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

                     them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Rating:          NC17.

Summary:     With things already strained between her and Chakotay, Kathryn finds

                      herself blackmailed into spending the night with an alien leader in order

                      to save her crew.  Afterwards she must deal with the fallout, physical

                      and emotional, as Chakotay and the crew stand back, unaware that their

                      Captain is fighting a battle she is rapidly losing.



WARNING:   This story contains graphic material of a violent and sexual nature.

                        If you are offended by such, please do not read on.  NC17 means                     

                        NC17.

NOTE:  This story is based around KJ's A Time To Heal.  Check out her wonderful stories at
             
www.geocities.com/janeway2626/





NO SACRIFICE TOO GREAT.

PART FOUR.







When Chakotay arrived on duty the next morning, he found Tuvok working his console with an urgency he had never witnessed before.  The Vulcan looked up quickly and requested a private moment with the Commander.  When the doors to Chakotay’s office closed behind them, he got straight to the point.



“Sir, I have to report that Captain Janeway left the ship sometime during the night.  She masked all sensor readings with codes available only to her.  One of the shuttles is missing and I am unable to pick up any trail although it would be logical to assume that she was headed for the planet next on our route, namely Tarak.”  Chakotay fell into his chair.



“I don’t believe this…Kathryn what are you doing…?”  Chakotay jumped up.



“Tuvok, check everything again and again but I think you’ll find Tarak was her destination.”  He was out the door and headed to Kathryn’s quarters before Tuvok even registered his absence.



Chakotay entered Kathryn’s quarters and looked around him.  Nothing seemed to be missing, most of her personal belongings still on display.  He walked into her bedroom and checked her closet and saw now that some clothes were gone and when he checked the bathroom, saw further evidence of her having left.  His fist slammed against the wall.



“Damn you Kathryn…”  He walked out into the main room again and now saw some padds lying on her desk.  He picked them up and activated them, seeing that the top one was addressed to him, noting that the others were addressed to Tuvok and her family.  He sat and read the words which scrolled across the padd, almost hearing her voice reading them to him.



“My dearest Chakotay, I have no right to call you that but this is probably the only chance I’ll ever get to say it and so I’m taking it.  I’ll never get to say it to your face so forgive me.



I’m sorry for stealing your idea but this ship needs you far more than it does me so believe me, this is the better way.  I couldn’t ever be responsible for you leaving and so it’s far wiser that I go.  I accept why you wanted to leave, how seeing me all the time would be too much.  I disgust myself even when I look in the mirror.  I know I’m forcing you to remain here and I believe you will, believe that you won’t let them down the way I did.  It will be easier for you without me around.  I know you and this crew will be better off without me.  I can’t make decisions anymore and I’ve proved that.  I thought I was doing the right thing, trying to save you all the only way I saw but I guess I expected too much.  I know you can get this crew home where I failed.  They wouldn’t even be in this Quadrant if I hadn’t brought them here.



I’ve arranged for all the command codes to pass to you and I’ve handed over full command.  I hope I’ve thought of everything.  I hope also in time you can forgive me for what I’ve put you through and I don’t just mean this last two weeks.  For too long now I’ve kept you away when all I wanted was to fall into your arms and tell you how very much I love you and I do Chakotay, I love you with everything that I am, although lately that’s not very much.  You could never forgive me for what I did and I accept that.  You said you could never expect my forgiveness but I want you to know that there is none to give.  I understand why you spoke as you did and I know the pain I caused you.  I wish with all my heart it could have been different. 



Please respect my wishes on this and let me go.  I know you’ll eventually discover where I’ve gone and so I will tell you that I arranged terms with the Government there that they will keep my location a secret in return for the help I can give them.  I don’t want to be found and I ask you and this crew to allow that.  You will all see in time that I’m right in this, probably the only right decision I’ve ever made on this ship.  Not seeing your face every day will pain me greatly but that is what I deserve for my betrayal of you and this crew.



Take care of them for me and take care of yourself.  You deserve so much better in this life.  I love you Chakotay.  This is the only chance I have to say this and I’m sorry for all the pain and hurt I’ve caused you.  I hope in time you will forgive me and also forget me and let go of that pain, learn to put it behind you and go on with your life.  Knowing you has made my life and I thank God for that.



I wish you all you could wish for yourself.  Tell the others I love them and I’ll miss them but they have to understand that this is for the best.



Take care Chakotay and know that I love you.  I don’t deserve to say that but I hope you understand.



Kathryn.”



Chakotay sat and cried for a long time.  Finally he got up and made his way back to the bridge.  He called a meeting of the senior staff and informed them of the situation.  He kept Kathryn’s letter to himself but let them know everything else, all that they needed to know.  B’Elanna burst in.



“How did she get away like that?  How…”  Tuvok as usual had the answer.



“If anyone can fool sensors, it is Captain Janeway.  I believe however, she left sometime just after midnight although it is impossible to be completely accurate.”  The Doctor interrupted now.



“Commander, I hate to have to add to your worries but I have to inform you that without the treatments, the antibiotic course the Captain was on, well… the infection will surface again.  She was due a treatment this morning which she has already missed and…  She has to have this treatment.  Without it…”  His voice trailed off, his meaning loud and clear.  Chakotay stood up.



“Then we find her.  It’s obvious where she’s gone so we go after her.”  He saw them all nod in agreement.  Tuvok spoke up.



“Can we convince the authorities on Tarak to reveal her whereabouts?”  Chakotay rubbed his face.



“They’d better tell us.  We’ll just explain what the Doctor has just told us…  How long before we get there…?”  Tuvok already had the answer.



“We will be in orbit by tomorrow evening.  The Captain has at least a twelve hour head start on us.  That particular shuttle can reach warp eight.  She knew what she was doing.”  The Doctor broke in again.



“Commander, it will mean she will have missed two to three treatments.  That’s more than enough for this…”  Chakotay held up his hand.



“We understand that Doctor.  We’ll find her.”   He prayed he would be proved right.



Voyager entered orbit of Tarak late the following evening and Chakotay wasted no time in beaming down and speaking with the necessary authorities.  When he returned to the ship two hours later, he immediately called a meeting.



“They refuse to reveal the location of the Captain.  They returned the shuttle and her comm badge which she had requested they do.  We can’t scan for her either, something in the atmosphere…”  He raked his hands through his hair.  “They said we can speak with another Minister in the morning who has more authority over these matters…”  He sat heavily and saw the faces of the people around him.  They were all as worried as he was.



Next morning Chakotay and Tuvok arrived at the Government Offices only to be told once more that Kathryn had made a deal with them whereby they had promised to keep her location confidential in return for her help in building their society.  The Minister they spoke with explained as best he could.



“Please understand that we gave our word to your Captain.  We are a small society and wish no conflict with you but surely you accept the concept of keeping your word.  We promised her a place within our society in return for her knowledge and she accepted this.  She approached us much as you did Commander.  If this were you we were speaking of, would you really wish us to treat you any differently.”  Chakotay couldn’t argue the point and the Minister knew it.



Over the next three days, Chakotay felt as if he was banging his head off a wall.  The Government of Tarak refused to budge on their agreement with Kathryn and repeatedly turned down all requests for information, despite being appraised of the condition of Kathryn’s health.  Chakotay and the crew were constantly denied access to the surface to even try and locate their missing Captain.  As the situation dragged on, one of the Officials eventually called on Kathryn herself.  He found her in the small apartment she had been given and her appearance shocked him.



“Captain…”  Kathryn held up her hand.



“Please, I asked that you not call me that.  I’m not that anymore…”  The man sadly nodded his head.



“My dear, you don’t look at all well.  Couldn’t our healer do anything for you?”  Kathryn invited him in and shook her head.



“He’s afraid his medicines will only cause more harm with my different body chemistry.  He gave me some herbs but they don’t work…”  The Official helped her sit when he saw how she almost stumbled.



“I believe you would be better contacting your people.  They can help and they care so much.  They are with us constantly, pleading for information as to your whereabouts.  They’re just so worried about you as am I…”  Kathryn shook her head.



“No Quenn, you promised.  We made a deal…”  He sat beside her and took her hand kindly.



“What will it serve if you’re…  Kathryn this could kill you and you know that.  What is it they did to you that’s so bad…”  He saw her tears.



“It’s what I did to them…Please, you promised me…”  He nodded sadly.



“I know we did.  Kathryn I urge you to please think again.  You’re worse today than you were yesterday.  This is getting very serious…”  Kathryn shook her head again.



“I’ll be fine…just need to rest and…please…”  He stood slowly.



“All right my dear.  For the moment, we’ll do this your way but do try and rest.  I’ll call by tomorrow and see you.”  Kathryn nodded and smiled her gratitude.



When Quenn returned to the Government buildings, he saw that Chakotay was waiting once more to see him and his Superior.  He nodded to the worried man before him and entered the room.  His Superior looked up.



“Well, did you speak with her?”  Quenn nodded.



“I don’t like this.  She’s ill and I’m worried.  I gave her my word though that I’d keep her location private.  I might well change my mind though if I see no improvement in her condition.”  The other alien nodded.



“We could badly use the knowledge she has but I agree that she comes first.  Like you Quenn, I have come to admire and respect her in the short time we’ve known her.  Call again tomorrow and see her.  If there’s no improvement…for now I’d better see the Commander and tell him the same as I tell him every day.”  The older man shook his head sadly.



When Quenn called on Kathryn early the next morning, he made his decision quickly.  He didn’t speak of their agreement and kept his conversation short.  He was worried by her condition and noticed that she seemed to have trouble focusing on him.  He saw that her breathing was bad and there was an almost glazed look in her eyes.  He wrapped a blanket around her as she shivered and made her as comfortable as he could then made his way back to the palace.  He quickly reported to Marak, his Superior and they called Chakotay in, knowing that the man was as always waiting outside to plead with them.  Chakotay sat before them, expecting the same words as before.



“Commander, my colleague here has been to see your Captain this morning and what he saw…well as much as we don’t like this, we have reason to go back on our word to her.  He’s greatly worried about her.  She has not appeared well for some time and our healer is unable to help.  She was not good yesterday but this morning appears worse again.  She’s vague and…  I believe the time has come for us to go against her wishes and…  Perhaps you should contact your ship and your healer…”  Chakotay needed no further permission.  He jumped up and called the ship, ordering a team and the Doctor to the surface.  Within ten minutes, they were on their way.



When they arrived at the small apartment, Quenn called out to Kathryn but there was no answer.  They entered the small sitting room where he had left her and saw that Kathryn appeared asleep on the sofa.  Chakotay was at her side in seconds calling to her but she didn’t wake.  He shook her shoulder and she moved slightly, murmuring something he couldn’t make out.  He pressed a hand to her forehead and the heat he felt there shocked him.  He heard her laboured breathing and called quickly to the Doctor and let him take over then watched anxiously as the Medic scanned her.



“She’s running an extremely high fever again and the infection is worse than before.  We have to get her back to the ship immediately.”  The Doctor stood and arranged for the transport needed.  Chakotay managed to thank the two aliens before they left, promising to let them know what was happening. Marak stepped forward.



“Commander, I’m sorry.  We were only doing what she asked…”  Chakotay nodded his understanding just as they disappeared.



An hour later, he sat in the Doctor’s small office and waited for the Medic to come to him.  Eventually he looked up and saw him approach.



“Commander, we’re back to square one with this infection.  I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.  It’s probably worse than before in fact…”  Chakotay looked up sharply.  “I have to tell you this infection has now spread to her lungs and heart, hence her trouble breathing.  I’ve given her as much medication as her system can stand but I just don’t know…  Time will tell now.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  You have to understand that she was at a critical stage of her treatment when she left and this only…  She’s very weak and there’s little fight in her.  All we can do now is hope and pray.”  Chakotay just dropped his head into his hands.



“Thanks Doc.  I know you’re doing everything you can…”  He felt the Doctor pat his shoulder.  He then stood and walked to where Kathryn lay and sat beside her.  When the Doctor checked later, he was still there.



Over the next three days, Kathryn was in and out of consciousness but was never lucid.  Chakotay tried to soothe her during her delirium as she trashed and murmured words he seldom made out.  Sometimes, he had to hold her down on the bed, other times it was just her hands twitching.  Her head rocked back and forth as her mind took her places he could only imagine at.  Throughout it all, Chakotay never left her side, pressing cool clothes to her face and body, desperately trying to bring her temperature down as the infection continued to rage through her.  He followed the Doctor’s instructions in giving her oxygen when her breathing became too laboured and constantly talked to her, hoping she could hear him somewhere.  Gradually, they began to win the battle and her temperature dropped and her breathing eased.  As her condition improved, Kathryn remained unconscious, more settled now and Chakotay continued to sit with her.  He left her side occasionally to check on the status of the ship and to meet with Marak and Quenn.  He thanked the two men and informed them that their Captain would recover and saw the news greeted warmly.



Kathryn finally regained consciousness the following morning and if Chakotay and the Doctor expected her to be happy to be back, they were sadly mistaken.  She was silent and stared at the ceiling, a look of deep sadness on her face.  Chakotay explained how she had gotten to sickbay and related the events of the past days to her but she barely acknowledged his presence.  Chakotay talked endlessly, telling her how much the crew needed her and respected her but she wouldn’t answer him.



“Kathryn, you have to get past this.  Whatever problems are between us have nothing to do with this crew and your position as their Captain.  You promised them…”  Suddenly Kathryn turned to him.



“I promised them a lot.  I promised to behave like a Captain for a start, not some tramp or slut…”  Chakotay grabbing her and shaking her stopped her words.



“Don’t say that, don’t ever say that again…oh God I’m sorry…”  He let her go and stood back, mortified at what he’d just done to her in her weakened state.  Kathryn wasn’t listening. 



“It’s what they all think, what you think.  I let you all down.  Why else were you leaving?  You wanted to get as far away from me as possible…”  Chakotay reached out to grab her again but caught himself.



“Christ Kathryn, you can be so…  I was leaving because I couldn’t face the pain I’d caused you.  I feel so guilty for everything I said, hate myself for it.  Seeing you and knowing the hurt I caused you tears me up inside.  I was leaving because I love you, not because I hate you.  Why can’t you understand that?  You said you loved me in your letter and yet you left…  what happened to ‘my dearest Chakotay’…?”  He couldn’t take any more and stormed out, leaving Kathryn crying alone on the bed.



When he returned later, he apologised and Kathryn just nodded her head.  He tried speaking with her again but saw that nothing he could say would get through to her, that she had convinced herself deeply with what she believed and he felt helpless.  He looked towards the Doctor who had just come over and his eyes pleaded with the hologram whom he knew had heard everything.  Kathryn looked up at them, tears pouring from her eyes.



“Why can’t you let me leave, let me die even?”  The Doctor stepped up and scanned her.



“Because Captain, I’m a Doctor and I’m meant to heal my patients, not let them die.”  He snapped his tricorder closed and strode away.  Her breathing somewhat laboured, Kathryn still managed to speak.



“I’m not Captain…don’t call me that anymore…”  The Doctor turned quickly and appeared angry.  Even Chakotay seemed shocked.



“You are Captain of this ship whether you chose to run from that or not.  Now CAPTAIN, I am here to heal you and that is my function even if you can’t be grateful for that.  I’ve lost too many battles in this sickbay and although I’m just a program to most of you, I do actually feel that loss.  When I manage to bring one of you back, that helps alleviate some of that loss.  Those people didn’t want to die and in their memory, the least you could do is fight to keep what they no longer have.  I thought you of all people would understand that.”  He suddenly realized what he was saying.  “I’m sorry, excuse me.  I apologise for the outburst but what I said still stands.”  He turned and left them staring after him.  After the shock had worn off, Chakotay turned to Kathryn and saw that she had turned her head away from him.



“He’s right you know.  I never expected to hear him speak that way, especially to you but he is right and you know it.”  She turned to him now.



“I’m no good for you all.  I can’t be there for them or you.  Just let me go…you can’t force me to stay…”  She turned away again and he watched her pull herself into a protective ball, her sobs filling the silence of the sickbay.  He stood quietly for several minutes, watching and listening before he turned and walked out, not able to take it any more.



Desperately needing the break from sickbay, Chakotay made his way to the holodeck and Sandrines and sat quietly sipping a drink.  B’Elanna joined him and reached for his hand.



“How is she?”  Chakotay shrugged.



“I don’t know.  The Doc’s sure now that she’ll make a full recovery if she follows his orders.  She just doesn’t seem to care.  I just wish I knew this was fixable.  She’s still convinced I hate her, that the crew feel the same…  she’s depressed one minute and mad the next that we went after her or that the Doctor is healing her…I just can’t get through to her… make her believe…”  B’Elanna stared at him.



“Chakotay, she’ll get through this.  Let her rant and rave if that’s what she wants or wallow in it if that’s the way she needs to be.  At least this way she’s alive to do that.”  Chakotay nodded.



“I know that.  God B’Elanna, I don’t know what to do…I mean…oh I don’t know what I mean…I just can’t get through to her…she’s past caring…given up…”  B’Elanna looked around her at the crewmembers sitting in Sandrines, some of them watching her with their First Officer.  Suddenly B’Elanna stood up, knowing what to do.



“Listen up you lot.  We have a problem and I need you all to help with this.”  Chakotay looked up quickly and made a grab for her.



“B’Elanna what the hell are you…?”  She jumped back from him.



“Shut up Chakotay, we do this my way now.  You can throw me in the brig later.”  She turned to the crew present.  “How many of you are here?”  She did a quick scan of the room.  “Most I see, only those on the late shift missing?”  Several heads nodded.  “Right this is the story and you all have a right to know.”  She side stepped Chakotay when he made another grab for her and jumped up on the bar so they all had to look up at her.



“Listen carefully now.  You all know some of this.  I’m here to give you the rest of the story and you can pass it on to the others.  I’m breaking a big confidence here so I’ll probably be in the brig for the rest of our journey.”  There were a few quiet laughs but no one spoke.  Chakotay stood, his anger showing.



“B’Elanna, don’t do this.  She wouldn’t want this…”  The Klingon showed her temper and Chakotay actually stood back a little.



“I don’t care right now what she wants, this is what she needs.  My way now Chakotay, so shut up and sit down.”  The crew present were amazed to see their First Officer actually shrink under the Engineer’s glare and fall into his chair before she turned back to them.



“You know the Captain spent the night on Calistra with that bastard Garan.  What you don’t know is why.  Well I’ll tell you now.  It was to save our lives.  He blackmailed her, told her we wouldn’t get our supplies or off his world until she gave Chakotay and some of you to fight in their sick games, something called Death Fights or even be used for hunting.  If she didn’t agree and she broke the trade agreement, we’d all go to prison.  The only alternative he gave her was to spend the night with him.”  She heard the gasps and cries all around her and looked over to see Chakotay glaring at her.



“I think you all had a right to know that, regardless of what our First Officer or any of the other senior staff think.”  They all shouted in agreement.



“Right, the other thing you don’t know is that bastard beat and tortured her to feed his sick and perverted fantasies and she nearly died as a result of it.  She kept it to herself, hid the injuries and that’s why she collapsed here that night.  Her injuries were badly infected and she nearly died.  None of us knew this until after but that is no excuse for the treatment she got from us, the coldness or embarrassment or whatever it was.  Where the bloody hell were we when she needed us most?”  She once more saw Chakotay as he sat down again and dropped his head in his hands and saw most of the crew drop their heads too in shame.



“What you all need to know now is that she left this ship, believing she’d let us all down and wasn’t good enough to be our Captain, believed she’d failed us all.  We got her back but the infection had returned worse than ever because she missed her treatments.  She came very close to dying again but she’s now lying in sickbay, recovering I’m happy to say but she still believes the same and it’s up to us to change her mind on that.”  More shouts of agreement filled the holodeck.  B’Elanna thought quickly.



“I want to arrange to get as many of you as possible here within the next hour.  I’ll clear it with Tuvok now.  We can run on a skeleton crew for a while.  I want you all to get a flower or a gift or something and I’m going to get her here and you can all tell her for yourself.  She has to be made realize what she means to us.”  Clapping and shouting followed and B’Elanna suddenly saw heads huddled together in groups as plans were made.  When she looked at Chakotay this time, she saw tears in his eyes.



Voyager’s crew went into action almost as if they were at red alert and most of them saw this as every bit as important.  B’Elanna spoke with Tuvok who readily agreed, much to her surprise and so with ten minutes to spare, almost every crewmember was back in the holodeck, clutching a rose or small gift.  Chakotay sat unmoving at his table, watching amazed at what was unfolding before him.  He frowned slightly when he saw that each of them also held a yellow ribbon and looked to B’Elanna for the answer.



“It was their own idea, something they heard from Tom.  Apparently it’s an old Earth custom when loved ones were away at war or whatever, to tie a yellow ribbon around a tree in the garden until they returned and when they were back safely, it was taken down and given to them.”  B’Elanna saw tears in her Commander’s eyes which he tried to hide and smiled softly at him.  “What’s that?”  She pointed to the small velvet box he held.  He looked down at it and stroked it.



“Just my gift…”  He looked up at her, almost embarrassed and then opened the box to show her.  Inside lay a delicate gold ring, two bands intertwined and twisting around each other.  “It’s a friendship ring…”  He looked up, his eyes seeking approval.  B’Elanna had tears in her eyes now and she reached out and touched the gold band.



“Chakotay, it’s beautiful…it’s…”  She nodded and bit her lip, her eyes saying the rest for her.  She cleared her throat and blinked rapidly.  “I’ll just go get our guest of honour.  I’ve spoken with the Doctor and he’s all for it.”  She smiled at him again and left.



B’Elanna entered sickbay and nodded to the Doctor.  She saw that he too was holding a yellow ribbon in his hand and smiled at him and held up her own then made for Kathryn.



“Come on Kathryn, you have to come with me.”  She strode over to the bed and grabbed her Captain’s arms, pulling her up into a sitting position as the Doctor made his way over holding a robe.  Kathryn had a look of fright on her face.



“What…B’Elanna…what are you doing…please leave me alone…let me be…”  She looked from one to the other and was almost in tears.  She heard the doors open and saw Chakotay enter.  “What is this…please just go…”  B’Elanna shook her head.



“Can’t do that Captain.  Here, take this…”  She handed over the ribbon and took the robe from the Doctor as he placed his ribbon beside B’Elanna’s.  Kathryn stared at the pieces of fabric in her hand and shook her head, not understanding.  “Captain, it’s a yellow ribbon for you…”  Kathryn just sat staring at them all and let B’Elanna put the robe on for her, not even realizing what was happening.  When Chakotay approached and went to pick her up, she came back to herself and fought him but he was having none of it.



“No Kathryn, you are not fighting this.  We’ve had enough and this is the result.  I’m not letting you go.  We’re not letting you go.”  He picked her up with no effort and carried the struggling woman out the door as the Doctor’s voice followed them.



“It was a mutiny Captain, there was nothing I could do…”



Chakotay entered the holodeck still carrying a weakly struggling Kathryn and ignored her tears.  He could see that she was terrified when she turned her head and saw all the crew assembled.  He leaned down and placed her in a chair and held her in place.  B’Elanna watched Kathryn try and fight the hands pressing her down in the chair and came over, speaking so everyone could hear her.



“Captain, I’m sorry for the way we’ve done this, sorry that we needed to do this.”  She looked around her and received nods of approval.  “We all know the full story, know everything that’s happened to you and why…”  Kathryn cried out and her hands flew to her face.  She weakly tried to stand but Chakotay kept her in place, despite the hurt he saw in her eyes.  B’Elanna moved a little closer and pointed to the ribbons Kathryn still held and related for her the history behind them.  When she finished speaking, she saw that her Captain had tears streaming down her face.



“Captain, this crew wants you to know that they love you, need you and respect you.  What you did for us…  we can’t ever repay you.  We acted badly but it was not out of anything other than not knowing how to deal with it.  Most of us I believe, were just embarrassed.  We stood back because we believed that is what you’d prefer and to be honest, we see you do the same and that’s not criticism.  The Doctor joked earlier about a mutiny well, in a way this is one.  We want to end that, the standing back so much.  Oh don’t get me wrong, we need a certain amount of protocol and we need the rules and regulations we live by, but out here we are a team and more importantly, we’re a family.  Captain, family are there for each other.  Even a home has some rules but the people are always there for each other.  You have to let us in more, let us be there for you the way you are for us.  We love you and want you to know that but you have to let us show you that from time to time.  I know you feel the same for us but please don’t think that we would ever think any less of you if you show that now and again.”  B’Elanna looked and saw everyone nodding agreement and saw Kathryn witness it also.



“Captain, you see it as YOUR job to get us home.  I have to tell you you’re wrong in that.  It’s OUR job to get home.  Can you understand that?”  Kathryn was sobbing openly now but barely managed to nod.  B’Elanna looked to the crew and nodded to them.  Slowly one by one, they approached and laid their ribbon and gift or rose on their Captain’s lap, each of them bending down to kiss her cheek or hug her at the same time.  They all spoke some words to her, words of love, encouragement, whatever had come to them but always from the heart.  When the last crewmember had passed, B’Elanna stepped forward again, needing to step over the pile of flowers and gifts which lay scattered around Voyager’s Captain.



“That’s all of us.  The ones who went first relieved the ones who were on duty so every single crewmember on board has spoken his or her piece and given you their gift.  You’ll see the words spoken by each person written on a tag attached to their gift or flower so you can remember them for all time.”  She looked around her.  “Tuvok and Tom had to get back to the bridge and the rest of us also have jobs to do so we’ll leave you in peace for the moment.”  She looked up at Chakotay and smiled as the crew filed out behind her then looked back at Kathryn.  She leaned over and whispered softly to her.



“Don’t you ever forget this Kathryn Janeway.  I’m sorry if I upset you by telling them…”  She smiled at Kathryn’s shocked expression.  “Yeh, it was me, big mouth Torres.  You can throw me in the brig later.”  Her face grew serious again and she grasped her Captain’s hand.  “Kathryn, I’m serious.  Please don’t forget what happened here today.  Heed it well and take it to heart.  If you ever think of leaving us again, I’ll phaser you.”  She smiled softly and leaned down when Kathryn’s arms came up to her.  The two women embraced tightly. 



When the holodeck had cleared, Chakotay watched Kathryn stare around her in amazement.  He moved to kneel beside her and wiped at her tears.



“Do you understand now Kathryn?”  She nodded tearfully, not trusting herself to speak.  “They know it all and it makes no difference to them.  They’d all love nothing better than to go back and kill…well you know.”  He smiled softly.  “Kathryn, they love and respect you just the same.  You have to let them show you that and you have to let us be there for you the same way you are always there for us.  Promise me that Kathryn.  Promise me you’ll always let us be there for you in the future, that you understand now that you’re not alone with all this.”  He saw her digest everything and nod to him.



“I’m sorry Chakotay…I guess I never realized just how much…I was so afraid to get too involved…that if I lost one of them…lost you…I couldn’t take it…”  He nodded and stroked her cheek.



“I understand that but you have to see that you already feel that.  Those feelings are there already and you just denied them.  Don’t waste your life that way.  Enjoy what you have while you have it because some people never have it at all.”  She reached out and touched his face.  Chakotay looked down and placed the red velvet box in her other hand along with the ribbon one of the crew had given him.



“This is my gift to you.”  He smiled as Kathryn gasped when she opened the box.  “It’s a friendship ring.  I wasn’t sure what to give you that would say what I wanted…”  Kathryn just leaned over and kissed his forehead.



“Chakotay I love it, it’s so beautiful.”  He smiled again, knowing he’d made the right choice as he watched her slip it on her finger.



“That’s our friendship over anything else, forever connected and interwoven.  I never want to lose that Kathryn and I so very nearly did because I was so stupid…”  Kathryn laid a finger against his lips.



“No Chakotay, I was the stupid one.  I didn’t see what was under my own nose and I let myself believe that if I held back from you all, it wouldn’t hurt if anything happened.  I didn’t understand that I was causing myself a greater hurt…  I’m sorry…so sorry…”  Chakotay reached a finger up to her lips now.



“Kathryn, enough apologies.  We go forward now.  I know it will take time to get over what happened to you, to banish those memories but with time and good friends, you will do just that.”  She leaned her head against his and nodded, feeling Chakotay stroke the back of her neck.



“Kathryn, did you mean what you said?”  She pulled back and looked at him and he smiled at her.  “Did you mean that…in your letter to me…that you loved me?”  His heart jumped in his chest when she nodded tearfully but she looked down quickly.



“I meant it but I understand that friendship is all that can be between us…it’s more than enough and I understand…”  She felt her head pulled back up.



“Oh Kathryn, why can’t there be more?  Surely what’s just happened has taught you something…”  He saw her tears spill over again.



“It did but…”  She looked down at her feet.  Chakotay dropped his hands.



“I understand and I don’t blame you.  After the things I said to you…”  Kathryn’s eyes flew back to his face.



“Oh Chakotay no, I didn’t mean that…I just didn’t think you’d ever want…not after…”  He grabbed her face with both hands.



“What did I just say?  We go forward.  None of it makes a difference to how the crew feel about you and it most certainly doesn’t make a difference to how I feel about you.  Kathryn, I love you…”  He didn’t finish, just leaned in and pressed his lips to hers.  It took two seconds for the shock to wear off but when it did, Kathryn returned the kiss, falling into his arms, everything sliding from her lap at the same time.



When they broke the kiss, Chakotay stroked her face and studied her.  “Kathryn, I hope and pray this is just the start of something that will carry us for the rest of our lives.  I know we have a lot of stuff to work through, dealing with what I said and…”  He raised a finger to her lips to silence her when she went to object.  “Kathryn, it has to be addressed.  I hurt you very badly and it can’t be just brushed under the carpet so to speak.  I need you to acknowledge how much I hurt you and I need to know you can forgive me for that.  You can’t just tell me it’s all right and there’s nothing to forgive because there is.  When you say that, you’re still just blaming yourself for something that was not your fault.  You need to let go of that and see that you were the victim in all that happened to you and that I was the one at fault for what happened between us.  After that I need to let go of my guilt and learn to forgive myself but we have to acknowledge it all.”  Kathryn nodded slowly.



“Chakotay…I don’t know…all right…yes it did hurt.  I’ll be totally honest with you and tell you it hurt like hell but only because it came from someone I loved.”  This time she stopped him from speaking.  “I did blame myself and think terrible things about myself and I know I’ll learn to let go of that, especially after all this today.  I do however, understand why you said the things you did.  I understand how hurt you were and yes, I know you’d been drinking that night but that in itself tells me how much pain you were in because you’re not a drinker.  Some of it hurt because it was the truth.  I had shut everything and everyone out and I needed to be told that.  What you said in my ready room that day needed to be said.  The rest of it was your hurt and your pain and while it hurt me to hear it come from you, I understand the reason behind it.  Unfortunately we always, all of us, tend to hurt those closest to us the most and we take our problems out on the ones we love best.  It’s one of those things in life.  We try and turn love to hate to cover the pain.  I learned that a long time ago when I actually tried hating my father and Justin for dying and when I think of what I put my mother and sister through...  So Chakotay, I do forgive you and I hope you can forgive me for what I put you through.  What happened with…on the planet…we put that behind us.  What happened between us…  We should just forgive each other and move on.  Can we do that?”  Her answer came in the form of his arms going around her as he pulled her to him tightly.



“God Kathryn, I don’t deserve you…”  She stroked his hair and laughed.



“Some people might say we deserve each other, a certain Klingon for a start.”  Chakotay pulled back and looked at her.



“Can you understand why she did what she did?  You’re not angry at her…?”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.



“I know B’Elanna would never do anything without the best will in the world and yes, I do understand why she did it.  I didn’t actually leave you all much choice the way I was…”  Chakotay just leaned in and kissed her again.  Suddenly they were interrupted by the Doctor hailing them.



“Doctor to holodeck 2.  Commander, would it be asking too much if you were to return my patient now?”  They both laughed and pulled apart.  Chakotay slapped his comm badge.



“All right Doctor, I’m finished with her for the moment.”  He received a playful slap.  “We’ll be there as soon as she’s finished slapping me.”  He got another one for that.  Chakotay stood and pulled Kathryn with him.  Picking her up in his arms, he spun her around.  “Your carriage awaits, My Lady Kathryn.” 



The next day, Kathryn returned to the surface to collect her belongings and to thank Quenn and Marak for all their help and to apologize for all the trouble they had caused them.  As a parting gift, Kathryn presented them with a copy of Voyager’s data base of manuals relating to construction and related areas.  The Doctor passed on some of his knowledge to the Tarak healer who had tried to help his Captain.  Most of what was passed on was invaluable to the society which was still learning but still didn’t contravene the edicts of the Prime Directive.  The two aliens were beyond words as they received the gift and couldn’t thank them enough.  As Voyager left orbit, Kathryn felt a deep satisfaction knowing they had helped shape a future for these people.  They had passed on the building blocks and knew that what would be erected by them would benefit generations to come.



That evening Kathryn and Chakotay sat long into the night just talking and healing.  Kathryn opened up to Chakotay and told him everything and while it caused her great pain to remember and speak of it all, it helped clean out her final wound and she immediately felt it start to heal also.  Chakotay cleansed his own heart and started to let go of his guilt and as they fell asleep in each other’s arms towards morning, a deep peace settled over them.  They had come a long way and there was still some road to travel but they both knew this road lead to another one, one that would carry them to the future, their future together.



THE END.



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