Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
Believing that Kathryn doesn't need him, Chakotay leaves Earth but unable to face life without her, he returns only to learn that she has been killed. When an old Maquis friend tells him that she's still alive but a prisoner, Chakotay must return to his old life to try and rescue her but will there be anything left of Kathryn for him to bring back?

The Darkest Night

by Kat Lady

Chakotay sat and looked out at the gently rolling landscape before him. It had always calmed him in times of trouble as a young man but now it seemed to mock him for ever having had such adolescent beliefs. He'd hoped to feel more at peace with himself now that he was back on his home world but the pain he wanted rid of stayed with him and ate away at his insides.

He lay back in the long grass and let the sun warm his skin and tried to revisit a time when all had been right with his world but life wasn't like that and his memories came in a lump sum, no part of them willing to be left out. Despite his best efforts, he found himself thinking back over the last three months, three months since he'd been with Kathryn.

He let his mind wander back to their homecoming and the hope he'd held in his heart on that day, that Kathryn might finally come to him. As soon as he heard about her being offered promotion to admiral, he began to have doubts though, afraid his past would contaminate her future. These added to the doubts already in existence within him, the ones fuelled by the sight of Mark Johnson meeting Kathryn and pulling her into his arms, along with the fact that Kathryn had seemed perfectly at home there. They were separated for a week while debriefings went on and decisions about their future were made and at the end of the seven day period, he heard that Kathryn was back with Mark, the man having been divorced the previous year and that she'd accepted the position offered to her by Starfleet. All this had come from Mark via several crewmembers and Chakotay believed every word. Not wanting to, in his mind, be a burden on her life, he'd held off on the offer of a full time position with Starfleet and left for his home, taking the time offered to them all to re-establish their lives. The fact that all Maquis had been exonerated was the only happy news he'd received.

Chakotay had stayed well away from everyone once he'd reunited with what family and friends he'd left on his home planet and gone off hiking into the mountains, seeking solitude and a peace that eluded him. Now almost three months later, he'd been out of touch with everyone and everything and knew he'd have to face the world again soon. He lay awake under the stars most nights and let his mind find the happiness it craved in memories of the past, of happier times with Kathryn. Her name seemed to whisper to him on the breeze and many times now he began to wonder if he was losing his sanity or if his desperation to be with the only woman he'd ever love, was getting to him.

He heaved himself up into a sitting position, his trip into the past having finally pushed him to a decision. He packed his few belongings and slowly made his way down the mountain, back to the only life he had. He knew now that he could no more live without seeing Kathryn in any way, than he could live without breathing. He made the decision to take the posting with Starfleet and try his best to at least be friends with Kathryn. To have her even in this way was far better than never seeing her again.

Chakotay arrived on Earth the following week and contacted Starfleet. He accepted their position and was informed that he was to report for duty in a week's time. As he acknowledged the path he'd taken, he was so deep in his thinking about it all that he failed to notice the strange looks he received from the young Lieutenant in change of reinstatements.

Donning his new uniform, he made a further decision and decided to call on Kathryn, knowing she'd most likely be staying with her mother for a while. Without calling ahead or waiting to see Tom, B'Elanna or any of the other crew first, he transported directly to the station nearest the Janeway house, hoping Kathryn would be open to the idea that they remain friends. He didn't even think about what Mark might say and didn't care either way.

He slowly walked the last quarter mile to Kathryn's former home and from a slight distance thought he saw her in the garden. Smiling to himself, he coughed as he got closer. The woman who turned to see who'd disturbed her could only, he knew, be Kathryn's sister Phoebe.

"Oh, sorry. You must be Phoebe. I'm Cha…" He got no further and didn't understand the anger he saw on the woman's face.

"Oh, I know who you are. What I don't know is how you have the damned nerve to come here." She saw the totally confused look on Chakotay's face and shook her head angrily. "What do you want, Commander? Sorry if I have your rank wrong but basically I don't give a damn."

Chakotay was almost hit in the face with her sarcasm and stepped back a bit, not understanding what was wrong. "Look, I don't know you and I'm sorry if my turning up here like this is wrong but I just wanted to see Kathryn and let her know I'm back."

He jumped when Phoebe threw the gardening spade she held in his general direction, never really being in any danger of hitting him. "You total bastard. How dare you."

Chakotay was getting annoyed now. "Look, Phoebe, I'm sorry if I upset you in some way. I just want to see Kathryn and tell her some things."

The woman mellowed slightly for a moment but then seemed to make a decision and her anger returned. Suddenly she laughed scornfully. "Oh yes, of course. I suppose you're here to say you love her and all that."

Chakotay felt his own anger increase, not feeling as if this stranger to him had any right to speak the way she was. "Not that it's any of your business but yes, I do love Kathryn. If she wasn't with Mark…"

Phoebe's laughter cut across him. "Kathryn's not with Mark. He thought he had a chance for a while there but Kathryn set him straight on that. Seems she was in love with someone else, only he left her and went away, broke her heart in the end."

Chakotay gasped. "Phoebe, please. Are you saying Mark's not, that he and Kathryn aren't…?" He saw her nod her head, confirming his words but he saw something in her eyes he couldn't name. "Phoebe, I know you obviously don't trust me but please understand. I thought… Phoebe, I have to see her. I love her." All he got in return was her scornful stare.

"Do you have any idea what your leaving did to my sister? Mark or no Mark, you owed it to her to at least say goodbye or something. Explain even. Instead you just left and no one knew where you were. And yes, she desperately tried to find you. She tried until… You just disappeared and left her." She saw the tears in his eyes but ignored them. "Mom and I were the ones who had to try and get her through that. We had to see her tears, hear her crying, listen to her call out to you in her sleep. She loved you so much and you just walked away without a word. Even the lowest crewmember gave her more courtesy than that."

Chakotay squeezed his eyes shut a moment. "Phoebe, please. I made a lot of mistakes but you have to understand I never knew where I stood with Kathryn. That's no excuse, I know. I saw her with Mark and I heard things he said and I was… I ran. I'm sorry. I just couldn't face that." He begged with his eyes for understanding.

Phoebe wasn't giving him anything. "You made your mistake and now you live with it. Well, tough."

He moved towards her. "Please, Phoebe, I just want to speak with her, tell her sorry and explain if I can." He saw her eyes go cold, as she stared at him. He was vaguely aware of an old woman approaching and then standing just behind Phoebe but his eyes stayed on the younger face.

Phoebe's face almost turned him to stone. "Well, Commander, you're too late. My sister's dead." She glared at him before storming off.

"PHOEBE." The old lady sounded angry and Chakotay's eyes flew to the woman he knew now was Kathryn's mother. His mind almost exploded and his heart seemed to stop. Kathryn…dead. He became aware of Gretchen Janeway touching his arm and leading him up onto the porch. He sank into a chair, every part of him numb.

"Kathryn. No. She can't be." His eyes flew to the elderly woman's, praying he'd see a smile on her face or a laugh, something to tell him that this was Phoebe's sick joke but all he saw was a deep sadness and pain, the pain that can only come from the loss of someone you loved dearly.

Gretchen Janeway sat slowly beside the man she'd heard so much about from her daughter, the conversations they'd had late into the night when her younger daughter had gone to bed. She treasured the memories of those hours now, holding onto them for the precious gift they were, knowing they were all she had left. "Chakotay, I'm so sorry. My daughter…" He saw her struggle with the words. "Kathryn was killed three weeks ago." Through her old eyes, she saw her pain mirrored in those of the man before her. "I was sure you'd have heard."

Chakotay shook his head. "What…what happened?" He stared out at the garden and it suddenly came to him that Kathryn had stared at this scene all her young life. That thought only tore at him and he pushed it away. He turned back to the woman beside him when she began to speak.

"What Phoebe said was true. I ask you to excuse her, by the way. She's in a lot of pain and she's very angry at the world right now. She was right though. Kathryn loved you dearly. She missed you very much and did try and find you. She was in a lot of pain. Mark tried calling many times but she ignored him. It was only ever you she wanted. As to why she never told you of her feelings, I know she felt she couldn't on the ship. She was just waiting for the right time when you got home." Chakotay nodded, afraid to speak.

"Anyway, she tried everyone to see if they could help her find you but no one knew. I saw what she went through and she talked to me, for which I'll always be grateful. She told me all about you and I saw how much she loved you and how hurt she was. She opened up to me in a way she never had before." Chakotay was aware of his tears but didn't try and hide them.

"She never took that position of admiral. She said she always wanted to be a captain and she wasn't sure she wanted to stay on with Starfleet anyway. I saw the way she was and there was nothing I could do to help. Eventually, she tried to block it all out, Kathryn's way with most things." She smiled softly and sadly at the memory. "She decided to take one last trip into space. I think she wanted to see if she could ever be happy out there without you." They were both silent now, lost in memories.

Chakotay grasped at anything. "Mrs. Janeway, was she… Was she happy there?"

Gretchen's old eyes filled with tears. "Gretchen, please." She sighed. "I don't know, Chakotay. I never found out. Her ship was near… I'm not sure where exactly. Somewhere near Cardassia. The Peace Treaty opened up a lot of trade and so on between there and here. Her ship never made it." She wiped at the tears that flowed down her face now.

"I'm sorry, forgive me. I'll tell this quickly. Best way for me." She drew in a deep breath. "Kathryn's ship went down with all hands. That's the way they told it anyway. There was some malfunction or something. Either way, there was a warp core breach I think they called it and they didn't get the ship under control. They crashed onto one of the land masses on… Oh God, I can't even remember the name of the place now and basically, I don't want to know it. My daughter's gone, having only come back to me, so the place or the name or the how really doesn't matter anymore. I've lost her. This time for good. I only hope it was quick for her at the end, that she didn't suffer or know pain, but I torture myself knowing she saw it coming and how helpless she must have felt, wonder what her last thoughts were. There wasn't even a body, the crash, the explosion." Unable to take any more, Gretchen Janeway broke down completely and Chakotay fell to his knees and folded the fragile body into his arms. They cried together for a long time, watched by the younger Janeway daughter standing in the window, tears pouring down her own face.

Later on, Gretchen walked Chakotay to the gate and smiled softly at him as she squeezed his arm. "Chakotay, what happened when you all got home… I'm too old for all that. All I want now is my memories, the ones of the child and the young girl who was, the woman I saw her become. I treasure all of that. I lost her but I got her back for a while and I'll treasure those memories too. In a way, what happened between you brought us closer for those weeks. Those memories are all I have now. I can tell you this though. She loved you deeply and wouldn't have made it home without you. You were her rock out there, meant everything to her and she deeply regretted having to hold back. I know that because she told me herself." Chakotay nodded, drawing in a deep breath to control himself.

As she went to return to the house, Gretchen Janeway turned back then leaned forward and pulled Chakotay down to her. Gently she kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you so much for loving my girl and being there for her, for making it easier. I'll always love you for that. I hope you come here again some time, tell me about what it was like out there, what she was like. In time, I want to know it all. It's just too soon and too painful at the moment. I'd love for you to be able to share that side of her with me."

She pulled back a little and took his hand. "I want you to have this. It's an earring, one of a pair. I have the other one but I'd dearly love for you to have this one. I know you loved her and I understand how it was for you. Mark has a lot of blame to take over the way he acted. I believe he wanted you to think Kathryn was back with him. Anyway, please take this and keep it with you. We both loved her and it helps me to know that you have something of her, even if it's just this but it's special. Edward and I got those for her on her 12th birthday." Chakotay was too choked up to speak and just pulled Gretchen into his arms.

When he found his voice again, he kissed her on the forehead and smiled sadly. "I'll treasure it for all time, I promise you that and I will come back. Being here is a link to her for me. Thank you, Gretchen. I'm just so sorry."

She leaned up, pressed a finger to his lips, and smiled. "You can't change the past, Chakotay. Take the good from it and remember it. We were blessed to have known her." He hugged her again and left.

As he walked away, he looked back to see Phoebe helping her mother into the house, gently supporting her. Chakotay knew neither they nor he would ever be happy again.

When Chakotay got back to San Francisco, he called immediately on Tom and B'Elanna. He found Harry and Seven there visiting. Tom took one look at him and knew. "Oh Chakotay, we've tried so hard to find you."

Chakotay nodded. "I know, Tom. I'm sorry. I came back to find Kathryn…" He saw the stricken look on the younger man's face. "Tom, it's OK. I know. I was with her mother all afternoon. I called there. I didn't know."

Tom gasped. "Oh Chakotay, you only found out today? Oh God, I'm so sorry." He pulled the big man into a tight hug and saw his wife standing behind them with tears flowing down her face. He stood back and left them together, going back inside to explain to Harry and Seven.

B'Elanna led Chakotay into the kitchen and sat, then listened quietly for the next two hours as he poured out all his pain and guilt. When she saw how drained he was, she led him upstairs and eased him into the bed in their spare room, sitting quietly beside him and stroking his hair until he drifted off.

Chakotay stayed with them for a few days and then reported to Headquarters, needing something to throw himself into, something to bury the pain and hide behind. Tom and B'Elanna were already working there and kept an eye on him. He forced himself into a routine over the next week, making himself seek out an apartment and blocking out everything. Tom made him have lunch with him and B'Elanna each day, determined that any off time his former First Officer had wouldn't be spent with only his memories of what could have been for company.

This day was warm and B'Elanna had brought a picnic lunch, demanding that the two men with her eat al fresco for a change, telling them sternly that they didn't get enough fresh air into their lungs. The 'boys' exchanged a look and Tom laughed. "Yes, mother. Anything you say." He yelped at the smack on the arm he got. "Hey, Chakotay, help me out here." They both turned when they didn't get an answer. "Chakotay?"

He turned back to them briefly. "Sorry, you two. Excuse me a moment. I'm sure I know… It can't be." He stood up and walked towards a man who seemed to be watching him from across the park. Tom and B'Elanna looked to where Chakotay had been looking but couldn't make out who the person was. Shrugging, they returned to their food.

Chakotay walked towards the man, trying to pin down the face. Suddenly the figure moved towards him, acting almost as if he hadn't seen him until this second. "Well, hello stranger."

Chakotay squinted against the bright sunshine, trying to identify the face behind the familiar voice. "Peter? Oh good Spirits, I don't believe… Is that really you?" He stood, totally stunned as the other man walked towards him slowly, his height now blocking out the glare of the sun and Chakotay saw him close up. He was greyer and hard times showed on his features but everything else he remembered was there.

"Hey, Maquis. How's life treating you, as if I have to ask?" He eyed the uniform Chakotay wore. "Starfleet now, I see. I have heard all the stories, of course."

Chakotay was almost lost for wards. "Spirits, Peter, it's so good to see you. What are you doing here? How…?" He shook his head, the questions queuing up in his brain, each one seeking to be asked first.

He saw the man look around him, as if checking to see if anyone was in earshot. Suddenly he stared off over Chakotay's shoulder. "Is that B'Elanna Torres? I don't believe it."

Chakotay nodded. "That's her all right. She's changed a lot. I guess like me, she found peace…" He trailed off, knowing he'd never have peace again.

Peter didn't appear to notice the change on Chakotay's face, or if he did, he didn't let on.

"Don't tell me that's our old friend Tom Paris with her. I take it we were wrong about him then."

Chakotay looked over his shoulder at his two friends, watching them as they ate quietly, not minding him. "We were very wrong, Peter. He didn't run out on us or betray us. You must know by now he ended up a Starfleet prisoner before Ka…before coming onto Voyager."

The other man met his eyes and nodded understanding. "Yeah, I heard about that but…" He shrugged slightly. "Well, you know. You're never sure what to believe." They were both silent for a moment before Peter spoke again. "Chakotay, do you trust them?" Chakotay frowned. "B'Elanna and Tom Paris. Do you trust them?"

Chakotay didn't need time to think about it. "With my life, Peter. They're married to each other now, you know. In answer to your question though, I trust them more than anyone."

Peter bit his lip and nodded, his thoughts his own for a moment. "I thought that would be your answer. Look, Chakotay, I know you're Fleet now and that they are too but… I guess in Starfleet's eyes, I'm no enemy. They never knew I was part of the Maquis. I checked through their records. My name is nowhere in their files and believe me, I had ways of checking pretty deeply into those files."

Chakotay listened and watched, saying nothing. He remembered Peter Conway well from the 'old days' and how bravely he'd fought. Like Chakotay, he'd lost family to the Cardassians in the DMZ but he'd always kept his identity well covered, something Chakotay had used to their advantage many times. "Peter, what's all this and am I going to like it? I get the feeling this was no chance meeting."

The man smiled, a smile Chakotay remembered well. "You still know me too well, Chakotay. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I trust you though." He stopped and thought a moment then pressed a piece of paper into Chakotay's hand. "There's an address written on that. You know me, always preferred paper to padds. Meet me there about 16:00 and I'll fill you in. Bring B'Elanna and Tom with you." He saw the uncertainty on his former captain's face. "Chakotay, you can trust me. It's safe. This is important though or I wouldn't ask."

Chakotay nodded and slipped the piece of paper into his pocket. "All right, Peter. We'll be there."

Peter just nodded and with a quick look around him, slipped away. When Chakotay looked up a moment later, he was gone.

A few minutes early, Chakotay knocked on the door of the small house, set well back off the street and shaded by trees, which matched the address he'd been given. He glanced at Tom and B'Elanna as they looked around them, none of them sure what to expect. They'd agreed to accompany their former First Officer as soon as he'd asked, not needing to question why, just trusting him. Almost immediately the door opened and Peter stood before them. He leaned out the door and scanned the area before ushering them in, not a word spoken by him.

They entered a large room, almost unfurnished and Chakotay knew immediately that no one lived in this house, the lack of furnishings and the damp and dusty smell which permeated this place telling him that. He listened for a moment to his gut instinct which told him that whatever Peter was involved with, it was something he was better off not knowing about but he also paid heed to his memories of the past which spoke of the loyalty this man had shown him. The three of them turned when Peter came in behind them and gestured for them all to sit on the few chairs around a wooden table. B'Elanna reached out and hugged him first, Tom just smiling gently before shaking hands with Peter himself.

When they were all sitting, Peter pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, silently watching the three people across from him for a moment.

"OK, let me fill you in. I'm trusting you all here and the fact that you've all come here today wearing civilian clothing puts my mind at rest a bit." They stayed quiet and let him continue. "Some of this you know, some you don't, but bear with me." They all nodded.

"Shortly after you disappeared, I left the Maquis. A few others left with me, others whose names weren't on anyone's lists either. I guess we saw the beginning of the end coming. Anyway, we stayed in close contact with each other, mainly because no one else could understand what we'd gone through and I guess it was a kind of support network for each other. After the Peace Treaty was signed, a few of us formed a kind of splinter group. You could say we didn't like some of the finer points of the Treaty but we agreed with the main parts of it. Basically we wanted to make sure it went through and worked to serve everyone, not just those in power and of course, we wanted to ensure the compensation claims were honoured." Chakotay drew in a deep breath but stayed silent.

"Anyway, we found out that a small group of Cardassians were thinking along the same lines of breaking away and found out that they'd formed a small group of their own. You might have heard rumours of this." Chakotay nodded.

"Starfleet is aware of such a group although verifying that is… They were supposed to be responsible for a few attacks on ships and settlements. Nothing ever proved, of course." Peter smiled sadly. "Take it from me, it's not rumour. Of course, the Cardassian Government denies all knowledge. However, for once they're being truthful. They know of them but they aren't involved. It took a lot of checking to satisfy myself of that but it's the truth. This group is basically a bunch of mercenaries, hell bent on profit for themselves, with their 'cause' coming a poor second. At first we thought they were like us but that proved to be way off base. My group aren't about that. We're more about sabotage than killing and even that's rare for us. Now believe it or not, there's yet another group of Cardassians who believe like us. We've actually worked together. Their group though has the covert backing of their government whereas if Starfleet knew about us… Well, I think they agree in principle but I haven't been willing to take that chance and ask them. This first group have attacked ships…" Peter stopped and after a minute stood slowly.

"Chakotay, all of you, I'm here to ask for your help. This group… Would you believe they actually called themselves 'Dawn'? Well, Dawn has taken two of my people, people who joined me later so you don't know them and they're holding them. They have a camp on one of the smaller planets and pretty much run the place like a mini Cardassia of old. Suffice to say, it's well hidden and not generally known about. We also have a base, however enough about that for the moment." He studied the three people before him. "I'm asking for your help in getting our people out. This Dawn, they're holding these people. Chakotay, they haven't asked for ransom or anything. They've no political plans for them even. They're simply holding them in case they ever need to use them although I've an idea that they have other reasons, that something is afoot. They even have some of their own people held there. All of them, well, most of them, were just reported lost or dead. This way they won't be missed. They can then keep them almost in stasis until they need them or if they need them. The Cardassian Government can't be seen to help because the Federation aren't involved so it's down to us. Chakotay, please. I need you on this, need all of you. I need your experience and expertise."

Chakotay sat stone still, his mind transported back in time. "Peter, I can't speak for the others but… Peter, I left all that behind me a long time ago. I found peace."

Peter smiled sadly at him. "Until recently." Chakotay's head shot up. "I heard all about it, Chakotay. Kathryn Janeway."

Chakotay clenched his fists and Peter saw it. "Leave that alone, Peter. She's…she's not here. She's nothing to do with all this. She's dead." B'Elanna gripped his arm, knowing the pain he was in.

Peter studied the man before him. "Chakotay, listen to me. I know what happened. I know about her ship going down with all hands lost." Chakotay pulled away from B'Elanna's hand and pushed his chair back. He stood quickly and turned his back on the others.

"Chakotay." No answer. "Chakotay, please." Finally, he turned back to the others and the pain on his face was unmistakeable. Peter took a deep breath and seemed to consider his next words carefully.
"Chakotay, I don't know if you'll want to believe me on this but…" Chakotay finally met his eyes. "Chakotay, Kathryn Janeway is one of the prisoners I'm talking about."


There was stunned silence in the room for several minutes. Chakotay just stared at Peter as if time had frozen him. Eventually he opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Peter walked to him and led him back to his chair then sat himself.

"I know this is hard to believe but that's the way it's been with most of those taken. It was meant to look as if they died. I have a spy in their camp, someone I trust completely and I know what I'm talking about. This man is one of the Cardassian group we work with. Believe it or not, these people are just as anxious to stop this as we are. Kathryn Janeway was transported off her ship just before it was shot down. I know all the investigative reports on the incident said it was a warp core breach and it was made to look that way but Chakotay, you have to believe me on this. Her ship was deliberately brought down but she wasn't on it. Maybe it would have been better…" He stopped himself quickly.

Chakotay finally found his tongue. "Peter, don't tell me this unless… If you're using this or saying this to just get me in…" He stopped again to gain some control, knowing deep down that the man in front of him wouldn't do that. He looked to the others and saw their stunned faces. "You're telling me she's alive and a prisoner of this Dawn?" He groaned out loud. "A mini Cardassia you said. Oh Spirits." He buried his face in his hands and felt B'Elanna's hands on him again.

Peter sighed heavily. "Chakotay, she's still alive, I know that. She's too useful to them. Think about it and check it out but you'll find that there was no way to identify anyone after the crash. Not one person was… You couldn't tell one body from the next. DNA was even impossible in most cases." He decided to be totally honest. "Look, I don't have to tell you the way they treat their prisoners and I hate to be so brutal about this but I need your help and you now need mine. We need to work together here. As soon as I heard you were back I came after you. I'd looked for you before when I knew Kathryn Janeway was involved but… Look, we're going anyway but with your help we stand a better chance. I can't approach Starfleet with this in case they just arrest us and I can't really prove to them what's going on without risking lives. Chakotay, they've already had her for four weeks. I don't have to tell you…" Peter watched his former Captain carefully.

Chakotay stood up quickly and left the room. The man who returned five minutes later had been dead a long time and had just been resurrected. Chakotay stared intensely at Peter. "I want to believe you more than anything and I've never had any reason to doubt your words before. If there's even a small chance that Kathryn's still alive, I have to take it. You can count me in. Tom and B'Elanna however… I'd prefer they not be involved."

The couple jumped up together and Chakotay saw the sparks of the Maquis in them both. B'Elanna glared at him. "You speak for yourself, Chakotay. She's very special to us too so we'll make up our own mind, thank you very much."

Tom's expression mirrored his wife's and he nodded. "This is our call, Chakotay, not yours."

Peter smiled softly. "Right then, we've work to do." He walked over to the wall and slid a small panel back then withdrew several large sheets of paper. He smiled at the expressions that met him. "You know me for paper." They all sat then and the planning started.

Chakotay listened to everything he was told but a part of him was outside of the room, outside of Earth, with the woman who was alone and scared somewhere, probably badly injured and abused and he vowed now to find her and get her back even if he died trying.

Life was surreal for Chakotay and the others over the next week. They'd all requested and been granted official leaves of absence from Starfleet. No questions had been asked and Chakotay knew that there was very little the organization wouldn't do for Voyager's returned heroes. Chakotay didn't tell Gretchen or Phoebe anything, needing to know himself first and not raise their hopes. They moved around a lot during the week, meeting others who were as dedicated to their cause as Peter was. Some Chakotay remembered, others were new to him. For the most part, Chakotay operated on auto pilot, taking in all the details he needed and slipping back into the cut of the cloth of the man who used to be. Kathryn's image stayed with him though as a guiding light and by day her memory was smiling and content because he willed it so, but at night when he lost that control as he slept, her image screamed in agony and terror, calling to him to help her but he could never reach her. He always awoke drenched in sweat, tears pouring from his eyes as the intense feelings slowly drained away.

As they readied themselves for the rescue, Chakotay never knew their current location and despite hating the loss of control he felt, not being in command of the operation as he'd been used to with the Maquis, he also understood how Peter and the others needed to work on a 'need to know' basis. He knew he'd have done exactly the same himself, just as Kathryn would have.

Peter kept them well informed and told Chakotay that he knew Kathryn was still alive, his spy reporting to him every day. "The place is not that well guarded, I'm happy to say. They're too arrogant to believe anyone could take them and they falsely believe that they can trust all their men and that no one knows their location. That arrogance also has them convinced that no one would even try and attack even if they knew where to find them."

Suddenly the week of preparation was over and they were in a small ship, expertly cloaked and heading for the camp where Chakotay prayed he'd find Kathryn. He let his mind torture him for a few moments as it pulled up images of what they might find when they arrived. He reached into his pocket and tightly clutched Kathryn's earring, needing to touch something that had once touched her. B'Elanna, sitting beside him, her face smudged with camouflage like the others, gripped his hand tightly, silently giving him her support and understanding. He returned the gesture and forced himself to focus on the mission ahead.

Peter gave them a final briefing and instructions. "I know this week has been long, too long for some of us who have friends there, but we couldn't rush things. Everything had to be right and in place for this attack or it would have failed and we all had to be ready." He gazed at his team and saw their dedication. "Once we're out, our other friends will come in on a second wave attack, get the rest of the prisoners, and basically clean up. That, hopefully, will be the end of it. They'll report to their government and believe it or not, I'll report to Starfleet and see where it goes from there. If I'm satisfied with their response, we'll all come in and hopefully then, we can all go on with our lives. For now, good luck to you all."

Everything blurred once they landed. Chakotay was aware of creeping through the undergrowth with the others, coming to a large, low lying building of sorts, of Peter and another taking out two of the guards, silently slitting their throats. Everything he'd ever done in his time with the Maquis came back to him, all his training and knowledge and he forced his eyes to penetrate the darkness surrounding them and pushed himself on.

They entered the building through an unguarded opening at the rear and moved silently through the dark and damp passages. Suddenly a large Cardassian stepped out before them and without conscious thought, Chakotay found the knife which had been in his hand, embedded in the throat of the now dead soldier. As he stared at the blood staining the blade, he closed his mind to the knowledge that he'd killed and moved on. As they crept forward, a scream rang out, echoing off the stone walls. Chakotay stopped dead. It was Kathryn's scream, he knew it, and without Tom pushing him on from behind, he would have lost all control where he stood. Trying to turn his emotions to stone, he forced himself to follow the others. The sound of voices reached them, getting closer and they ducked back into the shadows. Chakotay watched unseen as two soldiers dragged an almost unconscious Kathryn between them and entered a cell. He lost sight of them then as two others walking behind the first two stopped and chatted outside the cell door, apparently waiting for their colleagues. Within a minute, one of the men from the cell joined them and they slowly made their way off, laughing and joking between them.

Chakotay felt pain shoot up through his hands and into his arms and looked down to see his hands squeezed tightly into fists, his knuckles white, the bones almost coming through the skin. He met Peter's eyes and saw the warning there, the message to control himself and not jeopardize the entire mission. He fought for control and nodded silently. Peter gestured for two of them to follow the group of three they'd just encountered then pointed to the cell where Kathryn was and the two beside it. Once more they advanced and Chakotay felt the blood pound inside his heart. He knew there was still one soldier in the cell with Kathryn and he gripped the knife tighter in his hand. He saw the cell door was ajar and having already noted that the hinges didn't creak, he pushed it gently open, letting his eyes scan the cell. The sight that met him was almost his undoing. He fought for control, knowing that to rush in would get them all killed and so he endured and waited.

Kathryn was chained to the far wall, her wrists pulled above her head. Even from across the cell, Chakotay saw the glazed and dead look in her eyes and the limpness of her body along with the cuts and bruises covering her face, arms and legs. He pushed down the boiling anger that rose up in him as he saw the soldier on his knees beside her, one hand squeezing her breast and laughing. His other hand pulled one of Kathryn's legs to the side and reached up under the filthy rag that barely covered her body. Chakotay felt the handle of the knife dig into his hand as he gripped it fiercely and eased the door open a little more. The soldier now turned his back to Chakotay and the door and reached for Kathryn's other leg. He pulled her towards him by the calves, spreading her legs and Chakotay saw him fumble in his trousers, trying to free himself. Kathryn hadn't moved and showed no reaction as Chakotay silently made his way towards the man he knew would be dead within seconds. He saw his own hand rise, as if standing back from himself, then plunge downwards, the blade entering the base of the soldier's skull. There was a faint grunt as Chakotay twisted the knife and then the dead man fell forward over Kathryn. Chakotay snapped back to reality and pulled the body off her, again noting that she'd not reacted at all. Forcing himself to function, he withdrew the small cutting tool on his belt and set about freeing her from her chains. Her arms fell limply and he reached for her, then picked her up in his arms. Turning towards the door, he saw B'Elanna standing there, a look of horror on her face.

B'Elanna quickly pulled herself together, knowing there'd be time later for everything else. She checked the passage and nodded to Chakotay to move quickly. As he joined the others, he saw that those who'd been rescued also needed support and they moved as quickly as they could. Just as they reached the small shuttle that would take them back to the ship, they encountered a small group of soldiers and a fire fight ensued. They no longer needed to be quiet and the sound of phaser fire filled the air as the fight was quickly quelled. Just as they boarded their shuttle, Chakotay saw two others land and a group of Cardassians spill from the doors. He knew this was the second wave attack Peter had spoken of and silently said a prayer for the men, including Peter's spy.

Finally on board and with Tom at the controls, they made their way back to the ship. Chakotay wanted Tom to look after Kathryn but knew he was needed at the controls more. He looked down at her in his arms and fought his tears as she stared unseeing ahead of her. Slowly he looked her over and fought the bile that entered his throat. From what he could see in the dim light of the shuttle, there wasn't an area of her body which wasn't badly cut, bruised or blistered. Her face was littered with bruising and abrasions and one eye was partly closed. He saw the fresh cut on her lip and the evidence of older, half healed ones alongside it. He did the only thing he could for the moment and pulled her gently to him, whispering to her and kissing the side of her face but it was obvious to him that she was aware of nothing and so he just rocked her, still whispering softly that everything was all right now. In his heart though, he sensed it would be a very long time before anything was ever all right again.

Chakotay sat in the relatives' room of the hospital, just staring at the far wall. It had been over an hour now since they'd arrived and Kathryn had been taken from his arms. He'd put in a call from the ship for Voyager's Doctor, and the medic had been waiting when they arrived, Chakotay knowing he would trust no one else with her care. He sat now waiting for news of Kathryn and awaiting the arrival of Gretchen and Phoebe, Starfleet having placed a call to them for him, asking no questions for the moment. At his request, they'd simply been asked to report to the hospital without mention of Kathryn herself. Chakotay didn't want them to receive the news over a commlink and he wasn't prepared to leave the hospital until he knew Kathryn's condition.

He thought back to their arrival on the ship from the shuttle and how he'd almost broken down when he saw Kathryn under the bright lights of the docking bay, the rags she wore hiding nothing of the massive injuries on her body. Tom had stabilized her as best he could and the journey back to Earth had taken too long for Chakotay. Throughout it, he'd held her to him, still rocking and whispering to her but not once had she shown any sign of recognition or awareness of her surroundings.

He was aware now of someone else in the room with him and looked up into the kindly face of Gretchen Janeway. Phoebe stood behind her a little and Chakotay saw that her demeanour had softened a little since their last meeting. He stood immediately and gestured for the two women to sit.

Gretchen's eyes bored deeply into his and he saw the same sadness there. "Chakotay, I don't understand this. Why are we here? The Lieutenant who called wouldn't say. Are you all right?"

Chakotay nodded slightly. "Gretchen, Phoebe, what I have to tell you… I wanted to say this to your face. I'm sorry for not going to you but…" He looked from one to the other. He reached into his pocket and took out Kathryn's earring. He took Gretchen's hand and dropped it into her palm, seeing her frown. He drew in a deep breath as he looked into her eyes. "I'll just say this straight out. Kathryn's alive. She's here." He watched the confusion on the two faces followed by a rush of emotions he couldn't name and then came the tears.

Phoebe immediately pulled her mother against her and stared hard at Chakotay. "If this is some…"

He crouched down beside them. "I'll explain as quickly as I can." They sat staring at him in total disbelief as he skimmed over the main points of the last couple of weeks and explained as gently as he could that the Doctor was treating her now. He apologized for not telling them anything before until he knew himself and they accepted this. The two women hugged each other tightly, too choked up to speak. Chakotay looked up quickly as he saw the Doctor enter the room and stood up, the eyes of the women following his. The medic motioned for Chakotay to sit and then joined him. Looking at all three in turn, he told them all what they needed to hear.

"I healed her injuries and she will make a full recovery." Gretchen and Phoebe both broke down but Chakotay, while feeling total relief, kept his eyes on the Doctor. He knew the physical injuries were not the worst they had to face. He saw the serious expression on the face of the Doctor and waited for him to continue. When the two women settled a little, they instantly sensed there was more and looked to the Doctor now. He seemed uncomfortable but smiled softly. "She's asleep now, sedated. I'll keep her under for a day or so to let her body heal better."

Gretchen interrupted. "Please, I need to… Please, can I see her?" The Doctor nodded and stood, then led the way to the small room where Kathryn was being settled by a nurse.

Chakotay stared at her in the bed, seeing her as looking smaller and more fragile than he ever remembered. He noted that most of the injuries on her face were fading now and watched as mother and sister made their way over to her and he stood back a little. He met the Doctor's eyes and motioned for him to leave the room, then followed him. As he closed the door, he looked back and saw that Gretchen and Phoebe hadn't noticed them leaving.

Once outside, he turned to the Doctor. "Is there somewhere we can speak privately?" The medic nodded and led the way to a small office.

When the door closed, Chakotay turned quickly. "Now tell me what you didn't say out there." He saw the Doctor sigh deeply and actually marvelled at the human habits the EMH had picked up over the years. At the Doctor's indication, they both sat.

"By your face, I can tell you know enough already." Chakotay said nothing as the Doctor folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "All right, Commander, you need to know. The injuries… You saw them. They were easily taken care of. There were several broken bones, left for some time I believe, some internal bleeding, a head wound, facial injuries and numerous cuts and some burns which were badly blistered. There was also extensive bruising internally and externally." Chakotay nodded, barely controlling himself. "She had other injuries which were half healed, probably to keep her going. Most of the injuries were, I believe, from beatings, intended to cause pain but not kill. It's obvious that she was tortured also. I don't need to tell you how these people work."

Chakotay looked down at his hands then back at the Doctor again. "Now tell me the rest, what you haven't said."

The Doctor ran a hand over his face. "All right. There was a considerable amount of drugs in her system. I can't begin to know what. I've managed to flush most of them out and the rest will dissipate on their own. I don't expect any side effects or long-term problems from them." He looked up into the face before him and saw the fight for control there.

"And the rest?" It seemed all he could say.

The Doctor looked away. "I think you know." He looked back at the man before him and saw that he knew all right and now it had been confirmed for him.

"How bad?"

The Doctor stood and came around the other side of the desk. "As bad as it can get." He leaned over and laid a hand on Chakotay's arm. "Commander, she'll heal."

Chakotay stood up quickly. "Physically, you mean." He drew in a deep breath. "What about… She's… She didn't… There was just no reaction. She…" He stared at the Doctor, demanding the truth.

The medic shook his head. "I honestly can't say. Commander, she's catatonic, has no awareness of anything around her. I'm out of my depth here and you know that. From what I understand, she's basically retreated somewhere in her mind where she can't be hurt."

Chakotay nodded slowly, his resolve strengthening. "Then it's up to me, up to all of us to bring her back." He didn't feel half as confident as he sounded and saw the doubts on the face of the Hologram. "We'll get her back. I'll get her back." With a last glance at the Doctor, he left the room.

Chakotay finally decided to be honest with Kathryn's mother and sister and told them everything. He held them to him as they cried for all their daughter and sister had been through. Over the next two days, a strong bond developed between the three of them, a bond that united them against the enemy that lived within the woman lying unconscious before them.

Peter called by the following evening and he and Chakotay walked quietly in the hospital grounds as Phoebe and Gretchen sat with Kathryn.

"I've been in touch with Starfleet. They're actually OK with everything, especially when they knew that the Cardassians are hailing their group as heroes, so now we're getting the same treatment. The Cardassians were desperate to be seen to have put down anything that would threaten the peace and Starfleet feel the same. They were actually aware of us all along. They let it happen. Probably believed they could deny anything later if it went wrong. I think they were worried about upsetting our new friends and once they saw it was OK, they accepted it. It's almost as if they're taking the glory now when we did all the work. Kathryn wasn't the only Starfleet prisoner but of course they didn't know about any of them. Kathryn and two others had been reported dead so weren't missed of course. Getting them back and seeing the Cardassian response… Well, as I say, now we're all heroes." Chakotay nodded. "Chakotay, I have to tell you, they know about your involvement now and Tom and B'Elanna. I think they knew what you were up to and that's why there was no objection to your request for leave so soon after joining them. I wouldn't worry though. You'll get the same treatment as us, and of course, you're Voyager's golden boy."

Chakotay stopped and surveyed the grounds. "Peter, I really don't care what they think. I don't blame them but I also don't care about anything outside the fact that we got Kathryn back. After that, nothing is important."

Peter nodded and was quiet a moment. "Well, it's over and finished with. We got them all. We'll probably never know what they were planning but I know something was on the cards. I told you that before. The others found blueprints of Starfleet Headquarters and the main Cardassian government buildings. The plans they had weren't too accurate and that's probably one reason they took Kathryn and the others, the Cardassian prisoners too. They most likely tried to get information from them."

Chakotay closed his eyes and dropped his head. "The Doctor believes Kathryn was tortured, as well as the beatings."

Peter gripped his arm. "She was, as were the others. Chakotay, I'm sorry. I learned this only after our attack. Our spy there didn't know everything. That side of it was kept from him but we found records of sorts, times and names involved. It looks like they were planning attacks, assassinations maybe and needed all the information they could get. We saved a lot of lives, not just those we brought out." Peter's eyes clouded over a moment, remembering fallen comrades. "Our 'spy' didn't make it."

Chakotay gripped his arm. "Peter, I'm sorry." Peter forced a smile then pulled his old Captain into his arms and slapped his back. "Well, Captain, it's over now. Put it all behind you and just concentrate of that woman of yours. I'm sure she'll be fine. I heard she was a strong one. She must have been to put up with you." Chakotay tried for a smile but didn't quite make it.

When Kathryn came round on the third day, Chakotay was prepared for what he'd find. Kathryn's eyes opened but there was nothing there. She lay staring through them all, barely blinking.

Over the next week and beyond, Chakotay and the others developed a rota whereby someone was always with Kathryn, constantly talking to her. She never spoke or moved on her own and Chakotay eventually took over most of her care, along with Gretchen and Phoebe. Kathryn's sister became a tower of strength for him and they worked closely together towards their goal. Eventually, they brought her home and Chakotay took unlimited leave from Starfleet and moved into the Janeway home, welcomed with open arms. He'd finally spoken with two admirals at Starfleet and been debriefed on the secret mission. They thanked him for his help but also 'advised' him to let them in on any future plans he may have and then dropped the matter. The fact that Kathryn was one of their own earned him the unlimited leave he needed to look after her.

Phoebe spent most of her time at the house now and together they dressed and washed Kathryn, sat her out of bed and generally cared for her, taking turns at feeding her. Mostly, she was fed intravenously as they could rarely get her to chew or swallow food. What they cared for now appeared to be an empty shell, but to them, Kathryn was in there somewhere, hiding and hurt.

After a month, the hospital suggested a rest home but Chakotay and Phoebe banded together, refusing to even hear of it. Gretchen stood by and watched the love and care they lavished on her eldest daughter, too frail herself to help much in the day to day caring. Where she came in was in the evening and often late into the night. She sat and read to Kathryn, stroking her arms and face and spoke of everything familiar to the family. Chakotay often sat across the room and listened quietly, learning much about the woman he loved.

As Gretchen read to Kathryn one night, Chakotay made his way to the kitchen for some tea, amazed at how quickly he'd learned to feel at home in this house. Phoebe had moved in full time now and he marvelled at the friendship that had developed between them all and how they let him be a part of their family and care for Kathryn on the most intimate levels. He slept beside Kathryn most nights and knew that the two women never disapproved. He entered the kitchen and found Phoebe at the table, trying to hide her tears. He immediately went to her and hugged her.

"Chakotay, I'm sorry. It just sometimes gets to me. I can't bear to see her like this and to know how she suffered, what they did to her." Chakotay said nothing and just held her as she cried it all out, determined to keep his own emotions under control to give the young woman what she needed. When she was a little more settled, he made tea for them both and sat across from her, his hands warmed by the mug he held.

"Phoebe, you're doing wonderful. I know how hard it is. We all do. I believe though that she will come back to us. We just have to keep trying." She smiled tearfully at him and reached for his hand.

She sniffed. "I know. I believe too." She was quiet a moment. "Chakotay, I never said… Look, I'm sorry for what I said, you know, before. I was wrong and I see that. I know how much you love her. I know my sister too and how stubborn she can be. She was never the best for expressing her feelings."

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "Phoebe, you've nothing to apologize for. Loving and looking out for your sister is nothing to be sorry for."

She smiled gratefully at him. "She loves you. You know that only too well. If anyone can bring her back, it's you." They both fell into silence with their thoughts and memories.

A month later, summer wrapped itself around the countryside and Chakotay and Phoebe now brought Kathryn outside, letting her sit in the garden and feel the sun on her face. They worried about the weight she'd lost and kept a constant check on her. They massaged her muscles to avoid muscle wastage, played music to her, and spoke endlessly about all their lives. They'd finally found a doctor, recommended by Voyager's EMH, who worked with them now and they practiced all she told them. Slowly they re-introduced Kathryn to sights and sounds, smells and touches and they sat long hours with her and worked tirelessly. Dr. Stevens had left them several cases, each containing a 'treatment for the senses', as she called them. One case held several small bottles, each housing a different smell. Another contained cards in bright colours and showing different scenes. A third held textures and Chakotay would hold Kathryn's hand, gently tracing her fingers across the cards which were covered with fur or rough grit, all feeling different in some way. A fourth case was filled with small containers of different powders, ranging in taste from sour to sweet, even salty and Phoebe and Chakotay spent long hours, dipping their fingers into the powders and spreading them on Kathryn's lips and into her mouth, letting the tastes dissolve there. They played music and recorded sounds endlessly and all Voyagers' former crew recorded messages, each of them telling stories about things they'd done together.

Despite all this, Chakotay saw little change in Kathryn over the following weeks. Occasionally he believed he saw something in her eyes but as time passed, he began to suspect it was his own wishful thinking or imagination. Along with Phoebe and Gretchen, they sat down and spoke with Dr. Stevens one day, trying to assess any progress she felt might have been made. "I'm inclined to agree that nothing seems to be changing for us much, despite all this."

Chakotay leaned forward slightly. "I think I'd expected nightmares or something."

The doctor shook her head slowly. "When the trauma is this deep, the denial or shutting off that you see can even extend into the subconscious so when Kathryn's asleep, her mind still shuts everything out just as it does when she's awake. It's her mind's way to survive. If she dreams, she then has to acknowledge those images and that's the last thing her mind wants to do." She paused a moment. "I'd like to try something else but I'd like your opinion first." The dark haired young woman, who was an expert in her field, looked around at the expectant faces in front of her.

Chakotay cleared his throat. "What exactly did you have in mind?" Chakotay started to sense he wouldn't like the answer he'd get. Dr. Stevens reached into the case at her feet and took out a holoimage. She passed it to them and awaited their reaction.

Chakotay's was the worst. "Spirits, you can't be serious with this." He stared in horror at the picture of the large Cardassian man. "That's what has her this way." Dr. Stevens pursed her lips but stayed quiet.

Phoebe shook her head sadly. "Are you telling us you think Kathryn needs to be shocked back?"

Dr. Stevens nodded. "She could well have no reaction to this at all but I have to tell you, I believe this is the best way to go. The longer she's allowed to stay where she is, the harder it will be. Look, I understand how you all feel and that you're afraid this could cause more damage but believe me, I have a lot of experience with this. I truly believe this is what she needs. I would however prefer to do this with you all around and preferably here where she's comfortable. I know it sounds very harsh, but I truly believe shocking her back to reality, if you like, is all we can try now."

Chakotay shook his head, needing far more convincing. "What if she just goes deeper?" He ran his hands over his face and looked at the others for their opinion. They looked as upset as he felt.

The doctor sighed. "Look, Chakotay, I understand what you're afraid of, what you're all scared of, but you have to see that this approach hasn't worked. We've played the 'softly softly' way, the comfortable way and now it's time to be more forceful. Basically, I'm asking you to trust me on this." She eyed the trio sitting before her and waited. Sitting forward, she then leaned down and placed the image back in her case. "I'll be outside with Kathryn if you need me. Have a talk about this and see what you think." She stood slowly and made her way out into the garden, where Kathryn sat staring into nothingness.

Carol Stevens sat talking to the silent woman for about ten minutes before she heard them behind her. When she looked around, she met Chakotay's eyes. He nodded slowly and she saw the others nod in agreement also. She stood up and motioned for them to go back into the house. Her request stunned them. "I need a plate, something breakable. I'd like to try something." Gretchen nodded and fetched what was needed.

Carol Stevens crept up behind Kathryn and smashed the plate to the ground, keeping her eyes firmly on her patient. They all saw it, a barely noticeable jump from Kathryn. The Doctor smiled at the three people in the doorway. "I think that decides it. We change our approach. It that OK?" They all agreed.

Most of Kathryn's care didn't change at first, but slowly over the next weeks, they altered their behaviour around the silent woman. They asked her more questions rather than telling her things and slowly started to fuss less over her. They stopped trying to be quiet around her and acted more business-like. Occasionally now they pretended to be slightly annoyed with her, usually when they tried to coax her into eating. Chakotay stood back and watched Phoebe one evening, shaking his head slowly. He knew Phoebe was hurting inside and his heart went out to her but he also admired her determination.

"Oh, for God's sake, Kathryn, you can do this. You just won't try. It's like with Daddy and Justin all over again. You need a good swift kick. Maybe a bucket of water would do the trick." Without thinking really, Phoebe lifted the glass of water beside her, dipped her fingers into it and flicked some of the liquid onto Kathryn's face. Without warning, Kathryn's arm shot out and knocked the glass from her sister's hand. As Phoebe stared in disbelief, Kathryn just stared ahead of her as usual. Chakotay gasped from the doorway and Phoebe turned to him, as if needing him to confirm what had just happened. One look at his face told her it was real.

Slowly, they managed to coax more and more reactions from Kathryn. One day, Chakotay was reading to her, some sad story he'd found on her database. He looked up suddenly only to see a lone tear make its way down her face. He reached over and wiped it. "Kathryn, you have to fight this. You have to come back to us. You can't hide away in the dark forever and we won't let you do that. Try and fight harder for us please. Your mom's exhausted and Phoebe and I are at the end of our tether as to what to try with you. Please, Kathryn, fight the walls closing around you. Push back at them." He watched her eyes closely and swore he saw a small reaction but it was gone as quickly as it had started.

Two days later, another progress meeting with Carol Stevens and they finally agreed to try her holoimage idea. Chakotay was still unsure but he trusted the young woman. He looked across at Kathryn as she sat on the sofa, staring off into empty space as usual. He watched Carol walk slowly over to her and hold the image up in front of her eyes.

At first there was nothing and they thought it had failed. As Carol looked at the others and walked away, Chakotay saw the reaction and moved. Kathryn had launched herself off the sofa and fallen to the ground, aiming towards Carol but missing her. Her scream came and echoed around the old house as she curled herself into a tight ball. Chakotay was on his knees beside her immediately, pulling her up into his arms but she had a strength that belied belief as she fought him. He struggled to hold her and calm her and saw Carol approach with a hypo. He held Kathryn's head still as the doctor injected the contents into her neck and felt Kathryn lose some of her struggle at once.

"That's just a mild tranquilliser. I don't want her out of it." They watched as Kathryn's tears poured down her face as she struggled weakly now against Chakotay's hold on her. Finally, she stopped fighting him but they all saw the emptiness still lingering in her eyes. Carol smiled at them all. It was a start.


As summer passed into fall, Kathryn inched her way back more and more. She would chew her food now but couldn't feed herself and they still had to wash her and dress her.

Carol Stevens explained that she could jump back in one go or this could continue slowly for months. Either way, she felt her patient was on her way back to them. "What we have here could end in two ways. Kathryn could move slowly forward, dealing with what she can as she can, undertaking the basics first as she's doing now. In one way I'd prefer that. The other way is harder on her but in the end it's often the best. She could just suddenly snap as everything falls into place. So far she seems to be following the first route but often they can just jump to the second with no warning."

Gretchen leaned forward. "What do we do if she jumps to the second route, as you call it? Do we just let it happen or comfort her or what? Doctor, we're blind in all this. I know Kathryn probably better than anyone and Phoebe knows another side to her that I don't. Chakotay knows another side again and they all tie up but please, tell us what to do if she just lets go."

Carol smiled gently. "Gretchen, you just be there for her, hold her until the storm passes. Call me and I'll be right over but basically hold her and reassure her. Be careful with her though during all this if it happens. Just watch her as she might hurt herself." She saw the shocked faces. "Please, I don't mean deliberately, although that's something we need to discuss later down the road as remembering such horror can…" She quickly changed back to her original advice. "Just hold her securely, make sure she doesn't hit off anything. It might be better if Chakotay does that, as he's the strongest and Kathryn could well have a strength during this that'll be beyond her usual level of strength. You saw that when we showed her the image." They all nodded. "One other thing. Restraining her is probably going to add to the horrors in her mind. She'll travel back there and your arms will feel like theirs." Chakotay groaned and felt Phoebe's reassuring hand on his. "You'll have to restrain her though or she could really hurt herself. Keep talking as you hold her if it comes to this as it'll ground her to the present." Carol smiled in reassurance at them and stood to leave. "Just try and be positive. I know it's hard but I truly believe we'll beat this." They thanked her as she left and settled down for another night.

Four days later, Phoebe needed to take her mother into the city for the old lady's annual physical and worried about leaving Chakotay alone with Kathryn. "Are you sure you'll be all right? I can try and find someone else to take mom."

Chakotay smiled and pulled her into his arms. "You go on. I'll be fine. Besides, you need the break and I'll call you if anything happens." Phoebe smiled, knowing he was right and left the house.

Chakotay sat Kathryn in the living room and read to her, enjoying the quiet of the house. As the room got dim with the evening sun sinking, he stood and turned on the old-fashioned lamp that Gretchen insisted on keeping. He knocked against the shade which covered the main light fitting, causing the light to shine directly into Kathryn's eyes. Immediately she reacted and jumped up, her screams filling the room. Chakotay stood frozen for a moment as she threw herself forward, crashing against the coffee table and falling to the floor. She was back on her feet at once and headed for the glass patio doors before Chakotay snapped out of it. He grabbed her just before she would have plunged through the glass and pulled her back. She kept screaming and fought him, her small fists hitting off him and her nails scratching at him.

"Kathryn. Kathryn. It's Chakotay. It's over. You're home. No one can hurt you now. They're gone. They're dead. It's over." He shouted above her screams but his words didn't reach her and her struggle continued. He knew his hold would bruise her but at this moment, that was the least of his worries. He desperately needed to contact Carol but couldn't risk letting Kathryn go for a second. As he struggled on, he heard the front door and running feet and then Phoebe was there. She quickly moved to help, calling to her mother to get the doctor and together they managed to get the struggling and terrified woman onto the sofa, both of them gasping for air with the effort. Kathryn continued screaming and fighting them but they held her down.

Within minutes, Carol Stevens had arrived, beaming directly to the house, the transporter coordinates having been established as a medical emergency. Chakotay fought his tears and filled Carol in on what had happened and how the light shining into Kathryn's eyes had triggered the reaction. She quickly appraised the situation and pressed a mild sedative to Kathryn's neck as Chakotay and Phoebe fought to hold her still. Within a few seconds, the drug took effect and Kathryn's fighting lessened and eventually disappeared. She just lay against them now, tears pouring down her face and crying out.

"Don't, please don't. Oh God, help me. No more." Her plaintive words tore at them all and they knew she was back in the prison in her mind. Slowly her words ceased and she just lay limply in Chakotay's strong arms as he rocked her and whispered softly to her. Phoebe sat beside them and stroked her sister's face, whispering quietly to her also. Carol stood back and slipped a supporting arm around Gretchen Janeway as the old woman stood crying as she witnessed the pain her daughter was going through.

Within twenty minutes, an exhausted Kathryn slipped off to sleep and Chakotay gently carried her up to bed as Phoebe walked ahead of him and then helped him settle her. Occasionally she twitched in her sleep and murmured something as if in a nightmare and they knew she probably was.

Carol came in behind them and checked her over, satisfying herself as to Kathryn's physical state. She quickly healed the small bruises which had been inflicted during her restraint and then checked Chakotay and healed the numerous scratches he had. "I'll give her another sedative now and that should get her through the night. Stay with her at all times though as she could still wake up in a panic and hurt herself again."

Chakotay nodded, remembering how close Kathryn had come to smashing through the glass doors. "What about when she does wake in the morning? What can we expect?"

Carol sighed deeply. "It's impossible to predict. Most likely she'll remember quite a bit but how she reacts to those memories I can't say. She might well try and deny them or she might accept them all and react accordingly, much like this evening. I'll leave you some hypos in case it gets too bad but try and avoid using them if you can unless you feel you've no other choice. I'd prefer to let her face this head on and deal with it. I want you to know that there will probably be other episodes like this one although I hope they won't be as bad. You could also start to see nightmares starting now. I'll keep in constant touch with you and call me anytime, day or night, if you've any worries." Chakotay and Phoebe smiled their thanks and Phoebe walked the doctor out, also going to check on her mother to try and comfort her too.

Chakotay sat through the night watching Kathryn as she tossed and turned and occasionally cried out. Each time he leaned over and soothed her with his hands and voice as much as he could and it worked for a while until the next image filled her mind. He dozed a little towards morning and suddenly jerked awake, not sure what had disturbed him. He glanced towards Kathryn and suddenly saw that she was watching him. He smiled softly and tried to read her eyes but couldn't. She stared at him a moment longer and then turned away. He stood up immediately and went to the other side of the bed where he sat beside her.

"Kathryn?" She didn't look at him but he knew she'd heard him and that she was aware of his presence. He stroked her face and felt her flinch under his touch. "Kathryn, it's all right. You're home." He didn't know what else to say. Eventually she just closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep again.

Two days passed this way, silence during the day and crying and screaming in her sleep at night, and Chakotay was convinced now from her eyes that Kathryn remembered everything. The pain he saw in them from time to time could only come from her remembered pain and he talked endlessly, trying to reassure her that it was all over, that they were all there for her and that she was safe now but she never reacted to his words. Phoebe and Gretchen were getting the same from her and Carol called all the time and tried to tell them they just had to be patient. She told them that Kathryn would talk to them when she was ready and that she was probably just trying to deal with things in her own mind first or fight her mind's denial of what she remembered. Gretchen and Phoebe accepted this, desperately needing to believe it but Chakotay worried that something more was going on or would go on and he refused to leave Kathryn for more than a few minutes, terrified of something he couldn't name.

As time passed, Kathryn moved around more on her own and began to do small things for herself but still she didn't speak at all. She had lapses where she'd just stare ahead of her, seeing horrors known only to her and when she came out of them, tears would pour down her face as Chakotay or Phoebe held her tightly to them. On one occasion, Chakotay found her in the bathroom on the floor, her back to the wall as she repeatedly banged her head off the hard tiles behind her, her blood staining them. Carol quickly called and healed the injury and watched as Kathryn acted as if nothing had happened.

Gretchen still spent hours with her daughter trying to get through to her and slowly Kathryn seemed to relax more as her mother held her. As winter began, Kathryn started to speak the odd word and responded gradually when spoken to. Chakotay watched on as she inched her way back to something resembling independence but couldn't shake the feeling in his gut that something more was going on in Kathryn's head.

By Christmas, they had a very withdrawn Kathryn who tended to herself now and ate what was put in front of her. She spoke when she needed to, answering in monosyllables when asked anything but all conversation was kept within safe parameters and none of them quite had the nerve to push it. For the most part, Kathryn acted the way a small, frightened child might. Carol urged them to take their time and let Kathryn herself speak of what had happened when she was ready, explaining that she needed to feel secure in the present before attempting to address the past. She tried to make them see that they actually had no proof that Kathryn remembered everything and were just assuming that she did, mainly because of the nightmares, and she explained that the images that came to Kathryn in her sleep could well be shut off from her mind during her waking hours. Chakotay never said anything to the others but as he saw them accept the doctor's words, he knew within himself that Kathryn did remember all that had happened to her but he'd never be able to prove it to them. In the end, he kept his thoughts to himself and carried on.

As the new year arrived and brought with it the worst snow in forty years, Chakotay found himself unable to relax, constantly feeling something on the horizon, but never able to understand what it was. Phoebe tried to reassure him that they were all fine but Chakotay still felt uneasy. Having fallen into an exhausted sleep on the sofa one night, knowing that Phoebe was sitting with Kathryn, he was jerked awake by Kathryn's sister, her eyes and voice frantic. "Chakotay, Chakotay, wake up. She's gone."

Chakotay was on his feet immediately. "Phoebe, calm down. What do mean she's gone?"

He saw the young woman's tears and panic. "I nodded off and when I woke up, Kathryn was gone. Her bed's empty and I've checked the house but she's not here. I checked mom and she's still asleep. Chakotay, she's out there. She has to be. It's freezing."

Chakotay tried to remain calm. "We'll find her, don't worry. You stay here with Gretchen and I'll look." He grabbed his boots and coat and headed out.

It was still snowing but Chakotay was barely able to make out tracks in the snow. He knew most people would be unable to follow them but suddenly things his father had taught him came back to him and he found himself drawing on his past, cursing himself for not having listened more as his father had tried to pass down the knowledge of generations. He called out to Kathryn, pleading with her to answer him as the tracks grew ever fainter with the falling snow and then he lost them completely. Fighting the bitter cold which was numbing his feet and hands, he struggled on against the driving snow and suddenly saw what looked like a dark shape in the whiteness ahead of him. Finding reserves of energy he'd been unaware of, he rushed forward and saw Kathryn lying deathly still in the snow.

Chakotay skidded down in the snow beside her and rolled her over. Her skin and lips were almost blue and he frantically checked for a pulse, unable to feel anything with his fingers numb. Blowing on the almost frozen digits, he felt again and let out the breath he'd been holding as he felt the faint fluttering. Using the small domestic commlink he carried, he tried to call Phoebe, hoping he was still within the half mile radius in which the link worked. Phoebe's voice came back to him and he heaved a sigh of relief.

"Phoebe, I found her. She's alive but she's freezing. Call the doctor quickly." He cut the communication and picked Kathryn up in his arms. Feeling the bitter cold slow him, he forced himself back towards the house, grateful for the fact that the wind was blowing the snow to his back now.

Carol was waiting when he made it back, totally exhausted, and Chakotay saw how hastily she'd dressed, wondering how he could notice something like that at this moment in time. He carried Kathryn quickly up the stairs and stood back as Carol went to work on her patient. He moved back to the doorway to join Phoebe and Gretchen as they watched on anxiously.

Within ten minutes, Carol was finished and asked Phoebe to get her some extra blankets and together they tucked them tightly around the unconscious Kathryn. "She's suffering from hypothermia. This will warm up her gradually. In an hour or two, try and get her into a warm bath, not hot. Plenty of warm drinks when she comes around and just generally keep her warm but not too hot. She'll be fine in a day or two. For now, she'll sleep for an hour or so and if she feels cold to your touch, wake her and get her into the bath." The young woman looked very tired.

Phoebe looked up from tucking the blanket in as her mother spoke. "What happened? Why would she go out there?" The old woman was close to tears.

Phoebe shrugged her shoulders. "Mom, she's not thinking straight. It's my fault for falling asleep and not watching her."

Carol quickly cut in. "That's not going to help at all. There's no fault or blame here. You have to just look at it and see that we were lucky and that she's fine and let it go at that. You must understand that she's still very confused and didn't realize what she was doing or where she was going." Reluctantly Phoebe accepted the words of someone with more understanding of the situation. Gretchen went over to her younger daughter and hugged her.

Chakotay looked at Carol and smiled. "Thanks for everything, Carol. I'll see you downstairs." The doctor was smart enough to understand what he was really asking. Leaving Kathryn in the care of her mother and sister, they made their way down the stairs.

Once in the kitchen, Chakotay turned to Carol and spoke his mind. "Do you really believe what you said up there or is there more?" He held his gaze steady.

Carol put her bag down and sank into a chair. "What do you think happened tonight?"

Chakotay sat opposite her and kept his voice low. "I think Kathryn remembers everything and I think tonight she set out into the snow not planning on coming back."

Carol drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "That's quite a lot to think, Chakotay. You really believe Kathryn tried to kill herself?" Chakotay didn't answer and just nodded his head. Carol looked away a moment then back at him. "OK, I'll be honest with you. I don't know. It's very likely though that you're right, although I also have to believe that you're totally wrong. Chakotay, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. I just don't have the answer for you. If however you're right, then we'd better tell the others and keep a closer eye on her."

Chakotay nodded and looked up suddenly to see Phoebe standing there, tears running down her cheeks.

"I thought it was just me who was thinking that way. I…" Chakotay stood and went to her, hugging her and then sat her down. "Chakotay, I thought hard all the time you were out there looking for her and I remembered before when Kathryn was younger. Do you know about that?" He nodded and let Phoebe tell the Doctor about Kathryn's previous experience in the snow and wanting to just lie down in it and sleep, until a homeless puppy intervened. "I don't want mom to know about this. It would hurt her too much." They all agreed.

Chakotay turned to Carol. "I just knew it. I felt sure that she remembered everything. I expected just the nightmares or during the day, maybe flashbacks, something like that but she just acts… I don't know. Half of me thinks she's in denial and blocking it out. The other half thinks she knows and…"

Carol leaned forward. "Look, we've spoken of this before, how sometimes trauma can be so deep that a person can even shut their mind off in sleep. Kathryn, as we know, has passed that stage. It's the waking hours we worry about now. If she remembers it all, it could explain tonight. There can be denial or there can be an acceptance on a deeply disturbing level where she just believe this is all there'll ever be, that she can never move past it. The horror becomes her only existence and she'll try to force the thoughts away. She can also be so disturbed by what happened that she'll just force herself to function and not think about anything else. It's also possible that she knows in her mind but can't let anything show because that would mean facing it and facing you. She can't do that yet. For her to know that you all know, that's very hard to deal with. I think we should just keep a close watch on her and let her accept that you're there for her and slowly over time, hope it'll get easier to deal with for her, and for her to deal with you knowing. If you're right about tonight, that was her way to avoid it, avoid facing you all. Just give her time to watch you and learn that it makes no difference to you all what happened." Chakotay and Phoebe nodded understanding. They'd no choice but to let Kathryn set her own pace now.

Phoebe bathed Kathryn during the night when she awoke feeling cold but no mention of the walk in the snow was mentioned, Kathryn's eyes warning Phoebe off when she saw how empty they appeared. Chakotay took over early the next morning and sat with her, watching her closely but Kathryn remained silent.

Over the next two weeks, no mention was made of the night in the snow and things returned to what had become normal to them all now. The snow gradually melted, swelling the local rivers and Chakotay had hoped his fears would have melted with it but instead they grew and grew.

One afternoon as Kathryn slept, Chakotay took Phoebe out for a walk, both of them needing the break and the fresh air. They returned to find a frantic Gretchen, telling them that Kathryn had disappeared again. She explained that she'd dozed off in her chair for a few moments, no more than five minutes and found her daughter missing when she woke. Chakotay and Phoebe tried to reassure the old woman and set off to search the area, each of them going in the opposite direction to the other.

Something in Chakotay's gut sent him towards the river which flowed by the end of the Janeway land behind some trees. He knew the river was normally quiet but with the recent thawing that it was now very swollen and wild. He raced through the trees and stopped dead at the sight of Kathryn standing on a rock in her bare feet in the centre of the river, her nightgown flapping around her thin body. She turned quickly when she heard him and he saw her tears.

"Kathryn, please love. Come back in." He knew from her eyes that her mind was quite clear, that it would have to have been for her to think her way around what she was doing. He glanced down and saw her dressing gown and slippers neatly arranged and folded on the ground at his feet and shook his head sadly. She was thinking clearly all right. "Kathryn, please don't do this. Think of your mother and sister. Think of me even, but please think of yourself too. Don't do this."

She looked back at him and he saw the devastation on her face. "What else is there? I've no peace. It won't go away and I can't face it, can't face anyone. All of you."

Chakotay sighed. Kathryn was back all right but what was there was almost destroyed. He'd waited so long now to hear her speak clearly but for it to be with these words, filled him with pain. "Kathryn, listen to me. Just listen. I know how much you're hurting and how much pain you're in but you have to understand that your mom and sister are in pain too. How can you put them through this again? They lost you and got you back and then lost you again. They get you back once more and they've been there for you all the time and now you want them to go through losing you a third time. Kathryn please, at least think of them. Let us help you. Let us help you find peace and..."

Her anguished scream shocked him. "I can't." She tried to gain some control. "I watch you all. I see your pity…"

Chakotay cut her off. "That's not pity, Kathryn, it's love. If you can't tell the difference… Kathryn, we just want to help you and be there for you. We need you."

She stared deeply at him. "Why do you need me? I understand them but Chakotay, you left. Why are you here now? Why have you been here all this time? I don't understand." She turned slightly on the rock and Chakotay stepped forward.

"Kathryn, please stay still. It's slippery."

She wasn't listening to him. "You left and I looked for you."

He squeezed his eyes tightly closed a minute and prayed for the strength and wisdom to say the right things. "I left because I thought you were back with Mark and he told some of the crew that you were together again. I left because I knew you'd been offered 'admiral' and I didn't want my past to tarnish that for you. I left because I was a stupid fool and because I was afraid and a hundred other reasons I regret every day and then I came back and was told you were dead." He saw her look at him now and saw that he had her attention. He crept closer to the river bank. "Kathryn, when I was told you were dead, you've no idea of what that did to me. They told me you went down with your ship and later on then I found out through an old Maquis friend that you were alive but being held. I learned where you were and went after you. Tom and B'Elanna came with me. We found you and… Oh God, Kathryn, don't do this to me please. I love you and need you. Please come back."

He saw her tears pouring down her face and the confusion there. "You don't want me. You couldn't. I don't even want myself."

He inched forward. "Kathryn, I love you. We all love you. Please come back. As to the pain and the memories… God love, I know they're there but I can help them go away if you just let me. You've so much waiting for you, love and friendships, your family and me, your friends. We'll face it all together if you just let me be there for you."

Suddenly her tears slowed and he saw a wild anger in her. "No, no, you can't. I know…I know what they did to me. You know. I know you do. You say you found me so you saw. You can't ever want… I'm nothing but their leftovers. They destroyed me. I'm nothing but empty and dirty. You don't want…"

Chakotay felt his own anger grow. "How dare you, Kathryn Janeway. How dare you damned well say that. Don't you dare try and tell me that I can't love you. You insult me by thinking any of what happened would make a difference to me. I thought you were strong and couldn't be destroyed. I thought we were strong together, that you loved me too, that you thought I was better than that but if you think that badly of me, think that I'm like that… Damn you, Kathryn." He shook his head. "You know what? I don't know all of what you went through and if you ever want to tell me, that's fine, and if you don't, that's fine too. Know this though. I love you more than anything and need you beyond words but if you feel that about me and think of me like that, think that little of us, maybe you had better jump. And when you do, I'll jump after you because I don't want to live without you anymore. I waited years for you and then I made the biggest mistake of my life and left and then I come back and I'm told I've lost you for good. When I found you, it was a second chance for me, for us, or so I thought but I guess I was wrong." He dropped his head, his eyes unable to look at her anymore. Slowly he turned to the side.

"Chakotay…" He ignored her a moment. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. I…it's just so hard to face, to remember. I'm sorry. It just won't go away. It's all that's there, every minute. It's all people will ever see when they look at me."

He looked up and saw her eyes pleading with him. He knew his own pain showed in his eyes but he kept looking at her. "People will always see YOU, Kathryn, the woman you are and the woman they know. You insult us and underestimate us all if you think that's all we are. As to the rest, we replace that with what was before and leave it behind and get rid of it. We fill the gap with what can be. I know it won't be easy but you can do it if you let us help you. Kathryn, you did nothing wrong. You've nothing to feel embarrassed about. I love you, and your mom and sister love you. So many people care so much. You can beat this. Please come back to us. We love you. I love you." He stretched a hand out, tears pouring down his face, his love for her obvious to anyone. Suddenly she reached out to him and stepped forward, back towards him.

Chakotay never really understood what happened next. One minute she was there reaching for him, the next he heard her cry out and saw her slip from the rock and plunge into the raging water. He pulled his boots and jacket off at lightning speed as his eyes scanned the turbulent water. He saw her downstream a little, fighting to keep her head above the water which tried to claim her, but each time the swell beat her back under. He raced down the river bank and managed to get ahead of her then dived in. He saw her being carried towards him and cried out as he saw her head smash off a rock and her body go under the water. Heading in her direction, the power of the river almost too much for him, he desperately clawed around in the water, his fingers grasping nothing. He felt something hit off his leg and twisted around and then saw her, face down being carried further downstream. He drew on an almost superhuman strength and fought his way towards her, defying the current which tried to drag him away from her.

Finally, he reached her and managed to pull her head clear of the water then struggled with her towards the bank. Thankfully the river was less deep here and the current not as strong. He heaved Kathryn up onto the bank and pulled himself out behind her, his sodden clothing adding to the weight and requiring more effort. Without stopping, he rolled Kathryn into her stomach and pressed down hard on her back, keeping her head to the side. He watched as water was pushed from her lungs then rolled her over and listened for any sound of her breathing. There was none. Quickly he started CPR and repeatedly called to her as he alternated between chest compressions and breathing into her mouth. The memories of them in a similar situation before came back to haunt him and he prayed for the same outcome.
Suddenly Kathryn coughed and vomited up water, her back arching with the effort to replace the water in her lungs with air. Chakotay rolled her onto her side and held her as she drew in ragged breaths. She was semi-conscious and unaware of where she was. He quickly picked her up and forced his legs to work as he carried her back to the house.

"Kathryn, you have to stop doing this. I'm too old for carrying you back to the house every time." He hugged her tighter in his arms and then saw Phoebe racing towards him. He screamed for her to get help and barely made it up the steps into the house and then Phoebe was helping him, easing the burden and they lay a now fully unconscious Kathryn on the sofa. Once again, Carol was there within minutes.

"She fell into the river, slipped on a rock." He saw the looks he got from Carol and Phoebe and just shut up and let Carol go to work.

"How long was she in the water, Chakotay?"

He drew in deep breaths. "A few minutes, and she hit her head on a rock. The current was strong. I couldn't reach her and when I did she'd stopped breathing. I did CPR."

Carol nodded. "She's breathing now but there's still water in her lungs. My main concern is something called secondary drowning, when there's still water in the lungs. It can be like drowning all over again, fills the lungs back up. I'll make sure we have it all. I want her in hospital though. That's a nasty gash on her head and there's most likely a concussion." Chakotay and the others nodded. "I want to check you as well." Chakotay wasn't minding her.

Gretchen nodded off in her chair as they sat and watched Kathryn sleeping in her room at the hospital. Phoebe glanced at Chakotay and her voice reached him as a whisper. "Chakotay, the river… Was it what I think? You said 'slipped' but…"

He looked at her and smiled sadly. "She was going to. That's why she was there. But Phoebe, she did slip. We talked for want of a better word and she was coming back, stepping off the rock. I don't know what happened. I guess her foot slipped. All I know is my heart almost stopped when I saw her fall in. The rest you know."

Phoebe reached a hand out. "She really talked to you?"

He nodded. "She's there all right. She does remember it all but. Phoebe, she's badly hurt and in a lot of pain. There's a lot there for her to deal with and face again. She actually thought I wouldn't want her because of what happened. I got angry, shouted at her. I didn't mean to but it worked. She was reaching out to me when she slipped. Oh Spirits, I nearly lost her again."

He broke down and Phoebe hugged him tightly to her. "Chakotay, you didn't lose her and neither did we. We go forward now, or I should say onward. We'll get her through this and get her any help she needs. She can talk to us or Carol, whatever she's more comfortable with but we'll do this, OK, partner?" Chakotay smiled. They'd become partners in the business of Kathryn Janeway and they shared one hell of an interest in their investment, one they'd never let go of.


Kathryn stirred early next morning, just as the morning light started to fill the room. Chakotay was awake, just watching her. He'd convinced Phoebe to take Gretchen home once the doctors had promised them that Kathryn would be fine. He watched as she opened her eyes and stared around the room, trying to understand where she was. Finally her eyes met his and he smiled gently at her but said nothing. She stared at him and he saw memories of the previous day cloud her eyes, adding to the haunted look which always seem to reside there now.

"I'm sorry." Her voice was hoarse and she turned away quickly.

"Sorry for what, Kathryn?"

She looked back at him and he saw her tears. "For yesterday. I could have gotten you killed."

Chakotay looked down and shook his head. "What about you, Kathryn? You came pretty close yourself." He saw her close her eyes. "Kathryn, if you ever try anything like that again, that or heading off into the snow." Her eyes flew to his. "Think we wouldn't see that for what it was?" She shook her head slowly, her eyes telling him he was right. "Yeah well, if you ever try anything like that again, I'll kill you." She stared at him and saw that his face stayed serious. "I mean it, Kathryn. I love you so much but trying what you did, it hurt me to the core. Phoebe and your mom even. They just want to be there for you." He saw her tears fall.

"I know. I just couldn't see… I can't see…"

He pulled his chair closer to the bed and took her hand. "Well, see this then, Kathryn. That's in the past. Now we face the future. You talk to me or the doctor, Carol Stevens or our EMH, or whoever you feel most comfortable with, but you face this and deal with it. I don't mean to sound hard but I love you too much to watch you let go and let those bastards win. We'll all be there for you in whatever way you're happy with and I'll be beside you if you'll let me, as a friend or whatever you want me to be. Later on, when you're past this, when you've beaten them, I'll still be here, again in whatever way you want. What happened, it happened to your body. Don't let them have touched your mind and soul as well. The body's healed. Let's work on the rest."

He watched his words sink in and suddenly she choked back a deep sob and tried to do the same with the ones that followed and failed. Without thinking, Chakotay stood and sat on the side of the bed then pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. He felt the deep shuddering of her body and absorbed her cries and tears as they tore through her. He felt her clinging to him, her fists opening and closing on his shirt and he rocked her and whispered to her as he'd done when he first found her.

The storm raged for a long time and Chakotay held fast to her as he rode it out with her and she cried and screamed out the horror and agony of the past year. He continued his rocking and whispering as the storm finally lost its power and abated slowly and still he held her, relieved beyond words that she let him this close.

Totally exhausted emotionally and physically, Kathryn leaned into his strong arms and surrendered to them, feeling safer than she had in a long time. Chakotay cradled her against him until he heard her breathing even out, interrupted only by the occasional sniffle. When he felt she was calm, he lay her back against the pillows but still held tightly to her hands.

"That's a first step, Kathryn. A very big step. We'll all get through this together. You just have to want to and let us help you through."

Tearfully she nodded. "I know. It's just… It's so hard to face those memories. There's a part of me that never wants anyone to know about what happened. I'm so afraid of what you'll think of me, that it's all you'll ever think of when you look at me."

Chakotay stroked her face and delighted in the fact that she didn't flinch. "Kathryn love, listen to me. I'm telling you this and I KNOW I'm speaking for your mom and Phoebe as well, everyone in fact. We'll never think anything bad of you. We all knew you long before this happened and that's what we'll always see. The woman we all know and love. Kathryn, we love you, plain and simple. I know how hard it'll be to face but you do it a bit at a time. You can speak to Carol Stevens or someone else and if you don't want us knowing about what happened or can't deal with that, that's fine but just know that it makes no difference to how we see you or love you."

He thought a moment. "Kathryn, there were two Starfleet people held there with you. You could even speak to them. I'm sure they'd help you just as you'd help them. Kathryn, we can do this. Just decide you want your life back and set out to take it back. You'll have all the support you could want or need. You just need to believe in yourself and trust the rest of us. What was it from the Christian Bible? 'These three…faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love…love abideth.' Well Kathryn, you have everything you need to get you through this and in particular, you have so much love. Use it, draw your strength from it and believe in it. You've suffered through the darkest night, love. Now it's time to look to the dawn." She nodded tearfully and squeezed his hands. Chakotay knew that the end of a long dark road was in sight.

Over the next two months, Kathryn spent many hours talking with Carol Stevens and two other counsellors who specialized in treating former prisoners and hostages but she found talking with the others who'd been held with her the most helpful. Not having to explain everything to someone, knowing they understood only too well helped her no end. The two men shared sessions with Kathryn and on the counsellors' advice, Chakotay, Gretchen and Phoebe met with the men's wives and families in counselling sessions and through this, worked through a lot of their own pain and feelings of helplessness.

One evening about three months into the counselling sessions, Kathryn sat with Chakotay in the garden and leaned back in her chair, looking more at peace than he'd seen her since everything had happened. He noticed that she was wearing the earrings from her 12th birthday. She'd been amazed when she'd heard the story of her mother giving Chakotay one of them and then how he'd returned it when she'd been found.

They sat quietly now and listened to the sounds of nature around them. Gretchen and Phoebe were spending the night in the city and Chakotay was enjoying some time alone with Kathryn. He watched her face as she gazed out over the garden and listened to the birds singing. He smiled softly and looked around him then heard Kathryn's voice. When he turned, she was looking straight at him.

"Chakotay, thank you for helping me to find my way back." He smiled and reached for her hand. "I can't believe these last months, when I think from the start of this to now." She sighed and looked at their joined hands. "Talking to the counsellors has been great but being able to talk with David and John has been the most helpful. They went through the same…" She shook her head. "God, the same. I can share everything with them and they understand and I don't need to explain how I felt then or since." She looked to him quickly, afraid she's hurt his feelings in some way but all she saw was his love and gentle smile. "Chakotay, I don't mean to… Can you understand how…well, talking to them is… I will talk to you. I'm just not ready."

He squeezed her hand. "Kathryn, I'm so happy that it's all been so helpful and that you have David and John. I understand how they can help you like no one else can. You know, there were things I went through in the Maquis that I could probably never explain to you and that's nothing against you. B'Elanna would understand because she was there but you couldn't. It's not against you, as I say. It's just fact. The expression of 'you had to be there' stands true. I want you to know this though. You speak to me only if you ever want to. It'll never be when you speak to me, only if you do. There's no pressure there. Knowing or not knowing will never make a difference to how I feel about you. If you want to tell me sometime, I'll be there for you. I'm here for you always, for whatever you need from me. OK?"

She smiled tearfully. "I need a hug." She didn't have to ask twice. He stood up and got down on his knees, then leaned over to her and pulled her into his arms.

"You're doing so well, Kathryn. I'm so proud of you." They stayed in their tight embrace for a long time.

That year, they had an Indian summer and the warm days lingered. Kathryn had finally finished her main counselling sessions and only occasionally needed to meet with Carol Stevens now. She kept in touch with the two men who'd shared her nightmare and the three families developed a close bond between them.

One hazy afternoon, Kathryn suggested to Chakotay that they take a picnic out into the fields and spend the afternoon there. Knowing her as he did, he sensed there was more to the outing than met the eye but he stayed quiet and went along with her plans, helping her pack a picnic for them. They strolled through the fields hand in hand and a quiet comfortable feeling existed between them. Finally, they found a secluded spot under a large oak tree and lay their blanket beneath the branches, spreading their food out before them.

"The acorns must be pretty confused." Chakotay smiled as he looked up into the branches over his head. "Is it still summer or has autumn come and we missed it? Where are the squirrels who normally come and take us?"

Kathryn smiled softly at him and patted the blanket beside her for him to sit. "They'll sort it out eventually. Nature always does. Things always right themselves in the end." Her words said so much more and he smiled at her and sat.

"Right, woman, I know this is safe because it's replicated." She hit him gently on the arm and handed him a sandwich. They ate leisurely for the next half hour, pausing in their eating for relaxed conversation or to point out a small animal or bird going about their life, unaware of the couple observing them. Finally satisfied, Chakotay lay back and watched Kathryn put things away. He knew by her that she was using her actions to cover her thinking and delay for a moment as she sorted her thoughts and so he lay quietly and waited. Eventually, she closed the basket and lay down beside him on her side, her head propped on her hand. She drew in several deep breaths then sat up and leaned her back against the tree. His eyes followed her movements and then locked with hers. "Do you want me to sit there with you or stay here?"

She knew he knew now that the time had come for her to open up to him. "Here beside me." He nodded and sat up and joined her. She didn't look at him and he kept his own head down, letting her set the pace.

"I think you guessed what this afternoon was all about." He nodded. "I debated whether to say all this or talk to you. I wasn't sure if I could or… I talked to David and John and they said they both spoke with their wives and were better for it. I did want you to know anyway but it's just hard." She looked at him and he felt her eyes on him.

He looked up at her and nodded. "Kathryn, you do this only if you want to. I told you that."

She smiled and scratched her eyebrow. "I want to and I also need to. Is that OK? That I tell you I mean." He smiled and squeezed her hand.

She sighed deeply and licked her lips. "Some you know. When we got home, Mark was… He was there suddenly and hugged me and I just hugged him back. It was just seeing someone, anyone from Earth, when I never thought we'd see it again. He just represented anyone I'd ever known. Then they talked about taking on 'admiral' and there was the debriefings and I could only think about getting the Maquis cleared. Suddenly I turned around and you were gone." She sniffed but held her tears back.

"No one knew where you'd gone and I looked and looked, asked everyone, tried everywhere and I cursed myself so much, totally berated myself so many times for my weakness out there and for letting you go." She bit her lip.

"And then I came back here and mom and Phoebe were here for me and I just let go. One day like the next and all I could do was cry. I couldn't stop. I still searched but… Mark kept calling and I found out what he'd told people and I lost it with him one night and screamed at him. I haven't seen him since, thank God." She stopped and looked out over the fields and Chakotay stayed quiet.

"Starfleet kept at me and finally I decided to try one last mission. I needed to see if I could find any kind of peace out there again. Anyway, I went and it was terrible. I kept expecting to see you beside me and Harry at his station, Tom and Tuvok at their posts. I'd go to call B'Elanna in engineering before I'd remember. My First Officer got pretty sick of being called by your name. I even missed Neelix's cooking." She smiled softly at the memory and then a shadow crossed her face.

"They were fine people. They were mostly young but good people, kind, with families." She fought her tears as she saw their faces in her mind. Fighting her emotions, she blew out air from her lungs and gulped down more to replace it.

"I was called to the bridge. I don't know why. I remember calling out for a report and then I felt the transporter beam and I was on another ship. Someone grabbed me, forced me to my knees and held me down. I felt my arms pulled back and my wrists tied. I was shoved to a viewport and made watch. I saw them, my ship, being fired on. There was no hope, and I saw plasma leaks and going down… I tried to close my eyes but they hit me and… They forced me to watch and… I saw them, Chakotay. I saw them go down and I remember screaming and I could hear them screaming in my mind, calling to me to save them, then and since. And then the explosion and I knew none of them could have survived but still…" Tears poured down her face and she wiped angrily at them. Chakotay remained quiet and let her speak. There was nothing he could say anyway that would make a difference.

"I barely remember something hitting me on the back of the head and next thing I knew I was in the cell." She fought for control. "I was still in uniform and my hands were still tied. As if they'd been watching me, the minute I moved they came in and dragged me out. There was a large room, long tables, bright lights, trays of instruments." She stopped for several minutes and tried to control herself. Chakotay understood now how the light shining in her eyes had triggered a reaction.

"Two of them held me while another one cut the uniform off me. They laughed all the time, ugly and disgusting comments, and I tried to block them out, tried not to think what was ahead for me, not to think about the last time. I couldn't though. I couldn't escape my own mind or the reality of what was happening to me. I heard others screaming and it was Admiral Paris all over again and I found myself thankful they were screaming and not me and I felt guilty for that and then… I knew it would be me soon." Once more she stopped and picked at the grass beside her.

"They striped me completely, everything. The one who did the cutting, he pawed at me and I tried to look away from him at the far wall, anywhere. He didn't care. I was lifted and thrown onto a table, restraints at each corner. They tied me down. I remember the metal of the table, so hard and cold." She pulled a chunk of grass from the ground and twisted it.

"Someone, one of them… I think he was a doctor or something. I tried to close my eyes but they'd hit at me when I did. They wanted me to see. He prodded and probed and cut, and the pain, needles and probes, everywhere. I thought I was losing my mind. I remember them lifting me and turning me over and tying me down again and then the same thing all over and I blacked out eventually." She tore at each strand of grass.

"When I came around I was still tied to the table on my stomach and all I could feel was pain. They were obviously watching me again and when I moved, they were back. They untied me and then tied my wrists and hung me from the ceiling. The beating… It was endless." She closed her eyes but opened them quickly.

"I don't remember passing out but I woke up back in the cell, chained to the wall and I was wearing something, rags really. I don't know how long or… Time had no meaning anymore." She risked a glance at Chakotay and saw only love and support on his face.

"I was back on that table many times after that first day. Everything jumps around in my mind, no real order to how things happened. I remember the events but not in any order. I tried for a time to just think of the people I loved, tried to remember all your faces, to hang onto all of that, all the love and goodness I'd known but… What they did just… It was stronger. They were stronger. And I couldn't hold on." She looked at him again and he just nodded.

"The beatings happened all the time, and then the drugs. I remember the burning inside when they injected them and more pain and not being able to breathe, feeling my chest and head would explode. My throat always hurt. I guess from all the screaming and I tried to stop that but I heard myself even when I didn't think I had screamed. They burned me with something and used electrodes and devices I didn't understand. Sometimes they'd heal the injuries but they replaced them quickly. I think they just wanted to make me last. It was all pain though. And questions, so many questions, about me and Starfleet and the buildings, who was who, what they did, but I never told them. At least I have that." She was back at the grass and now twisted the strands into a plait.

"I began to lose any understanding of their words, couldn't hear their questions, didn't know what they wanted anymore." She wiped at her tears again. "Eventually they stopped asking but the beatings and the torture continued. And then…then…" She stopped again and twisted at the grass once more, tearing at it.

"They brought me in and their leader, I think he was. He asked most of the questions. They didn't tie me this time and I remember wondering why. They always did. And they left me standing in the centre of the room, just looking at me, and that was more terrifying somehow. I remember looking at their faces, asking myself had they asked me something and I didn't hear and afraid of what they'd do because I wasn't doing what they asked. I knew the drugs were affecting my thinking all the time but they just watched me and I saw the leader move to me. I think I knew then, the look in his eyes, how he looked at me." She stopped and covered her eyes with her hand a moment and fought the feelings, fought to disassociate, as she'd learned from her counsellors.

"There was no warning, nothing. I was standing, then I was down. He hit me in the face, I know that, then he was… I was on my back and he was… God, I tried to fight him. I really did and then one of the others was there, holding my arms above my head and I felt hands on my ankles pulling them, and I tried to pull against them but I couldn't and… The one on…on top… His hands were everywhere, tearing at what I wore and then… Oh God, such pain, and all I could hear was my own scream and their laughter. They laughed. He was so heavy on me and I couldn't breath and I felt him moving inside me and felt myself tearing and…" She dropped her head and sobbed deeply, her whole body shaking. Chakotay pulled her to him and held her tightly. Within a minute, she pulled back.

"I have to say all this, Chakotay. Please understand." He nodded and squeezed her hand. "I thought it would never be over. I tried to pray, think of anything else. I remember his weight on me, his grunting and the others… They cheered. They cheered." She shook her head, still finding it so hard to accept that any living creature could do that. "I thought that was it. I hoped, prayed." Her other hand tore at the grass again, her eyes watching the movements of her fingers.

"It was only the start. The others. They all…" Chakotay gripped her hand tightly but stayed quiet, fighting the murderous anger that rose up in him. He thanked any God who listened that the bastards were already dead. "A lot of it is blurred but the pain was always there. They threw me on the table, sometimes on my back, then my stomach. It's all a blur of pain and hands grabbing me or pinning me down, being thrown around between them, each of them taking me, and they cheered each other on. I prayed to pass out, to die even, but I didn't and it went on and on. Eventually I must have passed out and I was in the cell again." Once more she broke down and let Chakotay hold her for longer this time. When she pulled back a little this time, he let her, knowing she needed to end this.

"After that, it was always the same, sometimes one or two of them in the cell, other times more in the room. I felt it less and less. Oh not the physical pain but inside. I could feel myself as if moving away from it all. They still beat me and tortured me but it was more the other now. I think they thought humiliation would work better than pain. They also saw, I think, that the drugs were too much for me, that I was past being able to tell them anything. Now they were just using me to… I tried to shut myself down and everything I'd ever known faded from me and I felt myself get further and further away but I always heard my own screams and the screams of others, and then even that went and I don't remember any more. Being back here… Its snippets here and there, faces, you and mom, Phoebe and Carol from time to time. My first clear memory is waking in bed and seeing you there but I wondered if I was dead or dreaming. After that, it's a lot clearer." Finally, she stopped and just lay against Chakotay as he hugged her. He rocked her gently and heard her speak again.

"David and John. It happened to them too. I couldn't believe. I haven't expected… Because they were men but it didn't matter and they understood you see. They knew what it was like." Chakotay just continued to rock her and let his own tears fall now. Neither moved for over an hour and Chakotay kept trying to comfort her, soothing her with his hands up and down her back and arms, hoping and praying that it was helping her. Finally she sat up and he saw the look of fear in her eyes.

"I couldn't take the memories and I could still feel them, their hands, hear their voices and cheering and laughing, feel the pain. Even the sounds and smells stayed with me. I couldn't face telling anyone, you or anyone else, and I just wanted it to go away. And then it snowed and I remembered before and I just found myself walking in it and hoping to sleep, and the river… I was so much clearer by then. I knew what I was doing, but you were there then and I couldn't. I saw how you felt and I couldn't. And when I slipped… I remember thinking that I'd lost it all and I hoped you'd know I hadn't jumped and I thought how I'd left it too late. Later, at the hospital and you were still there and you held me and… You were still there."

He smiled softly at her and pulled her back into his arms. "I'll always be here for you, Kathryn. Never ever doubt that or how much I love you." He looked into her eyes and saw the remains of her pain there.

"You're still holding me. Touching me. I was so sure… I know before but now that you know…"

Chakotay swallowed any anger he had this time and just grabbed her face gently between his large hands. "Now that I know, it makes no difference. I still love you as much as I always have and always will. Actually, strike that. I love you more each day. I love you more today than I did yesterday and I'll love you even more again tomorrow and so on. Kathryn, nothing is ever going to change that. Tell me you understand that and accept it please?" She nodded tearfully and threw herself back into his arms. He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head. "Spirits, Kathryn, I love you so much. You've no idea how much."

She leaned her head back and looked up into his eyes. "Chakotay, I love you too, more than my life." She brought her hand up and traced his lips with her fingers. He kissed them gently and she then removed her hand and leaned up to him. Softly and gently she brushed her lips to his, as if this was a test for her. Chakotay was careful to return the kiss but keep the pressure gentle. Eventually they ended the kiss and just held each other as the light faded, not leaving until the cool of the evening forced them to go. They strolled back to the house hand in hand, Chakotay feeling hope surging through him and Kathryn feeling more at peace than she ever had, despite the horrors she'd been through.

Another healing step came for Kathryn when Chakotay joined her at the memorial which had been erected to her lost crew. Chakotay hadn't been here before, not being able to face seeing Kathryn's named carved into the stone, confirming her loss from his life. He saw now where her name was been erased, leaving only a slight trace and he squeezed her hand tightly as he saw her look at the mark. He stood back and allowed her the time she needed to say goodbye to the men and women whose last service to Starfleet had been under her command, and for whom this marble work of art would ensure were never forgotten. He watched as she traced her fingers over each name, knowing she was seeing a face to match each of them. Feeling when the time was right, he stepped back to her and held her quietly as she cried her tears for them all, young lives snuffed out by the madness of others. As they left, Kathryn felt their souls were finally at peace, much like her own almost was.

By Christmas that year, they'd moved in together to a small house very close to Gretchen. They slept together every night but things had never gone further than soft kissing and holding each other each night. Kathryn had finally spoken with her mother and sister, telling them some of what happened but sparing them a lot of the details she'd confided to Chakotay. An even deeper closeness developed between them, deeper than Kathryn could ever have thought possible and she found that instead of any embarrassment as she'd expected, all she received was a wonderful comfort and feeling of love.

On Christmas eve, having returned from visiting Gretchen and Phoebe, Chakotay sat Kathryn down under the large Christmas tree he'd felled and stoked up the real log fire he'd insisted on having. Finally happy with the setting, he joined her on the rug and handed her a small red velvet box. She gave him a puzzled look and opened it slowly. Inside lay a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring, thin gold strips in the shape of two small intertwined hearts surrounding the stones. Kathryn gasped as the lights from the tree and the fire caught the stones. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and he reached out and stroked her face.

"Kathryn, you can take this whatever way you're comfortable with." He watched her frown. "It's either a gift of love or it's an engagement ring. Whatever you're more at ease with. There's no pressure or anything and you won't hurt my feelings either way. Just having you with me is all I'll ever need." He watched as she took the ring from the box and handed it to him. She then held out her left hand, her ring finger raised more than the others. His eyes met hers and he swallowed the tears he felt rising but they forced their way to his eyes anyway. Slowly he slipped the ring in place and grasped her hand tightly.

"Kathryn, are you sure you're all right with this?" She just nodded, not able to push words past the lump in her throat and threw herself into his arms. Chakotay pulled her down with him and they lay on the rug in front of the fire for a long time, just holding each other. After a while, Chakotay realized that Kathryn had fallen asleep and he gently eased himself away from her and went to fetch a blanket to cover them. He added more logs to the fire and made sure it was safe. He eased himself back down beside her and slipped an arm around her, trying not to wake her. She murmured something sleepily and twisted around to face him. He watched her face as her eyes slowly opened, sleep still lingering in their blue depths. She smiled softly at him and raised her hand to study her ring. He examined her face closely, marvelling at the peace he now saw in her features and hugged her tighter. He watched as her smile faded and her face grew serious as she studied his. She then brought her hand up and traced his tattoo and around his face with her fingers, her eyes visiting every feature before finally settling on his eyes. She slowly leaned closer and brushed her lips to his, moving against them as he returned the kiss.

Chakotay became aware of her hand moving down his chest, opening the buttons on his shirt and continued the kiss for a moment. He savoured the feel of her soft hand on his now bare chest but kept his own on her back, gently stroking up and down. When he felt her hand at the opening of his trousers, he pulled out of the kiss and studied her closely.

"Kathryn, love, are you sure? Are you ready for this? There's no hurry or…"

She stared deeply into his eyes. "Please Chakotay, I need you. I want this because I love you. It's not only about replacing the bad with the good or taking my life back. It's mainly about you and me and because I love you so much and want to be with you totally, If you don't or can't…" One look at his face told her not to even dare think along those lines and she nodded and smiled. "I love you, Chakotay. Those words seem so inadequate to explain what I feel."

He blinked hard and pulled her back to him, his lips covering hers again. He deepened the kiss this time, their first real kiss, his tongue gently pushing past her lips and exploring the depths of her mouth. He was aware of a deep moan from Kathryn's throat as her tongue joined in and swept his mouth, tasting him for the first time. He felt her arms around him, pulling him closer to her, almost as if she were trying to pull him inside her, melding them together. Chakotay pulled from the deep kiss, his lips sweeping her face and neck, trying to be everywhere at once.

"Oh God, Kathryn, I love you so much." He felt incapable of expressing the love he felt for her. He trailed kisses down her throat, his lips and nose pushing back the soft material of the blouse she wore. Determined that she control their first time together, he lay back, pulling her with him and watched as her small hands opened the buttons of her blouse, seeing that she knew he was passing control to her, letting her decide the pace. She leaned back a little and pulled the fabric from her body, her hands returning to his chest then lowered her head and showered kisses from his neck to the waistband of his trousers. Chakotay fought to control the raging emotions that flowed through him as he felt her lips and hands on his skin, his own hands running through her soft hair.

Kathryn now lay over him, gazing deeply into his eyes as his fingers lowered the straps of her bra, slowly revealing her to his eyes. He undid the clasp at the front of the bra and choked back a sob as her beauty was opened up to him for the first time. Slowly he rolled her and lowered his mouth to her breasts and gently suckled on the now erect nipples, swirling his tongue about the pink peaks. He felt Kathryn arch her back towards him as her breath caught in her throat. Her hands swept up and down his back and across his shoulders as she unconsciously pushed herself towards him. Chakotay kissed and licked his way from one breast to the other, his tongue teasing each nipple as Kathryn started to squirm under his ministrations. He was aware now of her hand back at the opening of his trousers and he leaned back, gently taking her hand and kissing it. He moved down, his lips trailing over her stomach and ran his tongue around her belly button. He looked up a moment and saw Kathryn's head thrown back, her mouth slightly open and the sight stopped him a moment at the beauty of it all.

As gently as he could, he lowered the leggings she wore, watching for any sign that she was uncomfortable or uneasy, but seeing only passion that rivalled his own, he continued, pulling the garment down her legs and then off. He ran his hands from her knees to her hips and back several times, his lips following their path, before slowly lowering her panties and parting her to his eyes. He saw immediately that she was wet and swollen, aching for him, and he slowly trailed his tongue up and down her inner thighs then finally to where she needed him most.

Kathryn arched her back and groaned loudly as Chakotay gently licked around her, his lips brushing over her most private of places. He blew softly on her, marvelling at her response as she trustingly opened her legs wider for him, inviting him where he felt so honoured to be. His hands slipped under her, raising her slightly to him, his shoulders holding her open and then he lowered his mouth over her as she cried out, the passion in her voice unmistakable. He felt her legs drop to rest on his shoulders as he alternated between licking, blowing and gently sucking, his tongue working her to a frenzy. Using one hand now to hold her up to him, he gently slipped a finger just inside her entrance and ran it around, testing the waters. He saw her hands gripping the rug beneath her and slowly pushed a little deeper, carefully reading her for any signs of discomfort. When none came, he added a second finger and lowered his mouth back down, covering her bundle of nerves so slick with her juices. He sucked hard as he pushed his fingers in and out and felt her inner muscles tightening around them. Within seconds, he felt her clamp down on his digits and heard her scream out his name. He continued sucking her, watching the muscles in her stomach tighten as she came, her climax washing over her like a tidal wave.

Kathryn lay still, feeling the waves of her orgasm receding slowly, her mind a fog of passion and pleasure. She felt her hands reach for Chakotay's shoulders, pulling him to her and stared up into his loving face. She saw the love he felt for her, slightly shadowed with concern and she moved to quickly allay any fears he had. She placed her hands on each side of his face, her arms feeling as if they weighed pounds, and pulled him down to her. She tasted herself on him and felt a rush of desire wash over her. All that existed in her mind at this moment was the kind, gentle and loving man in her arms, all traces of the previous horror banished to the past where they belonged. She spread her thighs as wide as she could, allowing him to fall into place where she wanted him. As she felt him hot and hard against her, she drew in a ragged breath and tried telling him with her eyes how much she loved and wanted him. Chakotay read the love and desire there for him only and kissed her deeply, placing his elbows on either side of her head. Breaking the kiss, he again checked her eyes, desperately needing to know that Kathryn was all right with this. "Kathryn, would it be better on your side or…"

Kathryn shook her head. She loved him for considering everything, for being so unselfishly thoughtful of her every need. "I want to see you like this. Please Chakotay."

He nodded, tears filling his eyes as he rested his hard shaft against her opening. As gently and delicately as possible, he pressed into her, determined to go as slowly as he could, terrified of hurting her in any way. She was dripping with desire but still he needed to be sure. As he entered her, he watched the play of emotions which broke across her face and felt her grip him inside, tilting her hips to draw him deeper. When he was fully shafted, he stopped and forced himself to relax, the feel of her enclosing his hardness, almost his undoing.

"Kathryn, look at me please." She stared back deeply into the depths of his eyes, connecting with his soul as he encountered hers. He began a gentle rocking movement and then slowly pulled out and plunged in again. Kathryn's passionate moans filled his mind as he thrust as gently as he could in and out, feeling the wave build up and up, feeling her tightening around him as she began another assent. He ground against her, rubbing off her clitoris with each thrust, stimulating her there as well as inside and he saw her eyes widen and knew instantly what was happening. He thrust harder now, pulling almost all the way out before returning and touching her cervix with each plunge. He heard her breathing change to panting and felt himself almost lose control but still he held off. Suddenly a keening wail came from her throat as she arched her head back and her body convulsed beneath him. As her inner muscles clamped down on his thick member, milking him, he finally let go, screaming out her name and he felt his ejaculation shoot into her depths, filling her.

Coming back to reality slowly, Chakotay rolled to the side taking Kathryn with him, terrified of squashing her beneath his weight. Asking with his eyes and not his words, he checked that she was all right and got his answer in the form of a smile and a nod, her eyes still glazed with her climax. She knew what he was asking without saying it and Chakotay knew asking her constantly if she was all right, would only in the end serve to remind her more and once he saw how relaxed she was, he relaxed himself. He stroked her face, pushing stray strands of hair back into place and kissed the tip of her nose. "Was I all right for you, love? Was it…?"

She pressed a finger to his lips. "It was wonderful. More than wonderful. I've never experienced it like that."

He smiled softly. "You looked a little shocked there for a minute. I wasn't sure…"

She smiled shyly. "I've heard of G-Spot orgasms before or ones just from, well you know, penetration. I just never…" She looked down at his throat, trailing a finger through the sweat which had gathered there, using the action to hide her embarrassment. "It was just never like that."

He tipped her chin up, smiling into her eyes. "Then I'm honoured, Kathryn, and please don't ever be embarrassed with me. I was so afraid I'd disappoint you, that I wouldn't please you."

She leaned forward and kissed him deeply. "Chakotay, you've always pleased me, been there for me, loved me, been everything to me. I'm sorry it took so long for me to come to you. I'm sorry for a lot of things but I know now I have to put that behind me. What we have here is all that matters and I've learned that."

He closed his eyes a moment to control himself and then opened them and stared at the vision before him, his life and the meaning for it, all wrapped up in one woman. "Kathryn, we have eternity ahead of us and we have each other. That's forever. What we have here outside of our family and friends is just part of the supporting cast if you like." He leaned his head back and looked at the tree, the tiny lights twinkling then back at Kathryn. "It's Christmas, a time for birth, for beginnings. This is our birth, our beginning and it'll never have an end. I promise you that." They snuggled closer, content in the silence, the hiss of the logs soothing them. They fell asleep in each other's arms, the sounds of the distant church bells which were still used to announce Christmas Day tolling somewhere in the distance, granting a blessing over them and heralding a world reborn.