When they asked him what he remembered of that day, his answer was always nothing.
The constant questions were like prodding an aching tooth, and all Harry wanted was for it to stop. He answered with a litany of I don’t know or I don’t remember, and eventually, it did. Dissociative amnesia, the counselors decided after several rounds of fruitless questions, and the diagnosis was entered into his medical file. It helped that he had hit his head when the Delta Flyer came out of the slipstream, and that the blow had been enough to render him unconscious, which made the diagnosis more believable.
The return to Earth had been the worst part of the journey. When the slipstream finally released them, back in the Sol system and just past the orbit of Jupiter, it did so with a violent jolt that sent Harry tumbling to the ground. He slammed his head hard on a console on the way down, and was revived briefly by a bloodied Chakotay once the Delta Flyer had entered orbit around Earth. Chakotay had only had his face smashed into his own console, which broke his nose but otherwise left him uninjured. He tried to keep Harry conscious until the medical teams arrived, but failed, and Harry didn’t wake up again for two days. He hadn’t seen Chakotay since.
Harry wished that the physical and mental trauma were enough to give him dissociative amnesia, but the truth of the matter was, he remembered every damn detail of the day. Remembered especially coming up with the calculations - the wrong calculations - and transmitting them to Voyager. Remembered the punch-kick feeling in his gut and the cold dread that stole over him as the comm link was severed. Remembered Chakotay’s warm hands pushing him away, telling him that they couldn’t go back for the ship. Yeah, he remembered everything, to the point where if he thought about it too hard, it sent him rushing for the head so he could be sick.
His parents visited him every day in the hospital; stayed long past visiting hours were over. They got away with it because of who he was, because this was the only story being covered on any of the news reports, the only story on everyone’s lips. Harry had imagined their reunion countless times, had used it as a comfort on his worst days in the Delta Quadrant, and now he wished it hadn’t happened at all. He’d give all this up, if he could. If it would mean that Voyager had never entered that slipstream in the first place. If it meant that everyone he had grown to care for over the past four years wasn’t dead, and that he was still there with them.
The diagnosis of dissociative amnesia wasn’t enough to keep the counselors away, as it turned out. They continued to visit him at Starfleet Medical, and when he was released from that facility, they paid him home visits.
How do you feel? they’d ask while sitting in Harry’s childhood bedroom with him, a room he’d barely left since his parents brought him home.
Like all my friends are dead, he’d answer.
Survivor’s guilt, they’d say sagely, as though those two words were enough to solve all his anguish.
No shit, he’d tell them.
His mother was his link to the outside world, and she brought him news along with his meals. It was through her that he found out about his promotion - Starfleet was making him a lieutenant, and when he was well again, he would have his pick of any post in the Federation. She also told him of all the ceremonies happening throughout the quadrant - celebrations and memorials alike. The Voyager crew was being mourned anew, but their families sought comfort in the fact that their loved ones had lived for four years longer than first believed. That they had forged on in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. That, for the most part, they had been happy, and lived with a sense of purpose.
Harry’s presence was requested at Starfleet’s formal service for the Voyager crew, held in San Francisco exactly one month after their return. He declined the invitation. His mother brought him lunch that day and sat on his bed with him, flipping on the holo-screen just in time to see Commander Chakotay take the stage in front of a sea of uniformed dignitaries. Harry’s stomach turned over as he took in his former commanding officer, the sole person in the galaxy who understood what it was like in his head right now. Or the only person who came close, at any rate. Chakotay, after all, hadn’t been the one to kill everyone they cared about. No wonder he hadn’t bothered to speak to Harry since their return.
“That poor man,” his mother said softly as Chakotay began his speech. He was stone-faced and bleary-eyed, but his voice was steady. Whenever the cameras panned over the crowd, Harry saw that everyone in attendance was misty-eyed. “The burden he must carry.”
“Yeah?” Harry said absently, thinking - as he did countless times a day - of Tom. He’d never been able to confirm it, but he’d long suspected that his friend been involved with Chakotay, in whatever way commitment-phobic Tom could handle. He’d lost his best friend, and that hurt like hell, but if Chakotay had lost a lover - well, no wonder he couldn’t face being in the same room as Harry.
“I can’t imagine,” his mother went on, shaking her head. “Knowing that you were the one to send the wrong phase corrections to the ship… he must be going through hell. He’ll probably never forgive himself for his mistake.”
It took a moment for Harry to process the words and figure out exactly what his mother was saying.
“What do you mean, his mistake?” he asked, trepidation pooling in his stomach.
“Oh, honey.” She rubbed his arm. “Of course, you don’t remember. It’s just - that’s why you were in the Delta Flyer in the first place. You were supposed to go ahead of Voyager, and one of you fed them calculations while the other piloted the shuttle. But your commander got one of his calculations wrong, and, well…”
She trailed off. Harry felt lightheaded.
“Computer, turn off the broadcast,” he ordered woodenly. He set aside the soup she had brought him, untouched. “Please go, Mom.”
“I need to be alone. Just go.”
When she had retreated, Harry sat up in bed and buried his face in his hands. He couldn’t believe this. Of all the stupid things - why had Chakotay gone and told them that, of all things? Why had he accepted the blame for the most horrid thing Harry had ever done? His career was shot for good, that was for sure. Starfleet wouldn’t keep a man on who they thought had sent an entire starship to its demise. And no piloting school in the Federation worth its salt would accept him on as an instructor, not with a blunder like that on his record. His life was over, the way that Harry’s should have been.
Harry pushed himself out of bed, grabbed some clothes off the floor, and stumbled off towards the bathroom.
Chakotay was staying in an apartment in San Francisco not thirty minutes from the Academy. Harry had to wait until the evening for a spot on one of the cross-continent shuttles, and he arrived at Chakotay’s building just after nine. He had to ask the concierge for Chakotay’s apartment number, and the man was about to refuse - but then recognition stole over his face, and Harry sighed inwardly. Their faces had been splashed all over the media upon their return. Of course he would be recognized here, especially since he was asking after Chakotay. But at least it worked to his advantage, and moments later he was speeding up to the ninth floor in one of the lifts.
Harry pressed the chime twice on Chakotay’s door. As the silence stretched on, a sick feeling grew in the pit of his stomach. Maybe Chakotay was out with all those admirals and dignitaries he had been addressing earlier in the day. Perhaps he had family in the area - did he have living family? Harry didn’t know. What seemed clear, though, was that Chakotay was getting on with his life. And Harry was standing still, adrift, completely alone. The only life he wanted was back in the Delta Quadrant, a place he’d fought so hard to leave. How was that for irony?
The door slid open abruptly, startling him out of his thoughts, and he stared at Chakotay. Dressed in civvies with his hair damp from a recent shower, Chakotay looked… diminished, somehow. Harry had only ever seen him in his Starfleet uniform or his Maquis leathers, and sometimes in the boxing outfits he wore to the holodeck. Never in something casual like this, when he wasn’t playing a role of some kind. He was just… Chakotay.
“Lieutenant,” Chakotay greeted after a beat of silence.
“Don’t call me that,” Harry said.
“Okay.” Chakotay considered him for a moment. “Do you want to -”
“You took the fall for me?” Harry interrupted, anger overriding his surprise.
“Did you take the fall for me?”
“Look, I thought -”
“I can’t believe you would be so stupid!”
“I’d really like to be able to finish a sentence here, Harry,” Chakotay said mildly. He gestured inside the apartment. “Come in. Please. You’ll wake the neighbors.”
Harry considered refusing, but then Chakotay might not to talk to him altogether, so he grudgingly stepped into the apartment. The doors hissed shut behind him.
“I thought you didn’t remember any of it,” Chakotay told him. He gave a small shrug. “The doctors said you had amnesia, and I thought, well, what was the harm? I’d tell them the whole story, but switch our roles at the end. I entered the calculations, you piloted the shuttle.”
“That makes no damn sense and you know it. You’re the best pilot we have, aside from -” Harry broke off, feeling nauseated as he thought of Tom again. The blood suddenly fled from his head. Chakotay gripped his elbow, steered him into a chair. “They won’t believe it.”
“They did,” Chakotay said gently.
“Your career -”
“So they won’t put me on a vessel ever again. As though I have any desire to go into space anytime soon. Though I think that has more to do with my past as a Maquis than anything else. They were pretty understanding, all things considered, when I told them about transmitting the wrong phase corrections.” Chakotay shrugged again. “I thought it would be better, if you didn’t remember, to not burden you with knowing that…”
He trailed off.
“I remember it all just fine, thanks,” Harry snapped at him. “You can stop trying to protect me.”
He spat the word. Chakotay considered him for a moment, then walked over to the replicator and ordered two cups of tea. Harry took in his surroundings. His own room looked much as it had eight years ago, filled with memorabilia from his interests at that time. All of his belongings had gone down with Voyager. He had come home with only the uniform on his back. Chakotay’s apartment, however, looked little different from his lodgings on Voyager.
“I’ve had this place since I first started teaching at the Academy,” Chakotay said, noticing Harry’s stare as he came back over with two steaming cups of tea in hand. He gave one to Harry. “My sister took over its upkeep when I joined the Maquis. I think she hoped I would see sense and return one day. And when we were declared lost, she just couldn’t give it up. Worked out well, I guess. I have everything I need, though I can’t wear most of the clothes I left behind. Turns out I’ve gained some weight over the years. Can’t fit into most of my shirts.”
He gave an awkward, self-deprecating little smile.
“I don’t understand,” Harry said softly, dropping his gaze to his mug. “What’s going to happen now?”
Chakotay pulled up a chair. “They’re giving me a desk job. Officially, I’ve been cleared of any wrong-doing. Unofficially, I’m sure they plan to never put me on the deck of a ship again. We are at war, after all. So I’ll keep this place and stay in Starfleet, and keep my ear to the ground in case any news about our ship comes through the grapevine.”
Harry looked at him. Chakotay was so calm about it all. As though he’d just misfiled some paperwork on accident, rather than witnessed the death of his crew. And taken the fall for it, to boot.
“How do you do it?” Harry asked finally. “How do you even manage to get out of bed?”
Chakotay’s features twisted for a moment, and the brief flash of pain almost caused Harry to look away again. “I do it for you.”
“It’s my job to look out for you.”
Harry snorted. “No offense, but you aren’t my commanding officer anymore. And it’s not like you’ve -”
He stopped himself before he could get the rest of the sentence out, but Chakotay seemed to pick up on his meaning well enough. He looked ashamed.
“Yeah,” he said quietly, and then he took a sip of tea. “I know. I should’ve come to see you, but I didn’t know what to say.”
“You didn’t know what to say?” Harry was suddenly angry again. “I’m the one who killed everyone we cared about!”
“No,” Chakotay said swiftly. “You don’t know that.”
“Oh, for God’s sake -”
“No, listen to me, Harry,” Chakotay said, suddenly earnest. “This is what I wanted to come see you about eventually. We might as well talk about it now. You’ve got your choice of any posting in Starfleet right now - and I think you should take one of the deep-space missions. The Imogen and the Lichfield, for instance, would be good posts. Anything that’s out on the fringes of our borders.”
Harry took a moment to process this - then, understanding hit him. “You think I could look for Voyager.”
“Yes,” Chakotay said. “I’m not convinced they’re dead. It’s entirely possible that the slipstream damaged them heavily when it threw them out, but that doesn’t mean they were destroyed. Not unless they were thrown into the path of a planet and crash-landed. But the odds of that are so slim they aren’t even worth considering. I think they’re still out there - and, with any luck, closer to home than we could have imagined.”
He got up and went over to his desk, where he retrieved a PADD and brought it over to Harry.
“I’ve worked out the calculations, based on when they were thrown out of the slipstream. Given our speed at the time, I think that they were only a few parsecs from the Alpha Quadrant. We don’t have any ships out that far, of course, but it’s entirely possible they’re at least within sensor range. And, if not, maybe a few modifications to a ship’s existing sensors would do the trick.”
“Starfleet’s looking for them, too,” Harry pointed out slowly, but he was quickly warming to the idea. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself?
Chakotay snorted softly. “I’d prefer to have one of us on the front lines, so to speak. Wouldn’t you?”
“Good,” Chakotay said with a decisive nod. “Let me know what ship you end up deciding on. And if you need a reference – well, I can’t guarantee that my word will carry that much weight, but I’ll do my best.”
He gave another one of those awkward little smiles, and Harry wanted to hit him. Everyone they knew was dead, and here he was chatting about Harry’s job prospects. Instead, Harry took a long sip of the hot tea, wrestling down his anger. Chakotay did the same, and then he peered at Harry.
“How are you doing?” he asked after a long silence.
“How do you think?” Harry snapped. Chakotay nodded.
“They have you seeing any counselors?”
Harry snorted. “As though it helps. It’s not as though they can bring back everyone I killed.”
“You didn’t kill anyone, Harry,” Chakotay said quietly. “Even if the ship is truly gone, it’s not your fault. The captain approved your idea, and the crew accepted the risks. It’s not as though you did anything deliberately.”
“You didn’t approve the idea. You thought it was too risky,” Harry snapped. Chakotay looked surprised, so Harry elaborated. “The captain told me. I think she was trying to reassure me, trying to show me she had absolute faith in my plan. Turns out, she should have listened to you.”
“I’m sorry she shared that with you,” Chakotay said finally. “It wasn’t anything against you, Harry.”
“Yeah.” Harry finished off his tea, then got up and placed the mug back in the replicator for recycling. “You seem to be handling things pretty well.”
It came out harsh, which he supposed he had intended. A flinch passed across Chakotay’s features before they went blank again.
“Yeah, well, those meds they provide are pretty strong,” he said quietly. Harry blinked at him.
“They’ve got you on something?”
Chakotay shrugged. “Not as much as I was on to begin with. I was pretty much catatonic that first week. My sister had to come stay with me full-time. I can get by most days without anything now, but I couldn’t face that speech this morning without something. I don’t remember much of what I said, to be honest. Came back here right after and slept off most of the dosage, but I guess it’s still lingering.”
“It was a good speech,” Harry said, when he couldn’t think of anything else to say to that.
“Was it? Thanks.” Chakotay peered at him for a moment. “Were you there? Sorry, I really don’t remember…”
“No, I watched from home. You think you couldn’t face that crowd?” Harry shook his head. “Listen, I should probably go.”
Not that he had anywhere to be, but what else was there to talk about? Chakotay nodded and rose, walking with him to the door.
“Door’s always open to you, Harry.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, knowing that he didn’t mean it. Chakotay was positively placid right now, but that would change when the remnants of the drugs finally left his system.
But Chakotay caught his elbow, holding him back as he turned to leave. “I mean it, Harry. You’re welcome here any time. Day or night, I don’t care.”
“Yeah, you do.” Harry pulled his arm from Chakotay’s grasp. “But thanks anyway, Commander.”
He turned and left without another word, the phantom touch of Chakotay’s hand lingering on his arm all the way back to the shuttleport.