Chapter 14 - Midnight Walk Pt. 1

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If there is one thing Kyle could change about the layout of the Tanjura, is how incongruent the hallways feel. 

It’s not something he feels he could quantify, despite how much he wants to. How the hallways are always a step longer or shorter than it should be, or at least what he’s used too, but there would come a point it would surely even out? 

It had too, his body couldn’t have possibly remembered the layout of his previous post this badly. Despite his wandering habit, treading up and down the carpet with youthful exuberance that’s been replaced by older understanding and head pain.

Almost stepping into another wall that suddenly jutted out into a corner, he found himself gripping it, pressing it against his palm for the dullest sting. An attempt to clear the mind only ends in adding another sensation to the endless chorus in the deepest recesses of his mind, but it still fades, like smoke curling around the air. It never truly leaves, just becomes invisible. 

Continuing on his trek, having just been released from Sickbay after the treatment of his concussion, Nurse Rymnek discharged him with instructions to head to his quarters and rest… which is why he’s walking around the ship like a lost ghost. Eventually he’ll head to his quarters and face the damage this event must’ve done, but he just can’t right now, there’s too many reminders of too many actual ghosts to even try.

At least I’ve found a quiet part of the ship. Kyle thought at the start of a dark hallway, the lights knocked out or maybe not enough energy for such a benign area; it’s hard to truly care. His feet continuing automatically, soft footfalls and ringing inside his ears, he knows he should care.

He should care because he doesn’t know if the shadows care, if what’s inside the shadows care. He should care because he should know better- how many headaches will it take? 

But in the dark his eyes start to relax, the length of the hallway extending before him in a bastardization of growth, stopping him in his tracks. A step back only exacerbates despite logic and he wishes for a way out.

Frozen in place, the chill starts to seep into his bones, shadows taunting his peripheral vision. It’s such a cruel trick of sight he misses the real danger behind him, (that’s how it happened last time). Whiplashing around to emptiness encircling two squinting blue eyes staring death into Kyle’s, before disappearing into emergency lights failing to illuminate.

The sound that escapes him can’t be firmly placed as either a laugh or a cry, but despite how short and strangled it is, in the silence of this forever hallway, it’s like a phaser blast. 

Tomaasz stepped out of the turbolift on Deck 26, hardly paying attention to his steps. His crews had checked most of the shuttles’ dilithium crystals already, but he wanted to take another reading on one of the Type 9 shuttles. The secondary shuttle storage was at the far end of the deck from the passenger lift. To make the walk pass more enjoyably, he slipped into one of the Open Path linear dances. There was no one around to see him breaking with decorum, so he indulged in the full form. Spinning, ducking, and leaping, he even did a full forward roll down the corridor.

The lights dimmed as he passed the crew storage lockers. He barely paused; these lesser-used corridors were kept at lower illumination, but they were supposed to brighten when a crew member passed through. More repairs to note. The dim lighting did not slow him, of course. He did respond by shifting to the Moonlit Path dance. His already quiet movements became silent, his posture crouched. This was a dance of a nighttime hunt, one he did not get to practice often.

In the silence of his dance, as he passed the industrial replicators, he clearly heard the strangled sound of distress. His ears swiveled to locate the source as he dropped into a defensive crouch. His tail lashed in agitation. He had heard sounds like that before, in the aftermath of too many battles. There had been no intruder alert, should be no enemies near. But he still trusted his own senses more than any Starfleet sensors. And his ears were telling him that someone, a member of his crew, was in distress.

The Caitian swiftly stalked to the next side corridor, instinctively rolling across to crouch at the far side, searching for enemies and allies alike. He saw the wide-eyed, trembling figure halfway down the corridor. A moment later the sick stink of fear-sweat slammed into his nostrils. His ears flattened back, fangs bared in reaction. Then he caught a familiar scent under the fear.


No matter how much Kyle wanted to not flinch at the sound of his own name, it wasn’t meant to be, clearly. The old familiar taste of shame on the back of his tongue began to form, he didn’t recognize the voice and how that added to his fear; back facing this… stranger who’s recognized him in this moment of weakness. 

He knows he should do or say something, but frozen in place and staring down the barrel of the extending hallway, he could start running but knows he isn’t fast enough. But why would he run? He’s on the Tanjura, this could be someone who needs him, who needs their ship’s counselor to have a hold of his own faculties- let alone the rest of the ship’s. 

So why can’t he turn around? He wants to, he knows he should, and therefore… he should already be face to face with whoever called out to him. But he isn’t, eyes getting more and more used to the darkness. Shadows dancing down the length with the broken lights that try to light but fail like dying lightning bugs. 

His focus split between what he can see and speculating what is behind him, his sense of time is distorted so that he’s not sure if this is all just happening within a few sporadic seconds or if it’s stretching out longer than that. It’s all feeling so over complicated for what’s supposed to be such a simple movement. 

Seeing his friend flinch at the sound of his own name made Tomaasz glance around and sniff the air for any sign of who or what had caused such distress. His ears swiveled, taking in the minute sounds of a starship at rest. Even as he searched for danger, he knew he would not find it out here. Not in the corridor, not on this ship, not in this sector or even this time. Unless he was very mistaken, what had Kyle too frozen to even look over his shoulder was within the counselor’s head, heart, and past.

Straightening, the Caitian moved forward ever so slowly. He forced his body to relax, to release every aspect of the hunter and be only the friend. Part of him wanted desperately to com for a med team, but another scent stayed his hand. The scent of shame mingled with the fear. He could well imagine how he would feel to be found in such a state. He would not deliver that insult to his friend’s pride unless there was no alternative. 

He knew that Kyle had fought in the war, even though they had never spoken directly of their wartime experiences to each other. There was no knowing what memories he was trapped in. All he could think to do was to let Kyle know that he was not alone, that someone understood what he had been through. That being damaged by the war did not make him less.

The most dangerous part would be getting his friend to look at him. To actually see him. And to do that without spooking him further. When he was just outside of arm’s reach, he prepared to speak as quietly and as gently as he possibly could.

At that moment, the emergency lights on the bulkhead behind him flared bright blue. The brief glare cast distorted shadows of himself, all pointed ears, reaching hand, and long tail, onto the deck around Kyle.

All that was missing from the moment was a dash of lightning and crack of thunder to complete the monstrous portrait. Kyle felt himself fall off of the tiny precipice he’d carved for himself within the flashback. 

“No!” A strangled shout dies in the void he’s falling into, last words before a free fall.

Without that one piece of reality to tie him down, his mind was finally allowed to roam free, and it took the chance. Because he had finally been given another chance, he’d actually caught the shadow in time, and so it means he wasn’t going to be caught unaware, not again. 

Before he could feel the stinging of claws or a sudden tightness around his throat or even just a cracked skull; Kyle runs. 

His heavy footfalls thumping down the hallway, this forever hallway that he could use to at least get some distance between him and the creature. The dying lights catching hooks in the corner of his eyes, he’s not stopping but he’s getting this sinking feeling of being overwhelmed. 

That somewhere deep within the hallways of a Starship, a monster has already made itself comfortable. Blue and silent, with its long limbs reaching towards him, ready to catch him like a cat kills a mouse. 

Tomaasz found himself running after his fleeing friend out of pure instinct. Though his rational mind knew that feeding Kyle’s fears by pursuing him was the worst thing to do, he couldn’t just let him dash into a bulkhead. Or worse. So he ran.

It was difficult to keep pace with the panicked headlong flight. As their holodeck exercise session had shown, Kyle kept in good condition. And adrenaline lent his feet wings. Then the hatchway to shuttle storage loomed ahead. There were too many things in there that could harm a running man who did not see where he was. No time to think, only to act.

A coiled-spring leap launched the Caitian forward and up, over Kyle’s head. Landing in a roll, he came to his paws just short of the hatch. Bracing himself for the inevitable impact, he locked eyes with his friend. “Kyle, stop! It’s Tomaasz!” His last thought before the collision was to wonder whether this door would open in time.

Kyle could feel his lungs starting to burn, improper breathing but at least he’s still breathing. The tightness of the hallway unallowing him to try and dip and dodge, so he’s just continuing down the same path. Flying past the twisting shadows and dead eyes, squinting ahead, he almost wonders if there’s something that’s changed-

Until the sudden appearance of Tomaasz takes precedence, his eyes widening against the bracing yellow-green, it’s an emergency break to the downward spiral inside him and he wishes he was a few feet back. His feet a rough slide on the carpet as he tries his best to stop; to not collide with his friend. 

But it doesn’t work, chest to chest, Kyle feels them start to fall and instinctively wraps his arms around Tomaasz, hoping it’s enough of a cushion when the door he didn’t see opens up behind them and they fall inside in a heap of fear and limbs, the wind knocked out of him, he can’t do anything for a few moments but take in all the air that he can. 

Even braced as he was, Tomaasz could not readily check the inertia of Kyle’s body crashing into him. He yielded with the impact with a huff of expelled breath. The hatch opening had probably saved him from cracked ribs, and gave him room to guide his friend gently to the ground.

Or he would have, except the heavier man had wrapped him in a bear hug. Both of them trying to shield the other resulted in a tangle of limbs slamming into the deck. They managed to keep each other’s heads from hitting the unyielding surface, at least.

Nearly a minute passed in quiet broken only by gasping and groans. At last the Caitian opened a yellow-green eye, squinting to focus on Kyle’s too-close face. “We have” *huff* “to stop” *huff* “meeting like this.”

Normally Kyle would laugh at that, or at least crack a smile. His humor usually out-winning his shame, he’d even make a joke back at himself, a tiny desperate search for another’s laugh, another’s distraction from himself. But, he found he didn’t have it in him. 

His mind is still in a whiplash, from haunting memories to sprinting to the sudden physical pressure from tackling his friend. His fur is so soft. Kyle couldn’t stop himself from thinking, just another thought drifting around him, trying to piece it all back together. 

Staring into yellow-green surrounded by red, a small part of him is reminded of the beginning stirrings of autumn within the mountains, a familiar kaleidoscope to lead him back up towards the sky he’s floating around in. 

“I-i didn’t realize we had plans..” An admittedly weak reply, but he finally starts to feel his limbs again and begins to disentangle from the Caitain. 

“Ships passing in the night,” Tomaasz said. Pushing himself upright, he gave a short hiss at a twinge from the arm he had wrenched on the bridge. “In an asteroid field,” he amended.

Kyle couldn’t say anything at first, moving into a sitting position, while his mind was overtaken with the hiss of pain Tomaasz let out. Adding guilt to the pile of emotions he stands upon-sits upon rather. It’s a reminder of how he watched his friend almost tear his arm out of socket catching another crew member, and now he’s basically tackled him, he hopes he didn’t do anymore damage.

Dragging himself to his paws, Tomaasz offered a hand to Kyle. When both men were more or less steady on their legs, he looked his friend in the eyes. “So what brings you all the way down here fresh out of Sickbay?” he asked gently.

Kyle felt the urge to look away, to hide, but he didn’t. He already tried to run and what good did it do him, besides possibly injuring his friend, the least he could do is be honest. Taking a beat to collect his tongue, his words before continuing.

“I… was taking a walk, I just couldn’t return to my quarters, I was too restless.” More like his feet kept moving and he didn’t have the energy to fight against it, long since learned that it’s better to just let his body do what it wants. 

“Speaking of, just where is ‘here’?” For the first time, taking into account his location, he has no real clue of where he’s ended up, besides it being within the depths of the ship. He’s been trying to memorize or at least familiarize himself with what he can, but one needs to be paying attention for it to work. (An old memory, a better one than before). 

Pulling a pair of storage crates out of an alcove, Tomaasz took a seat on one. Gesturing to the other, he waited until his friend sat down opposite. “We’re on Deck 26, in Secondary Shuttle Storage. I came down here to check the crystals on one of the Type 9’s. And it’s a good thing I did.”

He paused for a moment. When he continued, his voice was low and gentle. “Do you think you can talk about it? One tired old soldier to another?” His eyes were open and understanding, his ears swiveled forward attentively.

From Deck 7 to 26, nineteen decks worth of distance, Kyle almost finds it a bit impressive how far he made it stuck inside himself. Wondering if he hadn’t been caught (and how apt that feels despite Tomaasz’s understanding) if he’d made it to the final two decks or if he’d still be stuck inside his ‘forever hallway’. But, secondary shuttle storage isn’t the worst place to end up, at least there’s seating (to the laughter of no one, inside his mind). 

Kyle found himself taking a deep breath, in and out, and how he wishes the memories could work like that. There’s a small part of him that wants to push all of this away, the past and the present, send Tomaasz back to his job or to his quarters to rest but he’d been recognized. And, even in the midst of his own tired pain he can’t deny the mirror in front of him. To reject himself would also be to reject his friend, to reject others like them.

“I’m not even sure where to start, to be honest with ya. I was gonna go back to my quarters and rest eventually but… I couldn’t. I want to say it’s because I don’t want to deal with the mess the shakeup must’ve caused, but it’s more so I was just too afraid.” Shrugging, I push the words out to just get this started, knowing that it’s only going to get harder the closer we get to the heart of the matter. 

Tomaasz nodded slowly. He briefly wondered if he should share his own pain yet, if he even could. Or if he should hold his tongue to allow his friend room to fill the silence. This was the sort of things counselors were trained for, not engineers, or ex-security, or scarred old soldiers. He didn’t have the skills to navigate these tangled woods.

Well so what if he couldn’t be a counselor? He could still be a friend. And a friend offered comfort as well as listening. So he split the difference. “Fear comes to us all, and has a very strong voice. Were these fears from the war? Or from before?”

“The war.”  Kyle whispered out. It feels too simple when said as such, that a single word could encompass all the death, pain, and destruction that was dealt out. His own experiences and what he’s learned from others afterwards, he wonders what Tomaasz would add, that is if the Caitain feels safe enough to do so. He hopes he hasn’t ruined that bridge between them. He tries to watch his facial expression carefully, but it just feels more like if he looked anywhere else, he’ll just find another reminder of his past.

“It was the war, it-it started after I hit my head on the bridge, and then… you saw it pop up again in the hallway.” He could feel a slight flush come to his face, realizing just how he must’ve looked to the other man. Screaming at broken lights before running away, he doesn’t know whether to laugh or deny it. 

Tomaasz caught the flush, and realized that his friend must be even more self-conscious about the trauma than he’d thought. To try to set him more at ease, he leaned back slightly and rested his hands on his knees. “Yes, powerful shocks often bring back hard memories. Especially head injuries. I’ve seen similar reactions from several comrades.”

The Caitian locked eyes with Kyle. “I’m going to say this bluntly. Being damaged by the war does not reflect on who you are. Whatever happened to you, however broken you feel by it, I will not think any less of you for it.”

He broke eye contact abruptly, looking down and aside. “I’d have no right to. I’ve done… terrible things.”

And I thought I was the Counselor, which was quickly circumvented by Tomaasz’s abrupt disconnect. It only made an ache in his chest, like he watched him get hurt right in front of him. It just didn’t sit right, oh there were several terrible examples running through his head; he’s counseled the guilty before, but he knows better than to believe it was always dolt out fairly.