Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
Chakotay has finally had enough and takes matters into his own hands. Written for 2004 Secret Santa on VAMB.

Once Were Warriors...

by Kat Lady

Ordinarily I'd be in awe of my surroundings, but not tonight. Too much is at stake.

All around me, the snow covers everything. It glistens in the moonlight, casting pale blue shadows. I can even see the frost on the air, like tiny, dancing crystals making brief appearances in their short lives. It's stunning really, reminiscent of old Christmas card scenes, although they can never hope to capture the beauty which I'm witnessing at this moment.

And the silence. I always forget the silence that snow can bring. The hush that comes with this blanket of white. It covers so much and makes everything appear clean and new.

I mentally shake myself and stamp my feet to keep the blood flowing in them. It's damn cold out here. I rub my hands together and blow on them but it doesn't help much. Come on…come on...leave, will you?

As if in answer to my plea, I see a hover car start up the drive. I pull back into the shrubs to avoid the lights. I watch from the shadows as the door to the house opens and an elderly woman comes out. She waves to the person in the hover car then stops. She turns and calls something back into the house. A nod of her head, a brief laugh and then she steps outside. The driver, an older man in uniform, comes up the steps to greet her. I smile to myself as they kiss softly before he hands her a corsage. I can almost see her blush from here. Who says romance has to fade with the years?

I wait several minutes after the lights from the hover car have faded before I emerge from my hiding place. I check around me, my ears straining for any sound out of the ordinary. All is silent though. I reach back into the bushes for my bag and make my way towards the house.

My feet make soft sounds in the deep snow and I can see my breath on the air. Almost there now and I'm thankful this house is so isolated. I reach the bottom step and slip my hand into my pocket, fingering the small device there. I smile to myself as I think of the trouble I went to in order to procure it. With luck, I'll only need to use it once.

I climb the steps as quietly as I can, the snow helping to mask the sound of my footsteps. My past comes back to me as I creep around the porch, checking through the windows. It appears deserted but I know the house is occupied.

Satisfied, I make for the back door and go to work on the lock then let myself in. The heat hits me at once and I welcome it. I'd prefer to work in darkness but turning off lights would only draw attention to my presence.

I move through the kitchen and listen for any sound. A faint noise from upstairs confirms to me where she is. My ears and cheeks are burning now, a result of the sudden heat after an hour or more in the cold.

I grip my bag tightly and draw in a deep breath. I test each stair before I put my weight on it but the boards make no sound. They don't build them like they used to.

I'm on the landing now and I listen carefully. Faint sounds come from a room at the end of the hall and I move towards it. The air is filled with feminine scents, talc and perfume, bath oils and God knows what else.

Her door is ajar, a strip of light my only view of the room beyond. I listen again and nod to myself. She's in the bath. I can hear water splashing.

I let myself into the room, careful to leave the door exactly as I found it. I look around me quickly, my eyes taking in the black knee-length, low-cut dress laid out on the bed. I shake my head, not allowing myself to imagine her wearing this. I'll see that vision soon enough.

I curse as I almost trip over her shoes, neatly sitting side by side on the floor beside the bed. I stop and listen again, wait for any change in the sounds from the bathroom but all stays the same. I scan the room for a good hiding place and notice that the far left corner beside the window is in semi-darkness. Behind that curtain will be just perfect.

I fix the shoes, leaving them as they were before I disturbed them. I know this woman. She'd notice the slightest thing out of place.

I move towards my new hiding place but my eye catches a photo in a silver frame on her bedside table. I stand and stare at it for several seconds as I shake my head. So she hadn't forgotten completely.

Louder water sounds now as she gets out of the bath and I hurry to hide. I take several items out of my bag and use my foot to push it out of sight. I squeeze in behind the floor-length curtains and leave just enough of a gap so that I have a clear view of the room without being seen. I can see the reflection of the curtains in the mirror over her dressing table and smile in satisfaction. She won't notice anything. Calming my breathing, all I can do now is wait.

She comes into the bedroom wearing nothing but a towel and my breath catches in my throat at her beauty. She uses a small hand towel to dry her hair which I notice is longer than the last time I saw her. It's as stunning as it always was though.

I force this train of thought to stop. This woman's beauty has always been my downfall where she is concerned. Not this time though. Tonight I'm in charge.

She dries herself quickly as I fight to control my body's responses. I smile softly to myself at what I'm witnessing. The answer to my question of why women take so long to get ready is being answered for me. Lotions and powders that seem to have a strict order, underwear that should need a license, hair drying and styling, the soft light of the room making it gleam. Finally the dress and I bite down on my lip to avoid groaning out loud. It falls just below her knees in a scalloped edge. The neckline leaves little to the imagination while the back doesn't do much more, plunging past her waist, leaving an expanse of creamy skin.

She sits down at her dressing table to begin the last act. Make-up and perfume. I never knew there was so much to it all but the end result is worth it. A final fixing to her hair, a spray of scent and then she stands. She slips the shoes on, then turns to inspect the end result.

She's stunning. I stand in total adoration at the image before me. Oh, I've seen her dressed up before but somehow she wears this better. Maybe it's because she's more relaxed than I've ever seen her. Seven years in the Delta Quadrant weighed heavily on her. Now she's free of all that. Or maybe not. Looking at herself, she hasn't smiled once.

I force myself to concentrate on the task at hand. Time to admire her later although what I'm planning will certainly mess up her hair and probably her carefully applied make-up.

I ready myself now. I grip the items I hold and draw in several deep breaths. I watch as she sits on the side of the bed, checking through her bag. She's concentrating on her task, turned away from the mirror. She'll need to look up and behind her, turn even, before she'll see me but I'll be on her before she can do that. She's fast but I'm faster and I also have the element of surprise.

It's over before she knows what's happening. She heard me or sensed me at the last moment but I'd already reached her by then, pulling the cloth over her head. She struggles fiercely but it's useless. I have her on her stomach, my weight pinning her down and I pull her hands behind her back, quickly tying them with the rope I brought.

She screams and cries out but it sounds more in anger and frustration than in fear. I hope so anyway. I truly don't want to hurt or frighten her.

I get off her and turn her slowly, making sure the cloth still covers her face. I'm wearing a ski-mask but I don't want to take the chance of her recognizing me yet. I straddle her now and lift the cloth past her mouth, tucking it around her head to secure it. I tear off several pieces of tape from the roll I have and quickly press them over her mouth. I know there's no one to hear her screams here but I need her full attention later on. She can talk when I'm ready to hear her.

She still fights me, bucking against me in an effort to get me off her. She's no idea of the effect that has on me, or maybe she's just not thinking. If I wasn't such a gentleman, I'd take her right here and now.

Instead I make myself concentrate. I pick up the blindfold I've brought and get it in place over her eyes before pulling the cloth away. I make sure it's tight. I get off her and turn her once more, tying her ankles this time. I don't need a well aimed kick from those shoes.

She grunts as I pull her up off the bed, still fighting me. She screams against her gag and I can just imagine what she's trying to say. She struggles to stay standing in her shoes and has no choice but to lean against me as I hold her in place. I tear the blanket off the top of the bed and pull it around her. She won't be cold where she's going but better to be safe.

Once I'm satisfied with my work, I take my little friend from my pocket and hold it in my hand. I hoist my captive over my shoulder, an action which brings about another struggle from her even though she must know it's useless.

I smile as I catch sight of us in the mirror. I shake my head, pick up my bag and activate the transporter. B'Elanna went to a lot of trouble to get this set up for me and bless her, she kept her questions to herself although I'm sure she guesses.

We materialize in the small log cabin I bought some weeks ago. I know she felt the transport because she suddenly went very quiet. Now that we're here, she struggles anew.

I lay her on the floor and watch her roll around for a few minutes until she finally gives up. She breathes heavily from the effort.

Finally I lift her and pull the blanket from her body. She doesn't fight me this time. I sit her in the chair I have ready for her and spend the next five minutes tying her in place. When I cut the rope on her hands to reattach them to the arms of the chair, she thought she had a chance and a brief struggle ensued but I easily subdued her.

She sits here now, a resignation having come over her. Her wrists and elbows are bound to the arms of the chair, her ankles to the legs. Her gag is still in place, as is the blindfold.

Leaving her a moment, I stoke the fire and I see her turn her head, ever the Starfleet Officer, trying to work out her location by the sounds she can hear.

Once I'm happy with the temperature in the room, I fetch myself some tea and get ready for what lies ahead. This will be a long night.

Kathryn blinks several times when I remove her blindfold. I've kept the lighting at about fifty percent so I know she can see everything clearly. She studies her surroundings as I stand behind her. She can't see me yet. I watch her turn this way and that, taking it all in.

It's a cosy room, very me. All the furniture is handmade, all natural wood. The fabrics are hand-woven too. I'm a traditional man and that will never change.

She senses me behind her then and tries to turn her head slowly. She knows I'm watching her. I reach out and stroke her hair and she immediately stiffens. There's a semblance of fear in her that I can feel as I walk around into her line of vision. Her eyes go immediately to my face and I see a fleeting fear replaced by confusion and then as she looks down my body, I see recognition.

Now the struggle is back, and as I pull off the ski mask I see not just anger but fury. Oh, she's mad. She's screaming at me, all her words muffled by the tape covering her mouth.

I calmly sit and sip at my tea, waiting for her to settle down. My message gets through to her and she finally quits, going limp in the chair in acceptance. Her eyes still blaze in my direction though. If she was loose, I'd be a dead man.

Finally, when I feel I have her full attention, I put my cup down and lean forward. I speak for the first time.

"Yes, Kathryn…it's me…your former XO…with the emphasis on 'former'. I resigned, remember?" Her eyes stay on my face, still angry, but I see a flicker of something I can't recognize.

I look her over and wave a hand in her direction. "Sorry to have messed up your hair and make-up…and that fine dress…but this was necessary…"

She glares at me, the only thing missing is the sparks. Her chest is heaving, showing more cleavage than she probably knows or intends.

I shake my head. "Kathryn…I know at this moment you want to kill me. I had to do this though because it's the only way I can have your full attention. If I hadn't brought you here, you'd probably never have come. If I hadn't tied you down, you'd be walking out of here…and if I hadn't bound that lovely mouth of yours, you'd be screaming at me. The sad fact is this is the only way I could get you to sit and listen to me."

I lean back in my chair. "Now I know you were on your way out to some grand Starfleet Gala. Well, I'm sorry to have ruined all your fine plans…" I shake my head. "Still…I'm sure you've been to a hundred like it before and probably plan to attend hundreds like it again. What was this one? Oh yes…bring in the New Year…I forgot…"

She turns away from me and stares into the fire. I watch her carefully but I can't see her eyes. "Kathryn…" She ignores me. I speak more loudly. "Kathryn…" Still she refuses to acknowledge me. "Fine. Ignore me all you want. Just know this. We're staying here until I get your full attention and you hear me out."

Finally she looks back at me, a feigned look of disinterest on her face. I have to laugh. "I know. You think they'll miss you and come looking for you. They'll rescue you and throw the Maquis scum in prison. They'll all say how he hadn't changed after all."

She has the grace to look guilty. I just laugh once more. "I've news for you, Kathryn Janeway. They won't miss you." A spark of interest as I try to school the smug look I know I'm showing. I lean forward slightly, wanting to savour the look I know will grace her face in a moment.

"They won't miss you because someone has already made excuses for your absence." I can see she doesn't really believe me. "It's the truth. Your mother and Admiral Hayes, her dashing date, made your excuses for you."

Her eyes widen at that and I throw my head back and laugh. "Oh Kathryn…it's true. In case it hasn't occurred to you, your mother is in on all this." I shrug. "Well, maybe not all of it but she knew of my plans for you tonight. She didn't seem too put out by the fact that I planned to kidnap her daughter and take her away. In fact, she gave me her blessing…not to mention the entry code for the back door."

I can't help it. The shock and disgust on Kathryn's face are more than I can take. Great belly laughs take me over for a moment, but as I calm down I watch her face, her emotions unchanged.

Suddenly I sober. Her shock and disgust lose their humour for me and I sit back. My voice hardens as I feel my anger kick in. "Is this situation so harrowing for you? Is being with me that bad and disgusting?"

She looks away again, studying the flames once more. I shake my head sadly. "My mistake. I somehow hoped you'd see the humour in this…perhaps in some small way, even be happy to see me. I guess I was kidding myself."

She looks back at me slowly, a hint of apology in her eyes. She pulls against the ropes, looking from me to her bound wrists and back again. I know what she's asking. I look away for a moment and shake my head again. Suddenly all my plans desert me.

When I look back at her, her eyes are pleading with me. She continues to pull at her bonds, the skin reddening there now. I move towards her and lean down to loosen the knots, about to relent, until I catch sight of her eyes up close. A faint hint of triumph that she can't quite hide. In a split second she knows her mistake…knows I've seen through her.

I stand quickly and move away from her, towards the kitchen. I need some space from her. I draw in several deep breaths, trying to calm myself. Damn the woman. Why am I even bothering?

It takes me ten minutes at least to calm my thoughts. When I come back into the living room, I expect to see her continue her struggle or perhaps to have even freed herself and left. She catches me by surprise now.

She's just sitting there, staring once more into the fire. Instead of looking towards me when she hears my approach, she looks away. I wonder briefly if she's still angry with me, but as I move around to see her face, I see her blink back tears.

Normally this would be my undoing. Not tonight. I force my newfound emotions down and return to the old familiar ones, the ones which brought about my plans for this evening. I harden my face, and when she finally looks at me there's no mistaking my mood. I expect to see annoyance that her plan has failed but she just looks away, appearing resigned to her fate now.

Maybe she is finally accepting of her situation but I'm not about to be fooled again. I return to my chair and concentrate on why I brought her here in the first place.

Start again. From the beginning. I wait until she looks back at me, my silence confusing her. Somehow she can't hold my eyes and I don't question that. I've played enough games with this woman to last me a lifetime. Now I'll just say my piece and trust the Spirits with the outcome.

When I finally speak, she jumps. "Enough games, Kathryn. I've played them with you for seven years. Just know this. This is my time. I'll speak and you'll listen. At the end of that, I'll release you. You can then make up your own mind."

Amazingly she just nods in my direction. Again though, I just concentrate on my own actions.

"I have a lot to say so be prepared for a long night. I've a lot of anger so be ready for that too. I've seven years of pent up emotions I'm determined to get out and as the object of most of that, you're the one who has to sit there and listen to it all."

Once again she just nods. I barely see the movement. I can't look at her at the moment.

"You know, suddenly I don't know why I'm even bothering. There's one part of me that just wants to send you on your way and forget about all this. I could just transport you back to your home and put tonight behind me. I could move on and make a life for myself." Peripherally I see her watch me. "The one problem with that is I'll always wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck to my plan. And Kathryn, there's nothing sadder in this life than not knowing…the wondering what might have been. At least if I go through with this and you walk away at the end of it, I'll know for sure and can move on and try to forget you."

Suddenly I need to stand. I need to move and not look at her. I pace and yet I can sense her eyes following me. "I had all these fine words planned but they seem to have deserted me. Uppermost now is anger and I'm sorry but I'm afraid you'll bear the brunt of that. Remind me to apologize later." I shake my head. Anger indeed. Just when did bitterness enter the arena? Or maybe it was there all along. I smile to myself. I know the answer to that. Bitterness and I became friends some time ago.

I move to the fireplace and add a few more logs. "This isn't any angry warrior's story, Kathryn. It feels more like a pathetic loser's story…a fool's story…a story of a man who should have known when to let go years ago…" I sigh heavily as I watch the flames lick at the fresh logs.

"One night on Voyager, Tom showed me a holovid of an old movie. It was about a Maori family in New Zealand. Someone told him about it when he was imprisoned there. It was called Once Were Warriors. I remember thinking he'd gotten the name wrong…grammar or something…but it was right."

I lean one arm on the mantle. "It was set in the late 20th century." Without turning I ask a question I know she can't answer with the gag in place. "Do you know about the Maoris, Kathryn? Well, in many ways they were like my own people…until the white man came. After that they were treated like second-class citizens. They were reduced to…" I sign. "You know your history, Kathryn. I don't need to elaborate."

I poke at the fire again, finding the flames hypnotic. "This movie was about the poverty these people lived in…how alcohol filled in for what had been taken from them. Excuses maybe to some, but when a man loses his pride…"

I shake my head. It's becoming a habit tonight. "At the end of the story, the woman returns to her own family…her 'tribe', leaving the man behind. She takes the children. She points out to him what he and they have become and tells him that their people once were warriors. That's where the name comes from."

I glance back at her briefly and see that she's also staring at the fire but I know she's listening. "What I'm trying to say is that my people once were warriors. We had pride. Then the white man came and took all that away, reduced us to a shameful existence. I know that's my history…generations ago…but it happened again when the Cardassians came. We're slowly recovering from that."

I lean both arms on the mantle now and study a small carving there. "What I'm trying to say is that I also was once a warrior. I had a dream. I fought for what I believed in and I had a great pride in that."

I feel my anger returning and I turn to look at her. "And then the white man came again…or should I say the white woman…" My voice is hard and I see the effect it has on her as she visibly cringes.

"I need to tell you about the past seven years from my point of view. I said some things to you but I also kept a lot back. You wouldn't have been receptive to hearing them anyway. You made that very clear."

I return to my chair and sit again. "I'm going to bear my soul to you tonight, Kathryn. I may well regret that later but I believe I'll regret it even more if I don't. I'm also very probably going to hurt you deeply and I regret that too but I believe you need to hear the truth." I draw in a deep breath and look down into my lap. I can't do this if I'm looking at her. I don't want to see her pity or contempt if that's what she'll feel for me. I also don't want to see the hurt I know I'll cause her, although knowing Kathryn she'll cover that with anger and denial.

"Seven years ago…going on for seven and a half years now…" I shake my head. "I remember the first moment I set eyes on you. It's burnt into my memory. Everything in me wanted to hate you. I certainly hated the uniform you wore and what you represented but I saw more than that. I saw beyond it. I saw the woman and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't hate her."

I twist my fingers together, not in nervousness but more to have something to do with my hands. "As we worked together, respect was the first feeling that grew within me for you. Admiration and respect for what you'd achieved…rising through Starfleet ranks…captaining your ship. And despite carrying your father's name, you did it on your own merit. I also greatly admired your fairness. You could well have thrown us all in the brig although I think we both knew that wouldn't have worked. And then the battles we found ourselves involved in… The more we faced out there, the more my admiration and respect for you grew…for the captain you were and the woman you were."

The room is silent save for the crackle of the fire and my voice. I still can't look at her though. "My other feelings for you began to emerge then." I smile slightly to myself. "Oh, I fancied you from the beginning, but at first it was more a case of wanting to throw you across your desk and fuck your brains out…"

I sense her shock at that statement, even without hearing her intake of breath. I didn't want to be so crude with her, but I have to be honest here. "As time passed, that began to subside and I found myself almost wanting to woo you. Sorry for how old-fashioned that sounds but you brought that out in me. The sexual feelings I had for you changed…from wanting to just take you, to wanting to make love to you."

I carefully examine a fingernail. "I began to notice all these little things about you…the way you tilted your head…held your cup…your thumb on top of the handle…the way you rested your face on your hand…your forefinger against your temple…" I smile at the memories. "Every little thing about you became so familiar to me. I knew your scent and I don't just mean your perfume. I sensed you before you came into a room…knew exactly how you'd react to any given situation…" I laugh slightly. "Well…most of the time. There were a few occasions when you surprised me…"

Finally I find the courage to look at her and she holds my eyes. I can't read her at this moment but I'm sure she can read me. I feel my anger return…alongside hurt. She'd need to be blind not to see them. "Those other times though… There were those times when you shocked me to the core. Those times I didn't know you at all, Kathryn."

Now it's her turn not to be able to meet my eyes. "You know what I'm talking about. Ransom…the Borg… Ransom mainly though. I didn't know you at all at that time. I didn't even like you. You became someone else." She stares into the fire as I speak.

I sigh and shake my head. "I'm wandering here. I'm skipping around and letting my emotions cloud my thoughts. I need to stick to the facts." She glances back at me a moment before her eyes return to the fire. I allow that. I know I have her full attention.

"I told you how I felt when I first saw you. I also told you of the respect and admiration I had for you." I smile slightly as the images fill my mind. "The way you handled the Caretaker. I admired you so much for that. You made a very personal sacrifice to save the Ocampa. And I know what that cost you, Kathryn. I know well the guilt you lived with over that decision…the guilt you still live with." I see her head turn towards me and I look away. I need to have my say before I face her fully.

"You also earned my admiration for the way you integrated our two crews. I know I helped you in some ways but you deserve a lot of the credit for that. You had far more crew to convince than I had."

I stand now and pace. I know where I picked up this habit. "There was so much I admired about you. Your intelligence and your dedication. Your self-discipline was…admirable…yet sad. Your determination to get us all home never faltered."

I stop behind a chair and play with the fringe of a blanket that lies over the back of it. "The belief you had in Tom Paris…in all the crew. Maquis and Starfleet…you treated them the same. You always supported them…always." I laugh slightly. "Remember when Tom was accused of murder and had to re-live his 'crime' in his mind…?"

I know she remembers even though she can't verbally confirm the memory. "The respect you had for them all…even Kes and Neelix…and they weren't even part of your crew. The Doctor…you showed him so much respect…treated him as a man. I know what that meant to him and I hope you do too. Dear God…you even forgave Suspiria…" My words end in a cynical laugh.

I move back to my chair now and sit. I'm uneasy but I have to do this. "You dealt with so much out there, Kathryn. All of it showed me the kind of woman you were…not just the kind of captain. Your fairness…with that suicidal Q…and Tuvix." I shake my head. "Tuvix… I know what that cost you too, Kathryn."

I glance over at her but she has her head lowered. I push ahead while I can still do this. "Remember New Earth, Kathryn?" I look away quickly as her head comes up. Not quickly enough though. I haven't missed a glistening of tears in her eyes.

I harden myself. "I had such hope for us there, Kathryn. I actually prayed that they wouldn't come back for us. I dreamed of spending the rest of my life there with you…" I hear her sniff and then swallow loudly. I know this is hurting her but I can't let that stop me. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be…"

I stand again. I hate being like this. Once more I move to the fireplace. "You were forgiving with me too. You accepted my handling of Seska and what I thought was my son. You stuck by me and forgave me when I messed all that up so much." Images and memories flood my mind. "And what you went through for Kes…that ritual in the shrine…how hard it must have been on you…" I shake my head. "Even Neelix…you forgave him for his behaviour in the Nekrit Expanse when he was trying to prove his worth to you."

I let a silence fill the air for some moments as I place another log on the fire. I straighten up and lean against the mantle again. "That alien and his matrix. I know you remember that. I can't ever forget it anyway." I blink back tears of my own now. "I don't think you ever understood what it did to me to cradle your dead body in my arms, Kathryn. I tried to force air into your lifeless body and nothing worked." I swallow the lump in my throat. "I really thought I'd lost you…but you came back to me."

I draw in a deep steadying breath. "I think it brought us closer though. Out of something so terrible, we became closer. At least, I thought so. It was only when I felt that closeness that I realized we'd already had it but had drifted apart. Amazing what it takes to make you see the truth…"

I slam my hand against the mantle. My anger is directed inwards now. "And then I went and screwed it up with Riley Frazer." I can't see her and yet I feel her stiffen at the name. "I know how much that hurt you, Kathryn. I saw it in your eyes for months afterwards. We had a kind of understanding on New Earth and we lost that…and seemed to find it again after that alien. I took it away after that little stunt."

I return to my chair, watching the flames again. "Life out there also conspired against us. The damn Borg…Kes leaving…" I sigh heavily. "That hurt us all but it gutted you, Kathryn. It tore you apart. Between my going against you and Kes…you were never the same again."

Once again I risk a glance at her. Her head is still down and I see some tears drop into her lap. I change direction.

"Remember B'Elanna's Day of Honour?" She nods her head but doesn't look up. "You went back for her and Tom…determined not to lose your crewmembers. You didn't once blame her when she dumped the core."

Deep sadness fills me as I watch her. "And we had a new crewmember. One you believed in when no one else did." I actually see her stiffen at that and I frown. She drops her head further.

"You stood by Seven, Kathryn, when the rest of us wanted to space her…at least drop her somewhere. Even when she found her parents' ship…the Raven… Through all of that, you stood by her."

I look down at my feet now, not wanting to witness her pain. "Then we got our letters from home…and you got your letter from Mark." I smile sadly. "Of course, you put on your captain's mask and hid the pain that caused you. You never wanted us to see how hurt you were. You always had to show your strength. You always stood back…probably too much." I shake my head. "What's that saying about how the strongest piece of corn is the one that bends…?"

I look towards her again and see her head still down. "That changed you even more, Kathryn. And then we had the situation with Seven and Kovin when we believed he'd assaulted her. Once more you stood by Seven. You were fair to the Doctor and stood by him when he realized his mistake and wanted to re-program himself."

I see her hands now, gripping the chair. I need to finish this up. "The Hirogen. You were so strong during all of that. Their attacks on us… And then I saw a glimpse of Kathryn again when you got the Omega Directive. Oh, you were the self-sacrificing captain for a while, wanting to march off to certain death for Starfleet, but in the end you trusted us and let us in. It didn't last though and that was because of me…even though I'd no memory of it."

I look away as her head comes up. I don't want to see her face just yet. "Kellin. Another hurt I caused you."

Once more I need to stand and then pace. "What else? Oh, the Demon Planet. Once more showing your tolerance and empathy…the caring yet strong captain."

I stop and look at her and find her staring back at the fire. "And then came the void." Her head drops immediately. "You were deeply depressed during that time, Kathryn. I wanted to help you so much but you shunned that help. Only when the ship was under threat did you come out from under your stone. That hurt me." No reaction.

"You changed so much after that, Kathryn. You shut me out so much. That hurt a lot." Still no reaction. "But you pushed on…ever the professional. You dealt with Species 8472 when we found their simulation of Earth. There was Seven and that damn vinculum. She went through hell and you stood by her every step of the way. You did the right thing when that creature attached itself to B'Elanna…Dr. Crell Mossett. You saved B'Elanna's life and showed your total respect for the Doctor again by letting him decide Mossett's future."

All I can hear is her breathing and the hiss of the fire. "You withdrew a little more when Tom went against your orders and you had to demote him. I agreed with you, for what it's worth. Thirty days was actually fair."

I sit again and cross my legs. "The hurt was mine with Kashyk though. I know you felt you were doing what you needed to do for the crew and for the telepaths, but that hurt me very much." I sigh heavily. "We never really spoke about that but I tried to understand it. It doesn't matter now I suppose."

I lace my fingers together. "So much happened to us out there, Kathryn. More than most people have to deal with in a lifetime, and you handled it all. The Doctor and the memories we had to suppress…about Ensign Jetal. You were the best of friends to him…gave above and beyond to him. And Harry Kim…when he went against you and fell in love with that Varo girl…Tal. I know that hurt you but you dealt with it."

I let a silence follow and I know by her body language that she knows as well as I do what I'm going to say next.

"I have to say it, Kathryn. You know that." I see her barely nod. "I have to get this out of my system." I say the dreaded word. "Equinox."

She turns away again, staring off into the distance somewhere towards the far corner. "You really lost it badly there, Kathryn. As much as I hate to say it, I didn't know you or like you very much during all of that. You lost even yourself during that time. Whatever hope I had for us seemed lost then. You confined me to quarters, threatened to do the same with Tuvok. Even he didn't know who you were then."

I lick at my lips which seem so dry with all this talking. "I know I said before that you were never the same after I went against you with the Borg and then Kes leaving, but there was still a semblance of Kathryn there. After Ransom, she disappeared completely. And even after it, you never really talked to me about it. It remained between us and still does because you never left it behind. What you became then is still with you." I shake my head. "Oh, you came back on the outside. You were still there for your crew. You were there for B'Elanna when she needed to seek out her mother. When Seven overloaded on data and her suspicions could have turned us against each other, we overcame that. We were friends but something important and vital was missing. You were there for your crew but never for yourself or us."

I see her drop her head again. "All that time with Tom's Fair Haven program…and your friendship with Michael Sullivan. I understood that. I accepted that you needed someone because I knew of your loneliness, but it hurt like hell that it wasn't me. You still cared on the outside though. You cared enough to leave a memorial on that planet where we re-lived their battle. You welcomed the Borg children. I even saw shades of the woman I'd once known when you took Harren, Telfer and Celes under your wing, although I often wondered if that was more about finding something of yourself rather than helping them. I admired so much the way you dealt with Kes's return. I even admired you with Unimatrix Zero although you scared the shit out of me." I want to laugh at that but I can't. That fear is still too real to me.

My train of thought stops me then. "You know what's next. Teero. That was me again. That was one of the final nails in your coffin, Kathryn." I see her shake her head from side to side slowly.

"You can reiterate all you want about it not being my fault but I'll always blame myself for not withstanding his influence. I know Tuvok feels the same way. You're not the only one with guilt, Kathryn. You don't have a monopoly on it."

I stand and add a few more logs to the fire. There's a chill in the room now or maybe it's just me. I walk over to the window and pull back the curtain. It's so dark up here in the mountains that nothing shows in the glass except my own reflection. Within that I see Kathryn behind me as she looks at me. I can't see her tears but I know they're there.

"Jaffen hurt, Kathryn, but I was happy for you." I see her turn away, then drop her head again. "You weren't yourself, Kathryn. None of you were. I'm glad you found a brief happiness though. You hadn't been happy in a long time."

I drop the curtain back in place and turn back to her. Time to get onto the home stretch. "And then the admiral came and we got home." I sit again and face her. "Debriefings and all that. I saw you that last day at Headquarters. However, between that day and this night I haven't seen you face to face once. I call you and you don't return those calls. I know Tom and B'Elanna try to contact you and get the same. You've cut yourself off except when Starfleet clicks their fingers. You jump then all right."

She won't look at me. "You've hurt me, Kathryn. You've hurt your crew. I may deserve some of that hurt but they did nothing." I shake my head sadly. "I don't know you anymore. You've completely ignored me since we got back. I've called you and left a thousand messages and you ignore them all. I thought I meant more to you than that. It's as if I'm dead to you."

Her head jerks up before she turns away quickly. I can't read her the way I used to. My hurt returns full force. "Why do you shut yourself away from everyone? Why do you ignore me? I thought we had something special between us. We were good friends and we promised each other a lot more at one time. You cited protocol and a dozen other reasons out there as to why there couldn't be an 'us' and I went along with that. We always had the understanding though that when we got home…" I sigh heavily. I'm so damn tired. "You made promises to me, Kathryn. And then you just walked away without a backwards glance. You even turned away from our friendship."

Still she won't look at me. "I spoke with your mother and she's concerned too. She was worried enough to agree to talk to me about you. According to her, you've been withdrawn and depressed ever since getting back. She told me you've been on autopilot and won't even talk to her or to your sister. She also told me about the last time you were like this…."

That gets her attention and she finally looks at me…meets my eyes. The pain in them shocks me. Tears spill down her cheeks and it hurts me to see her like this. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I'm sorry to hurt you like this but something has to be done for you. I saw you tonight. You were all dressed up for yet another night out. I've been watching you. Not just tonight but for a few weeks. You go to work, do all that's expected of you and then go home again. The only other time you leave the house is to attend these functions and then you dress in the right clothes and smile at the right people, make polite conversation. You perform exactly as expected. You attend a lot of those damn things too…have quite the social life. You're not happy though, Kathryn. Even I could see that from across the street when I watched you."

I expect to see anger that I'd been watching and following her but only her sadness shows. My words are hurting her and it's plain to see. This is not the woman I brought here tonight. This is not a woman I've ever met before in fact. I don't know how to reach her. I shake my head as I stand stiffly and return to my post at the fireplace. I turn my back to it and study her. I shake my head sadly at the sight before me.

"Kathryn didn't come home, did she?"

My words open a dam with her. Sobs tear through her and she struggles for breath. Afraid she'll suffocate, I rush to her and tear off the tape from her mouth. She gasps for breath as she breaks down. I lean into her and feel her head fall against my shoulder. Her tears soak my shirt.

I hold her until she calms a little and then ease back. I wipe at her tears then cup her cheek. She still sniffles but she won't look at me. I gently place a hand under her chin and raise her head but she looks behind me.

"Kathryn…I didn't want to hurt you so much but I had to say all this to you. After New Earth we made promises to each other. Other times too. You promised me. On that planet you told me you loved me. Do you remember that? I told you I loved you too. We made promises, Kathryn. When we got back to the ship we agreed to hold off but those promises still stood. I know the life we had out there got in the way and things happened but those promises kept me going."

I shake my head sadly. "Oh Kathryn…what happened to us? I know we both made stupid mistakes out there but…" I stroke the back of her hand. "Kathryn, we were stronger than that. We had our promise. What happened to that? We got home and you ran from me. You hid from me. What happened to you?"

She meets my eyes and looks at me with the greatest look of sadness but she covers it quickly and I see her face harden. I hear her voice for the first time in weeks. "You said you'd let me go when you'd finished." Her voice is soft but something in it scares me. It's too controlled.

I nod. "Yes, I did. I keep my promises." I see a flash of something I can't read in her eyes and it starts a fear in me. I move away and get a knife. She sits quietly as I cut the ropes and free her.

I stand back and watch as she rubs at her wrists. "I have a dermal regenerator if you need…" One look at her face and I know I've failed. My anger returns and I throw the knife down on the table. "Is that it then? All right. My last word on this. I've said my piece and you listened."

She glares at me. "I didn't exactly have a damn choice, did I? You kidnapped me and tied me to this chair…gagged me. You took me here against my will." The venom in her words shocks me.

I nod sadly, trying to swallow my anger and pain. "I see. OK. I get the message." I wave my arm towards the door. "I guess that's it, Kathryn." I check the time. "It's almost New Year and you have a choice. You can stay here with me and talk about this or pick Starfleet and go to them…attend their gala. I know that sounds hard and I could compromise and let you go to your party and come back here tomorrow, but that's not the same. I'm tired of compromise…of playing second place to the almighty Starfleet. So you either make a commitment to me here and now…or you leave me forever and go to your ball. I've stood in the wings for seven long years, Kathryn…waiting for you…and I won't do it anymore. I've been understudy to Starfleet for all that time and I've had enough. You talked and set the rules for seven years and tonight was my turn. That's pretty fair…seven years versus a few hours. And I apologize for 'kidnapping' you but this was the only way I could get you to sit down and shut up long enough for me to make you listen…the only way for me to speak uninterrupted."

She stands slowly and moves away from me. Her voice is softer now. "Why do you want to hurt me like this? Do you hate me that much?"

I'm shocked at her words. "I don't hate you, Kathryn. I do hate what I've become. There's a big difference. I let myself become this way. Maybe that's not your fault and I suppose I don't really blame you for it. You couldn't help the way you were. You didn't make me what I am now but you were the cause. What I've become is because of you but I could have just walked away. As far as tonight was concerned, I was just trying to tell you how I feel and this was the only way since you refused to return my messages."

She turns and faces me full on. Her face shows a mix of anger and hurt. "What do you want from me? Is it just that quick fuck you said you wanted?"

Her words are like a punch to the guts. "How can you say that? How can you even think that of me?"

She still rubs her wrists and looks down at them now. She repeats her question. "What do you want from me?"

I know I'm losing her and despite the pain that causes me, it also angers me. "I just wanted to know once and for all if there was any hope for us. I needed to know so I could move on. This undulation of emotion is killing me. It's no way for a man to live and I refuse to live like this any longer."

My anger rises and I move towards her. "You have to make a decision one way or the other. You can be with me or you can walk away but you make your choice right now. I won't let you leave me in limbo. It's cruel. So yes or no. If it's yes, we make a life for ourselves, a life where we come first. If it's no, you walk away and don't look back. I don't want reasons or excuses or to hear you try to justify why you can't. Just walk out that door and keep going with no backward glances. I know you're angry and I understand that anger, but if you leave now, there's no coming back in again because I won't be here for you. Oh, I might be here in a physical sense…I mean I just bought this place…but I won't be here for YOU."

If I thought I was angry, it's nothing compared to the rage which comes from Kathryn now. It's fuelled by deep pain. I can see that very clearly. She advances on me and her eyes fill with tears. "How dare you. You say if I walk out that door, you won't be here for me. Well, you're not here for me. You deny just wanting that quick fuck but that's a lie. What is it? You invested seven years in me and now you want your return?"

I feel the blood drain from my face. "Kathryn…no…"

She doesn't seem to hear me. "Oh, maybe you want a bit more but know this, Chakotay. I won't be just a convenience for you. I won't be the other woman. I won't be your mistress or someone you can just call for that quick fuck when you happen to be in town or can get away. I won't be your whore."

I stare at her in deep shock. "What the hell are you talking about? I love you. I want to be with you. I want to marry you…"

She stabs her finger at me. "Oh, you want to marry me? How kind of you. Am I the more acceptable one? So you marry me and keep her on the side? No thanks. I know I'm getting old but I'm not that fucking desperate. You go to hell…"

She turns away and makes for the door. I feel myself losing the power in my legs and sink into a chair. My mind refuses to cooperate with what my ears are hearing. I'm vaguely aware of the door slamming and it takes me several minutes to connect the sound with the fact that Kathryn is no longer in the room.

The knowledge of what she's wearing and the weather conditions outside finally spurs me into action. I grab the blanket I wrapped around her when I brought her here and tear my coat from the hook on the back of the door as I run after her.

It's snowing again, more heavily now and visibility is almost zero. I can barely make out her footsteps in the snow. She can't have gone far but even a few minutes out here can cause hyperthermia, especially in nothing but a thin evening dress.

I find her shoes in seconds. She's barefoot in these freezing conditions and I run harder now.

And then I see her, a dark shape in the snow. She's fallen and is lying still. I reach her and cry out. From beneath her head, a crimson stain spreads out on the snow. I move her gently and see the rock jutting up through the snow.

"God dammit, Kathryn." Her skin is freezing to my touch and I lift her and wrap the blanket around her. I can worry about her head wound when I get her back to the cabin.

I can barely make out the lights of the house but it only takes minutes to get back there even though it feels like an hour. I kick the door shut behind me, locking out the bitter winter weather. I put her unconscious form down on the couch and push it closer to the fire.

It's a nasty cut and she's lost a fair amount of blood. I know I can't deal with this myself. My medical tricorder also tells me that. I wrap several more blankets around her, making sure to cover her feet which have taken on a bluish tinge. She's still unconscious as I make the emergency call and have us transported to the hospital.

All I can do now is wait. What a way to bring in the New Year. I look up when I hear footsteps and see Kathryn's mother approach me, a worried look on her face. She's still wearing her evening dress. I stand up as she reaches me.

"Chakotay, what the hell happened? I got a call…"

I nod and motion for her to sit down. I like and admire this woman. She's asked me to call her Gretchen but I can't bring myself to do that to her face, only in my mind.

I tell her everything. I owe her that. She says nothing as I speak, just nods her head occasionally. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Janeway. It was never meant to happen like this. I don't know what happened. Kathryn was talking crazy before she ran out."

The woman beside me doesn't criticize or condemn. She places a kind hand on my arm and nods slowly. "I don't blame you, Chakotay. I know my daughter too well. I know what she can be like…and this isn't the first time she's done something like this. I think I told you that." She again tells me the story about Kathryn's early life and how she ran off before into the snow, almost losing her life as a result.

Nothing makes sense to me right now though. Kathryn's words still race around my head. Gretchen squeezes my arm and gets my attention. "Chakotay, here's a doctor…" I look up and see a middle-aged woman approach us. She's smiling but it's a guarded expression. She sits down beside us, holding a padd in her lap.

"She's still unconscious. It was quite a severe injury but she wasn't out there very long so that's good."

Gretchen still holds my arm. "Will she be all right?"

The doctor nods slowly. "I believe so. I'll be happier when she regains consciousness though."

I lean forward at that. "And when do you think that will be?"

I get my explanation for her guarded expression. "That's hard to say. The longer she's unconscious…" She leaves the rest unsaid. "We just wait and see."

Gretchen says it for her. "The longer she's unconscious, the worse her prognosis is. Is that what you're not saying, doctor?"

The woman nods solemnly. "Yes, it is. However, I believe she'll come around sooner rather than later…"

She's offering hope and we both take it. Gretchen Janeway shakes the woman's hand. "Thank you, doctor. I know you're not psychic and I don't expect you to have all the answers. We'll do as you say…wait and see."

The doctor looks relieved that her patient's relatives are so easy to deal with. She smiles softly. "Thank you." She stands then. "Kathryn is being settled in her room. I'll send a nurse to get you as soon as she's ready. You can stay as long as you want."

I stand at the window of Kathryn's room and watch the sun come up. It's that watery, winter sun, pale and almost lifeless. Very little colour to it.

I watch a flock of birds circling the small garden down below me for a few minutes and then turn back into the room. Gretchen is asleep on a cot at the far side of the room. Once it became obvious that we were staying the night, the nurses brought the cot in and Kathryn's mother finally relented an hour ago and agreed to get some sleep.

I can't sleep. The past twenty-four hours have been surreal and I'm still struggling to make sense of what's happened. I berate myself constantly for my own actions but at least I can understand them. Kathryn's actions still confuse the hell out of me. I've racked my brains trying to understand what went so wrong but I'm getting nowhere. I'll just have to wait to get the answers from Kathryn herself.

Two hours later and with her mother still asleep, Kathryn finally stirs. She opens her eyes slowly and appears fairly groggy. She takes several minutes to focus on me and when she does, I see her memories of the previous evening come back to her.

Before I can say anything, she turns her head away from me. Her message is clear. I call a nurse and let her check Kathryn over. She in turn calls the doctor, a different one from the woman of last night. This man doesn't look old enough to me to even be qualified. His manner tells me differently though. He makes a thorough examination of his patient as I turn my back to them and once again stare out the window.

I only turn when I hear Gretchen stir and ask what's going on. I watch the nurse settle Kathryn and listen quietly as the young man tells us that Kathryn will be fine but that he'd like to keep her for another day to be sure. Gretchen thanks him and shakes his hand. I thank him also, finally remembering my manners and he smiles his acknowledgement and understanding.

I stand back now as Gretchen sits beside Kathryn and asks her straight out what the hell she thought she was doing. This is a woman who doesn't mince words and I know now where Kathryn got it from.

Kathryn, for her part, just glares at her mother. "I'm not the one you should be asking." She glares at me and points an accusing finger in my direction. "He came into our home last night and kidnapped me. And then I find out that he had your blessing to do that. You even gave him the code for the back door." She turns back to her mother now. "So, mother…what the hell did you think YOU were doing?"

If she thinks she's putting her mother on the spot, she's sadly mistaken. No one will ever intimidate this grand lady. Gretchen just shrugs. "I gave him my permission to try and do what everyone else has failed to do."

Kathryn's anger is rising. "And just what the hell is that?"

Mrs. Janeway is unmoved by her daughter's anger. "Getting through to you, my dear. I tried and your sister tried. You've been like a dead woman walking around that house. You were always dedicated to Starfleet, just like your father, but he had a life outside of it. You used to have a life beyond it too. Since getting back though, you've become a damn robot. You're despondent and depressed…" She holds up a hand that instantly cuts off any protest Kathryn was about to make. "Don't even try and deny it, Katie. I live with you, remember? I see you day in and day out. You work all day and many evenings, occasionally into the night, anything to fill the hours and stop yourself thinking and feeling. You attend every function you can just to be with nameless people who don't know you…and because the almighty Starfleet demands it. When you are home, you mope around the place. You won't talk to me and you avoid anything to do with your ship and crew. Do you want me to go on?"

Kathryn turns away but the expression on her face tells me that she can't deny her mother's truths. "You don't understand…"

Gretchen laughs at that. "Of course, I don't…and why is that? It's because you won't talk to me or tell me anything. I don't have a damn crystal ball, Katie. I can't read your mind. Of course, some things I just know as your mother but whenever I try to talk to you, you shut me out. You change the subject or leave the room. Anything to avoid what's really going on with you…"

Kathryn turns back to her mother, tears in her eyes now, but her anger is still there. "Why are you trying to hurt me like this?" She looks at me a moment and stabs a finger in my direction. "He spent hours last night saying the most hurtful things to me and now you're doing the same. Did you plan this together?"

Mrs. Janeway's face softens. "Oh Katie…we're not trying to hurt you. It's the truth that's hurting you…not us."

Kathryn just shakes her head and folds her arms across her chest. "I'm just trying my best to get my life back…"

Gretchen reaches over and strokes her daughter's leg through the sheet. "No, my dear. You're trying to deny life. You're not living…you're dying. You're dying before my eyes and I can't bear to see it. For years I thought I'd lost you. Finally I get word that you're alive and then you came back home to me…only it wasn't you who came home. You look and talk like her but the daughter I raised and love is missing. That hurts me so much. A mother's greatest wish for her child is to see her happy. You're not happy, Katie. You're miserable and you're fading away in front of my eyes. I tried everything to bring you back but I failed. When Chakotay came to me and I saw he was as worried about you as I was, I grabbed him with both hands. I prayed that he would succeed where I'd failed. Katie, he loves you…."

Kathryn turns on her mother. "He loves me? He obviously hasn't told you what he wants from me…"

Gretchen looks confused. "I know what he wants. He wants to love you…marry you…"

Kathryn laughs cynically at that. "No, mother…he wants what he couldn't get for seven years. He wants a mistress…a bit on the side. Well, as I told him, I won't be his whore…"

I can't stay silent any longer. I step forward. "Kathryn, you said this to me last night. You talked about another woman. There is no one else…"

She turns on me now. "Don't you dare lie to me. I may be a sad old woman to you and you may think I should be grateful for a last chance, but as I told you, I'm not that desperate. I still have some pride left."

I can't understand any of this. "I don't see you like that. I love you more than anything. I swear to you, there is no one else… Why would you think that?"

She just laughs at that. "And what about your darling Seven? Didn't think I knew about her, did you? Thought you could have us both? Well, you can't…"

I'm just staring at her. I'm beyond shock. "Seven…? What the hell are you talking about?"

She looks towards the window now. "I know all about your little affair with our ex-Borg. I know all the sordid details."

I grip the end of the bed. "And just who told you all this, Kathryn?"

She looks at me, her eyes cold. "Did you think no one would talk? Did you think I wouldn't find out? Well, our admiral friend told me everything."

I nod slowly. So far I'm in control. "And what exactly did she tell you?"

Kathryn shakes her head. "I know it all. Your affair with Seven and how much you claim to love her." Her eyes narrow. "I even know your future, Chakotay. Had we stayed out there, Seven would have been badly injured on an away mission. She'd have made it back to the ship where she'd have died in the arms of her husband. You, Chakotay." She glares at me, challenging me to deny all this.

I can do that and more. Anger surges to the surface in me and I don't know where it's coming from. Full blown rage would be more like it, in fact. I manage some control though and grip the bed hard. My voice is low and menacing. "Let me tell you the truth, Kathryn. Yes, I saw Seven socially, but I saw a lot of people socially on that ship. I shared the occasional evening out with her but nothing that could be construed as a date, from her side or mine. I knew that and she knew that. There was never anything between us. Seven needed help with social situations and I helped her…as did many others. If you'd ever come out of your damn ready room, you'd have seen that."

I'm watching her face closely. There's a semblance of confusion there now. Good. At this moment, I'm too mad to care. "Here's something for you think about. Our admiral friend, as you call her, was from the future, but what makes you think it was OUR future. And another thing for you to think about. When she came back, she contaminated the time line…her time line I might add. Once she appeared in our time line, everything was open to change. Have you thought of that?"

She's unsure of herself now. I'm not used to seeing Kathryn like this. "She said…"

I don't want to hear it. "I don't give a damn what she said, Kathryn. All I know is that you took her word over what you knew of me. I stupidly believed that you loved me…but more importantly, I honestly thought you trusted me."

She tries to speak but I'm in no mood to hear anything from her. "Don't you dare say anything. I'm hurt and angry, Kathryn. You honestly believed that I would come to you when I was seeing someone else? That cuts me to the core. If that's the kind of man you think I am… If you think that little of me after all these years…"

Kathryn's eyes fill with tears now and she sits forward. "Chakotay, I didn't… She said…"

I stand back now, my hands hurting from their tight grip on the bed as I let go. "I don't want to hear it, Kathryn. I'm sorry for what happened last night but I really felt there was something worth fighting for. It seems I was mistaken. If nothing else, I at least thought we had trust. Seems I was wrong there. Well, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I put you through last night. I made a big mistake. I won't bother you again."

I turn when I feel Gretchen's hand on my arm and see her standing beside me. "Chakotay…please…"

I shake my head. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Janeway. You shouldn't hear this. I'm sorry for raising your hopes and letting you down. I really thought…" I move away but she follows me.

"Chakotay, I'm sure Katie…" I move to the door and look back at Kathryn. She's staring at me and seems in shock.

I pull the door open. I need to get out of here. I look sadly at the old woman before me. "Again, I'm sorry. I broke my promise to you. I said I could make your daughter happy and I can't do that now." I look into her eyes and see her pain. I grip her arm. "I'm sorry. I really am." She nods understandingly but her sadness is clear.

I cast a last look at Kathryn. "Goodbye, Kathryn. Happy New Year. I'm sorry for intruding in your life. I won't trouble you again." With that as my parting shot, I leave. I won't be back.

I've been licking my wounds for two days now but the pain only increases. I've worked each day until I've fallen into bed exhausted but peaceful sleep still eludes me. I've nothing left to do, already well prepared for the winter.

On the third day I'm working in the snow chopping wood I don't need, but swinging the axe is good therapy for me. It releases some of my anger. Each swing I take splits the log in one go and the pile beside me grows.

I sense her before I see her and for several minutes I ignore her. Some part of me wondered if she'd come but I didn't hold out any hope. I'm not even sure I want to see her. My hurt is still too fresh.

Finally I slam the axe into the tree stump I'm using for chopping the logs. "What do you want, Kathryn?"

I turn just in time to see her jump. She's been standing there watching me. She meets my eyes and I see how nervous she is. This is another Kathryn I don't know. I move towards her and repeat my question. "What do you want?" My voice is hard.

She looks up at me, tears in her eyes now. She studies me and then slowly shakes her head. "I'm sorry. I…I needed to tell you that…face to face…"

I nod curtly. "Anything else?" I move back to my tree trunk and place another log. I swing again, the sound of the wood splitting the only thing I hear.

I turn back to her. "Kathryn, just say what…" My eyes scan the area before me but she's gone. I throw the axe down. "Shit…"

Following her footsteps is easier this time. It's daylight and hasn't snowed in the last day. Besides, there's only one way in and out of here.

I see her trudging down the long path to this house, her head down, hands deep in her pockets. She doesn't hear me come up behind her. The path is still covered in snow. Not much traffic comes up here.

She jumps when I reach out and grasp her arm. She turns and jumps back. Tears stream down her face. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come."

She backs away from me. She looks so pale and maybe it's the snow reflecting on her skin but I don't think so. I feel my anger abate. "Kathryn, it's freezing out here. Come back to the house."

She just shakes her head and moves back again. "No…I was wrong to come. I shouldn't have come. I hurt you too much. I just needed to say sorry to you face to face. I owed you that at least."

She turns away quickly and makes a run for it. I watch, almost in slow motion, as her foot catches against a tree root hidden by the snow. She goes down heavily, unable to break her fall with her hands in her pockets.

I'm at her side in a second lifting her up. She tries to shrug me off but I don't let go. I pull her into a sitting position and study her face. She's crying hard and there's blood on her lip. She obviously bit through it when she fell.

I pull her up to a standing position. "Come on, Kathryn. Come back to the house and let me look at that cut." She stares at me bewildered before wiping a hand across her mouth. She looks shocked when she sees blood on her hand. "Kathryn, you cut your lip. Now come on. Let me treat it."

She doesn't fight me, just meekly lets me lead her back up the path. With my arm around her, I feel her shiver. "You're freezing, Kathryn. This coat is no protection against the cold. How long have you been out here?"

She doesn't answer me, keeping her head down. I help her up the steps and into the house, remove her coat, then sit her on the sofa close to the fire. Still she doesn't look up.

When I return with some warm water and my med kit, she's just staring at the fire. Déjà vu. I wonder if she's thinking the same thing.

"Kathryn, let me look at that cut." I kneel down on the floor beside her and tilt her head up. She stares past me as I examine the cut. It's not bad. I know cuts to lips, ears and nose tend to bleed more so always seem worse than they really are.

Within five minutes I've healed her lip. She hasn't looked at me once, but her eyes are filled with tears. I put the bowl and med kit aside and sit down beside her. At least she's stopped shivering.

I draw in a deep breath. "Kathryn, talk to me."

It takes a few minutes, which I give her, before she turns to look at me. She blinks and dislodges some tears. She studies my face and then shakes her head.

"What have the last few days been like for you, Chakotay?"

Her question catches me off guard. "Not good."

She nods at that. "They've been some of the worst of my life for me." She looks down at her lap. "I think they call it 'soul searching'."

I nod slowly. "And did you find anything?"

She looks back at me. She looks so small and vulnerable. "Too much. My mother was right. The truth hurts."

I lean back against the arm of the sofa. "What did you learn, Kathryn? Is that why you're here?"

She shakes her head. "I'm not here to ask your forgiveness, Chakotay. I don't deserve that." She stares off at nothing again.

I sit forward and watch her face closely. My voice is softer now when I speak but my deep emotions are still clear to hear. "Kathryn, if I'd been dating Seven or anyone else for that matter, I'd have told you. Aside from anything else, I respect you and I respect our friendship."

She turns slowly and looks at me. She reminds me of a little child. "You're still angry with me." It's more a statement than a question.

I sigh heavily. "Yes, but not quite as much as I was…and maybe not as much at you as I was either." She frowns at that. I shake my head. "I've also had time to think, Kathryn. Much of my anger now is directed at the admiral because she was an intelligent woman who should have known better. What she spoke of to you was one possible future. However, in her defence I suppose she was driven by her emotions." I rub at my face. "But you, Kathryn, you should have known better too. So yes, I'm still angry. I'm also still very hurt…maybe more so. That continues."

She nods her acceptance of that and looks down at her hands in her lap. She's twisting her fingers together and a memory flashes into my mind of my mother when she used to sit knitting beside the fire in the evenings.

Kathryn shakes her head now. "You're right, Chakotay. I should have known better and I'm so sorry for that. I should have known, but at the time…once I heard the words…" She looks up at me, tears still in her eyes. "It hurt. It hurt so much…and my hurt blocked out any possibility of sensible thought. I didn't think. I didn't rationalize. In my mind and in my heart, I'd lost you and that feeling took over."

She sighs heavily. "I've carried all this for so long…felt so alone…was lonely for so long… Those feelings have become entrenched in me. It's like I expect the worst. It's become a way of life for me. I don't know how to be any other way."

Her admission is heartbreaking. "Oh Kathryn…"

She doesn't seem to hear me. "When the admiral told me about you and Seven, it was easier to believe that than to think that I could be happy. It was what I expected."

She sighs sadly. "Those feelings festered during debriefings and when I went home. I tried so hard to be happy for you. I also knew I had to stay away from you. If I'd spoken to you, I knew I'd weaken and probably would have thrown myself at you." She laughs a little at that but there's nothing happy about the sound.

She takes a minute, her head down and I hear her swallow her tears. "I couldn't do that to Seven…to any woman. I couldn't destroy what I believed was your happiness. That had to come first." She shrugs. "So I had to stay away. That's why I ignored your messages…didn't answer you. I tried to just live… pretended to be normal. It was all I knew how to do."

She looks back at me now. "And then you came and brought me here." She looks around the room for a moment and I know she's remembering her night here. She finally looks back at me. "You spoke many truths that night…and they hurt. They hurt a lot…and yet you wanted me…but I still believed that you were with Seven." Her tears spill over. "I couldn't share you……"

I nod slowly, still watching her face carefully. "And now that you know?"

She shakes her head. "It doesn't change anything."

It's not the answer I was hoping and praying for. "Why not?"

She wipes at a tear which falls. "Because I don't deserve you. I'm unworthy of you. I've proved that. You deserve better."

I nod, feeling anger build once more. It's well controlled though. I sit back and study her. "So you just walk away again? Go off alone somewhere and be miserable for the rest of your life? Are you going to run forever, Kathryn?"

She looks at me with the greatest look of sadness on her face. "You'll love again, Chakotay. You're a good man. You'll find someone who's worthy of your love…"

I sit forward quickly, startling her. "I love YOU, Kathryn. Yes, I'm still angry and yes, it still hurts…but that will fade. You can take all that away."

She stares at me in shock. "You'd still want me…?"

I blow out a long breath. "Yes, I'd still want you. I DO still want you."

She shakes her head. "But I lost faith in us…"

I smile and reach for her hand. "Kathryn, you lost faith in yourself…in the belief that you could be happy…that you deserved to be happy. Put that behind you now. Believe in me. Believe in yourself. Believe in us."

Suddenly she bursts into tears, one hand going to her mouth to try and stifle her sobs. I move closer to her and stroke her cheek. "Kathryn, can I hold you?"

A faint nod before she flings herself into my arms. She clings to me as she cries and I feel seven years of pent up emotion come out.

Finally she's exhausted herself and sags against me, only the occasional hiccup coming from her now. I ease her back and stare into her eyes. I cup her cheek and smile. "Better?"

She nods but she's embarrassed and I can see that. I move my hand and stroke a finger over her lip, only a faint reddening there now from the earlier cut. I smile at her again. "Can I kiss you as well?"

Her face lights up and she nods. I hear her breath catching in her throat. She waits for me to make the first move and I do. I lean in and at first just brush my lips against hers. I feel her hands tightening on my shirt.

My good intentions for a gentle first kiss don't last very long. The taste of her overpowers me and her response spurs me on. Before I know it, we're kissing passionately and clinging to each other.

I manage to pull back a little just as Kathryn's mouth travels down my neck. She still clings to me and her passion is firing mine. I take her face between my hands and look deeply into her eyes. "Kathryn…maybe it's too soon…"

She looks crushed and she shakes her head. "I'm sorry…"

I shake my head too. "I just want you to be sure…"

She understands now and the fear of rejection leaves her face. "It's not too soon for me. After seven years, I'd say we've waited long enough…"

Her voice is hoarse after her crying and I find it incredibly sexy. Somehow I just know we won't make it to the bedroom. I crush her to me and then we're kissing again, almost devouring each other.

I feel myself slipping to the floor, Kathryn still clinging to me and I'm grateful for the thick rug in front of the fire. We tear at each other's clothes, naked in seconds, touching and admiring, mapping and learning. My mouth travels over her body, licking and suckling at her breasts as she bucks beneath me.

She moans throatily as I move down her body, parting her thighs to taste her for the first time. Her hands never lose contact with me. Her fingers entwine themselves in my hair and she cries out as my tongue makes contact with her.

Within seconds she comes hard against my mouth, screaming out seven years of pain, anguish and loneliness and I glory in the sound. When I look up at her, she's lying panting, a sheen of sweat glistening on her body in the firelight.

She claws at me, pulling me up her body. She needs me as much as I need her. Despite her desperation and mine I join us slowly, mindful of the time since her last lover and also wanting to savour the moment.

Our urgency abates now as I fill her. Her breath comes in little gasps as her eyes hold mine. I place a hand on each side of her face, holding my weight on my elbows. She raises her hips slightly and I slip more deeply into her.

I move slowly at first, a gentle rhythm she has no trouble keeping up with. Her body moves with mine and becomes a part of me, our movements synchronized and I wonder briefly if we've done this together before in some previous life.

My pace increases now and she surrenders to me completely. I feel her ascent in time with my own. As her inner muscles begin to contract around me, her breathing changing tempo, until she loses all control again. I join her, roaring out my completion in harmony with her own cries of release.

I roll to the side now, taking her with me. We're still joined but I soon slip from her, hating the separation. I reach over to the couch and pull a blanket from it, wrapping it around us. Kathryn snuggles into me, a look of total peace and contentment on her face.

We watch the fire for several minutes as her fingers stroke over my chest, mine playing up and down her arm. I turn to look at her. "No regrets?"

She shakes her head. "None about this."

I sigh contentedly. "The past is the past, love. We go forward now."

She sighs happily. "Forward."

I smile at her and stroke her face. "Does that mean you'll stay then?"

She gives me a wicked smile. "Yes…on one condition…"

I match her smile with a cheeky grin of my own. "And what's that?"

She drops her head to the side and licks at her lips. "Will my warrior tie me up again?"

That's another story.