I don't know what I'm doing here. Torturing myself mostly. And yet I had to come to this dark, damp place. I stare through the bars which blur together in my vision – stare into the space behind them – barely lit from a tiny window at the top of the wall.
My eyes are drawn to the dirty cot in the corner, the only item breaking the bare, cold floor space. A violent shiver passes through me and I want to scream but my throat refuses to co-operate.
So cold. So empty. I stare into the cell where, in pain and so alone, Kathryn Janeway died.
I sense someone entering the corridor - peripherally see them stand beside me. At first I say nothing – can't speak.
"It wasn't your fault, Chakotay."
I try to control my breathing and eventually succeed to some degree. My voice sounds broken when I speak.
"Wasn't it? It's my job – my duty – to protect my captain. I failed."
There are no words of comfort to be offered. I think she knew they'd be rejected anyway but felt she had to try. I close my eyes - words swimming in my mind. Tuvok's report – devoid of emotion – always the cold, hard facts. Precise and so very Vulcan. The details – how we came to this world to trade with these people, our ship in desperate need of supplies – how friendly they all seemed, eager to exchange knowledge with us - how they offered a tour of their city and how the captain refused to listen to her First Officer and take a security detail with her at all times.
And then the Doctor's report – so clinical – many of his words beyond my comprehension – medical terms – but underneath his words – his anger. Something I could understand. How precise his details of her injuries.
Oh and I know all those details now but they don't help lessen the pain – don't alleviate the terrible images in my mind. We know now how the Junior Trade Minister wanted our captain to leave her ship and marry him – totally irrational – smitten by her. How when she refused, he had her beamed to this cell. Perhaps he thought she'd change her mind or maybe he just didn't care. In the end, he couldn't take 'no' for an answer.
We also know how Kathryn being Kathryn – refused to accept her confinement. I wouldn't have expected anything else of her. The Doctor believes he beat her and she fought him. Her defensive injuries told their own story. He apparently went for his weapon, determined that if he couldn't have her, no one else would either. Kathryn fought for her life and somehow in the struggle, the weapon discharged, leaving her badly wounded. That bastard panicked and left her here – left her to die in pain and alone.
I was the one who stood here and saw her body on that filthy excuse for a mattress after a guard, hearing the commotion, summoned help.
It's all too much. Anger and bitterness and pain erupt inside me – combining together to produce an explosive mix. I let it come and it drowns me – overwhelms me and I don't fight it. I need to release it – perhaps subconsciously. Release or madness.
I scream out and turn – grabbing the woman beside me – crush her to me – forcing the air from her lungs. She allows it, knowing I need this.
And finally I lose the strength - my arms falling limply from her. I stare down at her and see my own pain reflected in her eyes. My hands rise slowly and I take her face between them – my gentleness a total contrast to my earlier brute force.
"Kathryn - if you ever put me through that again..."
She smiles sadly up at me but I see her pain – the pain the memories cause her – her sorrow also – for the pain she knows all this has caused me.
It should be enough but it isn't.
"If that guard hadn't… If the Doctor hadn't been able to bring you back to us… If…" My voice breaks and I turn away – stare back into the mouth of hell – back through those bars – to the stains on the floor and cot left by her blood.
I feel her hand on my arm – warm now – not cold as it was when we found her.
"I can't undo it, Chakotay. I wish I could. I know I should have listened to you – should have seen what he was…"
I turn back to her. My love for this woman is suddenly replaced by red, hot anger. Some insane part of me wants to lash out at her – let her feel a fraction of the pain I felt.
"You have no idea, Kathryn. I stood here and saw your body lying on that filthy cot – saw your blood. The guard raised the alarm and I was first here. I stood here and saw your body through these bars – unable to get to you. And then the others came and got the door open and the Doctor – I heard his words – heard him tell us that you were dead."
She stands before me, eyes awash with tears but somehow they don't move me. I'm incapable of feeling anything through this blind rage and pain. Her words are a mere whisper.
"I know. You ran."
I turn away again – my voice a little calmer now.
"Tom found me. He told me they'd managed to get you back to Voyager – get your heart beating again."
She reaches for me once more – her hand so soft and warm. I try and pull away but the smallness of her hand belies her strength and she holds on.
"I know. Tom told me how you almost collapsed. He got you back to the ship."
I stare down at the floor.
"I learned it all then. I wanted to go after that bastard…"
She lets go of my arm.
"He beat you to it – took his own life…"
She moves to stand in front of me now – blocking my view of the cell.
"Chakotay – it's over. He was mentally ill. The Government here can't apologize enough. I know the pain you still feel but it's time to begin the healing. We can heal together…"
She takes my hand and gently pulls me towards the exit and I allow it, despite the pull of this place. I don't understand that. This place is my hell and outside is a way forward. Darkness and light. But the darkness has a strange pull on us and it's easy to get caught within its grasp, staring into its abyss. We need someone to pull us towards the light.
I move with her – towards that light – back to our life – back to our ship and our family. We pass through the door and I stop briefly and look back – a dangerous thing to do. I take one last look at the cell and I know I'll take it with me and that it'll live with me for many nights. Only the woman beside me can banish those nightmares.