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

                     them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Rating:          NC 17.  Kids go play elsewhere.  Contains adult material.

Summary:     Tired of waiting for Kathryn, Chakotay pulls out of her life.  Kathryn

                      struggles by on her own and Chakotay regrets his decision but before he           

                      can do anything, Kathryn is arrested for murder on an alien planet and

                      sentenced to be executed. 





IT CUTS BOTH WAYS.




PART 4.





B’Elanna sat alone in her own quarters for the rest of the evening, mulling over the whole situation.  She wished that Tom was not pulling the night shift, feeling desperate to talk it over with him, needing his guidance on the best course of action.  She had thought of going to see the Doctor immediately but now felt it would be better to talk things over with Chakotay first. 



She knew she was delaying until she had sorted in her own mind what she would say and finally rose, deciding that her usual way of just ploughing in was probably the best.



An almost shadow Chakotay opened the door of his quarters to her and she softened.  All this was grinding him down also and she decided to go easy on him but still get her point across.



“B’El, it’s late and I’m tired.”  B’Elanna ignored him, pushing her pity aside along  with him.



“You haven’t been to see her yet.”  It was more a statement than a question.



“I just can’t face it, I’m sorry.  I will though.  I did actually try but she was asleep and then wasn’t seeing anyone…”  He saw a flash of anger of his friend’s face.



“That didn’t stop me.”  He sat,  knowing he was going to have to hear her out, that there was no getting away for it.



“So I should just force my way in, demand she see me?  I’m the last person she wants to see, besides, she’s hardly sought me out either.”  It was lame and he knew it.



“Cut the bull Chakotay.  She’s the one confined to quarters under Doctor’s orders and before you say it, I know she could have just called but…  Chakotay, you haven’t seen her, the way she is.  She’s not good.  I don’t mean physically but…”  He was half listening, hearing the bits he wanted to.



“It’s her right.  As I said to you once before ‘she’s the Captain’.” He shrugged.



“No she’s not.  At least not for much longer.”  That got his full attention.  “She’s standing down as Captain, handing Command over to you.”  He stood now, a mixture of worry and uncertainty about him.



“She’s what?  When did she…?”  B’Elanna nodded to the couch, indicating that he sit.



“She told me this evening, wanted me to take the necessary authorizations to you and Tuvok.  She has them all done out.”  She played down her own worry.



“She can’t.  I won’t accept it and neither will Tuvok.”  He was running his hands through his hair.



“I told her that and I also told her she could do her own dirty work, that I’d pass on nothing.  Chakotay, talk to her.  She’s… well she scared me tonight.  She’s in a deep depression, full of self-doubt, blame and guilt, everything.  You can practically see it all sitting there on her shoulders, pressing down.  If you can talk to her, be her friend, maybe you can get through.  My first stop was going to be the Doc but I wanted to see you first.  I still think he has to know though.”  Chakotay nodded, staring at the carpet now.



“Chakotay, I’m serious.  When I said depression, I meant it.  This isn’t just the blues.  I don’t think you on your own will be enough, no matter how well you handle things.  I really believe she needs medical intervention here.”  Finally he looked up at her.



“You really think it’s that bad?  That all this has had that bad an effect on her?”  He stood and paced, not giving her time to answer.  “I told you what I did.  It IS all my fault.  I did this…”  B’Elanna eyes followed him.



“At first I would have agreed that this situation between you was the cause but not now.  Chakotay this is more than…what you said or what happened…”



“What do you mean?”  He was getting more worried now.



“I think this was coming anyway.  I’m no expert but…I think the events of recently…I think they just brought it on quicker.  You said yourself about her behaviour before…I think it’s all just become too much after all these years.”  Chakotay was shaking his head.



“I just don’t know.  Maybe…but…no.  I see your point but I think you’re just going easy on me.  I agree a depression or something might have come.  It did before in the void…”  He looked at B’Elanna, realizing what he’d said but one look at her face showed him his words would never be repeated and he nodded his thanks.



“Look, I know the stress she’s always under and that taking everything on herself can just…but I still think she would have handled that, would have continued to handle it all when she had backup.  When that went, when I left her, that’s when it all started to go.  She’s like a house of cards and without one, it all falls.  God, I’m not being egotistical about this, but when I pulled back from her and then this all happened…that’s what has brought her down.  You see, I AM the cause.”  B’Elanna let out a long sigh.



“Maybe you’re right, I don’t really know.  You know her better than anyone aboard this ship.  Talk to her please.  I’ll let you try that first but if that fails, I’m going to talk to the Doctor.  He can’t be kept in the dark about this Chakotay.  If she’s not helped…well I don’t want to start thinking down that road.”  Chakotay looked at her sharply.



“You’re right.  I should have done something before now.  I’ll go and see her tonight.  Knowing Kathryn, she’s awake.”  He pulled her to him and hugged her.  “She’s lucky to have a friend like you.  I just wish she knew that.”



“Well you can tell her that.  Tell her she has 147 friends and a holographic one on board.  Just make sure she knows she also still has a best friend.  You know him, tall, dark, tattoo…”  Chakotay smiled properly for the first time in days.



“Get out of here.  I’m needed elsewhere.”  They shared a smile that spoke of the good friendship they had and everything they had been through together.



Chakotay knocked three times and still there was no reply so as was his custom in these cases, he used his override.  It took him a minute for his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room and slowly he began to make out Kathryn’s slumped shape on the couch.  He slowly moved towards her and now saw that she wasn’t asleep as he had at first thought.  Her eyes met his for a moment and he was shocked to the core to see the lack of anything in them except a deep sadness.  Neither of them spoke for some minutes.  Finally, Chakotay decided to.



“Kathryn?”



“What do you want Commander?  I’m on leave.”  Her voice was weary.



“Can I turn the lights on in here?”  He was starting to feel unsettled.



“Leave them.”  She was looking down at the cup in her hand, which she still held.



“Kathryn, I can hardly see you…”



“Why do you need to?”  Her answer wasn’t what he expected.



“Please, can we talk?”  She shrugged, giving neither permission nor denial.  “Kathryn please…”  Suddenly she looked at him but her expression didn’t change.



“Kathryn?  I thought it was ‘Captain’”  She looked away again.  The blow went home and Chakotay felt it.  He was getting more anxious.



“So did I but apparently I’m wrong on that score.”  Her eyes shot to him for a moment.



“B’Elanna.  She said she wouldn’t…”  Chakotay cut across her now.



“Kathryn why?”



“Didn’t she tell you?”  She played with the cup, dipping her finger into the cold liquid and running it around the rim.



“No, not really.”  He remained standing.  Kathryn pointed to her desk.



“It’s all there.  Effective immediately.  You’re already Acting Captain.  Just continue what you’re doing.”  She swirled the contents of the cup, appearing engrossed with watching the cold coffee.  Chakotay’s angry reply made her look up again but her expression remained dead.



“I won’t take it.”  Kathryn just shrugged.



“Too bad.  It’s already entered into the official logs and the computer.”  Chakotay drew a deep breath.



“Why are you doing this?  Kathryn, you can’t do this to us…”  Suddenly there was a hint of anger from her.



“I’m not doing this TO you.  I’m doing it FOR you.  Oh don’t worry, I’ll earn my keep.  I can do research…science...  I’ll share quarters with whoever, work at whatever…”  Chakotay was getting more and more annoyed.



“No.  No, Kathryn.  This entire situation is just…  You need to…  When you’re over this and seeing clearly again and…”  He jumped as she suddenly threw the cup against the wall and for a second they both watched the brown liquid trail down to meet the carpet.  When Chakotay turned back to Kathryn, he saw the first signs of emotion in her since he had arrived.



“What do you care?  What do you want from me?”  In the dim light, he could just make out tears starting in her eyes.  “I don’t know what or who I am anymore but whatever I try, it’s not right.  It’s never right or enough, never going to be.”  Chakotay moved towards her but she held her hand up.



“If you’ve come here to have another go, you can leave because I don’t have the strength or the courage for another verbal attack, no matter how right you are…”  She lowered her head.  Chakotay dropped into a chair facing her and rubbed his hands over his face.



“Oh Kathryn.  I really did a job on you, didn’t I?”   He looked at the woman sitting in front of him and she slowly looked up and met his eyes.



“No, I did it to myself.  You just pointed it out, made me see the truth.”  She pushed her hair back from her face.



“Kathryn, I was angry but most of all, I was so wrong…”  He saw her shake her head.



“You were right.  Everyone was right.  What they said in that court…”  He was immediately on his knees in front of her, grabbing her hands which were now folded on her lap.



“Don’t you dare say that.  I won’t hear that from you…”  Kathryn looked away and pulled her hands back from his.  “Kathryn…”



“No more please.  I’ve made my decision.”  He sat back, giving her a little space and she looked back at him again.



“You say you won’t accept this?  Well you have no choice.  Someone has to run this ship and lead this crew but it won’t be me.  You’ll do it because you care for them too much.  Probably for a long time now and certainly at this moment, I know I’ve had enough.  If I can’t run my own personal life, there’s no way I can be trusted with this ship and this crew.  After what happened…  My judgement was way off, was shot to hell.  There’s just no way I’m fit or equipped to be in charge of them, no way I can be trusted.”  They were silent for a moment and Chakotay sat on the sofa beside her, leaving just enough space between them.



“What happened to your promise to get us all home?  Can you really go back on your word about that?”  He hoped this would stir her in some way.  He was wrong.



“The woman who made that promise is no longer here.  She would never have gotten herself into all this…”  Chakotay closed his eyes briefly.



“Kathryn, what happened could have happened to anyone.  It happened to you because I left you in such a state that you didn’t see it.  You just need time and some help…”  She just shook her head.



“No, you were right.  I’m just some whore and I asked for it, a ‘prick tease’, isn’t that it?  I deserved what I got.  I should have just let him…”  Chakotay’s anger boiled up and he found himself grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her then stopped himself and just reached for her hands again and held them tight.



“Oh God Kathryn.  I’m so sorry for everything I said but please don’t say that.  I didn’t mean those things, please believe me.  I regret so much what I said and wish so much I could turn the clock back and take them away.  I was just so angry and I hit out at you.  You asked for nothing.   There wasn’t anything you did that deserved what he did to you.”  She tried pulling her hands away but he refused to let go.



“You told me I was playing a dangerous game and you were right and I was too stupid to see it.  I deserved everything I got.  I killed him and I deserved to die too…”  Her words tore at him.



“No, no, no.  Kathryn please…”  She looked down at their joined hands.



“I lead him on…they said so…  I deserved everything…and for what I did to you…”  Chakotay lowered his head.



“Kathryn, I saw you all that night and you lead no one on.  All you deserved was his respect and as for doing anything to me…  I was the one who did wrong to you and I’m so sorry.”  His eyes pleaded with her.  “Look, you need help.  From me or the Doctor or…  Kathryn, You’re scaring me with this.  I’m afraid for you, afraid you’ll...”   Now she looked at him and laughed softly.



“Afraid I’ll what?  Try and kill myself?  Don’t worry, I’m too much of a coward for that, besides I doubt I’d manage to get even that right.”  She felt his hands on her arms now and pulled away.



“Just let me be please.  What more do you want from me?  I can tell you now I’ve nothing left to give.  All I had is gone.  The Captain is not who I am anymore, haven’t been for some time.”  She stood now, wrapping her arms tightly around herself.



“I can’t face myself anymore, much less the crew.  I’m no good anymore…too tired.  I wish to God you’d just let me die, left me dead.”  Chakotay jumped up and grabbed her, forcing her to turn to him.



“Please don’t ever say that to me again…”  She saw the distress her words had caused him but she was beyond caring.



“Can you not see I’m already half dead…”  He saw her eyes well up but when he tried to pull her to him, she pulled back.



“I’m already half way there.  Nothing in me functions anymore.  Oh the heart beats and pushes the blood around but I feel nothing…”  Chakotay held onto her.



“I don’t believe that Kathryn.  I saw how badly I hurt you.  I saw you in that court, heard what you said…”  She twisted from his grasp and he finally let go, afraid of hurting her.



“You heard the delusional rantings of a sad and lonely old woman, a washed-up pretender who can’t be trusted with…” 



“Dammit Kathryn, stop this now.  I know what I saw.  I saw a woman who had been beaten and almost raped by a madman.  A woman who was injured and ill and who needed medical treatment yet was further abused by a court who were determined to use that to put their words into her mouth and find her guilty for a crime she didn’t commit.  I saw a woman who had been badly hurt and let down by someone who was suppose to love her and be her best friend and yet still with all that, she still thought of him.”  He saw her tears drop over her eyelids but she didn’t try and move further away.



“”Kathryn, I badly let you down and it’s my fault all this happened.  I spoke in anger and all I feel at this moment is shame and guilt.  I want so much to let you know how sorry I am.  I won’t however ask your forgiveness for this, no matter how much I want to.  I won’t ask for two reasons.  One is I don’t deserve your forgiveness and second, you should never give it.”  His eyes searched hers and he saw her weaken.



“Chakotay…”  It was the first time she had used his name and he felt hope.  “Chakotay, there is nothing to forgive.  You spoke the truth…”



“No, I spoke in anger and rejection and probably spite, pride, any number of things I had no right to feel.  I lashed out without ever considering things from your side and because I was angry and hurt, I let those feelings grow and fester and instead of keeping my promise and being there for you,  I let pride take over and I moved away.”  Kathryn kept her eyes down the entire time he was speaking.



“You needed me and I let you down.  Even when I saw that need grow, I still stood back and I destroyed not only the best friendship I’ll ever have but I also destroyed you.  I planted the seeds of something in you which have grown like tares and suffocated you in ways I can’t even begin to undo and all this caused something terrible to happen to you and I not only became the cause of that but I wasn’t there to stop it either and I find it very hard to live with that.  Now you need someone again but because of the damage I already caused, I’m afraid I’ve lost everything, in particular the chance to try and be there for you this time.  Asking if you can forgive me is asking the impossible, but at least let me be there for you to help and try and atone in some small way for what I did.”  He watched for any reaction and finally she lifted her head and spoke.



“I don’t deserve anything from you.  Just forget about me.  I’ll only let you down again and…”  She stared down at the carpet.



“I can’t do that.  I care too much about you.  The way I see it, my friend needs me now.”



“What if your friend is gone, isn’t there anymore?”  He raised his hand and gently stroked her hair.



“I know that’s not true.  I see you and I see the hurt I caused.  Kathryn, you’re at the beginning of a long, twisting and very difficult road, one I put you on.  Now I know you have to travel that road but please let me walk it with you and help carry the burden and be there for you to lean on when you tire, even carry you if it gets too rough.  It’s a road I know and I could show you the places to rest and help with directions, travel with you and offer perhaps some of what you need.”  He felt more hope grow in him.



“Chakotay, I put myself on that road? In fact, I was already on it and I deserve what it brings.  I guess I’m just too tired to travel any further.” 



“I know you were already on a tough road, one I abandoned you on but it’s a road I think you were able to travel, as long as you had someone with you.  When I left you alone, that’s how you strayed onto this rougher road, in fact I pushed you onto it.  Not being able to travel alone is not a weakness as you see it.  It’s human Kathryn.  None of us are meant to be alone like that.  If you’re too tired to travel, then rest until you’re ready to take on the journey.  I just need to know I still have a friend and you’ll let me be the friend I stopped being, that maybe you can in some way forgive me for that at least.”  Finally she met his eyes briefly and he saw they were awash with tears.



“Chakotay, how I feel is not because you said those things to me but rather what you said.”  She raised her hand to him when he went to speak and he stayed quiet.



“Let me say all this please.  It hurt because what you said was true.  I used you, took what you gave me for granted.  I used you because I needed you so much but couldn’t even face that fact.  I was just so afraid… and then…oh God, throwing myself at you that night and you say I’m not a whore?  ”  She walked towards the view port, staring out at the stars as if they could help her in some way.  He wanted so much to scream at her to stop her way of thinking but he would allow her to finish.



“That night on the holodeck…  I lay awake all night going back over every word you said and I realized that every one of them was the truth.  For too long I’ve been afraid of living, have hidden behind rules and regulations but mostly I took you for granted, caused you no end of pain and that hurts me the most.”  She looked back at him briefly and saw the pain on his face, pain that matched her own.



“I took away from you what I loved most, what made you who you are, the man you are.  I took your pride and self-respect and in the process, lost my own.  You were right, I needed to feel alive and a woman and I used you.  I missed the fact that you were already offering all that but what I am is so ingrained in me.  Never show weakness.”  She took a deep breath.



“The following morning, I wanted to tell you that, tell you what I’d learned but…”  He finished for her.



“I never gave you the chance.”  He nodded sadly.  “Kathryn, I’m so sorry.”



“It doesn’t matter now.  Too much else has happened.”  She turned back to him.  “Chakotay, I just can’t deal with this anymore, carry on with what I am…”   Chakotay was suddenly angry now, his pain driving it.



“Right, you’ve had your say and now it’s my turn.  Firstly, you will carry on because you owe it to everyone who loves you.  Next, if I ever hear you speak badly of yourself again, ever hear you call yourself a whore again, so help me, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.  As to the rest now.  You say can’t deal with this.  Kathryn I know what you’ve been through and you’ve every right to feel like this but you will heal in time, especially if you just let us help you.  Consider this too though.  How do I deal with it?  How do the others?  Can you tell me that?”  She seemed shocked by his sudden outburst.



“Chakotay…”  He would have his say.



“No Kathryn, you’ll hear me now.  I saw what you went through but I wasn’t completely removed from it.  Neither were the others who were there.  We’ve been affected too.  Do you have any idea of what it’s like to stand by helpless and see someone you love or care about deeply, killed in front of you, to watch them die and you can’t do a damn thing to stop it?”   Kathryn suddenly cried out and her hands went to her face.  Chakotay remembered, too late, that she knew exactly how that felt.



“Oh God Kathryn, I’m sorry.”  He reached for her and pulled her into his embrace.

“Kathryn, I didn’t think.  I’m sorry.  Of course you know.  Forgive me.”  He held her for some time and she let him.  Eventually he felt her arms slip around him and he continued holding her, letting her cry it all out.



When he felt her sag against him, finally exhausted, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to her bed, lying her down gently and pulling a blanket over her.  He stroked her back and spoke soothing words to her.



“Kathryn listen.  If you really want to stand down, either full time or just for a while, I’ll support you.  I don’t actually care if you resign, if that’s going to be the best thing for you.  However, I don’t think this is you doing this and that’s probably why I’ll fight you on it, because I believe you’re wrong and that in the end you’ll regret it.  Rest and take care of yourself and let all of us in to be there for you.  Take time and then decide and if at that stage you still want to stand down, I’ll be behind you one hundred percent.”  There was still the occasional sob but he saw her nod in agreement.  He stayed until she eventually fell asleep, still stroking her back and hair.



When Kathryn awoke the next morning, she found Chakotay sitting in a chair just watching her.  He saw she was embarrassed at her reaction the night before but he quickly reassured her and saw her accept it.  After seeking her permission, he called the Doctor and let the medic take over, promising to call by later. 



Within minutes of the Doctor leaving his Captain, he called Chakotay to sickbay.



“Ah Commander, please have a seat.”  Chakotay nodded and took the chair facing the desk.



“How is she?  What do you think?”  The Doctor nodded and sat also.



“She is depressed but I don’t believe she’s suicidal or anything.  Basically, it’s a result of all that has happened the last few days.  She’s in shock still and the stress of all this...  Her self worth and her belief in herself have been shattered into a million pieces.  This is also the build up of the years out here finally catching up with her.  However, I believe we can get her back but it is going to be a long road.”  Chakotay nodded.



“You know I’m the cause of all this, that it’s all my fault?”  The medic looked puzzled and Chakotay told him everything.



“Commander, you may have started the ball rolling but as I said, most of this is to do with what happened later.  Recent events though have just been a last straw.  Now, we must only worry about solving the problem, not what caused it.  I need you to concentrate on that, do you understand?”  Chakotay sat forward.



“Doc, you’re trying to be kind but don’t worry, I’ll do everything I can.  I’ll deal with my own guilt my own way.  Now what do you want me to do?” 



“I’ve prescribed some anti-depressants for a few days, nothing too strong.  I believe that will get her over the worst of it, in the sense that it will take her to a place where she feels better able to cope with helping herself.  For you, talk to her.  Help her build herself up again.  Basically, be a friend.  Listen to her and just be there for her to lean on and rest against.”  The Doctor’s words hit home with Chakotay and he thought of how he should have been doing this all along.



During the following weeks, he spent many hours with Kathryn, talking late into the night and slowly he saw her emerge again.  He listened as she re-lived the nightmare she had endured and he shared his own demons with her.  Their friendship gained strength again and Chakotay slowly learned from her to forgive himself a bit.



B’Elanna called by whenever she could and a good friendship grew between the two women, something Kathryn had missed badly from her life.  She also spent time on the holodeck, sometimes alone, other times with Chakotay and slowly she gained a liking for herself again and a new confidence and appetite for life came about.



Somehow, word leaked to the crew what their Captain was going through and many messages and small gifts arrived at her quarters, all sharing the same sentiments.  She was their Captain, they loved her and trusted her completely to lead them.  She had their complete respect and trust and all their thoughts were with her.  They looked forward to seeing her again soon, back where she belonged.  Kathryn spent many hours crying over these words.



“Did you put them up to this Chakotay?”  They were sharing a late dinner.



“No, I swear to you.  I don’t even know how word got out.  Kathryn, are you upset by these, because if you are, I’ll make sure they stop…”  She sat forward quickly.



“Oh God no please.  They mean everything to me.  I just can’t understand how they can all feel this way about me…”  He gently laid his hand on her arm.



“Then you’re the only one.  Kathryn, those messages are from the heart.  These people care greatly about you, love you even.  When we thought we’d lost you…”  He looked away quickly, unable to even consider the thought.  Now he felt her hand on his arm.



“Chakotay, it’s all right.  You got me back.  Look, I’ll admit there was a time recently when I wished it hadn’t been like that, but now…  I’m sorry for everything I put you through and…”  He took her face in one hand.



“Kathryn, I’m the only one here who has to be sorry.  I still…  What I said to you…”



“What you said needed to be said, although maybe not quite in that way…” She smiled gently.  “That was a joke, Chakotay.”  He tried a smile but failed and she saw his pain at the memory of that night.



“Chakotay, I mean it.  Most of what you said needed saying.  I see that now more than ever.  What happened later…  well I know now it wasn’t anyone’s fault really.  From what I saw of their laws, well you were right before when you said it could have happened to anyone.  Chakotay, we both have to learn to put that behind us.  I’m learning that more and more each day.  I know you’ve been through a lot too, seeing me…die…and I know what that can do to someone.  What I want most now is, if possible, for us to re-build our friendship because that is what I really can’t live without.  I’ve finally come to know that I can’t do this alone, without you.  Can we do that?”  Her answer came in a gentle hug.



“I want nothing more.  Kathryn, what I said before… and listen to me please.  What I said before was anger speaking.  I’ll be whatever you need me to be.  I won’t deny how I feel about you.  You know I love you.  For a long time, I wanted something from you and never stopped to consider that perhaps you were unable to give that, for whatever reason and so I lost everything.  You see, I never stopped to think that what you could give me would be just as wonderful and it was only when I saw myself lose that and saw that threatened and I couldn’t do anything, that was when I realized just what I had lost.  I had lost my best friend you see, the best friend I would ever have and now I want you back but I was so afraid that I’d left it too late.  I know now that any relationship, in this case our friendship, is what matters most.  I want you in my life in any way and if that’s this friendship, then I’m proud to have that.”  He smiled softly, sending her his reassurance. 



“Oh Chakotay.  I don’t deserve you, you know.  I really meant what I said before about not being able to imagine a day without you.  It took this for me to realize exactly how true that was.”  Chakotay sat back and watched her as she sorted her thoughts in her head.



“Chakotay…in the court…”  He didn’t want her going back there again.



“Kathryn, please put it behind you.”



“No this is important.  At the time, words swam around in my head but I do remember what I said.  I was in so much pain and I was so scared but mostly I remember looking for you and not being able to see you or find you.  Most of my answers were confused, his words, things half remembered or just repeating what I was hearing.  However, one of those things relates to something I realized shortly after that night on the holodeck but had probably known for years without acknowledging it to myself.  I said it in the court,  I know that much and now I’d like to say it properly.  I don’t know if you understand what I talking about…”   He felt his heart pound in his chest.



“Kathryn?” 



“Chakotay, I heard them sentence me to death and I actually understood that.  I was terrified, I can tell you that.  Mostly though, what ate at me was the fact that I couldn’t see you before I died.”  He squeezed her hands in his, his pain evident.



“I couldn’t see you one last time and I couldn’t tell you what I wanted to tell you.  I’m sorry I didn’t…before or…”   She lowered her head and he leaned in, trying to see her face. When she spoke, he had to strain to hear her.



“I love you.”  It was what he had always dreamed of but he needed her to know she didn’t have to say the words because she felt she owed them to him.



“Kathryn, I love you too.  You know that.  Just please don’t feel you have to say this, that you owe it to me…”   She squeezed his hands in return.



“I’m saying it because I mean it.  I’ve wasted so much time and life.  Chakotay, I love you.”  He pulled her into his arms.



“I love you.  Oh Kathryn…”   They held each other for some time.  Finally Chakotay pulled back a little.



“May I kiss you now?”  She nodded, her eyes filling with tears.  As their lips met and the kiss deepened, time seemed to stop and the memories of the past weeks faded away.



Within a further two weeks, Kathryn felt ready to reclaim her old life.  She left behind the parts of that life which had held her down and took on the new lessons she had learned.  As she put on her uniform for her first shift back and watched the image in the mirror of the new woman she had become, a smile crossed her face and she recognized it as something she had left behind a long time ago.  Now it was back where it belonged.



She turned to Chakotay who stood behind her, watching this new birth and smiled softly at him.  Opening her life to him and sharing that life was still new to her but she never had a minute’s regret.  He had stayed that night when they had finally admitted their love for each other and hadn’t left since. 



He held his hand out to her and she took it, squeezing gently, saying this way what words never could.  Together they left ‘their’ quarters for a new day, united against everything.


THE END.


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