Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
Back on Earth, Chakotay gets a call from Voyager's Doctor that changes his life.
This is based on an idea I got from Angelina Vansen's story "Twenty Four Seven" which can be found at http://angelina.kathryn-enslaved.com/247.html
It's also NC17 so be aware of that.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Judy Morrow, for all her hard work and friendship.

The Long Way Home

by Kat Lady


Chakotay sat on a wooden bench in the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters and wondered how it had ever ended up like this. He thought of all the hopes and dreams he'd had and looked down at his feet expecting to see the ashes of those dreams and hopes gathered there, but all he saw was the fall leaves, blown on the breeze and caught against his shoes and it told him something of how long he'd sat there.

He looked down at his legs stretched out before him, ankles crossed, and shook his head. His gaze shifted to his hands, fingers laced together in his lap and osighed. He realized he'd been clicking his thumb nails together and a stray thought came to him. He wondered how long he'd need to repeat the action before the nails were worn down to nothing. It would be some time and yet he knew it would still not be long enough to make him ready to face what he had to do. He could sit there for all eternity and still wouldn't be ready.

Eternity. He looked to the side and saw a bird hopping on the grass, drumming on the ground looking for worms. He smiled sadly as he remembered his father trying to explain eternity to him. The rich voice of the older man trying to explain the impossible to the young boy. He could almost hear him.

"Chakotay…imagine a bird who flies to the far edge of space. He reaches a ball…a sphere…made from the hardest known metal…perhaps the size of a large planet. The bird brushes the ball with the tip of his wing before he flies back. He returns again and again and brushes the tip of his wing against the ball each time. By the time the bird wears away that ball of metal…not even one second of eternity will have passed."

He looked back at his hands, shaking his head again, the memory bringing comfort and sadness at the same time.

Finally, he drew in a deep breath and forced himself to stand, smoothing out the creases in his pants. Another deep breath, trying to draw in some courage, and he commanded his legs to move, to carry him towards his destination. His heart screamed at him to turn and flee but he knew he had to do this. He owed it to her. It would be the last thing he could do for her.

He entered the stark building, the environmental controls ensuring that the interior was warm compared to the coolness of outside. His eyes adjusted to the artificial lighting and scanned the lobby before they settled on a sectioned-off area, the surround decorated in some kind of marble. He moved towards it and nodded to the young Ensign seated there. He stated his request and she nodded, an artificial smile pasted on her face.

"He's expecting you. Please take the lift to the second floor. Turn left then right at the end of the corridor. He'll meet you there." He nodded his thanks but she'd already returned her attention to the computer terminal before her.

Chakotay nodded solemnly to Voyager's EMH as he held out his hand to him in greeting. "I'm glad you came…"

Chakotay nodded quickly. There was nothing to say and the Doctor seemed to understand that.

"She's asleep at present. Perhaps we could talk first…" It wasn't a question. "Please…this way…" He led Chakotay through an outer office into a small lobby, then into one of Starfleet's medical bays. The large man followed him meekly. Finally, they entered another office, this one so obviously the Doctor's. Holoimages of many of Voyager's crew adorned the space, faces from the past smiling out at them. Chakotay looked around, his eyes seeing everything but his mind registering nothing.

He turned when he felt the Doctor's hand on his arm. He saw sympathy in his eyes and they shared a sad smile for a moment which quickly slipped away. He took the indicated seat and sank into it, trying to prepare himself for what lay ahead. He said the words he wanted to deny. "She's…dying…?"

The Medic moved around his desk and sat. He nodded gravely. "Yes…I'm sorry…"

For a brief moment Chakotay felt like asking the Doctor what he was apologizing for. "How long?"

The EMH shook his head slowly. "Difficult to say. I believe it's a matter of hours though…rather than days…"

Chakotay felt some anger enter the arena of his emotions. "You should have called me before…"

The Doctor shook his head sadly. "She didn't ask before today. And, of course, the onset of this was quite sudden…"

Chakotay sighed deeply. "How did…?" He swallowed. "How did it…?" The words seemed to stick in his throat. He felt anger again and stood, needing something physical to counteract the emotional. He stated the obvious. "It shouldn't end like this…" Saying the words somehow released something. He looked back at the Doctor and saw him shake his head.

"No…no, it shouldn't…"

He sank back into the chair and locked eyes with the medic. "And she asked to see me?"

The Doctor nodded slowly. "Yes. It's probably why she's hung on as long as she has…"

Chakotay squeezed his hands into fists. "There's nothing…?"

The Doctor understood what he meant. "No. We've tried all we can…"

Chakotay nodded slowly and let out a long breath. The questions came a little easier to him now for some reason. "How is she taking it…?" He sighed heavily. That sounded so stupid. He shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry…I guess… I mean…has she accepted…? Sorry…I don't know what I mean…" Once again he saw the Doctor understood him when even he was unsure of his own meaning.

The Doctor leaned forward, placing his hands on his desk. "I understand." He met the other man's eyes and gave him a tired smile, meant to empathize. "Yes…she's accepted that she has little time left…that she's dying…"

Chakotay sighed deeply and closed his eyes. That word again. Dying. No avoiding the truth now. A soft cough snapped his eyes open.

The Doctor leaned forward a little more. "What she can't accept and can't deal with is…" His words trailed off.

Chakotay frowned now. This was something the medic had alluded to when he'd contacted Voyager's former XO. "You didn't say much when you contacted me. You said something about her needing to talk to me before… That it was important…"

The Medic nodded slowly and laced his fingers together. "She needs to…ask you for something…if you like. She needs to tell you…well…she asked that I tell you…asked that I try and make you understand. She knows she's taking a risk and she's afraid that you'll remember her with hate only…"

Everything in Chakotay snapped to attention. "Hate her? Why would I hate her?"

The Doctor shook his head sadly. "You don't know all the facts. There's so much you don't know…"

Chakotay felt something fearful stir in his gut. "But you know." He stated it as a fact.

The Doctor nodded slowly, not meeting Chakotay's eyes for a moment. Finally, he looked at him and nodded. "Yes, I know…"

Chakotay eased forward in his chair. "Tell me…"

The EMH shook his head. "I promised I would let her talk to you first. I can tell you later and answer any other questions you will have then, but for now…" He turned away suddenly as an alarm sounded. Chakotay's eyes followed the Doctor's to a small console beside him.

The Medic nodded to himself and reached out to silence the sound. He looked back at Chakotay then, his face devoid of any clue. "She's awake." He stood slowly and then stopped, staring down at his visitor. "Chakotay, I need to ask you…for me if nothing else…to please just hear her out. I can't ask you to…" He sighed. "I don't know how you'll react to what I'll tell you later, but I have a good idea. I guess that's why I think it's better that she speak with you first. I'm asking you to please try your best to hold back any questions and your emotions…at least in front of her. I know you'll be confused and I also know it's unfair to ask you to speak with her without knowing any of the facts here. However, she hasn't much time and she needs to talk to you before…"

Chakotay stood with him, his fear growing. "Is it that bad? What could be so…?"

The Doctor raised a hand to silence him. "It's that bad but there are reasons. I can try and explain those to you later but for now…" He shook his head, his eyes imploring Chakotay for his understanding. "Chakotay, she's dying. She needs to cleanse her soul, if you like, before she goes. I'm asking you with everything that I am to just listen. I don't believe she'll ask your forgiveness but she will ask something of you." He held Chakotay's stare. "I can't ask you to give that to her although I believe you will…" He looked towards the medical bay, seeing in his mind what the other man couldn't see through the privacy screen. "We should go to her now…" He said no more although his eyes continued to speak, tacitly asking for understanding.

Chakotay nodded slowly and moved to follow him. He hesitated a moment at the door and then forced himself forward, so unsure of what the next hours would hold. He felt sure of one thing though. Life was about to change for all time.

Nothing could have prepared Chakotay for the sight of the woman lying on the biobed before him. He prayed he'd hidden his shocked reaction before she turned her tired eyes to him. She reached out a hand towards him, the simple movement clearly exhausting her.

Chakotay forced himself to move forward and took the offered hand, forcing a smile onto his face. The woman whose hand he held was so far removed from the one he'd known onboard Voyager. This woman had aged twenty years in a matter of weeks. She was pale, her cheeks sunken, her eyes dull. Her once beautiful hair was devoid of any shine, lying loosely around her head on the pillow. He heard her laboured breathing and even to his untrained eyes, he knew she was dying.

He looked down at her and forced his smile to remain. "Hello, Seven…"

Chakotay sat now on a chair he couldn't remember having been given. He assumed the Doctor had supplied it. He still held Seven's hand, feeling her bones through her skin which seemed transparent. He forced another smile. "You should have called me before…"

Seven shook her head weakly, ignoring his words. She moved her head slowly and looked at the Doctor. "You…didn't tell…?"

The Medic leaned a little closer and whispered quietly. "No. I kept my promise."

Seven smiled softly. "You will…tell him…explain…?"

The Doctor nodded kindly. "I will. I'll do all you asked."

Seven sighed softly and barely nodded. Slowly she looked back at Chakotay, tears in her eyes now.

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "It's OK. I'm here…"

Seven licked at her lips. "I need to ask you…to do something…for me…not for me but…" She stopped to control her breathing for a moment. Chakotay waited and squeezed her hand softly. She nodded a faint acknowledgement. "It's not…for me…" She looked away from him, staring up at the ceiling. "I did…something…terrible… The Doctor…he has…he has been…my confessor…" Chakotay frowned at that but she still didn't look at him. "He has been…he gave me back…my conscience…saved my soul…gave me some peace…"

Suddenly she turned her head back to face him. "I have little time…I know that…" She weakly squeezed his hand when he went to deny the truth. "Please…time is too short…for untruths…" She took as deep a breath as she could manage. "I won't ask your…forgiveness… It would be nice…but…" She closed her eyes briefly and then looked back at him, a desperate look in her eyes.

"Find her, Chakotay…find her…help her…she needs help…must…" Chakotay looked towards the Doctor in confusion. The Medic raised a hand, asking for his patience and understanding. He nodded and looked back down at the woman before him. Her eyes were boring into his.

"Find her…help her…the Doctor…he'll tell you…explain…" She grimaced and Chakotay knew she was in pain but she pushed on. "You'll hate me…I understand that… Perhaps in time…not forgive…but understand…a little…" She shook her head very slightly, her eyes begging him now. "All I ask…all I can do… Find her and help her…please…promise me…promise me…" Her breathing was growing more and more shallow.

Chakotay nodded slowly, not sure what he was saying. "I promise…I'll find her…help her…"

Seven gripped his hand with some force now, a last effort. "All I can do now…to try and make it right… Help her…make it right…my sins… I'm so sorry…so sorry…can never…forgive myself…"

Chakotay watched, questions filling his mind, as Seven's eyes began to close. Her hold on his hand loosened. He held on tighter. "Seven? Seven?"

Her eyes opened briefly, staring almost into his soul. "Make it right for me… So sorry…" Her eyes began to close again and she fought to turn her head, seeking out the Doctor. He looked down at her and smiled, nodding in private understanding to her. Chakotay watched the look of tenderness on the face of the EMH and felt he shouldn't be intruding on such a moment. He looked back at Seven and saw her eyes close, a look of peace in them now. And then he felt her hand go completely limp in his. Seven of Nine, former Borg drone, was gone.

Four hours later Chakotay sat in the Doctor's office, his mind trying to make sense of everything. Seven's dying moments replayed in his mind constantly, no matter how hard he tried to shut them out.

The Doctor left him alone with Seven for several minutes before two orderlies came to remove her body. Voyager's EMH had accompanied them, leaving Chakotay alone in the medic's small office, evidence of happier days mocking him from the numerous holoimages which gazed down at him.

He paced and sat alternatively, trying to push away a nagging fear. Seven's last request. "Find her…help her…" Although he tried to deny it to himself, he wondered if 'her' was Kathryn, and the more that thought came, the more his fear increased.

He sat down again and rubbed at his face. He looked up suddenly at a sound from the doorway and saw Voyager's former EMH standing there. Even for a hologram, grief was evident on his face.

Chakotay shook his head. "Doc…I'm sorry. I know how hard this is on you…"

The Doctor moved around his desk and sat wearily. "She meant a great deal to me. She was a good friend. This last week we became very close. She trusted me so much…asked for my help. I was the one she came to… She couldn't forgive herself though…once she understood what she'd done."

Chakotay sat forward. "You're starting to really scare me, Doc. Please tell me what this is all about. Seven said 'find her…help her…' Find who? Is it Kathryn? Why does she need help? What's happened to her?"

The Doctor held up a hand. "Please, Chakotay… I need to talk to you but I need to do it my way. Please give me that consideration."

Chakotay nodded an apology. "Please… I'm sorry. I just have this fear building inside me…"

The Doctor showed his understanding. "I know. I'll be as brief as I can."

Chakotay raised both hands. "Please, Doc…go on…"

The Doctor smiled his thanks but it was strained. "Let me start at the beginning. A little of this you may know." He took a moment before he continued.

"While we were still in the Delta Quadrant…before you and Seven got together…" He hesitated a moment. "Seven ran simulations to explore different aspects of her humanity…social situations…that kind of thing…"

Chakotay didn't look surprised. "I knew she ran some simulations…social situations as you say."

The Doctor nodded. "She ran numerous simulations. You may remember she became somewhat negligent in her duties at one stage…"

Chakotay thought a moment and then nodded. "I remember something about that. I think Kathryn spoke with her about it."

The Medic sat forward a little. "The point is…she collapsed during one of those simulations. She was going into neural shock when I found her."

Chakotay frowned. "I remember that too…her collapsing, that is."

The EMH sat back again. "I can tell you this now because Seven asked me to tell you everything." He sat forward once more, as if unable to get comfortable. "When I got her to sickbay her cortical node was beginning to shut down. I stabilized it." He shook his head. "I eventually discovered that the node hadn't malfunctioned at all. Quite the opposite, in fact."

Chakotay frowned again. "I don't understand…"

The Doctor smiled sadly. "The node was designed to shut down her higher brain functions." He looked over at Chakotay, watching his face carefully. "This happened if she achieved a certain level of emotional stimulation."

Chakotay kept his frown, trying to make sense of the Doctor's words. "What kind of simulations caused that…?"

The Doctor chose his words carefully. "Many were of you…"

Chakotay was shocked at that. "Of me? What kind of…?" The answer hit him as he spoke. "Oh…that kind?"

The Doctor nodded. "Please understand that she needed to 'rehearse' if you like…explore these situations before…" He shrugged slightly. "Suffice to say she had her reasons and no one was hurt…"

Chakotay didn't know whether to feel shocked or flattered. He settled on somewhere in the middle. "It's OK…I understand." He wasn't sure he did.

The Medic merely nodded. "So, we had this situation. She couldn't experience certain emotions because the node kicked in. It was a form of emotional handicap for her."

Chakotay's sympathy showed. "She never spoke of this to me. It must have been very difficult for her."

The Doctor nodded. "It was. I think she was also too embarrassed to tell you about it…you or anyone…"

Chakotay just nodded. "But you fixed the problem. I mean with me she was…" He stopped, not wishing to betray details of their short time together.

The Doctor shrugged faintly. "I researched it and found I could reconfigure the node. It meant a difficult and lengthy process…possibly dangerous too. However, at that stage Seven decided to go no further. Despite her decision, I did some additional research and discovered the procedure wasn't as difficult as I had at first anticipated." He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Unfortunately, Seven did her own research. Trouble is…she knew the details but didn't understand the skill required…"

Chakotay shook his head in confusion. "I don't understand this. She never said anything about all this to me. When we were together, she experienced emotions."

The Doctor nodded quickly. "I know that. When your relationship began, she came to me and permitted me to start the process."

Chakotay scratched at the side of his face and frowned. "Start the process?"

The EMH nodded. "Unfortunately, we got home before the treatment was complete. She informed me that she would return to me at a later date to finish it, but she never did…"

Chakotay was shocked. "She just never said anything to me about needing any treatment." He frowned again. "What has this got to do with now?"

The Doctor sighed. "I suppose I'm trying to explain her actions…perhaps even excuse them…"

Chakotay felt his earlier fear return. "This has something to do with Kathryn, hasn't it? You didn't really answer me earlier. What's all this about, Doc? Seven said to find her and help her. What's wrong here?"

The Doctor sat back. "Let me try and explain this as briefly as I can." Chakotay reluctantly nodded for him to continue. "When we returned to Earth you and Seven had already begun your relationship. Seven had started her treatment and was experiencing some emotions - but not all. She was also still learning how to handle those emotions. Feeling them and dealing with them…analysing them…are two very different matters." Again Chakotay nodded but remained quiet.

"What I didn't know was that she was having trouble dealing with those emotions. She was feeling things she had no idea how to address. Old, previously suppressed emotions also began to surface."

Chakotay interrupted at that. "Doc…I saw no evidence of that."

The Doctor shook his head. "What happened when you broke up?"

Chakotay thought for a moment. "It wasn't…pleasant…" He looked at the Doctor. "Actually, it was pretty bad. She accused me of still having feelings for Kathryn."

The Doctor played with a padd on his desk. "She told me that." He stopped his hand movements and looked directly at Chakotay. "I can tell you that her emotions, untrained emotions, I might add, were taking over at that stage. She found herself alone…"

Chakotay interrupted again. "Doc…SHE left ME although we both knew it was over. I don't know if she told you that…"

The Medic smiled sadly. "She told me but you have to understand what she was feeling at the time. All these new emotions were coming out. She just knew that you had gone…she was alone…and she blamed Captain Janeway for that because older emotions were coming out now…emotions she'd been denied at the time. She looked back to the time the captain severed her connection to the collective. All the bitterness of that time began to come out. Every negative feeling she'd ever had against the captain came out. She knew enough to understand that she needed further treatment to deal with all this, but instead of coming to me, she sought out another doctor. Unfortunately, he wasn't skilled enough to perform the procedure. No doctor here would be. Instead of admitting that, he put his medical ethics aside and put profit over everything else. Seven instructed him and he went ahead." He shook his head. "Oh, it worked. Unfortunately, it worked too well. All her emotions were heightened."

Chakotay felt his fear grow. "What are you telling me? What did she do?"

The Doctor began to play with the padd again. "As hard as this may be for you to hear, there was an unacknowledged and unrecognized resentment within Seven towards Captain Janeway. On Voyager she knew the captain had feelings for you and perhaps a part of dating you was to get at her. I can't be positive about that, but it seems that way. Once she was back here with you and learned how you still felt about the captain, those newly released and untrained emotions began to take over and they increased in intensity. She left you because, in her mind, at this stage, being with you couldn't hurt the captain if she wasn't around to see it."

Chakotay sat back in shock. "Dear God...I thought she always admired Kathryn. She always spoke so well of her."

The Medic nodded sadly. "Towards the end of your relationship that was an act. As the emotions took over, she began to hate Captain Janeway."

Chakotay felt a coldness spread through him at those words. "Are you trying to tell me she hurt Kathryn?"

Instead of answering, the Doctor asked a question. "When was the last time you saw the captain?"

Chakotay shook his head. "I haven't seen her in over two months. The last time was at HQ when we were all discharged. I left with Seven. I saw Kathryn with her ex-fiancé Mark…talking to him and some admiral. I don't think anyone else has seen her since then either." He narrowed his eyes now. "Why? What do you know? Has something happened to her?"

The Doctor's expression gave no clue. "I haven't seen her since then either. I have no idea where she is or how she is."

Chakotay's eyes narrowed. "But you have your suspicions…"

The Doctor sat back once more. "Seven knew about Captain Janeway and Mark Johnston. She set out to find them. She discovered that they were having a relationship, even though Mr. Johnston remained married."

Chakotay shook his head. "That doesn't sound like Kathryn."

The Doctor shrugged. "From what I gather, the relationship was not good. Apparently, it was somewhat abusive."

Chakotay shot forward in his chair. "Abusive…? I'll kill that bastard…"

The Doctor held up a hand to silence the man before him. "Chakotay, please just hear me out. This is hard enough to talk about…" He watched as Chakotay nodded slowly and regained his composure. "Thank you…"

Chakotay nodded again but his anger still showed. "Go on…"

The Medic nodded his thanks. "From what Seven told me, this Mr. Johnston didn't treat the captain very well…had little respect for her. He apparently blamed her for a lot of his pain and the upheaval in his life…even for his troubled marriage." He shook his head slowly. "The captain had no idea about you and Seven breaking up." He sighed and stood up now, going to the replicator. "Tea?"

Chakotay nodded and let out a long breath. "I have a feeling I may need it…"

The Doctor ordered the tea and placed the cup on the desk in front of Chakotay, who nodded his thanks but didn't move to touch the beverage. "Chakotay…you have to understand that at this stage Seven's emotions were running wild. Her perception was way off. She was angry that, in her eyes, you no longer wanted her. She was angry because while you were together, the captain hadn't been there to witness it. She said she felt 'it wasn't fun anymore if the captain couldn't see the two of you together'. She also knew that you still had feelings for the captain and that angered her even more."

Chakotay sat back in his chair. "Why didn't I see all this?"

The Medic shrugged. "I would say because she hid it well and didn't want you to see it."

Chakotay sucked in a deep breath, trying to hold his emotions in check. "Tell me the rest."

The Doctor nodded and walked back behind his desk where he sat down again. "Seven discovered that the captain was in a relationship with Mark Johnston, as I said. She watched and studied and then moved in."

Chakotay frowned. "What do you mean, she moved in?"

The EMH shook his head. "She began an affair of her own with Mr. Johnston."

Chakotay was shocked at that. "She what?"

The Doctor shrugged once more. "At this stage, the way Seven was, they were very like-minded people. She…in her words… 'came onto him'…and he fell for it…"

Chakotay shook his head angrily. "What was her plan? To take him away from Kathryn?"

The Doctor shook his head. "No. She wanted to make sure the captain found them together. It was another way for her to inflict hurt. At this stage she had no respect for the captain…was insanely jealous of her." He looked up now. "Chakotay, please understand that her mind wasn't…"

Chakotay interrupted him. "No excuses right now, Doc. Just give me the facts."

Seeing that Chakotay needed to hear this quickly, he nodded and went on. "She arranged it so that the captain would walk in on them one day. Mr. Johnston always came to the captain's apartment…safer that way apparently…more private. There was less chance of being seen. A hotel would have been…" He left the obvious unsaid. "He was just using the captain…"

Chakotay rubbed at his forehead, feeling a headache starting. "All right…I get your meaning." He sighed heavily. "So, Kathryn came home and found them together?"

The Medic nodded. "Seven had her timing worked out well. They were 'in the act' you could say…in the captain's bed…"

Chakotay groaned. "Oh, dear God…Kathryn…"

The Doctor shook his head slightly, bracing himself for the rest of his story. "Naturally, the captain was very upset. She apparently made a run at Mr. Johnston. He'd been drinking and in Seven's words, he 'exploded' in anger…screamed at the captain for daring to even try and raise a hand against him."

Chakotay felt a cold fist tighten in his stomach. "What happened? What did he do to her?"

The EMH forced himself to meet Chakotay's eyes. "He…beat her…"

Chakotay just closed his eyes and fought for control. Knowing he needed to hear it all, he opened his eyes, his expression cold. "Just finish it. Tell me."

The Doctor nodded slowly, understanding. "I can only tell you what Seven saw and she was afraid. For the first time with him, she was afraid. She finally saw what the man was...how powerful he was…saw that she didn't have all the control she thought she had…"

Chakotay snorted. "She met her match…" He shook his head at the Doctor's sad expression. "Sorry…go on…"

The Doctor barely nodded. "She froze. She watched him…"

Chakotay jumped up, losing his temper now. "You mean she stood there and watched while that bastard hurt Kathryn and did nothing to help…?"

The Medic looked up at him, his eyes pleading for some semblance of understanding. "Chakotay, I'm not excusing what happened. I'm just trying to explain the best way I can with the information I have. Please just let me tell this."

Almost a full minute passed while Chakotay looked towards the man who had treated him so many times over the years. The man, and he always thought of him in that way, who had even saved his life. In respect of that fact alone, Chakotay nodded and then sat again. "This is for you, Doc. Out of respect for you only."

The Doctor nodded his understanding and thanks. "I understand. Thank you." He took a moment and then continued. "Seven was scared. That's not… What I mean is…" He shook his head. "You have to understand that with all her emotions so heightened…so out of control…being scared translated into absolute terror. She froze. She told me it was like watching the scene before her in slow motion."

Chakotay showed no sympathy. "And that scene was what?"

The Doctor sighed. "Mark Johnston beat the captain…quite badly it seems. Seven said she saw some blood…her lip cut…and over her eye. He also…" The Medic leaned forward and lowered his voice slightly. "I'll say this quickly. Seven told me there was a fire burning in the room. Old style log fire."

Chakotay's eyes widened and his voice was choked when he spoke. "He…burned her…?"

The Doctor shook his head. "Apparently the captain fell…when he hit her… She fell against the fire…"

Chakotay forced himself to breathe. "How bad…?"

The EMH shook his head. "I don't know. Seven didn't know. She said the captain fell forward towards the fire and screamed…then twisted to get away…screamed again." He spread his hands. "I don't know, Chakotay. Seven said her face was burned…possibly her shoulder and arm…hands…and then when she twisted…most likely her back. I have no way to know…"

Chakotay stood slowly and deliberately. "What else? I'm assuming there's more…" He stared coldly at the man seated before him.

The Medic nodded. "Seven wasn't sure. She was in shock…left the room…grabbed her clothes. She said she heard the captain crying and him still screaming abuse. It went quiet then. When she went back into the room…"

Chakotay stared hard at him. "I want to know…"

The Doctor sighed. "Seven said the captain was lying across the bed. Her clothes were torn and she was curled up…crying…"

Chakotay stood there in shock, forcing his voice to work. "You're saying that…after all that…he…" He swallowed loudly. "You're saying…he raped her…?" He leaned forward and gripped the edge of the desk, needing something to support him. He kept his eyes on the Medic.

The Doctor looked down at his desk and shrugged. "I don't know, although it would seem…" He didn't finish.

A silence filled the room for several minutes. Chakotay fought to control his emotions and his thoughts. He looked around him, not really seeing the room. Finally, he sat down again, his legs weak. "What about the doctors who treated her? What happened there? Didn't security…?" He looked up. "He was arrested and charged, wasn't he?"

The Doctor shook his head. "I don't know what happened and neither did Seven." He held up a hand asking for permission to finish. Chakotay barely nodded. The EMH sat back. "All I know is that Mark Johnston then turned on Seven. He hit her too. She fell against the table…cut her head. He tried to hit her again, but she fought him off. She's…she was strong…physically an equal match for him. He apparently saw this and backed off. He dressed quickly and left. Didn't even look back."

Chakotay's face was a mask of anger. "Seven called for help though…"

The Doctor shook his head. "She couldn't think straight. She ran also." He looked up knowing the reaction that would get.

Chakotay jumped up again and leaned forward over the desk. His voice was low and menacing. "You're telling me that they both left Kathryn there? She was badly hurt and they just left her there?"

The Medic nodded his head slowly. "Seven was hurt, Chakotay. She wasn't thinking straight. She left and walked around for some time. She had no idea how long. Some hours later she returned but the apartment was deserted. The captain was gone, most of her clothing and personal items as well."

Chakotay shook his head. He felt dizzy now and sat again. "She was hurt…injured like that…" He shook his head. "She was wandering around in that state and no one…" He fell back against his chair. "Tell me she's been found since…treated…"

The Doctor shook his head. "I made covert inquiries. Under her own name, she wasn't treated anywhere. No injuries of that kind…burns…were treated in the days after that either." He leaned forward. "Chakotay, we have no idea how badly she was hurt. It mightn't have been as bad as Seven made it sound…"

Chakotay's glare silenced the Doctor. "And she could be lying dead somewhere from her injuries…"

The Doctor shook his head. "We have to assume that… I mean, we'd have heard…" He decided to push on and finish as quickly as he could. "The following day Seven came to me. She was in a very confused state. I examined her and treated her as best I could. There was damage to her implants from the blow to her head…damage I couldn't repair."

Chakotay stared down at his hands. "When was all this?"

The Doctor folded his hands on the desk. "A week ago. It was three days before I knew any of this. I knew she'd been hurt…that much was obvious. I then learned about the previous surgery. Finally, she told me about you and then the captain."

Chakotay swallowed. "So, you've known about Kathryn for several days. Have you called security…tried to find her?"

The Doctor shook his head. "As I said, I made inquiries to see if anyone under her name or description had reported to any hospital or clinic…any injuries matching those Seven told me about. There was nothing. I know she left her job…her apartment… I called Starfleet…who informed me she no longer worked there…had resigned… It was the same at her apartment. They just told me she'd left. Tracing her outside of that is beyond my capabilities."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I hadn't thought about her job… I can't think straight…"

The Medic leaned forward again. "Chakotay, please understand that Seven's mind was damaged…her perception of everything. Her emotions were out of control. Mark Johnston killed her in my book. The blow to her head caused the damage that led to her death. I wanted to call security for her…have her report what happened… She said no…that she didn't want that. She begged me not to and I had to respect her wishes. I wonder now if she felt she deserved what happened to her…her punishment."

Chakotay stood stiffly and turned away from the Doctor. He stared out through the glass partition for several minutes, time the Medic gave him. Finally, he turned back and shook his head. "I can't believe all this…can't take it in." He gestured towards the door. "I sat out there this afternoon for over an hour or so…maybe longer. I put off coming in here as long as possible." He rubbed at his face.

"It wasn't just facing Seven…knowing she was dying. I mean…you never know what to say…" He shook his head again. "Something just told me that things would never be the same again. A gut feeling or something…" He sighed heavily and eventually sat.

"I can't believe Kathryn was with him. The woman I knew would never have allowed a relationship with a married man. She still saw him as a friend but…and if he treated her like that…" He pinched at the bridge of his nose. "I can't believe she'd allow herself to be treated like that…"

The Doctor leaned forward, a look of deep pity on his face. "I think she was very lonely. Seven told me that too…from what she observed." He saw the pain his words caused but spoke on. "Chakotay, loneliness is a disease. It's a debilitating disease. People will do almost anything to find a cure for it."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "Even when the cure is worse than the disease and doesn't cure it?"

The Doctor nodded slowly. "There's always the hope it will…so yes…even then, because anything is better than being alone. Of course, in the end, with someone like that, you're even more alone. People can feel alone in a crowded city, surrounded by people. It's the love that's lacking." He saw the hurt his words caused.

Chakotay dropped his head. "That bastard was just using her… For someone who was supposed to have once loved her… And Seven…" He looked up again and shook his head.

The Doctor laced his fingers together. "Chakotay…Seven regretted her actions very much. She was so confused when she came to me. I helped her see the truth. She was filled with guilt and remorse when she realized what she'd done…"

Chakotay laughed bitterly at that. "Stop making excuses for her. You told me her earlier emotions came out. That means her hate and lack of respect was already there…"

The Medic shook his head. "No. It means that she had all these feelings for the captain she'd never dealt with…emotions from the time she was first taken from the collective. In her confusion, she took the emotions she was feeling when the node began to fail and applied those emotions to all the earlier unrecognized ones. She used the same emotions for everything." He sighed. "It's difficult to explain."

Chakotay shook his head in disgust. "At this moment, nothing you say to me will excuse what she did. I just can't deal with that at the moment. All I can think about now is Kathryn and finding her."

The Doctor nodded his understanding. "Perhaps in time…" He nodded when he saw the look in Chakotay's eyes. "Yes, well…"

Chakotay stood slowly and looked down at the Doctor. "Just give me Kathryn's address if you have it…where she was living. I'll work from there…"

The Medic nodded and handed Chakotay a padd. "I have everything ready for you here…"

Chakotay nodded and took the padd. "Thanks…" He activated the padd and looked at the information it contained. He nodded to himself before looking back at the Doctor. "I'll get back to you. I need to get out of here and sort all this in my head. It's nothing personal…"

The Doctor stood also and nodded. "I understand. I so wish we'd met under different circumstances…that none of this had happened…that…"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "Yeah…me too." He pocketed the padd. "I'll keep in touch…let you know…" He turned away but then turned back. He held out a hand to the Medic. "For what it's worth… I know you're torn here…just trying to do your best as you've always done. You don't deserve my anger. I apologize for that…."

The Doctor smiled and took the offered hand. "I know that, Chakotay. I never thought anything else." He let go of the other man's hand. "If I can help in any way, please let me know."

Chakotay nodded and moved towards the door. "I will. And I'll find her. I won't rest until I do…" With a final nod, he left.

Chakotay stood and stared at the non-descript building which housed Kathryn's apartment. He sighed heavily and shook his head. His eyes scanned the featureless façade, each window as dreary as the next. He checked the address Voyager's doctor had given him again, needing to be sure he had the right location. He looked back at the building, wondering if it had been designed by a first-year architecture student or a qualified one who was lazy and simply didn't give a damn. Had it just been functional, it would have been more attractive. He wondered if Kathryn had chosen to live here deliberately or just hadn't thought about it or cared, as long as she had a roof over her head.

He slipped the Doctor's padd into his pocket and entered the building. The entrance hall was a plain beige colour with a dark brown leather couch beside the mail boxes. Both had seen better days.

Chakotay looked around at the sound of a woman singing tunelessly and coughed slightly to get her attention. A blond head appeared from around the corner of a laundry container. As soon as she saw him, the woman's expression changed from a frown to a full smile.

Chakotay returned the smile. "I'm sorry to disturb you but I was looking for someone."

The woman laughed. "Aren't we all?" She held up a hand. "Sorry. I don't usually get anyone asking me anything. I'm normally invisible to everyone. How can I help you?"

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "I'm trying to find someone who lives or maybe lived here. I'm not sure really…"

The blond woman came over to him, cleaning her hands on a small towel. "Does this person have a name?" She studied Chakotay as she moved towards him.

Chakotay nodded and kept the smile on his face. "Her name is Kathryn Janeway…" He saw the woman recognized the name at once.

She smiled knowingly. "I know her…and now I know why you look so familiar to me. Sorry. I didn't mean to stare but I thought I knew your face."

Chakotay waved away her concern. "It's OK. I'm used to being recognized. Normally people just point and whisper. It's nice to find someone honest and open enough to say anything to me."

The woman smiled again and held out her hand. "Well, I'm Ellen. Nice to meet you." She stood back now, becoming serious. "Ms. Janeway hasn't been here in a while. She left."

Chakotay's disappointment was obvious. "I'd heard that, but I needed to check." He smiled his thanks to the woman and went to turn away when he felt her hand on his arm.

Ellen withdrew her hand as soon as he turned to her. "She left but…" She shrugged. "She still has her apartment here. I don't know if that helps you."

Chakotay turned back fully to face her. "She kept her apartment here?"

Ellen nodded. "Yeah. I mean, she's all paid up so… I know she left in a hurry about…" She looked off to the right as she thought, then back at Chakotay. "A week…week and a half? She doesn't have a service contract so…"

Chakotay frowned. "I don't understand…"

The woman smiled kindly. "Some of the tenants here have a service contract which means I go in and clean for them…take their laundry…general housekeeping… Ms. Janeway doesn't have that."

Chakotay bit at his lip. "And she hasn't been back? Could she have been in and out without you noticing…?"

Ellen laughed out loud at that and pointed to a security camera above Chakotay's head. "I know everyone who comes and goes here. The place may look cheap but it is clean and it is secure. That camera runs 24/7 and I view it every evening…that and the one from the rear entrance. They're motion triggered so it doesn't take long and they miss nothing."

Chakotay's mind was working ahead of the conversation. He put on his sweetest smile. "Is it possible to view the tapes from a week ago? I know it's asking a lot…" He watched the woman's expression change at his request. "Look, I know it sounds strange but…"

Ellen folded her arms. "Is she in some kind of trouble?"

Chakotay hesitated a moment. "No…"

Ellen dropped her head to the side. "I meant with the authorities…"

Chakotay understood and shook his head quickly. "No. I promise you. Nothing like that."

The woman drew in a deep breath. "But she is in trouble of some kind…" When Chakotay hesitated again, she nodded. "OK. Just answer me this then. Are you part of that trouble or are you here to help?"

Chakotay smiled slightly. "I'm here to help."

Ellen nodded slowly and studied the man before her for a further minute as if gauging whether to trust him. Finally, she nodded. "OK. For some reason I trust you. And if Ms. Janeway is in some kind of trouble…" She smiled kindly. "I like her. She's one of the few here who acknowledges my existence. Always a smile and a greeting. Most just walk past me like I'm a piece of furniture unless they want something. Even though she constantly looks worn out, she always says hello." She tossed the towel she held into the laundry container. "Come on. My office is this way."

Chakotay sat in Ellen's small office and viewed the security tapes. He sat up straighter when he saw Mark Johnston enter on the day Voyager's EMH had described. He looked up when he heard Ellen laugh.

"Yeah…I thought it might be him you were looking for. Sorry if he's a friend but I didn't like him much. Something slimy about that one…" She stopped immediately. "Sorry. None of my business."

Chakotay shook his head. "It's all right. I don't think much of him either."

Ellen smiled at that. "In this business, you get to be a damn good judge of character." She stopped the camera several more times as various people came and went. Watching her visitor's reaction, she scrolled past them quickly. She stopped again when she saw him stiffen at Seven's appearance. "That one too?"

Chakotay nodded. "Yeah."

Ellen nodded and leaned over him to fiddle with the controls. "OK. Now I know." She nodded down at him. "Some say I'm too nosy, but this work isn't exactly taxing to the brain, so I amuse myself in other ways."

Chakotay smiled at that. "No harm in that. So, what can you tell me?"

Ellen typed in a few more commands then pointed to the screen. "This is him entering that day. He's been here a lot. Usually twice a week…Tuesday and Thursday…although sometimes he varies that but not often." Chakotay nodded as she scrolled on to Seven entering the building. "This one came in eleven minutes after him."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "When did Kath…Ms. Janeway come in?"

Ellen typed another command and Chakotay saw Kathryn enter the hall. "There. Thirty-three minutes after that woman."

Chakotay watched Kathryn, her head down. She moved slowly as if she didn't care where she was going.

Ellen was ahead of him. "Not the manner of a woman rushing home to see her man…" She bit her lip when Chakotay looked up at her. "Sorry, again. I've no right to say that."

Chakotay smiled sadly. "It's all right." He looked back at the screen. "When did they leave?"

Ellen moved forward again. "The camera in the entrance hall faces the door so it only catches the faces of people coming in. That's him though. He left early this time. Normally he stays several hours. This time he only stayed an hour. An hour and seven minutes to be exact." Once again she moved the tape forward. "And there. Blondie leaves six minutes later." She looked down at Chakotay who barely nodded. "Even from behind, they both seem upset or angry. As I know people, I'd say those two were caught doing something they shouldn't have been and yet this was a regular time for him…" She stopped when Chakotay's head shot up. "Sorry. My mouth runs away with me…"

Chakotay looked back at the screen and forced down his emotions. "When did Ms. Janeway leave?"

Ellen concentrated on her task. "She left by the rear entrance. I'll have to switch tapes." She slipped the first chip out of the terminal and inserted a second then typed in a command. "Here. I remember the time because I was expecting a regular delivery. I called to her but she didn't answer. First time that ever happened." She pointed to the screen. "There. Her head is down but it's her. As you can see, she was carrying luggage. Left in as big of a hurry as the other two."

Chakotay barely nodded, his eyes watching the screen. "Do you know where she went or even which direction?"

Ellen shook her head. "I'm sorry…no. That delivery arrived and I had to take care of that."

Chakotay sat back a little. "What about a forwarding address? How do you manage with messages and deliveries for her?"

Ellen shrugged. "She doesn't really get anything. If something arrived, I guess I'd just hold it for her. Until her lease runs out or I hear otherwise from her, she still lives here and it's still her apartment."

Chakotay nodded at that. He looked up at Ellen. "I know it's asking a lot but…"

The woman beside him smiled knowingly. "You want to see her apartment."

Chakotay smiled slightly. "Are you psychic or am I that readable?"

Ellen shut off the terminal and shook her head. "It's just what I'd want to do if I was looking for a friend and was as worried about her as you are…no matter how much you try to hide it."

Chakotay didn't try to deny it. "I need to find her. That's really all I can say."

Ellen studied him for a moment and then nodded. "OK. As I said, I trust you for some reason." She reached into her pocket and withdrew a code card. "Come on then. I'll let you in. Just don't go telling anyone I did this."

Chakotay stood and smiled at her. "I won't breathe a word."

Chakotay stood in the living room of Kathryn's apartment and looked around him in despair. This wasn't a home. He shook his head and looked over at Ellen who stood just inside the door. She smiled sadly at him. "Not much to show for a life, is it, especially one like hers?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, it isn't."

Ellen sighed. "Well…I'll leave you to it. Just pull the door after you when you leave."

Chakotay smiled his thanks. "I will…and Ellen…thank you."

The woman looked a little embarrassed but pleased also. "Just promise you'll let me know she's all right when you find her."

Chakotay nodded. "You have my word on that."

Left alone in the small apartment, Chakotay moved around running his hand over several surfaces. The layers of dust told him no one had been here since Kathryn's departure.

Even though he knew he was alone, he still looked behind him before taking a tricorder from his pocket. He walked around scanning the area but nothing unusual showed on the instrument for the living room. His eyes settled on the old-style fireplace and for a moment he hesitated. He then noticed that the grate was empty and cleaned, no fire having been lit in it for some time. He still scanned the area but again, nothing showed. To be thorough, he quickly scanned the small kitchen area but this also was clean.

With the outer rooms scanned, his eyes moved to the only other door in the apartment. He knew that had to be the bedroom and moved towards it. The door was slightly ajar and he drew in a deep breath before pushing it open and entering the room.

Chakotay stopped just inside the doorway and gasped. The room was in complete disarray with cupboards and drawers pulled open, the contents strewn all over the floor. The bed was also a mess, the covers crumpled and hanging off it onto the floor.

Chakotay pulled in several deep breaths and moved into the room. Trying to swallow his anger, he concentrated on scanning the room. Within seconds he found what he was looking for but didn't want to find.

The fireplace told one story. He saw that someone, most likely Kathryn herself, had poured water over the logs to put the fire out. He scanned the grate and studied the readings. Traces of human flesh registered on the tricorder and he groaned. He moved the instrument over the floor, traces of blood registering now, some of which could be seen with the naked eye. Kathryn's blood. The readings matched the flesh and blood traces with her DNA.

Taking another deep breath, Chakotay waved the tricorder over the bed and forced himself to study the results. Several different readings showed up from the sheets and Chakotay groaned. Kathryn's blood again which he could see smeared on the fabric near the end of the bed and other stains which confirmed his fears. Semen in two places showed up on the tricorder. Chakotay straightened up and closed his eyes. One stain in the centre of the bed was obviously from Seven's encounter, but the other, near the end of the bed and mixed with her blood, had to be from the assault on Kathryn.

Chakotay raised his eyes slowly and looked around the room, ordering his anger to subside. He knew his emotions would only cloud his thinking and he needed a clear head to deal with this. He forced himself to move and look around the room some more. Some of Kathryn's clothes remained but it was obvious that much was missing. He walked over to the small bathroom and pushed open the door. Water stains surrounded the sink unit, long since dried. Even here though he noticed blood smears on the while porcelain basin. He leaned down and pulled out the drawer of the recycler, expecting to find nothing. What he saw shocked him.

Several gauze strips and pads filled the small space, all blood stained. He shook his head as he scanned them and saw that once again the blood matched Kathryn's. She'd obviously forgotten to activate the unit in her haste to leave. Although he looked, he didn't find a dermal regenerator or any other medical equipment. He knew she had them so assumed she must have taken them with her.

Leaving the bathroom, Chakotay returned to the bedroom. His eyes scanned the room again as he began to push items back into drawers, not sure why he was doing it. He folded a jacket and was about to place it in the wardrobe when something on the floor caught his eye. He leaned in and pulled out a blue dress and groaned again. It was the same dress Kathryn had been wearing on the security tape. She obviously changed out of her uniform before returning home to meet Mark Johnston.

Chakotay examined the dress, seeing that it was torn across the front. He lifted it up and shook it out then looked down at his feet as something fell from the folds. He bent down and almost cried out. His hand holding the dress tightened on it as he looked at a pair of panties and bra, both torn and stained.

A surge of anger shot through Chakotay as he grabbed the items and stormed back into the bathroom. He threw them on the counter then returned to the bedroom and stripped the bed, taking the stained linens into the bathroom. He stood for several minutes and debated about recycling everything. Instead he folded everything together, taking the bloodstained gauze pads from the recycler and took the lot back into the living room where he replicated a bag, sealing the items inside it in case they were needed for forensic examination. He also took some images of the scene and saved them along with the readings he'd taken in case they too were required. He knew he'd rather just enact his own form of justice on the bastard who was responsible for all this, but that decision had to be Kathryn's…if he ever found her.

Chakotay spent the next half hour tidying the apartment and re-making the bed. If Kathryn ever returned here he wanted the place clean with no trace of the terrible ordeal she'd suffered. He stood and looked around at his efforts and shook his head sadly. Somehow the place seemed even emptier now. He returned to the living room and stood thinking for a moment. He walked over to the replicator and checked the records. He saw that Kathryn had replicated some basic medical supplies on the day she left. Several painkilling hypos and dressings which her security clearance allowed her to replicate.

He shook his head and ground his teeth together, determined to hold it together and think straight. He took a last look around then picked up the sealed bag. As he turned to leave his eyes fell on the computer. Not wanting to take any more time in the apartment, he simply downloaded the contents of the computer into his tricorder. With a last look around the place, he closed the door behind him.

Chakotay spent the best part of the evening going over Kathryn's computer logs but nothing significant showed up except for a communication to Starfleet HQ on the day in question informing them that she was ill and would be taking several days leave. He checked the time of the outgoing message and saw that it matched perfectly, having been made ten minutes before her departure.

He sat back now and sighed heavily. He'd no idea where to look next or what to do, but he did know one thing. He needed help and there was only one person he could trust with this. As much as he wanted to keep Kathryn's affairs private, he had no other choice. There was no way he'd find her on his own and time was running out.

B'Elanna's face broke into a wide smile when she opened the door and saw Chakotay standing there. It faded quickly when she saw his expression. "I was going to say it's great to see you and it is but…" She reached out and gripped his arm, pulling him into the house. "Come in. Tom has taken Miral to see her grandparents. I'm all alone and you look like you need to talk to a friend."

Chakotay nodded gratefully and allowed himself to be pulled into the house. "I badly need to talk to you."

B'Elanna shooed him into the front room. "Make yourself comfortable in there. I'll just make some coffee…"

B'Elanna watched as Chakotay sipped at his coffee and knew he was rehearsing in his mind what he wanted to say. Giving him time, she finished her own drink and began to fold some of Miral's clothes from a basket on the floor beside her.

She smiled softly when he finally looked up. "I don't bite, you know."

Chakotay smiled at that. "I know. It's just…"

B'Elanna stilled her hands a moment. "Am I right in thinking this is about Kathryn Janeway?" She smiled when she saw his surprised look. "Come on, my friend. No one else has ever made you this upset. Things have made you angry but not upset…not like this." She studied him a moment. "I didn't realize you still carried a flame for her…"

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. "It's not about that…not that way anyhow…" He sat back on the couch and shook his head. He watched B'Elanna a moment while she folded a baby blanket on her lap. "What have you heard about the captain since we've been back?"

B'Elanna shrugged as she looked across at her oldest friend. "Not much. Rumours mostly. One said she was back with her former fiancé…" She saw the hurt that caused the man before her. "Chakotay…I'm sorry. It's probably just rumours, as I said. Someone saw them together once and assumed. You know how these things spread. I haven't seen her myself…"

Chakotay nodded sadly. "Well, she was with Mark Johnston. If she'd been happy with him, I'd have been happy for her…"

B'Elanna interrupted him and sat forward. "What do you mean 'if' she'd been happy…? Are you talking past tense here?"

Chakotay sat forward as well. "She was with him but…it wasn't happy…far from it. He was still married…"

B'Elanna looked shocked at that. "That doesn't sound like the woman I knew. She'd never break up a family… Did she know he was still married?"

Chakotay nodded his head. "Apparently she knew…"

B'Elanna put the baby blanket down on the pile of other clothes beside her. "Having an affair with a married man… I'd never have believed…"

Chakotay interrupted her this time. "To be fair, B'Elanna, he was the one having the affair. Kathryn was just very lonely."

B'Elanna shook her head. "Maybe but…" She looked up. "Am I right in assuming that this 'affair' is now over?" When Chakotay met her eyes, she saw the pain written there. "Chakotay?"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I need your help, my friend. Kathryn needs your help. I thought I could do this alone, but I can't. I don't know where to start and I have to start somewhere."

B'Elanna sat in shock when Chakotay finished telling his story, relating everything Voyager's Doctor had told him and what he'd found at Kathryn's apartment. She wiped at a few tears.

"Chakotay, I don't know what to say…" Suddenly she jumped up, upsetting the basket of clothes. "That Borg bitch… If she wasn't already dead, I'd kill her myself…" She stopped when she saw her temper wasn't helping her friend.

"Chakotay, I'm sorry. You don't need this." She sat down beside him and took his hand in hers.

Chakotay shook his head. "I have my own anger at Seven. I just can't think about it at the moment or deal with it. All I can think about is finding Kathryn…"

B'Elanna squeezed his hand. "What she must have gone through…" She shook her head. "Sorry. I need to learn to think before I open my mouth. I'm not helping here at all."

Chakotay placed his other hand over hers. "You're honest and I need that." He smiled at the woman beside him. "This doesn't leave here, B'Elanna. I need your help to find her, but this can't be known by anyone else. Tom will need to know, but outside of that…" One look from B'Elanna and he smiled. "I know. I didn't need to ask that."

B'Elanna leaned over and kissed the side of his face. "No, you didn't but there's no harm done." She stood up now. "OK. Let's get working on this. Let me see what you have and I'll have a go at it."

Chakotay reached into his pocket and pulled out his tricorder. "I hope you can find something. I really need your help here. I'm too close to this to think straight…too emotionally involved…" He looked at B'Elanna apologetically. "I know you care too. I don't mean…"

B'Elanna waved away his concern. "It's OK. I know what you mean."

Chakotay smiled his thanks and handed the tricorder to B'Elanna. "The scans and images I took at the apartment and the download from her computer are on that. Most of it just confirms what the Doc told me. Her replicator records show she replicated some basic medical supplies…painkillers and dressing. The only relevant thing on her computer is her request for leave which she sent to HQ. There's nothing about her resignation, yet I know she resigned."

B'Elanna took the instrument and walked over to her computer, attaching the tricorder to it to download. She looked back at Chakotay. "I'll go through it and see if I notice anything else."

Chakotay lay back on the couch. "And if you don't? Where do we go then?"

B'Elanna smiled slyly. "Leave that to me, Chakotay." She turned her head and straightened up as she heard the front door opening. "That'll be Tom back from his parents. Miral is staying with them for the weekend so we won't have her running around and getting into everything."

Chakotay smiled a moment and then groaned. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry. You and Tom were obviously planning a quiet weekend with just the two of you…" He stood up. "Leave that. I'll…" He staggered back when his old friend walked over to him and thumped him on the chest.

She grinned at him. "Shut up. Go and make yourself useful and get us something to eat. I'll be starving when I finish this." She smiled at Tom who had just entered the room. "Honey, we have company. He'll fill you in as you cook."

When B'Elanna came into the kitchen sometime later, she knew Chakotay had told Tom everything. His emotions were clearly written on his face and matched her own.

Chakotay turned to her immediately. "Did you find anything more?"

B'Elanna placed the tricorder down on the counter. "I checked the scans you took and I agree with them."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "The findings match what the Doc told me…what Seven told him…"

B'Elanna nodded sadly. "Unfortunately, they confirm his story."

Tom slammed his hand down on the table. "That bitch…"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I need to find Kathryn first. That's all I can think about at the moment." He turned back to B'Elanna. "Did you find anything else?"

She sighed. "I checked through what you found on her computer. I didn't find anything you didn't. The only relevant thing to us was the message to Starfleet saying she was taking medical leave. The rest was just mundane reports, staff evaluations and so on." She sighed. "She must have been bored out of her mind with that kind of work after the Delta Quadrant…" She looked up suddenly. "Sorry…"

Chakotay shook his head. "It's a fact, B'Elanna. Sad, but true." He picked up his tricorder. "So nothing there to help me locate her?"

B'Elanna smiled slightly. "I wouldn't say that…"

Chakotay's eyes widened. "What?"

B'Elanna sat up on a stool beside the counter. "I did manage to isolate her signature."

Both men frowned. Chakotay leaned towards her. "I don't understand…"

B'Elanna pushed a spoon around on the counter in front of her. "Anyone above a certain security level at Starfleet needs a code of sorts. It's complicated but in layman's terms, it's like a signature they sign in with. Each person will access the Starfleet mainframe in a different way, no matter what terminal they use or where it is and that becomes like a unique signature to them alone, allowing them access to whatever level they're cleared for."

She smiled softly. "Anyway, I isolated the captain's signature. All I need to do now is get access to Starfleet's computer system and I can trace any other incoming or outgoing calls and messages to or from her by zoning in on her signature."

Tom's pride in his wife showed. "And you can do that?"

B'Elanna's smile fell away. "Not from here I can't. Starfleet's security is second to none. Very few hackers would be good enough to get into that system. Practically none in fact. I'm good but not that good."

Tom's eyes narrowed. "But it can be done and you can do it." He leaned forward. "Honey, just how are you going to do this?"

B'Elanna shrugged. "Well, I haven't quite figured that part out yet unless…" She looked sweetly at Tom. "If your dad…" She left the rest unsaid.

Tom just nodded then looked at Chakotay. "That would mean telling him about all this."

Chakotay sighed and nodded. "If we have to, I suppose. I just know we need to find her as soon as possible."

B'Elanna propped her head on her hand. "Or he might just trust us to have the captain's best interests at heart and not ask too many questions."

Owen Paris confirmed B'Elanna's faith in him. He asked for only the basic facts, trusting his son and daughter-in-law.

It was early Sunday morning, the building almost deserted, and he stood now with Chakotay and Tom as B'Elanna sat at his desk and worked on his computer. He smiled kindly at Chakotay. "I feel I got to know you from reading the reports from Voyager. And, of course, Kathryn trusted you, so that speaks volumes."

Chakotay smiled his thanks. "That means a lot, Sir. Kathryn always spoke very highly of you."

The old admiral waved the praise away. "Edward, her father, was my best friend and as his daughter it's my honour and duty, my pleasure also, to do what I can for her. If she's in trouble, I'll do what I can to help. Her resignation didn't come through me. I think she knew I'd try and talk her out of it. It was done and dusted…accepted before I knew a thing about it." He shook his head sadly. "Mind you, it didn't surprise me. What I've seen of her lately, she's looked very unhappy. I just thought she was having a hard time settling back in." He looked pointedly at Chakotay. "There's something else though, isn't there?"

Chakotay smiled sadly. "We're just worried about her and want to make sure she's all right." He saw the old man wasn't convinced.

Admiral Paris studied Chakotay for a moment and then nodded. "OK. I'll take your word on that. Just let me know if I can help in any way other than this…" He gestured towards his daughter-in-law on the computer.

Chakotay smiled his gratitude. "I will…and I know you're risking a lot letting us do this. I trust B'Elanna's computer skills though and I know she'll hide her tracks well."

Admiral Paris shrugged. "I trust her too and if someone ever does notice and asks questions, they can just deal with me."

Two hours later Chakotay sat back on the couch in the Paris home and wiped at his mouth with a napkin. "Tom, you can cook. I'll give you that." He smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

Tom nodded and threw his own napkin down on his empty plate. "Replicated. Nothing special." He looked over to where his wife sat at their own computer. "I wish she'd hurry up."

Chakotay looked across at his friend and nodded. "Yeah, but she needs to be sure of…" He stopped mid-sentence when B'Elanna stood up, picking up several padds before coming over to join them.

Chakotay leaned forward quickly. "Well? Tell me you found something…"

B'Elanna checked something before sitting down and looking at Chakotay. "Yeah, I found something. I was just confirming it all…checking facts…doing a little research." She looked at her audience and almost smiled. Their eyes were glued to her face. She held up a padd.

"OK. She contacted them again. There was one other call from her to Headquarters. She tendered her resignation and it was accepted. Owen confirmed that earlier. No one fought her decision." She sighed sadly. "I don't think she was the returning hero or heroine they'd hoped for."

She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts and looked at the padd she held. "Anyway…her call came from a PACT, a public access computer terminal in Northern California…a small coastal town called Gilder's Cove."

Tom frowned. "Never heard of it." Chakotay also shook his head.

B'Elanna just nodded. "It's small from what I can see. There's one hotel, a general store, a few boutiques. That kind of thing. Built for the tourists really. Anyway, I got into the hotel's computer system and the captain isn't registered there as a guest. They actually have no guests at the moment. Renovations or something and it's off-season. There's a small café attached to the hotel though and that's still open. They probably serve the passing trade. Anyway, there's a PACT available there and that's where the captain's call came from."

Chakotay sighed. "That could just mean she stopped there to make the call."

B'Elanna nodded. "I checked all the other hotels and rooms for rent in that area. She's not registered anywhere within a twenty mile radius."

Tom shook his head. "So, she was just passing through."

B'Elanna scrolled down the padd she held. "I also checked the realtors in the area. There are only two. They rent out houses and apartments for the summer season but also offer lettings off-season. It seems writers and artists are fond of the area. I got into their systems easily enough. I was able to do that from here." She indicated the computer behind her. "There are no lettings on their books at present."

B'Elanna looked at the two men before her. "I decided to run a search for property in the captain's name…somewhere she might have owned before. Her apartment showed up, of course. I then ran a search in the Janeway name as a family. The records showed the house in Indiana but that was sold after the captain's mother died. That happened while we were still in the Delta Quadrant as you know."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment as he remembered trying to comfort Kathryn when that news had reached them. He looked back at B'Elanna now, knowing he had to concentrate on the matter at hand. "Anything else?"

B'Elanna nodded. "The profits from that sale were split between the captain and her sister. There were also two other properties in the names of Edward and Gretchen Janeway. On the death of Edward, title passed to Gretchen and on her death, it passed to their children. One was a cabin in some woodland, about sixty miles from San Francisco. That's now in the name of Phoebe Janeway."

Tom frowned. "Could she be staying there with her sister?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "No. I remember her saying before she wasn't that close with her sister. Anyway, I checked and that cabin is empty. It's on a local realtor's books for rent. The sister's an artist and I imagine moves around a lot. Probably rarely visits there."

Tom sighed. "So, where does that leave us?"

B'Elanna licked at her lips and looked back at her notes. "The other property was a beach house and that's now in the name of Kathryn Janeway."

Chakotay sat forward. "Do you think she'd go there?"

B'Elanna had a smug smile on her face now. "I should also tell you that this beach house is just outside of Gilder's Cove."

Chakotay sat back and digested what B'Elanna had just told them. "I don't know, B'Elanna. It seems too obvious. If anyone checked the way you just did…" He rubbed at his face. "Would she really go there?"

He leaned forward now. "The woman I know would hide better but then she's unlikely to have been thinking straight."

Tom sat forward too. "In my mind, if she's hiding she's more likely to stay in one place. I doubt she'd be moving around, especially if she's hurt. She also wouldn't know that we were looking for her."

Chakotay looked up in alarm. "What if he's looking for her too…that Johnston bastard? He's known her a long time so he'd know about this place."

B'Elanna smiled kindly at her friend. "I imagine he's keeping a low profile after what he did. He also sounds arrogant enough not to care one way or the other. Anyway, I checked his whereabouts. He's on Mars. Some business conference. So, you just get there before him."

Chakotay nodded and stood up, his thoughts spinning in his head. Tom looked up at him. "Do you want us to come with you?"

Chakotay looked from one to the other and shook his head. "No. Thanks for asking though. I think it would be better if I do this alone for now. If she's there and we all turn up at the same time…" He shook his head again. "I think it's better that I go alone."

B'Elanna nodded slowly as she looked up at him. "What about your work, Chakotay?"

He shook his head. "I've taken an extended leave of absence. Being freelance I can do that. Anyway, the fields of anthropology and archaeology can do without me for a while. The past isn't going anywhere. Besides, I've seven years of back pay to live on." He smiled at them both. "I'll be fine and I'll keep in touch and let you know any news as soon as I can."

B'Elanna stood up and hugged him. "We'll be here. You contact us day or night. Let us know if she needs anything. We can contact the Doc for you if you need him…"

Chakotay stepped back. "I've been thinking about that. I know Kathryn and what a private person she is. I have a feeling she may not want him knowing all this."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "I can understand that, but he already knows most of the details or assumes them at least. He also knows her medical history better than anyone."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "It's hope that tells me she won't need medical help, but reality tells me she will. All I have to do is convince Kathryn herself of that."

B'Elanna scratched at the side of her face. "If she won't go for Doc, what about someone like Carla Westmore. You remember her. She served with us in the Maquis. She's still practicing as a doctor. I saw her about a week after we got home. She called me to 'catch up' in her words. I trusted her then and I still trust her. She treated a lot of our women and was always very discreet. She has plenty of experience with…" She looked a little embarrassed. "Well, she's a very good medic."

Chakotay just smiled sadly. "You mean that she has plenty of experience with victims." He squeezed B'Elanna's forearm. "It's OK. It's the truth." He nodded to himself as he thought. "I should have someone else lined up in case…and as a woman…" He nodded. "OK. If you have her contact details…"

B'Elanna nodded and grabbed a blank padd, imputing the information from another padd. She handed it to Chakotay and smiled softly. "Go find her and keep in touch. As soon as you know…"

Chakotay nodded and hugged her again, then surprised Tom by hugging him as well. "I will. As soon as I know…"


Chakotay stood quietly at the side of the house and looked out over the ocean for a moment, watching the waves crash into the beach. He sighed heavily and tore his eyes away from the water. He studied the house as he moved towards it. It was small and simple in design, mainly constructed from wood, not as much glass at the front as there seemed to be at the back. A narrow, railed walkway ran around the sides.

He debated knocking on the door, then decided to climb over the small gate and walk around to the ocean side of the house. He jumped slightly when a low flying gull cried out, making its way back out to sea.

As Chakotay rounded the corner of the house the walkway widened into a large deck area where several empty plant pots stood against the rail, creating an appearance of neglect.

He saw her then, lying back in a lounge chair, seemingly asleep. He crept forward and looked down at her, seeing only faint echoes of the woman he'd once known. The sun was hot and yet she lay shrouded in a blanket. Chakotay wondered if she was trying to lock something in or keep something out. He didn't know and he wondered if Kathryn knew either.

He sat down beside her on a small stool, obviously meant for something other than sitting on. He sat for several minutes and just watched her. He took in the scars on the side of her face and partway down her neck. Above her lip and over her left eye he also saw where she'd been cut, now faint lines. One hand was visible, loosely holding the blanket in place. Here too he saw burn scars and he wanted to scream.

He leaned forward and stroked her hair. She stirred and for a brief moment she turned her face towards the caress. Chakotay spoke her name softly. "Kathryn…"

Her eyes fluttered open, sleep and confusion in them at first before being replaced by fright when she finally focused on the man beside her. Her eyes widened and she tried to sit up but couldn't with the blanket wrapped around her.

"Cha…Chakotay…" She tried to turn away from him, struggling to get up. Finally, she managed to sit up, her back to him. She fought with the blanket and finally extricated herself from its folds.

Chakotay stood and moved around to her. He held out his hand. "Here…let me help you."

She couldn't or wouldn't meet his eyes. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

Chakotay didn't answer. He reached down and gently took her hand. "All in good time. Let me help you inside first."

The effort of sitting up had obviously exhausted her. She seemed to surrender and sighed heavily. With his help, she managed to stand and let him lead her into the house. Her difficulty in walking and moving didn't go unnoticed by Chakotay, even though she tried desperately to hide it.

He let her lead the way towards the couch and supported her gently while she eased herself down onto it. She pulled the blanket around her shoulders again. "Tell me why you're here." She stared down at the floor.

Chakotay smiled sadly. "Can I sit down?"

She looked up slowly and barely nodded. "How did you find me?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I looked. As to the why, let's just say I heard you might need me."

Her eyes bored into his. "What do you know?"

Chakotay sat down in an armchair facing her. "Kathryn, you're my best friend. For now, just accept that I know what happened. I'm here because I care deeply and because I want to help you."

Kathryn dropped her head. "How do you know? What do you know?"

Chakotay slid to the edge of the armchair. "Kathryn, look at me please."

Slowly she raised her head and looked at him. "Is this what you want to see?" She pointed to her face. "Not pretty, is it?" She looked away again.

Chakotay slipped off the chair and knelt before her. He reached over and drew her against him, pulling the blanket around her. "I'll tell you everything later. For now, we need to take care of you."

She tried to pull away from him and stand up. "You don't want to be near me. If you know so much, then you know how dirty I am…"

Chakotay swallowed his anger as he gently held her in place. "Kathryn, I'm your friend and I love you. Now just let me take care of you. We can talk later." He placed his hand under her chin and lifted her face. "Let me see how bad these are."

Kathryn pulled her face away. "Please don't…" Her voice was a pitiful whimper.

Chakotay rested his hands gently on her shoulders. "Kathryn, you know you can trust me. I'd never hurt you. I need to see…to check. You need a doctor…"

Kathryn weakly tried to pull away from him. "No…no…I'll be fine…"

Chakotay wasn't letting go. "Kathryn, this is me. Please don't be embarrassed with me. I saw how stiffly you moved coming in here. You're hurt and I want to help you. I need to see how you are." She stared past him, shaking her head. "Kathryn, no one is judging you. You did nothing wrong." He sighed heavily. "Kathryn, you need to see a doctor…"

She jerked back from him, shaking her head. "No…"

Chakotay leaned towards her. "I can call Voyager's EMH…"

He saw the panic in her eyes. "No…I can't face him…"

Chakotay nodded his understanding. He'd have to tell her later how much the hologram already knew and also about Tom and B'Elanna's involvement. "I thought you mightn't want to see him." He watched her carefully. "OK…someone else then…"

She made no reply to that and he pushed on. "Kathryn, I know someone. I have a friend who's a doctor and I trust her completely. She served with me in the Maquis. She knows how to deal with…" He stopped a moment, remembering how he'd reacted with B'Elanna when she'd said the same thing. "She knows how to deal with injuries like yours…"

Kathryn's eyes flew to his. "You mean she knows how to deal with victims…with sad, pathetic women like me who can't protect themselves and walk into stupid situations…"

Chakotay swallowed his anger again. "No. She knows how to deal with women who have been abused. You know how many women were abused by the Cardassians and they weren't sad or pathetic. They were victims."

Kathryn seemed to shrink in on herself. "I know. I just…"

Chakotay gripped her shoulders again, careful not to apply much pressure. "Kathryn…let go. Just let me help you. It's over now and no one is going to hurt you anymore. Just let me be here for you. Please let me help you."

She stared into his eyes for a long time and he allowed her to see his feelings. Finally, she nodded, too weak both physically and emotionally to fight him. "All right… I can't go on anyway… I don't have the strength anymore…"

Chakotay pulled her against him, careful of touching her too much. He knew how much her admission must have cost her. "It's over now, Kathryn. Just let me be here for you…" He felt her nod against him, her silent tears soaking through his shirt. He eased her back from him. "Come on. Let's get you settled and I'll call my friend. Her name's Carla. You'll like her and you can trust her."

He pulled away the blanket and helped her stand, then led her towards what he assumed was the bedroom. Suddenly she seemed to fall against him and he caught her. She cried out in pain. Chakotay grabbed her around the waist, hoping she wasn't injured or burnt there.

"It's OK. I have you."

She leaned heavily against him, breathless. "Sorry…my legs…keep giving out…"

Chakotay nodded. "Can I carry you? Tell me where I can touch without hurting you."

Kathryn looked up at him tearfully. "It hurts all over. Just help me walk. I can do it."

Chakotay nodded and tried a small smile. "There's no hurry. Just lean on me."

Once Chakotay got her settled, he went into the other room. He pulled a small communications unit from his pocket and placed a call to B'Elanna. He wandered out onto the deck and spoke quietly.

"I found her. She's where we expected."

B'Elanna's voice came back to him, her worry clearly audible. "How is she? Do you need the Doc or Carla?"

Chakotay sighed. "Yeah. Could you call Carla for me please? Tell her to get here as soon as she can. Give her the co-ordinates. I'll get back to you later."

B'Elanna answered him. "OK. I'll call her now. Chakotay…how bad?"

Chakotay looked out over the ocean. "I don't know. I saw some of the burn scars and she seems to have trouble walking but I can't say. She also seems pretty depressed and withdrawn." He squeezed his eyes closed. "That bastard…" He opened his eyes again and sighed. "Sorry, B'Elanna. I need to concentrate on Kathryn now. As soon as I know anything more, I'll get back to you." He didn't wait for a reply and closed the communication.

He took a few moments to control his emotions. He leaned against the rail and watched the oyster catchers on the sand. He drew in several deep breaths then went back inside, back to the woman who needed him.

B'Elanna stood and stared out of the window after Chakotay's call. Tom walked up behind her and slipped his arms around her.

"She'll be fine now, honey. Chakotay is with her and Carla will take care of her too."

B'Elanna nodded and drew in a deep breath. She turned in her husband's arms and looked at him, her face serious.

"Tom, you trust me, don't you?"

Tom looked shocked at the question. "You don't even need to ask. You know I do."

B'Elanna nodded. "I need you to go out for a while."

Tom frowned. "Why?"

B'Elanna placed her hands on his chest and played with one of the buttons on his shirt. She studied her actions. "I need to make a few calls…see some people." She looked up and met his eyes.

Tom dropped his head back and sighed. "You did a bit more research than you let on, didn't you? You're going to take care of this problem…this Johnston bastard…"

B'Elanna sighed. "Don't ask me that, Tom. I don't ever want to lie to you. I also don't want you involved in this. The less you know the better."

Tom shook his head. "You promised Chakotay you wouldn't talk to anyone…"

B'Elanna leaned back a little. "I know and I hate breaking my promise to him, but this has to be done. Call it a Maquis thing if you want, but the captain is one of us and we look after our own."

Tom nodded his understanding. "I know that. I feel the same way. I'm just not sure how Chakotay will feel about this. You know how he feels about violence now."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "I know, but the captain's still in danger from that bastard. This is one promise I can live with breaking, even if Chakotay never forgives me for it. As it is, Mark Johnston is a threat to her and I need to stop that. Chakotay has enough to worry about. I know him though. He'd like to hurt this bastard the way he hurt her. He'd even like to kill him, but she wouldn't want that. He'd respect her wishes. He'd also never want to go to her with blood on his hands. This way his hands are clean."

Tom nodded and stroked his wife's cheek. "Just tell me you won't be directly involved."

B'Elanna smiled. "I won't. I'll just make a few calls and meet with a few people. After that, I won't be involved. You have my word on that. I'd just prefer you have as little as possible to do with this. Go see Miral and your parents. Give me about two hours. I'll call you there and let you know when it's OK to come home."

Tom tightened his hold around her. "For what it's worth, I'm proud of you and I agree with you. Chakotay needs this taken care of." He frowned. "Will you tell him?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "Only if I have to and I'll never name names. He'll just have to accept that."

While Chakotay waited for Carla Westmore to arrive, he returned to Kathryn's bedside. She lay on her side, curled into herself. Chakotay walked over to her and knelt down beside her.

"Kathryn?" He saw her tears and it hurt him. "Oh Kathryn…"

She wiped at her face. "I'm sorry…"

He shook his head. "You can always cry in front of me. I told you that before."

Kathryn shook her head. "I'm sorry for everything. You shouldn't see me like this. I never wanted that…never wanted you to see me this way…so weak…so…disgusting…"

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. "We'll talk later. For now, I want you to know that you've nothing to be sorry about or for. You're not weak or disgusting or anything else like that. You're my friend and the most wonderful woman and person I've ever known. You're the strongest and bravest." He pushed a lock of hair back from her face. "However, as I said, we'll talk later. For now, I just want to get you better. Carla will be here soon. How about I get you something to eat before she arrives? What about some soup and bread?"

Kathryn looked at him, her eyes filled with pain. "You should hate me…despise me…"

Chakotay just shook his head. "Mushroom soup?"

She looked at him, her eyes searching his face. Too tired and worn down to say more, she just nodded.

Chakotay managed to get Kathryn to eat some soup and bread then helped her settle to try and get some sleep. As she dozed, he wandered back into the living room and stared out the large picture window towards the ocean. His thoughts and emotions were in turmoil. He drew in several deep breaths in an attempt to calm the storm within. He stared out at the waves breaking on the shore, trying to find a semblance of peace in their rhythm.

A faint knock on the front door startled him, drawing his attention away from the water. When he opened the door he smiled kindly at the woman who stood there.

Her face broke into a soft smile. "Chakotay. It's good to see you. You haven't changed much over the years."

Chakotay stood back and gestured her inside. "And you're still the diplomat I remember."

Carla Westmore pursed her lips and reached up to ruffle Chakotay's hair. "Oh, all right. Some of this grey wasn't there before but it makes you look more distinguished." She pointed to her own short dark hair. "As with all women, my grey just makes me look older. It's still a man's world."

They laughed softly together until Chakotay reached for her and pulled her into a tight hug. His voice was tight with emotion and memories. "It's so good to see you again, Carla."

Carla pulled back after a moment and shook her head. "As good as it is to see you too, I wish it was under different circumstances."

Chakotay nodded sadly. "So do I, Carla. So do I."

There was a brief uncomfortable silence for a moment, which Carla broke. "Can you give me some background before I see her? Kathryn, isn't it?"

Chakotay nodded and led her towards the back into the house. "She's trying to sleep at the moment. I'll get you some tea and fill you in."

Carla sat quietly and nursed her tea as Chakotay told her all he knew. She nodded occasionally but otherwise betrayed nothing. When he finished speaking, she looked up. "Will she trust me, Chakotay? She knows I'm coming here and why?"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "I told her. She didn't want Voyager's EMH and I guess I can understand that. It's often easier with a stranger, as crazy as that sounds and I guess it'll be easier with another woman too. Mind you, I've yet to tell her how much he knows."

Carla nodded at that. "That's OK…and there's plenty of time later to talk to her." She put her cup down on a small side table and slid to the edge of her chair. "I left my medical bag in my hover car until I talked with you. You prepare her while I get it. Just talk quietly to her and let her know I'm here to help."

Chakotay knelt down beside Kathryn and saw that she was awake. She looked up at him but didn't smile. "I heard voices. I assume it's your friend."

Chakotay nodded. "Carla Westmore. Will you see her?"

Kathryn tried to roll part way onto her back to sit up and grunted in pain. She looked up at him again and nodded. "I don't have a choice…"

Chakotay tried a small smile then looked towards the door at the sound of a soft knock. He looked back at Kathryn for permission and she nodded. He stood up and called for Carla to enter.

Chakotay stood back as Carla introduced herself to Kathryn and spoke quietly to her, putting her at her ease. The woman had a rare talent with people and over the years Chakotay had often marvelled at it. During their time together in the Maquis, he'd always been amazed at how well she handled those she dealt with, whether victim or enemy.

Once he saw Kathryn grow easier with the other woman's presence, he turned and walked to the door. Kathryn's voice stopped him immediately.

"Chakotay…please…" He turned and saw a look of near panic on her face.

Carla read her new patient well. "Kathryn, would you prefer it if Chakotay stayed? I've no problem with that but this is your decision."

Kathryn looked from Chakotay to the doctor and back again. Tears filled her eyes. "I'd…I'd prefer he be here. I don't know why but… Unless he'd rather not… Maybe…"

Carla looked at Chakotay. "Do you mind staying?" Her eyes told him that she knew this would be hard on him.

He shook his head. "If Kathryn wants me here, I'm here." He looked over at her in the bed and smiled. "As long as you're sure…"

Kathryn held his eyes and nodded. "If you don't mind… I know it's not…pleasant or…"

Chakotay brushed that off and pointed to a chair near the window. "Is it OK if I sit here?"

Carla answered. "That's fine, Chakotay." Without further ado, she turned back to Kathryn, basically ignoring her old comrade's presence.

Chakotay sat and battled his emotions for the next half hour. He went from wanting to cry to a desire to murder as he witnessed the extent of Kathryn's injuries. Each cry of pain from her tore at him and he knew how much it had to be hurting for Kathryn Janeway to vocalize her pain. He finally saw just how bad her burns were, some of them blistered or weeping when Carla removed the dressings Kathryn had managed to apply. They covered areas of her back, shoulders, chest, neck and face. Others scarred her arms and hands.

He also observed extensive bruising covering her body. He watched Carla run a dermal regenerator over them and heard her ask Kathryn about her own treatment of them, which told him that they'd been far worse than what he was seeing.

As Carla worked, Chakotay also saw bite and scratch marks, mostly on her breasts. It took superhuman strength from him not to scream out his rage. The only thing stopping him was the woman being examined and treated. She needed his strength, nothing else. His own emotions would be dealt with later in private.

Eventually he saw Carla press several hypos to her patient's neck before settling her and pulling the sheet back up to cover her. She smiled softly. "One of those is a sedative, Kathryn. You should sleep for the night with it. I've done what I can for the moment, but I'll be back tomorrow and I'll talk more to you then. For now, I prefer you get a good night's sleep. Your body needs to rest so that it'll be strong enough to heal."

Kathryn's eyes drooped as the drug took effect. "I'm…so tired…yes…tomorrow…" She looked over towards Chakotay, her eyes showing her pain, both physical and emotional.

He moved over to her and took her hand in his. "Do you want me to stay? I can make up a bed on the couch outside…"

Kathryn sighed heavily and managed to nod. "Please…I'd like that…I'd…" Before she finished her sentence, she was asleep.

As Kathryn slept, Carla stood in the small kitchen with her old friend and watched him make fresh tea.

"That's a strong sedative I've given her, Chakotay. She'll sleep through the night. She needs it badly. I get the feeling she hasn't been sleeping much and I'm a great believer that sleep helps the body heal. I'll be back in the morning to start the main treatment on those burns. I need other instruments for deep tissue work…things I don't normally carry." She sighed. "The fact that they've gone untreated for so long will make them harder to heal but we'll get there. She did her best to treat them herself but some are quite deep. It's hard to do without the proper medical knowledge and skill…the right equipment even. She'd only have had the basics."

Chakotay nodded. "She replicated some painkillers and dressings and I'm sure she had her own dermal regenerator. Nothing else though."

Carla nodded at that. "Moving around after the injuries and with no real medical help made them worse. And she also couldn't have reached the burns and bruising on her back so they've gone untreated. They're the worst. However, they will heal with time and the proper care. For now, I've cleaned them and started treatment. I've also applied fresh dressings to keep them clean and administered antibiotics and painkillers. Some of the burns are showing signs of infection so the drugs I gave her will take care of that. She only had painkillers. She wouldn't have known the drugs I gave her and wouldn't have had clearance to access or replicate them anyway." She reached out and gripped his hand. "Chakotay, she'll also need surgery. There's an injury to her back…some ruptured discs…damage to the sciatic nerve which is causing a loss of feeling in her legs. I've given her some anti-inflammatory drugs to help with that. It'll relieve the pressure there for the moment. There are also some internal…" She looked down at her hand on his. "There's some scarring forming…tears…and if she wants kids…" She looked up. "I don't need to go into detail…"

Chakotay nodded slowly, his face hard. "No, you don't. I understand." He sighed heavily. "Just tell me you can heal her completely…that she won't be left with any physical reminders of what that bastard did to her."

Carla smiled kindly. "I promise you. Physically, at least. Emotionally is another matter but then you already know that."

Chakotay nodded. "Yeah…I know that. Leave that to me." He handed her a cup of tea.

Carla smiled her understanding as she took the cup. "I suspect you've already started your 'treatment'. Your being here already attests to that. She's embarrassed by all this and badly hurt but I see the trust she has in you. Asking you to stay for my examination, wanting and needing you there… Asking you to stay over… I feel that's a big step for her. She's letting you into the most painful and private of places. She's giving you her trust and that's amazing after what she's been through. Just be very careful with her. She's extremely fragile at the moment and it would be very easy for that trust to be shattered. That would devastate and destroy her, and I don't believe she'd ever recover from it." She shook her head. "Yes, she seems strong, but she's not infallible. No one is. What happened to her would have felled anyone. From what B'Elanna told me about your time in the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn was still recovering from those seven years and then this happened. That's very hard."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "Tell me I'm wrong, but from what I saw of her bruises… Well…some looked older…"

Carla nodded solemnly. "Most of her injuries are recent…the burns and bites…much of the bruising… But you're right. Some of them are older and she probably healed others herself. I'd say this was a fairly abusive relationship."

Chakotay ground his teeth together. "That bastard…if I ever…"

Carla shook her head firmly. "That has to be for later too, Chakotay. Right now, I need you to be there for her."

Chakotay swallowed his anger and nodded. "I know…and I will…"

Carla nodded at that. "I don't doubt that." She studied her tea for a moment as she thought. "You know, Chakotay, she's actually very lucky."

Chakotay stared hard at her. "How did you come to that conclusion?"

Carla looked at him sadly. "It's a miracle her clothes and hair didn't catch fire. She could have been severely burned. She could have died. He could have killed her…"

Chakotay closed his eyes as her words sank in. "You're right. I know you're right. He probably would have killed her in time anyway…" He sighed. "I don't want to think about that. I can't think about that. I need to concentrate on getting her better."

Carla smiled kindly. "And we will." Her face grew serious now. "Chakotay, I work at a small private clinic just outside of San Francisco. I'll have to take Kathryn there for a few days for surgery. I'd like to do that as soon as I can, especially for her spinal injury but I don't want to force her until she's ready. As I said though, it's private, so no one will know."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "Thanks, Carla. She'll appreciate that."

She smiled and finished her tea, then placed the empty cup on the counter. "I'll see you both in the morning. I'll go over all this with Kathryn then…discuss the surgery and answer any questions she may have." She smiled kindly at Chakotay. "Try and get some sleep too."

Chakotay saw her to the door and hugged her. "Thank you for everything, Carla. You were great with her."

Carla hugged him back. "Whatever I can do." She pulled back and smiled gently at him. "I'll see you in the morning."

Chakotay slept fitfully that night. He got up several times to check on Kathryn but as Carla had promised, she slept through the night.

He was up and dressed early the next morning, having contacted B'Elanna again the previous evening asking her to send some of his things over to him. They'd been waiting outside the front door, having been delivered overnight to him by a courier service. Breakfast was almost ready when he heard Kathryn moving around. He knocked softly on her door. "Kathryn?"

She called for him to enter and he found her sitting on the side of the bed. "I can't get this on…" She struggled with her robe.

Chakotay moved into the room and smiled down at her. "Let me help you…" He helped her on with her robe, letting her set her own pace, then supported her into the bathroom. He waited outside until she was ready before helping her back to the bed.

Kathryn seemed exhausted from the small effort. She looked up at him, clearly embarrassed. "I'm sorry you had to see all that yesterday. I just…" She shook her head. "I shouldn't have asked you to stay. It wasn't fair."

Chakotay knelt down beside her. "Kathryn, I'm here for you with whatever that entails. I'm not here to judge you or anything like that. I'm here because I care deeply about you. You're my best friend and you'd do the same for me…"

Kathryn looked up at him sadly. "It's asking too much of you. It's not right…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, I'm not going over this again. Please just accept that I'm here for you. Now…Carla will be here later so how about I get you some breakfast." He smiled. "I think I can even manage some coffee." He expected a smile but got tears instead.

"I thought it was hard on Voyager. I didn't realize how happy I was." She shook her head sadly.

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "Kathryn, don't think about that now. Let's just get you well first."

She looked up at him and nodded. "You're right…I know…"

Chakotay smiled kindly at her. "How about some eggs…scrambled…and a little toast."

Carla arrived mid-morning with what she needed and began work with her patient. As before, Kathryn asked if Chakotay would stay with her while she was treated. He once again sat on the chair close to the window and let Carla work, occasionally glancing towards Kathryn when he heard her gasp in pain.

About a half hour later Carla stood back and smiled down at Kathryn. "That's looking great now, Kathryn. The burns weren't as deep as I'd feared. One or two were but the rest weren't as bad as I thought." She studied her work. "The skin will be a bit red for a few days but that'll fade completely. I will need to do a little more work on them but on the surface, they're looking very good."

Kathryn examined where she could see. "I won't have any scars?" She looked up at the other woman.

Carla shook her head. "None. I give you my word on that." She smiled kindly at her patient then sat down on the bed beside her. "Now Kathryn…the bruising is gone and the burns are responding to treatment. Another few days and I'll be done with them. That leaves the injury to your back…"

Kathryn nodded slowly and looked down at her legs. "I've been losing the power in my legs…numbness…pins and needles when I walk…weakness even and they can just give out under me without any warning. It wasn't so bad this morning though…"

Carla nodded at that. "That's the anti-inflammatory I gave you yesterday. There's swelling there…three disks ruptured and they were pressing on your sciatic nerve. The drug I gave you will have helped that but you'll need surgery for it. For the moment, I want you to rest…stay in bed as much as you can…"

The Kathryn Chakotay knew would have objected to that, but this woman just nodded her acceptance. "You can fix it though?"

Carla nodded. "It's quite a simple surgery. You'll be good as new after it. I might even be able to finish the work on those burns at the same time." She hesitated a moment before speaking on. "Kathryn, while I'm doing that…there's also…"

Kathryn looked down at her hands and interrupted the doctor. "I know. I guessed there would be…" She looked up slowly. "Is there much damage?"

Carla gave her patient a soft smile and shook her head. "There's just some scar tissue forming…a little tearing… Surgery will take care of it."

Kathryn glanced over at Chakotay but looked away quickly. "You can repair…completely…?"

Carla gripped Kathryn's hand and waited until she looked at her. She smiled confidently. "You'll be completely healed, Kathryn. There won't be any scarring or any fallout from this. I give you my word on that too."

Kathryn nodded slowly then managed a small smile. "Thank you. That seems so inadequate but…"

Carla squeezed Kathryn's arm. "It's all I need. You're more than welcome." She took a padd from her bag and activated it. "Now…I work in a private clinic near San Francisco and I can do the surgery there. I can transport you there and back so no one will know anything." She looked at Kathryn. "The day after tomorrow? How does that suit you?"

Kathryn nodded slowly. "The sooner the better…" She twisted her hands together.

Carla entered something on the padd. "I could make it tomorrow if you'd prefer…"

Kathryn looked up as she considered that. "That would be better…" She looked over at Chakotay then, her eyes searching his face.

He smiled back at her. "Whatever suits you, Kathryn."

She looked back down at her hands. "I just want this over with…dealt with so I can try and move on…"

Carla smiled softly. "Tomorrow it is then…" She entered that on her padd. "I'll call you early in the morning and arrange to have you transported to the clinic. Just bring what you need…night clothes and toiletries and you'll need to fast so no breakfast. I won't keep you longer than two days…"

Suddenly Kathryn seemed scared. She looked up at the doctor. "It'll be all right, won't it?"

Carla squeezed her shoulder gently. "It'll be fine, Kathryn. Trust me."

The following morning Kathryn was quiet as they waited for Carla's call. She wasn't allowed any breakfast so there was nothing really to occupy her mind or distract her thoughts. Chakotay helped her pack a small bag, Kathryn silently handing him what she thought she'd need. She seemed nervous but he decided against talking about the day to come, feeling it wouldn't help.

When the call finally came, Kathryn stood back and let Chakotay talk to the doctor. When he closed the communication, he turned to her and smiled. "She's ready for you."

Kathryn nodded slowly and reached for her bag. "We'd better go then…"

Chakotay watched as she looked around the room and moved closer to her. "It'll be fine, Kathryn. You'll be back before you know it. Carla's a fine doctor. I trust her completely."

She looked up at him and nodded again. "I know…" Drawing in a deep breath, she gripped her bag tightly. "I'm ready…"

Chakotay paced up and down the corridor of the small clinic as Kathryn underwent her surgery. She'd been quiet as the orderly had wheeled her to the theatre. It wasn't until they got to the doors that she'd reached for Chakotay's hand and squeezed tightly. "You'll…be here…?"

Chakotay leaned down and kissed her hand. "I'll be waiting right here…just outside the door…"

Kathryn blinked back a few tears and tried a small smile. "Thank you…"

He jumped now as the doors opened and Carla came out, pulling off her surgical scrubs and tossing them into a recycler outside the door. She smiled as soon as she saw her old friend, instantly putting him at ease. "It went all right?"

Carla smiled warmly and nodded. "It went perfectly. Textbook surgery, I think they call it. She'll be good as new. We took care of everything…even the burns."

Chakotay blew out a long breath and dropped his head back for a moment. "Thank God…" He looked at his old friend and extended his hand to shake hers. "I can't thank you enough…"

Carla took his hand then laughed as she was pulled into a bear hug. "You're welcome, Chakotay." She pulled back a little and shook her head as she continued to laugh. "It's nice to be appreciated though…"

Chakotay leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. "You're more than appreciated. You always have been. I should have told you that more often all those years ago…"

Carla's laugh faded away as she remembered. "I always knew I was appreciated, Chakotay. You told me many times…in words and actions. As for today, it was my pleasure. It's why I became a doctor in the first place."

Chakotay nodded. "Well, I still need to say it…and I know Kathryn will thank you also."

Carla smiled softly. "She'll be in recovery for a little while yet and then they'll bring her back to her room. She should be able to go home in a day or two, just as long as she takes it easy for about a week or so."

Chakotay smiled knowingly. "Oh, she'll take it easy. I promise you I'll make sure of that…"

Chakotay's face was the first one Kathryn saw when she came around from the anaesthetic. He smiled down at her. "You're back in your room. The surgery went perfectly."

Kathryn licked at her lips and nodded. "Thirsty…"

He nodded and stood up, then helped her sit up to have a drink of water. "Just sip at it."

Kathryn swallowed the cool liquid then nodded at him that she'd had enough. He put the glass back on the side locker and eased her back against her pillows. She nodded at him. "Thanks…"

Chakotay sat back down. "Carla said you can go home tomorrow or the next day. She's very happy with how it all went."

Kathryn barely acknowledged his words. "Tomorrow would be good…"

Chakotay was about to answer when the door opened and Carla came in. "Sorry to disturb you both but I need to check Kathryn over…"

Chakotay stood and nodded. "I'll go get a coffee and give you some privacy…"

Chakotay waited outside Kathryn's room for Carla to come out. He finished his coffee, grimacing at the rancid taste. "How do you love this stuff so much, Kathryn…?" He threw the plastic cup in a small recycler beside the door and shook his head.

At that moment Carla came out and smiled when she saw him. "She's doing great. I'll keep her overnight to be safe, but I think she'll be fine to go home tomorrow. Just make sure she eats well and gets plenty of rest."

Chakotay smiled warmly. "Carla, that's great. Thank you again." He reached over then and rested his hand on her arm. "I wanted to ask though… It's just that she seems a bit… I thought she'd be happy it was over with, but she seems…"

Carla finished for him. "A bit down…?"

Chakotay nodded. "Yeah…I guess that's it…"

Carla smiled softly. "She's still recovering from this, Chakotay. The physical side is out of the way now or just about and she was concentrating on that up to now. With that dealt with, she now has to recover emotionally. There's nothing to distract her from it anymore. Just give her some time. She'll have good days and bad until she gets past it but in time she will. The good days will increase and the bad ones will be fewer." She dropped her head to the side. "I'll call by in a day or so to see how she's doing. I'll see how she's coping. If there's going to be a problem, I can always recommend a good counsellor. She may not need one though or even want one. Time can work wonders in getting over something like this and some women prefer to 'self heal'. If she needs to see someone though, I'll talk to her then."

Chakotay digested that and nodded. "OK. In the meantime…do I avoid talking about it with her or encourage her to talk?"

Carla frowned and thought for a moment. "I'd let her set her own pace. It would be better for her to talk about it, but she has to want to. No one can force her or she'll just withdraw further into herself. Just give her time and when she feels ready in her own mind to talk, she'll do it."

Chakotay shook his head slowly. "And if she can't or won't? I know her, Carla. She's a master at hiding her feelings…keeping it all in…"

The doctor sighed. "We cross that bridge when or if we come to it." She squeezed his arm. "Just be there for her. She'll talk when she's ready. Just let her know that she can talk to you and that you're there to listen if she wants to talk. Then leave it to her to decide."

Chakotay nodded at that. "Sounds like good advice." He smiled at the doctor. "Thanks again, Carla. I owe you one."

Carla laughed softly as she moved away. "You owe me nothing, Chakotay. That was just part payment for saving my ass more times than I care to remember."

Chakotay laughed also and called after her. "And it's still a mighty fine ass, Westmore."

Two passing nurses burst out laughing at the comment, leaving Carla blushing deeply. She glared at Chakotay but he just shrugged it off. "See you later…" He was still smiling as he returned to Kathryn.

Kathryn came home the following afternoon and immediately went into her bedroom to put her things away. Chakotay stood awkwardly in the kitchen, not knowing what to do. To busy himself, he replicated some tea for himself and a coffee for Kathryn. He was just about to call her when he turned around and saw her standing there, silently watching him.

She shrugged slightly when their eyes met. "Chakotay, I've not been very… I'm sorry for my behaviour. I've been rude to you and…"

Chakotay put the cups down and moved towards her. He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Kathryn, you have the right to be any damn way you want to be. Please don't worry about me. I just want to be here for you and help you through this. I want you to be whatever way you want to be. I'd be offended if you were trying to be something you're not just to please me or because you think you have to be a certain way for me. We're been good friends for too many years now not to be able to be ourselves with each other." He squeezed her shoulders slightly.

"Kathryn, for now…this is about what you need. You do what you want to do, and you be how you want to be. You're in your own home. Talk to me if you want to or when you're ready, but only if you want to. I'm here for you to help you through this if you'll let me. I can call by every day or stay here if that would be better for you. Whatever you're comfortable with."

Tears filled her eyes as she looked at him. "I don't deserve you…"

Chakotay leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Come on, Kathryn. Let's sit down. I've made you coffee." He picked up her cup and led her to the couch then got his own tea and sat down beside her.

She looked at him tearfully. "You shouldn't be here…"

Chakotay looked confused. "If you'd rather I left…"

She shook her head and looked down at her cup. "No. I mean that you shouldn't see me like this. It's not right…"

Chakotay shook his head when she looked at him. "Why not, Kathryn? Isn't this what friends do for each other?"

She shook her head. "It's asking too much…"

Chakotay leaned a little closer to her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Look, Kathryn… I'm here for you…whatever you need from me. If you want or need to talk to me at any time, I'm here. If you don't want to talk to me, that's fine too. However, I do think you need to talk about this. Not now perhaps but in time. Just know that I'm here to listen if you want to talk to me."

Kathryn pulled back a little and looked away, breaking contact with him. "I know… I know I need to talk about it. As you said though…not now. I'm tired…"

Chakotay knew it was too much too soon and that she was trying to put a distance between herself and everything else. He smiled softly. "Why don't you take a nap? It's been a tough few days and you had the anaesthetic."

She looked around at him and nodded slowly. "I think I will…"

Chakotay touched her arm. "Kathryn, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to stay or would you prefer I left?"

She looked back at him, her eyes filled with sadness. "I'd really like it if you stayed…" She looked unsure of herself. "I've been…" She shrugged slightly. "I've been…nervous…alone here…" She looked back at him. "I know I've no right to ask…"

Chakotay squeezed her arm. "Then I'll stay…"

She smiled slightly but then frowned. "What about work? I don't even know what you're doing now but surely…"

Chakotay smiled at her. "Anthropology and archaeology… I followed my heart. I'm freelance though so I make my own rules. I've taken an extended leave so I'm free… Don't worry about all that."

She nodded at that. "I'm happy you found something you love doing…"

Chakotay looked softly at her. "Being here for you means more."

Kathryn smiled almost shyly. "Thank you." She drew in a deep breath and pointed towards a door across from her bedroom. "There's a spare room. I'll make that up for you. The couch is hardly comfortable…"

Chakotay smiled at her. "I'll do that while you have your nap. I'll fix dinner too for when you wake up…"

Kathryn looked down at her lap. "I still don't think I deserve you."

Chakotay laughed at that. "Well, you've got me."

She looked up at him and studied him for a moment. She opened her mouth as if to say something and then just shook her head. She smiled then and stood up. "I'll take that nap…"

Chakotay just nodded as he looked up at her. "Sweet dreams…"

While Kathryn slept, Chakotay contacted B'Elanna and let her know how things were going. He didn't go into detail but wanted to put her mind at rest.

"Chakotay, let her know that we'd love to see her."

Chakotay sighed. "I don't know, B'Elanna. Now is not the right time. She doesn't even know you know about all this. We've just been dealing with the physical."

B'Elanna sighed too. "Well, just pass it on when the time is right. Maybe having a woman to talk to… I don't mean that you…"

Chakotay interrupted her. "It's OK. You're right. Just leave it with me." Promising to keep in touch, he cut the communication.

With that out of the way he began to prepare dinner and was just ready when he heard Kathryn's bedroom door open. He looked up and saw her watching him again. "Dinner is almost ready. Another ten minutes or so."

Kathryn nodded as she moved towards him. "Anything I can help with?"

Chakotay shook his head. "Everything's under control. Why don't you lay the table."

Kathryn laughed - a sound he hadn't heard in a long time. "Meaning I can't make a mess of that."

Carla called by the following afternoon to give Kathryn a check-up. Chakotay waited outside this time.

Carla snapped her medical bag closed and sat down on the bed beside Kathryn. "You're making excellent progress, Kathryn. Everything is healing nicely."

Kathryn smiled softly as she sat up and pulled her sweater on. "I feel fine. The stiffness is even gone. I've no pain either and my skin feels normal again…none of that tight, stretching feeling. The cream you gave me worked wonders. I'm walking just fine too with full sensation in my legs."

Carla smiled and nodded. "That's great. What about from the other surgery?"

Kathryn actually blushed. "A little bit tender there but it's hardly noticeable."

Carla nodded again. "That will clear in another day or so and everything will be back to normal." She smiled once again. "You've made an amazing recovery, Kathryn. I was worried that there might be just a little scarring but there isn't. So, at this stage, I can give you the all clear. I'll make one more visit to you in about a week and that will be that."

Kathryn smiled. "I really can't thank you enough for all you've done for me. I was a total stranger to you and…"

Carla shook her head at that. "Don't even go there, Kathryn. Apart from the fact that Chakotay is an old friend, I'd still have seen you. I'm a doctor and this is what I do."

Kathryn smiled her thanks. "I still owe you." She slipped her shoes back on then looked back at Carla. "So, there's nothing else I need to do?"

Carla shook her head. "Just eat well…rest…some exercise too though." She pointed her thumb towards the door. "You have a beautiful beach back there. Use it. Walk it and swim in the ocean."

Kathryn nodded slowly and sighed. "So, I'm back to normal…"

Carla rested a hand on Kathryn's arm and waited for her to look up. "Look, Kathryn, I don't pretend to know how hard it was for you in the Delta Quadrant or how hard it's been with what you've been through since. I do know how hard I found adjusting to 'normal' life when the war was over and I left the Maquis behind." She shrugged as Kathryn hung on her every word.

"I felt so…" She sighed heavily. "God…mundane things…clearing the dishes after dinner…" She looked towards the window, seeing something that wasn't there. "I stood in my kitchen one night and looked at what I was doing. Putting plates away…and I thought back to my time with the Maquis…something that was so important to me…fighting for what I believed in…" She looked back at Kathryn.

"Oh…and it was hard. Day in and day out. I saw people die, suffer terribly. I performed surgery in the middle of battles…delivered babies… And now I was standing in my kitchen trying to decide if I should change the shelf I put my damn plates on." She laughed slightly as she looked at Kathryn although there were tears in her eyes.

"In the end I smashed them against the wall and sat down in the middle of all this broken crockery and cried for hours."

Kathryn squeezed her hand. "Carla…I'm sorry…"

The doctor shrugged. "Suddenly my days were ordered and predictable…safe even… and I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt alone and worthless… useless… unnecessary even. I had no place or function and all the people I'd shared my days with were gone…either dead or scattered back here on Earth trying to find the same things I was looking for."

Kathryn's eyes showed her understanding. "What did you do?"

Carla smiled tearfully. "I decided to stop feeling so sorry for myself. I decided to feel happy to be alive and use the gift of having my life spared when so many had died. I had a skill. I just had to get off my ass and use it."

Kathryn looked down at the floor. "But you're a doctor. You have something to offer."

Carla nudged Kathryn's hand to get her to look up. "And you're a damn good scientist from what I know. You have a great brain, Kathryn. Use it. You also have a good man who cares deeply about you. Care back. You have a full and good life ahead of you. Don't waste it."

She leaned back slightly and smiled. "You take the good…take what you've learned from the past and go forward. Leave the rest…the bad… behind in the past and forget it." She sighed. "I had so much bad stuff and I tried to deal with it. I was never going to undo it, so I had to deal with it. What I couldn't deal with, I just put away…locked it away. I had to reconcile myself with the fact that it all happened. I'd been through what I'd been through and seen what I'd seen. It happened and I had to deal with it and move on."

She smiled softly at Kathryn. "I'm not saying what happened wasn't important, but I couldn't change it. Those images would always be there…the memories…but I had the choice of whether I took them out and looked at them or kept them locked away. So, I decided not to look at them. I could waste the present and the future by living in the past and my life would be over before I knew it…wasted."

She drew in a deep breath. "I let it go and concentrated on what I could do now. I didn't deny what had happened, but I put it away and moved forward. I'm happy now. I'm married and have two great kids. I help people and I look ahead and only look back at the good stuff. It's not easy but you can do it."

Kathryn stared at her in amazement. "Didn't you see a counsellor?"

Carla smiled softly. "I talked about it all but not to a counsellor…which is probably not what I should be saying as a member of the medical profession…"

Kathryn shook her head. "Who then…?"

Carla smiled. "I talked to someone I loved. My…at the time…husband to be…now husband. He listened and held me and let me get it all out. For me it was the same thing. Talk it out then let it go. In the end I was the only one who could help myself no matter who I talked to. It was all in here…" She pointed to her head. "I was the only one with access to it. I was the only one who could deal with it. So, I talked about it to Bryan. I got it all out. I cried and I grieved and then I healed and moved on. It was a simple choice really. Stay back there or move forward to where I am now. No contest really."

Kathryn smiled sadly and shrugged at the same time. "So it's up to me to make that decision?"

Carla squeezed her hand. "You're the only one who can, Kathryn. Maybe you might feel better with a professional counsellor though…"

Kathryn just smiled. "Or maybe you think I should open up to Chakotay and let him in…"

Carla raised a hand. "Guilty as charged." She smiled. "He's a damn good man, Kathryn. Give him a chance. The man I knew I trusted with my life. What I've seen of him now…well, I don't think he's changed. He still seems to me to be a loving, kind and trustworthy man who'd go to the ends of the Earth for someone he cares about or loves."

Kathryn nodded slowly. "Maybe I will…just…" She sighed. "I feel I'm asking too much of him. He has his own life which he seems to have put on hold for me." She smiled slightly. "It's been wonderful having him here. I feel safe with…"

Carla watched her carefully. "Are you afraid, Kathryn?"

She looked down at her hands. "At first I was terrified being here but there was nowhere else to go. I couldn't stay in my apartment. I kept thinking he'd come after me or…" She looked up. "The man who…hurt me… I keep thinking he'd come here…look for me…although it's been some time and…"

Carla looked at her sadly and gripped her hand. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry…"

Kathryn merely shrugged. "It happened. I can't change it. I feel so much safer with Chakotay here but I still worry that… He's out there and I keep…" She held up her hand to cut off any comment. "And no, before you suggest it, I don't want security involved." She straightened up. "I'll be fine. I know I should talk to Chakotay…need to… I just need some time…" She was effectively closing the door on the subject and Carla saw that and accepted it.

She shook Kathryn's hand. "Just think about it…and when you're ready… That's all." Believing she had given her patient enough to think about, she stood up. "Do what's right for you, Kathryn. Just don't leave it to eat away inside you." She picked up her bag. "I'll call back in a week's time so I'll see you then. OK?"

Kathryn looked up at the other woman and smiled. "Thank you. For everything. It means a lot that you opened up to me like that. So much of what you said makes sense." She nodded. "I'll think long and hard about it and see you next week." She stood up now and Carla leaned over and hugged her.

Kathryn returned the hug. "Thanks again, Carla."

Carla pulled back and smiled. "You're very welcome. I'll see you next week." She moved towards the door. "I'll let myself out. You just start that thinking…"

That evening, Chakotay made a light dinner for them both after which they sat on the deck and watched the sunset. They chatted quietly about old times and their crew…all safe subjects.

Chakotay knew Carla had given Kathryn the all clear physically and he guessed his old friend had taken her care a step further and talked to her about other things. He didn't ask Kathryn anything about the doctor's visit and was content to wait for her to tell him anything she wanted.

For the moment he was happy to see shades of the old Kathryn again, even if she seemed somewhat distracted. Her eyes scanned the beach every now and then and the fact wasn't lost on Chakotay.

Finally, after a long silence, she looked over at him. "Chakotay, I do want to talk to you, you know…"

Chakotay smiled at her. "You know you always can…"

Kathryn nodded. "I have questions. I guess I need the answers…although I'm not sure I want them but I know I need them."

Chakotay leaned forward. "I've no secrets from you, Kathryn. I'll tell you whatever you want or need to know."

Kathryn nodded slowly. "I know. I'm just not up to it tonight…not ready yet. Carla spoke with me…gave me a lot to think about. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready but I need to know things and I need to talk about things…"

Chakotay smiled lovingly at her. "Whenever you're ready, Kathryn, I'm here."

The following day Kathryn rose late and took her time over the breakfast Chakotay had set out for her on the deck. She seemed far away in her thoughts and he didn't push her.

That afternoon they went for a swim, then took a long walk on the beach, searching for and collecting shells and pieces of driftwood. They chatted easily, but once again Chakotay sensed Kathryn's mind was elsewhere and she seemed a little uneasy. Eventually they returned to the house and while Kathryn showered, Chakotay fixed dinner.

After dinner they sat back on the couch and watched the last of the sunset. Neither spoke for several minutes as they sipped at some wine, but the silence was comfortable. Chakotay encouraged it in fact, setting the scene for Kathryn to talk if she felt ready.

When Kathryn finished her wine, Chakotay leaned forward. "Would you like some more?"

She looked up and nodded slowly. "Thank you…"

He got up and refilled their glasses then turned to walk back to the couch. He stopped for a moment and watched Kathryn. She sat in half shadow by the large window which overlooked the ocean, her head down, hands held tightly in her lap. Instead of returning to his place beside her, Chakotay sat across from her and watched her quietly, sensing she wanted to say something to him or felt ready to try at least and he wanted to give her some space.

Kathryn glanced up briefly and saw him sitting across from her. It felt as if the scene was set. She nodded in silent confirmation to herself.

Her voice was almost a whisper when she spoke. "How did you find me? How did you know about…?" She looked across at him and frowned. "You know most of what happened, don't you?"

She had dived right in and her questions caught him off guard, but he knew he couldn't lie to her. "Yes, I know most of it."

Kathryn looked sharply at him. "How do you know all this? You turned up here and said you knew but you didn't say more…just that we'd talk later. How much do you know and how?"

Chakotay sighed. He'd been dreading this but he knew she deserved the truth. She needed his honesty. He put the glasses down on the table and leaned forward. "Our Doc…the EMH… He told me…"

Kathryn stared at him in horror. "What? How could he know…?"

Chakotay sighed deeply as he looked at her. "He called me…wanted to see me because…" He drew in a deep breath then told her everything.

He leaned his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together. He spoke quietly as he told her how Voyager's Doctor had called him and repeated to her what the medic had told him. Kathryn dropped her head when he mentioned Seven and looked down at her hands, leaving Chakotay unable to read her eyes as he spoke but he knew she was listening to every word. He saw her tremble when he spoke of the former drone's death but he continued. Finally, he told her about visiting her apartment, then searching for her with Tom and B'Elanna's help. When he finished, she was quiet for several moments. She sat quietly as she digested all she'd been told and Chakotay could see the internal battle taking place.

Finally, she looked up at him. "Chakotay, who else knows? I need to know."

He nodded his understanding to that. "The Doc…Tom and B'Elanna…no one else and you know you can trust them. Admiral Paris trusted us enough not to ask when B'Elanna used his computer to find you so he knows nothing."

Kathryn looked back down at her hands. "So they know. They all know my shame."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "First off, you have no shame, Kathryn. Secondly, besides me, three people know…people who care deeply about you…people who know, love and respect you." He sighed. "Carla knows of course but that's covered under doctor patient confidentiality, as it is with our own EMH."

She looked out the window for several moments, watching the last rays of the sun. Finally, she looked back at him. "I'm sorry about…her… For you I mean…"

Chakotay tore his gaze away from the window where he'd also been watching the sun simply because she was. He studied her. "Kathryn, we'd broken up before that. Besides, for me it was never…" He sighed. "It wasn't serious for me. I didn't love her…certainly not the way I should have loved a woman who was supposed to be sharing her life with me."

He shook his head. "I'm sorry she's dead but I don't mourn her. I know that probably sounds harsh but it's the truth. I stayed as long as I did out of obligation…not love."

Kathryn's eyes narrowed at that. "And what about now? What about me?"

Chakotay caught her meaning and shook his head. "It's not obligation, Kathryn. It's love and friendship."

She barely nodded at that and looked back towards the window. "I hope so. I couldn't bear to have your pity…"

Chakotay sat forward and looked hard at her. He waited until she looked directly at him. "Kathryn, I promise you…it's not that. I care deeply about you. You're my best friend. I'm here because I want to be here." He let his eyes show his sincerity. "It's not pity or obligation or duty. It's love and caring and friendship."

Kathryn read his honesty and nodded. "Thank you." She studied her hands before looking at him again. She shrugged softly. "I still have to face them and that's hard, but…" She bit at her lip. "It's strange but it's harder that you know. Your opinion matters more…what you think of me…"

Chakotay moved over to sit beside her now. "So I know what happened… It doesn't change how I see you or feel about you." He turned and took hold of her shoulders, turning her to face him as he sighed deeply. "Look, Kathryn, above all else, we're best friends. OK…our paths divided and we lost sight of each other for a while, but we were best friends…still are or should be. We depended on each other through the toughest of times. We laughed together and we mourned together. We trusted each other completely…trusted each other with our lives. That has to count for something. Are you telling me that if something happened to me, you wouldn't want to be there for me and help me?"

Kathryn shook her head. "No, I'd be there. It's just very hard being the one who needs the help."

Chakotay looked at her sadly. "No, Kathryn. For me it's harder seeing someone I love needing that help. It hurts so much to see you hurt, to know that anyone could have hurt you like this. That's harder." He sighed. "We all need help at some time, even the great Kathryn Janeway, and there's no shame whatsoever in needing or asking for that help, especially from a friend."

Kathryn dropped her head. "I don't know what happened to me. I used to be in control of my life…" She rubbed at her face and looked up again. "I used to be strong…" She bit her lower lip. "I'm not supposed to be this weak. I'm supposed to be strong. God knows what you think of me. I was with a married man, for God's sake. Separated or not…he was married. The old Kathryn would never have condoned that." She watched his face closely as she spoke. "I really thought he was separated though. The last time I saw him he told me he was still with his wife…that they weren't separated at all."

She looked past him now. "I fell for it. The oldest story in the book…the oldest line… 'we don't sleep together…the marriage is over…we live separate lives'. I fell for it all. What's that expression? There's no fool like an old fool." She looked down into her lap. "God, I'm pathetic. I can hide behind a uniform and I'm fine. Strip it away and there's nothing but this sad, pathetic, lonely old woman."

Chakotay stroked her upper arm. "You know that's not true."

Kathryn's eyes flew to his. "Really? What would you call it then?"

Chakotay sighed. "Seven damn hard and tough years of struggle out there…of denying yourself any personal life or happiness. Trying to recover from that. Loneliness even. And you loved him once. I think when you love someone and it doesn't end badly, there'll always be something there. It can't ever be just turned off completely. He brought back memories of happier times…secure times. The lure of finding that again can be overpowering. We try to recapture what once was. You also trusted him once and probably saw no reason not to trust him again when he said he was separated. When we got back…"

Kathryn sneered at that. "When we got back, I fell apart. That's what happened. I was lonely and he was there and I should have had the courage to walk away but… I just felt so down…so depressed. It's no excuse, but he wore me down…and he was better than no one…"

Chakotay knew she didn't mean to hurt with her words but they stung deeply. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I should have been there for you."

She shook her head. "I have to be responsible for myself, Chakotay." She sighed heavily. "I thought I had more pride in myself though. I really did."

Chakotay shook his head. "You were vulnerable, Kathryn. You'd been through so much and had to try and adjust to life back here. I don't think that's been easy on any of us…"

Kathryn laughed sarcastically. "Who else do you know that let themselves walk into an abusive relationship though?"

Chakotay blew out a long breath. "I don't know, Kathryn. It sadly happens to a lot of people and we rarely know about it. Loneliness can lead us into situations we'd normally not go into…"

Kathryn just shook her head as she looked sadly at him. "You have all the answers…"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, I don't…but they are reasons…"

Kathryn laughed derisively at that. "Reasons maybe…but not excuses… I believed him because I wanted to believe him."

Chakotay continued to stroke her arm. "You had no reason not to believe him."

Kathryn just shook her head. "I should have checked…" She looked directly into his eyes and he saw the hurt and anger there. "And what about when he belittled me and hurt me? I took it. How pathetic is that?"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "Kathryn, you were vulnerable. He saw that and abused you…physically and otherwise. He abused your feelings…your trust in him."

Kathryn licked at her lips and stared down at the floor. "Most self-respecting women would have seen that and walked away. Although where I would have gone…" She shrugged. "I was weak and he saw that. I became dependent on him."

Chakotay forced his pain down. "He wasn't the man you knew before…not the one you described to me." He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "Kathryn, listen to me. You have to stop blaming yourself. It happened and we'll deal with that…"

Kathryn sighed heavily then looked away. A silence followed before she spoke. She looked back at him. "I think one of the main reasons I was with him was because he was all that was left of my old life…the only familiar thing when we got back. Mom was gone. Phoebe had sold the house and moved on with her own life." She shook her head as she looked down at his hand on hers. "She lives and works in Tahiti now. Apparently, it's an artist's paradise."

Chakotay heard the hurt in her voice. "Do you miss her?"

Kathryn thought about that. "I miss a sister but she was never that kind of sister." She shrugged. "They say you never miss what you never had…"

Chakotay lifted her hand and stroked her palm. "Kathryn, I'm here, and you have good friends…people who care deeply…"

Kathryn nodded without raising her head. She made several attempts to speak before getting her words out. "I felt so alone…"

Chakotay held onto her hand and sighed. Something just told him she was ready. "What happened, Kathryn? You don't have to tell me or talk about it if you'd rather not…"

Kathryn shook her head and sighed. "I think you know the worst of it already…" She looked at him and saw him nod. She nodded also.

"It started really with little things…taking me for granted…shouting at me…grabbing me too roughly…demanding attention…sex…" She looked out the window. "It was just easier to go along with his demands." Her eyes followed the line of the ocean.

"It increased slowly. We never went anywhere in case we were seen. He said it could cause him problems with the divorce. I never wanted to go out anyway so in a way it suited me too." She looked back at him. "I knew he was still married but he swore to me they were divorcing. Part of me believed him…wanted to anyway. Another part just didn't care or think. He was there…company after a long day… He was there two or three times a week and it helped."

Chakotay closed his eyes. "Kathryn, I'm sorry…"

She shook her head. "It's not your fault. All my own doing. I stayed and took it." She looked out the window again. "It just went on and on…and he started drinking more and more…was rougher… In the end I was just an available body to him…and I took whatever he gave…until…"

Chakotay shook his head. "What happened that day, Kathryn?"

Kathryn watched the ocean in the twilight for several minutes before answering. "I got back and…she was there… They were in bed together… I heard them before I saw them…" Her eyes filled with tears and she dropped her head. "I don't know what I felt…anger…rage… and I remember shouting at him…"

She drew in several deep breaths. "He…laughed at me. He said he'd just been using me…" With her head down, Chakotay couldn't see her tears, but he knew they were there. "He said…said…I was…a lousy lay…but that I was…convenient…"

She looked up and out over the ocean suddenly, pulling her hand from his. "He used me but I guess I was using him too." She dropped her head again. "I didn't know the two of you were no longer together." She shook her head, more tears escaping her eyes. "That last day…when he… He told me she was with him to hurt me…for what she called 'payback'… She must have hated me so much… When I saw them together… I don't know what I felt. I didn't love him. What feelings I'd had for him had left…were long gone…but he was familiar. He was all I had."

She wiped at her face. "I remember I ran at him…all these emotions I had… I remember asking him how he could do that. He laughed. 'How could I what? Betray you?' He said I betrayed him every time he touched me…that he could see it. He said I got through it by fantasizing I was with someone else. He said my body was there but that was all…that I imagined I was with someone else and not him. Then he said 'mind you, I do the same'. He told me I was…he said I was a…a…pity fuck…that I was just a sad and pathetic old woman and that no man would want me. The only reason he 'did me' was out of revenge and because I was always so available…so very easy…"

Chakotay squeezed his hands into fists, his nails digging painfully into his palms. "What did he do to you, Kathryn?" He didn't want to know but he knew she needed to talk about it, needed to get it out.

Kathryn wiped at her face. "He was drunk. He usually drank heavily when we were together. He hit me…kept hitting me… I remember her standing there. She did nothing…just watched. Even she seemed afraid of him. I remember him laughing and telling her 'oh Kathryn likes it rough…she likes the pain…it's the only way she gets to feel anything…she's dead the rest of the time'….and he was right."

She wiped at her face again. "It all seemed to happen so quickly. It's blurred. The fire was lit. We often lit it. He liked that. Said it made the place less…sterile." She shook her head slowly. "I don't know if I fell or if he pushed me. I just remember seeing the fire and knowing I was going to fall into it. I put my arms out…felt the burning…the pain. It wasn't enough. The force pushed me down…and my face and neck…my chest hit… The pain was…" She drew in a shuddering breath. "I remember twisting, trying to get away…pushing with my hands, burning them too."

She looked down at her hands as if expecting the scars to still be there. "I was screaming… crying… I saw him standing over me. He was laughing. He raised his foot and kicked me in the chest…pushed me back against the fire. I heard him…his laugh…and he said something about making sure I was done on both sides." Her tears fell freely.

"I screamed again…burning…and the pain…agony… Then he pulled me up. I don't know where she was…what she saw… He threw me on the bed…tore my dress and…" Chakotay wanted to just pull her into his arms but he knew she needed to get through this first.

"He…took what he wanted…didn't care how much pain I was in… I felt him…doing it…felt him…inside me…but… The pain took over and I tried to… I tried to leave…in my mind…tried to remember home…running through the cornfields…happy…a child again…anything to escape…but I couldn't… He was still there…pulling me around…doing what he wanted …hurting …laughing…" She sniffed loudly and swallowed. "When he was finished…he spit on me…laughed…then got dressed. He just left and I couldn't move… I rolled onto my side…tried to curl up. I just wanted to disappear."

She shook her head. "I heard shouts and noises and then the door slamming when he left but there were still sounds. I remember her there. I felt her looking at me. Then I heard the door again and then no more sounds."

She was quiet for several moments, gaining some control. "After…" She swallowed loudly. "I had to get out of there. I had some painkilling hypos…took one…replicated more. I contacted Starfleet…said I was taking some sick time. No one questioned me. Then I ran…came here. Later I sent in my letter of resignation and no one questioned that either. I think they were just happy to see the back of me because they accepted it immediately."

Chakotay moved a little closer to her. It registered with him that she hadn't said Seven's name, using 'she' or 'her', neither had she used Mark's either. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry…"

She stood up suddenly and moved to the window, anger on her face now. "I'm a failure, Chakotay…as a person…as a woman… Oh, put on the uniform…become the captain and I can manage just fine…but outside of that I'm useless. He was right. I'm only good for one thing…and obviously I'm not even good at that."

Chakotay's own anger flared now and he stood and moved towards her. "You're wrong, Kathryn, and I'm not going to stand here and listen to those things. I'll fight to stop you believing them. I think somewhere deep down inside you know they're not true. You're just very vulnerable at the moment and can't see the truth. When you've healed…"

His anger seemed to calm hers. She looked at him, pain in her eyes. "I don't understand how I got like this. It wasn't supposed to be like this…"

Chakotay's own anger abated. "It's life, Kathryn. I wasn't supposed to lose my family…" He moved closer to her now and took her gently by the shoulders, then led her back to the couch. He sat her down then kneeled down at her feet. "Look, we're all supposed to grow up…work at what we love…marry and find true love…have kids…families of our own. We're supposed to outlive our parents, who will die quietly and peacefully in their own beds in their sleep of old age. We're supposed to see our kids grow up…see them marry and have kids of their own. We're supposed to enjoy our grandkids and then leave this life the same way our parents did. All nice and neat…a set order to things in a nice little package."

He sighed as he watched her eyes fill with tears. "Well, it doesn't happen like that, Kathryn. People hurt us. People die who shouldn't. Kids die. There are wars and horrible disasters…terrible and tragic accidents and we just have to pick our way through it all and survive it and deal with it the best way we can. We find happiness wherever and whenever we can because it's the only way."

Kathryn let her tears fall. "But I made such a mess of it all…"

Chakotay shook his head as he took her hands in his. "If anyone is to blame for all this, it's me. I broke my promise to you…to always be by your side…"

Kathryn shook her head sadly. "You didn't break your promise. You were there for me all the time we were out there. You made that promise to the captain in the Delta Quadrant…not to Kathryn…"

Chakotay reached up and cupped her cheek. "I made that promise to my friend…who just happened to also be my captain." He pulled her to him. "Kathryn, it's over now. Just let me be here for you now and help you heal. We can work all this out…"

Kathryn pulled back. "How do I let this go?"

Chakotay hesitated a moment. "You could have him arrested…have him charged…"

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "No…"

Chakotay leaned back a little. "Kathryn…why not?"

She looked at him sadly. "Chakotay…who am I? It would go to court…be public. The news services would have a field day. Everyone would know. I'd have to face them all…have the world witness my shame. They'd see how pathetic I'd become."

Chakotay sighed. "Kathryn, he should be punished for what he did to you…"

Kathryn shrugged. "I think the state of his life is punishment enough."

Chakotay hesitated a moment. "When I went to your apartment… I cleaned up but I kept… I kept what I found…took scans and images…in case…"

Kathryn seemed shocked at that but accepted it. "Evidence?" Chakotay nodded and she shook her head. "No. Get rid of it."

He nodded. "All right. If you're sure…"

She nodded her head. "I'm sure. I couldn't face a trial…sitting there telling the sordid details to them all…the cross examination…re-living it all. No. Putting this behind me is the best thing I can do…the only thing. That's all I want. I just never want to see him again…"

Chakotay took a chance and asked about something that had been on his mind. "Kathryn, are you afraid here? Are you worried? I won't let anything happen to you…"

Her eyes flew to his. "I didn't think… I tried to hide that from you although Carla guessed…" She looked away. "It's not that I'm afraid. I'm…maybe nervous or…maybe a little afraid… I keep…"

Chakotay squeezed her hands. "You keep watching…"

She looked back at him. "Am I that obvious?"

Chakotay shook his head. "I've noticed but it's only natural. I've seen you watching the beach and you mentioned before about feeling nervous being here alone…"

She nodded at that. "I feel the need to keep looking over my shoulder all the time." She looked at him. "You're not surprised when I say that."

Chakotay shook his head. "I've seen you watching. I didn't want to mention it…remind you. I notice you don't really like going too far from the house."

She shook her head. "I haven't been out much since I got here…not that I did before when... I've only been to the town twice. I have groceries delivered the rest of the time." She tried a smile. "I'm well stocked."

Chakotay watched her. "Does he know about this place?"

Kathryn nodded. "Yes…but he's never been here. He never came here with me…my family. He wouldn't know exactly where it was…" She looked at him. "Although you found me…"

Chakotay smiled softly as he stroked the back of her hand. "I did a lot of digging and I had a computer expert helping me…"

Kathryn seemed to accept that. "I suppose…"

Chakotay frowned. "Are you that worried? I mean…"

Kathryn sighed heavily. "About him coming after me?" She shrugged. "No…yes… I even worried that she might come after me but now that's not... Him mostly though. A part of me thinks he'll never show his face again…but another part…" She shook her head slowly. "What if…if he comes…or… I wonder if…what if he shows up? I know fearing that is still letting him harm me but... Or maybe he's afraid I'll have him charged and arrested and he wants to stop me doing that. And then I think he must know if I was going to do that, I'd have done it already…" She lifted her head. "I just never want to see him again. I have to think that he's finished with me….believe that he wouldn't bother himself with me anymore. I have nothing he wants…would be no use to him. I have to believe that he'd have come after me before now if he was going to do that. He probably feels he dealt with me and proved his point…that he won."

Chakotay shook his head. "He didn't, Kathryn. You're stronger than that."

She nodded. "But it would be better if he thinks that way…"

Chakotay pulled her towards him. "Kathryn, it may sound… I'm not trying to play the he-man, cave-man protector but… I know that would be insulting to you…" He squeezed her hand again. "I just want to protect you…and I will…"

Kathryn smiled back at him. "I know. And I do feel safer with you here." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. "That's not very emancipated of me, is it? I'm too weak…"

Chakotay slipped his hands onto her arms. He applied gentle pressure there. "Needing someone is never weak, Kathryn. Just know and believe that."

As it got dark, Kathryn finally let Chakotay hold her. She lay against him and cried silently as he stroked up and down her arm and back. She didn't speak and he respected her unspoken wish for silence. Occasionally he kissed her hair or nuzzled it and she seemed comfortable with that.

Finally, the room was lit only by moonlight and Chakotay moved slightly to see if Kathryn was still awake. He smiled softly when he saw she'd fallen asleep in his arms. As gently as he could, he eased her back then picked her up and carried her to her bedroom. As he lay her down, she stirred and looked up at him. "Thank you…" Her voice was thick with sleep.

Chakotay knelt down beside her and slipped her shoes off then covered her with a blanket which lay across the end of the bed. "Try and get some sleep, Kathryn. I'll just be next door if you need me…"

Her hand reached for his and held on. "Please stay. Just hold me. I'm so tired of being alone…"

Her words tore at Chakotay's heart. He nodded quietly in the dark and lay down beside her, pulling her into his arms. She laid her head on his chest and curled into him. "Thank you…" Within minutes, she was back asleep.


Several times during the night Kathryn cried out in her sleep but settled when Chakotay whispered softly to her and tightened his hold on her. He knew her dreams were disturbed after so much coming out the previous evening but her cries still tore at him. Finally, she settled, allowing them both some peaceful sleep.

When Chakotay awoke the next morning he was alone, Kathryn gone from his arms. He called out to her but received no answer. He checked around the house, but there was no sign of her. Eventually he walked out onto the deck and looked along the beach. His eyes scanned the sand in the early morning light and finally he saw her.

Kathryn sat huddled against a large sand dune, her knees drawn up to her chest as she stared out over the ocean. She didn't react to his presence when he sat down beside her.

Chakotay watched her closely. "Are you all right?"

Kathryn continued to stare out over the water. "I can't believe I told you all that last night. It came out in a rush. I talked with Carla…about talking about it all…about talking to you. And I wanted to. I was going to talk to you… I just thought it would come out slowly over time…in bits and pieces. I was working up to it. I thought it would take me time to tell you. I let my guard down and the dam broke."

Chakotay shook his head. "Is it so bad that it came out the way it did? Maybe it just needed to, Kathryn. Sometimes our minds and bodies make decisions for us."

Kathryn hugged her knees more tightly. "God, the things I said to you…what you must think. I hate that you saw me like that. I'm embarrassed… No…I'm mortified… I want to blame the wine…anything…but I can't. I didn't drink that much."

Chakotay pulled his own legs up and hugged them. "It needed to come out, Kathryn. Please don't ever be embarrassed with me."

Kathryn rested her chin on her hands. "I feel such a fool…"

Chakotay frowned. "Why?"

She lifted her head and shook it. "Because I'm weak and you saw me like that. I spilled my guts to you. All those terrible, sordid details. I told you of the whore I've been…"

She jumped when Chakotay suddenly grabbed her arm and squeezed it. She looked up into his face and saw his anger. "OK…that's enough, Kathryn. I won't listen to that kind of talk from you…"

She pulled her arm from his grasp. "It's the truth…"

His anger rose. "No, it damn well isn't…"

Kathryn stared hard at him but didn't say anymore. Finally, he calmed down and pulled his hand back. "Oh Kathryn…"

Kathryn turned back to look at the sky which was beginning to show more light. Her question caught Chakotay off guard. "Why did she hate me so much?"

Chakotay drew in a deep breath and shook his head. "She was sick…unbalanced…unstable… I told you what the Doc said…"

Kathryn's face hardened. "He would. He was in love with her too…"

Chakotay looked hard at her. "I wasn't in love with her, Kathryn."

She turned and met his eyes. "You went with her…had a relationship…"

He nodded. "Yes, I did. I'll always regret that…" He sighed as she looked away. "I was weak. I was lonely."

Kathryn's eyes flew to his. "And I wasn't there for you. Is that supposed to sound familiar? Are we supposed to be even now?"

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "Kathryn, we made mistakes. People make them every day. It's called life…being human."

Kathryn sighed heavily. "And you what? Leave the mistakes behind and forget about them?"

Chakotay nodded slowly. "If you can. And you forgive those you love when they make those mistakes. You don't judge them or condemn them. You open your arms and invite them in and move forward with them. That's what you do when you love someone…whether that's lover or friend, parent or child, brother or sister. Even yourself. You learn to love and forgive yourself too."

Kathryn looked down at her hands. "My sin was greater…"

Chakotay looked out over the water now. "And I think mine was but I actually don't believe either of us 'sinned'. We made bad choices and we made mistakes. We were hurt but it's not meant to be a competition." He felt her watching him and turned his head to look at her. "You were hurt, Kathryn. You were very badly hurt…physically and emotionally. We need to help each other heal. We made mistakes and we even hurt each other. Now we need to heal and forgive…each other and ourselves. But the hardest part will be to forgive ourselves."

Kathryn lowered her eyes. "I'm still sorry about last night. I shouldn't have… I put you on the spot and…" She pushed her hair back from her face. "Asking you to stay with me. I'd no right to ask that of you. And everything I said… God…the things I said to you. You must think…"

Chakotay placed a hand on her shoulder and waited until she looked at him. "Kathryn, I'm honoured that you trusted me enough…that you felt comfortable enough with me…" He smiled softly. "Look…last night we watched the sun set and it all came out. That was fitting." He stood up suddenly and reached for her hand. She frowned as she allowed him to pull her to her feet.

Chakotay pulled her with him to the top of the dune. He pointed to the rising sun. "Today we're looking at the rising sun. A fresh and new day. A new dawn." He turned to look into her face. "I think that's fitting too."

Kathryn watched the sun for a few moments before turning back to look at him. "Maybe you're right. It's just hard to face the morning after…" She shrugged. "And I still have to face Tom and B'Elanna…the Doctor…"

Chakotay reached over and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I know B'Elanna would love to see you. You have good and loyal friends, Kathryn. You forget that. Don't shut them out. B'Elanna would love nothing more than to be your friend. You need it and so does she. Let her in. Let her be your friend, Kathryn. She cares deeply about you."

Kathryn looked at him for a moment then down at her feet. "Maybe I'll call her later…"

Chakotay reached for her hand and squeezed it. "She'd love that…" He pulled gently at her hand. "Come on. Let's go back to the house and I'll make you breakfast."

Kathryn nodded and smiled for the first time. It didn't quite light up her face, but for Chakotay it was a start.

Before lunch that day, Chakotay joined Kathryn for a walk along the beach. She paddled through the surf, her bare feet sinking into the sand as the water flowed around her ankles. Chakotay let her set the pace, speaking if she wanted to.

Suddenly she stopped walking and looked out over the water. She bit at her lip and moved away a little. "I called B'Elanna while you were in the shower…" She turned back to look at him, using her hand to shield her eyes against the sun.

Chakotay smiled. "I'm glad."

She looked down at her feet and moved one through the water. "It wasn't as bad as I thought. She was great. More concerned than anything…" She glanced up at him. "Not that I wasn't embarrassed…knowing that she knows and all…"

Chakotay moved a little closer to her. "Kathryn, with friends, none of that matters. You were there for her many times. What about when she was hurting herself or when she needed to sort things with her mother… She was embarrassed with you, but she still let you in to be there for her."

Kathryn frowned. "She had no need to be embarrassed over that…"

Chakotay raised an eyebrow in a wonderful imitation of Tuvok. "I rest my case."

Kathryn gave him a half smile and slapped playfully at him. "All right…so I know what you mean." She studied the sand for a moment. "Anyway, she and Tom are coming here for lunch tomorrow. I hope you don't mind cooking because if I have to…" She looked up at him and smiled again.

Chakotay raised his hands in surrender. "Point taken. I'll cook…."

After lunch the next day Tom and Chakotay took Miral down onto the beach to search for shells and whatever else they could find. The little girl toddled along the sand and squealed in delight every time the waves rushed in at her.

Kathryn and B'Elanna sat on the deck and watched them. B'Elanna laughed and shook her head. "Poor child has never seen the ocean before. She doesn't know what to make of it."

Kathryn nodded as she watched them. "She's having the time of her life though…"

B'Elanna turned and looked at her former captain, knowing she needed to break the ice. "It's good to see you looking so well. The sea air agrees with you."

Kathryn met her eyes. "You should have seen me a few days ago…" She dropped her head. "Sorry…that was uncalled for. Carla said I'd have good days and bad for a while. I had hoped today would be one of the better ones but…"

B'Elanna turned so she faced Kathryn more fully. "Kathryn…" She blushed. "I hope you don't mind me calling you that…"

Kathryn smiled and shook her head. "It's my name, B'Elanna. I'm not your captain anymore…"

B'Elanna nodded. "Look…I hope we can be good friends. So that said…I don't care what way you are. You don't have to be any particular way to talk with me. Friends…real friends…are there on the good days and the bad. They don't distinguish between them."

Kathryn reached over for her hand and squeezed it. "Thank you, B'Elanna…" She let go and looked down at her coffee. "I just feel really down today. I've been trying to hide it from Chakotay but I'm sure he's noticed. I caught him watching me several times with this worried look on his face."

B'Elanna nodded slowly. "I'm sure he understands…"

Kathryn sighed. "I think he expects me to feel a bit better every day…each day better than the last, but I can't…" She dropped her head to hide her face. "God, I don't know where this is coming from… I'm sorry…"

B'Elanna pulled her chair closer. "Kathryn, I'm sure he understands and just wants to be there for you."

Kathryn looked up, her eyes filled with tears. "B'Elanna, I feel I've nothing left. All I had was the knowledge that Chakotay couldn't see me like this…couldn't see what I'd become. It was the one shred of dignity and pride I had left. I don't even have that anymore now. It's gone. He knows it all because I broke down and let it all out. He must despise how weak I am…how pitiful."

B'Elanna leaned forward and shook her head. "I'll tell you what you have, Kathryn Janeway… whether you like it or not…believe or admit it or not. You have the love of a good man who only wants to be there for you. He loves you and asks nothing in return. He craves your love and longs for you to love him back. All he's ever wanted was to be with you…even if you never returned his feelings. He just wants you to love him. He'll sacrifice all that though…just to be with you and be there for you. I think deep down somewhere you know that and you've just lost sight of it. He loves you, Kathryn."

Kathryn smiled sadly. "As a friend. He's my best friend."

B'Elanna nodded. "Yes, he is…but he loves you as so much more than a friend. I think you know that."

Kathryn stared down at her lap. "I hoped more than thought…but that was then…before." She sighed and shook her head, looking down at the beach now. "How could he love me? Look at me. I can't even stand myself."

B'Elanna smiled at that. "I still can't believe Tom loves me." She smiled when Kathryn looked around at her. "Look at what I was. How many jaws did I break in those first weeks on Voyager?" They both laughed at that. "The fact is…I wasn't the kind of woman who was open…to allowing any man in. My back was always up. He hung in there though." She looked down at her husband and daughter. "I still have a hard time reconciling that time with what I have now. Sometimes I think I'll wake up and find it all a dream. I can't believe I deserve what I have…"

She looked back at Kathryn. "But with all that, I have to believe that I'm good enough to be loved…that I deserve to be loved and happy as much as the next person. We all deserve that. I deserve it and so do you. You just have to learn to believe it."

Kathryn looked down at her coffee again as she considered that. "Yesterday I would have found that easier to believe. Today is…"

B'Elanna reached over and stroked her arm. "Kathryn, today is just a down day and they'll get fewer and fewer. Tomorrow will be a good day again and they'll get more and more. Tomorrow you'll be more likely to believe what I'm saying and you'll see more clearly what I'm talking about."

Kathryn wiped at her tears and nodded. "I'll try."

B'Elanna smiled warmly. "Kathryn Janeway doesn't try. She does. You'll do it and you'll be happy again." She squeezed her arm. "Kathryn, the best I can tell you is this. You're a wonderful person and you deserve to be happy. Let Chakotay in and let your friends in. Let us be there to help you through this…just the way you've always been there for us and helped us. The rest will fall into place for you. Once you love people and they love you, that's the best shield you can have in life. It protects you against everything."

Chakotay leaned against the countertop and watched Kathryn as she cleared away after their friends' visit. She put some glasses away then picked up a cloth as she looked over at him. "Go on. Ask. You've been dying to."

Chakotay blushed a little. "Sorry." He smiled then. "OK. How did it go with B'Elanna?"

Kathryn thought about that and nodded. "It was good…"

Chakotay turned and leaned his hip against the counter so he was facing her more fully. "But we could have picked a better day?"

Kathryn folded the cloth in her hands. She watched her own movements. She nodded slowly and sighed, her head still down. "I thought you'd noticed…although I tried to hide it." She looked up. "Carla said I'd have good days and bad days…"

Chakotay smiled kindly at her. "And today was one of the bad days?"

Kathryn bit at her lip. "Yeah…although not so bad now. Talking to B'Elanna actually helped. At least facing her and Tom is out of the way and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." She moved over and leaned against the kitchen table. "Now I just have to face the Doctor."

Chakotay watched her. "There's no rush. You have plenty of time."

Kathryn shook her head at that. "I know but I don't want to have these feelings…"

Chakotay frowned. "What feelings?"

She shrugged. "About…her…about…Seven…" She sighed. "Sorry, I have a hard time with her name, for some reason. His too." She sighed. "I think if I let myself, I could end up hating her and I don't want to do that. I need the Doctor to explain to me what happened to her." She waved the cloth she held. "I know you told me but I need to hear the medical details from him. Maybe then I can accept what happened with her and let it go."

Chakotay turned and leaned his back against the counter again. "Everything was just exaggerated with her…"

Kathryn nodded slowly and bit her lip again, looking down at her hands. "Exaggerated." She shook her head and looked back up at him. "That means some of those feelings were already there to start with. They weren't invented because of what happened to her…so she already felt that way about me…" She shook her head and threw the cloth down on the table. "She still resented me for taking her from the Borg, and I thought she was over that…"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I think she was for the most part, but she hadn't completely dealt with it all back then. She didn't know how to, so it was stored away. What happened to her brought it all back to her…all those unresolved feelings and emotions and blew them out of all proportion."

Kathryn just shook her head, wanting to believe what he said. "At the end, she really hated me…"

Chakotay nodded sadly. "Not at the very end. She knew what she'd done and deeply regretted it. That's why she asked me to find you…to make it right for you. I did that so I guess I kept my promise to her but I didn't do it for her. I did it for you. Her earlier feelings… I think that was because of me. She knew how I still felt about you…accused me of still having feelings for you. She knew I had those feelings and she was right…" He looked up, afraid he'd said too much.

Kathryn held his eyes. "I felt sure they were gone. I mean…" She shrugged, not knowing what to say.

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. "No, Kathryn…they weren't gone."

Kathryn's eyes flitted from his face to her hands and back again. "Are…are they…?"

Chakotay answered her unfinished question. "They're still there if that's what you were going to ask." He sighed and looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry. You don't need this now." He looked up when Kathryn moved towards him.

She laid her hand softly on his chest, as she'd done a thousand times before. "I can't really deal with it right now…but it is what I need." Her eyes held his and he saw what it was costing her to say the words. "Chakotay, I needed to know that. Just give me a little time please. If you still feel…" She shook her head and frowned then. "You really…love me? In that way, I mean… Not just as a friend…?"

Chakotay smiled lovingly at her and nodded. "Yes, Kathryn…I do. I love you the way a man loves a woman in a loving relationship…"

Kathryn closed her eyes at that. "I thought you might have just loved the captain…"

Chakotay shook his head. "I loved Captain Janeway very much, but I was in love with Kathryn the woman. I still am."

Kathryn smiled to herself as she heard that. She moved away and walked towards the bedroom. She stopped then and looked back at him. "I just need some time…"

Chakotay smiled as he looked at her. "I'm here when you're ready. I'm not going anywhere. There's no time limit on this."

She nodded slowly as she looked at him. "Thank you…" She moved away again and as she reached her bedroom door, she smiled back at him. "Chakotay, I love you too. I just want you to know that…."

Over the next several days, Kathryn opened up to Chakotay more and more as he began to bring her back. She poured out her pain and loneliness, her hurt and sadness over what she'd been through. He listened when she talked and held her when she needed to cry. Only when he felt she was ready, did he speak.

"Kathryn, listen to me now. I know I haven't spoken much these past few days, but I felt you needed to talk and get all that out. For the most part, I think you've done that." She nodded up at him.

They were standing in the surf on the beach, with the gentle breeze caressing their skin. Chakotay took her face between his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "I'm honoured that you felt comfortable enough and trusted me enough to talk to me in this way and I just want you to know that nothing you've said has made any difference to the way I feel about you. I got the feeling a few times that you felt you'd lose my respect or change my feelings for you. You need to know that nothing could be further from the truth."

Kathryn gazed up at him. "I'm starting to accept it. You've seen and known me at my worst and you're still here. I felt so sure that you'd want to run…leave…"

Chakotay shook his head. "When you care so much about someone…love someone…" He stroked his fingers over her cheeks. "Kathryn, nothing could stop how I feel about you. Even if you felt nothing for me, I'd still feel as I do about you."

Kathryn's eyes filled with tears at his words and she leaned into him. He slipped his arms around her and hugged her to him. "We'll get through this, Kathryn. We'll get through it together." He felt her nod against his chest. "I'll never walk away from you again. I'll never let you go again. I'll be here for as long as you want me…"

Kathryn tightened her arms around him. "For always…for always…"

Two days later, Carla was waiting for them when they returned from one of their walks on the beach. She smiled at them both but Chakotay immediately sensed something was on his old friend's mind. He knew her too well.

He left her chatting with Kathryn while he made tea and coffee for them. As he placed the cups down, he caught Carla's eye and saw that she knew he could read her. She nodded at him and took a sip of her tea.

Kathryn had seen the interaction and frowned. "Am I missing something here?"

Carla put her cup down as Chakotay sat beside Kathryn. "There's something I need to talk to you about, Kathryn. Something you need to know about." She saw the worried look in the eyes staring back at her and raised her hand. "It's not serious…well, nothing is wrong or…"

She sighed and leaned forward. "Kathryn, I asked you before if you were on any medications…when I began treating you…"

Kathryn nodded solemnly. "I remember. I was only taking the painkillers…"

Carla frowned. "I just need to be sure. You're positive you weren't taking any other medication during the past few weeks…"

Kathryn sat forward also. "I was telling you the truth, Carla. Only the painkillers…" She frowned deeply. "Why? What's wrong? Don't you believe me?"

Carla looked at Chakotay a moment then back at Kathryn. "I do believe you. It's just…" She sighed. "Kathryn, while I had you on the table in surgery…while I was doing the repair work on those tears and removing the scar tissue… Well, it's normal procedure to take a few tissue samples for biopsy. It's routine to take those samples to check for any abnormal cells that may be present…cancer cells and such…which as you know is completely treatable when caught. It's the same as you'd have during your annual physical." She drew in a deep breath.

Chakotay sat forward now. "You found something?"

Carla seemed to ignore his question. "Anyway, as I said, it's a matter of routine to take these smears and tissue samples for examination in the lab."

Kathryn closed her eyes a moment. "Are you trying to tell me you found some cancer cells?"

Carla shook her head quickly. "No. Everything was normal. You're very healthy."

Kathryn narrowed her eyes. "But you found something…"

Carla nodded. "The lab tends to take its time with non-urgent cases. I only got the results this morning…"

Kathryn held her control. "And they were?"

Carla looked directly at her. "There were minute traces of a drug in the samples…"

Kathryn's eyes flew to Chakotay's and she saw her own shock reflected there. She looked back at Carla. "What drug? How did it get there?"

Carla shrugged. "Its generic name is Zepharosin."

Kathryn frowned and shook her head. "I've never heard of it."

Carla nodded. "In the right doses, it's used to treat hyperactivity in young children and teens. Its administration has been controversial of late. Some side effects have been reported. However, that aside, if it's administered to someone who isn't affected by hyperactivity, it can cause depression. How severe the depression depends on the amount taken."

Chakotay jumped up. "Or the amount given…"

Kathryn just sat in shock, staring at the floor. "This drug was in my body…?"

Carla nodded. "It didn't show up in your blood tests. There were just the traces in the tissue cultures. Obviously, it worked its way out of your system over the past weeks, but it always takes longer with certain tissues or organs…"

Kathryn finally looked up. "He…drugged…me?" She kept shaking her head. "He drugged me…?" She looked squarely at Carla. "Depression…"

Carla nodded. "In someone who had no symptoms of hyperactivity…"

Kathryn looked towards Chakotay who stood leaning against the window. She could see him fighting his anger. She looked back at Carla. "I was depressed. I was…"

Carla nodded slowly. "It would have… Your normal and natural resistance to… It sounds strange but the positive is compromised…becomes the negative. It affects your perception and entire outlook…even your decision making."

Chakotay finally seemed to win his battle. He turned back into the room. "How long would he have been doing this?"

Carla shook her head. "It's hard to say but most likely weeks…possibly even months. For there to still be traces…"

Kathryn's hand covered her mouth as if she was going to be sick. She then lowered it to her chin. "He was drugging me from the start…making me dependent on him…"

Chakotay's mind was racing ahead. "What about now, Carla? What harm has this done?"

The woman shook her head. "It can only cause serious problems if taken over very long periods of time…years mostly. No long-term harm has been caused. I got them to re-check the samples. Everything is fine. It's almost out of her system now." She reached for her bag and withdrew a hypo. "I'll just give you this, Kathryn. It'll dissolve any last traces…eradicate the drug from your system completely." She stood up and walked over to Kathryn, pressing the hypo to her neck.

Kathryn rubbed at her neck. "That will take care of it? I'll be free of this now?"

Carla nodded as she placed the empty hypo in her bag. "Within a day or two. Physically it did no harm…just emotionally…" She glanced towards Chakotay then back at Kathryn. "I'll leave your final check-up until that has time to do its job. I'll check you in a few days and give you the all clear then."

Kathryn nodded and stood as she saw Carla pick up her bag. "That's fine. Sorry, Carla. I'm still trying to take all this in."

Carla smiled and reached over, squeezing her arm. "You're fine, Kathryn." She glanced at Chakotay once more. "I'll let myself out. I'll call you before I come by for your final check-up…" She left her patient and friend still standing there in shock.

Chakotay watched Kathryn closely as she walked over to the window and stared out. He knew she wasn't seeing the view, her eyes appearing unfocused. "Kathryn…?"

She took a moment before she turned and looked at him. "I don't know what to think…" She shook her head. "I mean…he drugged me…and yet…"

Chakotay looked shocked. "And yet what? Kathryn, he drugged you…was doing it for weeks or months…"

Kathryn nodded very slowly. "I know…but…" She sighed. "Chakotay, all this time I've been… I was so weak. That's what I thought. I believed… I blamed myself for being lonely…weak…a coward… I constantly asked myself what had happened to me to make me that way. How could I have allowed all that…how could I have allowed myself to be in a relationship like that? He was married…separated or not. He was abusing me…and I allowed it. I stayed and took it. At one time I hated myself for what I'd become." She looked hard at him. "Can't you see? It was always 'what I'd become' and now I know it wasn't that. It was 'what he made me'. I know I'm probably grasping this as the excuse I need to explain everything but…" She moved away from the window. "I agree it's one more thing to hate him for…but… Chakotay, it's one less thing to hate myself for. Can you understand that?"

Chakotay understood what she meant. He walked over to her and hugged her. "It was never your fault, Kathryn. Drug or no drug. It was always him. That'll never change."

Kathryn leaned into him. "I know, but I needed to know this. It helps me…takes me a few more steps forwards where I need to get."

Chakotay held her. "And you'll get there because you're strong, Kathryn."

She nodded against him. "Stronger than I believed. I needed to know that…"

Over the next two weeks Kathryn recovered well, Carla giving her the all clear on her final visit. Her physical injuries were now healed completely, and emotionally she was well on the way. Chakotay saw the woman he'd known before finally emerge once again, her faith in herself restored.

She accompanied Chakotay to her apartment to clear out her belongings and give up her lease. She didn't go upstairs with him but stayed downstairs with Ellen, thanking the woman for all her help.

Chakotay also did as she asked and destroyed the evidence he'd collected. With that done, she gathered her courage and forced herself to go see Voyager's EMH.

She sat quietly with Chakotay one evening and told him about her visit. "It was like with Tom and B'Elanna. It wasn't as bad as I feared. He was great. He explained everything to me and I understand a lot better now. He really loved her, you know."

Chakotay stroked her arm. "How do you feel about her now?"

Kathryn looked up at him. "Sad. I feel sad that it all happened and ended the way it did. I do, however, know that I need to let go of my feelings for her if I'm to completely recover from all this. I can't ever forget what she did, even though I know it wasn't really her fault, but I have to forgive her or I'll never move on. I want to at least feel sorry for her. I need to work on that. Hate for her will only eat away inside me and destroy me. I have to let it go and move forward. Hate anchors you to the past and I don't want that. I don't want to live in the past anymore."

Chakotay moved his hand from her arm to her hair, running his fingers through the silky strands. "I guess I feel the same way. A part of me wants to hate her and yet if…" He broke off, not sure how to say what he wanted to say.

Kathryn said it for him. "If she hadn't done what she did, we might not be sitting here like this now. You and she might still be together and I might still be with him…"

Chakotay drew in a ragged breath and shook his head. "I know I wouldn't still be with her. That much I'm sure of." He sighed. "What scares me most is the thought that you'd still be…" He couldn't finish again.

Kathryn looked down at the glass of wine she held. "He'd probably have killed me by now…" She looked up at Chakotay and saw his eyes squeezed shut. "Chakotay…"

He opened his eyes and looked down at her, a look of pure pain written there. "I don't even want to think about that…"

Kathryn smiled sadly. "I know. Some places are best not visited. I have to let that go too. Hating him is the same even if I've more reason to hate him. I have to let it go or it'll hurt me and hurt us."

She sighed. "The Doctor told me he wanted him charged with her murder…"

Chakotay nodded. "He told me he held him responsible for her death."

Kathryn nodded also. "I think he could at least face some charge over her death. I don't know for sure. Even the Doctor admitted that it could be hard to prove because of the underlying problem that was already there. He could also say she fell or tripped. She made no report or statement and there's no evidence now that she's gone because she was cremated. Doc knows that it wouldn't bring her back anyway and the publicity would tarnish her memory. He also understands that raking it all up would involve me and I told him how I felt…that I couldn't face that. So, he's just accepting it and letting it go. There's really nothing else he can do. We all have to let it go."

Chakotay sighed again. "So, we move forward and leave it all behind…"

Kathryn nodded. "It's the only way…" She drew in a deep breath as she looked at him. "And I'm ready now. I know that."

Chakotay watched her face carefully. "Are you sure?"

She smiled softly and nodded. "I've never been more sure of anything. You brought me back and yet I feel my life is just starting somehow." She laughed and held up a finger. "And we have my first proper outing tomorrow night…"

Chakotay laughed with her and nodded. "Dinner with Tom and B'Elanna at their place. Someone else doing the cooking." He pretended to look nervous. "Have you ever tasted Tom's cooking? He's not bad. B'Elanna went to the same culinary school as you did. He's always left with that chore. I mean, B'Elanna's a great hostess but don't let her near the food except to pass it around."

Kathryn playfully glared at him. "You have some cheek. I'm not that bad." She shrugged then. "OK…so I can burn water. However, B'Elanna assured me that Tom is a wonderful cook so we've no worries."

Chakotay rolled his eyes. "We'll see."

The following evening Chakotay stood back and admired Kathryn as she chatted with Tom and played with Miral. She looked happier than he'd seen her in a very long time. Her hair shone with health and her skin seemed to glow. She wore a pale blue dress that fell just below her knees, tucked in at the waist and with elbow length sleeves.

He turned as he sensed B'Elanna watching him and smiled at her. "What?"

His old friend smiled to herself. "Nothing. She just looks good, doesn't she?"

Chakotay looked back at Kathryn and nodded. "She looks wonderful. I can't believe how well she's done…" A cloud crossed his eyes for a moment before he pushed it away but B'Elanna didn't miss it.

She looked over at her former captain. "She's strong and she has you…" She was interrupted by Tom who lifted Miral up into his arms and called to her.

"B'Elanna, I'm going to put this little one to bed." He turned to Kathryn. "You want to help while these two lazy sods set out dinner?"

Kathryn stood up and smiled. "I'd love to." She stroked the small girl's hair and smiled at her. "If that's all right with you, Miral?"

Miral reached her arms out to Kathryn. "Be…"

B'Elanna laughed. "That's bed. She's no trouble in that department. She knows her favourite toys are in her cot." She pushed herself away from the sideboard and kissed her daughter. "Night, sweetheart. You be good for daddy and Auntie Kathryn now. Don't give them a hard time."

With Tom and Kathryn upstairs, Chakotay stood at the kitchen table with B'Elanna and helped where he could. B'Elanna watched him as he worked. "She really has come a long way, Chakotay. She looks radiant tonight." She laughed softly. "Must be all that sea air and a good man…"

Chakotay half smiled. "She's doing great all right."

B'Elanna read his expression. "But…?"

Chakotay stopped what he was doing and shrugged. "I just worry about her. It happened and those memories are still there. There's also…" He stopped and shook his head.

B'Elanna stopped what she was doing too. "There's also what?"

Chakotay met her eyes, a cold look in them. "There's also HIM. He's still out there." He quietly told her about Carla's discovery of the drug in Kathryn's system. "It kills me to know he's probably enjoying himself thinking he got away with all this. She didn't want to face charging him, and it's too late now anyway. But what if he comes looking for her in the future and…" He looked away a moment. "She doesn't mention him except when we talked about… I mean when she told me what happened…and when Carla told us about the drug. We also never use his name…always 'him'. Outside of that, she doesn't talk about him. I see her though. He's there. She never completely relaxes. She admitted that to me. She looks over her shoulder…watches when we're on the beach and tries to hide it from me. I do the same though. I'm afraid for her. I'm afraid to leave her side…and that won't help her but…"

B'Elanna watched him carefully. "Chakotay…"

Chakotay gripped the edge of the kitchen table. "As much as she'll resist the idea, I'll protect her. I want to make sure that bastard never hurts her again. I won't have him anywhere near her."

B'Elanna smiled slyly to herself, unable to stop the words slipping out. "He won't come near her ever again."

Chakotay looked up and studied his old friend who suddenly looked guilty of something. "What makes you so sure of that?" He frowned when she didn't meet his eyes. "B'Elanna? You sound so certain of that? How do you know…?"

B'Elanna looked at him briefly. "I just know."

Chakotay leaned across the table and grabbed her hand. "What have you done?"

She pulled her hand away. "Nothing."

Chakotay wasn't letting her off that easily. "B'Elanna, he's a dangerous man. Please tell me you didn't go after him…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "No…I didn't…"

Chakotay sighed heavily as he began to understand. "But someone did…because you sent them. Am I right?" She didn't answer. Chakotay closed his eyes a moment before standing back from the table. He drew in a deep breath and looked at B'Elanna. He spoke just one word. "Why?"

B'Elanna took a moment to answer. She smiled sadly at her oldest friend. "Because I knew you couldn't."

Chakotay stood with his back to B'Elanna and the kitchen. He stared out into the back garden. "You promised me you'd never speak of this to anyone else. You promised me."

B'Elanna spoke softly. "And it's the only time I've ever broken a promise to you. It's also the last time."

Chakotay barely nodded. He gripped the countertop. "Who did it, B'Elanna?" He turned slowly to look at her.

B'Elanna met his eyes. "I'm not telling."

Chakotay laughed sarcastically. "And what if they tell?"

She moved towards him. "They won't. I give you my word on that."

Chakotay just shook his head. "And how can you be so sure of that?"

B'Elanna sighed and sat down on a stool. "Several reasons. I asked them not to. He hurt the captain. They don't intend to go to prison for that scum, although they would if they had to."

Chakotay looked shocked. "Why…?"

B'Elanna smiled sadly. "You know the answer to that one. It's because it was her…because it was for her…" She watched him sit down beside her and reached for his hand. "Chakotay, we look after our own. You know that."

Chakotay just shook his head, trying to take everything in. He looked hard at B'Elanna. "Did they kill him?"

B'Elanna laughed derisively. "No. That would have been too easy on him."

Chakotay didn't know if he felt relief at that or not. "What did they do to him?"

B'Elanna merely shrugged. "They gave him a taste of his own medicine. He knew why they were there."

Chakotay was shocked. "They...burned him?" His eyes widened. "They…raped him…?"

B'Elanna just shrugged again. "Yeah…and beat the shit out of him. They let him know that if he ever came near her again, they'd kill him. Their actions left him in no doubt as to their sincerity." She held up a finger. "Oh…and they also supplied his wife with all the evidence she needed for a divorce, and I don't mean Kathryn. He had quite a few women."

Chakotay came close to a smirk. "The wife divorced him?"

B'Elanna nodded. "Yeah. I read about it." When Chakotay raised an eyebrow at that, B'Elanna smiled self-consciously. "OK, so I follow the society and gossip pages, but don't you dare tell Tom. He'd never let me live it down."

Chakotay made a locking motion at his mouth as he struggled to be serious. "My lips are sealed."

B'Elanna swatted his arm. "They'd better be." She sighed as she became serious again. "Anyway, the petition cited infidelity. Kathryn wasn't named or anything, but several other women were. It also stated that he was unable to father a child and claimed emotional and physical abuse. Evidence was supplied."

Chakotay shook his head in disbelief. "So, Kathryn wasn't the only one he hurt." He looked up. "That evil bastard…"

B'Elanna nodded in agreement. "Well…it's over now." Her voice softened as she looked at him. "Look, Chakotay, I know these guys. You do too but I'm not naming names. Suffice to say you trusted them with your life many times and they never let you down…never betrayed you. They're not about to start now. That should be enough for you."

Chakotay thought about that. Finally, he nodded. "OK." He sighed heavily. "You know, Kathryn would never have wanted this. I don't know if I would either and yet… Knowing she wouldn't, would have made the decision for me. Mind you, had I come up against him…"

B'Elanna licked at her lips. "We knew Kathryn wouldn't have wanted it and that you couldn't because of that. That's why we did it for you…did what was necessary…because you wouldn't or couldn't. Your hands are clean."

Chakotay looked at his friend. "Just promise me that Kathryn will never hear about this…what you did or about him…his divorce and all that… I don't want her hearing his name ever again."

B'Elanna frowned. "Maybe hearing some part of that would help her though. If she knows he won't come back…"

Chakotay shook his head. "She'd never have wanted him hurt, no matter what he did to her. She's too good a person for that."

B'Elanna nodded. "I know that. I just meant… If she knew he'd divorced… You could tell her…" Her eyes widened suddenly. "When I checked for him first, he was on Mars at a business conference. Living there now from the last I heard. He's some kind of agent for a pharmaceutical company…" She nodded knowingly. "Easy access to and knowledge of drugs…"

Chakotay ground his teeth together. "Bastard knew exactly what he was doing…"

B'Elanna nodded. "So why not tell Kathryn that the wife divorced him and he moved full time to Mars. Say you have a friend who works security or something and would let you know if he was back on Earth. Say you checked because she was worried and you learned that he applied for permanent residency there… Whatever puts her mind at rest."

Chakotay thought about that. "I'll see. I may well do that. I'll think about it and see how she is." He looked pointedly at B'Elanna. "For now though…she hears nothing of this. Promise me that. I don't want her knowing this…what they did to him."

B'Elanna smiled softly and tightened her hold on his hand. "She won't. I promise you that and I will keep that promise." She reached over and stroked his face for a moment. "I told you. She's one of us and as I said, we look after our own. She put her life on the line many times for us and we don't forget that. We owe her a hundred times over. This is just returning a favour."

She stood up. "Now…no more on this. We bury it here and now and never speak of it again."

Chakotay stood also and opened his arms. "Come here." He hugged his dear friend and whispered into her ear. "Thank you."

B'Elanna hugged him back and then pulled away. "You're welcome." She turned and handed him a plate of food. "Now, come on. This food is getting cold."

Three days later, having seen Kathryn still watching around her, Chakotay made a decision and told her his version of where Mark Johnston was, borrowing from B'Elanna's idea. She watched his face carefully as he told her about the divorce and taking up permanent residency on Mars.

She shook her head. "Where did you find all this out?"

Chakotay kept his emotions well hidden. "While you were in the shower yesterday morning. I contacted an old friend. He was in the Maquis with me. He works security now, checking who comes and goes. He also deals with applications for residency here on Earth. Anyway, I asked him to make discreet inquiries. I trust him completely and he owes me. I contacted him again this morning."

Kathryn kept watching him. "And what did he find out?"

Chakotay licked at his lips. "The wife divorced him on grounds of infidelity…several counts…" He watched Kathryn closely, trying to gauge how she was taking all this. "It also cited physical and emotional cruelty…"

Kathryn sighed heavily and closed her eyes. "It wasn't just me…" She opened her eyes again and looked at him.

He shook his head. "No. There was also something about being unable to father a child. I didn't ask for the full petition but he read me the names that were listed and yours wasn't there. My friend also discovered that he wasn't resident here on Earth anymore so he spoke quietly with a fellow officer who deals with applications to live off world. He applied for and received residency status for Mars. He's living there now under a permanent resident visa."

Kathryn sighed and turned to look out at the water. "So he's gone…although…"

Chakotay gripped her arm and she turned back to look at him. "Kathryn, this guy is a good friend. We shared a lot and owe each other. He'll keep this quiet. He also flagged his name. If he sets foot back on Earth, David will be quietly alerted. He'll let me know at once."

Kathryn considered that. "And this friend of yours…David… You trust him?"

Chakotay nodded. "With my life. I did trust him with it once and he saved it."

Kathryn drew in a deep breath then blew it out. Chakotay watched as she seemed to let go. He could almost see the weight lift from her shoulders. She nodded slowly and looked back at him. She studied him for a moment. "So, he's gone…"

Chakotay nodded. "And if he comes back here, we'll know about it."

Kathryn sighed again. "I needed to know that. I know I need to put the past months behind me and I'm doing that. This helps a lot. It makes me feel a lot better. It also stops me wondering all the time." She shook her head, a determined look on her face. "Anyway, I've decided I'm not afraid of him anymore. He can't harm me because I'm strong again. I must have had some strength when we got back because he felt the need to drug me in order to control me."

Chakotay smiled at that, kicking himself for not thinking of it himself. "That's smart and intelligent thinking, Kathryn.

Kathryn nodded her head and gave him a small smile. "Speaking of which…what else do you get up to while I'm in the shower?"

Chakotay shrugged and smiled. "Usually clearing away your mess…" He laughed and just avoided the punch she aimed at him. He enjoyed hearing her laugh until she grew serious again.

"Chakotay…thank you for doing that. It's good to know…"

He shook his head. "You're welcome." He reached for her hand. "Come on. You must be starving. It's lunchtime." He smiled to himself as she took his hand and walked back to the house with him. He hated lying to her, but when he noticed that she didn't once look back over her shoulder, he knew he'd done the right thing.

A month later, Chakotay was still staying with Kathryn. They'd grown very comfortable together and shared everything although Chakotay still kept his own room. He was in no hurry to move their relationship to a more physical level and was content with what Kathryn was able to give him.

They walked along the beach to watch the sunset one evening, holding hands together. Chakotay watched Kathryn as she inhaled the salt air and smiled to herself. "Happy?"

She turned her face up to his and nodded. "Very." She squeezed his hand in hers. "I was remembering something my mother used to say. 'Does the song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it?'

Chakotay smiled softly. "Where does it end for you?"

Kathryn looked down at the waves splashing over her feet. "When I'm here, it's here with me. It calms me somehow. But when I leave it, it comes with me. I hear it at night from my bedroom and it lulls me to sleep. It stays with me. Maybe it is in my heart after all…"

They were silent for several minutes just watching the sun sink below the horizon. As they walked slowly back towards the house, Kathryn slowed down and pulled at his hand. She looked up into his face and then stopped. "I've come to a decision, Chakotay."

He smiled down at her then grew serious, the look on her face telling him this was important to her. "What's that?"

She smiled sadly. "So much has happened. Not just…" She sighed. "I mean inside me…" She made a fist and pressed it to her chest. "Turmoil would be a good word to use." She turned and looked towards the last of the sun then let her eyes scan the water.

She sighed quietly. "I've come to love the ocean so much..." She turned her head to look back at him. "Maybe that song of the sea speaks to me…"

She smiled and turned back to the water. "I look out over it and it calms me. I've been in space for so long…the vastness of it…endless stars. I thought being back on Earth after so long out there would make me feel claustrophobic." She laughed slightly. "Starfleet certainly made me feel that way…"

She looked around her. "Out here it's different though…the vastness of that ocean…" She waved her free hand towards the water. "It's like space in a way. It's open…stretching out before me as far as the eye can see. It doesn't make me feel restricted, but I know it's restricted and suddenly…to my great surprise…I welcome those limits. I have breathing space but there's still a boundary…a security…"

She looked back at him and smiled almost shyly. "Am I making any sense here?"

Chakotay returned her smile. "Best of both worlds…"

She smiled at that. "Yes…with a deep feeling of peace also…something I haven't had for a long time." She was quiet for several minutes, time Chakotay gave her as she watched the water. Suddenly she turned back to him, her face serious. "Chakotay, I'm not going back to Starfleet."

Chakotay frowned and looked confused. "Not going back? But you…"

She smiled sadly. "I know. I resigned. But for a while I considered going back. I know now though that I don't want to go back…ever. I only want to go forward now." She threw her head back and put on a mock serious face, lowering her voice. "I've retired from my former life…"

Chakotay laughed. "That's not a bad imitation of Owen Paris…" Kathryn laughed with him but it wasn't entirely convincing.

Chakotay shook his head. "What will you do?"

Kathryn shrugged. "I need to do something. I need to work…feel useful. I don't know what I'll do yet. I still love science. I could do research…some kind of consultancy work. I could even teach." She sighed softly. "Carla told me she felt this way when she got back…" She told him some of what his old friend had told her. "I'll find something I want to do…but on my terms. Something I'll be happy doing. No pressure. No stress. Not being responsible for 150 lives." She was quiet for a moment remembering the lives she'd lost and paying tribute to them.

"I spent so long out there exploring…and yet my life here…me…inside me…is un-chartered territory." She turned back to Chakotay. "What about you?"

He smiled as he looked out towards the darkening sky. "Anthropology and Archaeology… I love it. It's what I've always wanted to do…but here on Earth." He smiled at the woman at his side. "I've also had enough of space. We sought and solved so many mysteries out there…made so many discoveries…and yet there are still so many questions about our own past right here…so many gaps. I want to fill those gaps…discover my own people's history…study it and learn more about what my father tried so hard to teach me."

Kathryn smiled contentedly at that. "Looks like we both have voyages of discovery to make." She studied his face. "Solitary journeys can be lonely though…"

Chakotay smiled down at her. "Are you asking me to be your XO again?"

Kathryn smiled and shook her head. "No. This ship only has room for those of equal rank…"

Chakotay raised an eyebrow at that. "Promotion?" He pretended to think about that. "Mmmm…I accept…" He reached down and took her hands in his, his face serious now. "Kathryn, you've done amazingly well. You've made a wonderful recovery. I'm very proud of you."

Kathryn tried to laugh away his compliment but he could see she was flattered. "I'm kind of proud of it myself… It feels good."

He squeezed her hands. "You've a lot to be proud of…" He looked up at the sky, the stars coming out now. "Come on. It's getting dark and it's getting cool too. I'll make you a nice hot chocolate."

Kathryn's eyes lit up at that. "That's music to my ears. Lead on." She turned and almost lost her balance as her foot sank into the sand.

Chakotay grabbed her. "Come on, lady. Let me get you home. Lean on me."

Kathryn stopped and looked into his eyes, her expression soft. "You've said that to me before. The first day here…"

Chakotay smiled as he remembered and slipped his arm around her waist. "Yes…and I've never regretted it. I meant it then and I mean it now. I'll always mean it."

That night Chakotay couldn't sleep so he got up and made himself some tea. He took his cup over to the couch and sat down, turning on the small reading lamp there, intending to read.

He activated the padd he held and looked at the words for several minutes but they refused to register in his mind. Finally, he put the padd down and turned off the light, content to just stare out at the ocean in the moonlight.

He sensed her rather than heard her. He turned his head and saw her standing there in her robe, looking down at him. He hadn't heard her bedroom door open. He smiled at her and lifted his cup. "I tried to be quiet making this. I'm sorry if I woke you."

Kathryn smiled softly and shook her head. "I was awake already. I was just going to get myself one…"

Chakotay shook up, intending to make her a cup also. She gestured for him to sit. "It's OK. I'll get it." She turned and went into the small kitchen area, returning a few minutes later with her own cup of tea. She raised it towards him. "Tea. I promise."

Chakotay smiled at her and went to turn on the light. Kathryn sat down beside him. "Please, leave it off."

He nodded and withdrew his hand. "All right."

Kathryn sipped at her tea and lay back against the couch. "Our sea isn't working tonight…isn't sending me to sleep." She turned her head to look at him.

Chakotay sat back also. "At least you're not compounding the problem with coffee. Tea will relax you."

Kathryn moved her eyes from his face to the window, looking out at the view. "There's something very special about the beach in the moonlight. You feel you're part of something no one else is seeing." She dropped her head. "I think there was a time I felt I'd never enjoy anything again." She turned again to look at him and he could see her tears in the moonlight. "I think of it now as having been away somewhere terrible for a time but then you brought me back from there. Does that make sense?"

Chakotay reached for her hand and squeezed gently. "It makes a lot of sense. You came back yourself though, Kathryn. I may have helped a little but you did most of the work."

Kathryn shook her head as she looked down at his hand on hers. She turned hers in his and squeezed back. "I couldn't have done it without you. I had no reason to do it and that's the difference. You were my reason."

Chakotay smiled softly at her. "I'm honoured then…"

They were silent for a while as they both finished their tea. Chakotay leaned forward and put his empty cup on the coffee table. Kathryn handed him her own cup to place beside it then they both lay back to watch the ocean, each totally comfortable with the other.

Chakotay finally broke the silence, his voice low. "Are you all right? You said you couldn't sleep…"

Kathryn sighed softly. "I'm fine. I was just lying there thinking. I heard you get up." She sat forward suddenly and looked at him. "Did I disturb you? Did you want to be on your own?"

Chakotay shook his head and smiled his reassurance. "Of course not. I just couldn't sleep either." He sat forward. "Kathryn, it's your home. I was worried I'd have disturbed you or you would have woken up."

Kathryn accepted that and lay back again. "You didn't. I promise."

Chakotay nodded slowly and lay back beside her. "What were you thinking about? If that's not too personal…"

Kathryn shook her head and sat up again, looking down at him. She seemed shy suddenly. "I was thinking…" She licked at her lips. "I was thinking that…I've looked back for long enough." She shrugged slightly. "I think it's time I looked ahead now. I feel ready to go forward, although…"

Chakotay frowned and reached up to place a hand on her shoulder. "Although…?"

Kathryn smiled shyly. "It would be nice…not to…have to do that…alone…"

Chakotay sat up, his face close to hers. "You're not alone, Kathryn." His words echoed back through the years and they both smiled, sharing the memory.

Kathryn reached up and placed her hand over his on her shoulder. "If you still want me…" She bit at her lower lip. "I don't know… Perhaps we could try…" She looked down into her lap, unsure of herself now.

Chakotay sat all the way up and pulled his hand from her shoulder but continued to hold onto hers. "Kathryn, only if you're sure. I don't want you to feel under any obligation to me. First and foremost, we're friends and I'll always love you. However, I don't want you to feel pressure to return that unless you're completely…"

Kathryn took his hand in both of hers, her words interrupting his. "Chakotay, do you remember when I told you about…about him…and what he said…?"

He was taken aback by that but nodded slowly. He gripped her hand more tightly. "I remember."

Kathryn licked at her lips again and drew in a deep breath. She looked right into his eyes. "I told you that he accused me of thinking of someone else…" Chakotay barely nodded. "Well…he was right. I was…"

Chakotay's voice was a whisper. "Who were you thinking of?"

She smiled shyly at him. "Do you really have to ask that?"

Chakotay found himself holding his breath. "Me…?"

Kathryn nodded. "It was what got me through…got me through all of that time even though it felt so wrong to bring your memory into that situation. I mourned your loss but inside me…in a special place…I still had my dreams. They sustained me." She looked up at him, seeking his understanding. She smiled when she saw she had it.

Chakotay looked down to where she held his hand. "She accused me of the same thing. I told you that. She said she knew how I felt about you. She told me she was leaving because she knew I still loved you. Of course, I know now it was because you weren't there to see us together. That's what she wanted…to see you hurt." He looked out over the room. "I feel so guilty about that. Not because of her…but did I push her to do what she did? Had I hidden my feelings better…maybe she wouldn't have gone after you…"

Kathryn squeezed his hands to get him to look back at her. "Don't go there, Chakotay. She would have done what she did no matter what. The damage was already done and her feelings against me were already there. That was just an excuse for her."

Chakotay didn't look convinced. "But what if I pushed her over the edge…?"

Kathryn shook her head. "You couldn't help how you felt. I guess she couldn't either. You've nothing to feel guilty about and I can't allow myself to feel that way either. All that's in the past now. We have to leave it there and let it go. Dwelling on it and trying to make sense of it all just keeps us tied to that past. We let it go. OK?" She squeezed his hand more tightly to make her point.

He smiled softly at her. "OK. It's the past. It's gone. Only now and the future matters…"

Kathryn smiled and nodded at that, then licked at her lips. "Now…please…before I lose my courage to ask…" She still smiled but her eyes showed some fear. "Would you…kiss me…?"

In answer, Chakotay pulled his hands free and placed them each side of her face. He looked deeply into her eyes. "Are you sure? Are you ready?"

Kathryn's face fell a little and she looked down. "If you'd rather not…" She looked up when he increased the pressure of his hold slightly.

"Kathryn, I want nothing more. I just want you to be sure this is what you want…to take this step. There's no hurry and there's no obligation and…"

In answer to that, Kathryn reached up and pressed her hand to his lips, silencing him. "I love you. I always have. Please…"

That was all the reassurance Chakotay needed. He nodded as he studied her, her hand falling away now. He moved towards her slowly, savouring every second. He moved his hands back to slide his fingers through her hair and yet pull her towards him at the same time. "I love you too, Kathryn. From the first moment I saw you…"

He said no more as his lips brushed hers, caressing them softly for a moment. He saw her eyes close and closed his own as he felt her hands rest against his chest before her fingers gripped his robe.

The kiss was all Chakotay had ever dreamed of. As he pressed against her lips, he felt her open her mouth beneath his, tentatively inviting him in where he wanted to be. He felt Kathryn's arms slip around his waist, applying gentle pressure to pull him towards her. With one hand still holding her head Chakotay's other hand slipped down her back, stroking up and down as he pressed his lips to hers more firmly now, bringing his tongue into play.

He heard Kathryn moan deeply in her throat, the sound telling him so much. He deepened the kiss and lost himself in her taste and scent. Her hands opened and closed on his back and she pressed forward, her mouth moving under his, her tongue duelling with his.

Time lost meaning as they discovered each other. Kathryn felt the ache begin in her centre and actually squirmed in an attempt to ease it. It increased when Chakotay's hand explored from her back to the underside of her breast. She pressed herself into his hand, silently giving him permission in his exploration. As his hand covered her breast and his finger stroked over her nipple, Kathryn pressed her legs together and leaned harder into the kiss.

Eventually they had to come up for air. Kathryn was almost panting for breath as she rested her forehead against his. Chakotay tilted her face back and smiled down at her. "Had I known you could kiss like that…"

Kathryn smiled self-consciously. "I was just thinking the same thing about you. It's just as well I didn't know or we'd never have gotten home."

They both seemed unsure of the next move as they continued holding each other, gently stroking and caressing. Kathryn smiled gently at him. "I feel like a teenager."

Chakotay smiled and shook his head. "Take it from me, Kathryn. There's nothing 'teenager' about you. You're all woman."

Kathryn actually blushed and hoped he couldn't see it in the moonlight. "Thank you. I feel like one though. I don't know…" She looked up at him, her eyes searching his.

He grew serious as he watched her. "What do you want, Kathryn?"

His question was so honest and she answered him just as honestly, pushing her shyness aside. "I want you to make love with me." The words were out. She'd finally spoken them aloud and he saw her fear that she'd shocked him or disappointed him.

He tightened his hold on her. "I want nothing more. I just want you to be sure you're ready… I mean emotionally as well as physically. I never want to hurt you or push you into something you're not ready for…"

Kathryn loved him even more in that moment. She smiled lovingly at him. "I'm sure and I'm more than ready…" She blushed again at that. "Emotionally and…physically…"

Chakotay smiled at that and broke the awkward moment. "I thought you were squirming a bit there…" He grew serious when he saw her embarrassment. "Kathryn, I'm so flattered that I can have that effect on you. You've had the same effect on me, you know."

Kathryn glanced down and then caught herself. Chakotay laughed softly. "That's what you do to me. Don't be embarrassed. It's a wonderful thing." He stroked a finger over her lips. "Just tell me what you need, Kathryn. I don't want to hurt you or…"

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "You could never hurt me. I want you and need you as you are…"

She never got to say more. Chakotay leaned forward and claimed her mouth again. This time when they came up for air, Kathryn slid off the couch and pulled at his hand. Her permission was given and he accepted the gift she was offering him as he stood to join her.

He whispered in the still air. "Your room or mine…?"

Kathryn whispered back to him. "What was mine. Ours now." She smiled. "Besides, the bed's bigger." She gasped then as Chakotay swept her up into his arms.

"Our bed then…"

Their joining was everything they'd both dreamed of and fantasized about over the years. Kathryn lay back and allowed his worship of her body, his fingers trailing over her skin. Her eyes mapped his body also, her breath catching in her throat. When he lay beside her and suckled on her breasts, she threw her head back and moaned in ecstasy. Soon his hands explored further, reaching the juncture of her legs. She opened herself to him and squeezed her eyes tightly closed as his fingers found what they were looking for.

She reached for him then, needing to hold on and explore him as he discovered her. Finally, when the dam was ready to burst, Chakotay lay over her, his fingers entwined with hers above her head as he pressed against her. He whispered to her in the darkness. "I'll be as gentle as I can…"

Kathryn shook her head. "I don't need gentle. I need you. Please…"

Despite her words, he pressed slowly into her and watched as she fought to keep her eyes open as he filled her. Kathryn moaned loudly. "Oh God…Chakotay …"

He lowered his mouth to hers as he pressed home, feeling her legs come around his waist. Her mouth devoured his as he began to move slowly but she had other ideas. Her hips moved against his, her urgency clearly read.

Chakotay tortured her with long and short strokes. He moved faster then slower, driving her wild. She tore her hands from his and gripped his back. "Oh God…please…"

He couldn't deny her anymore. He knew now he wasn't hurting her and let go. As he felt her inner muscles begin to contract, he slammed himself into her triggering both their orgasms.


"Kathryn, what are you doing? Just what do you think you're doing?"

Kathryn looked at her husband in pure innocence. "Nothing."

Chakotay rolled his eyes. "Don't lift him. He's too heavy for you."

Kathryn rolled her own eyes in imitation of his. "Chakotay, he's just a baby."

Chakotay reached for his son and took him from his wife's arms. "No, Kathryn, he's a whopping two-year-old…and in case you've forgotten, you're seven months pregnant with his sister."

Kathryn just sighed in exasperation. "Yes, daddy. God, you're so protective. I took early maternity leave so I wouldn't be on my feet all day teaching. We're on vacation and I'm eating all the right things…" A smile quickly covered her face as she picked up their bag. "I take it I can carry the towels?"

Chakotay softened as he looked at her, her stomach swollen with his child. "I just worry. I can't help it." He leaned over and kissed her tenderly.

Two-year-old Jamie squirmed in his father's arms. "ool…ool…"

Chakotay pulled back from Kathryn and tickled the toddler. "All right. Pool it is…"

As Kathryn walked ahead of him towards the hotel's pool, Chakotay suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He frowned and looked around, a remnant of something from his Maquis days telling him he was being watched. He suddenly locked eyes with one of the waiters and felt his blood run cold.

Without taking his eyes off the man, Chakotay put his son down. He moved to block Kathryn's view of him and glanced towards her. "Honey, can you take him? I left something in the room."

Kathryn looked back over her shoulder and reached her hand down to her son. "You always forget something. If that head of yours wasn't screwed on…" She laughed then. "I'm the one who's supposed to forget everything with being pregnant."

Chakotay forced a smile on his face as he glanced at her, making sure she hadn't noticed anything. "I'm just coming out in sympathy with you." He stepped back. "Go and find us some pool chairs. I'll be back in a minute."

Kathryn just rolled her eyes and pulled Jamie along with her. "Come on, honey. Let's find some nice shade for daddy. The sun is getting to him."

Once Kathryn and his son disappeared around the hedging to the pool, Chakotay moved slowly watching the waiter as he too began to move. The man suddenly broke into a run, disappearing around the side of the hotel, Chakotay in hot pursuit. Still being in top physical condition from working on digs, he caught up with the fleeing man in seconds.

This side of the hotel was quiet and Chakotay slammed his quarry against the hotel wall, his forearm immediately pressing down on the other man's windpipe.

Mark Johnston struggled for a moment before realizing the futility of it. He gasped to breathe. "You're…choking…me…"

Chakotay moved his arm just a fraction and grinned down into the terrified face. "Don't tempt me or give me ideas." His words hissed out. "Now what the fuck are you doing here? Why were you watching us?"

Mark managed to draw in some breath. "Wasn't. Work here."

Chakotay looked down at his uniform and eased his arm back a little more. "Why?"

Mark pulled more air into his lungs. "I work…here on Risa…in this resort. I wasn't following you…I swear…just saw you…"

Chakotay took his arm off the other man's throat but still held him against the wall. "You expect me to believe this coincidence?"

Mark tried to regulate his breathing and closed his eyes a moment. "It's the truth. Ask anyone. I've been here…almost two years. Besides…I got your warning…your message…loud and clear…" He glared up at Chakotay. "Those bastards made it clear…ruined me… I came here…as far away as I could…only job I can do now…all I can handle…"

Chakotay just sneered down at him. "My heart bleeds."

Mark moved one hand slowly to his neck and rubbed at it. "I moved here. I thought your spies would have told you…" He took a deep breath. "Do you know what they did to me?"

Chakotay smirked and shrugged. "I heard something about you getting a taste of your own medicine."

Mark looked down. "They took my life…ruined it…ruined my marriage… I couldn't cope with my work anymore… I needed weeks of medical treatment…counselling…"

Chakotay laughed. "You did most of that yourself. You won't get any pity from me."

With a last bit of defiance, Mark looked hard at Chakotay. "Kathryn looks well. I take it you're married and that's your kid…the one on the way too… When is it due?"

Chakotay slammed his arm back against Mark's throat so fast he actually saw the remaining colour drain from his face. He spat his words out. "You go near her…touch her…even look at her or let her see you and I give you my word that I will kill you. That's no idle threat. It wasn't just me, you know. She has a lot of friends who'd be only too happy to pay you another visit, and believe me, it would make the other one pale into insignificance."

The threat was understood and believed. Chakotay saw it in the other man's eyes. Real fear resided there now. It was closer to terror, in fact. Despite that, he felt the need to grasp what last shred of himself he could. "Your thugs, you mean…"

Chakotay pressed down harder. "Not my thugs. Actually, I learned about it after the fact. Needless to say, I didn't cry for you. You weren't worth it. They decided that for themselves. Kathryn and I have a lot of damn good and loyal friends. Well trained too. You'd do well to remember that."

Mark struggled to breathe. "Is…that…a…threat…?"

Chakotay's eyes bore into his. "It's a fucking promise." He pulled back again and looked Mark up and down. "It pleases me to see they succeeded with you. You're pitiful looking. Look at you. You have nothing." He shook his head. "I read up on your divorce, by the way. 'Infidelity… cruelty…unable to father a child'. Tell me…did you also have to drug those other women to get them to be with you?" Chakotay watched Mark's face carefully. "Yeah…we know about that. It doesn't say much about you as a man, does it?"

Mark still struggled to breathe. "You ruined me. I've nothing left…"

Chakotay grinned at that. "It must hurt like hell to look at your own miserable life and then see hers."

Before Mark could draw a breath, Chakotay grabbed him and brought his knee up hard into the other man's groin. He let go and watched his enemy fall to the ground in agony clutching himself. Chakotay knelt down beside him and dug his fingers into Mark's throat. "That's for Kathryn." He pressed down harder, Mark choking for breath. "Leave here now, you fucking son of a bitch. If I see even a passing glimpse of you, and especially if Kathryn does…you'll die by my hands. I give you my word on that."

He stood up and kicked the fallen man in the gut as hard as he could, hearing a pained grunt. "And that's for Seven." He drew in a ragged breath as he stepped back, pleased with his work. "Disappear forever. You have an hour." With that he turned and walked away.

When Chakotay returned to Kathryn and their son she glanced up at him, shielding her eyes from the sun. "What kept you? And your hair's wet. Did you have a shower or something? You're wearing a different shirt…"

Chakotay flopped down beside her and forced a grin on his face. "You won't believe this…"

Kathryn sighed and lay back. "Probably not…but try me…" She looked towards the toddler's pool, satisfied that Jamie was well supervised. "Tell me this fantastic story…"

Chakotay laughed. "I went back to the room for my sunglasses…" He pointed to the pair he wore. "I then fell over one of Jamie's shoes, which he thoughtfully left in the middle of the floor. Banged off the refreshment unit and spilled his orange juice all over my shirt. So, I was stained and sticky and hot again and the only answer was a quick shower."

Kathryn just stared at him in amusement. "Only you could manage all that. And what do you mean 'a quick shower'? I've taken shorter baths…"

Chakotay smirked. "It was lovely and cool and hard to get out…"

Kathryn just waved a hand at him and slipped her own sunglasses on. "Don't tell me anymore. I don't think I want or need to hear it." She smiled at him then and reached for his hand, her other hand caressing her stomach. "Anyway, you're here now. You can get me a nice cool drink and then rub my aching back…"

Chakotay groaned and stood up, making his way to the bar. He heard Kathryn call after him. "Don't spill it now…" Her laughter followed and he grinned back at her. He moved to the bar then, his expression changing from his smile to one of stone. He allowed it for a moment and then forced it away. He smiled at the bartender. "Two club sodas please. Plenty of ice."

Kathryn and Chakotay had a leisurely swim after their drinks, playing with Jamie in the shallow end of the pool. When they dried off, Chakotay suggested they have their dinner before returning to their room instead of going back to change and then coming out again.

Kathryn looked doubtful. "I'm a mess, Chakotay. I'd rather shower off and wash my hair then relax over dinner."

Chakotay offered a compromise. "OK. How about we get Jamie his dinner and we have a snack with him. We can get a sitter at reception and come out on our own later for a proper dinner." He wanted to stay away from the hotel for as long as he could.

Kathryn bought that and agreed. "You win. I am a bit hungry anyway. A snack would be good…"

It was three hours before they returned to the hotel. Chakotay tensed immediately when he saw several security officers and paramedics in the lobby. He pulled Kathryn to the side. "Take Jamie away from the doors for a few minutes until I see what's happening."

Kathryn looked around at the gathering crowd and nodded, pulling the now tired boy with her. He protested but went with his mother.

Chakotay spotted the hotel manager and walked over to him. "What's wrong, Paul?" He'd gotten to know the man fairly well in a matter of days, seeking tourist information from him.

The manager sighed heavily and looked around him. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid we've had an incident. One of our staff…"

Chakotay's senses went on full alert. "What happened?"

The manager glanced around and when satisfied that no one could hear them, he leaned closer to Chakotay. "One of our waiters. He was about two years with us. I don't understand. He was quiet but…" He sighed. "He committed suicide. His roommate found him about an hour ago. He was already dead at that stage. Seems he gained access to the security office and took one of the phasers there. He didn't even leave a note from what I could see…" He spread his hands. "We've never had anything like this happen here before." He looked up at Chakotay. "I offer you my sincere apologies."

Chakotay felt a fist form in his guts but showed only calm on the outside. He patted the manager on the shoulder. "It's not your fault, Paul. None of us can know what's in a person's mind. These things happen and are completely out of your hands."

Paul smiled his thanks then looked around at the sound of the lift opening. Both men watched as a stretcher was wheeled out, a black body bag covered with a grey blanket on it. Chakotay watched as the medics stopped and a security officer gestured for the manager to come over. He looked at Chakotay and smiled his apology. "Excuse me…"

Chakotay nodded. "I understand." Just as the man moved away, he took a step towards him. "Paul, if you don't mind my asking… What was the man's name?"

The manager looked uncertain for a moment and then nodded. "Johnston. Mark Johnston." He frowned. "Why?"

Chakotay merely shrugged. "I just wondered. We've gotten to know the waiters from breakfast. I worried it might have been one of them."

Paul shook his head. "I know the waiters who serve breakfast. It isn't any of them. This man works the tables outside…" He sighed. "Worked… I doubt you knew him." He looked at Chakotay. "I'm sorry…I have to go…"

Chakotay smiled his thanks and waved his hand. "Of course." He watched as the manager walked over to the stretcher. One of the security officers whispered to him and he nodded. The officer then pulled back the blanket and unzipped the bag a little. Chakotay saw Paul look down and then away before he nodded, most likely confirming identity. The officer closed up the bag and pulled the blanket back in place, but not before Chakotay caught a glimpse of the man he had hated beyond words. He was gone now and would never hurt Kathryn or anyone else again.

He turned and walked back out into the sunshine. He didn't feel the guilt he expected, just the lifting of a weight. Maybe someday, years down the line, he'd tell Kathryn about this, but not now. Their life was good. They both had work they loved, a beautiful son, a happy home and marriage and now a daughter on the way. Nothing was going to spoil that happiness.

Once outside, Chakotay kept Kathryn and his son well away from the doors. Kathryn frowned as she whispered to him. "What's happening?"

Deciding that a basic truth sounded better, Chakotay shook his head and whispered back to her. "One of their staff died." He saw her shock. "Suicide. It's best we wait here until they take him out. Keep Jamie occupied."

Kathryn hid her shock and nodded. "Of course…" She knelt down and played with the little boy until she glanced over and saw the body being taken out and loaded into an ambulance.

As the crowd began to disperse, nothing left to occupy their interest, Chakotay led Kathryn and Jamie back into the hotel.

Kathryn looked up at him and whispered to him as they walked across the cool lobby. "Do you know who he was? Was it someone we know…one of our waiters or bartenders?"

Chakotay drew in a deep breath and slipped his arm around her shoulders. He managed a small smile. "No, I don't know who he was. Paul said his name, but it meant nothing to me."