Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
In her guilt, Kathryn makes a deal with Starfleet and accepts prison in return for her crew being pardoned. As they fight for her release, she sinks into a depression, refusing to see anyone. She underestimates her crew though.
This story was inspired by Mizvoy's A Clean Break. I could never remember the title or author to give the deserved credit and only recently discovered the story again.
I highly recommend that you read this wonderful work. Thank you, Miz, for the story and the inspiration. Written for VAMB Secret Valentine 2006.


by Kat Lady

Home. It's one of those words that's supposed to make you feel all warm, cosy and secure inside. It's supposed to bring a smile to your face.

I thought I left home seven years ago. Now I know it was just seven weeks ago. Voyager was home but I've realized that too late.

And these past seven weeks? They called it debriefing but it's been an interrogation. I also think it's been an introduction to prison because I feel certain now that's where I'm destined for.

I made a deal, you see. A trade off. Of course, my crew will use the word 'sacrifice' but I had no choice. They needed a head to roll and I gladly stepped forward to the block, my neck outstretched and ready. I gave them their sacrificial lamb and calmly walked to the slaughter.

It's only right. I made the decisions and they just followed the orders. Strange. When Ransom's crew did that, I accused them. Now I use that argument to save my own crew.

They allowed me to see the families…the families of the ones I didn't bring home. The grieving relatives. A smart move on Starfleet's part but something I'd have done anyway. I wanted and needed to do it.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done, facing heartbroken parents and partners, seeing the sad and confused faces of the children. Many tried to hide their pain and show their pride as I quoted the right words about 'the ultimate sacrifice' and 'in the line of duty', citing how they saved others and whatever else came to mind.

The worst was Joe Carey's widow, whose husband I lost so close to home. His sons stood beside their mother, neither of them understanding what was going on. They just wanted their father and I was the reason he wasn't there and never would be again.

I lost their loved ones. It's only right that I pay for that.

Admiral Grimson sipped at his coffee and looked out his window overlooking the Starfleet campus. Without turning he spoke to the other man in the room with him.

"Who knows what the future holds. If we let this slide, if there's no fallout from it, we'd be setting a dangerous precedent." He turned and looked at his visitor. "The Prime Directive was not upheld. That's the fact here. We can't make exceptions for breaking it, no matter how extenuating the circumstances."

Admiral Hayes nodded his agreement and played with a padd on the desk he sat before. "Captain Janeway has accepted full responsibility for all decisions made while Voyager was in the Delta Quadrant. She's let it be known that she will not fight any decision we come to if her crew are exonerated."

Admiral Grimson returned to his desk and sat. "So, in exchange for full pardons for her crew, she'll quietly plead guilty to all charges?"

His colleague nodded. "Yes. I think guilt is driving her in this. We can use that. Arranging for her to see the relatives so soon was a smart move. This way it works in our favour and will save the need for a full court martial and having to prove our side of things. Much less publicity too."

Grimson sighed. "We have agreement to accept this? The others agree?"

The man before him nodded as he took a drink from his own cup. "You won't find any arguments against it…except perhaps from Janeway's crew. They're fiercely loyal. I can't see this sitting easy with them."

Admiral Grimson put his cup down on his desk. "What about family?"

Hayes shook his head. "The mother is dead and the sister lives in Europe somewhere. She's an artist and moves around with that crowd. I don't believe they're close as siblings. The crew is the nearest thing she has to 'family'.

Admiral Grimson shrugged. "Well, it's really nothing to do with them. They'll just have to accept it. They're home. What more do they want?" He waved a hand dismissively. "Give them a few weeks back with their families and friends. They'll soon forget all about Janeway."

Ten years. Longer than we were out there. I guess they preferred a round number.

I heard the cries of outrage behind me when my sentence was handed down, but I couldn't look at them. Mostly though I felt Chakotay's eyes bore into my back, felt his soul plead with mine to turn and face him.

I wasn't that strong. It took everything I had just to remain standing, every last ounce of willpower to walk across to the door that would close behind me, shutting off my life and my dreams of a happy future.

And now another door has shut behind me and I wear a different uniform. For some reason, they don't want me mixing with the general prison population. Maybe they're afraid a reporter will bribe one of them to 'interview' me.

So I'm in solitary confinement for a month. No problem. For the most part, I've spent the last seven years in such a way.

I'm not allowed any visitors either. That's fine by me. I'm not ready to face Chakotay and the others. I'm not able for their questions on why this happened. I'm sure they blame Starfleet at the moment, despite hearing me plead guilty. In time they'll learn about the deal I made and they'll ask why. Well, if they don't know the answer to that one then they never knew me at all.

B'Elanna looked up from playing with her daughter as Chakotay came out into the garden, Tom having let him in. "Well, did you see her?"

Chakotay sat down wearily on the grass beside her. He sighed heavily. "No. I didn't see her."

B'Elanna looked furious but tried to keep her voice low so as not to startle Miral. "But they said she'd be allowed visitors after a month, once the media attention died down."

Chakotay just shook his head sadly. "They kept their word. She is allowed visitors. She just refused to see me. She's refusing to see anyone."

B'Elanna got up onto her knees. "What?" She held her hand up when Chakotay went to repeat his words. "I heard what you said." She leaned down and practically hissed at him. "Well, we'll see about that."

He came to see me today. Dear God, I hate hurting him like this but I can't face him. I just can't.

I made up my mind and I've never backed down from a decision. I was always conscious of the consequences of my actions when I made decisions.

"If we ever make it home, I'll gladly face the music."

I remember saying that. Well, now it's time to pay the musicians.

I can take my own pain. I'm well used to it. What I can't take is seeing my pain reflected in his eyes, seeing my pain become his pain.

Oh, I know how long he's loved me. Despite his 'distractions' along the way, it was always me. That's not arrogance, just the truth. He even tried to make things work with Seven but it was never meant to be.

Oh God, I hope he meets someone now that we're back…someone who can make him happy and give him the family he craves. He deserves so much to be happy. I pray he puts me behind him and finds love so he can build a happy life and family. He needs to forget me.

The following day Chakotay waited with Tom for B'Elanna's return. They heard the door slam and looked at each other, knowing the sound for what it was. A full Klingon temper.

Sure enough, B'Elanna burst into the room and actually growled. "Stubborn…" She looked at the two men sitting on the couch. "OK…go on and say it. You told me so. Don't look so smug."

Tom looked sympathetic. "She just refused to see you?"

B'Elanna threw herself into an armchair. "Short of storming the place…" She wiped a hand across her face. "The staff there were actually very nice about it…almost apologetic. It's not their fault. They can't force her to see anyone."

Chakotay sat back and shook his head. "There's nothing we can do except keep trying."

B'Elanna shot forward at that. "Oh yes, there is. I thought about this all the way home."

Tom looked nervously at his wife. "Just what's on your mind, honey?"

She smiled deviously. "Simple. We start a campaign to get her released." She almost laughed at the shocked expressions her words caused. "I'm serious. Every one of us has resigned. There's nothing Starfleet can do to stop us. We're free citizens. Besides, we're not doing anything else while we find our feet." She grew more serious. "Look at it this way. If we can't get to her, we'll have to get her out of there and bring her to us."

B'Elanna came yesterday and I refused to see her. Tom and Harry came today to also be refused. I truly hope they stop this now. I just want them to get on with their lives and forget about me.

I know they all resigned when they heard that I was to be charged. I heard their outcry in the court when I was sentenced. They need to let this go now though and move on. Don't they know that's why I fought so hard out there? This is why I did it…to get them home to their lives…and now they just want to… And I know them. They'll keep this up, a different person every day in the hope I'll give in and see them.

I just need to stay strong and see this through until hopefully they get the message or tire of it all.

B'Elanna stayed true to her word. Within days, she'd rounded up as many former crew as she could and put them to work. She sent their 'request' to Starfleet and let them know that she intended to inform the media about their campaign. She also contacted everyone who was anyone at Starfleet, making them aware of Kathryn Janeway's current incarceration and the 'reasons' for it, along with their intention to campaign for her release.

When they received no reaction from that course, they widened their circle of people to approach. They put together 'information packs' and sent them to every politician and media outlet. Basically, anyone who would listen or had any influence. All they could do then was sit back and wait.

They're still coming, a different person every day, and still I refuse to see them. Dear God, how much longer? And now one of the wardens here has told me about the campaign Chakotay and B'Elanna have started. Why can't they just leave me alone?

She's nice…for a warden. No, that's unfair. She's nice. Her husband is in Starfleet and he heard about it and told her. I'll respect her confidence. No one will know how I heard.

I need to stop it though, yet I can't weaken and allow myself to see them. That would damage the armour I've managed to protect myself with. What I can do is let my wishes be known through a third or fourth party. I've asked my warden friend to pass a message to Admiral Paris for me. I trust him not to betray her identity.

Four weeks into their campaign, Chakotay received a visit from Tom's father, Admiral Owen Paris. He got straight to the point. "Chakotay, Kathryn knows about your campaign. She wants you to stop."

Chakotay gestured for the man to sit and took the armchair across from him. "Did Kathryn ask you this directly?"

Owen Paris shook his head. "No, she didn't. The message was passed to me. I gave my word that I wouldn't reveal the identity of this person or betray their confidence but I believe I can trust them."

Chakotay nodded slightly. "So, you haven't actually seen her?"

The admiral shook his head. "No, but I know it's from her and…"

Chakotay stood quickly. "Well, then we won't stop. I won't give this up until Kathryn looks me in the eye and tells me herself."

Owen smiled kindly at the man standing before him. "Chakotay, you know that Starfleet won't take a campaign to free a prisoner seriously if that same prisoner doesn't wish to be released."

Chakotay drew in a deep breath and sat again. "Doesn't wish to be released? With respect, Sir…I don't believe that and I won't believe it until she tells me that for herself."

The admiral sighed. "Chakotay, there's something you need to know." He shook his head.

Chakotay nodded for him to continue, trying to ignore the feeling growing in his gut. "What do I need to know?"

Owen took a moment to formulate his words. "The board of admirals responsible for debriefings basically needed to make a statement of sorts." He wove his fingers together. "We all know that Kathryn didn't just bend the Prime Directive out there. She broke it on occasion." He held up a hand when Chakotay went to interject. "Yes, I know. We weren't out there and you did what you had to do. I agree completely. But you were dealing with men who only cared about how it looked back here. As far as they were concerned, she swore to uphold the Directive and didn't. They couldn't give you all a free pass. They needed someone to face some responsibility."

Chakotay closed his eyes and groaned. "And Kathryn took all that responsibility on her own shoulders."

Owen nodded slowly. "She made a deal with them. She would take full responsibility if no charges were laid against any member of her crew…including the Equinox lot."

Chakotay sat forward. "Was she coerced into this?"

Owen shrugged. "She approached them with the deal, although they did arrange for her to meet with the families of the lost. I imagine that…"

Chakotay held a hand up, not wanting to hear any more. "I get the message. They piled even more guilt down on her and she took it. She dug the hole but they supplied her with the spade." He stood now. "Admiral, thank you for coming to see me and for being so open and honest with me. Nothing changes though. We won't rest until she's back with us."

Owen looked up at him. "They won't go back on their ruling and Kathryn won't see you…any of you."

Chakotay merely shrugged. "Then the campaign goes on."

The old man stood also. "It won't do you any good."

Chakotay smiled slyly. "Well, it's gotten a response out of Kathryn, so that's a start. If I push enough, she may just see me, and if we make enough noise, Starfleet may well think again."

Admiral Paris held out his hand, which Chakotay took. "Then I wish you luck, son."

Admiral Briscoe came to see me today to talk about this 'situation'. He's one visitor I couldn't refuse to see.

I was the perfect Starfleet officer…sorry…ex-Starfleet officer. He informed me that he knew I was aware of the campaign and had passed a message to Admiral Paris. Seeing as he approved of my actions, nothing would come of it.

For my part, I told him what he wanted to hear and it's not a lie anyway. I truly want to serve my time. I deserve to serve it. If there was real justice in this world, I would have died out there with them all.

So, I told him that I wanted nothing to do with their campaign and had refused all visitors. That seemed to please him.

A week later, Chakotay and B'Elanna were summonsed to Headquarters where they met with Admiral Briscoe. Chakotay had wasted no time in telling the others about his visit from Admiral Paris, and both he and B'Elanna were still angry over the deal Kathryn had made, one they all felt she'd been blackmailed into. Every former crew member was angry.

The grey haired man sat behind his desk and steepled his fingers. He got right to the point. "I'm asking you to drop this campaign."

Chakotay leaned forward. "With respect, Admiral, we'll only do that when Kathryn Janeway is free…deal or no deal." He let that sink in.

The admiral shook his head, showing no reaction to the mention of the deal. "That's not what she wants. She wishes to serve her sentence."

Chakotay almost laughed. "Well, we won't know that until she agrees to see us and speak with us."

Peter Briscoe was a man not used to being argued with. "Well, Mr. Chakotay, I HAVE spoken with her. She wants no part of this. She simply would like to serve her time in peace and that is her right."

Chakotay shook his head. "I can't accept that. I have to hear it from her."

The admiral leaned back. "Well, I can't help you there. It's also her right to refuse visitors."

B'Elanna smirked at that. "How convenient for you."

Chakotay placed a hand on her arm and leaned in towards the admiral. "And you don't find that odd?"

Admiral Briscoe merely shrugged. "It's not my place to question her decision."

B'Elanna wasn't finished. She shook off Chakotay's hand. "Well, it tells me there's a problem there. Maybe depression or something, but a problem you're not addressing."

The man behind the desk sat forward, clearly holding his temper in check. "Mrs. Paris, she has access to medical care. If there's a problem…"

B'Elanna just laughed at that. "Oh right. Forgive me. They can read her mind too."

The uniformed man stood up, letting them know that as far as he was concerned the meeting was over.

B'Elanna stood with Chakotay and stared hard at the admiral. "This meeting may be over but our campaign isn't. It will continue until Kathryn Janeway walks through the gates of that prison…and I don't mean in ten years time." With that as her parting shot, she and Chakotay walked out.

Thank God they mostly leave me to myself in here now that I'm allowed mix with the general prison population. I'm sure the other prisoners think I'm a right bitch wanting nothing to do with them. I just can't face being with other people and they seem to have gotten the message now. The wardens are the same. Once I do my 'chores' they leave me in peace.

How long have I been sitting here, staring out this window? Long enough for those two birds to finish building their nest. Is it spring already? Life is so easy for those two. They come together, mate, build their nest.

Chakotay tried again today. Guess it was his turn. I long to see him and look into his eyes. I long to see his care reflected back at me. And care is all I can hope for from him now. I crave his love but I left that too late, even without all this. I left that way back in the Delta Quadrant somewhere.

Now though I know it was for the best. I expected him to wait seven years for me. Another ten on top of that? No. That would be too cruel. It's best this way. If he loved me now, I'd have nothing to offer him. Empty arms…empty home…empty bed…empty life. He deserves a woman who will return the love he's capable of, who can give him the children he's dreamed of, who can fulfil all his dreams. I'm not that woman and maybe I never was. Maybe that was just MY dream.


Tom sat back and watched his wife and friend pore over several padds. B'Elanna looked up and caught him, his expression worrying her. Chakotay picked up on it and looked at Tom also. B'Elanna frowned. "What is it, Tom?"

He shook his head. "Sorry. I guess it's my turn to need reassurance that we're doing the right thing." They'd all been there, reached stages where they questioned their actions.

Tom leaned back into the couch. "It's been a year and we've gotten nowhere. Starfleet ignores us. At best we're an irritation to them. Mostly they tolerate us as a mild nuisance they can easily brush aside. The media has also lost interest, moved on to other stories. Let's face it. This is yesterday's news."

B'Elanna had had a bad day and her headache of earlier was returning. "Look, Tom…I know we've all been where you are right now…and we've all questioned why we're doing this…asked ourselves is it worth it. Well, I'll tell you what you told me when I felt the same way. Yes, it is. This is our captain. This is Kathryn Janeway…the woman who would gladly have given her life for any one of us. We don't give up on her."

Chakotay joined in. "Tom, even I've questioned myself and whether we'll ever get anywhere with this. It always passes though." He leaned forward. "Look, we know why she did this. She did it for us. She did it to ensure our freedom." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I think she also did it because of her own misplaced guilt. When she made the stupid decision to make that deal, one of her worst decisions I might add, she was deeply emotional and filled with guilt." He shook his head.

"I know we can't give up though. She's been in there a full year now without any contact with the outside world, and yes, I know that was her choice…but I believe the longer she's in there, the more depressed she's getting…or whatever place she's put herself."

He looked at his two friends who had been towers of strength for him. "We all know that guilt has always been a driving force with her." His eyes showed his deep sadness. "I know Kathryn. She's not just behind the walls of that prison. She built a wall around herself a long time ago. I won't give up until I pull those walls down. All of them."

Tom sighed heavily and nodded his agreement. "You're right. Sorry. I just needed that kick in the backside."

B'Elanna smiled lovingly at her husband. "We've all been there, honey. I've heard your words from every former crew member. You can do the same for us when we feel the same way again." She tossed a padd at him. "Now make yourself useful and review the list of admirals we need to piss off."

Someone told me today that I've been here a year. They were just words and they meant nothing. Strange feeling that. One year down…nine to go. I've lost all concept of time behind these walls. One day blends into the other, each the same as the last. I've become locked into the routine in here and nothing else exists.

I measure time on a daily basis only…breakfast to chores…lunch to whatever else they want me to do…dinner to… Evenings are the worst in here. I have too much time to myself…too much time to sit and think. And my thoughts only ever take me backwards. I never even consider the future. The present is just wherever I happen to be when the thoughts come.

I wish they'd just let me sleep after dinner but it's against the rules. They insist on 'recreation'. That would be funny if it wasn't so sad. So, I just sit in the common room and watch the others pretend to be normal. I can't decide if they're in denial or just trying to make the best of it.

At one stage they used to ask me to join them but after the third polite refusal, they got the message. They don't resent me for it though, thank God. Instead they give me pitying looks.

To keep the wardens happy, I pretend to read. I can quote the first three paragraphs of this novel word for word at this stage. I've never gotten any further with the story.

Eventually I'm allowed return to my room and I crave the oblivion sleep can bring. It's not always that way though. While I can struggle at this stage to remember all their faces during the day, at night they come to me.

Some nights I'm unable to sleep and I lie and stare into the darkness, my memories torturing me. Other nights I sleep but the nightmares visit. They hold me in their clutches until one of the wardens wakes me. They've stopped asking if I want to talk about it. They know the answer.

Occasionally, I sleep and just dream, and in some ways, I hate those nights the most. I dream of happier times and I dream of Chakotay and when I wake, it breaks my heart. Somehow the nightmares are easier.

It's rare when I wake and remember nothing. I live in hope each night though. Please let this night be one when I find a dreamless sleep.


Kathryn Janeway's crew worked on over the next year. They still sent someone to the prison every day, requesting to see prisoner number 443756 but they never gained admittance, always receiving the same answer, that the prisoner in question was refusing visitors.

And then the first sign of hope came. Starfleet's elections had come around, the five-yearly turnaround of those in power. As the candidates lined up, B'Elanna and Chakotay organized everyone to practically shadow those running for office, never letting them forget the woman behind their campaign.

They fought hard for those candidates who supported their cause and became a thorn in the side of those who opposed it. In the end, they got enough candidates elected to give them real hope. The successful candidates who believed Kathryn should remain in prison eventually relented and, in a move more to get rid of Chakotay and the entire matter, agreed to commute the rest of Kathryn's sentence, citing 'early release for good behaviour'. They also 'requested' that the media not be informed until one week after the release, a condition reluctantly agreed to. Getting their captain out was all that really mattered.

Two years I've spent in here. So they tell me anyway. Sometimes it feels like twenty and other times two hours. Time has lost all meaning for me.

And now that time is up. They're quietly releasing me. Briscoe came to see me again and explained it all.

He claimed that this decision had nothing to do with the campaign by my former crew…and he made sure he stressed the word 'former'. This is Starfleet's decision alone, a sign of their compassion.

What he didn't tell me, but what I already know, is that from next week, Admiral Briscoe will be assigned to Mars. He's not the only one. Many are being moved around with fresh blood taking their place. The recent elections decided that but I care nothing for politics anymore.

So, my time here is almost over. I'll leave and… I'll have to think about that. No one will remember who I am anymore. I'm yesterday's news. At least, I hope so.

I don't know if Chakotay and the others kept up their campaign. Briscoe didn't say if it was ongoing and I've heard nothing of it but then I shut the world out some time ago. I can only hope they dropped it and got on with their lives. I pray they've put me behind them, but I don't know.

I made the decision after a year not to be informed about visitors. I didn't wish to know if they still turned up every day, didn't want to know what was going on outside these walls. The elections were impossible to ignore though, as they were the main topic of conversation between the wardens here. I suppose who gets in concerns them as regards their budgets and terms of employment.

I know nothing of life outside. Will they hear of my release? Will someone be waiting for me? I don't know. I hope not but I have to be sure. In case he still remembers. So, to be safe I had one request which Admiral Briscoe was more than happy to oblige me with.

They'll set my release date in the usual way but I can leave a day early.

I leave here tomorrow and suddenly I'm terrified to face what's outside. Where do I go? What will I do? How will I know when to…? Dear God, I even need someone to tell me when to eat and sleep. When did that happen?

Oh, I know the word. Institutionalized. That's what I've become. I have to ask permission to go to the toilet, for God's sake. And this time tomorrow, I'll have to make all my own decisions. I should be welcoming that but instead I fear it.

What's wrong with me? I captained a damn star ship through seven years of hostile space and now I'm afraid to walk through a door.

On the announced date of Kathryn's release, Chakotay stood outside the prison gates and waited. He shook his head and berated himself for feeling so nervous at seeing her again. He looked down at the flowers in his hand and rolled his eyes. B'Elanna's idea. "All women love flowers, Chakotay. No matter what they say." She'd given Tom a meaningful glare.

He frowned now as time passed. Several other prisoners had been released and had left over an hour ago. With a strange feeling filling his gut, he approached the guard on duty in the small security hut.

"Excuse me. I'm waiting for Kathryn Janeway…prisoner number 443756." The number was etched in his mind.

The guard checked his computer terminal. "She's not down for release today. All today's releases have left."

Swallowing his fear that Starfleet had gone back on their word, he asked the guard to check again.

The man did as asked and then nodded. "Here she is." He looked up, a trace of sympathy on his face. "She was released a day early. She left yesterday."

Chakotay drew in a deep breath, keeping a firm grip on his emotions. "I see. And can you tell me if that was her request or some other arrangement?"

The young man shook his head. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't have that information."

Chakotay nodded and thanked the man. He began to walk away and then turned back. "Are you married? Girlfriend?"

The guard looked confused. "I'm married. Why?"

Chakotay handed the flowers to the puzzled guard. "Here. A gift for your wife." He then turned and walked away.

Back with Tom and B'Elanna at their house, it didn't take them long to find out that Kathryn's early release had been at her own request, Tom's father having called in a few favours to get the details. He'd retired before the elections but he still had friends at headquarters.

Tom returned with the information and sat heavily. "Fleet was more than happy to agree with her request."

B'Elanna balled her hands into fists. "Did they know this when they told us her release date?"

Tom shook his head. "Starfleet knew but we got her release date from the prison. The staff who gave us the date just read what was down on their records so anyone calling would have believed today was the day. The prison governor knew and made arrangements for her to leave a day early. He's the only one who knew though and informed the wardens only on the morning of her release."

Chakotay stood and began pacing. "We have to find her." He stopped and looked at his friends. "Where would she go? Her old home in Indiana?"

B'Elanna shook her head slowly and stared down at the floor. "I don't know. It should be first on our list though." She looked up. "We've no idea what her state of mind is like. I can't really see them releasing her if she wasn't thinking straight but then Kathryn Janeway has always been a wonderful actress. She might have appeared normal…whatever that is after spending two years in prison."

Chakotay stopped pacing. "She left a day early to avoid anyone seeing her though. Wouldn't she know her home is the first place we'd look?"

Tom thought about that. "And maybe she knows we'd think like that and not bother with there. If it looks like the last place we'd look, it's the perfect place for her. Either way we have to check there."

B'Elanna sighed. "And if not there, where? It's a big planet. She could go anywhere."

Chakotay shook his head. "With what? All her personal belongings are there. There's no way she could just walk out of prison with only the clothes on her back and head off somewhere strange. Leaving would have to be planned." Suddenly he locked eyes with B'Elanna.

She said it for him. "And she's had a day on us to pack."

Chakotay was already making for the door. "I'm going out there now."

Tom stood quickly. "You want us to come with you?"

Chakotay stopped and turned, shaking his head. "No. Thanks though. I just think… I don't want to crowd her…"

B'Elanna smiled understandingly at her friend. "You go. Just keep in touch."

I think I'm losing my mind. What am I doing here?

My mother's grave. What did I think I'd find here? Did I really believe she'd be here in some way? I grieved for her, didn't I? So why does the pain feel so fresh? Is it just being here for the first time or have I denied my feelings up to now?

I needed to go somewhere…anywhere. I needed somewhere I could connect to. I needed some place that would fill this empty space inside me. I've failed.

I also came here because I'm afraid to go home…afraid that's where he'd look first…if he's still looking, of course. He's probably long forgotten me.

I wonder what time it is…how long I've been here. Strange but time still has no meaning for me. I know I left the prison, clutching my small bag of…what? I went in there with nothing. Oh yes…the clothes I was issued…toiletries…

I left there and I know I wandered around…and then I was here. I think I fell asleep. I must have. I know I talked for a long time to my mother but she never answered. All that's here is unkempt wet grass and cold stone.

I'm so cold and my clothes are damp. I need to leave here. I know that. A part of me just wants to crawl under this grassy blanket and sleep like those already here. Something stops me though.

Where do I go? Where do people go? They live in houses…homes… I used to have one of those.

My thoughts take me back to a pink bedroom, tiny flowers on the wallpaper and a soft eiderdown quilt on the bed. When was that? Who was that?

I know that room. That's where I need to go. I'm so tired. It's safe there, isn't it? Wasn't there something…some reason not to go there? So cold…so tired… Home. I need to go home.

Chakotay looked sadly around the old house as he entered. The sun shone through the stained glass over the front door, the dust caught in its rays, dancing before his eyes.

The rooms smelled of neglect in the stillness and layers of dust covered the pieces of furniture which hadn't been covered.

He walked into the hallway, splashes of colour from the glass reflected on the floor. The house was silent and looked as if no one had been inside it in years, and yet somehow Chakotay knew Kathryn had been here. Some sixth sense where she was concerned told him she was close and he didn't doubt it for a moment.

He checked the downstairs rooms and stopped at a small side table containing family holo images. He could clearly see where the dust had been disturbed and smiled to himself.

He moved towards the stairs and headed up, marvelling at the fact that none of the boards creaked under his feet. He checked several rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms long unused and shook his head sadly that such a beautiful house had been denied love and attention for so many years.

When Chakotay opened the last door, he knew immediately that this had been Kathryn's childhood bedroom. Something about it just spoke to him of her. He eased the door open and then stopped dead.

Kathryn lay curled up on her bed, obviously asleep. She lay on top of the bedcovers, shrouded in a large, faded dressing gown, the clothes she'd obviously been issued by the prison in a heap on the floor. Chakotay quietly crossed over to her and studied her for several minutes, shaking his head sadly.

Finally, he sat down on the side of the bed, continuing to stare at her. She looked thinner and older, but he suspected a lot of that was a result of what she'd been through. She was still the woman he loved though and nothing would change that.

As if sensing his presence, she stirred and opened her eyes slowly. The fact that she'd been crying earlier showed in her eyes as she fought to focus them. When she saw him, she stiffened and bolted up in the bed.

"What are…? How…?"

Chakotay smiled softly and reached out to stroke her arm. "It's all right, Kathryn. It's just me."

She studied him in silence for a moment. "Why are you here?"

Chakotay locked eyes with her and reached for her hand, praying for the right words. "I've always been here. I never went away."

She stared at him and he saw her deep embarrassment and discomfort at him being there. He smiled again. "Kathryn, please don't. I'm your friend. I've been so worried about you. Let me be here for you."

She pulled herself up in the bed and reached for her pillow, hugging it to her. Chakotay imagined her as a child in this room, sitting on the same bed, a favourite teddy bear replacing the pillow.

He saw she wasn't ready for this and smiled softly. "How about I make you something to eat and let you freshen up. It's a lovely evening and we can sit on the porch. I noticed you have seating out there." He stood up, her eyes following him. "Does your kitchen still work?"

She stared at him for several moments before answering. "I think the replicator is still…" She frowned. "Why…?"

He just smiled at her again. "I'll get you some dinner and we can talk then. No pressure. OK?"

Eventually she nodded. "OK. Thank you."

I can't believe he's here. Am I dreaming again? Is this another cruel vision come to haunt me?

I slept in my own bed again, in my own home…or what was my home. Somehow, I can think more clearly now. I'm warm again and the walls are different…softer. The flowers that shared and witnessed all my childish hopes and dreams have replaced stark white plaster.

I remember now why I wasn't going to come here…but now that I am here… What is this? Can I honestly believe this tiny shard of hope that seems to beckon to me? 'I've always been here. I never went away.' That's what he said to me. Oh God…I want so much to believe that.

Kathryn sat on the porch as the sun went down and slowly ate the meal Chakotay had prepared for her. He sat quietly and sipped at his tea, watching the sun slip below the horizon, his own meal finished. He gave her the time he felt she needed and stared at the sunset, not wanting to make her uncomfortable under his scrutiny. He turned slowly and smiled at her when she finally spoke.

"Thank you for that. I hadn't realized how hungry I was." She wiped her hands and mouth on her napkin. "I guess I'm just used to being told when to eat."

Her words twisted painfully inside Chakotay's chest. He swallowed loudly. "You're home now."

Kathryn looked around her sadly. "I should have known you'd look here. I didn't really think…"

Chakotay studied her. "I was waiting at the prison and… I was worried I'd have missed you here because you had a day's start and..." He frowned. "Why didn't you want me to find you?"

She didn't look at him, her eyes drawn to the trees at the bottom of the garden. "At first I was afraid that you would…so I asked to leave early and didn't come here…" She pulled her eyes from the trees and finally looked at him sadly.

When she said no more, Chakotay decided to give her a little more time. He stood and reached for her empty plate. "I'll just take care of these and then we can talk. Would you like a coffee?"

She met his eyes and studied him with uncertainty. Finally, she nodded and managed a small smile. "That would be good."

When Chakotay returned with Kathryn's coffee, he found her staring up at the sky, the light fading.

He handed her the coffee then sat and finished his own beverage, giving her all the time she felt she needed. Eventually she seemed ready although she stared ahead at nothing in particular.

"I heard about the campaign…your visits. At first anyway. Then I asked not to know." She shook her head slightly. "I had to get through it my own way. I'm sorry for hurting you."

He frowned and leaned a little closer, her voice saying so much more than her words. "Kathryn, you seem so detached from everything. That's how you sound anyway."

She shrugged. "It's how I feel really." Finally, she turned and looked sadly at him. "Time lost all meaning for me in there. It was like a dream in a way."

Chakotay swallowed his pain. "Was it bad?"

She barely smiled and shook her head. "No. Actually, they treated me very well. It's just…one day was much the same as the next…and they blended together. My body coped with being imprisoned…but my mind…" Her voice trailed off, unable to put into words what she wanted to say.

She shook her head. "It's like I was looking at everything through a sheet of frosted glass…never really seeing clearly."

Chakotay leaned back and let out a pained breath. Behind her detached words, he heard so much emotional pain. He wondered if it was so bad that the only way she could talk at all was by going into this kind of semi-frozen numb state. "Why did you do it, Kathryn? Why the hell did you make that deal?"

She seemed almost confused when she looked at him, as if puzzled by the fact that he would even ask such a question. "I was the reason for all that pain…to you and the others…the families…the children…"

He shook his head. "They never wanted that and you know it. They never needed that."

She smiled sadly. "I needed it."

He wouldn't have understood that answer with anyone else, but with Kathryn Janeway it spoke volumes. He leaned forward and placed his hand on hers. "Did it work?"

She looked away. "I think it helped."

He shook his head. "At what price to yourself, Kathryn?"

He saw it happen slowly. He witnessed his words sinking in, the feel of his hand on hers registering with her, something finally reaching her after so long in the wilderness. And then the dam broke.

Chakotay held her tightly for a long time as she clung to him, finally releasing all she'd held back for the past two years…the past nine years. He didn't speak…just held her and murmured soothing noises.

Finally, the storm passed and she pulled back, wiping at her face. He saw her embarrassment but one look at his face and she managed a tiny smile. "I know. No thanks necessary."

He smiled back at her. "You're finally getting it."

Kathryn sat back and drew in several deep breaths, regaining some semblance of control. Chakotay gave her the time she needed. Slowly she leaned back in her chair and looked at him.

"One day I sat in my…cell…room…" She swallowed and sniffed, her voice hoarse from her crying. "I watched two birds building a nest. I sat for hours…just watching them." She shook her head. "I hadn't realized it was spring."

Her words sent a stab of pain through Chakotay and he reached for her hand again. "Tell me."

She shook her head, almost smiling as she remembered. "Life seemed so simple for them. I watched them…and I thought of you. They made me think of the possibility of the dreams I once had."

Chakotay frowned. "Once?"

She sighed. "The dream was still there…but the possibility had left. Only the dream remained."

Before he could say anything, she pulled her hand from his and stood, moving to stand at the porch rail. She looked out over the garden. "Something so ordinary like nature can remind us of things we don't want to address…the things we can't have."

Chakotay stood also and moved to stand beside her. "My people always saw life through nature. Sometimes you hear a sound, or there's a smell or taste, or you see something…and the thoughts come unbidden. That doesn't mean they represent things we can't have though."

He reached for her hands and pulled her gently to turn and face him. "Kathryn, I'm still here. I still have my dream. The possibility depends on you." He tightened his hold on her hands as he saw the beginnings of hope on her face. "Kathryn, you're home now…finally home. You just need to let yourself be grounded again…re-connect with everything. You lost every tie to…not only the people who love you…but to yourself too. You've been behind a wall for a long time, and I'm not just talking about a prison wall. There's been another wall, one of your own making, around you for a long time."

She looked sadly at him. "I had to do everything I could to keep that wall standing, Chakotay. I had to get you all home. And then in prison…" She looked down at their joined hands. "I was so afraid that people would still care…and then I was afraid that they wouldn't."

She looked up and saw that he didn't understand. "I refused to see you because I couldn't cope with that. Seeing you would have weakened me."

Chakotay shook his head. "It would have strengthened you had you just let it." He sighed. "Kathryn, after all these years, have you still not accepted that needing someone isn't a sign of weakness?"

Her eyes pleaded for his understanding. "I swung back and forth in there. Thinking you all cared or thinking you didn't…those thoughts could keep me going some days…countering the way I was feeling at the time. If you cared, I was hurting you. If you didn't, it was hurting me, but that was preferable to hurting you…"

Chakotay lifted her hands to his lips and kissed her fingers. "Kathryn, only you turning away from me hurts me. Can't you understand that? I just want to be here for you…always. You just have to want me."

Tears filled her eyes. "But I had nothing to offer you. You'd waited seven years. To ask you to wait another ten…" Her tears spilled over. "All you'd have had was an empty life. I could give you nothing."

He let go of her hands and reached for her face, taking it gently between his hands. "You had your love, Kathryn. That's all I've ever wanted."

Chakotay sat back on the porch seat, Kathryn leaning against him. It was dark now but the area was lit from the lights in the house.

"Where did you go before here? You mentioned something about not coming here at first."

Kathryn nodded against him, enjoying the feel of his arm around her shoulders. "I went to my mother's grave."

Chakotay blew out a breath and shook his head. "I never thought of there."

Kathryn merely shrugged. "I went to her grave…but…she wasn't there… My mother wasn't there…only her bones…dust. There was nothing there except a cold stone." Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at him. "It was as empty as I felt."

When a tear slipped down her cheek, Chakotay reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. "And then you came here?"

She nodded slowly. "I fell asleep there…on the wet grass. I woke up and I felt so confused. I know I wasn't thinking straight anyway. I wanted to hide. I was afraid…but somehow… It was home. I was so tired and I kept remembering my childhood bedroom. It's like I was led here. It drew me…as if it was the only place I could go. I had planned to go somewhere else but I can't remember where now. Nowhere else felt…" She shrugged. "I couldn't see peace anywhere else."

Chakotay smiled sadly and squeezed her hand again. "So, you came home."

She stared out over the garden again. "I thought it was home…but it was just as empty here. My mother wasn't here either." She looked back at him again, her eyes awash with tears. "My 'home' is empty. It's not home anymore. Now it's just a house with memories."

Chakotay slipped down onto his knees in front of her and took both her hands in his. "Kathryn, let me stay here with you. Let me help make this a home for you again. You have a lot of healing to do and home is the place to do that. You just need to rest and let it happen."

She stared at him, her tears falling freely now. "You'd stay with me?"

He brought a hand up to her face and cupped her cheek. "I've never left you, Kathryn. You may not have been able to see me, but I've always been there. Let me stay with you now and help you heal. You just need to see prison as a delay to getting home but that's over now. You're feeling a lot of inner turmoil and you've a lot of grief to deal with. You can recover here though. I just want to help you do that."

Chakotay stayed with Kathryn for the next month, never leaving her side from the day he first arrived at her childhood home to find her asleep on her bed. He cared for her, feeding her and sitting quietly with her long into the night as she talked through her demons.

Kathryn had asked that Tom, B'Elanna and the others give her some time before visiting, and they all respected her wishes. She wasn't ready to face people yet and they understood that only too well. After two years shut away from those who cared, she needed to ease her way back into her life. She could see the light at the end of the tunnel now though. She just had to reach for it.

Chakotay talked to me of walls and I tried to explain it to him.

When I got out of prison, my walls fell. I had no control. All I could see was crumbling bricks at my feet. He helped me look beyond the rubble to what lay on the other side of my wall.

Why did it fall? There was no reason to hold it up anymore, although I wasn't aware of this at the time. I needed it before, you see. Being in the Delta Quadrant, and needing to get them all home…then later…having the routine of prison, knowing I was doing it for them. These things became scaffolding, holding or helping to hold my wall up. With that support gone, it collapsed. The ground shifted. While these things had earthed my wall in concrete, suddenly it was on sand and the entire structure fell.

He was there for me though.

I assured him that prison hadn't been that bad and it wasn't really. In some strange way, my state of mind got me through it. I'd cut myself off so much that it never really touched me.

Chakotay cited many things to me. He said I'd lost my self-worth, my belief in myself, and let my misplaced guilt, shame and blame consume me, things he believes only existed in my eyes…in my world. I'm still fighting to believe him and accept that. He also said that my past was just too close to my present and I just needed time. He's that profound…that insightful where I'm concerned.

I'm slowly learning…slowly looking forward…and it's all down to him. I need to tell him that but I suspect he already knows.

Chakotay stood on the porch waiting for Kathryn and smiled when she came out the door. She wore a pretty pale pink floral dress with her hair loose. "So where are we going? What's the big secret?"

Chakotay tapped the side of his nose. "All will be revealed in good time. Just trust me."

Kathryn pretended to think about that. "Ummm….have I got a choice?"

He moved closer to her and gently gripped her shoulders. "Just trust me, Kathryn." His smile slipped away to be replaced with a look of pure tenderness.

Kathryn grew serious and nodded. "You know I trust you. I love you."

He smiled at that. "As I love you." He leaned forward and brushed his lips to hers.

He stood back and pulled a scarf from his pocket. "Now…this part requires a blindfold so just bear with me."

Kathryn shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Is this something kinky?"

He smirked at her. "Maybe later…but not for now." He moved around behind her and placed the blindfold over her eyes, tying it at the back of her head. "OK…stand by."

Kathryn fought her impatience and curiosity as Chakotay had them transported somewhere. As the tingle of the transporter wore off, she felt him lead her forward and guessed they were indoors somewhere. Faint sounds of people reached her ears but nothing clear. "Chakotay, where are we?"

He took her arm and led her forward. "Almost there."

She felt air on her face now and then sun and the sounds of people grew louder. There was chatter and laughter, and the sounds of children playing. She tensed slightly and stopped. "Chakotay…"

His grip on her arm tightened a little and she felt his breath against her ear. "Trust me, Kathryn."

She drew in a deep breath and nodded. "OK." She let him gently pull her forward and felt herself walking on grass now, the sounds even closer.

Finally, Chakotay stopped and pulled the blindfold from her eyes. "Welcome to Voyager's first reunion, Kathryn."

She froze and looked at everyone gathered in the large garden. She looked behind her and saw a large, old house, obviously a hotel now. Panic filled her as she looked at the man beside her. "I can't…"

He slipped his arm around her shoulders. "Look at them, Kathryn. Look. This isn't just former crew. It's all the families. Everyone connected to Voyager."

Her eyes swept the crowd. All the crew were there, their families also. Joe Carey's widow stood out first, talking to Harry Kim and an older couple, obviously his parents. And there were so many others, parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters of those who had died on the way home. All the relatives, all the families, even friends.

Chakotay leaned against Kathryn. "Look at them, Kathryn. It was their idea. They wanted to do this for you. A picnic as a first reunion. Not the number of years we've been back, but a first time we've all been together. It was never right before." He pulled her more tightly against him, seeing her tears flow.

"Look at them all, Kathryn. Really look. All our former crew, all their families. See them all laughing together, the kids running and playing. New relationships are forming even. They're still family…still YOUR family, and they're all here for you."

As if on cue, several people looked up and saw them, each passing word to the others. They came forward and then parted to allow Kathryn, on Chakotay's arm, into the midst of them. They then gathered around, forming a large semi-circle as Chakotay led Kathryn forward. As they moved into the centre, everyone began to clap, all looking and smiling at the woman they'd come to be there for.

Kathryn looked back and saw the circle close behind her, everyone enfolding her into the bosom of her 'family'. She looked up at Chakotay and saw his love for her shining from his eyes. He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. "They're all here for you, Kathryn."

She nodded and looked around at all the faces, all smiling for her. Only one word filled her mind. Home.

I almost froze. I was terrified. And then I wanted to kill him. Time stood still as I faced them all. And then it started again…and I know now that it's started as it means to go on…if I'll just give it that chance.

They're all here. Everyone who shared our journey with us…and everyone connected to them. The tendrils of the love that binds this family together have reached every tiny corner and encircled us all in this time and in this place, much as they've encircled me. Their love and respect surrounds me, touches me so deeply that I'll feel it long after I've drawn my final breath in this life. It will travel with me into the great beyond of wherever we're destined for. I remember reading somewhere once that the love we have in this life is all we take with us when we leave it and in the end, it's all we need. For now though, I'm right where I belong. I'm with the man I love and I'm with my family. I'm home. Home.