Disclaimer:  Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager.  I don’t.  Only borrowing                 

                     them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Rating:          NC17.

Summary:     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.




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 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, 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 me 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 had 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 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 again.  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 when she was brought back to Earth and to him.   Apparently 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 had 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 any more.  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 would 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…well 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 would 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 had 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 would 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 fairytale, happy ending but this is real life.  I know it leaves us without hope but there is 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 too him and kissed her face.

“I promise sweetheart…I’ll be here for you…”