my service record?”
“An entry from a few months before Voyager was sent to find our cell. You were listed as the captain of the Bonestell, but that ship’s log indicates that your executive officer had command for a period of several days while you were on an undisclosed mission.”
“That’s it?” I give her an even look. “Maybe I was simply undertaking a sensitive diplomatic assignment.”
“Maybe,” B'Elanna agrees. “But Chakotay also has a file that lists a quantity of an unknown hazardous substance received by Starfleet Intelligence immediately before you resumed command of the Bonestell. It has a few other interesting facts about you, too.”
“A file?” My hands grip the sides of my chair. “What kind of file, and where did he get it?”
“I think you should ask him that.” B'Elanna chews her lip. “There’s something else.”
“What is it?”
She leans forward suddenly, her eyes sharp. “Tell me about Dr Navesh Elkas,” she demands. “I need to know if it’s true. I need to know if you killed her.”
Dr Navesh Elkas. The name my mind has been skipping over, along with the memories that accompany it.
Memories of dark eyes in a shadowy corridor, of her malice and desperation. Of blood – her blood, dark-red and shocking – on my hands.
For a moment it’s real. I stare down at my shaking hands and see them stained red, and I’m back in that room with my hands pressed to a dying woman’s throat.
The whites of her eyes gleam in the faintly-lit room as she chokes to death on her own blood, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it.
Her throat gurgles, her lips forming the shape of words. She’s trying to tell me something but I can’t understand her. I lean in close.
“You’re too late,” she rasps. “They already took it.”
I’m not the only one who has stolen something of hers tonight, it seems. And I need to know –
“Who?” I ask her, urgently. “What did they take?”
But her eyes roll back, her life seeping inexorably away.
Fear and panic well up into my throat. I close my eyes and force long, slow breaths.
I remember the mission. Alynna Nechayev, the woman with a spine of steel, leaning close to me with fear in her eyes. The virus had wiped out almost an entire starship crew in a matter of days. Officially, Starfleet had never seen anything like it, but Nechayev had – a year earlier on a visit to the DMZ, in the floating hull of a Cardassian battle cruiser. And nobody knew how to stop it – she hinted at black ops and shadowy organisations – until a snippet of information had led an intelligence operative to the creator of the virus.
A Bajoran scientist. A former rebel with a grudge against Cardassia. A woman who had made a new life on a colony that had been ceded to the Cardassian Union when the peace treaty was signed.
A woman who now held a grudge against the Federation too, and who’d found kindred spirits in the Maquis.
“We know there’s a vaccine,” Nechayev says in my memory. “She made sure all her Maquis friends were inoculated with it. Your orders are to steal the formula from Dr Navesh.”
I blink at her. “I beg your pardon, Admiral, but it says here she’s been dead for almost a year. Is the record incorrect?”
“No, Captain.” The admiral squares her shoulders. “Dr Navesh was found dead on Quatal Prime on Stardate 47304.”
My reaction must show on my face, because she grimaces.
“Yes, I’m aware you were there at that time – that’s part of the reason you were selected for this mission. You’ll be familiar with the location and the events of the day. We need you to help us stop this virus before any more good people die.”
I’m staring at her, waiting for the punchline. “Admiral, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how –”
“We have the ability to transport you back to that date and location,” she interrupts me, words tumbling over each other. “Your orders are to identify the critical item and obtain it at all costs, Captain. Whatever it takes.”
Sounds and colours swirl and pummel me, and then fade into an oblivion I long to embrace.
But I can’t. My people are dying and I have to save them.
B'Elanna is staring at me, every line of her body tense, and all I want to do is lay my head on my desk and sleep until this whole nightmare is over.
“Captain?” she ventures. “I’m sorry, but I had to ask … the evidence…”
I straighten up, ignoring the dizziness and pain and the nausea that seems to be my constant companion of late. “I didn’t kill that woman, Lieutenant.”
“Then who did?” she blurts.
“I don’t know,” I clip. “I had nothing to do with her death. So if that’s why he did this, you can tell him to stop. Tell him he has to give the formula to the Doctor before anyone else dies.”
B'Elanna’s jaw hangs open a little. “Captain, I don’t know what you’re –”
But my head feels as if it’s going to burst off my neck, and I can’t bear another moment of this. “You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”
“I really think –”
“Get out now,” I hiss at her, white-knuckling the edge of my desk, “before I have you escorted to the brig as well.”
A moment later, the swish of the door tells me I’m alone. I tap my combadge.
“Janeway to Tuvok. Report to my ready room immediately.”
Tuvok beats a path to my office in record time. In his presence, an iota or two of my tension recedes; at least until his inscrutable gaze assesses me openly. Heat prickles the back of my neck and I feel perspiration break out on my temples.
“Are you well, Captain?”
“I need you to find out if Chakotay is working with anyone,” I answer abruptly, ignoring his question. My head is spinning. I should sit down, I think, then realise that I already am.
Tuvok is still studying me, and at my demand his eyebrow lifts a fraction. “May I enquire what crime you suspect Commander Chakotay of, Captain?”
“I believe he’s responsible for releasing the Fina virus and infecting the crew.”
The eyebrow rises higher. Incongruously, I wonder what it would take to completely detach it from his face, and have to fight back a hysterical giggle.
“On what do you base this accusation?”
“Haven’t you noticed something odd about that virus, Tuvok?” I grate. “Only humans from the original Voyager crew are susceptible to it. None of the human Maquis have fallen ill. Why do you think that is?”
I don’t wait for him to answer. Pushing shakily to my feet, I pace the length of my ready room.
“When the Cardassians ceded control of Bajor, they left in a bit of a hurry,” I begin. “They left a lot of things behind, but perhaps the most dangerous was their research into an experimental pathogen. Unfortunately, this research fell into the hands of a Bajoran scientist who had been raised within the Rebellion and wasn’t ready to let go of her lifelong hatred of the Cardassians. She engineered the virus to attack the Cardassian genome. After the signing of the Federation-Cardassian peace treaty, when the first reports of violence against colonists in the DMZ appeared, she began to unleash that pathogen on every Cardassian vessel she was able to reach. Thousands were killed.”
I pause to collect my thoughts. It’s not easy, through the layers of pain and confusion that envelop my mind.
“Starfleet believes she was one of the founding members of the Maquis. Her name was Dr Navesh Elkas.”
I turn to face Tuvok. He stands in his usual ramrod-straight posture, but I know him well enough to read the flicker of recognition in his eyes.
“I thought you might have heard of her,” I nod. “That was part of your undercover mission with the Maquis, wasn’t it? To track down the origins of the virus. You were the intelligence operative who gave Nechayev her name.”
Tuvok inclines his head fractionally.
“Then you also know,” I continue, “that Navesh wasn’t satisfied with killing Cardassians. She re-engineered the virus to attack humans, as well. But of course there were humans fighting with the Maquis, and she didn’t want them to die. So she created a vaccine and made sure they were all inoculated.”
I shake my head, that hysterical laughter bubbling up inside me again.
“Don’t you see?” I stare into Tuvok’s dark, solemn eyes. “That’s how I know Chakotay is responsible for this outbreak. He and his crew are immune to the virus. What better way to get rid of us so that he can take control of the ship? Who else could possibly have done this?”
“Captain, there may be a perfectly logical explanation –”
Frustrated, I snarl at him and break away to prowl the room. “He has a file on me, Tuvok! B’Elanna told me about it. Why would he have it unless he was gathering evidence against me?” A dark chuckle escapes my lips. “Not that his intelligence is very accurate. That file claims I’m the one who assassinated Navesh at the resettlement negotiations on Quatal Prime. But I didn’t kill her,” I turn back to Tuvok, pleading now. “Somebody else got to her. I found her with her throat slit. She was trying to tell me something but she died before she could. I alerted the authorities, but I had to leave. I had to complete my mission.”
I come to a halt before him, feeling the tremors in my limbs, so dizzy I can barely keep upright. Tuvok reaches for my elbow and carefully guides me to sit, crouching in front of me.
“Captain,” he says, “you suspect a conspiracy against you, and I believe you are right: someone has conspired to infect this crew. But I don’t believe it’s Commander Chakotay.”
All I can do is stare at him, my eyes glazed.
“I will conduct an immediate investigation into this situation. But the priority at this moment is your health.”
“I’m fine,” I mumble, slumping bonelessly in my chair. Tuvok’s voice seems to be coming from far away.
“No, Captain, you are not fine. I believe you are suffering from the Fina virus. I must get you to Sickbay immediately.”
“I’m not sick,” I try to protest, but I’m not even sure if the words leave my lips. I blink, eyelids heavy. My sight grows dim, my head seems to detach from my body, and the ringing increases in my ears. I’m falling, spiralling downward into a tunnel of whirling sound and light, and the last thing I consciously feel is my feet leaving the deck as I’m lifted in Tuvok’s strong arms.
“You’re too late,” her dark eyes accuse me, her voice thick and scoured with blood. “They already took it.”
I call for help, but we’re the only ones here and I can’t leave her, not like this, bleeding to death. But when I look at her again, she’s already dead. There’s nothing more I can do for her – nothing but justice.
“Justice is more than she deserved,” Nechayev says coldly. “She was a mass murderer.”
In her hand is the padd, the one I broke the temporal prime directive to obtain. The one Dr Navesh accused me of stealing when I met her in that darkened corridor. I didn’t know what she meant then; I didn’t know who she was, or why she would accuse me of stealing from her. Because I hadn’t yet. That crime was still in my future.
My eyes slit open, my head pounding in lurid swirls of colour. I am surrounded by the bodies of my crew. They lie on biobeds and cots, curled up in pain, wheezing for air, moaning or shouting incomprehensibly. Figures walk among them in white suits and clear helmets. Are they helping them, or torturing them?
“We’re all damned,” I cry, and one of the figures looks over at me, comes in my direction. I shrink backward.
“Captain, it’s me,” the figure says, voice muffled by its helmet. “It’s Tom Paris. I’m going to give you a sedative.”
I start to laugh. “Just get it over with,” I gasp as my lungs constrict, laughter turning to coughing. “We’re all going to die, anyway.”
I focus on his eyes – blue eyes, thank God they’re blue – as the hypospray sends me back into oblivion.
“What was stolen from her?” I ask Nechayev. “Who murdered her?”
“I’m afraid that’s classified, Captain.” The admiral sips her tea. “The important thing is you successfully completed your mission. We have the formula for the vaccine –”
“Give it back to me,” hisses the Bajoran in my memory. “I know you have it, Janeway! It’s mine.”
“- and thanks to you, nobody else has to die.”
She lied. We’re all going to die.
“Tuvok,” I cry out.
Tom Paris’ face looms before me. He’s no longer wearing a biohazard suit. He holds his hands up, his voice calming, the way you’d speak to a skittish horse. “Take it easy, Captain. You’re in Sickbay.”
Then Tuvok is there. I can’t tell if it’s real, but his fingers are hot and soothing as they clasp mine.
“You know, don’t you?” I grasp his hand feverishly. “You know who killed her. What did they take from her?”
He exchanges a glance with someone on the other side of my cot, and I force my head to turn, squinting against the light and the pain. Dark eyes, Klingon ridges. B'Elanna Torres.
She dips her head toward me, her voice low. “We don’t know for sure, Captain,” she admits. “But I’ve been over every inch of code in that file, and I think the ‘unknown substance’ was a biocontainer of the active pathogen. The file claims you stole it and gave it to Starfleet Intelligence.”
“No,” I manage, my other hand reaching feebly for her. “Didn’t steal it. Didn’t kill her.”
“I know that,” B'Elanna says quickly. “Our working theory is that Dr Navesh was planning to release the pathogen at Quatal Prime, and the Obsidian Order got wind of it and –”
“Excuse me, Lieutenants,” snaps the Doctor, pushing his way to my bedside, “Can’t you see my patient is in no condition for a briefing? I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Very well, Doctor.” Tuvok leans in to get my attention; I focus on the calm timbre of his voice. “We will continue our investigation, Captain.”
I manage to nod weakly before unconsciousness claims me again.
Dark eyes, hot with anger and despair, accusing me of terrible things. Maybe I did them. Maybe she’s right about me.
“I never hurt you,” I plead, turning away, my face in my hands. “Just leave me alone.”
When I uncover my face, she’s gone, and the dark eyes I see now are yours. You look at me with patient devotion. There’s no accusation, none of the banked-up anger you’ve been barely concealing from me. Just you, solid and present. And mine. The way you’ve always been.
“Chakotay,” I murmur.
Your eyes are smiling. I move toward you, suddenly desperate to reach you, yet knowing we have all the time in the world. As I approach, you rise to meet me. Your arms open and I walk into them, feeling your warmth all around me and your heart beating steadily beneath my cheek.
I could stay here forever, I think, and be happy.
My throat is desert-dry and my limbs weak, but the pounding in my head has receded and my stomach is no longer twisted with nausea. I raise a hand, spreading my fingers before my eyes. Everything feels extra-bright, fuzzy at the edges.
“Doctor,” I croak.
His familiar face appears. “Rest, Captain. Ensign Wildman and I have developed a cure. You’re on the mend.”
“How?” I lick dry lips.
“You can thank Mr Tuvok and Ms Torres for that,” he answers absently, the medical scanner flashing merrily as he waves it over me. “But for now, Captain, please rest. I’ll give you a sedative,” and before I can protest, a hypospray empties into my neck.
We sit at opposite ends of the couch in my quarters. Dinner is eaten, our work done. I’ve kicked off my boots and you’re sprawled, long-legged and relaxed, beside me.
Your glass is empty. Silently, I hold out my hand for it, standing to fetch the bottle from the table. I pretend not to notice the way your eyes follow the lines of my body as I bend to pour your wine.
I’m shocked, and yet not at all surprised, to feel your hand warm on my hip, stroking upward to my waist, the fabric of my undershirt gathering on your wrist. Straightening slowly, I shuffle forward until my knees are between yours and your hands rest lightly on my hips.
You’re smiling up at me: that smile that makes my breath catch and my sleep restless, and my lips tingle with the need to kiss you. Knowing you’re content to wait patiently for me, to let me set the pace, makes me feverish with wanting you. My decision is made.
No more hesitating.
Lips press and mouths open, hands gliding over clothing and then beneath it, shedding it piece by piece. We breathe in synchronicity, your fingers trailing shivers over my skin, my lips finding the places on your body that make you gasp. You bring me up slowly, your hands and mouth deft and eager, plucking at me artfully until the pleasure is so intense I cry out.
“Are you happy?” I mumble later, my face pressed to your chest.
“Shh, Kathryn,” you soothe, your fingers tangling in my hair. “Go back to sleep.”
“No,” I answer. “I want to wake up now.”
I blink my eyes open, mentally cataloguing my body. Clear lungs, calmed stomach, clear head.
Turning to the side, my gaze falls on Harry Kim, sleeping peacefully on the gurney beside me. Beyond him I can make out Susan Nicoletti and Walter Baxter, both resting easily.
They did it. They found the cure.
Then you are there, your voice low and gravelly as though you’ve been talking for hours, your dark eyes soft as you look at me. “You’re going to be okay, Kathryn,” you murmur. I feel gentle pressure on my fingers, a warm hand on my shoulder. “Everything is going to be fine.”
And despite everything, I believe you.
Closing my eyes, I sleep again.
“Captain.” A soft, low voice envelops me in warmth, encouraging me to float upward through my cocoon of slumber. I wake clear-headed, the demons of the past banished in the light of day.
I have no concept of how much time has passed. I only know that your face, tired-eyed and scruffy with what I guess is a couple of days’ beard growth, is the first thing I see.
“Hey,” your eyes smile at me. “How are you feeling?”
I consider the question, then frown. My voice is dusty-dry. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the brig, Commander?”
You laugh, and it’s the most welcome sound I’ve ever heard and draws an answering smile from me.
“Tuvok sprung me,” you grin. “But if it will speed your recovery, I’ll turn myself back in right now.”
I think about my paranoia, my suspicions, and I want to cringe. “I really did toss you in there, didn’t I?” I ask you ruefully.
“You thought you had good reason.” You duck your head. “And my behaviour didn’t exactly help.”
I shift on the pillows, my gaze taking in your ruffled hair and the tired creases beneath your eyes. Now that my head is finally clear, I can’t imagine how I could ever have mistrusted you so badly.
“I guess we have a lot to talk about,” I manage around a yawn. “Dinner in my quarters?”
“Let’s make it mine. When you’re better,” you nod, your smile spreading. “Get some rest now, Captain. The ship will be yours when you wake up.”
I stretch out a hand and you take it, surprised pleasure lighting your eyes.
“You’ve been here quite a bit, haven’t you?” I mumble. “By my bedside, I mean.”
“Yes,” you answer, rubbing your thumb over the back of my hand. “Whenever I wasn’t needed on the bridge, I was here.”
“I thought so.” My eyes droop, then flutter open. “Did you call me Kathryn?”
“Uh,” you rub at the back of your head, eyes darting away from me, “did I? I didn’t mean to presume.”
“It’s all right, Chakotay.” I let my eyes slide closed again, a smile on my lips. “I didn’t say I minded.”
Your answering chuckle carries me deeper into the topmost drifts of slumber, and I fade into sleep with my hand held in yours.
The Doctor stares intently at the tricorder in his hand, pursing his lips as he waves the scanner wand meticulously from my head to my toes. I wait with growing impatience until at last he looks up, nodding in satisfaction.
“I detect no remaining trace of the pathogen. You’re free to go, Captain.”
“Finally,” I mutter, sliding off the biobed and straightening my jacket. Tuvok appears at my side and I smile at him. “Come to escort me back to my bridge, Lieutenant?”
“Not so fast,” the Doctor says quickly. “Everyone who has just recovered from the Fina virus has been placed on restricted duty shifts, and you are no exception, Captain. I’d like to see you daily for check-ups for the next week, and –”
His words dribble into silence as I fix my glare on him.
“And be sure you get a good night’s sleep,” he finishes bravely, then scurries away.
I roll my eyes and move quickly toward the exit, Tuvok keeping pace. “Deck one,” I order the turbolift.
We take the auxiliary entrance to my ready room and I move immediately to the replicator for my standing order, eagerly snatching up the cup when it materialises. Hot, strong coffee – I sigh in pleasure at the scent, and then the taste – heady and bitter and dark, just as I like it.
It’s good to be back to normal.
Handing Tuvok his spice tea, I wave him to the seat opposite at my desk and settle in. “Well, Lieutenant?” I ask him expectantly. “Clearly you found the cure in a matter of days, yet Starfleet Medical researched it for months without success. How did you manage it?”
Tuvok inclines his head. “In fact, Captain, you found it. Rather, you obtained the vaccine formula from Dr Navesh, which Lieutenant Torres and I uncovered in the classified Starfleet database. The Doctor engineered the cure from that formula. He has also inoculated the few remaining Starfleet crew who tested negative for the virus. I assure you, there is no danger of this situation occurring again.” He pauses. “With regard to your suspicion that Commander Chakotay was responsible for releasing the virus, I must reassure you on that score –”
The ready room chime interrupts him, and I hold up a finger and call, “Enter.”
Tom Paris shuffles into the room, head hanging and shoulders slumped. “Uh, Captain, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping to have a moment of your time.”
I glance at Tuvok. “Lieutenant, would you mind –”
“It’s okay,” Paris interjects. “He already knows what I need to tell you.”
“Very well.” I fold my hands in my lap. “Go ahead, Mr Paris.”
Tom straightens to attention, hands firmly behind his back, his gaze fixed on a point some distance above my head. “It was my fault, Captain.”
I wait a beat, but he stays silent, chewing his lip. “I’m not following you, Tom. What was your fault?”
“The virus, ma’am. I’m the one who brought it on board.” He’s doing a good job at keeping his voice neutral, but I can see the Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he swallows. “It’s my fault Josh Rand is dead.”
I can feel my eyebrows raising. “Considering you are standing here in uniform and not incarcerated in the brig, Lieutenant, I can only assume you weren’t willingly responsible.”
“No, ma’am. But –”
Tuvok breaks in smoothly, “Lieutenant Paris was indeed the unwilling carrier of the pathogen. However, he has neglected to mention that he was also unaware of it. As a member of the Maquis, however briefly, Mr Paris was inoculated against Fina, and as a result some of the dormant virus remained in his system. He was subjected to genetic manipulation while on board the Kazon vessel, which reactivated the pathogen and rendered it infectious to any human who did not already carry the antibodies.”
“Seska,” I whisper, leaning back in my chair. The shock of it makes my head go light. “She turned Tom into her very own Typhoid Mary.”
“Indeed.” Tuvok addresses Tom, whose eyes still show guilt and distress. “You are in no way culpable for Lieutenant Rand’s death, Mr Paris, nor for the spread of the illness.”
I get slowly to my feet, and Paris’ gaze drifts to meet mine. “He’s right, Tom,” I emphasise. “This is not your fault. Do you understand me?”
His jaw relaxes gradually, and he nods. “I understand, Captain. Thank you.”
“Dismissed,” I order him gently, and he scurries back to the bridge.
I sink back into my chair, rubbing my temple. “Seska,” I utter in a tone of contempt and disbelief, shooting a glance at Tuvok. “Will we ever be rid of that woman?”
“Seska was also responsible for the existence of a data file containing fabricated evidence against you,” Tuvok continues solemnly.
“The file B'Elanna mentioned,” I remember. “She said Chakotay had it. How did he get it?”
“It’s my understanding that Seska gave it to him during the first few weeks of our journey. However, he did not access it until quite recently.”
Frowning, I think about your recent coldness, your distrust of me ever since I kept you out of the loop on Tom’s fake defection. Did I anger you so much that you finally decided to find further evidence of my deceitfulness?
“B'Elanna said the file painted me as an assassin,” I tell Tuvok abruptly. “What else was in it?”
“I am not privy to the full data. I recommend you examine it with Commander Chakotay.”
“I will,” I murmur.
He rises. “If there’s nothing else, Captain?”
“No. Thank you, Tuvok.”
“Then may I suggest you follow medical advice and retire to your quarters?”
I’m not tired – not in the least – and I feel a thousand times better than I have for days. But I have reports to catch up on, and so much to think about.
“For once, I’m not going to argue with you, Tuvok.” I smile up at him. “If you need me I’ll be in my quarters. Dismissed.”
Tuvok nods, then pauses a moment. “Commander Chakotay has taken the morning off to rest, at my insistence. However, I expect he has had sufficient sleep by now, should you wish to … examine anything.”
I raise an eyebrow at him, and without further comment he exits.
The chronometer tells me it’s almost 1300 hours, and my stomach rumbles on cue. I can’t remember the last time I ate, and I’d kill for a decent meal, but the thought of braving Neelix’s daily special makes me cringe. I think about comfort food, and the abortive meal you and I shared several nights ago, and I have an acute craving to put that right.
Suddenly energised, I stride out of the auxiliary door and head for my quarters, tapping my combadge on the way. “Janeway to Chakotay.”
“Go ahead, Captain.” Your voice is rich and warm and filled with everything you can’t say aloud on a public line, like I’m at your service, and I’m glad to hear your voice. It makes my smile widen and my step quicken.
“I was wondering if you have time to join me for lunch in my quarters. You have quite a bit to catch me up on, after all.”
There’s the briefest hesitation, then, “I’ll be right there, Captain. Chakotay out.”
It’s been days since I was last in my quarters. I tap in my access code, expecting to enter into sterile air and a sense of temporal suspension. Instead, I’m greeted by a divine scent. I follow it to the small dining table, where a tall vase contains three slender-stemmed, pink-and-yellow roses.
A smile breaks over my face as I lift one to my nose.
The door chimes, and I carry the rose with me to answer it, and then you are there, standing in the corridor, your hair combed back and still damp from the shower and your face clean-shaven. Your eyes are still tired and heavy, and I want nothing more than to soothe your fatigue away.
The knowledge of what I feel for you – ever fresh, yet underlying everything I do and think and am – sends a thrill along my spine. Usually, it’s accompanied by a sweet, sad promise: someday. But not today.
Today, I’ve made up my mind.
You shuffle your feet, and I realise abruptly that I’ve been standing here, staring silently at you for several seconds longer than convention dictates. I flush, fiddling with the stem of the rose, and notice your gaze drop to my hands. A smile ghosts at the corners of your mouth.
“The roses are from you,” I realise, “aren’t they?”
You nod, the smile deepening a fraction.
“Thank you,” my voice is breathier and softer than usual.
We stare at each other a moment longer before I come to my senses.
“Sorry – please, come in.” I step back.
But you remain on the other side of the doorway. “I can’t,” you confess. “Not until you’ve … You need to see … I have to give you this.”
I realise your hand is held out to me, a data chip in your upturned palm.
“It’s my personal logs from the past few days,” you explain in a rush. “I want you to watch them. I need you to know everything. What I was thinking, why I behaved as I did … how I felt…” You stop on an indrawn breath, reaching for my free hand and placing the chip in my palm. “Watch them, and if you still want to have dinner with me tonight, I’ll be waiting for you at 1900 hours.”
You hold your fingers curled around mine for a moment longer, then give a decisive nod and stride away.
Slowly, I make my way inside to sit at my computer, plugging in the data chip.
“Computer,” I order, “play log.”
I press your chime at precisely 1900 hours.
You open the door yourself, your eyes wide as though you’re startled to see me. You’re still in your turtleneck and uniform pants and your hair is mussed, evidently from running your hands through it. I, on the other hand, am wearing a cotton dress and flat-soled shoes, and my hair is caught loosely with a clip.
We’ve been hiding from each other for too long – ducking and weaving and keeping each other guessing – and from this point forward I want no misinterpretations.
I smile at you, and you visibly relax and step back to allow me entry. It’s presumptuous, but I can see you’ve already opened a bottle of wine, and God knows I could use the liquid courage, so I pour each of us a glass and walk back to you, still standing in the middle of the room.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” you admit, after we’ve each sipped and put down our glasses.
“It seems you weren’t sure which version of me you’d be getting, either – the captain or Kathryn.” I gesture at your half-donned uniform. “So let me be clear, Chakotay. I’ve watched your logs. I heard everything you said. And the only thing that matters to me is that despite all the many reasons you had to doubt me, in the end you trust me,” my voice wavers as I draw in a breath, “and you love me.”
I feel you go still, every muscle tensed, and I know that I hold you in the palm of my hand. You’ve laid everything on the line for me, now and always, and this is the time to accept it once and for all.
This is the moment.
Stepping closer, I raise one hand to rest against your chest and finish shakily, “And I love you.”
Your smile blooms slowly, like a sunrise, and for a long moment we simply stand there grinning at each other, letting the knowledge settle into our bones until something changes – a shift in pressure, a flutter of my heart – and the anticipation begins to build. My fingers curl into the fabric of your shirt, my body drifting closer. Your hands rise, one to my hip where your thumb strokes slowly, warm through the thin cotton of my dress; the other catching my free hand and twining our fingers together.
Heat spirals from your gliding fingers on my hip, stroking upward to my waist and higher. I disentangle our joined hands to reach up, my fingers pushing into your hair, my other hand sliding downward, over your abdomen. You spread your hand across my back. We sway ever closer. If there was music we’d be dancing, but the only sounds in the room are the soft swish of hands over fabric, and the quickening of our breath. I’m already trembling, my skin prickling with each oblique touch.
And still we haven’t kissed.
“Chakotay,” I murmur, drifting so close that our thighs bump and tangle.
Your fingers dip lower on the small of my back and your voice is a silken rumble in my ear. “Yes, Captain?”
“I think that considering what we’re about to do,” I push my hand beneath your turtleneck to flatten on your hot skin, “you should call me Kathryn.”
You suck in a breath, one hand tangling in the hair at my nape and tilting my head back. The naked want in your eyes kicks the slow, delicious build-up into high gear. “And what is it we’re about to do … Kathryn?”
“Well, I know it’s been awhile for both of us,” I manage, curling my fingers around your belt, “but as I recall, first you kiss me, and the next part usually involves a bed –”
You cut me off, your lips descending on mine with a ferocity that takes my last breath. Mouths open and tongues tangle; hands glide over clothes and then beneath them. I stumble backward, blind, the nudge of your hips guiding me toward your bedroom. Hands knock and fumble as we each hasten to shed the other’s clothing. My dress tears. Pieces of it float to the floor and you growl in triumph, your hands mapping the expanse of skin you’ve managed to reveal. I have you bare from the waist up, my fingers wrestling with the fastening of your pants, when you clutch my thighs and hoist me upward, my legs spreading around you as you lay me on the bed.
Then you’re drawing back to strip off your pants, but before I can scramble to regain contact you’re back, your body pressing between my thighs. You frame my face with your hands and lean down to kiss me lightly, lusciously, deliberately slowing the pace. You lean on one elbow, watching my face as your fingers trail over my collarbones, along the edge of my bra. One fingertip traces my nipple, hard and visible under the satin. My entire body ripples, and I suck in a breath.
“Take it off,” I breathe.
You don’t need to be told twice. In moments we’re both naked. Your fingers trail shivers over my skin, my lips finding the places on your body that make you gasp. Slowly, artfully, you bring me spiralling up, your hands deft and your mouth eager. Holding my hips, you shift me and press and pull me, your lips playing over me until the pleasure is so intense I cry out.
While the breath is still catching in my chest, I tug at your arms until you move up my body. I’m so eager for you I’m clutching at your hips, pressing my heels into your back, but you hold yourself above me until I look into your eyes. Don’t rush this, they’re telling me.
So I loosen my hold on you and let you lead the dance, turning my focus inward to the sensation of you entering me. The stretch and push, the resistance, the glide and fullness –it’s everything I ever imagined and more.
Bodies locked, we move together. It’s slow at first – you’re careful, not wanting to hurt me – but I urge you on with gasps and pleas. My heartbeat picks up. Your strokes deepen and hasten. I clutch at your shoulders, my fingernails leaving red crescent-shaped marks. Perspiration slicks our skin. Your breath tickles my ear as you whisper words to me – hot words, words that make me flush and whimper. I’m so close… and then you shift against me and the angle, the pressure is perfect. I barely have the time to catch my breath before the fizzing pleasure explodes into brilliant points of light.
The sound you make as you follow me almost brings me to a second peak.
Much later, when we’ve pushed our bodies almost past endurance and all we can do is hold each other, I turn to press my lips to your chest, just above your heart.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“For not trusting you, either.” I rest my chin on your chest and look into your eyes. Dark eyes, familiar and patient and devoted. The eyes of my dreams, not my fevered, devilish imaginings.
“Shh, Kathryn,” you soothe, your fingers tangling in my hair. “Sleep.”
And with your arms safe around me, I do.