Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
Things fall apart for Kathryn on Voyager's return to Earth as Chakotay and the crew mistakenly believe she wants nothing to do with them. With her life empty, she falls back on Starfleet and is sent on a mission that goes terribly wrong. Infected with a fatal disease, she faces a lonely and painful death. Chakotay finally discovers the truth and vows to be there for her, nursing her through her final months.

In Sickness And In Health

by Kat Lady


"Well?" Kathryn Janeway sat nervously on the narrow biobed and looked at Voyager's Doctor. She noticed how he didn't meet her eyes immediately and knew what his answer would be.

"The test was positive, Captain…" He studied the woman before him and saw little reaction from her.

There was silence for a moment before Kathryn spoke again. "There's no mistake? I don't mean to imply that…"

The Doctor shook his head sadly. "I ran the tests several times. There is no mistake…"

Kathryn just nodded slowly. "I see." She dropped her head and watched as her fingers twisted the piece of tissue she held.

The Doctor gently placed a hand on her hands, stilling them. "Is there someone you'd like me to call for you? Perhaps the Commander…?"

Kathryn's head snapped up. "There's no one and please don't even mention…"

The Doctor nodded. "Captain, you can't face this alone. Look, I don't even pretend to know what has happened between you and…"

Kathryn jumped down off the bed. "Nothing happened between us. Just leave it alone. He left and that was his choice. As to anyone else, I don't want them knowing about this. Maybe later when I can't hide it…" It was all finally sinking in and her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh God…" She was barely aware of the Doctor leading her to a chair in his office and sitting her down. He knew he had to speak honestly and openly with her.

"Captain, you're not going to be able to hide this for much longer. They're going to notice soon…"

Kathryn looked up into his face, her eyes swimming in tears. "You know the strangest thing? I actually don't care. I expected this when I came here today. I think I already knew what you'd say. To be honest with you… Without him…I don't care…"

The Doctor looked sadly at her. "Captain, we do have other avenues to explore with this. I still have…well, there's still time…"

Kathryn jumped up, finally letting her tears fall. "Doctor, please…" She stopped and drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I'm just not as good with this as I thought…" She sat and forced herself to gain some control. "Forgive me…"

The Doctor smiled gently. "Captain, perhaps if you talked to me…let me help if I can…"

Kathryn wiped at her face. "I just need a few answers. I need to arrange…things…" She drew in another deep breath and asked the one question she most wanted to avoid. "How long?"

The Doctor met her eyes, forcing himself to do so. "About four months, five at the most…"

Kathryn nodded slowly and bit her lip. "Do you even have a name for this?"

He shook his head. "In medical terms, it doesn't even exist. They were experimenting…"

Kathryn nodded, letting anger enter the arena of her emotions now. "Bastards…" She clenched her hands and once more fought for control. "John and Miriam?" She looked up at the medic and saw the sadness in his eyes.

"In what I believe are the final stages. They were closer when…"

Kathryn stood again, her hands covering her mouth and nose. She paced and shook her head slowly. "I still can't believe all this. It shouldn't have happened. It was just…" She stood still and stared deeply at the Doctor. "There's nothing at all you can do for them…?"

The Doctor stood also and led her back to her chair. "I'm making some progress but…"

Kathryn finished for him. "It won't be in time…" She looked at him and saw him shake his head sadly.

"Captain, it's possible for you… The best people we have are working on this…"

Kathryn laughed out loud, the sound filled with sarcasm. "Not with my luck of late. Sorry, Doctor. We just both know that we're fooling each other if we take that road of thought. It's better that I just accept…"

The Doctor sat on the edge of his desk and took her hand in his. "Captain, talk to me please. Tell me what happened. I don't just mean this…" She looked up at him and he saw the deepest sadness in her eyes. "You need to talk about this, let it all out…"

Kathryn nodded slowly, knowing he was right. That anything she spoke of would be in the strictest confidence was already understood. "All right…" She smiled softly. "Got any coffee? It's a long story…"

He smiled in return and got her a steaming mug of her favourite beverage. He watched as she inhaled the aroma but saw that it didn't have its usual calming effect on her. As he studied the woman before him, he thought how easily she'd accepted his offer to talk, and knew that her pain and loneliness must be very deep for her to agree so readily. Staying silent, he waited for her to tell him of the last six months, six months he knew she would gladly have exchanged for another six years in the Delta Quadrant were it not for getting her crew home. Kathryn sipped at her coffee then leaned back and let her mind take her on a journey, the memories of which she wanted to wipe out. She started slowly.

"The day we got back here was so happy…for me…for us all… I just wish I'd known what was to come….but then maybe not…"

As Voyager docked, Kathryn could still hear the cheers of her crew as they celebrated finally getting home. She was aware of the heavy weight she'd lived with for many years suddenly lifting off her shoulders and she dropped her head, allowing the smile on her face to expand. When she looked up, she saw Chakotay watching her, an equally large smile on his face too.

"Congratulations, Captain, you did what you said you'd do. You got us all home."

Kathryn felt her smile slip a little. "Not all of us…"

He immediately saw the change in her and reached a hand out and gripped her shoulder. "The others are already home, Kathryn…" His voice was soft, meant for her ears only. She smiled sadly and nodded, drawing comfort from his words.

Debriefings took over a week for the crew, not including Voyager's captain, and in between, Kathryn watched the many reunions with family and friends that took place all around her, as she stood back in the shadows and observed. Kathryn herself had received word that her mother had died a few months before their return and that her sister was married now and living off world. She knew a message had been sent to her sibling but didn't expect to see Phoebe here. Things had been strained between the sisters for years before Voyager had disappeared and Kathryn knew they'd never have a good relationship. On the final day of crew debriefings, she received a tense note from Phoebe, simply stating that she would be unable to make the journey to Earth but that she wished her well. Kathryn had received warmer messages from Engineering on the status of the warp core.

Mark didn't even put in an appearance, being away at a conference with his wife and had simply left a brief message for her, welcoming her home and wishing her well, the words betraying nothing of what had once been between them. She knew she'd long ago resolved her feelings about his marriage but it still hurt that there hadn't been a trace of warmth in his words. There wasn't one friendly face to meet her upon her return and Kathryn felt it deeply. She'd learned that Mark now worked for Starfleet as a consultant alongside his wife and that they were the parents of two young sons. This knowledge brought thoughts of what she lacked in her own life and only added to her sadness. She watched quietly as families and friends were reunited and swallowed her own loneliness and sadness as she witnessed the love and joy she saw on the faces before her. She was truly happy for them all, knowing that she'd achieved what she set out to do, that this had been her goal all along. At Kathryn's personal request, the news of her own family matters was kept quiet. She felt that the fact that she had nothing for herself now was unimportant and wanted nothing to mar the happiness of her crew.

Kathryn had also watched as Chakotay was reunited with some family members, cousins as far as she could remember and she forced down the lump in her throat as she studied him and realized just how much she missed having him at her side. She'd seen the hope on his face when they docked, that perhaps now she'd give 'them' a chance and she saw him look around each time she watched him unseen, as if he were looking for her but she never revealed herself to him, determined to adhere to the strict instructions she'd been issued with, to stay away from all her crew until further notice. She knew his future and the future of all the other former Maquis depended on her obeying the orders she'd been issued with.

When the crew were free of their debriefing sessions, no decision as to their future yet forthcoming, Kathryn still remained behind closed doors being grilled on every tiny detail of Voyager's logs. She spent long hours fighting for the Maquis, unwilling to give an inch with the board of Admirals who had set themselves up as judge and jury over her and her crew. The rest of the time she spent defending herself and every decision she'd ever made during their time in the Delta Quadrant, trying to get these people to understand what could never be understood by them. Kathryn found herself fighting tooth and nail each and every day for the men and women who'd come through so much with her and it was wearing her down. The board was chaired by an Admiral Brandon who had made no attempt to hide the fact that he disliked Kathryn from the word go and she vaguely remembered the man from her father's time and the fact that there'd been problems between the two men. Kathryn spent an average of twelve to fourteen hours each day in the small room where her hearing was held, never seeing daylight. She was usually escorted in at 0800 and kept there, meals being brought to her, until late in the evening.

At night she was allowed some time to herself but was constantly reminded to stay away from her crew and anyone else who approached her, in particular any reporters. She spent what little time alone she had, when they didn't need her for some event, closed away in the small apartment Starfleet had given her on campus and here she gave way to her tears in private, allowing herself to grieve for her mother and what could have been. Twice they'd allowed her to visit her former home but each time she'd been too overcome to remain for long within the walls which had once housed such happiness and had fled back to her empty, lonely apartment.

On the few occasions she'd seen Chakotay and other members of her crew, she'd always been in the company of an Admiral or some Security Officer, never allowed to go anywhere unaccompanied, and afraid that any action on her part would jeopardise their chance of freedom, Kathryn had simply nodded a brief greeting and carried on walking, ignoring the hurt expressions she saw. The pain she'd seen on Chakotay's face when she'd barely nodded at him, stayed in her mind and added to the reasons for her tears each night. It was during these long, dark and lonely hours, that she came to realize just how much she loved him and missed him, how much she'd depended on him and it broke her heart. Night after night, she cried herself to sleep, her dreams filled with his face, leaving her an emotional wreck the next day and ill prepared for the interrogations, which once more would last until late evening.

During her constant debriefings, she was repeatedly reminded that she and her former crew could spend time in prison for their 'crimes' and they went on and on at length about the many occasions when she'd broken and violated the Prime Directive. During her sessions with them, the Admirals constantly referred to her 'former' crew and each time Kathryn heard the term, it chipped away a bit more of her strength. They also never wasted an opportunity to remind her that she was no longer in charge, that she answered to Starfleet now.

When they wanted it, however, she was dragged alone to various functions, basically shown off but once more, never allowed speak with anyone outside the small group which stayed at her side constantly. Attending these 'outings', Kathryn had often spotted crewmembers and had no choice but to ignore them. Their hurt reaction wasn't missed by her. Despite the functions, they kept her away from all media outlets, with the exception of posed and strictly monitored holoimages, so Kathryn never knew how much public opinion was behind her and Voyager's returning heroes. No interviews were allowed and Kathryn was denied any reading material.

Finally, the news came through that no charges would be brought against the Maquis, although it was not official yet and would remain that way until an announcement was made at a gala dinner the following night when the news would be given publicly. Kathryn sagged in her chair when Admiral Brandon informed her of Starfleet's decision, adding that as of yet, she wasn't off the hook and that she was still to avoid any contact with anyone, once more being reminded that the decision regarding the Maquis could yet be altered in many ways.

At the end of the day, Kathryn was being escorted back to her quarters when she came face to face with Chakotay and the rest of her senior crew. She was tired after the long day of endless questions and still upset over the death of her mother and her sister's reaction to her return. She hadn't spoken with Chakotay since stepping off Voyager and despite her almost ignoring him before, his face lit up when he saw her, delighted with the news they'd been given that day. Kathryn's heart jumped in her chest at seeing him and she wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms and stay there, surrounded by him for all time. As he approached, leaving the others standing back a little, she noticed Admiral Brandon watching her from across the hall and read the warning in his face only too well. Before she knew it, Chakotay was standing in front of her, his face shining like a little boy on Christmas morning.

"Kathryn, isn't it wonderful…?"

Before he could say more, Kathryn interrupted him, her manner formal. "Congratulations, Commander." She saw his smile fade and then he looked at the Officer who waited beside her.

"Kathryn? What's wrong? I guessed that maybe you haven't been allowed talk to us before, because of the debriefings, but surely now it's all right."

Not wanting to let him suspect anything nor ruin the celebratory mood she saw in him and the others around him, she lied, a lie he saw through. "Nothing's wrong, Commander. I'm just tired. I need some time alone…" She hadn't meant to sound so sharp but it came out that way.

He immediately got the wrong message and reverted to the professional First Officer. "Forgive me, Captain. I just thought you might have wanted to see us all, maybe come out for something to eat or a coffee, a kind of celebration of our own before the official reception tomorrow night. I take it you will be attending…"

Kathryn sighed deeply. "I don't know yet… Commander, please… I must get going…"

Once again he read her wrong. "Of course, Captain. What was I thinking? Just because we're back on Earth… I really should know my place by now." Glaring at her, he stormed off and left her standing.

As things turned out, they both attended the gala the following night. Admiral Brandon escorted Kathryn, making sure she stayed well away from everyone. As she entered the hall, she met Mark, who simply smiled politely, informing her that his wife had been unable to attend. He walked in with her and the Admiral, chatting casually, as if she were a stranger. Chakotay was stunned when he saw what he assumed was Kathryn arriving with Mark as her escort, recognizing the man from the holoimage he'd seen on Voyager. Their eyes met across the room and Kathryn immediately saw the hurt on his face before anger replaced it. As she continued looking towards him a moment longer, he dragged B'Elanna out onto the dance floor and ignored his captain.

When the public and now official announcement was finally made, cheers erupted around the ballroom and Kathryn simply closed her eyes and let the relief wash over her. A section of the room was filled with press people and she knew that Starfleet, once the news had now been publicly released, could not go back on their word. Only her own fate remained uncertain but to Kathryn the future of her crew was all that mattered. She risked a glance around the room at the happy faces and met Chakotay's eyes. A pain shot through her when he looked away immediately.

It took another week before Kathryn was let go and informed that no charges would be brought against her, despite the evidence contained in Voyager's logs. Kathryn suspected that the media interest and the public opinion she now knew of had had a lot to do with their decision and so she walked from the room where she'd spent so many exhausting hours, and sagged against the wall, not caring who saw her. No direct mention had been made of her future and she'd been informed that she was to report in five days time to discuss the matter. Admiral Brandon had casually hinted at a promotion to Admiral and made a snide remark about her being one of them again now that she was home and need not have to mix with the lower ranks any more. Kathryn had simply ignored his comments and left. This man was capable of unnerving her like no other, and Kathryn was only too aware of his dislike for her. She constantly felt he had a hidden agenda with her but had nothing to go on to prove her theory. He continuously gave out the impression that she was under his control and would do well to remember that. Trying to shut out his face from her mind, she left headquarters. Until the time when she had to report back, she was free.

Determined to use her time off to speak with Chakotay, she called on Tom and B'Elanna to see if he was there. The reception she received from the young married couple was cool and they informed her that Chakotay was not there, that he'd gone away for a few days. The effect of the last weeks showed on Kathryn's face and wasn't missed by her former chief engineer and pilot and finally their demeanour softened a little. They gave her the names of a few places she might find Chakotay and Kathryn thanked them and set off to find him.

After endless and fruitless searching, Kathryn found no trace of Chakotay, despite having left message after message for him and knew now he didn't want to be found. As a last resort, she again called on Tom and B'Elanna. Receiving no answer at the door, she followed the sound of voices to the back garden and finally came face to face with Chakotay. His expression was hard when he saw her and Tom and B'Elanna quickly excused themselves. Kathryn walked slowly to Chakotay, a watery smile on her face.

"Chakotay, I've been trying for days to find you. I left messages everywhere. Are you trying to avoid me?" She smiled at him, hoping her words would ease the tension she felt from him. Trying to bring any humour into the situation was the wrong thing to do and Chakotay turned on her quickly.

"Excuse me, my concept of time must be screwed up. You've been looking for me for days? I was under the impression that we've been back for weeks."

Kathryn felt a fist grip her inside. "Chakotay, please…"

His face was hard. "Oh right, sorry, let's see now. Where to begin…? We could start with the fact that you don't even try and make contact with me or anyone else since our return. Then you see us and ignore us and for a while, I made excuses for that, thinking that you were only trying to protect us until a decision came through. When we get the all clear, you still cut me dead and can't even be bothered to come for a simple coffee with us. Of course, you'd plenty of time to attend all those lavish functions. There's the fact that we've all heard about you being offered the position of Admiral but you let us hear that from strangers. Oh, and then there's you being back with Mark and him being your escort at the gala but never mind all that…"

Kathryn felt something shatter inside her at his words and the harshness with which they were spoken. "Chakotay, please… I had debriefings for longer than anyone. They wanted far more answers from me than anyone else. They kept me shut off…and Mark was just…"

He was in no mood to listen. "Cut the crap, Kathryn. You're back with Starfleet now and we don't matter. You have your life back. Even after we knew we wouldn't be charged, even after the gala, you still kept your distance and stayed with your Admiral friends. They kept you shut off? Funny, I seem to remember seeing you out and about quite a bit. Well, we got the message. You hurt us all badly but at least now we know where we stand." His anger shocked her.

"Chakotay, please, listen… I can explain… I couldn't…"

He ignored the tears he saw in her eyes. "Kathryn, just forget it. I don't want to hear your sorry excuses. You're probably only here now because you need something from me. Well, I can tell you, I've left Starfleet, resigned for good. I'm leaving Earth in two hours time so you can save your words for someone who wants to hear them. I stood by your side for a lot of years. I really thought I deserved better from you." He turned his back on her.

Kathryn let her tears fall down her face. "Chakotay, if you'll just listen to me…"

He turned back and glared at her. "I don't want to hear any more, CAPTAIN. Oh, excuse me, ADMIRAL. Have a nice life." He stormed past her, knocking against her and almost causing her to lose her balance. When she turned around, he'd gone into the house.

Kathryn stood crying for several minutes, trying to compose herself. She gripped the back of the wooden bench before her and wiped at her tears but each time she thought she had them under control, they started again.

Chakotay slammed into the house and his eyes dared his two friends to get in his way. He reached for the bag he'd already packed and picked it up. "I'd better go. I've a transport to make. I want your word though, that neither of you will ever tell her where I've gone, although for the moment, even I don't know where that'll be."

B'Elanna stood slowly. "Chakotay, don't end it like this. Please…look at her…" She glanced out the window at the broken women in her garden, her shoulders shaking.

Chakotay didn't look. "You can't talk me out of this. I've made up my mind. She's made her bed and now she can lie in it for the rest of her life. For all I care, she can go to hell…"

Tom stared deeply at his friend. "Chakotay, you don't mean that…"

Chakotay's anger was not abating. "Oh, I mean it all right. She's hurt me and she's hurt every member of our crew. I wanted to believe there was a good reason for that and I gave her the benefit of the doubt for long enough but once those pardons were handed out, she still stayed away. She's made her position very clear to us and that position is now an admiral with Starfleet, just where she always belonged, with the 'right kind' of man in her life, one who's socially acceptable for her position. I was a fool to ever think I'd be good enough… Oh, to hell with it." He hugged them both briefly and left, leaving them standing in the now silent kitchen.

B'Elanna was the first to move and Tom nodded to her as she made her way into the garden to try and console the still sobbing women she'd served for so many years. Kathryn jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder and brushed at her tears. "Captain…"

Kathryn hung her head, trying to hide her face. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I'll go…"

Tom's voice cut her off. "You can stay here as long as you like…" He looked to his wife and saw her nod.

Kathryn managed to regain a little control and she looked at them both tearfully. "Chakotay…?"

They exchanged a sad look and B'Elanna answered the plaintive question. "He's gone. I'm sorry."

Kathryn sniffed and wiped her face with both hands. "I understand. I'd better go. Again…I'm sorry for this…"

Tom laid a hand on her arm. "Captain, don't go like this, please…"

Kathryn just shook her head. "Tom, I'm sorry. I'm in no state at the moment. I'll come back. I promise." Wiping at her face once more, she turned and walked away, trying her best to find some semblance of the captain she used to be but failing miserably.

Kathryn requested and was granted an additional three days leave which she spent at her mother's house. Phoebe had signed away all her rights to the place, leaving it all to her sister. During her stay there, Kathryn ate and drank little and spent most of her time just sitting and staring off into nothingness. She took a good, hard look at her life or the lack of one and cried more tears than she could ever imagine she was capable of. By the end of the third day, something had died inside her, leaving behind a ghost of the woman who'd been. She dragged herself into the shower, forced something into her stomach and reported back to headquarters, not caring now what life held in store for her. She knew the only reason she'd come back to Starfleet was because there was nothing else for her and she'd nowhere else to go.

Kathryn accepted whatever Admiral Brandon proposed to her with one exception. She refused the position of admiral, insisting that she remain a captain. Her duties were handed out to her and she took them without question. She ignored the scornful looks he gave her and spoke only when an answer was needed. She could see from his expression that he felt he'd broken her and was revelling in the knowledge. Kathryn knew she was broken all right, but the man in front of her was only partly the reason.

For the next two months, Kathryn sat behind her desk and went through the motions of her work, speaking to few people. As far as her superiors were concerned, she was a model of quiet efficiency. She arrived early each morning and stayed on long into the night, going through reports and sorting problems. At night, she dragged herself back to her small apartment on campus, having never given it up. She boarded up her mother's house and stayed away, not having been back since her three-day exile there.

The only people she had any kind of relationship with were the two men assigned to assist her. David Jones was a young blond man, biding his time until he received a deep space assignment and who rushed off each evening for a date with a different girl each time, and Nathan Mullins, a dark haired, kindly man, married with two teenage girls. He'd been injured during his time in space, and now was only allowed clerical work. He walked with a slight limp but his work was top class and Kathryn found herself depending on him as the only source of solace in her life. Nathan and his wife occasionally invited her for dinner but she constantly refused, knowing what bad company she'd be.

Kathryn grew very used to the routine of the excuse for a life she lived. Admiral Paris called by to see her occasionally and to drag her out for lunch but he rarely succeeded in prying her from her desk. He constantly urged her to call by and see his son and daughter in law and Kathryn usually made her empty promises, both of them seeing through her words.

At the end of Kathryn's third month back with Starfleet and four months since their return, Admiral Brandon called Kathryn to his office one day. As she sat facing the stone-faced man, he casually informed her that she'd been assigned to a space mission which would leave at the end of the week. He offered her no choice to turn it down and Kathryn numbly accepted.

"You will captain a ship named the Travis, with a Commander John Hawkins and a Lieutenant Miriam Stowe. Your assignment is to take care of a rogue group of Cardassians and Humans, opposed to the Peace Treaty, who are hiding out at a certain location which will be disclosed to you once you're underway. Your mission is to take the Travis in after them and arrest them. What they do and why you're being sent after them is of no concern to you or your crew. This group is only comprised of about twenty members so I can't foresee any problems. You'll have the crew you need to take care of this efficiently and possibly another ship will join you. If that is the case, you'll take your orders from them. You'll be briefed in more detail before your departure. Any questions?" He was already clearing his desk, not expecting her to dare ask anything. Kathryn simply nodded her understanding. Something troubled her deeply about all this but her 'not caring' attitude of late won over and she quickly pushed it to the back of her mind.

At the end of the week, Kathryn again sat in Admiral Brandon's office, reading through the brief she'd been given. Commander Hawkins and Lieutenant Stowe sat with her, the admiral not having bothered to formally introduce them to each other.

"I believe everything has been made clear to you all. You're all free this evening and will report in at 0800 hours tomorrow." Admiral Brandon stood and nodded at them then left the room.

"A man of few words." Commander Hawkins smiled and shook his head. He looked over at his new captain and met with her blank face. "Sorry, Captain, no offence meant."

Kathryn simply nodded. "None taken, Commander…" The title caught in her throat, a million memories of using it before assaulting her and she swallowed quickly and lowered her eyes to the padd in her hand. There was silence for a few minutes and finally Kathryn pulled herself together.

"Sorry, my mind is elsewhere. Commander Hawkins, Lieutenant Stowe, good to meet you both." The three shook hands and Kathryn managed a small smile. "I guess we'd better go over all this and acquaint ourselves with the information before the morning." They both nodded at her.

For the next two hours, the three worked through the available data and by the end of their meeting, a relationship of sorts had formed between them. Kathryn learned that neither were married and recognized 'career officer' material in them both. A part of her wanted to scream at them, that they were making the biggest mistake of their lives, that they'd end up as sad and lonely people like her if they went on as they were. In the end, of course, she stuck to the business at hand and kept a respectable distance from them, determined never to get close to anyone ever again.

When Kathryn returned to her lonely apartment that evening, she stopped and looked around her for a few moments, the emptiness of the place almost mocking her. Following an instinct she couldn't pin down, mostly that there was more to this mission than they'd been told, she changed out of her uniform and left, having packed a small bag for the following morning. Before she could talk herself out of it, she made her way to the house where Tom and B'Elanna lived, something urging her to speak with them before her departure. Without having called ahead, she knocked softly on their door, feeling more nervous than she could remember being in a long time.

Tom's smile when he opened the door, put her at her ease instantly and he welcomed her in.

"Tom, I'm sorry I didn't call ahead. I apologize if you're busy or going out…"

Tom smiled and shook his head. "It's good to see you. We thought you'd forgotten your promise."

Kathryn smiled sadly and shook her head.

Tom led her into the living room, a cosily furnished space and Kathryn looked around her at the colourful décor and the warmth it created. This was a home, exuding a feeling of love and restfulness, so in contrast to the sparsely furnished rooms where Kathryn spent her life now.

B'Elanna eased herself up from the sofa, the pregnancy Kathryn had had no idea about now showing. "Captain, this is a surprise but a wonderful one. You're more than welcome." A big smile lit up her face and Kathryn felt tears come to her eyes as she looked at the happy couple before her, with so much to look forward to. Without warning and to her deep embarrassment, she burst into tears.

Kathryn was vaguely aware of being led to the sofa and gently eased down and then there were strong feminine arms around her and kind words filling her ears. Mortified at her actions, Kathryn eventually managed to control her sobs and looked at her two former officers, apologizing profusely for her lack of control.

B'Elanna gripped her hand tightly. "Captain, if I'm right, I think you've needed that for a long time. I don't mean the cry because I believe you've done a lot of that since we got home, but I think you needed the hug." Kathryn tearfully looked into the eyes of the young Klingon and started all over again.

Sometime later, she sat in the warmth of the room, a strong cup of tea in her hands and spoke of her pain for the first time since their return, amazed at how open she was being. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what you all must have thought… Well, I do know. I know what…what Chakotay thought..."

Tom looked over at his former commanding officer. "Captain, what happened? I think we've a pretty good idea though. Dad has been very worried about you for a long time now and he filled us in on what he knew but… Well, he told us you were under a really hard minded admiral and apparently his reputation is…"

Kathryn managed a small smile. "He's a tough one, all right. Sorry." She took a deep swallow of her tea and settled her thoughts. Finally, she opened up as much as she could and told them about her mother and sister, about Mark and meeting him for the first time at the gala and his coolness to her. She told them about the endless interrogations she'd endured and how she'd been kept away from everyone, the threat of their all serving time hanging over her. She spoke of how they'd insisted she attend any function they told her to and how much pain it had caused her to walk past them and how afraid she'd been for them all. She related for them the day she'd had to cut Chakotay off, feigning coldness because that same admiral was watching her. And she told them about how she'd still had her own fate hanging over her head the night of the gala and the fear that Starfleet would change their minds before the official announcement had been made. She spoke of the three days she'd spent at her mother's house and how she'd refused the position of admiral and just taken whatever assignment they gave her, needing anything to fill her days. She opened up about how lonely she'd been and how much she'd missed them all but that she'd been too afraid to approach any of them, for fear they wouldn't want to know her now, feeling she'd hurt them all too much. And finally, she said the words no one else had heard, how she loved Chakotay and missed him, how he'd hurt her too but how she understood and deserved it. The more she spoke, the more came out and before she knew it, she'd told them everything, leaving herself in a state of shock.

"He really hates me now…" It wasn't a question and she sniffed loudly.

B'Elanna gripped the hand of the older woman and debated lying then decided to just sugar coat the truth. "Captain, he just didn't understand. If he'd just known all this…"

Kathryn shook her head sadly. "I tried telling him but he didn't want to know…"

Tom leaned forward. "Captain…"

Kathryn smiled gently at him. "Both of you, please… I really think it's time you called me Kathryn. After the display you've seen from me tonight…"

Tom laughed softly. "You should try living with a pregnant Klingon…" He ducked the cushion that came his way and delighted in the first laugh they'd had from Kathryn all night. "OK, Kathryn… You have to understand… Look, he was angry and pig headed. He was being Chakotay."

Kathryn shook her head. "No, he was being right. He reacted exactly as he should have to what he saw before him. I've never given him any reason to believe…" She wiped angrily at her face. "God, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done all this to you…unloaded on you both like this…"

B'Elanna slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Kathryn, I'm just so glad that we can be here for you, that you felt you could come to us and speak with us. We missed you so much. We all needed this. Look, we don't know where he is and I'm sorry for that. He called us once to say he was all right but he didn't say where he was or where he was going. I'm sure though that he'll call again and then maybe… Look, let us talk to him, tell him what really happened…"

Kathryn shook her head sadly. "It's all right, B'Elanna. I don't want to intrude on his life. I'm sure he's happier where he is now…met someone…settled…" The thought made her start crying again.

Tom and B'Elanna spent a long time comforting the woman before them and by the end of the evening, Kathryn had gained a peace she hadn't experienced in a long time. It was a small step and went nowhere near lessening the pain she still felt inside but it eased her mind slightly.

"Oh God, I'm sorry for all this. Please…I shouldn't have said most of what I have tonight. I know I don't need to ask you both to keep it to yourselves…" She looked up into their kind faces and knew nothing spoken of in this room would ever be repeated. Finally, she stood to leave, telling them she had an early start in the morning.

B'Elanna hugged her tightly. "Kathryn, look, we're having a picnic on Sunday with some of the old crowd, a nice day in the countryside. Why don't you join us?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't…"

Tom tutted. "Oh, come on now, Kathryn. They'd love to see you. They'll understand and they miss you too. Besides, we've just found you. We're not letting you go that easily…"

Kathryn shook her head and smiled softly at him. "No, it's not that… I'd love to see them but I have a mission. I'm leaving in the morning. I can't say any more…" She saw the worried looks on the faces of the young couple. "It's… Look, would you do something for me?" They nodded slowly. "Let them all know how sorry I am for the hurt I caused…that I'm thinking of them. And if you do hear from Chakotay…" She looked down and swallowed then met their eyes. "Tell him…tell him… Tell him I'm sorry…that I… Well, you know…"

Tom frowned deeply but B'Elanna spoke her mind. "Kathryn, why do I get the feeling you came here tonight to say 'goodbye' in case…"

Kathryn put on her best smile. "B'Elanna, it's just a simple mission. Those hormones are getting to you. I'm just…"

Tom cut her off. "Kathryn, you forget how well we know you. Just how dangerous is this?"

Kathryn shook her head and laughed. "It's nothing like that. I just… It's just that… I met the people who'll be working with me tonight and…I saw myself in them…and it made me think… I just… Look I'll be back in a week and we'll get together then…" She saw husband and wife exchange a look she couldn't read but they let it pass quickly.

B'Elanna hugged her. "All right, Kathryn. You have a date there. Just promise me you'll be careful, OK?"

Kathryn hugged her back, absorbing the embrace like a balm. "I promise and I'll see you the moment I get back." She turned and hugged Tom just as strongly. She wiped at the new tears which came to her eyes and saw that they had company. As she left their home that night, she looked at them standing in the light of the doorway and prayed her words would prove to be the truth.

As they closed the door, Tom looked at his wife. "Did you buy that last bit?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "That was her saying her 'goodbyes' all right. She's more worried about this mission than she's saying. I just hope…"

Tom slipped his arms around her. "She'll be fine. She came through the Delta Quadrant. She'll come through anything."

B'Elanna looked down at the floor and frowned. "She had something at the end of that, something to live and work for. You saw her, the way she is… I just think that this time, she feels she's nothing to come back home for…" She reached up and hugged her husband to her.

"B'El, she'll be fine. She's a fighter."

B'Elanna pulled back and looked into his eyes. "Tom, I hope you're right. That was one deeply hurting woman here tonight. I tell you one thing though, she loves Chakotay with her life. I want to look for him. I think this has gone on long enough."

Tom smiled down at her. "OK, matchmaker. First thing in the morning we search the known galaxy for a big guy with a tattoo…" They smiled then kissed and made their way towards their bedroom, both of them knowing just how lucky they were.


Even after three days in space, Kathryn had to swallow the lump in her throat which formed every time she came to the bridge and saw John Hawkins sitting in the First Officer's chair. Seeing Miriam's blond head and not Tom's at the conn had the same effect. The fact that a Vulcan was her Security Officer on this ship didn't help the pain she felt either and when she looked at the young red haired woman in Harry Kim's place, she always had to swallow and concentrate on all their names, fearing she'd slip up and revert to happier times. She left it to her First Officer to speak with engineering, not able to take the absence of B'Elanna's confident voice answering any problem.

They'd just received their orders and had entered in the coordinates for their rendezvous with another Federation vessel. Once there, they'd be informed of their final destination. Within a further four hours, they were hailed by the Taurus and followed them, the other ship appearing to have more details about this mission than Kathryn and her crew had been given.

Two hours later found the captain of the Taurus, a man in his fifties named William Walker, speaking with Kathryn in her ready room over a secure commlink.

"I can only give you rough details, Captain Janeway. We'll arrive at our objective in one hour. Your team will join mine on the surface and once there, we'll basically take the place. There are two main buildings, one housing quarters for the group and the other their main command post. Your team will join me in taking the command post." His face and voice never changed during his entire speech. Kathryn went to ask a question but he cut her off.

"I know you'd like more information than I'm giving you but you have your orders. I'm in charge of this mission as I'm sure you already know and I've told you what you need to know. Your job here is to follow my orders without question. I realize that's still a strange concept to you but I'd suggest you get used to it again."

Kathryn controlled her temper, disliking this man even more. "Of course, Captain." Something about William Walker spoke of his being more than an ordinary Starfleet captain but Kathryn knew better than to inquire further. He nodded curtly and cut the transmission, telling her he'd get back to her within the hour, when they were ready.

Kathryn sat back in her chair and wondered just what she'd gotten herself into. Nothing about this mission felt right. The fact that only Admiral Brandon had spoken to her of it and now the lack of information from the other captain was more than strange and in fact was completely unheard of in her experience. Something felt very wrong to her but her training remained with her and she forced her worries away.

As they prepared to beam down, having reached their target, Kathryn looked at the faces of John Hawkins and Miriam Stowe and knew immediately that they were as concerned as she was with this assignment but none of them spoke of it. Kathryn had no more time to think further on the matter as the order came.

Time held no frame of its own in the hours that followed. It only took Kathryn seconds to realize that their information had been in error, although Walker hadn't seemed surprised. There were nearer fifty Cardassians and Humans at the base they now tried to take. Kathryn saw the other team storm the living quarters, a small fight ensuing. She forced her mind to her own target and to simply staying alive. She and her team fought long and hard to take the command post as the noise of the battle almost deafened her.

Captain Walker grabbed her arm and shouted at her. "I want you, Hawkins and Stowe to come with me. We need to find the labs and take them…"

Kathryn didn't have time to question anything and found herself running down a long corridor with Walker leading them. It vaguely clicked with her that he seemed to know his way around the building a little too well but she quickly dismissed the thought, knowing he'd been briefed far more extensively than she had. Walker kicked in a door and nodded for them to precede him inside. John and Miriam were ahead of her as they rushed the room and time slowed for Kathryn as she saw two Cardassians and a Human look up startled as they stormed in. Almost in slow motion, she watched one of the Cardassians go for a weapon and she raised her own. As she fired, she felt a sharp pain rip through her shoulder and realized that she'd been hit. At the same moment, her eyes caught the movement of the other Cardassian as he picked up a glass container and threw it in their direction. As Kathryn started to go down, some of the liquid in the container splashed on her but she saw that John and Miriam, being so much closer, caught more of it as it sprayed across their bodies and faces.

All Kathryn knew after that was the sound of phaser fire and strong hands on her, dragging her out of the room as pain washed over her. She saw two members of Walker's team helping John and Miriam out of the room before throwing something inside. As they rushed down the corridor, Kathryn being half carried, she heard the explosion as the lab blew. She was pulled back to their pick up site and all along the way, she saw bodies littering the ground and knew none of them were alive. As they waited, a shuttle landed and she heard someone shout for them to hurry and then she was shoved into the small craft and they were lifting off. As they rose from the ground, Kathryn got her last view of the area below her and saw the two buildings they'd stormed explode, leaving nothing standing. She saw the remaining members of the team on the ground vaporize the bodies which remained. Just as she went to scream out, to demand to know what they were doing, a hypo pressed to her neck and she knew no more.

Kathryn woke later in a sickbay, the light instantly assaulting her eyes. She groaned loudly just as a familiar face appeared before her. Voyager's own EMH.

"Where…where am I? What happened?" She struggled to sit up but her head seemed to explode and she fell back. She groaned again at the pain in her shoulder and arm before another hypo was pressed to her neck and the pain eased immediately.

"Captain, please lie still."

Kathryn nodded slowly and let the painkiller do its work. "Doctor…please…what… How did I get…? How did you…?"

He smiled softly. "I'll tell you all I know. You were brought here yesterday with a bad shoulder wound. I had to perform surgery as you'd only been given basic first aid. I have no idea why you weren't treated better on the ship…"

Kathryn fought to get her thoughts to order themselves and to recall the events of her mission. "Where am I?"

He patted her hand. "You're at headquarters, in the medical facility." He saw her process the information and knew many questions would come from her.

"That's three or four days…more…from where we were. How…?"

The Doctor shook his head. "Captain, I have no answers for you. I can only assume that you were unconscious all that time or…" Kathryn saw him hesitate. "It's possible you were kept sedated. There was a fairly high level of sedative in your system."

Kathryn's thoughts swirled as she tried to make sense of everything that had happened. Before she could ask anything else, another face appeared before her. Admiral Brandon. "If I may, Doctor, I need to speak with your patient in private." The Doctor simply nodded and moved away. Kathryn pushed down the uneasiness this man created in her every time she saw him.

"Right, Captain. Simple orders for you. I'm sure you can manage them." His snide manner wasn't lost on her. "The mission is over and debriefings aren't necessary. What you saw is over with and you won't speak of it again. Do I make myself clear?"

Kathryn simply nodded. "My crew?"

Brandon shook his head in annoyance. "Six dead, ten injured including yourself. Details of the other team are not your concern. In fact, none of this is your concern any more. Your work is over and I suggest you just get back on your feet and return to your desk. Remember the oath you swore and let this go, Captain. It's not your place to know anything else. You simply follow orders." He waited to see if she would say anything more and when she didn't, simply nodded and walked away.

Kathryn was back on her feet within another three days and back at her desk two days after that. She tried quietly to find out where John and Miriam were, to check if they were all right. Her last memory of them had been sitting in the shuttle beside her, before she'd been sedated. Most of her memories of the mission were now clouded and she had no answers as to how she'd been returned to Earth. Despite having been released from sickbay and given the all clear, Kathryn still suffered a fatigue which she couldn't seem to shake. She asked questions quietly now but was never able to find any answers. Most people she spoke with either denied any knowledge of the matter or appeared nervous. When she checked Starfleet's records of the mission, she found she was denied access to a lot of information and discovered to her shock, that all sensors had been wiped from the computers on board the Travis and that there was no record at all of a ship named the Taurus. She continued her quiet investigation until finally Admiral Paris came to see her at her apartment, asking her to keep their meeting off the record.

"Kathryn, I have to ask you something and for the moment, I don't want you to ask any questions." Kathryn merely nodded and remained silent.

"Kathryn, I'm asking this as a colleague but also as a friend and most of all I'm asking you to trust me. You've been asking about two of the crewmembers who were with you on your last mission and about the mission itself. Your little investigation has not gone unnoticed. I'm here to ask you to let it go. I'll try and answer questions for you later but for the moment, please stop what you're doing. I can't tell you any more at the moment."

Kathryn searched his face but saw nothing. "Forgive me, Admiral…"

He waved a hand and smiled. "Come on now, Kathryn, we're off the record here and you've known me a long time. Call me Owen, please."

Kathryn didn't return the smile but simply nodded. "All right… Owen, it is. Look, there's something not right here. First off, I barely received any orders and certainly little explanation, which I can understand to some degree but not to this extent. I'm told to forget the entire mission yet what I saw happen there was not Starfleet…" She paused a moment and drew in a deep breath. "Captain Walker gives me more orders, despite being the same rank and I can take that as I'd been ordered to follow him… I'm given no clue as to where we are and then… I don't know…I'm injured and I see them wipe the place off the map. I'm sedated and not treated for my injuries and kept that way for days. I wake up back here, again no explanation and then Admiral Brandon is there, telling me to wipe it all from my mind and go back to my desk like it never happened. Later on, I check and ask some questions and find sensors have been wiped and I'm not allowed access to information that would normally be available to someone with the rank of Ensign. I can find no trace of my crew…"

Owen Paris held up his hand again. "Kathryn, listen to me carefully now. I'm here to ask you to trust me for a while. Stop asking anything and just do what's expected of you. I'll try and answer your questions in time but for now… Kathryn, lives are at stake here, including your own. Please, I beg you, let this go for now."

Kathryn stared deeply at him. She saw how serious and worried he was and a shiver went down her spine. She nodded slowly. "All right, Owen, because it's you…"

He finally smiled and she saw the relief that came with it. They chatted for a little while longer, mostly about the Delta Quadrant and Kathryn was suddenly aware of Owen staring at her.

"Owen? What is it? What's…?" She got her answer before he spoke as she felt a small trickle of something escape her nose. Quickly she wiped at it and studied the back of her hand where she saw blood. She stood quickly and apologized, grabbing a tissue and wiping her nose.

"Owen, I'm sorry. I don't usually have nosebleeds." She saw him smile softly but there was something on his face she couldn't read.

Over the next week, Kathryn experienced several more nosebleeds and her fatigue continued. Occasionally now she suffered headaches and her joints seemed stiff and painful in the mornings and at night. Kathryn for the most part ignored what her body was trying to tell her and threw herself into her work but she couldn't stop thinking about John and Miriam.

As she worked her way through a pile of padds one afternoon, Nathan sent a call through to her from Tom and B'Elanna. Smiling to herself, she took it and smiled again when she saw their faces.

"I'm sorry I haven't been in touch. I know I promised but it's been…" She saw them stare at her and B'Elanna as usual went straight to the point. "Kathryn, what on earth have you done to yourself?"

Kathryn's hand went immediately to her face, and she studied her fingers, afraid her nose was bleeding again but saw nothing. "What…?"

B'Elanna stared at her. "Kathryn, you look so tired and…you look ill…"

Kathryn just smiled. "I'm fine, honestly. My mission was a bit more gruelling than I thought and I was injured… I'm fine now…" She saw the shocked looks on their faces.

Tom broke in. "Injured? Kathryn, how bad? It's been weeks since we expected to hear from you. Are you sure you're all right? What are you not telling us?"

Kathryn instantly remembered Owen's words and smiled her best smile. "Will you two stop worrying? I'm fine. I was off my feet for about a week but I'm back to normal now."

B'Elanna snorted. "Normal for you is not eating, not sleeping and denying how bad you feel."

Kathryn threw her eyes up. "I am eating, I am sleeping and I'm getting back to myself… Will that do?"

They both smiled and shook their heads. "Guess it'll have to do until we get you over here and feed you properly. When can you come for dinner?"

Kathryn smiled her thanks. "B'Elanna, Tom, I'm not crying off but I'll have to let you know on that. There's a lot on here at the moment. I promise you though, the minute I can, I'll call you…"

They nodded reluctantly, knowing they had no choice. "All right, you have two weeks and no more. After that we drag you here." Tom gave her his best cheeky smile and it brought tears to her eyes. She nodded her agreement and cut the transmission before she broke down.

The following day, Kathryn still felt unwell and shocked the life out of Nathan when she fainted on him. When she came around, he had her lying on the sofa in her office with a cool cloth on her forehead.

"Easy, Captain, I've been trying to call the Doctor but I can't reach him. I'll try again…" He stood up to go but Kathryn grabbed him by the wrist.

"Nathan, please… I don't need…"

He made to pull away. "You faint, on top of which you've looked unwell for the past two weeks, had nosebleeds and you don't want…"

Kathryn sat up and fought the wave of dizziness which passed over her. She felt Nathan's kind hands on her arms and smiled. "Nathan, I don't need him. I'll see him later. It's all right…"

He nodded slowly. "This is something you know about? Something you're seeing him for?"

Kathryn hadn't thought of that as an excuse but nodded now. "Nathan, I'm fine honestly." He reluctantly let it go and returned to work.

An hour later, Kathryn felt better and carried on with her work. Owen Paris let himself into her office and smiled softly. "Don't blame him, I talked him into letting me in."

Kathryn sat forward and smiled, putting her padd down. "Owen, you don't need an excuse…"

She saw the smile slip from his face as he looked at her. "Nathan tells me you fainted earlier." He wasn't asking a question and Kathryn sighed.

"Nathan says too much. Owen, I'm fine…"

He moved forward and cut her off. "Kathryn, I need to speak with you. Can you come with me? Do you feel up to it?"

She frowned and nodded. "All right. This sounds serious…"

He didn't answer and waited until she stood and made her way to him, then stood back and let her precede him. Calling over his shoulder, he smiled at Kathryn's secretary. "Nathan, I need the Captain for an hour or so. Can you take her calls for her?" The man knew his job well and merely nodded, asking no questions.

Owen Paris took Kathryn to an area of headquarters she'd never been in before. He led her to a small office and gestured for her to sit. Without asking, he placed a cup of tea in front of her. "Better for you than that coffee you insist on." He smiled but it didn't hide the serious look beneath it on his face. Finally, he sat and studied her for a few moments.

"Kathryn, I told you before that I'd answer your questions for you. I can do that now. Some of what I say will only give you more questions but please wait until I tell you everything first." He looked at her and saw her nod slowly. Leaning back in his chair, he began.

"I'm sure you've wondered why Admiral Brandon appeared to almost hate you from the moment he saw you." He saw her nod. "He worked with your father, you know." He saw she remembered. "There was a great deal of animosity between them, to say the least. Your father didn't trust him and suspected him of being involved in some things which I won't go into but let's just say they were to Brandon's own personal gain and our loss and involved the situation with the Cardassians." He saw the face of the woman before him harden.

"Let's also just say your father and I suspected a lot but could prove nothing and eventually things quietened down. Brandon was assigned overseas and had no more contact with us. In the end, the matter was let go but I don't think he ever forgave us. After your father was killed, the matter slipped from my own mind." Kathryn lowered her head a moment as memories of her father's death alongside her fiancé came back to her. Owen gave her a moment before he continued.

"The reason I believe he treated you as he did, was because of who you were and also I think, because you were a woman. Not a modern thinker, our Admiral Brandon. Never believed women should be out in the world. Anyway…" He stood and looked out the window a moment then turned back.

"Just before you returned home, the Peace Treaty was signed with Cardassia." Kathryn nodded, knowing all the details as she'd read them. "There were rumours of a group opposed to the Treaty and intent on sabotaging it. I believe their preferred method of warfare was chemical…" Kathryn sat forward now, concern on her face. She felt something drop inside her and knew she wasn't going to like what she was going to hear.

"They…this group, were comprised of a mix of Cardassians and Humans, hating each other for the most part but working together towards a shared goal. We knew they had 'help', if you like, in higher ranks and we pooled intelligence with the Cardassian government to expose them. We were close too…"

Kathryn stared intently at her old Mentor. "My mission…"

He nodded his head. "In essence, yes…only Brandon went ahead before he'd spoken with anyone. How he organized it so quickly and how no one saw…" Kathryn saw anger on the face of the old man. He controlled himself and sat again.

"Brandon was one of those involved, just as we'd suspected all along…all those years ago… He used your mission…"

Kathryn held up her hand now. "He used us to wipe the place out before anything could be discovered about it, knowing he'd be found out and William Walker was in it with him…" Owen Paris merely nodded.

Kathryn made to stand then sat again. "How did…?"

Admiral Paris shook his head. "He was clever, that's how. I'm telling you this now because they were both arrested this morning, along with a few others. The same scene played itself out on Cardassia. There'll always be many questions from this we'll never have answers to, what with the evidence and witnesses destroyed. We just have to accept that. It's over…for the most part…" He looked away from her.

Kathryn's anger rose up in her. "He used us to destroy all that…kill all those people…"

Owen stood again. "Those people would have killed millions, Kathryn…"

She looked up at him and saw the truth in his face. "I know. It just doesn't make it any easier…" She shook her head. "Why didn't someone see…?"

Owen came around and sat on the corner of the desk. "Kathryn, he had you all briefed and away before we knew it. After that, he convinced the right people that he was sending a team to arrest those involved, only he had other plans…"

Kathryn tried to force her thoughts to order themselves. "How did he explain…later on…?"

Owen shrugged. "He sounded sincere and some bought it. He told them that there'd been a suicide pact with the group…that they'd had the place rigged if anyone tried to take them. They believed it, Kathryn…had no reason not to. They saw a decorated admiral and a long serving captain in Walker, telling them all this. Basically, they were just happy to hear that it was over. You'd been there, the returning heroine… Kathryn, they were blinded by what they wanted to see. I know it's no excuse but…"

Kathryn finally stood and walked up and down slowly. Her fatigue bore down on her but she put it down to what had just been revealed to her. "All the people we lost…" She stopped suddenly, her mind racing. "You said…over for the most part. Owen…what else? Where are John and Miriam?" He didn't answer her immediately and her mind supplied its own answers. "Chemical…warfare…chemical weapons…one of them threw something…" Her eyes flew to the face before her. "Owen…?"

He shook his head sadly and gestured to her chair. "Kathryn, please…" She sat, hardly aware of the movement. "Kathryn, you remember what happened?" She nodded, torn between wanting and not wanting to hear what was to come. "They were experimenting with chemical weapons…making… It was to be germ warfare on a scale…"

Kathryn's face showed the horror she felt at his words. "What was in that lab was…that's where they were formulating and constructing everything…testing…" He signed deeply and stared sadly at Kathryn. "What was thrown…it exposed…" Kathryn's hand flew to her mouth. "What he threw at them…it splashed all over them… Owen…where are they? Are they…?"

Owen got off the desk and knelt beside her. "They were exposed to… We don't know what it was but…" He looked down and took her hand. "Kathryn…they're…dying…"

Kathryn closed her eyes tightly. "No…oh no…Owen…" He gripped her hands tightly. "Kathryn…you…" Finally, he met her eyes and saw the sudden understanding in them.

"I was exposed too…" The acceptance he saw there shocked him and he just nodded. Kathryn dropped her head and said nothing.

"Kathryn, we need to get you to your Doctor…get you checked… I know you've been feeling ill and it could well be something else… You were injured there and it could be related to that…"

Kathryn pulled her hands away and stood up. "Walker knew his way around there. It didn't click at first…well, it did, but I pushed the thoughts aside…too much else happening. He didn't have me treated because he hoped I'd die on the way back. What else did he give me?"

Owen stood slowly and sat on the desk again. "Kathryn, I have few answers for you. We know that Walker had been there many times before and so had Brandon. As to you…we now know that he simply kept you sedated and gave basic first aid. I don't believe he wanted you to die though. He could have easily arranged that if he'd wanted to. Your death would have raised too many questions. I think it was mostly to keep you in line. Kathryn, I don't know and they're not talking. Look, you just have to let it go. It's over for good now and they'll never be free again…"

Kathryn felt her anger rise up. "It's over for a lot of people, Owen. It's over for John and Miriam, isn't it?" He had no answer and she saw it. "Can I see them?"

He met her eyes and shook his head. "Kathryn, please… It's for the best…besides… Kathryn, they're both in comas…"

Kathryn finally gave way to the tears which had been threatening. "It's not fair…" She felt kind arms go around her and let go, crying out everything.

Finally, he led her back to her chair. "Kathryn, you need to see your Doctor. Please, Kathryn…just to be safe." She nodded and wiped at her face. He looked kindly at her. "Did any get splashed on you?"

Kathryn drew in a deep breath. "I'll see the Doctor in the morning. I will, Owen…but yes…some did get on me…" She looked into the eyes of the man who had been like a father to her and saw the deep pain written there. There was nothing more to be said.

Kathryn wiped at her eyes, only now realizing how much she'd been crying as she'd spoken to the Doctor. "That's my story… not a happy one…"

The Doctor's face showed a sadness he'd never been programmed with. "Captain… I'll work round the clock on this. You have to have faith…"

Kathryn actually laughed. "Poor Owen. I think he wanted so hard to believe that my symptoms were anything but this…" She wiped at her face again and took the tissue he offered her. "I have faith in you but… Actually, I have faith in justice after this morning…" She saw the puzzled look on the face of the Medic. "I received word that Brandon and Walker decided to take the cowards way out…" She saw understanding on the Doctor's face.


She nodded. "Starfleet taking care of things. The opportunity was left available to them…their belts or something. Either way, I don't care…"

They were silent for several minutes and then the Doctor spoke. "Captain, we need to discuss…"

Kathryn looked at him and nodded. "I know. How to delay the inevitable. Sorry, Doctor, I just need to get rid of some of this anger… Please, go ahead…"

He smiled sadly. "We need to discuss treatment. I can control the symptoms for the most part, at least for now…certainly the fatigue… and I can give you a clotting agent for the nosebleeds and painkillers…"

Kathryn held up a hand. "What I have so far… That will get worse?" He nodded, knowing the woman before him and how she preferred the truth. "What else? What happens…later on…?"

He sighed deeply. "What I've learned and from observing…" He shook his head. "There will be headaches, joint pain, the muscles will weaken…" He looked at Kathryn and saw a model of control, pure composure. "Your blood will have more and more trouble clotting…and the internal… It attacks the immune system and the cells… It's complicated and… There will be…you'll experience…seizures…" He met her eyes.

"How soon can I expect…seizures… How will I…?"

The Doctor shook his head. "They can be expected quite soon…" He had trouble controlling himself. "I'll give you medication…hyposprays… You should always have someone with you… Captain, it could well affect you differently…"

Kathryn stood. "But the end will be the same… coma and then death…which will probably be a relief…" She shook her head and frowned, amazed at her own calmness now.

When she looked back at the Doctor, he nodded. "It breaks down the internal structure of the cell walls, attacks the tissue…blood…"

Kathryn sat again. "In other words…it's not going to be pretty at the end. Sorry, Doctor…it's that self-righteous anger again…" He nodded his understanding. "For now, I take it I can return to work…?" She saw his disbelief.

"Captain, you really shouldn't…"

Kathryn just smiled sadly. "Doctor, I need it. Do you honestly expect me to just go back to those empty rooms and lie there…waiting for… And you did say I'd need someone… Oh God…I can't ask anyone to do this…" She bit her lip and saw he understood but his sadness was profound.

"Would you not consider staying with… I know, Tom and B'Elanna would love to have you. When they're in for her check-ups, they're always talking about you…"

Kathryn's look of horror startled him. "No…no way…what if…the baby…?"

He stood quickly. "Captain, you're not going to infect anyone with this…surely you don't think…"

Kathryn moved away. "I'd prefer not to take the chance. Look, Doctor, this stays between us. I'll tell them when they need to know…when I can't hide it anymore… In the meantime, I want to continue as long as I can. I know I'd be better off here but I'm just not ready to let go yet. I know that's selfish and I'll probably have to ask Nathan but…"

He sighed deeply and nodded. "All right, Captain, it's your right." He lifted a padd off his desk. "I'll need a day to prepare your treatment and get the doses right. I'll also need to see you every day…"

Kathryn nodded. "All right. I better get back to work now though. I'll see you in the morning." She moved away but stopped in the doorway. "Doctor…" He smiled sadly at her. "Thanks for…listening, you know…and for what you're trying to do. Thanks also for your honesty. Just…well, thanks for everything. Not just this but… since the beginning, you know…" She suddenly turned back and hugged him and then left quickly.

Voyager's EMH slowly moved around his desk and sat down heavily. "Oh, my dear…I just wish you had something to really thank me for…"

Kathryn returned to work and finally confided in Nathan and David. They were deeply shocked and she saw how they covered how upset they both were. As time passed and Kathryn started to experience some seizures, she grew to depend on them both a great deal. Nathan took care of her for the most part and a deep friendship developed between them. When she fainted or experienced a seizure, it was always Nathan's reassuring smile she came around to and his quiet voice. He took everything in his stride, keeping her hypos easily available to him, tissues and ice for her nosebleeds and generally just watching her and caring for her. She knew he worried about her when she went home but so far, she refused any help.

He was there for her too when she got the news that John Hawkins and Miriam Stowe had both lost their fight for life. He held her tightly as she cried for them, for the waste of their lives and the senselessness of it all. She cried as she remembered how alone they must have been and it only reminded her of the emptiness of her own life.

Tom and B'Elanna finally grew impatient and called to see her at the office, tired of being put off with excuses from David or Nathan and were shocked by her appearance. B'Elanna spoke her mind yet saw how her former Captain stood back from her.

"Kathryn, what is going on with you? I don't want to hear excuses about how busy you are either. Look at yourself. What's the matter with you?" Kathryn had all the right answers ready, citing overwork and confidential matters she couldn't speak of. Nathan even joined in when he brought tea for her visitors, complaining how overworked he was too and how his wife nagged him all the time about it.

"Kathryn, every time I move towards you, you back off. What's wrong?" B'Elanna saw the control on the face of the older woman and saw her wipe at her nose with a tissue she held.

"It's nothing. I just have a cold and with the baby… I don't want to take chances." B'Elanna allowed it but filed it away in her mind.

They chatted on for a while, Kathryn looking a little more relaxed and finally, they appeared to accept her words and left, promising to keep in close contact with her. At home that night, they discussed the matter.

"Tom, she was lying through her teeth…"

Her husband rubbed her growing abdomen as they sat back and nodded. "I know she was and that guy, Nathan, was going along with it. They seemed pretty close. I don't mean as a couple but…he knows something…"

B'Elanna held his hand as he caressed her. "Did you notice how she didn't seem to want to get too close to me? That excuse about having a cold… That was just bull. You were close to her and she didn't back off as much…" She felt Tom nod his head against her shoulder.

"I'm going to talk to Dad about her. He sees her more than we do. He's back tomorrow from that trip."

His wife squeezed his hand. "And I'm going to find that big thick Indian and sort this once and for all…" They smiled and hugged each other.

Nathan stayed back late with his boss that evening and sat sipping coffee with her. "I think we convinced them…"

Kathryn smiled softly. "Nathan, thank you for that. I hate having you lie for me but… If anything happened to the baby…"

He smiled back at her. "Kathryn, you know what the Doctor said about that. He stood here and told us both that there was no danger…" She nodded and studied the liquid in her cup. Nathan's friendship still amazed her, the trouble he'd gone to in understanding her condition and learning all he could in order to help her, how he and his wife now did so much for her. She accepted the odd invitation now to have dinners and outings with them and knew that Louise understood the situation and was more than understanding about the time her husband spent with his boss.

"I know that, Nathan, but I'd still rather not take the risk and besides I'm not ready to tell them yet…" She looked up at him. "Louise will be worried about you…with me keeping you here like this…"

He shook his head. "She's visiting her mother with the girls tonight. They're not back until tomorrow evening, so I'm all yours. Don't suppose I can interest you in something to eat? We can replicate something here and you haven't had much today." Kathryn smiled sadly and felt her eyes tearing up. "Kathryn, what is it?"

She shook her head. "Nothing, you just remind me of someone…" She wiped at the few tears which had escaped.

"Want to tell me about that someone?"

She studied him a moment. "It's past now…he's gone…"

Nathan reached out a hand and gripped hers. "Gone but far from forgotten from what I can see. Come on, Kathryn…" She nodded and took another swallow of her coffee. An hour later, Nathan knew all about Chakotay, Kathryn even showing him a holoimage she had.

"You kept that quiet. Good looking guy. I knew all about the others from you but him…" He watched as she studied the carpet before looking back at him. "We've sat here like this quite a few nights and you've told me about every one of them but you barely mentioned him. Did he hurt you that much?"

Kathryn sniffed and shook her head. "No…I hurt him…" She told him about her debriefing and how things had gone.

Nathan took her side though. "He could have at least heard you out…"

Kathryn wore a pained expression. "Don't, Nathan. Please… I'm sorry but… I can't hear anything bad against him…"

He watched her closely. "You still love him very much…"

She nodded, not meeting his eyes. "Until the day I die…" She looked up. "Sorry…bad choice of words." She saw the sadness on his face. "Actually…beyond that… I'll never stop…"

He bent his head to the side to see her face better. "Why don't you try and find him…contact him…?" He saw the panic on her face.

"Nathan, no… Look, he's happier without me…settled somewhere, I hope…found someone… I wouldn't want his pity…"

Nathan swirled the remainder of his coffee and thought a moment. "It sounds to me like he wouldn't forget you that easily. When someone is that angry, it's usually because they care so much…"

Kathryn stretched and dragged herself to the edge of the sofa. "It doesn't matter now…"

He stood and helped her up and looked into her eyes, holding her gently. "You don't fool me, Janeway. I think it matters very much. I just hope he knows what he walked away from…" He hugged her. "Come on, let's get you home and tucked up in bed."

She smiled at him. "Nathan, whatever will Louise say?" They laughed together and ordered the lights off.

When Tom arrived home the next day, he found his wife sitting in the kitchen, a faraway look in her eyes. "Honey, are you all right?"

She turned and smiled. "I'm just fine. Daydreaming and reliving the past, you know." Her face became serious. "Did you talk with Owen?" She saw the worried look cross his face as he sat down opposite her.

"Oh, I talked with him, all right. Sorry I was gone so long but I looked up a few other people while I was at it, including the Doc." He held up a hand when he saw her worried look. "Come on inside. This will take some telling." They moved into the front room and Tom told his wife what he'd learned.

"I got a story from Dad… He told me first about how it was for Kathryn when we got back and some things since…" Tom related everything his Father had told him, most of it confirming what Kathryn herself had told them. He then told her what else he'd learned. "Do you remember that incident recently at Starfleet…that Admiral…Bradley or Brandon I think he was called…?"

B'Elanna nodded. "Brandon. There was him and another guy…a Captain Walker. I remember him from before, during my time there. Never knew him but I remember him being around headquarters. I remember saying that to you when we read it." She frowned at him. "What's that got to do with Kathryn…?"

Tom sat beside her. "You remember reading about the mission that took out that group…?"

B'Elanna gasped. "Oh no… Tom…are you saying…?" She watched his face closely. "Don't say Kathryn was on that…" He nodded and she closed her eyes a moment.

Tom told her more. "She was injured on it, like she said but…" He sighed deeply and went on to tell her about how Kathryn had been left untreated until her return to Earth and how she'd been sedated. He also told her how Kathryn had been asking questions until his father had stopped her until they had a case against Brandon. "I got some of that from Dad and I found out Brandon was the admiral who had handled Kathryn's debriefings, the one she told us about. The rest of what I learned, I had to pry out of the Doc by letting on I knew more than I did."

B'Elanna's mind raced. "Some of that team were lost…others were… There was something about them being infected with something…" She swallowed and a look of horror filled her face as tears rushed to her eyes. "Oh Tom…no… Please don't say… Not Kathryn…"

He looked away a moment. "I can't confirm it but…we saw how she looked… I can't think of what else it could be…" He reached for B'Elanna's hand as she leaned into him.

"Tom…" She pulled her head back and he saw the panic on her face. "Tom… they…they died… I remember that…"

He nodded tearfully. "I know, honey, I know. Doc told me about them. They were exposed to some toxin or something on the mission, some kind of germ warfare those bastards were playing around with…" He held his wife tightly.

"And Kathryn? She was…?" He shook his head.

"I don't know. Doc couldn't tell me anything and I understand that. Dad didn't or wouldn't say anything either. I understand I suppose but…" They cried together for several minutes as it all sunk in with them.

Tom eased away and wiped at his face. "Oh God, I can't believe all this." He looked down at his crying wife. "Did you have any luck finding Chakotay?" He saw she only now remembered what she'd been trying to do all day. She wiped at her own face and sat up.

"Someone's watching over her. I actually found him. For weeks I've tried and now suddenly… I'm not sure she'll thank me but… I left a message for him that I needed to see him urgently. I know it was bad of me but I let it sound like it was me who was in trouble."

Tom smiled softly and stroked her hair back. "I'm sure the Gods will forgive you. Is he coming?"

She nodded and smiled sadly. "He's coming. I just got a message that said he was on his way. I was out for a while so I didn't get the call. I just needed a walk earlier…" He smiled and pulled her against him.

"Let's just pray this all works out. Pray we're jumping to the wrong conclusion here…"


Chakotay arrived early the next morning and Tom sleepily answered the door, his face shocked and then breaking into a smile when he saw his former First Officer standing sheepishly on their doorstep. He reached out and grabbed the large man and pulled him in.

"It's so good to see you. God, we've missed you."

Chakotay smiled warmly and shrugged. "Sorry for not being in touch but you know… I needed to get away." Tom saw his face change to one of concern. "Tom, what's wrong? The message I got sounded urgent. Is it B'Elanna?" Tom led him into the front room as he heard his wife coming. Chakotay turned when he heard her too and gasped.

"Oh B'El… A baby? Oh, I'm so happy for you." He grabbed her and hugged her tightly. His smile quickly vanished though. "Your message…it said something about a problem…"

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "I'm fine but I badly need to… We…badly need to speak with you…" She saw his worry and gestured for him to sit. "Can I get you something?"

He shook his head, his face demanding to know what was wrong. Tom and B'Elanna sat down opposite him.

"Chakotay, I want you to promise me you'll hear me out before you do or say anything. Please promise me that." She watched his face carefully and saw it harden slightly.

"This is about her, isn't it?"

Tom sat forward. "Yes, it's about Kathryn…"

Chakotay laughed. "Oh, we're on first name terms now. How cosy…"

B'Elanna snorted. "You still think she can just go to hell, right? Well, maybe she's already there."

Tom gripped her arm and spoke. "Chakotay, please. Trust us on this. Promise you'll just listen." Chakotay finally nodded slowly and sat back, watching them both carefully but his expression didn't soften. B'Elanna looked to Tom and he nodded for her to carry on.

"Chakotay, just hear me out. If you care anything about her or even if you just did once…" She licked her lips and drew in a deep breath. "The day you left… You didn't see the state she was in or how upset she was when you left…" She held her hand up when he appeared about to interrupt. "Chakotay, you promised you'd hear me out…"

He smirked and shrugged his shoulders. "All right. I suppose it can't hurt to hear her excuses again…"

B'Elanna shot him a look. "You didn't hear them the first time and they weren't excuses…" She stopped a moment and softened her voice. "Sorry, but you haven't… Look, you wouldn't listen to her but you'll listen to me…"

She calmed herself and licked her lips again then sat forward. "She didn't stay that day but she was so upset…crying… Anyway, she left and we didn't see her for a few weeks. Out of the blue, she came here one night." She looked to Tom as they both remembered.

"She was no sooner in the room here when she just broke down…" She saw Chakotay's expression soften slightly. "Chakotay, you didn't see her, the pain she was in…" She sighed and leaned back a little. "She told us what the past weeks had been like for her and what had happened when we got home." She looked at Chakotay and shook her head. "Chakotay, she was nothing short of arrested when she stepped off Voyager. I know this, not just from her but from what we've learned since from Tom's father… She wasn't allowed near anybody, us or anyone…" She rubbed at her face. "Her mother died…a few months before we got back…" She saw a flash of pain in Chakotay's eyes. "She didn't want us to know. Her sister had gone off, didn't want anything to do with her, had her own life and marriage. She sent a cold message as if Kathryn had never been away. She got the same thing from Mark…" She saw his face harden again at the mention of that name but ignored it.

"She had no one for her when she got back and those who could have been there for her, she was kept from. She had to see us all reunited with our loved ones and she had no one." B'Elanna shook her head angrily. "They had her in a small room facing a board of old Admirals for fourteen hours every day. She even had to eat in there. She had no one to turn to, wasn't allowed… At night, she was escorted back to her quarters, almost like house arrest and collected the next morning. The only time she was out of that routine was when they decided they needed to show her off and even then, it was controlled. She wasn't even allowed access to any media coverage. Chakotay, she fought tooth and nail for us. They put her through the mill with every tiny detail. We had one week. She had almost a month of being dragged over the coals with threats hanging over her. She fought for us without any thought for herself. She was removed from everything. Oh, they let her visit her old home twice but she fled each time, unable to take the memories. Even when the decision came through, she was told to stay away with the insinuation that it could always be changed." She sat back and rubbed her stomach.

"The night of the dinner…" She saw Chakotay remember. "One of the admiral's escorted her. She only met Mark on the way in and he spoke with her as if she were a stranger to him. They made sure she stayed away from us all. It was only when the announcement was made to the public that she knew we were really safe." She paused again.

"She still had another week or so of it after that, with the threat of prison still there for her. When they finally let her go, the first thing she did was come here, looking for you. I'm ashamed to say we weren't over friendly with her but when we looked closely at her, we saw the strain and gave her the names of a few places you might be. As you know, she didn't find you until she came back here and you know about that." She took a break and saw Chakotay digest what she'd said and soften more.

"She requested an extra three days from Starfleet and spent them at her mother's house. She just sat there all the time, hardly eating or anything. I really believe she just gave up during that time. You'd left, she believed everyone hated her… In the end, we went back to the only place she had and took their job offer."

Chakotay shook his head. "Oh B'El, that woman…" He ran his hands through his hair. "Look, I'm sorry for everything she's been through and I see now how wrong I was not to listen to her, to just walk away like that but…"

B'Elanna shook her head sadly. "Haven't you heard anything I've said? She was alone, in pain, had nowhere else… God, Chakotay… She just took everything they threw at her. The only thing she stood up for was her title. She refused to be an admiral, wanted to stay a captain. I guess it was all she felt she had left…" She looked at Tom and he smiled encouragingly at her.

"The next time we saw her…well, that was the night I told you she broke down here and told us how it had been. She had a mission she'd been given and was heading off the next morning. I don't think they gave her a choice. Anyway, I think we both felt…" She looked at Tom again. "We both felt she'd come here that night to say 'goodbye'." She looked at Chakotay now and saw the pain on his face.

"What…what are you saying?" He was worried now.

B'Elanna bit her lip and leaned against Tom. "Chakotay, I'm sorry… What I've told you, that's only half of it…" She looked up at her husband and sat up once more. After a minute, she spoke again. "Have you kept up with the news?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I've heard some things…listened to some stories…read some reports…" He looked puzzled now.

"Did you read about the affair with Admiral Brandon and Captain Walker…?"

She saw from his face that he had. "I heard about that, all right. Bunch of bastards… I heard Starfleet lost some good people on that…with the exception of those we're all better off without…" He looked up and saw the pained expressions on the faces of his two friends. "What?" Suddenly, something clicked with him and his face dropped.

"Oh no…no…don't say it…" His eyes pleaded with them.

Tom leaned forward. "Chakotay, Kathryn was on that mission. Brandon made sure of it…"

Chakotay just kept shaking his head. "She's not dead…wasn't killed… Tom, please…"

Tom shook his head. "No, she wasn't, but she was injured."

He saw the relief there quickly replaced by worry. "How bad? How…?"

Tom leaned over and grabbed his arm. "Chakotay, she was treated…our own Doc…"

He saw the puzzled expression on Chakotay's face. "How was he there? I don't follow…and why did Brandon…?"

B'Elanna looked at Tom then filled Chakotay in. "Look, I'll try and explain. Brandon had it in for her, something that went back to her father's time. Kathryn's father tried to expose him years ago with Tom's Dad but they never had the evidence. When we got back, he was the chairman on the board of admirals who…'interrogated' her…is the only word…" She blew out a breath. "Seems he was also something of a misogynist as well, felt women had no place outside the home. Anyway, he beat her down over the weeks and with the way she was… Chakotay, she just took whatever they threw at her. When Brandon put her on that mission, she just went." She looked at Tom and he took over.

"She told us she'd be back in a week and would call us then. We didn't hear from her, but we heard she was back. It seems she was shot in the shoulder and arm and was dragged out. She was treated by Doc when she returned to Earth. We eventually called her at her office and spoke with her." He looked to his wife and smiled sadly. "We spoke with her but even over the vid screen… she didn't look good. She said she'd been injured but was fine now and was simply busy and tired or something. She promised to call us anyway and we let it go." He stopped and smiled softly at the worried man before him.

"In the end, when we didn't hear from her, we called to see her. We'd tried getting through to her but each time one of her secretaries would put us off with some excuse or other. Anyway, we went and…" He looked back at his wife. "She didn't look good, not well at all, very pale. This was just the other day but… there was something not right. She wasn't the same woman who called here and she wasn't the captain either. She said she had a cold and wouldn't come too close to B'Elanna, something about being careful for the baby, although she stood closer to me. She had all these answers about overwork and Na…"

B'Elanna filled in the blank. "His name's Nathan…"

Tom nodded and continued. "One of her secretaries, Nathan…he was more than willing to agree with her…said something about his wife being tired of all the work he had to put in but…we both felt there was more to it. He seemed to be protecting her or something, actually when I think about it…he seemed to be watching her very closely…" He frowned and saw B'Elanna nod in agreement as she thought about it.

"It wasn't sinister or anything…nor romantic even…more…I guess…a concern or something…" Once more he looked to his wife who agreed with him.

"Anyway, we let it go while we were there but it bothered us. She'd lied to us, I'm sure, but it wasn't to…I don't know…she was hiding something from us…not…I felt and I think B'El did too that…she was trying to not tell us something so as not to hurt us or something…I don't know…"

B'Elanna took over. "We were worried enough to dig deeper. Tom went to his father and I searched for you."

Chakotay frowned. "You think I should go and see her?" He shook his head slowly. "B'El, as concerned as I am now about her… God…she won't want to see me after what I did…"

Tom leaned forward again. "Chakotay, there's more…more I learned yesterday…" He barely kept eye contact with Chakotay and jumped when the big man gripped his arm.

"Tom, don't hide anything from me, please…"

Tom nodded. "I found this out from a mix of sources. Some my Dad, some the Doc and some from people who owed me." Tom rubbed his face.

"When she was shot, she was dragged out as I said. Apparently, she saw more than she should have…guess they all did… Nothing was left…blown up or vapourised… Anyway…they sedated her…" Tom watched Chakotay for the reaction he knew would come.

"They kept her sedated for the four day trip back and only gave her basic first aid. Doc had to treat her injuries and perform surgery when she was brought back to Earth and to him. Seems there was a high level of sedative in her bloodstream." Chakotay's reaction was as they expected and he jumped up, his rage showing.

"This was Walker and Brandon?" They nodded. "And now?" The young couple looked at each other before Tom continued.

"Apparently when they were taking the command post, they stormed the labs. Her First Officer and pilot were both exposed to some chemical…had it thrown at them or something…" He waited a moment. "They both died… only recently back here. It took time to show…" He saw the deep pain on Chakotay's face now and looked away. "Look, I only found this out yesterday. From what I can gather, Kathryn herself started asking questions but my Dad warned her off until they managed to arrest Brandon and Walker. She was just making a target for herself. I think Dad told her to see the Doc but he hasn't been here for a while, some trip or other. I asked him for more but he wouldn't say anything else."

Chakotay paced and then stopped. "You said she looked bad…and you think she was exposed as well? Oh God, no…Kathryn…" He turned away from them, facing the window and they let him have the time he needed. When he finally turned back, his face showed raw pain.

"I have to go to her…even though… She won't want to see…not after… Oh God…I hurt her so much…"

B'Elanna struggled to her feet and went to him. Tom joined her. "Chakotay, listen to me. You still love her, don't you? I mean despite all that's happened?" She saw the tears in his eyes as he nodded, not trusting himself to speak. "Then go… but Chakotay…please…" She gripped his hands tightly. "Look, maybe we shouldn't have said all this… We've broken her confidence but… I'm still praying it's nothing or something else that's wrong but…"

Chakotay managed to find his voice. "You don't believe that any more than I do. You wouldn't have broken her confidence in you unless you were seriously worried… She must hate me though…"

Tom shook his head. "Look, you love her and I know she loves you." He smiled when he saw the hope on Chakotay's face, the desperate need to believe what Tom had said. "She told us how much she loves you."

Chakotay dropped his head and let go, allowing his friends to just hold him.

By the time Chakotay got to headquarters, he had himself under some control. His heart felt ready to split in two but he forced himself to stay calm. He finally located Kathryn's office and came face to face with the man he knew had to be the Nathan he'd heard about. He smiled softly and nodded to the other younger man he saw.

"I was wondering if I could see Kath…Captain Janeway?" Nathan smiled guardedly and glanced towards the half open door. "My name is…"

Nathan nodded. "I know…" He lowered his voice. "Commander Chakotay…" He smiled a little more now at Chakotay's puzzled expression. "Sorry, she told me…and I saw a holoimage…" Chakotay nodded slowly, not sure what to think. He noticed Nathan kept looking towards the door. "Sorry, Commander, just checking on…" He bit off his words. "I'll see if…" He smiled and nodded then excused himself. Just as he reached the door, Kathryn opened it and walked out, her head down studying something.

"Nathan, maybe it's just one of my bad days but I can't find…" She looked up with a small smile on her face which instantly vanished when she saw Chakotay and was replaced by total shock. She reached a hand out behind her and Chakotay saw Nathan move to her quickly as if expecting to have to catch her. He casually propped himself behind her and took the padd but Chakotay saw through the cover.

"Let's see that. I probably haven't given you the full report yet." Looking up then, he smiled and stated the obvious. "Oh, and you have a visitor." Kathryn hadn't taken her eyes off Chakotay and now lowered them quickly but he continued to study her and her appearance shocked him to the core.

"Kathryn… Sorry…I just wanted to…" He found himself having trouble breathing at seeing her again and held himself back from expressing the shock he felt as Nathan came to the rescue.

"David, why don't you get the Commander a cup of tea or coffee inside and I'll take care of this for the captain. Commander, she'll be with you in a moment." Chakotay knew what the man was trying to do and went along with it. As he waited in Kathryn's office, he could hear Nathan outside.

"I had nothing to do with this but Kathryn, come on, you have to see him. Don't do this. You'll regret it." He heard her answer, almost tearful.

"Nathan, I can't…" Nathan's voice came again and then he appeared at the door, pushing Kathryn gently ahead of him.

"You can…" As he reached the door his voice changed. "Can I get you something, Captain?" Kathryn glared at him then relaxed a little and shook her head. Without looking at Chakotay, she made her way to her desk and sat. Nathan left the door only slightly open this time and Chakotay noticed it. Trying to break the ice, he crossed to her desk and sat in front of it. "Doesn't he trust me with you?"

Kathryn looked up nervously. "He just worries…" She was aware of Chakotay staring at her and lowered her head. "What do you want, Chakotay?" Her voice was far softer than he remembered, almost hoarse.

"I wanted to see how you are…"

She glanced up at him. "Well, I'm still here. OK?"

He nodded slowly. "Yes, but you don't look too well. Tom and B'Elanna were…"

Kathryn's head jerked up. "Tom and B'Elanna? Is that the only reason you're here? What have they said…?" She got up stiffly and moved away from the desk.

Chakotay stood too, shocked at the panic on her face. "Look, Kathryn, they called me because they were worried but they also told me everything and about what a fool I've been… Kathryn, I'm so sorry. I should have listened to you. Kathryn, please…" He saw the tears form in her eyes before spilling down her cheeks.

"Chakotay, no…I can't… I'll only hurt you…"

He moved to her immediately. "Kathryn, I was the one who hurt you…" She shook her head and looked down at the carpet. Chakotay looked around him for a moment and when he looked back, saw that she was still staring down at the floor. For some reason he followed her gaze and gasped when he saw a few drops of blood fall there. He looked up at the same time Kathryn lifted her head, panic filling her features. He saw her nose bleeding slightly and moved to her but she backed off behind her desk, grabbing a tissue on the way, which she held to her nose.

"Kathryn, what is it? You're scaring me." She didn't answer and he followed her. Suddenly he saw her screw up her face as if in pain and her hand went to her stomach.

"No…not now…please no…" Chakotay went into a panic and ran to her. Just as he reached her, she put her hand out to stop him, only to fall towards him and he saw her eyes roll back in her head. He grabbed her quickly as she started shaking and lowered her to the floor.

"Nathan…." He roared the name but saw that the man was already coming through the door.

"It's all right… just don't let her hit off anything…let it run its course…" He shouted over his shoulder.

"David…" The young man looked in and nodded, appearing to know what to do. Nathan stood and reached into a drawer on Kathryn's desk and grabbed a hypospray. "Commander, just hold her head back a little…" Chakotay merely nodded, in too much shock not to obey. He saw Nathan press the hypo to Kathryn's neck and slowly the spasms lessened then stopped. Nathan smiled softly and went to lift her. Chakotay helped him and let Kathryn lean against him.

"Just let her lie back against you…that's good… Kathryn…Kathryn…come on…" He tapped Kathryn's cheek but Chakotay saw that she was still out of it, staring unseeing ahead of her. "Kathryn… Kathryn… come on now…fight the haze…come on…" He smiled at Chakotay, trying to reassure him.

"She'll come out of it in a minute… She'll be fine…" He turned when the other man entered the room.

"Doc's in surgery. He'll call you as soon as he can. He said to just do the usual…" He stopped and eyed up Chakotay. Nathan looked at the large man and smiled again, still tapping Kathryn's cheek and calling to her.

"Commander, she'll be fine. Won't you, Kathryn? Come on now…"

Chakotay shook his head. "What's wrong…what's wrong with her…?" He was close to tears and Nathan didn't miss the fact.

"She's had a seizure…" He saw the look of terror on Chakotay's face.

"She's had these before…? She never had… She was bleeding…her nose…"

Nathan just smiled softly. "That's OK. She'll be fine soon…" Chakotay went to ask more but Nathan shook his head.

"Commander, please, you really would be better asking the captain herself when he's back with us. Perhaps later on when she's had her rest…" Suddenly Kathryn started convulsing again in Chakotay's arms and for the first time, Nathan appeared panicked.

"David, get back on to the Doc quickly. She shouldn't be having a second and tell him we have a nosebleed again…with the fit this time…" David nodded and fled. Chakotay looked down and saw that Kathryn's nose was now pouring blood.

"Just before…she seemed in a lot of pain…then she fell towards me…" Nathan nodded and eased Kathryn back to a lying position. Suddenly the Doctor's voice filled the room.

"Doctor to Nathan…how is she?" Nathan let out the breath he'd been holding.

"Doc, thank God. She seized just after a nosebleed and I injected her. She seemed to be coming back, much the same as usual. Now she has a massive nosebleed and she's seizing again. The commander also said she seemed to be in pain before the first fit…" He looked to Chakotay, who nodded.

"The commander? Which commander?" Chakotay almost smiled.

"Doc, it's Chakotay… I'll explain later. She seemed to have pain in her stomach… said something about 'not now'…"

The Doctor's voice came back. "Give her another hypo and I'll have her beamed here…" Nathan thanked the Doctor and grabbed the second hypo which David handed to him. It had no effect and Chakotay was in a total panic now, seeing the same reaction from the two men with him. The beam out when it came, wasn't a moment too soon.

Chakotay could only stand back as the Doctor fought to control Kathryn's seizure. After about ten minutes, Kathryn lay still, her breathing laboured as she murmured quietly to herself. Chakotay watched as the Doctor stroked her arms and face gently and called to her. Slowly she opened her eyes.

"Doc? How did I…? Was it bad this time…?"

The Medic smiled gently at her. "We just had a little trouble stopping it but you're fine now." He wiped at her nose with a damp tissue. "We'll have you cleaned up in a second." Kathryn weakly nodded at him and closed her eyes. The Doctor stayed with her another few minutes, scanning her then nodded to himself, satisfied. Finally, he approached Chakotay.

"She'll sleep for a few hours. It always wears her out and this was the worst yet…" He studied the face he hadn't seen in a long time. "It's good to see you again, Commander. I'm just sorry it's like this."

Chakotay didn't tear his eyes away from Kathryn. "She's…" He swallowed and tried again. "She was exposed…" He looked at the Doctor finally and saw the hologram nod sadly.

"I'm afraid so…" He guided Chakotay into his office and sat him down. "Commander, excuse me for being forward, but why are you here? I mean, are you here to stay or…?"

Chakotay hung his head a moment before looking at the Doctor. "I've been such a fool. I hurt her so much." He rubbed his face. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't left…"

The Doctor shook his head. "Commander, even as a hologram, I know that you can't change the past, only try harder in the future…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Doc, I know you once tried it as a priest but you can't give absolution. Not to me anyway…" He covered his face with his large hands and let the tears fall. "Oh Kathryn…"

The Doctor gave him time to compose himself before speaking. "Commander, I can't tell you too much, not without her permission. I hope you can understand. Nathan and David, well, they had her permission and they're with her all day, need to be."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "Who stays with her at night?"

The Doctor shook his head. "There's no one and she won't… I'll have to insist now though. I also noticed some bruising on the side of her head. I'd say she seized last night sometime and hit off something. It's just too dangerous now…" Chakotay rolled his eyes and groaned. "Commander, talk to her later. Maybe she'll listen to you. She can't do this anymore. Work will now have to stop and she can't live alone anymore either. That much I can tell you."

Chakotay swallowed and nodded. "I'll sit with her until she wakes…"

The Doctor stood and patted his arm. "Give her a little time."

Chakotay sighed and left.

When Kathryn woke, it was Chakotay's face she saw and he watched as she frowned, trying to make sense of his presence. Finally, he saw it all fall into place as she remembered.

"I'm sorry, Chakotay…sorry you had to see that…"

He reached over and took her hand. "I'm the one who's sorry, Kathryn, and I don't just mean about this. I'm talking about leaving and what I said to you." He lifted her hand and kissed it. "Kathryn, please forgive me…"

She looked at him through a veil of tears. "Chakotay…it's not your fault. You weren't to know…"

He shook his head. "I could have given you the chance to explain but I'm too much of a bastard for that…"

Kathryn weakly reached her other hand to his face. "Please…don't say that…please… You thought what you could…what you saw… What else could you think…?" She stopped a moment to catch her breath and saw his worried look.

"Kathryn, you need to rest. We can talk later…"

She shook her head. "I need to talk now… Maybe later will be… Chakotay, I turned away from you so many times, you just saw what was there. There is no Mark. I'm not…" She was exhausted with her few words and he saw it.

"Kathryn, you don't have to explain anything. Look, Tom and B'Elanna told me everything and I'm sorry if they broke your confidence but they needed me to see what a damned fool I'd been and that you needed us… Kathryn, they're so worried about you… I'm worried…" She looked away quickly but he pulled her face back to him. "Honey, please talk to me…let me get something right for you…be there for you…" He cried now. "Oh God, this is all my fault… If I hadn't left you…"

The Doctor watched quietly from his office as the two people before him whispered quietly to each other for a long time. He couldn't hear their words but he knew by the loving gestures and gentle caresses he witnessed, that a deep healing was taking place, so different than any he could ever hope to manage. The Doctor smiled to himself. Despite any problems they had had, he knew that wouldn't matter anymore. They shared too much of a history and time was too short now to worry about the past and what couldn't be changed. They could only live in the present and look to a future that was fast running out.

The following morning, the Doctor came out and saw Chakotay asleep against Kathryn, his arm draped over her protectively and her hand on his head, cradling him to her. He studied them for several minutes before waking them, needing to check his patient.

"Good morning, you two. Captain, I spoke with Nathan and David and let them know how you are."

She nodded. "Thank them for me."

The Doctor smiled as he scanned her. "You're much better this morning." He looked at Chakotay before looking back at Kathryn. She read him and nodded her head, her eyes filling with tears.

Chakotay gripped Kathryn's hand and she his, as the Doctor told Chakotay the full story about her condition. He wanted to scream out and smash anything in sight but with superhuman restraint, he held himself together. His struggle was clearly evident though and Kathryn gripped his hand tighter.

"Chakotay, I don't want you to have to go through this. Just stay with me until…for a while…until it's…"

Chakotay ground his teeth together. "I'll stay with you forever if you'll have me…"

Kathryn choked back a sob. "Chakotay…I don't…don't have long…and a lot of that will be… I won't know anything about it… Please…I don't want this for you. I don't want you doing my suffering for me. I love you too much…" Chakotay broke down and fell into her arms as the Doctor moved discreetly away.

"Kathryn, I'd give my life for you if I could. If I could take this from you…" They hugged each other tightly. "Kathryn, can I talk to the Doctor? Please let me be there for you…" Slowly she nodded and Chakotay looked up to see the Doctor watching them, understanding that Kathryn had given her permission.

As Kathryn slept again, worn out by emotional exhaustion, Chakotay sat in the Doctor's office sipping at a glass of water. "Tell me what I need to know…" He didn't look up. "I want it all…"

The Doctor cleared his throat. "She has about three or four months…" Chakotay shut his eyes and kept his head down. "The last few weeks, she'll slip into a coma. She won't have any pain then…"

Chakotay barely managed to control his breathing. "Before then?" He finally looked up, his eyes awash with unshed tears.

"The pain will increase but she'll have plenty of painkiller, although it will knock her out a lot…it's strong…" The Doctor paused. "Commander, are you sure you want to know this? It's a lot to take on."

Chakotay nodded. "I love her. I'll nurse her, take care of her…"

The Doctor smiled sadly. "OK. I'll keep her on the clotting agents to control the bleeding. It's mainly nosebleeds at the moment but soon it'll be… There'll be internal…internal bleeding and some haemorrhaging. She'll have little control of her body…" He looked at the man before him and saw that he understood. "As the cells deteriorate and her organs give out…she'll grow very weak and she might get confused sometimes… You'll have to feed her intravenously but I'll help you with all that. I'll change her medication for the seizures which will also increase. She'll lose consciousness from time to time…fainting…so you'll have to watch her all the time… There are headaches and joint pains…other pain as her organs start to fail…" Chakotay sat and listened as the Doctor went on, telling him everything he would need to know. He forced himself to concentrate and pushed down his own grief, determined to make what time Kathryn had left as easy for her as possible.

Over the next few days, Chakotay took over care for Kathryn. He let Tom and B'Elanna know what was happening and sat and cried with them for hours. He called by to see Nathan and David and thanked them with all his heart, Nathan in particular, for all the man had done in his absence. Finally, he took Nathan up on his offer of help, from him and his wife, in caring for Kathryn when he'd have to sleep, knowing that Kathryn was comfortable with them. Finally, he found a house for them and having let Tom and B'Elanna inform the crew of what had happened, found the place taken over and decorated and furnished within a weekend. None of this was done without Kathryn's permission or consent and she'd let him know that she wasn't up to returning to her childhood home. He knew himself she had enough to deal with.

The night before he took her home from sickbay, he sat quietly with her as she watched him.

"Penny for them?"

He looked up and smiled. "Actually…I was wondering…" She smiled and frowned at the same time as only she could and he smiled, remembering other times. "I was wondering if…would you…would you marry me?" He looked up slowly, afraid she'd turn him down.

Her face was serious now. "You don't have to do this…just because…" Her words caught in her throat.

Chakotay stroked her cheek. "Kathryn, I'm not asking you to marry me out of pity or because of this illness. I'm asking because I love you though I guess I also have my own selfish reasons." He saw her frown slightly. "I want you to be my wife…to have…" He couldn't go on.

She stroked his face. "For later? When I'm not…"

He nodded and let his tears fall. "I'm sorry…I shouldn't have asked…"

She smiled tearfully at him. "I'd love to." She saw the surprise and then delight on his face and framed the image in her memory, knowing that there wouldn't be many smiles over the next few months. "Chakotay, I want this for me too but to know that it'll be some comfort to you later…" She stopped a moment. "If it's something good I can leave you then…"

He gripped her tightly to him. "Kathryn, you'll leave me with the meaning for my life…a million memories…a love beyond what most people will ever know… To just have known you…shared any part of your life…" They clung to each other.

They moved into their home the following day and Kathryn settled easily. While she still felt able to get around, they arranged their wedding for the following weekend, giving everyone plenty to do in a short space of time but they rallied round and everything was ready for the occasion. Owen Paris performed the ceremony for them in their garden, with their crew, never referred to as 'former' now, all in attendance. Kathryn had found a beautiful cream, satin and lace dress with B'Elanna's help and Sam Wildman had pinned her hair up, weaving tiny rosebuds through it. B'Elanna stood as her matron of honour with Naomi as flower girl. Tom stood as best man for Chakotay, glancing at his own wife constantly throughout.

When the time came for their vows, everyone forced themselves to hold their tears back and when the words 'in sickness and in health' and 'til death do you part' were spoken, tears ran quietly from every eye. As Chakotay gently kissed his bride, a huge cheer went up.

The reception went on for over five hours but Kathryn was tiring and finally everyone left them in peace. Chakotay smiled as he carried Kathryn upstairs and helped her undress. He lay beside her all night and listened to her soft breathing, only allowing himself his own emotional release now as tears flowed down his face, hidden by the darkness. The fact that they'd never have a physical relationship, on the Doctor's advice, didn't matter to him and he pressed his face to her hair, inhaling her own special scent, trying to memorize it for all time. Eventually towards dawn, he slept.

The next day, as they began their married life, Kathryn held Chakotay's hands in hers as she tried to explain what she was feeling.

"Chakotay, I need to say this now…" He nodded and remained quiet. "I want us to be honest with each other. Our time is too short for pretending." He swallowed the lump in his throat, wanting to stop the words he knew were coming but knowing she needed to say them. "We both know I'm going to die…" He lowered his head, the words tearing at him but she squeezed his hands and he looked back at her.

"We both know I'm dying, that there are no miracle cures this time. This won't be some alien and his matrix, there's no magic hypo that will take this away, no space time anomaly where we'll find all this has been undone. We face the facts and deal with them, concentrate on the content of the time we have left together, not waste it by denying what's happening." She paused and licked her dry lips, fighting her tears and trying to ignore his.

"It'll be hard. It's too easy to want to look for the fairy-tale, happy ending but this is real life. I know it leaves us without hope but there's none of that here. What we'll have instead is an honesty that can bring us closer. I want the time I have left to be real, not make believe that it'll be all right in the end. I can't deal with that. My reality now is to fight as long as I can, stay with you as long as I can and make the best of our time together. I can't do anything else. I'll need all my strength and energy just for that." She stopped a moment and drew in a deep breath.

"When and if I talk about the end, planning what I want after, don't stop me. Let me face that, the reality of all this. Let me plan my last days, because it's the only control I have left. I know I'm asking an awful lot of you and I know it'll make it very hard on you and I'm sorry for that. I wish I would spare you this and if at any time you want out or need to walk away, I'll understand." She looked into his eyes and beyond the tears, saw the love he had for her.

"I'll never leave you…" He barely got the words out and she nodded tearfully.

"You've always been totally honest with me. Don't change now just to make this easier on me. I'm not saying you'd lie to me but denying the truth can be just as bad, pretending away what's there. If I have to think about everything I say, I won't be me and you deserve that, deserve better than a false façade. My time is too short for us to be anything other than what we are. I don't want people tiptoeing around me because that's harder for me and if I see them think about everything before they speak, that too only makes it harder."

Chakotay pulled her to him and kissed her face. "I promise, sweetheart. I'll be here for you."


People came and went over the next month, always checking first before calling by. Kathryn grew tired more easily now and her muscles weakened but the Doctor was calling each day and had found a clotting agent that dealt well with her nosebleeds and any other bleeding that might occur. Her seizures occurred more often now and she passed out at least once a day but Chakotay was always beside her, his smiling face the first thing she saw when she came around. Nathan and Louise spent many hours just sitting talking to her while Chakotay took a short break but he hated leaving her side for long, knowing how short their time was.

As they entered the second month, Kathryn found it harder to walk and her pain increased. Her joints stiffened and Chakotay ran warm baths for her, easing out the soreness where he could. She bore it all bravely, not wanting to let Chakotay see her suffer but he always knew. She accepted painkillers only when she felt she couldn't take it anymore, not wanting to get too dependent on them too soon. He carried her more now and one night as they lay together, she looked at him tearfully and cupped his face in her hands.

"Chakotay…" He smiled softly at her. "I'm so sorry that we never…" She swallowed and he grew worried.

"Honey, what is it?"

She shook her head sadly. "I so wanted to make love to you. I'm sorry we can't…"

Chakotay's eyes filled up and he stroked her face. "My Kathryn…don't you know? Every time you look at me, you make love to me. When our eyes meet, we're making love as surely as any other way. When we touch, share words or a silence…hold each other when one is in pain…any pain… Sharing our memories…our past…all we've ever known together… When our eyes meet and we see into each other's souls… All that is making love. It's not your body I fell in love with all those years ago but the soul and the spirit of you who inhabits it and that love will last for all eternity, until I see you again. That and you will never change." They cried together long into the night, holding and caressing each other.

Many nights now they lay together with the lights off and just watched the stars. Sometimes they were quiet, other times they picked out stars they knew or made up names for others, matching designs and shapes they saw. A lot of the time, they travelled back in their shared memory and relived moments when their world had been very different. Mostly now they remembered, unable to plan.

The third month saw Kathryn deteriorate badly, unable to leave her bed, and Chakotay knew she badly missed how he'd often sat her out in the garden. To know that she'd never leave or see outside of their bedroom again tore at him and he knew she'd had the same thoughts. He saw the effect it all had on her as he washed and changed her. She put on a brave face when he had to take care of her bodily needs but he knew she was embarrassed and he constantly tried to reassure her. When she suffered a seizure now, her body usually lost all control of itself and Chakotay would gently change the bedclothes and give her a bed bath. As he cleaned her one day and turned her, he saw her tears.

"You shouldn't have to do this…shouldn't have to see me like this…my body broken…"

He hugged her and tried to comfort her. "Kathryn, I love you. You'd do the same for me…" She nodded but cried harder. He saw her grow more depressed and frustrated each day now, as she felt herself lose her dignity and the control which had always been so important to her.

"I don't want you to remember this…remember me like this. You deserve someone healthy who can give you what you need…a wife who can love you…give you children. You shouldn't have promised me anything… I hate it that you have to do everything for me…hate being so dependent… You've no life with me…"

He grew annoyed now. "Kathryn, I love you. I won't hear this nonsense from you. The vows we made mean something… 'in sickness and in health' remember? It's not and never will be just about the good times. The only part I don't agree with is 'til death do us part' because I don't believe that. What we have is forever, eternal. We go beyond that. You'll leave me for a little while and I won't see you here but you'll always be with me. We'll never leave each other and in time, I'll join you and then we'll have it all, forever and a day." He didn't even try and hide his tears from her and she sobbed loudly as he held her. "Please, Kathryn, don't think like that…" He felt her nod against him.

Kathryn now could only be fed using the intravenous line the Doctor had put in and he'd also inserted a catheter to make things easier for her. As Chakotay cleaned the tubes one day, she looked at him.

"Promise me you'll meet someone else…get married again…find what I couldn't give you…" He calmly finished what he was doing and sat on the bed beside her.

"Kathryn, I'm not going to have this conversation with you again."

She sniffed angrily and turned her head away. "I don't want you to be alone. I know what that's like…"

He made her look at him. "I won't be alone. You'll always be with me…"

She managed to shake her head. "You know what I mean…" She was crying now.

"Kathryn, we have the best friends in the world. I won't be alone." She just shook her head and cried harder.

Nathan was sitting with Kathryn one night, when he looked up and saw her watching him.

"Hey, sleepy head…" He smiled at her. He saw she was in pain and fetched a hypo.

"I don't want it…they make me sleepy… I'll sleep soon enough…"

Nathan just shook his head. "Let me give you a half dose then…" Finally, she consented and he pressed the hypo to her neck.

"I'm sorry, Nathan. I don't mean to get this way. I'm so afraid of getting bitter and I don't want to waste the time I have left feeling I've been cheated…" He sat again and smiled sadly at her and gripped her hand. "I feel I have to put on an act all the time…be brave when I don't feel it…seem as if I accept all this…" He nodded his understanding. "All I want to do sometimes…is cry and scream out at it…the injustice of it…say that it isn't fair…and…ask 'why me?'…get angry that this happened…that my body is betraying me…but I can't because they expect me to be strong and brave…"

Nathan leaned over and stroked her hair. "Kathryn, no one expects you to be anything. You've earned the right to be whatever way you want to be. With me, you can be any way you want, you know that."

She smiled sadly. "I need to be strong for Chakotay. He needs that…and I see him try so hard to hold himself together for me…"

Nathan sighed. "Kathryn, he understands…if you need to cry or scream. That's fine. He knows that. You never have to put on an act with him or me…"

She nodded and her tears spilled over. "I don't want to leave him…just when I've found him again…" Nathan stayed quiet. "I think I could probably have handled… this better…if I was still on my own…yet if I hadn't gotten sick…I wouldn't have…found him again…" She was getting breathless and Nathan handed her the oxygen mask the Doctor had left and she held it to her face, her eyes closed as she pulled the oxygen into her body. The Doctor had explained that her lungs were affected now and her breathing would become more difficult. As her body relaxed, her breathing eased and she looked back at Nathan. He saw the serious look on her face though.


"Promise you'll look after him?" He knew what she meant and just nodded. "Good…thank you…" She drifted off to sleep again then, leaving the man to deal with his tears.

When B'Elanna was taking care of Kathryn the following day, Kathryn weakly took her hand and asked her to get a letter she'd managed to write over time from the top drawer of her chest. B'Elanna got it and handed it to her.

"Is this it?"

Kathryn stroked the paper and nodded. "B'Elanna, I want you to take this and give it to Chakotay when…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "Kathryn…" She saw the serious look on her friend's face and nodded. "All right…I'll do it…" Kathryn drew in a deep breath. Her breathing was getting worse and they all saw it. Her kidneys were weakening and her liver was failing, giving her skin a slight yellow tinge. Kathryn knew without the Doctor saying anything that her heart was also damaged. She was thankful she only suffered the odd moment of confusion and the haemorrhaging the Doctor had been afraid of was mild, appearing as if she just had a light period. Mostly she knew exactly what her body was going through and she understood a lot more about her condition than she let on to Chakotay and her friends but kept it to herself.

"When I'm gone…not completely…but in the coma…give it to him then. He'll need it then…more than later… Later he'll have you all around…" B'Elanna nodded tearfully. She found this so hard to deal with. Kathryn handed the letter to her and smiled. "So, when is…this baby…coming? I can't wait…much longer…" She slowed her breathing as best she could.

B'Elanna had to look away. "Any day now…" She looked back at the woman she loved so much. "It's a girl. I haven't even told Tom…" Both their eyes brimmed with tears and Kathryn smiled.

"Thank you… for telling me…" She gripped B'Elanna's hand as tight as she could. "I had a feeling though…guessed… There's some…jewellery… I want her…to have it…"

B'Elanna sobbed. "Oh Kathryn…I'm sorry…I'm not helping you…" She cried harder.

Kathryn gripped her hand tighter. "You're being honest…showing…how you…care. You've come a…long way…B'Elanna…Torres Paris. I'm so proud of you. I love you…I love Tom too…tell him for me…"

B'Elanna fell into her friend's arms. "Oh Kathryn, you've given me so much. I love you too…and this one…" She leaned back and placed Kathryn's hand on her stomach. "Kathryn loves you too…" She saw the older woman's eyes fill with tears again.

"B'El, thank you so much. Make sure she knows Chakotay for me… Take care of him please…"

The Klingon woman nodded. "I will…always…I promise…" She leaned back down to hug Kathryn but sat up quickly, her hand going to her stomach.

Kathryn was instantly alert. "Looks like she wants… to see me… before I go… Seems right somehow…one life ends…another begins… B'El, sorry…"

B'Elanna nodded her understanding. "You'll see her. I promise you."


Two days later, B'Elanna kept her promise and sat trying to hide her tears as her best friend sat holding her daughter. They all cried as Tom and B'Elanna asked Chakotay and Kathryn to be godparents to their child. B'Elanna snapped off some holoimages as Kathryn gazed into the face of the baby, desperately trying to hide her own internal agony that she'd never know this herself. Chakotay met her eyes and saw her thoughts as he smiled his love to her.

Suddenly Kathryn jumped. "Take her…"

Tom quickly took his daughter and stood back as Kathryn went into the spasms of the seizure she'd felt coming. They left Chakotay alone with her as he pressed the powerful hypo to her neck and saw the medicine take control almost immediately. He sat and whispered to her as she slowly came around, rubbing her back.

"They saw… The baby…I didn't hurt her…?"

He hushed her. "Kathryn, it's all right. It wasn't bad…and the baby's fine…"

She nodded tearfully and he barely heard her quiet whisper. "I wish she was ours…I wish so much…"

As the days passed now, Kathryn had no choice but to accept the painkillers on a regular basis. She hated how they left her feeling spaced out but the pain was usually too much. She constantly felt she was missing previous time with Chakotay but no matter how strong she tried to keep her spirit, her body was weak and it usually won. The Doctor finally managed to find a painkiller that didn't make her as drowsy as the others and it helped. Kathryn developed a deep, abiding respect and friendship with the Medic and it was him she trusted with her will and requests for when she was gone and what small gifts she wanted to go to different people. She told him how she wanted to be buried or have her ashes scattered under the large tree in their garden and he had nodded solemnly, promising that all she asked would be done.

As Chakotay settled her one night, he saw the pain she was in and urged her to take another hypo. She agreed quickly and he know then how bad it was. He smiled gently at her when he saw her tears and held her as she grew sleepy. Her words were soft in his ear.

"I wish it didn't have to be like this… but I guess nature… always wins in the end. I'll miss you so much…" He wanted to shout for her to stop but he knew she needed to say it. "I know you'll miss me too but… draw comfort from… the fact that I won't miss… this pain. I'm so tired now… and a part of me… longs to let go… but I can't leave you… don't want to…" Finally, she drifted off, leaving her husband to cry unseen by her.

Kathryn now worsened by the day and Chakotay never left her side. Even as he slept, he remained beside her as someone watched her. He washed her hair and combed it out, even did her nails so she would feel better about herself. He would rub her favourite talc on for her, knowing the scent would fill the room and take her mind off the normal sick room smells. He massaged her muscles and Kathryn let him, despite knowing that she'd never use them again but she saw that Chakotay needed to do it. When she seized, he always held her gently and used the suction tube the Doctor had left, making sure she didn't choke on her own saliva or vomit which she was too weak to help expel herself. He was terrified she'd choke and after these episodes, Kathryn would be left weak and exhausted, her breathing bad as Chakotay held the oxygen mask for her, seeing her struggle to draw the air into her damaged lungs. Only when he left the room as she slept, would he let go.

B'Elanna found him in the kitchen one day as Tom sat with Kathryn, as he battled his tears and emotions. He looked up when she entered but didn't try and hide how he felt.

"Oh B'El, sorry…it's just so hard to see her suffer like this…"

B'Elanna sat him down and made tea, using the action to keep her hands busy. "She has trouble seeing you suffer. I think she feels that's the hardest part." She looked at her old friend.

"It's hard but… oh B'El, it doesn't matter how hard it is on me. I see how hard it is on her…and that's all that matters. I'm not important now…only she is…" He rubbed at his face. "I see her struggle to breathe…fight for almost every breath and yet she battles on…" He looked up tearfully. "The woman she was…so strong… It's so hard to see something beat her. I honestly thought nothing could ever do that…"

B'Elanna gripped his hands tightly. "Chakotay, she's fighting this because of you…to stay with you as long as she can…" She felt her own tears run down her face as he nodded.

"Part of me wants her to fight but I think that's selfish sometimes. Another part of me wants her to just let go and end her suffering. I see her fight to hang on to the last…and yet she wouldn't be Kathryn if she didn't…" He stopped and drew in a ragged breath as his tears poured down his face. "B'El…how can I live without her…go on without her…?"

B'Elanna pulled him into her arms. "Oh my brother…you're only barely hanging on in there yourself…" She kissed the side of his head then pulled back and looked into his eyes. "You'll go on because you promised her…because it's what she wants…but you'll never be without her. She's a part of you…a part of us all…ingrained into our souls…and we're all richer for it. We'll all go on…because to do anything less would be an insult to the love of life and strength she had…to the memory of her we'll have…to the love we all shared… It'll be our salute to her…"

Chakotay was almost beyond consoling. "She was so unhappy when we got back…even out there…unhappy for a long time…my fault…"

B'Elanna shook him slightly. "Chakotay, you gave her love and happiness. You know, despite her illness, her last months have been the happiest of her life…don't ever doubt that. What you have together…most people would give their entire life for one day of what you both have…" She pulled him back to her and they clung to each other, not sure who was comforting who anymore.

Nathan frowned as he entered sickbay with Tom and B'Elanna, wondering why the Doctor had asked them there and requested they not tell anyone. The Doctor appeared and called them in. When they were all sitting, he spoke.

"I'm speaking to you here because I don't want Chakotay to know about this yet in case I'm wrong…"

B'Elanna jumped in. "Have you found something? Have you a treatment?"

The medic held up a hand. "Please… I don't know and won't know for a while yet but I'm hopeful. Time is running out fast. She'll most likely slip into the coma before I have anything but if that happens, I want to place her in stasis until I have this treatment ready. I wasn't ever close enough before when the others needed it but this time… Surprisingly, it was information I received from the Cardassians only yesterday, something they found in their own investigation of the mission, one of their doctors. I've been working round the clock but… Let's just say you should pray to whoever to pray to…" They all nodded solemnly but it was hard to keep the hope at bay.

Kathryn slept more now yet constantly fought it, wanting every last second with the man she loved. Only Nathan and his wife, Tom and B'Elanna came now, everyone else knowing that the end was near. The Doctor called every two or three hours trying to make her as comfortable as possible. She was too weak to sit up on her own anymore and Chakotay propped her up on her pillows as they held each other and whispered quietly, Kathryn almost totally dependent on the oxygen now. The Doctor had explained to Chakotay that her cells were degrading badly at this stage and her internal organs were shutting down slowly. Chakotay had just taken the news with no reaction. He tried desperately to shut that part of himself down and just concentrate on being there for his wife.

That night, they lay together again with the lights off and watched the stars. Chakotay knew they had very few nights left like this and cherished every second. He was aware of her laboured breathing and held her tighter to him.


He nuzzled against her. "Mmm…what is it, love?" She shifted slightly and he helped her move herself to get more comfortable. He knew she was in pain but she'd refused a stronger painkiller and he let it go. He had a feeling she wanted to be as lucid as possible.

"I'm close…"

He closed his eyes in the darkness and fought for control. "I know, sweetheart…I'm here…" He felt her turn her head.

"Lie beside me…I want the light on…" He nodded slowly and fought his tears. He eased her down in the bed and switched on the small lamp, shutting out the stars for the last time then lay beside her. She slowly raised her hand and stroked his face, her fingers tracing over his features.

"I want your face… to be the last thing… I see… when I close my eyes… for the last time… in this life…" Chakotay saw her tears and let his own fall. He watched her study his face, her eyes examining every detail she could see. Over the last few days, her sight had started to fail her but was still good enough in the light. He held her to him so he could still see her face then leaned down and brushed his lips to hers.

"Kathryn…I love you…"

She nodded slowly. "Chakotay…I love you… Thank you…for my life… I'll wait for you…" He was too choked up to speak and just stroked her face and hair. He watched as her eyes met his and then slowly closed.

She seemed asleep but he knew. Her laboured breathing told him that he'd looked into the eyes of his wife and seen hers look back at him for the last time. She'd slipped quietly away in his arms, into the coma from which she'd never waken, the prelude to her death.

Chakotay knew the force that had been Kathryn, had left him. Her body continued barely working but she was gone. He continued to hold her and gently rock her for some time, whispering to her and kissing her. He delayed calling the Doctor, trying to hold back time, wanting it to stop, knowing that this would be the last time he'd have her with him like this. Finally, his choked voice alerted the Medic and he let her be taken from him.

Chakotay sat in the medical facility as he watched the Doctor place the woman he loved on life support, part of him wanting to scream at the man to let her go, that she'd never want to exist like this. Tom and B'Elanna arrived a little later and then Nathan and Louise but there was nothing any of them could say. They held him and whispered comforting words but Chakotay felt himself die on the inside, his spirit flying from him to join the one already gone.

Chakotay sat mostly unmoving beside Kathryn as the days blurred together. Her body was still warm but he knew she wasn't there yet he still held onto any part of her he could. He refused to return to their home, unable for now to face seeing where Kathryn would never be again, although he knew in time he'd find comfort there, surrounded by where she'd touched. The others watched him grieve, wanting so much to tell him of the Doctor's progress but were too afraid to give him false hope only to perhaps see it dashed back on the rocks of his grief. B'Elanna came in one day and saw him holding Kathryn's eyes open with his fingers.

"Chakotay…?" She laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Chakotay…what are you doing…?" He shook his head sadly and leaned back, letting Kathryn's eyelids drop back.

"Being desperate…" He turned and looked at his old friend and saw the pain there. A part of his mind knew that this was a time when she should have been with her husband and new daughter but still she was here. He saw she didn't understand his words.

"It's silly, I know. It's just… I need to see her eyes…see them again…even though she can't see me. It makes her… I don't know…a part of her still with me…as if she's looking at me and can see me…" B'Elanna nodded and let him talk. "Sometimes, I take her hand and stroke my face with it…just to feel her…imagine…pretend…" He smiled sadly through his tears and saw that she understood. "I keep using her shampoo…her talc…just so her smell stays with me… I kiss her to feel her lips…the warmth of her skin… I sleep beside her…put her arm around me…pretend she's just asleep and that I'll wake and so will she…" He choked up and let B'Elanna hold him as he cried. Finally, he pulled back and B'Elanna hesitated a moment. Eventually she spoke, taking Kathryn's letter from her pocket.

"Chakotay… Oh God… Look, Kathryn wanted me to give this to you. She gave it to me some time ago…wanted you to have it…read it…before… She wanted you to read it before she died…while she was in the coma. She said something about…that you'd need it more now…rather than later…" Chakotay frowned and took the letter. B'Elanna stood then leaned down and kissed him. "I'll leave you both alone…" She turned and left.

Chakotay sat and held Kathryn's letter for a long time. He held it to his face and inhaled her perfume on the envelope. Finally, he gently opened it and read.

My dearest, darling Chakotay,

I know, it sounds mushy but it's how I think of you. I wanted this written rather than on a padd. More personal. If you're reading this then B'Elanna has given it to you and I'm gone from your life, maybe not dead yet but in a coma. The part of me who wants so desperately to be with you has gone.

I have little of value to leave you except my mother's house which Phoebe let go and left to me, but I know that will mean little to you because I know you. Don't spend time there looking for me. I'm not there, Chakotay. That girl is long gone. If you're looking for me, I'm in your heart and your memories. I read a poem once that said something about the dead being in the gentle breeze, the face of a child, the dew in the morning, the quiet sunset, all of that. They will remind you but I'm not there either. I'll live on within you, until we see each other again.

Chakotay, it has been the greatest honour of my life to have known you, to have loved you and been loved in return by you. Don't cry for me. I've lived a full and mostly happy life and I've done and seen amazing things but most importantly, I've known and loved you and that has been the most precious gift I could ever have had.

You offered that gift to me a long time ago and I didn't take it for a long time and that is my deepest regret, apart from not being able to give you the child I know you so wanted, the one we both wanted. I want you to know though, that I have loved you as long as you have loved me and I'm so sorry I never told you that.

I leave this life knowing one thing. I have loved and I have been loved by the most wonderful, loving, kind, gentle and caring man this world has ever known, so the most valuable thing I can leave you is my love and your memories.

I take with me your love and my own memories and Chakotay, they will nourish and nurture me until we meet again. I love you, my husband. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love and the memories and the life you've given me.

I beg you, don't grieve for me. I've simply passed into the next room and I'll wait for you there. I believe this now, thanks to you. I bet you never thought that Janeway the scientist could ever come to believe like this. It's nice to know that I can still surprise you.

I'll watch over you, my love. Take care of Tom and B'Elanna, Nathan and Louise, David and our crew, even the Doctor. We have good friends who love us. Let them be there for you. Mind that godchild of ours and fill the role in her life that I can't. Maybe someday you could tell her about me and that I once held her and loved her very much.

I love you, Chakotay and this will never be 'goodbye'. There will never be any 'goodbyes' for us, only a brief parting. Look at the stars at night and think of me. Go on and live for me and be happy.

I love you, Kathryn.

Chakotay gripped the letter in his hand and cried as he had never cried before. Raw pain ripped through him but his heart was cushioned on a cloud of love even as it broke. He leaned over Kathryn and hugged her to him, trying desperately to consume her warmth and pass his into her still body. His fists opened and closed on the sheet which covered her, as he cried out, venting his pain yet savouring the love he felt for his wife and knew that she had returned.

B'Elanna came by a little later, finding him still clinging to Kathryn. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, whispering softly to him. She looked up and saw the Doctor watching them. She pleaded with her eyes and saw him nod.

"Chakotay…Chakotay…listen to me… Doc needs to talk to you… I'll come with you…"

Chakotay looked up, terror in his eyes. "You're not turning it off…please not yet… I know she wouldn't want to be like this…but please…I need her a little longer…"

B'Elanna smiled softly and shook her head. "No, not that. Please just listen…" He barely nodded and stood slowly, his body stiff from not moving. He placed a gentle kiss on Kathryn's face and let B'Elanna lead him to the Doctor's office.

Chakotay sat stunned as the Doctor explained how close he was with a cure and how he wanted to place Kathryn in stasis before it was too late and her cells and organs broke down too much. He explained about the treatment he'd been working on with help from a Cardassian scientist and doctor who'd also been working on it for one of his own patients. This doctor's patient had died but had also been exposed before Kathryn and to a greater degree, giving Voyager's Doctor more hope.

"Chakotay, please understand that there are no guarantees with this. It's the reason I didn't say anything before now but with Kathryn's condition as it is, I can't wait any longer. I also couldn't have treated her sooner, even if I'd had the serum. At that stage, it could probably have caused more harm than good even if it had been ready." Chakotay nodded his head, still in shock. He was ready to grasp at any shred of hope which came his way.

Chakotay still stayed in sickbay, sitting with Kathryn as she lay in the stasis chamber, only taken out of it for brief periods for her treatments. He continued speaking to her but missed touching her desperately. His fingers clawed at the glass window of the casing, as he spoke to the woman inside, calling her back to him, praying to any Deity who would listen.

The Doctor found him every morning, asleep and always gripping Kathryn's letter as he lay against the chamber.

"Chakotay? I hate to disturb you…" Chakotay jumped awake, his eyes unfocused. "Chakotay, I have to run some tests and scans…" Chakotay nodded and moved away, getting himself a cup of coffee. Even the aroma of the hot beverage caused him pain. He turned as the Doctor approached him.

"I'm happy to say the treatment appears to be working. It'll be slow going but the degeneration of her cells seems to have been halted."

Chakotay blew out a breath and closed his eyes. "How long before you know for sure…?"

The Doctor shook his head. "It's impossible to say but I estimate anywhere from a week to ten days. Certainly, after that, we'll know for sure. I'll slowly increase the amounts of time she's out of the chamber as she improves," Chakotay nodded and returned to his place beside Kathryn.

Over the next week, Kathryn slowly improved as her medical readings grew stronger. The breakdown of her cells stopped and her internal organs grew no worse. Finally, the Doctor announced that the first part of his job was complete.

"I've arrested the disease and it's clearing from her system. However, we still have a long road ahead of us. There has been a lot of damage done to her organs and tissues as a result of this and her cells…" Chakotay felt more hopeful now, trying to pace himself but finding it impossible to stem the optimism which surged through him. "Chakotay, there's still a lot of regeneration work to be done and even after that, we face a long and slow recovery. She might never be the same as she was and you have to be prepared for that…" Nothing could discourage Chakotay now though.

"She'll be alive and with me…that's all that matters…"

The Doctor smiled and nodded his head. "I'll do my best."

He watched the large man return to his wife's side and smiled. He remembered the day they had both laughed at him and told him that with what they'd been through together, it was about time he used their given names. Within days, every crewmember had followed suit and the Doctor had found himself trying to remember a new set of names. He smiled now at the memories and returned to his office.

Twelve days later, Kathryn was taken from the stasis chamber for the last time, having been slowly weaned off it. Chakotay sat once more beside her as she lay again on one of the biobeds and took up where he'd left off, whispering to her and caressing her. She was still in the coma and on part life support until her internal organs had completely regenerated. The Doctor informed Chakotay that she was cured but that it was up to her now, when she would come back to them. He did his best to reassure the worried man that she would come out of it, that it was just a matter of time.

It was the strangest week the Doctor had ever known. Crewmembers and close friends came and went, all sitting with Kathryn in turn. Some spoke with her, others played music or sang and yet more read to her and told her of their day or what was happening outside. As Kathryn continued to remain in the coma, now free of all artificial support, B'Elanna decided to try something. As Chakotay sat dozing beside her early one morning, B'Elanna shook him awake.

"Hey, Chakotay…I want to try something…" He looked up, still half asleep. "I've made a recording of baby Kathryn. She screamed her lungs out all night and I suddenly got the idea to record her and play it for Kathryn on a continuous loop. It'll either help her or drive her as crazy as it did Tom and me at 03:00 hours but maybe it'll wake her." Chakotay nodded, willing to try anything.

The sound of the baby screaming rang out through the sickbay for the rest of the day, the Doctor almost tempted to sedate himself to get away from it. Chakotay was ready to give up, if only to save his hearing, when he felt Kathryn's hand move in his. His eyes flew to her face and he saw her eyes move behind her eyelids and her lips move.

"Cry…stop…" Chakotay let out a whoop of joy, bringing the Doctor running. He didn't need to ask what was happening.

"Computer, halt audio play Torres one." Silence filled the room now and the Doctor turned to Chakotay. "Thank God…I was starting to crack up…" He looked down at his patient. "Kathryn? Kathryn?" He tapped her cheek. "Come on, wake up, Kathryn…" Slowly her eyes opened then squinted closed again before the Doctor ordered the lights down. She tried again and this time managed to keep them open. She blinked a few times then looked at the Doctor then Chakotay.

"Cha…" She swallowed, her throat very dry and tried again. "Chak…where…?" He leaned over her, his smile a mile wide.

"Honey, you're in sickbay…you're…"

She looked around her. "I thought…when…thought…it was…over…"

He blinked back his tears. "So did I, sweetheart…so did I…" He gave her some time to let things settle in her mind as the Doctor scanned her. The Medic looked at Chakotay and nodded, his face beaming. Chakotay looked down at his wife and saw her tears.

"Can I go home? Don't want to die here…unless… too hard for you…?" Her voice was a whisper and he leaned down and kissed her.

"You're not dying, Kathryn. Doc found a treatment. I'll explain it all…" He looked up when the Doctor spoke.

"One hundred percent…she's fine… A few more days so I can be sure of everything and then…home…" Chakotay moved to the Doctor and grabbed him in a bear hug. He even kissed him. The Doctor just stood in shock before returning to his office, still shaking his head.

Chakotay took Kathryn's hand and brought it to his lips. He saw she was still confused and stroked her face as he tried to explain about the Doctor's treatment. He saw the shock on her face.

"You mean…it worked. I'm cured…?" Chakotay just nodded, too choked up to speak properly. "I'm not dying…not now…?"

He shook his head. "Only in old age, my love…only in old age…" It was too much for her and she burst into tears as Chakotay pulled her up into his arms and held her tightly to him, his words whispered in her ear, putting the world to right and everything back in its place.

Kathryn was released from the medical facility four days later. The Doctor informed them that she would suffer some mild residual pain for a week or two and that she'd be slow to regain her strength. She might well have the odd fainting fit but these too would pass. Chakotay carried her around and continued massaging her muscles which were very weak from lack of use. He was glad now that he'd insisted on massaging them before, making the job far easier now and the problem only half what it could have been. One of the hardest things Kathryn found was coping with the emotional aspect of everything that had happened. To have come so close to dying, to have lived through what she believed was her slow and painful death and now dealing with the memory of the mental anguish she'd endured during it all was difficult to say the least. Slowly she managed to set it away and concentrate on the extraordinary gift and second chance she'd been given. Chakotay had the same problems but together they worked through them, supporting and loving each other.

Within two months, Kathryn had received a clean bill of health from the Doctor, none of the side effects present he had worried about. She would always have to be careful to avoid infections and he kept her on medication to help her fight anything she might pick up, which would be harmless to others but would make Kathryn herself ill.

Chakotay accompanied her when she went to visit the graves of John and Miriam, Kathryn finally letting go of the survivor guilt she'd felt for a while. He stood back as she placed flowers beneath their headstones and held her tightly to him as she cried for the loss of their young lives and how unnecessary it had all been. They never thought of Brandon or Walker, leaving them in the past where they belonged

Within another month, she was almost her old self physically. Emotionally, she'd never been happier. Every crewmember visited from time to time, bringing partners and kids, friendship and happy memories. Nathan and Louise called by all the time and even David came by, bringing his new girlfriend, one he'd finally decided to settle with, much to everyone's surprise. Tom and B'Elanna were over every few days, baby Kathryn making the place her own as Kathryn fussed around her, wheeling her around in her pushchair and playing with her. B'Elanna saw the worry on Chakotay's face as he watched his wife swing the baby in the air and knew what he was thinking.

"You can't wrap her in cotton wool, Chakotay. She's fine. You heard the Doctor…"

He sighed and turned back to her. "I know, B'El, it's just… I came so close to losing her. I couldn't face that again."

She smiled and reached over, taking his hand. "You won't. Just let her set her own pace. I know she was never the best at taking care of herself but it's different now." He smiled and nodded, returning the squeeze on her hand. "So…how's…everything else…?" He looked up and saw a look of innocence covering the mischief beneath it. "Kathryn said something about you two getting the all clear…"

Chakotay laughed and shook his head. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Maquis. We're fine…" She just smirked and bit her lip.


Chakotay had been worried when the Doctor had delicately told them that Kathryn was physically all right 'in every sense' and that they would now be fine to engage in 'married life' as he put it. Kathryn had actually appeared shy, dropping her head and Chakotay had simply gone red. They didn't speak of it on the way home and Chakotay decided to let her bring up the subject when she was ready. He noticed that night as they lay in bed, that she was quieter than usual. Finally, she turned to him and studied his face before speaking.

"Chakotay, about what the Doctor said…" He nodded. Her shyness amazed him but her next words shocked him. "I know he said it was all right but… I'll understand if you don't want to…" He frowned deeply, not understanding and saw her eyes tear up. "I know with… well, the way you had to… I understand if you can't ever see…see my body in that way… What you saw of me…had to do…it was hardly appealing…so I understand…"

He propped himself up on one elbow. "Kathryn, I can't…don't believe you. I can't believe you'd think that I'd…that I'd think or feel like that…" He was angry and he saw that she looked worried now.

"Chakotay, you saw…" She pulled away and sat up in the bed, her arms hugging her knees. "Chakotay, you had to clean me when…towards the end when I couldn't even control… I was worse than a baby…"

He jumped up in the bed and grabbed her. "God, Kathryn, I just don't believe you. Why should that matter…?" She cut him off and pulled back from him.

"I know you love me but this is different. Physically you couldn't want…not after that…" She kicked the quilt back and jumped out of the bed. She stopped and turned back to him.

"You couldn't see or want me like that…not after… It was disgusting…what you had to do. You could never see my body as anything else…"

A rage came over Chakotay and something fired in his mind. Not thinking straight, he jumped off the bed and ran at her. Without warning to her or himself, he saw his hands reach for her nightgown and rip it from her body. He vaguely heard her gasp in shock but he was beyond coherent thought. He grabbed her and flung her onto the bed, ripping his shorts off before he threw himself down beside her. Pinning her arms beneath her, his mouth descended on hers before she could utter another word and his hands swept up and down her body. When his mouth left hers and his lips trailed down her neck, he heard her try to say something as she freed her arms. Before the first word was out, one of his hands had clamped over her mouth, trapping the words there. His mouth now devoured her breasts and when he finally removed his hand, the sounds that escaped her were welcomed by him, her hands on his body now.

Chakotay heard her gasp and moan as his hands and mouth visited every part of her body and when he spread her thighs and lowered his mouth to her, she cried out and her hips jerked up. He fed like a starving man on the feast she had to offer and held her hips tightly as she spasmed and cried out under his expert care, his tongue, mouth and fingers assaulting her. Giving her no time to recover, he came up over her and using one hand to lift one of her legs, he positioned himself against her. Knowing she was more than ready but that it had been a long time for her, he tried to slowly and gently ease his way into her body, but instead found himself surging into her, possessing her and staking his claim as he watched the play of emotions on her face. He held still then until he felt her stretch around him and only then did he start to move, finding a tempo that suited them both then quickening as he read her body and felt her inner muscles clamp down on his hard shaft. He heard her scream as she came explosively, then his own voice as he cried out her name and joined her.

As they lay together afterwards, still joined, they let their breathing slow. Chakotay looked up when he heard a faint sob and saw that Kathryn was crying. He gently pulled himself from her depths and drew her into his arms. He just held her and let her cry, softly kissing the side of her face.

"Kathryn, I'm sorry, love. It should never have been like that. I was… God, I don't know. I just exploded. I love you and wanted you so badly and to hear you say those things…but it should never have been like that…so rough… I'm sorry. God, if I hurt you…"

She pulled back and stroked his face. "Chakotay, I love you. Thank you." He frowned and she smiled. "Thank you for showing me your passion…your lust…for whatever you want to call it…but mostly thank you for your love…for wanting me, desiring me and needing me that much. It was real and I needed to see that…but please don't think you hurt me…" He squeezed his eyes shut a moment, his love for this woman filling him. He opened his eyes and stroked her face gently, needing her to understand more.

"Kathryn, do you understand now? What you saw as disgusting, I saw as an act of love. That you trusted me that much, allowed me to tend you and see you like that, see you at, and I wish I had another word, but see you at your most vulnerable… For you to allow me to be that close to you… Physical closeness…sex…that's only one thing…closeness as in proximity…but this kind of closeness… Kathryn it's an honour." He watched her digest his words.

"Honey, we've both had other lovers in our lives. Have any of them ever been allowed that close to you?" She shook her head. "To see someone's body in the act of sex means nothing without the rest… Closeness and intimacy…that's what it's about. People associate intimacy with sex, just with sex, but it's only a small part of it. There are people together or married twenty or thirty years who are too embarrassed to let their partner see them so…I guess exposed. That you let me be there for you like that, help you in that way, were that open with me, let me in like that… Kathryn, it was the most beautiful gift. A humbling honour is the only way I can describe it. To be there for each other in that way is true love. Think of it this way. Seeing someone naked for sex is easy… Seeing them naked as who they are, for who they are… that Kathryn…is love." They both cried now and hugged each other tightly. They lay awake for a while, softly caressing each other, the light off as they watched the stars, but this time, they looked forward, not back.

Ten months later, B'Elanna Louise Gretchen Janeway came home, her godparents and 'cousin' Kathryn waiting for her. B'Elanna cooed over the new arrival as Tom looked on nervously, knowing where it would lead, that he'd have a broody wife on his hands again soon. "Do you think she'll ever forgive you for giving her such a long name?"

Kathryn and Chakotay both laughed. "Oh, she needs that. She has a lot to live up to. For a start she has five godparents and a string of aunts, uncles and cousins, one in particular…" Kathryn leaned down and clucked little Kathryn under the chin and laughed at the giggle she received. She stood up and looked around at the people before her. Her true friends and godparents to her child, Tom, B'Elanna, Nathan, Louise and the Doctor and then her loving husband, holding the daughter she never believed possible.

Leaving them all chatting and fussing over little B'Elanna, Kathryn wandered out onto the porch and gazed down the garden at the large tree which grew there. She thought back over the last two years and then remembered the time when she'd actually planned to be buried under that tree, wanting to still be a part of a place where she'd been most happy and now she stood looking down at it, a full life ahead of her.

She felt her husband's arms come around her waist and he nuzzled against her neck, knowing what she was thinking. He'd cried when she'd told him about the arrangements she'd wanted.

"I told you before, Kathryn…only in old age…"

She nodded and tilted her head to the side, letting him in further. "I know, but it just makes you think, makes you appreciate…"

He tightened his hold on her. "Come on, love, the future awaits and our daughter's hungry…" She smiled and took a last look down the garden, then took his hand and walked back into the house with him.