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Prologue
by august


We're both pretending we're asleep. She's lying next to me and I can almost hear her mind whirling. She won't stay in bed long. Long enough for me to fall asleep and then she'll shrug the sheet off and slip out into the main room. I used to follow her, crowd her, tease the problem out from her.

Now I just let her go.

I have to, there is nothing else I can do.

But tonight is different. I wait for that moment where she slips out of bed, and it doesn't come. She lies still, not moving a muscle and lets it all wash over her -- and it won't leave. She won't let it go.

We received a distress call today, from a planet heavily involved in civil war. Hoping to use our guilt as their savior, they sent us images from the refugee camps. Horrible, horrible stuff. They probably didn't realise how lucky they were in finding us, above others. We were still a Starfleet vessel, in our way... but we were populated by a ship full of freedom fighters, mercenaries, and a Starfleet Captain who has broken every rule in the book -- as Kathryn said, long ago: "Weird is part of the job." We had to make our own rules, now.

I can only imagine what she is thinking right now. How many lives she is sending to the grave, because we can't save them all - and the survivors would damn us more. And the fact that sometimes we just *can't* act, we can't spread ourselves all over this damn Quadrant. . .

Four years ago, the Captain of Voyager would have cited the Prime Directive and moved along. Hell, even a year ago this wouldn't be a problem. But five years out here, and a Maquis Captain as her lover have changed Captain Janeway. They've even changed Kathryn.

And moving past those planets becomes harder every time.

In two days we will have traveled far enough for this not to be an issue. In two days it will not be a matter of turning back. But two days is a long time, and she feels it all . . .

"Kathryn?" I venture hesitantly.

"Not tonight, Chakotay," she replies, after a while.

"Are you . . ." I don't even finish my sentence before she has sat up and slid out of bed. I watch her leave, wondering whether this is one of those times where I should just *let her go*.

When I finally go out to her, she's not sitting on the couch. The two endearing images of my troubled Kathryn: knees drawn up to her chin, staring in to the darkness or standing in front of that view-port, interrogating the stars.

I found her staring at the coffee cup sitting in the replicator.

"Do you want to talk about this?" I began, my voice intruding upon the silence.

"No." She picked up the cup and turned to me.

"We did the right thing, Kathryn. Voyager couldn't have-"

"-No, I don't want to hear it," she repeated, tucking her legs underneath her on the couch. I sat at the other end and watched her.

Sometimes all you really need is someone to hold off that silence around you. I sat with her for an hour before she turned to me.

"We can't go back there," she said, sipping the third drink.

"No."

"We don't have the energy to spare."

"No."

"And the Prime Directive, you know."

"I know." I echoed, drawing her to me. Knowing that she didn't believe those words. Knowing that I didn't believe them. But knowing that it was easier to justify our inaction than to put ourselves through that, knowing that we couldn't fix the problem for the entire planet. We couldn't. And - oh, yes - that way we'd also be obeying the Prime Directive. As if that was a good enough reason....

She put the cup on the table and turned back to me.

"Kath-"

"-Ssh," she interrupts, leaning against my chest. "Don't say anything, not about that. I can't think about that tonight."

"-But."

"Just talk to me, Chakotay."

"-But."

"Please. Just . . . tell me a story."

I heard that tone in her voice that told me this was crunch time. I heard the uncertainty and I knew that if it scares me, it terrifies her.

And so I speak slowly to my lover. I weave stories for her of people she knows, and people she can't. I speak to her in tones that promise a morning; I tell her stories that remind her there has always been a morning, no matter what the night was like.

I speak so that she knows we are alive.

* * *

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