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Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, but I’m borrowing them so I can give them what they need.

“Breathe, Kathryn, breathe! Don’t you die on me! Kathryn! No!”

The body in my arms grew cold and I felt her wither away into nothingness. My brave and beautiful woman warrior. Gone. Forever. Tears streamed down my face but I did not feel them. All I could feel was the emptiness, the nothingness, of life without the woman I had come to love so deeply that I could not imagine a day without her. I felt her body in my arms, but I no longer felt her presence. But I couldn’t do it…I couldn’t let her go.

I screamed her name…

I awoke, screaming, covered in sweat. I knew I would not sleep any more tonight. I prayed that nobody had heard me through the walls, though if they knew what we had just been through, down there on that planet, they probably wouldn’t blame me.

But there was no reason for them to know, no reason to give them one more opportunity to see their captain as weak. No: she must remain invincible, as much as possible, in their eyes. And I, too, must remain strong…for them, and for her.

But she knows…she knows I am not as strong as she is. She knows that most of the crew is not as strong as she is, and has extended a helping hand to the majority of them at one time or another.

To me, she presented an extra special offer. It was written on a piece of paper, which she hastily snuck into my hand at an opportune moment after a difficult mission, then, as I looked up at her questioningly, shook her head as if to say, not now.

Later, in my quarters, I unwrapped the tiny note, only to find a sequence of numbers and letters…

At once, I realized she had given me the code to her quarters. I was reminded of times when ladies…so many pretty ladies…had given me their comm numbers, even written them on my hand from time to time. I relished the attention, and occasionally even called them, but inevitably they were not what I needed or desired. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.

Kathryn Janeway was not an Orion slave girl in a seedy bar. This had to be different. I turned over the note, and found, scrawled almost illegibly: Anything you need. Anytime.

I don’t think you mean anything, Captain…

I scowled as I pondered the offer. We’d recently returned from New Earth, when we’d barely been rescued in time to avoid moving past our friendship into messier waters…literally and figuratively.

“That’s all right. I’ll have the river.”

I couldn’t help but picture her skinny-dipping in that river, not caring what I could see…and I knew at once that she meant it innocently. We were two human beings on a deserted planet, and had no prescribed social mores to follow, beyond what we personally needed to function and to be comfortable. She wasn’t thinking of seducing me then, and she wasn’t thinking of it now.

This was nothing more than an answer to my awkwardly-worded Angry Warrior Legend. I’d vowed to make her burdens lighter, and she was returning the favor. She was letting me know that she was there for support.

I suppose she didn’t extend a similar offer to the rest of the crew because she couldn’t function as captain while constantly being bombarded by middle-of-the-night requests for aid and comfort. I immediately felt special.

She wouldn’t come to me…she couldn’t, not and maintain her authority…but I could come to her.

And now, shaking and sweating in my bed, I thought about what I needed.

I need to know she’s alive. To verify it with my own eyes.

I contemplated what I was about to do and decided that it fit within the letter, if not the spirit, of her offer.

I had better not get caught.

I got up, then, and threw on a tunic over my boxer shorts. I didn’t want to look like a predator, just in case.

Quietly, I peered around as I made my way down the hall. Getting caught by the captain would be one thing, but I definitely didn’t want to start any shipboard rumors. That could be disastrous for so many reasons.

I typed the code quickly. I’d recycled that piece of paper shortly after I’d gotten it, but the code was burned into my memory, and I was glad she hadn’t changed it.

As I would expect on any normal night…though tonight, I wasn’t so sure; her ordeal had been much worse than mine…her quarters were dark and quiet, and I crept into the bedroom to verify that she was, indeed, asleep.

She lay underneath the covers, so still, so peaceful…

I had to see her breathing, to feel the rise of her chest against my hand. To verify that she was, indeed, alive.

I crept up and knelt beside the bed, and reached a hand towards her, as slowly and cautiously as possible, belying the eagerness of my desired touch.

I had almost achieved my objective when suddenly her own arm shot out and, with surprising strength, her hand captured my wrist.

Oh no.

I couldn’t suppress my gasp as her eyes flew open.

I waited with intense trepidation for the eternity it took before she spoke my name in recognition and released my limb.

I thought she would be angry, but as she sat up, she reached out her hand to caress my face. “What’s wrong?”

Does she really not feel threatened by my presence, not at all? Or is she just hiding it well?

“I just needed to see you,” I admitted. “To know…that you’re all right.”

She nodded. “I don’t blame you, after what happened. I’ve watched you sleep before, too, when you were injured. The first time was when you came back from that away mission with Tuvok, and he was possessed by that alien, and your neural energy was floating about the ship…I came while you were recovering, just…watched you. I was so glad to have you back.”

I gulped guiltily. “I was in Sickbay,” I pointed out. “You didn’t go into my quarters.”

She gave me a strange look then, and suddenly I didn’t want to know. She didn’t tell me either. “It’s okay. I said you could come, anytime.”

I sighed with relief. She remembers.

“I should go,” I pointed out, suddenly ashamed of myself. “I shouldn’t have woken you.” I turned to leave.

She stopped me with a word, my name. “Chakotay.”

I turned back to her, and she was smiling slightly at me. She patted the bed next to her. “Join me?”

“Really?” I asked, incredulous.

She shrugged. “I doubt you’ll sleep any more otherwise, and a wise man once told me that the crew will not benefit from an exhausted leader. Besides, I could use the company. I…wasn’t exactly asleep myself.”

That would explain her quick capture of my arm.

I nodded, and began to get into her bed beside her, but stopped halfway. “Are you sure about this?”

She looked me squarely in the eye. “I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”

I was tempted to ask her to “define parameters” of this arrangement, but I was pretty sure I already knew what they were. Like the note I’d used as my excuse, her intentions were innocent. Now was not the time to kindle a romance; tonight was about being in each other’s presence, being reminded that we were both here, and alive.

I can live with that, I decided, then climbed the rest of the way under the covers and pulled her against me. With her back against my chest, and my arm around her waist, I felt her relax, and then shortly drifted off to sleep myself.

There were no more nightmares that night.

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