Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
PG13 (one swear word)
Written for 2007 Secret Santa on VAMB.
This is what was requested: "I would like a story (more then one page) about a lowly crew member committing suicide on Voyager. Janeway feels it's her fault and Chakotay tries to make her see differently. The darker the better!!! Please don't give me a cuddly Chakotay. I would rather a more stern version if you can."
And the result was...

Life And Death

by Kat Lady

Chakotay took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the bright sun as he materialized on the planet's surface. What he saw as his vision cleared sent an icy fist of fear clutching at his heart. He spoke without thinking, his voice shaky.

"Stand back from the edge…please, Kathryn…"

She turned her head sharply to look at him. "What?"

"Please, Kathryn…just stand back. It's…" He took a step forward and then stopped, afraid to go any further.

Kathryn frowned as her eyes met his. "You think I was going to…?" The fear she saw on his face gave her the answer to that. She closed her eyes a moment and shook her head. "I don't believe… Thanks very much, Chakotay."

The tightness in his chest eased a little. "I didn't think…"

She glared at him. "Yes, you did."

"Yes…no…" Responses jumbled together in his head, the right or wrong thing to say. In the end he picked honesty from the pile. "I don't know. It's just with what's happened… And I know how you can be when we lose… Sorry." He watched her anxiously and drew in a deep breath. "Can you stand back anyway please? You're making me very nervous."

Kathryn stared hard at him for a minute. Finally, she sighed loudly and nodded, then stood back from the edge. "I can't believe… You insult me. I'd never do that to… God, Chakotay…" She turned her head and stared out over the ravine, forcing herself to calm. "I just had to see where. I still can't believe that he…" She didn't need to finish.

They were both silent for several moments until she spoke again. "Why here?"

Chakotay moved a little closer to her, his eyes following where she looked. "I don't know. Maybe…why NOT here?"

She glanced at him a moment before looking back at the view. "Did he leave…? Did you find anything?"

He knew what she meant and shook his head. "No. There was nothing. Tuvok searched his quarters and checked all his personal logs. They were so 'normal'. There was no change in them and no clue…no 'goodbye'. I spoke with Ensign Edwards who shared with him. He's taking it hard. He saw nothing to indicate that anything like this was on his mind." He rubbed at his face. "Doc's doing an autopsy…"

Kathryn nodded as she continued to stare at the vista before them. He barely heard her whispered words. "I've lost another crewmember, Chakotay…"

He moved a little closer to her. "Kathryn, don't do this."

He saw her shake herself out of it before she moved away from him. "I have to get back. I have a ship to run." Not giving him a chance to say anything else, she slapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Voyager. One to beam up."

Chakotay stood for several minutes, feeling the hot sun beat down on him. He stared at where Kathryn had been. "I thought 'we' had a ship to run…" He shook his head sadly. "You're going to do it again, Kathryn. Well, this time I won't let you." He turned and shouted into the wind. "Why the hell did you have to do this? Look what you're doing to her? Damn you." He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down to where they'd found the body. "I sure hope you're at peace because you've left previous little of it behind you." Tearing his eyes away, he requested return to Voyager.

Chakotay did most of the talking and question asking as they met with the Doctor in his office. Kathryn stood to the side, a mostly silent bystander as the Medic tried to explain his findings.

"Ensign Keith Whitman died as a result of…"

Kathryn spoke for the first time. "We get the picture, Doctor. What was that old joke? It wasn't the fall that killed him but the sudden stop at the end." She ignored the pained yet shocked looks on the faces before her. "Sorry."

The Doctor looked back down at the padd he held. "His injuries were extensive and he would have died instantly. I'm still waiting for the results of toxicology but with the four crewmembers who witnessed… It looks like suicide."

The word hung in the air a moment. Kathryn barely nodded. "Thank you, Doctor." She turned and walked out of the office, leaving Chakotay and the Medic to exchange a look of concern.

"She's taking this hard." The Doctor shook his head and placed the padd on his desk.

Chakotay watched as his captain stopped briefly and stared at the small sectioned off area of sickbay where the body of the young Ensign lay. He saw her pull her shoulders back before moving to the door and disappearing into the corridor beyond. He sighed heavily and turned back to the Medic. "More than usual. What never changes though is how helpless I feel…to either ease her pain or know the right thing to do. I never even know the right thing to say."

The EMH nodded slowly. "I'm not sure there IS a right thing to say in these circumstances, but I'm sure you're a comfort to her."

Chakotay sank down into a chair. "Down on the planet…" He looked over at the Doctor as he took a seat also and told him about finding Kathryn at the ravine where the man had died. "She said 'I have a ship to run'…taking all this on herself. Not saying 'we' tells me she's going to blame herself for his death instead of…"

The Doctor finished for him. "Instead of him." He leaned forward. "Is there really anyone to blame for this?"

Chakotay sat back. "Maybe. I don't know." He closed his eyes a moment. "You know I actually shouted at him down there. I think had he been standing in front of me I'd have thrown him over the edge. How crazy is that?" He stood suddenly and moved to the glass panel looking out over the empty sickbay. "I'm angry. I know that."

The Doctor watched him. "Maybe you're angry at what's happened rather than at him."

Chakotay shook his head and looked back at the man behind the desk. "I'm angry at what this will do to her. I'm angry at being helpless to stop her feeling this way." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I remember how helpless I felt when we were in the Void. Nothing I said or did helped. I felt…"

The Medic sat forward. "But she came out of that."

Voyager's First Officer shook his head. "But it wasn't me who got her out of it. I'm supposed to be able to…"

The Doctor felt a taste of some of that helplessness himself. "You can't always make it all better. I know that better than anyone. Feeling this way though, aren't you just doing the same thing to yourself that she does? And does it matter who or what gets her out of it as long as she 'comes back'?"

Chakotay absorbed that and nodded. "You're right. Point taken." They shared a look of deep understanding before Chakotay moved to the door. "It doesn't stop it hurting though."

Kathryn hid herself away in her quarters for the rest of the day. In an effort to fight the helplessness he felt growing within him, Chakotay decided to try and get some answers to questions he wasn't even sure of.

Despite the lateness of the hour, he headed to sickbay, deciding that he'd start by reading the Doctor's report. The EMH had deactivated himself for the night and the place was in darkness save for the small illumination from several consoles.

Chakotay didn't call for lights as he sought the padd he wanted with the Medic's preliminary report. He located it easily enough and just as he sat down to read it, he heard the hiss of the doors. He looked up, expecting to see someone requiring medical assistance, but instead a lone figure he knew well stood silhouetted against the light from the corridor.

A silence followed as Kathryn stood silently just inside the room. As she moved forward to allow the doors to close behind her, Chakotay used the opportunity to press himself into the shadows. He frowned to himself and inched forward to look out into the main sickbay area. He could barely make out Kathryn as she stood there for several minutes before making her way to the sectioned off area where the body of Ensign Whitman lay in stasis awaiting his funeral service and burial in space. She slowly drew back the curtain and walked to the stasis unit where she simply stood and stared down at the body of the young man.

Chakotay watched her closely, the faint light from the unit allowing him to see her face more clearly now. The tears on her cheeks reflected in the faint glow and he felt her pain along with his own. He jumped when she suddenly slammed her hand down flat on the glass of the unit and heart-rending words were torn from her.

"Why? Why did you do this?" He saw her squeeze her eyes shut. "Oh God…I'm sorry. I should have been there for you. I'm so sorry."

Pain ripped through Chakotay at the agony he was witnessing in the woman he loved. Unable to stay hidden and with a desperate need to try and comfort her, he was just about to reveal his presence when she turned and ran from the sickbay.

He stood for several minutes, unsure of whether to follow her. Trusting his gut instinct, he turned away from the doors, knowing she'd be mortified if she knew he'd witnessed what she'd consider her weakness. Instead he crossed the room and pulled the curtain back into place.

He looked down at the padd in his hand and made his decision. He'd take some time first to seek out the answers he sought. Maybe in that way he'd find something that might help alleviate the pain she was in.

The next day, Kathryn emerged just long enough to oversee the funeral for Keith Whitman. She was the consummate professional, the 'every hair in place' captain. Neelix had prepared a small buffet meal for after the service and she stayed just long enough to nurse a coffee before making her escape back to her quarters where she continued to seclude herself within their walls. Chakotay had decided to leave her for a while but that changed when Tuvok informed him that their captain had requested that she be removed from the duty roster until further notice.

Unsure of what he'd find, he called at her quarters. The computer informed him that the captain wasn't to be disturbed and that all matters were to be forwarded to himself or Tuvok. Refusing to accept that, he used his override code and entered.

He found her immediately as she stood before the viewport staring out at the stars. She didn't look up as the light from the corridor fell across the room.

"Having trouble accepting my orders, Commander?"

He walked right up to her and got straight to the point. "You're not to blame for this, Kathryn. This wasn't your fault nor the fault of anyone else."

She turned her head to look at him, showing no reaction to how close he was standing to her. Her voice dripped sadness. "The blame really IS mine this time. Did you know that he tried to talk to me the other day? I was just too damned tired and busy." She laughed derisively. "So much for my door always being open. It wasn't for him…"

Chakotay felt his anger flare and reached out, gripping her shoulder. "I'm not going to listen to this…nor am I going to stand by and watch you do this again."

She scoffed at that. "Do what?"

"You know what I mean. This downward spiral you get on when we lose someone. You always blame yourself. You feel this unfounded guilt but you internalize it…and because I see it more than anyone, it leaves me feeling totally helpless. It isn't just a quiet grieving process you go through. You let it eat away at you inside and that's not healthy."

She ignored his words and instead let her own anger out. She stepped away from him, breaking contact with his hand on her shoulder. Turning her back on him, she played with a padd on her desk. "Haven't you been listening to me? I wasn't there for him. I let him down. He needed me and I didn't…"

He followed her to stand right behind her. "Oh, cut it out, Kathryn. He might simply have needed to ask you about something in Engineering…"

She shook her head at that, refusing to accept his answer. "Then he'd have spoken to B'Elanna. No, he needed to talk to me and I wasn't there for him. Instead he went down there and jumped. He took his own life because…"

He'd heard enough. He spun her around to face him and gripped her shoulders, his fingers digging into her flesh and bruising her. Raising his voice, he almost shouted at her. "Get off the fucking guilt trip, Kathryn."

Her eyes widened at his words. "How dare you…"

He shook her. "Oh, I bloody dare. As your First Officer. As your friend. As the man who loves you…" His breath caught in his throat at his admission but now was not the time to address it. "Do you really think for one moment that you were the only person he could have talked to? You were his captain but he had many friends. Don't you think he'd have gone to them to talk about what problems he may have had?"

His words made sense but she still denied them. "I was responsible for his life…his health and happiness…his safety. I should have been there for him. I should have known. I should have seen some sign of what he was going through and…"

He watched her sadly. "Oh Kathryn…" He sighed. "I know you well and I've seen you like this before. Every time we lose someone…"

She managed a watery smile that did nothing to hide her deep sadness. "That well, huh?" The smile fell away from her face and she sighed deeply. "Makes you realize just how many we've lost then, doesn't it?"

Chakotay's anger returned without warning. "Goddamn it, Kathryn. That's not the way I meant it and you know it. You take anything and twist it to compound your guilt. You only hear what fits for you." He drew in a deep breath to try and steady himself. "I take it back. You're far worse with losing someone this time. I've never seen you this bad." He stared deeply into her eyes. "Kathryn, I don't say this to cause you pain yet it hurts me to say it. You have to accept that you were his captain, not his mother…or his guardian. He was responsible for his own health and happiness, his own life and ultimately his own death." His voice softened. "You see only your responsibility to our people but your idea of that responsibility goes way beyond what anyone else would see or expect. You refuse to see that you can't defy nature or life or fate. You see yourself as having to have all this control, and by that I mean that you can keep everyone safe. You can't. Yes, you're the captain, but you're also a human being and still just one member of an entire crew. Not everything is under your control. Things just happen in this life that we have no control or influence over, and we have to accept that. Sometimes all we can do is take it as it is. The fact that you don't do that or accept that shows how seriously you take your command and how much you love and care for us all. It shows the compassionate woman you are and what deep feelings you have. But that's why you suffer. You can't stand to see them hurt so somehow you feel that if you take the hurt on yourself it'll stop them feeling it. Well, it doesn't work like that."

She stared back at him for a moment and then gently pulled herself away from him. "Thank you. I need to be alone now."

He watched her sadly, knowing he hadn't helped her, that she hadn't taken anything from his words. "What do you want here, Kathryn?"

He saw a flash of anger in her eyes. "I want to undo all this but that's not going to happen. I'd settle for knowing why." Her shoulders sagged. "That's not going to happen either though, is it?" She shook her head sadly and looked down at her hands. "That's what rises up from all this…more than the shock and grief…the pain of loss." She looked back up at him. "It's the not knowing. Their legacy is one word. Why?"

He looked at her strangely. "That's pretty profound. You've given this a lot of thought."

She suddenly seemed to realize the direction her words had taken and now she pulled back. "Yes…well… Thank you for coming to see me. I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind." She turned away and walked back towards the viewport to stare out at nothing.

He wanted her to talk to him more but some instinct told him to leave it for the moment. He turned and moved to the door. "I'll see you later, Kathryn. You know where I am if you need me." There was no acknowledgement.

Chakotay excused himself from the duty roster also, explaining to Tuvok his reasons for doing so. The Vulcan expressed his agreement and silently gave his blessing on the First Officer's plan of action.

For the rest of the day, Chakotay investigated on his own. He talked to everyone he could think of who had had any connection with Keith Whitman. He reviewed the young man's logs and went through his personal possessions. He met with Ensign Edwards who'd shared quarters with him and then spent a long time talking to B'Elanna and Tom. He made his way to sickbay and spoke with the Doctor, then went back to Tuvok. He sought out practically anyone who'd ever had dealings with the young man who had taken his own life.

With that completed, he beamed down to the planet they were still orbiting and spoke with the relevant authorities, requesting and obtaining their permission to speak with some of their citizens.

At the end of the day, he once more met with the Doctor and got his final report. With all that, he again met with Tuvok and gave the Security Officer his findings. With the Vulcan's continued 'blessing' Chakotay gathered everything together then made his way to Kathryn's quarters.

Once again he had to use his override code to gain entrance to Kathryn's quarters as she refused to answer his hails. As soon as he entered, memories of their time in the Void resurfaced as he found her sitting on her sofa, staring off at nothing, the room once more in darkness.

"Computer…lights 50%"

Kathryn's head shot up. "Computer… belay that order." She glared at him. "Do you plan to make this a habit, Commander?"

He ignored that. "Computer…lights 50%." He saw her about to object again. "Kathryn, don't you dare." He threw a padd at her. "Here." It landed in her lap and then slipped to the floor. Shocked anger showed on her face.

"What the… What's that?"

Chakotay was just as angry but he had it well controlled. "Consider this a medical home visit. That's an antidote to your guilt right there. Digest one padd and call me in the morning." He turned and walked towards the door.

Her voice was quiet and stopped him in his tracks. "Chakotay…"

He turned back and looked at her. She looked so alone sitting there and he felt his anger begin to desert him. "I've just come from the Doctor. Whitman didn't kill himself." He watched her sit up at that, her eyes widening, a vague hint of hope in them. He shook his head. "Well, not in the way we thought anyway."

She was confused now. She reached down and retrieved the padd. "What's this?"

He moved back towards her. "That's the Doc's final report…the autopsy and toxicology. My report too…and Tuvok's. It's the statements of several crewmembers who knew him. There are also statements from some of the inhabitants of the planet. I think you'll find it tells a very different story." He saw the first spark of Kathryn he'd seen in days as she sat forward.

"I don't understand. Several crewmembers saw him jump."

"They saw him jump…but they didn't know the reason." He sat down opposite her. "Kathryn, I think this is the answer to your 'why'." He saw her hang on his every word. "I've been getting to know a side to Ensign Keith Whitman that few were aware of. A side he kept very quiet. He went on this shore leave and found someone who could supply him with a little souvenir of his visit. I've discovered quite a busy trade on this world for the darker side of things. Apparently, Whitman had done this before. Many times. He even told Edwards that he'd 'dabbled' quite a bit all the time he was at the Academy. Somehow he hid it and slipped through."

Kathryn frowned. "I don't understand. What are you saying?"

He sighed. "I'm saying that he bought this world's equivalent of… Take your pick. Narcotics. Doc found the remnants of it in his system when the toxicology results came back. Well, not just remnants. Quite a high concentration, in fact. It worked like LSD…" He looked at her. "You've heard of that?" She barely nodded. "Well, he'd ingested a pretty high dose. Their 'wares' are pretty potent here. Whatever effect it had on him he probably didn't know what he was doing. He most likely thought he could fly or something. Why he'd take something like that or why he'd take the risk, I don't know."

Kathryn somehow felt a strange need to defend the man. "He didn't think it would kill him."

Chakotay wanted none of it. He felt his anger return. "He didn't think at all, Kathryn. That was the problem." He stood now and began to pace. "God, narcotics in different forms have been around forever. The dangers associated with taking them are no secret. He obviously knew that danger and yet still he took the risk." He stopped and looked down at her. "HE took the risk though, Kathryn. Well, this time he lost."

Her frown deepened. "This time?"

Chakotay nodded. "Doc found evidence of long-term abuse but it hadn't ever shown up at his physicals. He thinks he probably somehow stayed off the stuff for a while before the exams so it wouldn't show. He believes though that he was probably addicted. I told you he was using at the Academy." He ran a hand through his hair. "To think of someone affected by or under the influence of drugs working in engineering… A mistake by him that way could have killed us all." He sighed heavily. "Whatever about known drugs on Earth…to take unknown drugs on an alien world out here… He'd have scanned a food item, yet this…" He paced again. "At the end of the day though, the only one to blame is himself. Even if he wasn't addicted, he still took that risk. He made that decision."

Kathryn looked at him sadly as her eyes followed his movements. "We're still left with the 'why'. A lesser 'why' but a 'why' nonetheless."

He sighed heavily. "How do you figure that one?"

She shrugged. "Because to me there was still a problem. If all had been well in his world, he'd have felt no need to…"

He stopped and threw his hands up as he glared at her. "God, you're determined to find fuel for your guilt. Kathryn, people will always 'thrill seek'. It's the nature of them. Whether it's dangerous sports or whatever…they'll take risks. Hell, you do it all the time." That earned him a glare which he ignored. He blew out a long breath. "Oh, and if it's any help to you, I also know why he was coming to see you. He was bored. It was as simple as that. He wanted to change from Engineering to Science. He knew you had old lectures from the Academy and wanted to borrow them…thought you could help him study. He told this to B'Elanna and a few others. He was planning for his future."

Kathryn stared at him in shock. "How do you know all this?"

He looked at her sadly. "I asked. It's amazing what you learn when you know the right questions to put to the right people." He pushed a little further. "It's amazing what you learn when you leave your quarters and stop blaming yourself and wallowing in guilt."

The point hit home and she looked down at the floor. He sighed heavily. "You know you and he had something in common. You're both addicts. Him to drugs and you to guilt."

She just shook her head. "I should have known, Chakotay. I should have seen."

His demeanour softened a little. "How exactly do you figure that one, Kathryn? Do you have psychic abilities? Do you read minds? There are 150 people on this ship…"

She glanced up at him. "149…"

He wouldn't be drawn into that. "Face it. He took a stupid risk for a cheap high…a ten minute rush. Get angry at him. They all know not to touch things on away missions." He shook his head and sighed. "I don't know. Call it the folly of youth if you want to be charitable. Maybe it's just the 'it won't happen to me' kind of thing."

Seeing the pain she was in, he softened more. "Look, Kathryn, there's nothing wrong with grieving for the one who's lost…but you need to put it into perspective. Grief is normal. Guilt isn't. Grieve for that one but then move on and look to your 149 still alive." He shook his head again. "Either way, Doc has registered his cause of death as misadventure…"

Kathryn put the padd down on the coffee table before her. "I was so quick to believe he'd committed suicide."

He nodded slowly. "We all were. It's what it looked like. And in a way… What I said before about him still stands. He was a grown man and he was responsible for himself. In the end, through his own stupidity he DID take his own life. He's the only one responsible for that."

He moved closer to her. "Kathryn, emotionally this crew looks to you. They're affected by this too. However, they need to see you grieve and they've seen that…but now they need to see you go forward and continue the journey home. We've buried our dead and now we need to move on. They don't need to see you don the sackcloth and ashes."

She stared hard at him. "I don't…"

He smiled softly at her denial. "Kathryn, this is me. You know you do. You and your guilt are like an old married couple. As I said, it's like you're addicted to it. Maybe not intentionally perhaps but still… Get angry at him. He was a grown man as I said, and he should have known better and had a lot more sense."

He sat down beside her now. "There are many ways to kill yourself, Kathryn. What's classed as 'suicide' is just one of them. Abusing your body the way Keith Whitman did… That's another way. And then there's the way you do it. Allowing it to happen." He reached for her hand and she allowed it. "You know, I've been thinking about this. I think the feelings of guilt you have are sometimes the only expression you allow of the very private pain you feel. It's the only way to let go of the pressure you must feel. You hide away here because it's the only way you can let 'Kathryn' out of the box. The deeply hurting woman can hide out here so that she can walk out that door and be the captain again."

He studied her face closely for a moment and for some reason she didn't look away, letting him see what was there. He looked deeply into her eyes and for once the way seemed clear for him to see more than usual, as if she was permitting him to do so. He dropped his head to the side. "It's strange but I can't get rid of the nagging feeling that there's something else here with all this. I know how badly you feel when we lose someone and I know that this is different but… Is there more to this, Kathryn?"

She sat quietly for several moments as if deciding whether to take that extra step with him. He didn't push and finally she seemed to reach a decision. Her next words threw him off balance though.

"Did you mean everything you said?"

He frowned. "You mean all this? Of course, I did…"

She shook her head. "No…I mean here the other day. You said 'as the man who loves you'."

Suddenly he felt nervous. "I wasn't sure if you'd heard that."

A faint smile graced her lips but her face was clouded with trepidation. "I did. I just wasn't sure if you still… I mean at one time I felt you did…believed…but… I was sure you'd given up on me a long time ago."

He decided to take the chance. "I still feel the same way. I always will. I love you, Kathryn. It's as much a part of me as breathing."

Her eyes moved over his face before returning to his eyes. "I love you too."

In the end the moment he'd waited so long for was that simple. It was also profound though and suddenly he thought of an ice berg…small and not showing much above the surface…but beneath that it was vast. He raised a hand and reached over to cup her cheek. "Talk to me, please?"

She covered his hand with her own and nodded slightly. She drew in a deep shuddering breath as if suddenly surrendering. "You're right. There is more to this. The past haunting me, I guess."

Chakotay nodded as he turned his hand and clasped hers, taking it into his lap. "Tell me."

She sat back and sighed. "When I thought he'd killed himself…deliberately, I mean…it brought back something but I couldn't let it out. Suddenly to have an answer to the 'why'… I guess it makes it easier to face…well…face again. It's kind of opened the way for me."

He didn't understand but remained silent, allowing her to set her own pace.

"This has happened before, you see. Someone else I knew…"

He squeezed her hand. "I'm sorry."

She nodded at that. "Thank you." She shrugged and looked down at their joined hands and he found he almost had to strain to hear her words. "It was a long time ago. My cousin…mom's sister's son." She drew in a long, deep breath, the words coming easier now. "I was 15 and he was 17. We were close…or at least I thought so. Not like usual family…a boy his age hating to hang out with his younger girl cousin. We talked…shared. I thought I knew everything about him but I guess I didn't."

Chakotay played a finger over the back of her hand. "I don't think we ever know all there is to know about anyone. Did you tell him everything about yourself?"

She shook her head. "I guess not…but I thought I should have seen that…" She sighed heavily. "I remember the family…his parents. They were devastated…their hearts ripped out. As crippling as the grief was though, the agony his loss caused…I think the hurt was worse. And this hurt is different. It's a dull kind of pain that gnaws away at you for the rest of your life…the not knowing why… 'Why didn't I see?' 'Could I have stopped him?' and so on…"

He felt unsure of what or how much to ask. "He didn't leave a message?"

"No…" She shook her head. "You can deal with an accident…illness. You can't do anything about those. They're unavoidable…no-one's fault. With this…" She looked up at him and he saw the deep sadness in her blue eyes. "There's so much… There's deep hurt and pain and then there's disappointment…feelings of betrayal even…and you think how selfish they were and…and that leads to guilt because you feel wrong to blame them…so you take the blame on yourself and believe that you failed them…weren't there for them…should have seen… They leave you with all these questions and no hope ever of any answers if they haven't left a message…" She blinked as if suddenly surprised at all she'd said.

He took another chance with a gentle push. "What was his name?"

She smiled sadly. "David. His name was David. That's why this was so hard because in all these years, I've learned nothing. I've never come to terms with what he did. None of us have. I don't think anyone ever does. What he did…"

Chakotay watched her sadly. "How did he…? David, I mean." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I've no right to ask."

She blew out a long breath. "Overdose. He got hold of several hypos. Painless for him apparently but not for us. What pain there was became ours. We inherited that from him." She rubbed a hand across her face. "Oh, I've run the gamut of emotions over the years. Back and forth. Loving him. Hating him. It's so hard not to know…to never have an answer to the question of why. All we really had was the reality of his loss. For whatever reason, one we'd never know, he couldn't face living another day. He drew this final line in the sand and we couldn't ever step over it. It was all his choice and we had no say in it. I don't think he ever thought of that though…the effect it would have on those he was leaving behind."

He took her hand in both of his. "He probably wasn't in any fit state of mind to think of that."

She nodded slowly. "I know. And to be honest, I don't blame him for that. At first, I hated him for what I saw as his pure selfishness. In the end, I pitied him more than anything. To reach that place where you can only see one way out…for whatever reason…" She sat up a little straighter. "Strangely though, out of all this I feel a sudden acceptance and forgiveness of him. I can't explain that any better but that's how it feels." She shrugged and managed a watery smile. "I just have to accept that I'll never know why. Some questions will never have an answer."

Chakotay smiled softly at her. "When I first started my 'investigation' of all this, I went to sickbay the night he died…after the Doc gave us his preliminary report."

He watched her nod, knowing she was remembering the night. "I was in his office…didn't bother with the lights. There was enough to see by. I found his report…wanted to read it for myself." He squeezed her hand. "You came in but you didn't see me and I heard…." He watched as she grew a little embarrassed. "I stayed hidden as you went to him…spoke to him. Now that I know what you've told me…I guess you weren't just asking him why. You were also talking to your cousin."

Seeing the love and understanding on Chakotay's face, Kathryn let go of her embarrassment. She sighed. "Yes…I suppose I was." She smiled gently. "Thank you for allowing me that time. It was something I needed to do."

He withdrew one of his hands from hers and slipped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him. She went willingly. "Look, Kathryn…we can't change what's happened. Keith Whitman ended his life…unintentionally or not. David is long at peace. That's no reason for you to stop living your life though. Don't waste what they did." He twisted slightly so that he could look directly into her eyes. "Life is a gift. Take it and use it. Savour it and suck every morsel of marrow out of it."

Kathryn was close to tears. "You're right. Strangely, I reached that stage of thinking several months after David. I guess I'd forgotten…"

Chakotay hugged her tightly to him. "Well, remember it…re-learn it now."

She pulled back and smiled lovingly at him. "Does all this include you in my life?"

He leaned over and kissed the side of her face. "Oh…I sure hope so. I want nothing more."

A strange smile came to her face. "Out of death comes life?"

He smiled and nodded. "Something like that." He released her and stood up, then reached his hand down for her to take it. "Come on. Let me buy you a late dinner in the Messhall. I think our crew needs to see their captain. Then we can report to the Bridge and continue our journey towards home."

She took his hand and let him pull her up. "And after that…retire for…desert?"

He grinned at that. "To quote a very wise man I know…that sounds like something worth living for."