Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc. Besides, I can't do any worse than you know who. An illiterate snail could do better than him.
NC 17
When Naomi goes missing, it re-opens Kathryn's painful past.

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

by Kat Lady


Chakotay entered his captain's ready room, his eyes searching her out, not finding her behind her desk. It vaguely registered with him that the lights had been dimmed to about 50% but the room was still illuminated enough for him to see well. He looked towards the viewport and saw her, her back to him, ramrod straight. She made no move to turn around and he wondered how long she'd been standing there or if she'd even heard him enter. He took just a moment, drawing in a breath before speaking, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on her.

"We found her. She's fine." He saw a barely visible shiver, a tremble almost, then her shoulders drop a little, before stiffening again.

"Is she… Was she harmed?" Her voice was low but he heard a tremor in it. She still didn't turn to face him.

"No. She's just fine. She wasn't harmed in any way. Doc is with the search team and he checked her over." He moved a little closer. "She's shaken, a little confused but…" He saw her nod.

"But she wasn't touched…harmed…in any way?" He knew suddenly what she was asking.

"I don't believe so. They'll be back here shortly and the Doctor wants to take her to sickbay for a full check-up." He saw her shoulders stiffen again but she still didn't turn to look at him.

"Keep me informed. Get down there. I'll join you shortly." Her tone was dismissing him rather than her words. He nodded silently, wanting to reach out and touch her. He held himself back and stood for a moment more, watching her back and trying to make out her face in the reflection of the viewport. As if reading his intent, she lowered her head.

"That will be all, Commander. I'll be there in a few minutes. Dismissed." The message was loud and clear this time and Chakotay turned and headed for the door.

"Aye, Captain." He glanced back at her for a moment and saw that she hadn't moved an inch.

Chakotay waited in the Doctor's office as the Medic scanned his confused and frightened patient. He watched Sam, the child's mother, hover close by, seeing the struggle there to control her emotions. She'd been to hell and back while her child had been missing, running through a gamut of emotions, kept sane only with the love and support of her fellow crewmembers.

Chakotay looked down at his hands a moment as they lay in his lap. He flexed his fingers then twisted them together, making steeple shapes with them. He let his mind drift back to earlier in the day and offered up a prayer of thanks that the day was almost over, everything back where it should be in their lives.

Thiros was a beautiful planet, rich in resources. The natives were friendly and trade with 'off worlders' as the locals called them, was welcomed. Voyager was basically in good shape but thinking and planning ahead like any good Captain, Kathryn took the opportunity to stockpile what they could. She'd learned through bitter experience to take chances where they were found, the Delta Quadrant being far from predictable. The crew never knew when their next opportunity to trade would come or whether the next race they encountered would fall under the category of 'friend' or 'foe'.

After two days in orbit of the planet, most of the crew had managed a few hours shore leave and Chakotay had even managed to drag Kathryn down to the surface for some time away from the ship, spending a few hours with her as they walked together, before enjoying the picnic lunch Neelix had lovingly prepared for them.

Their friendship had begun to deepen slowly and Chakotay let Kathryn set the pace, knowing that to rush things between them would only result in her fleeing back behind the walls she often built around herself. They'd been here before, things going well between them, until something would send her scurrying back inside herself. Each time he hoped it would be different. He constantly longed for more than friendship with her but sensed that she felt unwilling or unable to give more. Chakotay often found himself comparing Kathryn to a deer, venturing out into the forest, sniffing the air to see if it was safe, only to flee back to safety. Many times over the course of their friendship, he'd sensed that she was about to remove the invisible barrier that seemed to exist between them, yet each time, she backed away.

Of late, he'd watched as she once more moved slowly towards him, testing the ground almost, yet he still felt the presence of some unseen shadow between them, one which Kathryn seemed unable or unwilling to dispel by shining the light on. And so as usual, he gladly took what he was given, as he bided his time and watched quietly as she once more grew comfortable with him around her and the relationship they had.

Upon their return to the ship from their shore leave, he'd gone with her to inspect the supplies they'd negotiated for. Voyager's stores were bursting at the seams and Kathryn hadn't felt this content in months. The cupboard was full and it was a good feeling, one she revelled in.

Chakotay had tried his best to stifle a laugh as he'd watched her survey their supplies, a self-satisfied smile on her face. "Is mother happy now?"

Kathryn turned to him and made a face. "Come on, Chakotay, admit it. Being this well stocked with all we need is the best feeling."

His laugh left him and his face softened into a smile. "Kind of reminds me of holidays when I was a kid. The house was full of food, with logs in abundance just outside. I always felt we could just close the door and be self-sufficient, safe from all harm. We had everything we needed there." He saw the smile drop from her face to be replaced by a deep sadness and something else he couldn't read. "Kathryn…?"

She jerked away from wherever she'd been and pasted a smile on her face, one he knew was for his benefit. "Yes, I'm sure." She seemed to be talking to herself as she turned away to study the supplies again, then drew her shoulders back. He watched as she schooled her features to fit her captain's mask. "Well, I'd better get back to the bridge." She was past him and out the door before his mind registered the fact, leaving him standing there, totally confused and a little worried. Neelix bursting into the store broke into his thoughts then, the Talaxian as excited as a child on Christmas morning, as he scanned the supplies, his mind already planning menus for the next month.

It was their last day in orbit of Thiros and Chakotay strolled the corridors, his thoughts taking him back to the previous evening. He remembered how relaxed Kathryn had been when she'd joined him on shore leave, but she'd been quiet since their conversation in the stores, her walls coming up again. Since then, she'd even seemed to be avoiding him.

He thought back now to how she'd acted when he'd mentioned childhood holidays and frowned a little but then dismissed her sudden melancholy as homesickness. Talking of and remembering things like that often had the same effect on him. What puzzled him now was her instant dismissal of his offer to again join him on the planet for a few hours, citing too much work as her excuse. In his mind, she needed more time away from the ship and he thought it would be the best thing for her, perhaps taking her mind off thoughts of home and happier times. He remembered her expression as she'd turned down the offer, one he knew only too well. This was Kathryn pulling back into her shell and he knew what the next few days would bring. She'd be quiet, spending her time alone, until she decided to come back to them all. He'd seen it so many times now. Something would be mentioned by himself or one of the crew, usually regarding home, and she'd pull back, her eyes telling him that although her body was still present, her mind was definitely elsewhere. He'd also seen it occur when she thought he was getting too close. This time, just like on all previous occasions, he was at a loss to explain her behaviour.

He entered the mess hall now and picked up a tray, his mind still on his Captain. Was it just homesickness? He shook his head to himself. Surely she was well past that now, just as they all were, past the place where missing home so much took a grip on you and could cripple you for a time. He even wondered if it was perhaps to do with their deepening friendship, which had seemed to be going so well, with Kathryn setting the pace herself. He shook his head slightly and frowned. Something just didn't feel right. The change in her had been too abrupt, when usually her pulling back was more gradual. He found now that he couldn't shake a feeling that there was more to this and a pattern to it, which he just hadn't picked up on, some clue he'd missed. One look at Neelix's offering for lunch took his thoughts in a different direction then. Needing all his concentration to look interested in the goo before him, he let his mind snap back to the present.

After lunch, Chakotay was on the bridge, Kathryn in her ready room, when the call came in from the surface. Naomi Wildman was missing. Chakotay immediately hailed his captain and she was on the bridge in seconds.

Over the next four hours, Tuvok and his security team joined forces with Thirosean security as they searched for the missing girl. Chakotay liased between the surface and Kathryn, bringing each report to her personally as she hid out in her ready room, something which surprised him greatly. He tried to gauge her mood each time he came in but failed, seeing that she was keeping a tight rein on her emotions, her captain's mask securely in place. This time, she stood quickly and snapped at him. "What the hell happened down there?"

Chakotay was shocked at the venom in her voice. "I told you. She was with Sam and several others. She seems to have wandered off for a moment. Kathryn, this isn't anyone's fault. Sam feels bad enough as it is. She's inconsolable. Look, we'll find Naomi. She can't be far."

Kathryn turned on him. "Why weren't they watching her more closely? Anything could have happened to her…"

Chakotay moved towards her now. "Kathryn, calm down here. It's no one's fault. Children have a habit of exploring and wandering away all the time."

Kathryn only half heard him. "Don't tell me to calm down. Anything could happen to her. She's only a child." She made for the door suddenly. "I'm going down there. I have to find her. I've wasted too much time here. I should have been there all along."

Chakotay grabbed her arm, careful not to grip too tightly. "Kathryn, take it easy. Everyone is looking for her already. They'll find her. You need to stay here and let them get on with their jobs."

She pulled from his grip and turned away. "It's my fault."

Chakotay threw his eyes up. "It's no one's fault. Kathryn, stop this." Her behaviour was beginning to worry him now. "What's wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?"

Kathryn turned suddenly and stared at him, seeming to snap back into control but the shadow of something he couldn't understand, remained in her eyes. "You're right. I'm sorry." She turned away as she saw him try to read her face. "Thank you, Commander. Keep me informed."

All he got now was her back. He wasn't willing to let it go at that though. He came up behind her. "Why do I get the impression that there's more to all this…something you're not telling me?"

She turned away as he approached her. "I'm just worried about the child. That will be all, Commander." Her tone of voice warned him off but he ignored it.

"Kathryn, you're worrying me here. In fact, even before this… What was that in the stores yesterday? Something seemed to change in you as soon as I mentioned holidays and home."

As if not hearing him, she moved a little further away. "Contact the search teams again. Check their progress and report back to me." He was dismissed and so was the subject. Chakotay sighed deeply, then nodded and left. There was no talking to her when she was like this.

An hour later, Tuvok hailed Chakotay and reported to him that Naomi had been found safe and sound. The Doctor was already on the surface, thanks to his mobile emitter, and had given the child a quick check up, declaring that she was unharmed. Chakotay heaved a sigh of relief and arranged for Tuvok to make a full report to him when he returned to the ship. For now, he stood and made his way to the ready room to report to his Captain.

Chakotay snapped out of his memories of earlier in the day as the Doctor approached him. The smile on the face of the Medic told him what he needed to know.

"She's just fine, Commander. There wasn't a hair on her head harmed. She was a little upset and frightened before, more as a result of seeing her mother upset than anything else. Once I played it down with her, she relaxed more. I've given her a mild sedative and she'll most likely sleep through the night. She'll get over all this in a day or two. Children are remarkably resilient. Her mother is far more upset by all this than Naomi is. She's managing to hide that well now, so Naomi isn't picking up on that anymore and reacting to it."

Chakotay blew out a breath. "The Captain was worried that… She wasn't harmed 'in ANY way'?"

The Doctor understood quickly. "I know what you're asking, Commander. No. I can tell you quite plainly that she was not interfered with in ANY way, as you put it." He shook his head. "I've seen the Thirosean man who took her…" Chakotay looked up quickly at this. The Doctor shook his head. "He was quite upset really. He seemed to believe that Naomi was his own daughter. Commander Tuvok will report to you in full as soon as he returns to the ship but I don't believe Naomi was ever in any danger, at any time, from this man."

Chakotay nodded his head slowly. "Has Sam taken Naomi back to their quarters?"

The Doctor nodded. "She was already falling asleep from the sedative I gave her. Ms. Wildman is still upset but she's just more relieved than anything else now. This will stay with her longer than it will with Naomi. She'll be overprotective for some time, but she'll eventually learn to relax and feel safe again. I doubt she'll ever forget this though. Still, getting Naomi to forget it all is more important. Sam is a grown woman and will learn to move past it. She has plenty of support."

Chakotay nodded again and looked up to see Kathryn standing behind the Doctor. "Captain. The Doctor was just reporting to me…"

Kathryn was staring at the Doctor only, her expression set in stone. "How is she?"

The Doctor smiled gently. "As I was reporting to the Commander here, Naomi is just fine. She was completely unharmed. She wasn't touched or interfered with in any way." Chakotay thought he saw a strange flicker in Kathryn's eyes and frowned. "I gave her a mild sedative and she'll sleep until morning. She was a little upset and frightened, confused even, but once she sees the adults around her playing this down, she'll forget about it quickly."

Kathryn seemed to take his words in but still stared at the Doctor. "You're sure…absolutely certain…that nothing happened to her? She didn't say anything? You checked her completely?"

The Doctor frowned now. "Captain, I checked her thoroughly. She is completely unharmed. Nothing happened to her. I spoke with her even. The man brought her to his house and played games with her. He didn't touch her at all, except to hold her hand. He gave her some sugar treats, as she called them. That was what he said they were. As I reported to Commander Chakotay, this man seems to need help himself. He appeared to believe that Naomi was his own daughter. He didn't harm her in any way."

Kathryn seemed lost in thought as she listened to the Medic's words. "So you're sure…one hundred percent certain…there was nothing…?"

The Doctor seemed annoyed now. "Captain, I can keep saying this and it won't change. She was unharmed, wasn't touched in ANY WAY whatsoever. I can't make it any more clear."

Kathryn held up her hand. "I apologize, Doctor. I just wanted to be sure."

The Doctor frowned at her again and nodded. "I understand. Mr. Tuvok will be returning shortly. He'll be able to tell you more about what happened. From the medical side of things, my work is done. She's fine."

Kathryn glanced at Chakotay and saw the worried look on his face then looked away. "Thank you, Doctor. Commander, please inform Commander Tuvok that I wish to see him immediately upon his return." She turned quickly and left, leaving the Doctor and Chakotay staring after her.

"She worries too much about this crew. I wish she'd worry half as much about herself." The Doctor moved around behind his desk.

Chakotay shook himself. "Sorry, Doctor? Oh yes, yes, you're right." He rubbed at his face, trying to push down a nagging feeling inside himself, the one he couldn't seem to grasp a meaning for. "Well, I'd better get back to the bridge. Thank you again, Doctor."

He stood and left, leaving the Medic sitting there with an amused look on his face. "I'll never understand them. Never."

An hour later, Tuvok stood in his captain's ready room and made his report. Kathryn sat behind her desk and played with a padd in her hands, glancing up at her Security Officer occasionally. Chakotay stood close beside him and listened to the report but found himself watching his captain more. "I've spoken with the Thirosean authorities. The male who abducted Naomi was known to them and…"

Kathryn's head snapped up. "He'd done this before? Taken a child?"

Tuvok frowned slightly. "No, Captain. He was just known to them. These people live in close community groups. Crime is extremely rare on their world. Abducting a child is unheard of. This man, Thal Rios, has never committed any crime before." Kathryn barely nodded and played with the padd again.

Tuvok continued with his report. "His wife died in childbirth some years ago. He raised his daughter on his own. She was apparently the only family he had. Several months ago, there was a school outing to some nearby mountains. There was a tragic accident, a landslide of some kind. Several children were hurt in the accident. The daughter of Thal Rios was killed. She was the only fatality."

Kathryn looked up quickly. "I'm sorry…" She whispered the words, almost an apology to someone who couldn't hear it.

"His friends and neighbours tried to comfort him and believed he was coming to terms with events. I was shown images of this man's daughter. Naomi resembles her in many ways. It would appear this man simply saw her, and in his grief and present state of mind, believed she was his own daughter. He simply took her back to his house and cared for her, played some games and gave her candy treats. I've spoken with this man. He truly believed this was his own daughter. He understands now what he did and sees that Naomi was not his daughter. In their own Medic's words, he simply 'lost touch with reality' for a time. Grief from a tragedy like this can be extremely powerful and can affect the mind in strange ways. Our own Doctor concurs with this opinion."

Kathryn didn't raise her head and Chakotay continued to watch her closely. "What happens to him now?"

Tuvok looked towards Chakotay a moment. "According to Thirosean law, his punishment must be decided by the injured party. In this case, as Naomi is not of age, that decision falls to her mother."

Kathryn nodded slowly. "Can you explain that to Sam?"

Tuvok frowned once more. "I imagined that you would want to speak with her yourself, Captain."

Kathryn shook her head. "I'll speak with her later. Can you contact her now and find out what she wants to do? Give her a full report?" Tuvok nodded but seemed reluctant to leave. "That will be all, gentlemen." Kathryn placed the padd on the desk in front of her and made her way to the replicator, where she ordered coffee. She looked behind her and saw that neither man had moved. "Was there something else?"

Tuvok shook his head quickly. "No, Captain. That is all."

Kathryn nodded and turned back to the replicator, taking her coffee. "Dismissed." Tuvok turned and left, leaving Chakotay hanging back a moment.

Kathryn turned and saw him. "What is it, Commander? I've a lot of work to get through."

Chakotay remained quiet for several moments. "I was hoping you could tell me what it is. There's something more going on here. This isn't like you…"

Kathryn met his eyes and glared at him. "Commander, unless you have ship's business to discuss with me, I'd suggest you let us both get back to work. If that is all…?" When he didn't move immediately, she turned away from him, sipping at her coffee. "Dismissed, Commander."

Chakotay just shook his head sadly. "Fine, Kathryn. When you're ready, you know where you can find me. You know you can always talk to me." He turned and left, having no other choice. Trying to talk to her when she was like this, was like trying to get blood from a stone. As the doors closed behind him, he didn't see the tears run down Kathryn's face as she leaned against the wall for support.

The following day, Kathryn and Chakotay accompanied Sam down to the planet to meet with the Thirosean authorities. Tuvok was also in attendance. Chakotay noticed how Kathryn stood well back as Sam took a seat at a table in the room they'd been shown into. Within minutes, a small man was shown into the room, flanked by two slightly taller aliens. This race was humanoid in appearance, with skin colouring very similar to that of Naomi and her mother. They had ridges on their noses and above, again very like Naomi. Their hair colour varied though, from very fair to shades of yellow and orange, darkening as they aged. As Chakotay looked around him now, he could understand now Naomi could be mistaken for one of their race.

Thal Rios sat nervously in the chair he'd been shown to and barely glanced at Sam. They could all clearly see tears in his eyes. An Official read out the charges against him, making sure that Sam understood all that was said.

She nodded slowly. "I understand. I'd like to hear what this man has to say though." Thal looked up at her and met her eyes properly for the first time. Tears ran down his face. "Please, I'd like to understand, for you to tell me in your own words."

He nodded slowly and traced idle patterns on the table before him with his fingers, trying to hide the shaking of his hands. "I'm so sorry for what I put you through. I really thought… She looked so like…" Sam smiled softly and nodded. Thal Rios then spoke about his wife and daughter. He told of how much he'd adored his wife, how they'd tried for several years to have a child. He showed Sam an image of her. "We had been mated from childhood, our families close…"

Sam smiled and nodded, looking at the image. "She's very beautiful…"

Thal smiled sadly. "She was. My friends envied me so much. Crea…that was her name… Crea and I loved each other very much. We longed for a child to complete our happiness and when we learned that we would be parents, we were so happy." He smiled, his eyes vague now as he remembered. There was happiness there for a moment, then the clouds passed over them, and the deepest sadness filled the dark orbs. "I'm sorry." Sam reached over and patted his hand, handing the image back.

"Cretha, our daughter… We knew we would have a girl, named her." He shook his head sadly. "On our world, the first born takes the names of both parents. We try and combine the names." Sam nodded her understanding.

Thal lowered his head now. "Crea did not survive the birth. It was difficult. I don't know why and the doctors had no explanation. 'It can happen'. They said that." Tears fell from his eyes again and he looked up at Sam, begging her to understand. She smiled sadly at him and nodded. Chakotay felt this man's grief also and looked towards Kathryn, standing back from them all. Her eyes were vague, a mixture of sadness, pain and something else there. Her arms were folded but he saw that her hands were in tight fists as she listened.

"Cretha was all I had left, all I had, all that kept me going." Thal handed Sam another image and smiled sadly as she drew in a sudden breath.

Sam nodded her head slowly. "She's very like…"

Chakotay leaned a little closer and saw the image of the alien child, instantly seeing the likeness to Naomi. He looked back at Kathryn and saw that she also seemed shocked by the likeness. Sam gave the image back immediately, seeing that the man before her was anxious to have it back, drawing a kind of comfort from holding it. It was all he had left.

"When she…the accident…" He spoke on haltingly about how he'd lost his only child, tears pouring from his eyes. He held the image of his daughter tightly, his only connection to her now. Chakotay saw Sam crying also and felt close to tears himself. He looked to Kathryn and saw that her expression hadn't changed, still retaining her vague look. "I didn't know what I was doing…and I beg your forgiveness. I saw her, your daughter, and I just saw Cretha. I didn't think. I don't remember really. I just knew my daughter was there and I took her home, cared for her." He looked at Sam now, a panic in his eyes. "I swear to you, I didn't harm her. I swear to you. I wouldn't…couldn't ever… I couldn't harm any child, much less my own. I'm sorry. I mean a child I thought was my own, but any child. Never. I'm so sorry." He broke down completely and Sam reached for his hand, squeezing it tightly.

As Chakotay looked at Kathryn again, he saw a lone tear fall down her cheek. She turned away quickly.

Finally, Thal regained a little control, Sam still holding his hand tightly. He wiped at his face with his free hand.

Sam mimicked his actions and wiped her own face. Finally she spoke. "Thal, I'm so sorry for all your pain."

He looked up at her, eyes filled with agony. "I'm at your mercy. I don't care what you decide for me. I've nothing left."

Sam took his hand in both of hers now. "Thal, I'm not going to do anything to you." She saw his shock. "I can't pretend to know your pain or what you've been through, but I can understand a little. Losing my child for even a few hours was the most painful thing imaginable to me. It was nothing to what you've been through but it gives me some idea of your pain."

She shook her head sadly. "Losing your wife? When we were stranded out here…" She smiled slightly. "You know about us, our ship?" He nodded slowly and Sam smiled again. Well, I lost my husband. Oh, he's alive. I know that. He's back on Earth. I also believe I'll see him again someday but the fact is, he could die before we get home or I could die out here." She sighed. "What I'm trying to say is that I know a little of your pain, of losing your partner, raising a child alone, losing that child, even for a very short time. Out here, she's all I have."

She squeezed his hand again. "Thal, as awful as it seems now, they'd want you to move on and be happy. I know it's very soon but I hope someday you'll allow yourself to live and then love again, make a life again. Don't waste it. It's too precious. I think you know that." Tears flowed from both their eyes. Even the Official seemed moved. "Will you do that for me? If you ask me what I want for you, that's what I order for you."

They stared at each other for a few moments until the Official spoke. "Am I to understand that you do not want this man punished for his crime?"

Sam looked up at him. "There was no real crime. He meant no harm and my daughter wasn't hurt in any way. This man needs help, not punishment. I just hope he takes what I've told him and acts on it."

Thal nodded slowly. "I'll try, and thank you. Again, I'm so sorry. I can't thank you enough for your mercy. You truly are a wonderful people, your kindness and compassion…" Sam stood now, walked around the table, and hugged the man.

Chakotay bit on his lip and turned to the side, lowering his head a moment, feeling as if he was intruding on a private moment. He felt very proud of Sam Wildman. He looked up at Kathryn and caught his breath. The look of pain on her face was unreal. Before he could move to her, the Official spoke again, declaring the 'trial' over. His words snapped Kathryn out of it and she nodded then left the room quickly. Chakotay followed immediately but by the time he left the building, she'd already beamed back to the ship. He didn't see her for the rest of the day, Kathryn making sure of that.

They broke orbit of Thiros the following morning and over the next few weeks, Kathryn practically shut herself away from the entire crew. While Chakotay hoped for her usual few days of isolation when she seemed to get what he termed her 'homesickness' or felt they were getting too close, this stretched on and on. He knew something wasn't right, especially after what he'd witnessed on Thiros, but every time he tried to corner her, she backed away from him. Because of their growing closeness before, he now felt her absence more than ever.

At the end of a month, he began to get seriously worried about her. He constantly tried to drag her to ship's functions or cajole her into having dinner with him, but she repeatedly turned down all his invitations, preferring to remain alone. She still refused to talk to him outside of ship's business, claiming she was 'just fine' and the more he pushed, the further away she seemed to get.

Her work was of its usual high standard and although she opted to spend more time than usual in her ready room, no one could fault her performance on duty. Chakotay hated seeing her like this but in the end, he had to accept that how she wished to spend her off duty time was really her own business.

The only time Kathryn was seen now outside of duty was when she spent time with Naomi. Chakotay watched, confused a little, as she seemed to spend more and more time with the child, taking her for outings to the holodeck and inviting her for tea in her quarters. He found himself almost jealous of the child. He also noticed Sam watching them, usually with a slightly anxious look on her face but she never said anything.

Chakotay just stood back and watched, knowing there was nothing he could do, not understanding what he was seeing anyway. He watched Kathryn as she watched Naomi, acting almost like a security detail. He observed her quietly as she hovered around her, seeming almost wary when anyone else was near the child. If other crewmembers paid any attention to her, which they did a lot, just as they always had, Kathryn moved a little closer, her eyes never leaving the child.

Chakotay took in Kathryn's behaviour and Sam's silent observance of it. If she ever sensed herself being watched, Kathryn would pull back immediately and paste a false smile on her face, before making some excuse and hurrying off, always with a backwards glance to check on Naomi once more.

A week later, Voyager came into orbit of an uninhabited planet rich in Dilithium. With no warning buoys or evident claims to the world, Kathryn agreed with her senior staff that they should take the opportunity to mine the mineral while they had the opportunity, despite not needing any. They knew they'd always be able to trade any surplus later on if they needed something else.

Mining the Dilithium took two days, the crew spending a few hours on the planet in turn, walking in the sunshine. This world wasn't all that vegetated but still reminded some of the crew of home. Chakotay pushed this time, refusing to take 'no' for an answer and badgered Kathryn into spending even an hour walking in the sun with him. Part of him hoped it might also be a chance for him to try and talk with her about what had been troubling her recently. He'd watched as she'd become more and more remote, instead of bouncing back as she usually did. Outside of Naomi, she kept herself removed from everyone.

"Kathryn, you need this and you know it." He watched her closely as she kept her head down. "Kathryn, come on. Look, in my mind, we're good friends. Where's the harm in spending some time off with a friend. A little time spent feeling the sun on your face will do you the world of good. Besides, I miss chatting with you." *Maybe you'll even open up to me and tell me what the hell has been troubling you so much.* He kept that thought to himself.

It was more in an effort to get him off her back that she agreed and they beamed down that afternoon.

"Isn't this better than recycled air?"

Kathryn smiled a little and nodded. "What do you want, Chakotay, a medal? You got me here and I'll walk in the sun with you. I only have an hour though. I promised Naomi I'd take her to the holodeck."

Chakotay shook his head and swallowed his annoyance. "Look, we'll just walk to the top of that hill and back. Can we agree on that?"

Kathryn looked up to where he pointed and sighed. "That's more than an hour's walk."

Chakotay grinned to himself. "Maybe two."

Kathryn stared hard at him. "An hour is all you get. I told you…"

Chakotay was suddenly irked. "I know, I know. You have to get back for Naomi." He sighed deeply. "Kathryn, she's fine. You don't have to wrap her in cotton wool, you know. She wasn't harmed." He saw her tense at his words.

She turned away and moved off quickly, her way to dismiss the direction the conversation could go in. "To the top and back, you said? Well, we'd better get moving then." She took off at a fast pace, Chakotay trying to catch up with her now.

"Slow down, Kathryn, it isn't a race. You need to watch where you're going around here." He watched as she stepped off the worn pathway, taking a shortcut. "Kathryn, try and stay on the trek. There are old caves and mine shafts…"

As if his words predestined it, he saw Kathryn trip and begin to fall, the ground opening up around her. Without thinking, he dived for her and made a grab for her arm, sending them both plummeting down the hole, before landing heavily among a pile of rocks.

Chakotay groaned loudly and rolled onto his back, his body protesting at the movement. He stared above him at the opening, the light shining down on him. He heard a moan beside him and looked around quickly, his head spinning at the sudden turn.

"Kathryn? Are you all right?" His worry was clearly evident in the tone of his voice. She moaned again and he saw her pushing herself up. "Kathryn?" He moved to her but she brushed his hands off.

"I'm fine." She looked at him, her eyes apologizing for her. "Sorry. Are you hurt?"

He took a quick mental check of his body and pressed a hand to his head, feeling it warm and wet. "I've cut my head and I think I've done something to my arm. Otherwise, I'm fine. What about you?" He moved to her but she backed away, limping.

"I'm fine. I just cut my leg." She looked around her. "We need to find a way out of here. I'll try this side and you try over there." She pointed behind him.

Chakotay sighed deeply and nodded. Suddenly there seemed no sense in arguing.

Within five minutes, they both had to accept that there was no way out for them. They were in a small cave, the opening above them which they'd fallen through, offering the only way out. Knowing it was impossible to reach that, they'd no choice but to wait for rescue, their comm badges useless underground from something in the rock.

"Kathryn, just stop pacing." He shook his head as he looked at her. Limping or hobbling was more like it. He'd managed to get a closer look at her leg when she wasn't watching him and saw that it was more than a 'cut'. "You'll wear yourself out and use up all the air." He knew the last part wasn't true, as he glanced back up towards the gap in the roof. "We've established that there's no way out. Voyager knows where we are. They'll find us. We just have to sit and wait." He eyed her warily. If he didn't know better, he'd swear she was claustrophobic.

"I have to get back. I promised Naomi I'd take her to the holodeck this afternoon."

Chakotay slid down into the floor of the cave. His arm throbbed now and he pressed his fingers to the side of his head again. When he checked his hand, he saw that the bleeding had lessened considerably. "She'll understand. You can take her again." His attempt at reassurance went unheard.

"I promised her. I can't break my word." She seemed agitated now and Chakotay stood again, a slight groan escaping him. He moved to her and placed a hand on her shoulder to still her. He didn't miss how she jumped at his touch.

"Kathryn, she'll understand. Now stop this." She met his eyes for a moment and then looked away. Chakotay took both her shoulders now and held her. "Kathryn, you have to stop this. You'll only increase the blood loss from that wound. You need to sit down and let me take a look at it. You're only aggravating it. You have to stop moving around on it. You're limping badly as it is. Kathryn, come on. See the sense in what I'm saying.." She shrugged his hands off and hobbled to the wall of the cave, turning and leaning heavily against it. He watched as she hugged herself, as if trying to hold herself together physically as well as emotionally.

"I promised her." She sounded almost like a child whose favourite toy had just been taken from her.

Chakotay shook his head slowly. "What is it with you and her lately? You spend every spare minute with her. What is it with you even?" Suddenly it all fell into place and he dropped his head back. "Of course. Why on earth didn't I see it before? How could I have missed that? It's so obvious." When he looked at Kathryn again, she had a stricken look on her face. As soon as his eyes met hers, it disappeared, as if running and hiding behind a now closed door.

"I don't know what you mean. I'm just spending time with the child. There's no harm. She needs the company and help with lessons." She sounded a little panicked.

Chakotay moved towards her, shaking his head as he went. "Me thinks the lady doth protest too much." Kathryn stared at him. "Kathryn, I'm not accusing you of anything here. It's good that you spend time with her. Just as long as it's for the right reasons." Even in the dim light, he saw her face pale before him. "Kathryn?" He watched as her mouth opened and closed several times, before she found her voice.

"There…there are no reasons…I just…just want…"

Chakotay moved a little closer. "Kathryn, I know you and I know what you're feeling. I see it all now. Maybe that bang on the head I just got has helped me. This is to do with your guilt, totally misplaced guilt I might add." She went to move away from the wall but he blocked her. "I know you, Kathryn. You feel responsible for what happened to her and you're blaming yourself and now this is your way to try and make up for that. Well, you weren't responsible. It wasn't your fault in any way."

Kathryn suddenly pushed at him and he saw that he'd really hit a nerve. "I am responsible. I'm the captain. It's my job to protect her. As captain and as an adult, it's my job. I let her down, failed her…"

Chakotay grew alarmed now and grabbed her shoulders, pressing her back against the wall. Her eyes were wild. "Kathryn, stop this. Listen to me now. She was on shore leave. You weren't there. Her mother was with her. Kathryn, you're her captain but you're not her mother." He saw a stab of pain cross her eyes at that. "You're not at fault here. Her mother was with her. She was responsible for her own child and even she couldn't protect her."

Kathryn pushed at him again, tears balancing on her eyelids now. "Are you saying Sam's responsible?"

Chakotay shook his head quickly. "I'm not saying that for a minute. I'm just trying to get you to see that you can't watch a child every second. These things happen unfortunately. Sam felt the way you do for a time but even she has the sense to see that some things are just beyond her control. That's something you accept as a parent. You can't always keep your child safe." He saw a flash of deep pain cross her eyes. "Kathryn, Naomi is fine. She remembers it but it doesn't bother her. She wasn't harmed in any way except for being frightened. I think the lecture she probably got from Sam about talking to strangers and wandering off, scared her more. Once it was all over, she let that go and got on with her life. Getting back to her normal routine is the best thing for her, the best way to feel safe again. Treating her differently won't help and you're smothering her."

Kathryn's tears fell down her face. "You think I'm harming her?" Her voice was plaintive and he saw panic in her eyes now.

"Kathryn, that's not what I'm saying at all. I just think that maybe…" He sighed. "All this extra attention is only going to make her feel different. She needs to be as she always was and move on. The risk she was under needs to be played down. If you treat her differently, she'll think that way about it all. Anyway, as we know now, there wasn't any risk." He shook his head as he watched her.

"Kathryn, look, Sam hasn't said anything but I see her watching you with Naomi and I get the impression that… Kathryn, she needs to spend time with her own child and you're…"

Kathryn dropped her head. "You and she think I'm trying to take Naomi from her?" She sniffed loudly and drew in a choked breath. "I'm not. I'm just trying to…"

Chakotay put a hand under her chin and lifted her head up, feeling her tremble. "Kathryn, I know you mean no harm but you have to stop treating her differently. Just leave her with her normal routine. We all need to play down what happened. If she sees that it's important to us, something to worry or be concerned about, she'll pick up on that and think that way too. Suddenly she's getting all this extra attention from her captain and that's bound to make her think that what happened to her is… Well, that there's more to it." He watched sadly as tears coursed down Kathryn's face.

She shook her head weakly. "I just wanted to be there for her in some way. I wasn't there for her when it mattered. I wasn't there to stop it."

Chakotay took her face between his hands and felt her cringe now. "Kathryn, you weren't responsible for what happened to her. You have to accept that and as cruel as this sounds, you have to let her mother do her job and stop trying to do it for her." He knew he was hurting her but it had to be said. "Let go of your guilt because it wasn't your fault. Spend time with her now and then, just the way you always have, but you can't do it this way. You've become like a shadow to her. The sooner Naomi's life is back to normal, back to the way it was, the sooner she'll forget all this. Nothing happened to her. Anyway, she's safe now on the ship. She's back with us, with her family. No one onboard would do anything to hurt her so you don't have to watch her all the time." He watched Kathryn closely for a few minutes, letting his words sink in and saw something in her eyes which he couldn't make out, but the accompanying pain with it was unmistakable. Finally, she just nodded, her tears continuing. She shifted her weight onto her good leg and he felt her body stiffen, accompanied by her sharp intake of breath.

"Kathryn, let me look at that wound. Come on now. You're in pain and losing a lot of blood." She stiffened against him once more and seemed to be fighting something within herself. Finally, she nodded her head but he saw that she seemed almost removed from where she was. He sensed something building in her, something anonymous, barely controlled, and he realized suddenly that the seeds of whatever it was had been planted some time ago, stretching back to their time on Thiros.

Chakotay let her put her weight on his arm as he helped her to sit down. The light from the small opening they'd fallen through was just about enough for him to see the deep gash in her upper thigh. He pressed a hand on her shoulder.

"Kathryn, can you lie back for me? Can you lie down while I try and see…?" Once again, he felt her body become almost rigid. "Kathryn?" She didn't answer him. "Kathryn, I can't work with you in a sitting position. I need to be able to see what I'm doing. I'll try not to hurt you." She was staring at him and he saw a battle taking place in her eyes, one he didn't understand. She looked almost ready to shatter at the slightest touch, hanging onto a tenuous control to ward off imminent panic and hysteria.

Eventually she nodded again and began to lie back, a frightened yet faraway look in her eyes. Chakotay felt something stir inside him, something he couldn't put his finger on, tying in with her recent behaviour in his mind. Parts of thoughts sought out others, trying to find each other and connect in order to make some sense for themselves. She seemed to be fighting desperately for control and he frowned now as he removed the water bottle from his belt. He then pulled off his tunic, followed by his tee shirt, intent on using the white cotton to clean and bandage the wound, knowing the dye from anything else he wore would only cause infection. As he pulled his tee shirt off, exposing his chest, Kathryn cried out and tried to pull herself along the floor away from him. He saw the pain and fear in her eyes and was shocked. Suddenly he saw her lose it, her last foothold crumbling beneath her, sending her crashing over the edge.

"Kathryn, what's wrong? Kathryn?" He felt a fear build in him and reached out a hand to her, causing her to react almost violently.

"No…no…please…don't…" She slapped at his hand as tears poured from her eyes. She spoke and sounded like a little girl, her last fragile grasp on her control finally gone.

"Kathryn, it's all right. I won't hurt you." Instinct just told him to sit back from her. He watched her carefully as she cried, pressing herself back against the wall as much as she could, her eyes carrying a glazed look, as she stared at something that wasn't there, at least nothing he could see. She drew her legs up, despite the pain he saw it cause her, trying desperately to curl her body in on itself.

Chakotay sat for almost ten minutes as Kathryn slowly cried herself out, some gut feeling telling him to wait. Eventually she had nothing left. Her tears seemed to dry up and she almost dry sobbed as she stared at the floor before her, her mind obviously somewhere other than in the cave with him. Chakotay just sat and waited. Slowly she began to come back to herself a little and he watched as she raised her eyes and looked at him, the blue depths filled with pain and embarrassment, shame even.

Her voice was a hoarse whisper. "I'm sorry…" He just nodded, not knowing what to say nor understanding what he'd just witnessed. "I'm sorry…"

He tried a small smile. "It's OK. You've nothing to apologize for." He reached for his tunic and slipped it back on, leaving the tee shirt off. "I'm sorry if I upset you." She watched him closely, relaxing slightly as he covered his body. "If I give you the water and this…" He held up the white cotton. "Can you clean the wound yourself? White is better. The dye from anything else would only infect you." He watched her face and saw her understanding.

She pulled herself up a little and eased her legs out before her, catching her breath with the pain. "It's OK. I'm…OK…" She was quiet for a few more minutes and Chakotay could see the internal struggle taking place within her. He had strong suspicions now but was afraid to listen to them. He felt things begin to click together in his mind but pushed them away for the moment. What he was starting to think was the last thing he ever wanted to consider, even if it did make sense and explain things to him. He watched as she settled herself as well as she could then looked directly at him. "Chakotay, I'm really sorry. I…"

He shook his head. "Kathryn, it's all right. You never have to be sorry with me." He reached out slowly, to hand her the bottle and tee shirt.

She looked at them and then back at him. She drew in a deep breath as if gaining strength from it and seemed to reach a decision. "No, I trust you. I… Please…if you could… I can't…"

He nodded and smiled softly. "OK, Kathryn. I'll do it. I promise you can trust me. I won't harm you in any way. Cleaning the cut might hurt a little but you're safe with me. You know that." She stared back at him and saw into his eyes, into his soul almost. She also saw that he knew now, suspected at least. She drew on all her courage and her instinct that she could trust this man, then confirmed his fears for him.

"I haven't…been like this…reacted…in a…a long time…years…" When he just nodded understandingly, she knew for sure. "You know then, guess at least?" He nodded again. "My behaviour… I couldn't hide it. I'm sorry. I thought it was gone…" Chakotay just smiled gently at her, knowing what it was costing her to let him see her like this. He didn't miss how badly her hands were shaking.

"Kathryn, it's all right. You're safe with me. You know that. I'd die before I'd ever harm you in any way." She nodded slowly. "I'll clean this wound and then if you want…only if you want…we can talk." She drew in a shuddering breath and nodded again.

Chakotay moved towards her very slowly. He made sure every movement he made was slow and that she knew and could see what he was doing. "I'm going to have to tear the material here. You can keep everything on." There was no way he'd ask her to remove her pants, even though it would make it easier to get at the wound. She nodded and tried to lie back a little, turning slightly so he could treat the cut. He could almost see the deep tension in her body as she watched his movements closely.

"I'm going to tear this now and then examine the gash, Kathryn. You'll feel my hands on the area. There's a lot of blood. I need to wash that away before I can see how bad the cut is." He kept talking to her, trying to reassure her, telling her everything he did. She flinched when he touched her leg and he guessed it was more from fear than pain.

"Sorry, I know it hurts." He played her fears down. The fabric ripping sounded loud in the small space. "There, that's better. I can see the cut now. I'll just wash the area. You'll feel me pouring some water over it and then I'll wipe it clean. I just need to tear this tee shirt into strips." He saw her nod again, her eyes flicking from his face to the wound on her leg. Her battle to regain control was clear to see.

"OK, Kathryn, I'm pouring the water now." She hissed in pain as the cool liquid made contact with the deep cut. "I'm sorry." She nodded tearfully. "I'm going to wet this strip now and clean around it." She nodded again and grunted in pain as he worked. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I hate hurting you but this has to be done." He looked up at her and saw that she understood.

Chakotay worked on for about ten minutes, cleaning around the wound as best he could and then pressing dry strips of the cotton against it. Eventually the blood flow lessened.

"There. The bleeding has eased considerably and the wound is clean." He dabbed around the area with more strips. "I'll just try and bandage it now. It's the best I can do until we get you back to sickbay. I'm sure it won't be much longer." He smiled up at her and she nodded again, still staring at her leg. He wrapped the strips around her thigh, having pressed some folded strips over the gash first and then tied them off. "OK, that's it." He used the remainder of the tee shirt to cover where her leg showed through her torn pants and then sat back. "Have you much pain?"

She studied his work for a few minutes and then shook her head. "No, it's not too bad. A lot better than it was. It stings more than pains." She met his eyes nervously. "Thank you."

Chakotay just smiled gently at her but he could see she was in pain, despite her denial, yet knew there was nothing he could do about it. "Glad I could help."

She nodded and was silent for a minute. "I meant 'thank you' for… I'm sorry. I wasn't… I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to see that."

Chakotay remained where he was, despite just wanting to pull her into his arms and hold her to him tightly.
"Kathryn, it's all right. You've nothing to be sorry about. I told you that. You don't ever have to keep anything back from me."

She looked into his eyes and nodded, then smiled slightly, appearing shocked with herself that she was able to. Her face almost hurt from the effort, her skin dry and sore from her salty tears. "I guess this explains a few things to you about how I've been lately with Naomi and all?" Her eyes were scared as she looked at him.

He smiled softly at her, trying to put every ounce of reassurance he could into the expression. "It does a bit. I've been very worried about you." He saw her nod. "Kathryn, I'm here for you, just like always. You can talk to me. We've been the best of friends for a long time now. There isn't anything you can't say to me. You can tell me anything and it won't change how I feel about you. Please know that." He watched her very closely. He didn't know what else to say. They were quiet for a time.

Finally Kathryn broke the silence, her voice low. "You do know what we're talking about here, don't you? You know what I'm trying to tell you…to say?"

Chakotay nodded, instinctively knowing she wanted him to say the words because she didn't feel able to just yet. "Child abuse."

He felt himself wanting to run from the words, to jump back from them as if from a physical blow. It took a lot for him to say the words even. He couldn't bear to think that she'd been through anything like that, couldn't stand to think of any child in that situation. He prayed he was wrong, wanted her to laugh and deny it, say that it was something else she was trying to tell him. He held eye contact with her, desperate to show his support and understanding and saw her nod her head, confirming it for him. At that moment, he felt a pain begin in his heart, one he knew would never leave him completely. As the knowledge that had put the pain there now existed, then so too would be pain.

"I just needed to be sure you knew. I've never…never spoken about it…to anyone really…except…a counsellor…but no one else…" He heard the pain and fear in her voice and knew what she was asking him.

"You can talk to me, Kathryn. I think you need to talk about this, that it'll help, and you know you can trust me." Her eyes were filled with uncertainty. "I think I'm right in that…well…in thinking that you've wanted to tell me before, tried to perhaps." She lowered her head and nodded, then looked up at him again, an almost frightened look on her face. Chakotay smiled softly. "You can tell me anything. It won't change how I see you or feel about you, won't change things between us. You're my best friend and nothing will ever change that." He reiterated the point and saw his words put some of her fear to rest.

She tried a weak smile, her face accepting it a little better now. "Thank you…" She studied her leg for a moment.

Chakotay brushed some dust from his trouser leg. "Am I also right in thinking that what happened just now… Kathryn, did you have a flashback?"

She looked at him tearfully and nodded. "I haven't had one in…well…a very long time…a lot of years. Most people wouldn't recognize them. How did…?"

He just smiled gently at her. "I've seen a few people have them before, during the war." She saw him think back briefly then smile softly again. "As I said already, you can talk to me but only if you're comfortable doing that. Just know that you can. I've told you that you can trust me and that I'm your friend. I just want to be here for you. I do however, believe you need this…need to do this. Kathryn, we're good friends and we have a wonderful friendship between us. We love and trust each other as friends and there isn't anything that can change that." He knew he was repeating himself but he was desperate that she understood him and accepted his words.

She nodded her head slowly and tried to find another small smile. "I think I was always afraid that if I said anything to anyone, that it would change how that person was with me. Not to mention how I'd feel, embarrassed… ashamed…" She watched his face closely but all she saw was his love for her. She knew she could trust him. It was written on his face clearly for her to see.

"I'm here for you, Kathryn. You can tell me anything. You know that. You can trust me."

She bit at her lip and nodded slowly, a ghost of a smile on her lips as she blinked to clear her eyes. "You must think I'm very weak." She saw him shake his head.

"You're not weak, Kathryn…"

She bit at her lip. "I can be so strong in all other areas of my life, but this… It just… I'm sure you think I should be well past it."

Chakotay shook his head again. "Kathryn, some things never leave us. It doesn't matter how long ago they happened. Something from childhood can be the hardest. You, however, are not weak. You're the strongest person I know. You wouldn't be here now if you weren't."

She nodded slowly, acknowledging his words as best she could. "I thought I'd dealt with it all…put it away. I spent enough time with a counsellor to make sure of that. At times I felt I'd reached a stage where I could almost believe it hadn't happened even. It would surface briefly now and then, some small thing, but I controlled it easily." Chakotay just nodded silently. That answered his question about her withdrawal periods.

"It all came back though, when Naomi was taken." She swallowed. "I felt I'd failed her, hadn't protected her, let her down, let this happen to her…the same way I'd felt let down." She looked at Chakotay briefly. "I was so sure the same thing would happen to her and I hadn't stopped it, had let it happen." She shifted slightly to try and find a more comfortable position. "When you told me you'd found her and that she was fine, that nothing had happened to her… I couldn't believe that for a while, had to be sure. Eventually I was convinced though and the relief…" She managed to smile slightly, hiding her pain behind it.

"I still felt responsible though, as if I'd let her get into the position where the risk was there and hadn't protected her from that." She stared at Chakotay deeply, her voice rising. "It could have gone that way. It could so easily have come to that. It's not something that's just confined to Earth." She caught herself and lowered her voice again. "I'm sorry."

Chakotay just shook his head, his gentle smile trying to reassure her. "Kathryn, you have nothing to be sorry about. I'll keep telling you that."

She sighed deeply. "After that… I think I just tried to…" She laughed now. "Oh, I know what I was trying to do. If I'm totally honest with myself, I know very well. I was trying to be there for her and take it all away in the way that no one did for me." She let some tears fall and was quiet for a few moments. She finally looked up at Chakotay and shrugged helplessly, seemingly at a loss, the gesture taking the place of the words she felt unable to speak.

Chakotay just smiled softly at her. "I'm here for you. You're safe now. You can tell me." She barely nodded and he saw the deep pain in her eyes. "If you don't want to talk about this…"

She shook her head tearfully. "I need to. Since this happened, I can feel it getting a grip on me again and I can't allow that. It's controlled too much of my life as it is. Oh, I was fine for years, have been fine…mostly. I did all the counselling, dealt with it, accepted it, put it behind me and moved on. I knew in ways, of course, that it would always be there. Kind of like a dark space in a well lit room and I was always aware that it could come back, that something might trigger it and I was taught how to deal with that. I could manage the small reminders…deal with them." She shook her head, almost in disbelief.

"I guess I always knew the big one could come, even if I didn't want to believe it. I just didn't expect it to be like this." She played with the torn fabric of her pants. "I thought it might be a sound, a smell, some situation. I didn't think it would come from the threat to another child. That threw me off course big time and I didn't want to face how what happened was affecting me, yet I could feel it building up and up, and I tried to stop it, tried to deal with it and work through it but I couldn't…so I shut it out and instead concentrated on Naomi." She looked up. "I guess I went overboard a bit…" Her attempt at humour failed and she shook her head, fighting her tears.

Chakotay kept his voice gentle, encouraging her. "What happened, Kathryn?" It suddenly struck him how easy it was to ask a question, one you didn't want the answer to. A part of his mind railed against asking, didn't want to know. He knew that once the words were out, once they were spoken, all this would be real, couldn't be taken back and that it would have happened and could never be undone. In his heart though, he knew it had happened and all he could do now was be there for her, bear witness to her pain and help her through it, supporting her in any way he could. And so he shut his mind off and searched inside himself for the courage he needed to be strong for her. Kathryn came first and she needed to tell more than he didn't want to hear. She looked back at him, eyes filled with pain and sorrow and a dozen other emotions vying for attention. He softened his voice still more and repeated his question.

"What happened, Kathryn?" She looked down at her leg again for a few moments and he saw her prepare herself for her answer. She then slowly looked up at him, eyes unreadable save for the pain he saw there.


"Uncle Robert happened…"

He heard the bitterness in her voice. "My father's brother." He nodded slightly. Kathryn rubbed a hand over her forehead. "It took me a long time to say his name. Endless hours in a small office, hours of talking and crying, re-living it…and at the end of it I could say 'Uncle Robert'." Her laugh was brittle. "I could say it but I couldn't erase him or what he did." Once more she was quiet and she looked at Chakotay, her eyes almost pleading. "I want to…need to…tell you…tell it. Help me?"

He understood what she was asking. "How old were you?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I was… I think about…about six or seven…at the start, although for a lot of kids, they're a lot younger." Chakotay nodded, fighting to swallow the anger he felt inside. He dug his nails into his palms. "I'm sorry. I need you to ask…to help me tell. It's the only way I know, talking about it like this, the prompting."

He smiled, fighting for the expression and nodded. "I understand that. It's OK. I'm sorry. I just wasn't sure which was right…talking or staying quiet..."

A ghost of a smile crossed her face. "Talking…helping me…asking. I need that."

He nodded slowly and watched as she stared off into the distance for a moment. "Kathryn?"

She looked back at him and smiled sadly. "You know the sad thing?" Chakotay shook his head. "It's like this with a lot of children. I learned that." She swallowed deeply. "The sad thing was…that I loved him. It sounds sick and hard to believe, I know that, but I did. He was this great uncle who'd had always been in my life, always there with candy and toys, playing with Phoebe and me, building a swing for us, presents… Not just at birthdays and Christmas but all the time, whenever he called… And swinging me in the air, plaiting my hair. He'd sit there in front of my parents and cuddle me on the sofa, laughing and playing games." She seemed locked in the memories as her words spilled out. "He had this game where he'd take a cushion cover and slip his hand inside…and then he'd poke his fingers against it from inside, as if something was trying to get out and I had to grab for his fingers before he pulled them back…and I could never catch him… Oh he let me catch him once in a while so I'd have something to keep trying for…but I'd scream with laughter. I loved that game." She came back a little. "And my parents sat there and watched us, laughing with us, delighted in the interest he took in their child. I mean, he was dad's brother. They could trust him completely." She sighed deeply.

"He had this other game, played it in front of my parents also, where he'd stick his tongue out and I had to try and catch it and I never knew where it would come from, the side of his mouth or the middle and it was slippery and I couldn't always catch it or know where to try for and I'd sit on his lap facing him and stare at his mouth, trying for hours and then suddenly he'd lean forward and lick my nose and I'd squeal and laugh, my parents joining in…" She laughed, a cynical sound and then was quiet again.

"Other times, he'd give me what he called 'doggy kisses' all over my face and neck and down my chest. He'd run his mouth over me, sniffing and snorting, pretending to sneeze, the way a dog would hunting for something and I'd scream in delight." Her eyes had a distant look in them but Chakotay sensed her gaining more and more control as she spoke on, becoming a little more at ease with him now.

"When did it change?" She seemed grateful that he was asking, was helping her with this and she smiled sadly at him. He was helping her open a door she'd kept locked for too long. Now he was handing her the key and standing by her side to help her face what lay on the other side of it.

"I didn't notice for a long time. He'd always cuddle me, tickle and tease me and I'd scream, hated being tickled and yet loved it at the same time. My parents were so used to seeing this and hearing me scream like that so if they were out of the room and he was tickling me and I squealed, they thought nothing of it." She was back at the torn fabric.

"I think it was only later that I realized his touch had changed, didn't notice or see at the time and wouldn't have understood anyway. He always tickled and touched me, under the arms, around the ribs and now it changed but it was slow. It changed slowly. Do you understand? It changed so slowly, so gradually, that I took it as normal." She looked up at him and he nodded, his gentle and understanding smile urging her on as he sensed the words and the telling come more easily for her now.

"In what way did it change?" He still felt unsure asking her, terrified of saying the wrong thing. She shook her head sadly and he could see the terrible memories in her eyes.

"He'd pinch at my knees, a finger each side and it tickled. He'd done that with my parents there, pretended his fingers were a spider crawling up my leg or arm, all within their sight, nothing hidden and I'd squeal, but his touch changed and I didn't understand that at first. I just accepted it." She drew in a deep breath.

"The spider…" She laughed slightly, bitterly, then shook her head. "The spider went further, from my knees to just above them. Not too far, but then over time, further up." She looked up and dropped her head back against the rough stone wall of the cave. "I didn't know the difference. It didn't click that some games were only played when my parents weren't in the room or when we went for walks or trips to places." She raised her head again and looked at Chakotay. "Where he used to only lick my nose, he now licked my cheeks and neck and I'd giggle like crazy and wipe the wet off. All a game. Always a game." The deep sadness in her eyes and voice tore at Chakotay.

"He always made sure he gave Phoebe attention too but she was younger you see…" Chakotay nodded. "Many times, he'd bring us both out somewhere but Phoebe, being that much younger, tired more easily, and so there were a lot of times when he just brought me and that was looked on as normal, that there were places he'd bring me that Phoebe would be just too young for. Oh, there were trips to museums, science museums and the like. He knew my interests, played up to them and my parents were happy for me, especially my dad because he wasn't always there and didn't always have the time and my mom had a younger child to care for. It was great for them. Uncle Robert wasn't married, no children of his own so they welcomed him." Chakotay constantly showed his understanding and support through gentle smiles, remaining quiet for the most part, afraid of saying too much or the wrong thing. He sensed her embarrassment waning slightly as she spoke on and received only support from him.

"He'd sometimes take me to his house and we'd play there, play dressing up games." She shook her head and sniffed. "I could never have guessed…"

Chakotay gently encouraged her. "What was that game?"

She shook her head sadly. "It felt like a game. Always like a game." She sighed. "He had all these great clothes, make-up even, and like any little girl, I loved playing 'dress-up'. He'd dress me, put make-up on me, did my hair and it was our secret game because he told me my mother would be mad if she knew I was wearing make-up at my age and I loved it all, the dressing up and the game, having the secret even, the one that was just ours." She shook her head. "I'd parade around and he'd take holoimages of me." She fought the tears which came now but failed. "I didn't understand at the time just how…skimpy…how adult…those clothes were. It was just our game." Chakotay felt an overpowering disgust build in him for this evil which had inhabited Kathryn's younger life.

"You're safe, Kathryn. I'm here with you. You're doing great." She seemed to draw strength from his words as she continued.

"He'd get me to pose for him, showed me pictures of other children dressed up and I just took it as normal…and he'd tell me how much prettier I was than them and that felt good. I always thought Phoebe was prettier and people always said that, how pretty she was and how clever I was. He knew that, knew I didn't feel pretty, that I was hurt when people spoke as they did and so he used it. Then before we went home…he'd…he'd say I had to wash the make-up off and he'd run the shower for me, wash me, and I didn't see that as wrong because it was something my mom did, although my father never did and hadn't done for years, but I didn't think like that. He was family and that was all right." She wiped at her face.

"On the way home then, he always gave me a present, something special that was just for me because I was so good at keeping our secret." She played with her hair, seemingly unaware of it. "Of course, later on, I still wore the make-up and had the hair done but the clothes went…" She lowered her head and let the tears fall, deep shame running through her. "I'm sorry…"

Chakotay fought his emotions. "Kathryn, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. He had no right to do what he did. You did nothing wrong."

She looked up quickly, anger on her face now. "I know that. It took me a long time to learn and accept it but I do know that." She lowered her voice and smiled an apology. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Don't ever apologize to me. You've nothing to be sorry about."

She nodded and sniffed, then drew in a deep breath. "Thank you." She brushed her hair back and went on. "I learned that, learned it all. I said child abuse but it was also incest. It took me a long time to learn to say that too. I learned to say the terms, the words, his name, rather than 'him'. Being afraid to say the words or his name only gave him power. Oh, I know it all, learned it by heart. I could quote you chapter and verse on it." She drew in another deep breath. "Incest is sexual abuse within the family, where a relative uses a child for their own sexual needs. Child abuse is where any adult sexually, physically, verbally or emotionally abuses a child. It's anything from fondling, the abuser exposing themselves, exposing the child to pornography, intercourse, either oral or anal sex, masturbation, taking images of the child. Some kids have even been led into child prostitution. Kids are mostly abused by someone they love, someone they know and trust. The abuser will force or trick, bribe or threaten the child." Chakotay sat like a stone as she related her words, her voice sounding monotone as if she were trying to strip the words of any emotion, but he could hear the anger and bitterness behind it. Her eyes stared off into the distance, as if she were reading her words.

"It begins slowly and increases over time. They rarely need to use physical force because children trust the adults around them, are dependent on them for everything. They want love and approval. They don't question because adults are always right. Abusers know all that and use it." She laughed suddenly, as if coming back to herself and then seemed shocked for a moment.

"Guess my memory is too good. I read that over and over until I was able to recite it almost. Say the magic words and the spell will work. The bad thing will disappear. Still, there was one good thing. I was at least spared the prostitution, although sometimes I wonder…" Her face twisted and she broke down, her body racked with sobs.

Chakotay sat still for only a moment and then he spoke, taking a chance. "Kathryn, can I hold you please?" She didn't look up and just reached out for him. He was there immediately and pulled her into his arms, careful of her injured leg. He held her, rocking her, marvelling at her trust in him as she clung to him. He made whatever soothing sounds he could but he didn't speak, didn't tell her that everything was all right, because it would have been an insult to her. He also cursed himself that he hadn't held her before this, hadn't asked.

Eventually she began to quieten and pull back a little and he let her. With eyes red and puffy, eyes filled with pain, she looked up at him. "Thank you. I'm sorry for that. It just happened. It helps though."

Chakotay let her pull away a little more and shook his head. "No apologies, Kathryn No thanks needed either. I'm your friend and I care deeply about you, you know that. I just want to help you, be there for you and nothing you tell me will ever be repeated, nor will it make any difference to how I feel about you or see you. You're the strongest, bravest, most caring woman I've ever known and I've nothing but total admiration, respect and affection for you, from the first day I met you. You need to know that."

She traced a finger over his hand and nodded. "I know that and I trust you completely. I wouldn't be telling you all this now if I didn't. I think I would have told you anyway. I tried to enough times, even if Naomi hadn't forced the issue with me. It's hard telling and yet, in a way, easier than I thought. I don't know. Maybe it's because I've spoken of it before and it's a little easier now or maybe it's because it's you, someone I know I can trust. I don't know." She kept her head down and continued tracing her finger over his knuckles.

"Do you want to go on, tell me more? You don't have to."

She nodded without lifting her head. "I need to, if it's all right with you."

He squeezed her hand gently. "It is. As long as you're all right. Don't worry about me. You're all that matters." She nodded and sniffed, trying to smile her thanks.

She then looked up at the opening above them and managed a watery smile. "Besides, I've a feeling we'll be here for some time." She looked back at him. "I'm sorry for that. It's my fault that we're stuck here, that you got hurt. I just wasn't watching, my mind elsewhere and on other things. You tried to grab me in time to stop me falling and ended up down here too."

He shook his head, his smile gentle. "You're going to have to learn to stop blaming yourself for everything that happens to us. We fell. End of story. Now, do you want me to stay here or move back over there? Whatever you want is fine." He had enough experience of counselling in his own right to know that she needed to feel in complete control of everything during this time.

She looked to where he'd been sitting, then back. "Where you are is fine. I trust you, know I can. Besides, having your hand to hold…well, it helps. It kind of grounds me if I go too deep into a memory."

He smiled gently at her, showing he understood. He squeezed her hand gently. "Thank you for that trust. I promise I'll never give you reason to regret placing it in me."

She smiled softly in return. "You know, at home…back on Earth…if I ever felt this getting in on me, starting to come back, I just saw my counsellor. Oh, I had all the therapy I could want. Out here, I've no one…" She smiled at the sad look on his face. "HAD no one. At home it helped because I knew she was there…" She looked away then back at him. "Louise Carter, a Starfleet counsellor actually and she was great. She was there if and when I needed her. When we ended up out here, I was scared about that. I hoped so much I wouldn't need her but now I do and she's not here, but I have you." She smiled gratefully at him.

"You'll always have me." He didn't need to say more. He let her have some time, watching her as she studied the ground for some minutes.

"Where was I?" She smiled sadly. "The clothes went when he took holoimages of me. I think I knew in some way that it was wrong, but I trusted him and didn't know any different. I had no understanding of appropriate or inappropriate behaviour. I didn't know the difference. This was a man who was family, who loved me, took care of me and who'd never hurt me. I'd no reason to doubt him and I hadn't enough understanding to do that anyway." She shook her head. "I sound so sure of all that, don't I? I sound so understanding of it all. Well, it took a long time to get there and a lot of hours with Louise." Chakotay offered up a silent prayer of thanks for a woman he'd never known but who'd been there for the one he loved.

"His touching changed too. He'd run his hands up and down my legs and across my chest. When he took images, he asked me to lie or sit certain ways and I just did. I didn't question him. He showed me images of other children posing and had me copy them." She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and looked away. She was managing to say the words, but he saw how hard it was for her.

"One day at his house… It was the usual but it was a hot day. He gave me a soda and I fell asleep. Years later I wondered if he'd put something in it but I don't know. He was a doctor, you see." She risked a brief glance at Chakotay. "I woke up and he… I was lying on the sofa. He…he was sitting back at one end…and I was lying…my head to the other end. He'd… I wasn't wearing anything and he'd…he'd opened…my legs…parted them…" Chakotay saw her bite on the inside of her mouth, hesitating now, fighting for control, losing her battle with her tears.

"You can tell me, Kathryn. It's all right." He prompted her and squeezed her hand gently and she barely nodded.

"I didn't know what he was doing. He was touching me…there…and his other hand… I'd never seen anything like that before…a man…and he was… To me he was pulling himself and watching me. He saw I was awake and turned away and I heard his breathing and then he groaned. I just lay there, didn't move, was too scared to, and he looked back at me, kept staring. I remember him saying 'good girl' but he kept watching me, looking there. And then his eyes closed and he leaned forward." She was almost choking over her words but pushed on. "He stayed like that and I remembered a funny smell. Finally, he stood up and smiled down at me. I remember his words so well. He told me he'd been itchy and was scratching himself and dear God, I believed him, didn't know any better." Chakotay said nothing and just squeezed her hand a little tighter. She managed a faint smile for him but tears poured down her face.

"This was our 'secret' too. This was to be a new game. If I kept the secret, the new bike I wanted would be mine. Two weeks later, I got my bike and Phoebe got a new toy also. Had to look equal, you see." She smiled bitterly and swallowed deeply. "There was a stage in later years when I felt I'd prostituted myself for that bike. In time though, I learned to let go of that too thanks to Louise." Kathryn pulled her hand back and played with her fingers. Chakotay just let her.

"I paid for that bike. Every time we were alone after that, he always had to 'scratch' himself. I got to know it. Sometimes, he'd lie me down like that first time and other times he'd ask…" She shook her head. "At that time, he always 'asked'…" She was picking at a nail now. "Other times, he'd ask me to…well, bend over and he'd sit behind me. I'd feel his hand there but it wasn't ever painful. Just his hand resting there, you know?" She looked up tearfully. Chakotay just nodded, trying to put every ounce of love and support into his eyes for her to see.

"I don't know what age I was then, maybe nine or ten. It moved on from there. Now he was asking me to touch him and I hated it, hated the feel of… And he saw that and so the presents would increase. Then he'd tell me that it was our secret, that we had to keep each other's secrets. God knows how he did it but he always seemed to know the things I'd done wrong like breaking a plate at home and not having told my mother, having had some trouble in school, any number of things and he'd tell me that he'd keep my secrets if I kept his, about how upset my mother would be with me if she found out and it worked. Oh, I wasn't afraid of my mother but I was obsessed with my father finding out anything bad about me. I had this passion about pleasing him and Uncle Robert played it to the full." She wiped at her face and then looked around the cave and was quiet for some time.

"Do you want to go on? Kathryn?" He took a risk and placed a hand softly on her arm, recalling what she'd said about his touch grounding her.

She looked back at him slowly. "Yes, I do. Sorry. Just sometimes, I wander a bit. I'm OK telling you, need to. It's not what I'm saying. It's the telling. Saying the words and telling are different things." She shook her head. "I'm not explaining this well."

Chakotay smiled softly. "You're doing very well. I'm proud of you."

She smiled a little more at that, like a little girl being praised. "You see, I've already got all this out from inside me, said the words, learned to accept them, so it's not as hard as it was then." He nodded his understanding. "I guess it's just hard remembering again but mostly it's hard telling you, even though I want to. I guess I feel you'll be disgusted at me or repulsed." Tears sprang to her eyes when she saw the hurt look on his face.

"Oh Kathryn, how could you ever think…? There is no way…"

She nodded and squeezed his hand. "I know and I'm sorry. I just still have this… It's not the easiest subject. I mean, it's not something you just bring up at the dinner table and I still feel that I'll be judged or… I don't know."

Chakotay returned the squeeze on her hand. "Just let it all out, Kathryn. I've told you that you can tell me anything. Come on." His encouragement was what she needed. She looked down at the bandage on her leg for a few moments, gathering her thoughts. Finally, she looked up at him and drew in a deep breath.

"It went on, his subtle threats, even though they were disguised. So I did as he asked, but I was starting to think this was all wrong. Something just told me that. I mean, none of my friends talked about anything like that but then I thought maybe they had the same secrets. I just didn't know." She shifted herself slightly and winced for a moment, her leg obviously hurting her.

"It continued as I said. As time went on, I learned more and more and knew it was wrong, knew what he was doing was wrong but I couldn't stop it. He always seemed to have some way to control me. I was terrified, ashamed, you name it. Whereas at one time, he tried to trick me into things, bribe me really, now he threatened and I couldn't see a way out." She looked up at Chakotay, fear in her eyes at his reaction. She saw only support.

"The older I got, the worse it got. I know in a lot of cases like this the abuse fades and the abuser moves on to another child, a younger child. I began to get really scared that he'd move on to Phoebe and he knew that. He always seemed to know what I was thinking. He used that to control me then and ensure my silence and it worked, just as he knew it would." She was making patterns in the dust now with a finger.

"I think he was feeling more and more sure of himself now, more in control of me. He didn't have to cajole me or persuade me anymore. He was in charge and made sure I knew it. I got all the 'no one would ever believe you' and 'they'd take you away and lock you up' lines. And so there was nothing I felt I could do, nowhere to go." She played with a small pile of dust she'd made. "He was a medical man, with access to all the literature on this. He knew how to play it." She sniffed loudly.

"By now… He taught me things, how to…" She looked up briefly, deep embarrassment and shame on her face.

Chakotay smiled gently at her, telling her it was all right. "Kathryn, you can tell me anything. I promise you. You've nothing to feel ashamed or worried about in telling me. You need to talk about this. I love you." He worried for a moment about using the word 'love' but it seemed to help her. She smiled sadly, then looked away again.

"I had to…hold him, 'scratch him' was what he called it. Of course he was making me…well, you know…and he taught me well. If I didn't get it right, his hand would cover mine and guide me. In time, when I got it right, his hand would… He'd be touching me as I was…" She didn't finish but he knew what she meant. He could hear the tears in her voice. Once again, he fought the anger and hate he felt.

"It was like steps, moving on all the time. Lessons. He called them my 'lessons'." She laughed bitterly through her tears. "By the time I was eleven or twelve, he had me…giving… making me…" Chakotay saw her tremble deeply before her words came out in a rush. "He made me use my mouth on him." Her head dropped and she sobbed.

Chakotay reached for her hands and held them tightly, then pulled her to him and held her. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." He felt her head nod as her tears fell, and felt the warmth of them seep through his jacket. He just continued to hold her tightly until she quietened. "Kathryn, you don't have to…"

She pulled back suddenly and looked up at him. "I do have to. When it gets like this, I have to…have to talk it out…get it out."

He nodded in sympathy, knowing he could never understand what she'd been through. "I'm here." The words felt so inadequate to him but they seemed to help her. She fell back into his arms and let him hold her tightly for several minutes before pulling away again and continuing.

"I thought I'd choke, be sick, and I was a few times, but he kept making me…" She broke down again as Chakotay held her against him. He waited until she was ready to go on.

"The first time he…he…he kissed me…there… I was afraid, then he kept doing it…licking me…and I was scared and yet…" She wiped at her tears angrily, using her anger to overcome the shame she still felt. "The bastard knew what he was doing. He knew. I was scared, so scared…and yet… God forgive me, I liked it. It felt good and I felt so bad, so ashamed and guilty, even though I didn't understand." Her shoulders were shaking as she cried now. He heard her swallow deeply, forcing her words out.

"Louise spent a long time getting me over that. I felt so dirty and guilty. My older friends only ever spoke about kissing boys. Nothing more. Yet I knew all this, but I never said it to them, just knew I couldn't." She drew in a ragged breath.

"He seemed happy with that for a while but of course…" She shook her head. "The first time he…he used…his finger… God, it hurt. It really hurt. And he didn't seem to care. He told me I'd get used to it, that I had to obey him, and he'd push it into me…there and the other…" Chakotay dropped his own head, not wanting her to see the murderous look in his eyes. He continued to hold her. "His finger…other things…I don't know…" He finally looked up at her and tried to show his love for her, his understanding, anything he could, with his eyes.

"I'm here for you, love. You're safe. He can't hurt you anymore." He cursed his own lack of knowledge, desperate to know the right things to say, working on instinct only and his feelings for her. She seemed to draw strength and comfort from his words without actually acknowledging them and spoke on.

"I was starting to develop and he liked that…always touching me there…and then when…when I…started…started my periods…he…he…" She looked up with deep anger in her eyes. "He actually gave me hypos. The bastard gave me contraceptives…and I didn't know what they were. If I had, I'd have known his plans, what he intended, but I didn't. I just didn't know." Chakotay ground his teeth together. He wanted to stand and pound the walls of the cave, attack something, but instead he forced himself to sit there, trying desperately to just be there for her.

"I was thirteen when he… He told me I was almost a woman now and I had to learn what women did, that I was old enough now. I was thirteen, the day after my thirteenth birthday and he was taking me for my birthday treat." Bitterness and pain poured from her. "My 'birthday treat' was to be raped…" Chakotay just pulled her to him, not thinking if it was a right or wrong move. When he felt her clinging to him, he knew it was the right thing. He held her for a long time, rocking her to him, making soothing noises but not using words. It took almost ten minutes before he felt her relax into him a little. Finally, she eased back.

"I'm sorry…I still… I mean…I can say all the words now. Normally I can pull myself back from it. It's just…at these times…" He smiled gently at her, saying nothing, knowing she needed to continue, gripping her hand tightly.

"I screamed. The pain, oh God, the pain…and I remember his hand over my mouth, telling me to be quiet or it would be worse." She shook her head, tears pouring from her eyes. "It couldn't be worse. I'd never felt pain like that…like I was tearing apart." She wiped at her face again with her free hand. "He wouldn't stop, and I begged him, pleaded with him, told him it hurt and he kept saying it was only for a while, that I'd be a woman afterwards and that I should be grateful to him." She laughed bitterly. "He just kept on…kept saying 'yes…yes….good girl'… kept on…and he turned me onto my stomach, pushed me down… 'Better to get it all over with in one go'…that's what he said. And I thought the first pain was bad…" She looked up at Chakotay, tears streaming down her face. "How could he do that? I was a child…I was thirteen. He was a man, a grown man and he forced…forced himself…into both…" Chakotay once more just pulled her to him as she broke down, her body racked with sobs. This time he whispered to her as he rocked and held her.

"It's over, love. I'm so sorry. I wish I could take all that away for you. I'm so sorry." He felt her nails dig into his back but ignored the pain. "It's over. Let it out. I'm here. You're safe." He didn't know how much time passed before she began to settle slowly. When she pulled back this time, her eyes were swollen, tears still coming. He wiped gently at her face. "It's OK. It's over. I'm here." He tried to smile for her and she nodded.

"I hate him. He's dead and I hate him."

Chakotay nodded. "He only deserves your hate. I hate him too. I hope to God he's burning somewhere."

Kathryn tried to smile her thanks weakly for his words of support but failed. She cleared her throat and sniffed.
"For years, I wanted to try and understand how he could do that to a child, what made him that way. In time, I let that go. I'd remember back to that day, to the pain and… God, I can't ever forget that pain and I was terrified. When he…finished…and I saw…I saw my blood…thought I'd bleed to death, and it hurt so much. I couldn't move, it hurt so much and he just smiled at me. 'You're a woman now' as if I should have been proud of that and been grateful to him. He pulled me up then, took me into the shower with him, washed me, and the water was stinging me. I couldn't stop crying…couldn't stop. I was shaking, crying in gasps almost. Later on I realized I must have been in shock." She drew in deep breaths.

"I got the talk then as he dried me, about not telling, what would happen if I did, and he…" She stopped a moment and drew in several deep breaths. "He lifted me…lay me on the counter…kept touching me…his fingers…then his…mouth…and he…" She looked up angrily. "He always knew what to do, to make me, and I did and I'd feel so dirty and he'd laugh and say 'See, you enjoy it. If you told, they'd laugh because you enjoy it too'." She wiped the back of her hand over her face.

"I was so sore in so much pain but he didn't try and help me. He gave me sanitary protection to wear and told me to tell my mother it was my time of month if she asked. He thought of everything, even had his timing right. I had to try so hard at home to hide the pain. He even thought of that though and gave me hypos for pain. When we got home that day, he told my mother I'd run across a road, was almost hit by a hover car, said that was why I looked upset, that he'd given me a good talking to about crossing roads and my mother joined in, shouted at me and I just wanted to scream at her and tell her everything, but I couldn't…and Phoebe was there, laughing because I was getting a telling off and she wasn't…and all I could do was cry and I ran upstairs and locked my door. I cried for hours and no one came near me. No one came." Chakotay pulled her back to him and held her again for a long time. This time when she settled a little, he spoke, changing the direction a little to give her some rest from the horrors she'd been reliving.

"Did you ever try and tell her, your mother. Tell someone else?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Not then and I never told my mother. When I think about it now, all the signs were there of what was happening, although they differ from child to child, but my behaviour changed and that's a classic sign. Louise helped me to see that I told my parents in every way but words, but they didn't 'hear' me. Some children begin to suddenly fail at their lessons. I was different. I threw myself into my studies, hid behind the padds of science and mathematics. I withdrew from everyone and everything. I still played games and was hell bent on beating everyone. I think because I couldn't stop him or beat him, I tried to do that with my opponents on the tennis court or wherever. I didn't eat well or sleep well for that matter. That's a habit I never got out of. In later years, I got to hate myself, my appearance, my own body. I never really got past that either. I've never felt good about myself. As long as my appearance is neat and clean, nothing else matters."

She licked at her lips, finding them dry. "I couldn't tell my parents. I was afraid to. My dad wasn't there a lot of the time and I adored the time we did have. I thought if I told… I was afraid that it would ruin what we did have, thought he'd be disappointed in me which was my biggest fear. I worried that he'd think I was causing trouble or lying. He treasured the time he had with us, being away so much and I didn't want to ruin that for him." She wiped at her nose. "You said recently about how you loved the holidays? Well, I hated them." He nodded, remembering their time in the stores and understood now. "Uncle Robert would stay with us so he was there all the time. I felt so unsafe then, knowing there was no getting away from him. I drove my mother crazy, following her around and hanging out of her then. She'd be busy, trying to prepare all the food and stuff." She laughed slightly. "There were no replicated dinners in our house." She shook her head sadly. "Anyway, I'd do anything to avoid being alone with him but she'd push me away, tell me to go play with Phoebe or him." She shook her head again, closing her eyes a moment. "Oh, he saw what I was up to, knew what I was trying to do and I paid for it. He'd come to my room at night, in my own home with my parents asleep across the hall and I'd pay for it. Of course, no one ever knew. Only once did my mother find him there in the middle of the night and he told her he'd heard me crying and had come to me. He told her I'd been having a nightmare and he was getting me back to sleep. She accepted that so easily, was grateful to him. God, he knew what he was doing." She dropped her head and played with the torn fabric again.

"I tried to get out of the outings with him, pleading illness or too much homework. All I got from my mother was 'don't be so selfish' or 'look at the trouble he goes to for you' and 'you should be grateful that he spends so much time with you'. I could never go into the barn beside our house. I was terrified to go near the place, because he'd brought me in there so many times. The lower field and down by the river were the same. I know by that stage, I acted differently around him when he was there with my parents and he'd 'punish' me for that later on. I began to spend hours in the bath, grew to hate showers. I can take showers now but I still prefer the bath. I feel safer there, sort of cocooned." She swallowed. "Is there any water?" Chakotay nodded and reached for the canteen. He watched quietly as she sipped at the water, knowing she needed the moment.

"Thanks. My throat was very dry." She replaced the cap and smiled gently at him, but the sadness remained in her eyes. "I even thought about running away a few times but I could never think how to do that, couldn't think of where to go. For the longest time, I just tried to shut it out and pretend it wasn't happening. I mean at first I was just too young to put it into words and I didn't understand it anyway or see it as wrong or different. There was the bribery then, all the 'keeping the secret' side of it. I saw it as him showing me love, just a different kind of love. Later on, I waited, I think, to see if my parents would notice what was going on but they didn't. You have to understand that I still loved him. He was still my uncle, no matter what he did to me. I know that's hard to understand but it works that way and abusers depend on that and use it." She was back playing with a nail.

"Later on, I was too afraid to say anything. I was sure no one would believe me anyway. I also felt that they'd want to know why I'd never said anything before. Part of me felt I was to blame for it even. He'd 'punish' me as I said and I began to really believe that what he was doing to me was punishment because I'd been bad. I was too embarrassed in the end and I also worried that I'd get into trouble or be taken away from my home and my family. I even worried about getting him into trouble, if you can believe that." She cleared her throat.

"So it went on and on. I was silent and it was that silence that enabled it all to continue. I learned the party line, if you like, on that one too. 'Silence protects sexual offenders and hurts children who are being abused.'" She laughed cynically. "It took me years to learn to say those terms even. Now I could stand with anyone and have a lengthy discussion with them on the subject, talk openly and they'd never guess. That's the thing, you see. I'm fine with it as long as they don't know. Guess it's a way of hiding again." She pressed her lips together a moment.

"They say that times are different now. Children no longer have to suffer in silence. They talk about all the help out there, how this is the 24th century and all that. Well, it's different when you live it. Inside the home, it's still the best kept secret and has been since time began." She waved a hand around. "Look at us. The perfect Starfleet family. Father an Admiral. Mother a perfect wife and mother. Children excelling in school. Uncle Robert was top in his field too, a top medical man. Things like this don't happen in families like that." He heard the deep bitterness in her voice.

"You know, had I been attacked outside and raped by a stranger, I could have dealt with that better. It would have been a one-off, a random act of violence, which I could have worked at, and put behind me. Avoid the place where it happened. No betrayal of trust which is the worst part of incest. I'd never have had to see the rapist again hopefully. I'd have had a safe place to go…my home. You're supposed to feel safe in your own home over anywhere, but I never had that. You know, I can actually understand better what drives a stranger rapist more than I'll ever understand this. I wouldn't have felt as ashamed and dirty either. I also think I'd have had an excuse for not being able to stop it."

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, you didn't do anything wrong. You couldn't have stopped this." He reached out and laid his hand on hers, making sure she saw what he was doing. She allowed his hand to stay.

"I know that now but still… I guess there's always that question there, that nagging doubt that won't quite go away, especially as I got older. As I said, he'd punish me. Mostly it was pinches or slaps, places a bruise wouldn't show. The presents still came but they were a cover and we both knew that. Where he'd once bribed me, now it was threats. He once told me he could kill my sister, even my mother and father, if I didn't obey him. He asked if I'd prefer it if he took Phoebe out instead of me. He knew all the right buttons to press. He told me to think about how my friends would laugh at me, would hate me even, to think about the rest of my life and how it would be ruined, that Starfleet would never take me. Oh, he knew I wanted that, even at that age, knew I wanted to follow my father." She shook her head and sniffed loudly, then was quiet for a while before going on.

"After that first time, he left me alone for a while, just touched and made me…do it for him. He'd still touch me and try to make me…said I could enjoy it, and I tried so hard not to let it happen but I couldn't always. He was always angry with me if I didn't, said he'd know, and he did and I tried to pretend but he'd always know." She wiped at her eyes. "When he felt I was 'ready' for more, he continued. He'd show me images and holovids and get me to copy what I saw. He'd done that for a while now, more 'lessons' for me. He had me under his complete control, trapped… and sometimes he'd threaten to bring some friend of his if I wouldn't try something with him because he knew that would work. I was so terrified of him. He took what he wanted from me, used me any way he felt like and I let him, couldn't stop him. It was easier in the long run. In time, it just didn't hurt anymore, physically or emotionally. He even stopped calling for me. I had to go to him and I'd have to go upstairs and get dressed in whatever he'd left there for me, be ready for him, do whatever he asked and let him to the same to me." She looked up sadly. "So I guess the prostitution bit did apply after all…" Her face crumpled.

Chakotay took her in his arms again. "When did it stop?"

She let him hold her and didn't answer for some minutes, gaining strength from his arms. "He was at the house one day and took me to the barn. I was close to fifteen." Chakotay tightened his arms around her. "He was… He had his hand up my skirt, was holding my hand against him, against his… I remember him saying to me… 'Come on, baby, do it like I showed you. It's our secret. I don't want to have to punish you again'. Suddenly there was a noise behind us. I looked up. I know I was crying, I remember that. I looked up and…my father…my father was standing there." He felt her cringe against him. "I was terrified. I met my father's eyes for just a second, couldn't read his face and he looked away from me, was staring at Uncle Robert. I remember his voice though, very soft, low. I knew he was angry, knew that tone, controlled anger and I was so afraid he was angry at me. He barely spoke to me. 'Kathryn, go into the house. Go up to your room and stay there." Chakotay heard her sniffling again.

"I just ran. I was so afraid. I ran up to my room and hid there, crawled into the bottom of the wardrobe. I remember hugging my legs to my chest, terrified. Eventually, maybe an hour or so, I looked up and my father was standing there, no expression on his face. He knelt down beside me and just looked at me for the longest time. I began crying again. 'Don't cry now'. That's all he said. I couldn't stop and he just waited. I felt so afraid, so ashamed and dirty, so guilty, embarrassed even. I was even afraid that he'd blame me, say I'd started it, had wanted it, that Uncle Robert would have convinced him of that. I mean he was the adult, would be believed more. Finally, I managed to stop and saw that he hadn't moved. 'Kathryn, you won't ever see him again'. That was it, all he said. He got up and walked away." She pulled back a little now.

"He never spoke of it again. Life was just expected to return to normal. My mother and Phoebe were the same with me as they always had been but my father… I saw him trying to be the same but he wasn't. Nothing with him was ever the same again. He never spoke to me about it, never told me, even years later, never told me what had happened between him and his brother. Uncle Robert disappeared all right. I never saw him again. My pain though, what I'd been through, that wouldn't leave."

Chakotay was stunned. "He never once talked to you about it?"

Kathryn shook her head. "I think maybe he couldn't, felt responsible. I never knew what he knew or felt, if he'd ever any idea of the degree of it all, how far it had gone, how long a time. I don't know, and I never asked him. I just knew he wasn't able to talk about it. Maybe he felt guilty and didn't know what to say or how to say it. I don't know. I learned quickly that my mother and Phoebe knew nothing, that he'd kept this from them and I was so angry at him now. I was crying out for him to hold me, make it better, tell me it wasn't my fault, that I'd done nothing wrong. I needed him to acknowledge that it had happened, that it wasn't my fault, to understand my pain, say he was sorry even but he didn't. For a long time, because he played it down and didn't speak of it, I began to believe that what had happened wasn't that important. It wasn't until later, that I came to understand the severity of it all. Dear God, I was fifteen years old and I didn't know, didn't really understand it all. Oh, I knew all about how things worked, knew that only too well but I didn't know it was wrong. I'd honestly never heard of incest or child abuse, taboo subjects children were kept from. I was too young to be spoken to about all that but not for it to happen to. There's a sick irony in there somewhere."

Suddenly Chakotay felt her shiver. "Are you cold?" She looked up at him slowly and shook her head. Chakotay looked up towards the opening, noticing that the light was fading a little. "Let me know if you are. I can use my phaser to heat some rocks."

She nodded and tried a tired smile. "It's been a while."

Chakotay just pulled her tighter to him. "It won't be long now. They'll find us soon. I promise."

Kathryn leaned her head against him, the gesture of trust not lost on him. "I know." They were quiet for some time.

Chakotay broke the silence. "So your father never spoke of it?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Never. All I wanted, needed, was his support, for him or both of them, him and my mother, to just say… 'It happened but it's over now. It wasn't your fault. We're sorry'. I needed to understand what had happened and what I was feeling. I'd had all these feelings and emotions inside me for so long and questions. I was so confused. I think I was always afraid. I mean I just always had this fear there. There were times I doubted it was all real even, maybe that I was dreaming it. And later? Oh God, I had so much anger inside me. I was angry at Uncle Robert for what he'd done to me, angry at my mother and father for not seeing what was going on and not stopping it. I hated them for a long time for not protecting me from that and of course at my father later on for ignoring it, even when he knew. That anger also turned inwards over time. I was angry and ashamed at myself for not understanding it or being able to stop it. All these questions. Could I have done this or that, should I have done this or that, did I do this, did I not do that, did I cause it, was it my fault, could I have done something differently? So many doubts and questions. I hated him for abusing my trust in him, for calling it love, making that word dirty to me for so long. I hated myself for being too scared to reach out to someone, tell someone. I even mourned for the childhood I'd lost, the one I saw my friends having. Guilt was there in abundance with me, that I'd caused it, made him do it, 'turned him on' even in some way…" She laughed bitterly.

"I mean, I was the one who sat on his lap and played his games. I must have done something. He told me that once, said I'd come on to him simply because I played with him and sat with him." She swallowed. "My entire childhood was gone and I felt so isolated from normal life. As I got older, I was so insecure in myself, hated everything about myself. I constantly worried about other people's opinions of me, felt I had to please them or they wouldn't like me. I'd look back and have doubts about what had happened, wondered if I was even remembering it right, if it had happened at all. All those feelings crowding in on me, all negative, pain, anger."

Chakotay leaned his head against hers. "Kathryn, you have and had every right to feel anything, in response to what happened to you. It wasn't your fault. You were never to blame. Incest…" He hesitated over the word but getting no reaction, felt it safe to go on. "Incest or child abuse of any kind perpetrated against a child is a terrible crime, the worst crime there is. What happened to you was all his fault, his evil. You could never have fought against that."

Kathryn nodded against him. "I know that although it took me a long time to learn and accept it." She turned her head slightly. "I did fight him once. I actually fought him. Biggest mistake I ever made. He beat me. Oh, nowhere the bruises would show, except one. I fell against the table and cut my lip. He brought me home, once I'd learned my place and he got what he wanted anyway. He brought me home and told my mother I'd been climbing a tree in his garden and fallen from it. My mother just shook her head and accepted it. She believed him so easily." She twisted her body slightly to try and get more comfortable.

"I mean, he could easily have used a dermal regenerator on me, treated me but he didn't. I think he just enjoyed knowing I was hurting, was suffering. He was a doctor, for God's sake. He could have hidden what he did to me, even though it was never noticed. He left me with my lip split, barely treated, took a chance with that and maybe that's what was behind it." She shook her head in disbelief. "My mother never asked why the cut was still there. It never occurred to her to ask why, as a doctor, he hadn't treated or healed it. I think in a way, it was his way to send me a message. 'I can do what I like and no one will question me'. And it worked. It wasn't like I didn't have a list of physical complaints the entire time, yet my mother and father just brushed them off as 'normal childhood knocks and bangs'… 'our Kathryn is such a tomboy'… They knew I didn't eat or sleep well and didn't have many friends. I was a very withdrawn child and it happened over a short enough period of time. I washed constantly. I was anxious and nervous when he was around. I had the lowest self-esteem and they didn't see any of that. No one else did either though…other family members, friends or teachers." She shook her head sadly.

"To be fair to them, I suppose they weren't educated to look for that either. My teachers should have been but I kept it well hidden too. Besides, sexual abuse isn't something anyone likes to think about. It's always something you hear about with someone else, strangers. It can never happen in your own family and yet one in five boys and one in four girls have been abused as a child. It's far more common than people know. It happens. I had to learn it the hard way." She cleared her throat. "What I mean is, I only learned about all the signs later on when I began counselling. Silence and ignorance. They're the accomplices of every abuser. I was bribed and then terrorized into silence. Most kids are. They can drop hints or make indirect comments but it's not always picked up on. Some become very passive, like me while others become destructive, hostile or aggressive. Oh, I had that but I turned it inwards. Some commit petty crimes and later on, more serious ones, that or they can become self-destructive or injure themselves. Fire starting is even a sign. Some kids will act out adult sex play and behaviour with other children or their toys, showing sexual knowledge way beyond what they should know. Of course, that's often put down to them having access to holovids not meant for them and it gets overlooked again. They have physical, medical problems, swellings, bleedings, bruises. Of course, if they're not picked up on, the other physical problems are never noticed, the damage that's there from tearing or infections." She swallowed loudly. "Drug and alcohol problems are common later on. Sexual activity or pregnancy at an early age, even running away or suicide attempts."

Chakotay eased her up a bit when he heard her voice, as she almost narrated the facts for him. "Kathryn?"

She seemed to shake herself out of it. "Sorry, Chakotay, I still get angry and those facts are so ingrained. I think I know the texts word for word. I'm an expert at this. I feel anger at the people who wrote them even, some doctor or therapist. I want to scream at them 'Big deal, you know all the words but what do you really know'?" She shook her head again and smiled sadly. "I guess I still feel that anger and bitterness."

Chakotay leaned back against the wall of the cave slowly, gently taking her with him. "You've every right to feel all that, Kathryn, every right. You said it yourself, you told in every way but words but no one heard you."

She nodded. "There was so much confusion, everything I felt, had felt for so long, conflicting emotions and feelings. I mean I feared him and loved him at the same time. I was afraid to cause trouble and lose my family and he'd told me I'd be taken away, and people would point at me and laugh. I was angry at him and my parents, even Phoebe in some ways for not being the one…"

She cried now. "How sick and hateful is that to be angry at my own sister because she wasn't the one being abused?" Chakotay just held her firmly. "I think I was angry at just about everyone, myself included. I closed myself off because I thought there was something really wrong with me. I mean why me and no one else, because I didn't know this happened to others. Later on, when I'd started counselling, I got depressed, so sad, for all that I'd lost, that innocence that should have been mine by rights. He took all that, took such a big part of me. I grew up so fast in some ways and remained a baby almost in others. And God, the betrayal. I felt that so badly. Then the guilt even, for not being able to stop it. I hated myself for not telling, yet I know I'd have hated myself for telling too if I'd done that. I've no way to know what would have happened if I'd told straight out. I even went through a time of believing I'd actually 'consented' because I didn't fight him. Oh, and let's not forget the shame. For still loving him, for what he made me feel physically, for swinging back and forward between love and hate. I don't know. At that stage it was so mixed up, all the time actually." She coughed and leaned into him.

"I hated him for how he controlled me. When the presents stopped and he knew he had total control of me and I'd see him looking at Phoebe, making sure I saw him. I hated him so much then. He ruled me completely. I didn't know if he really wanted her or was using it to control me and I was terrified. He even threatened to go after Phoebe if I told and didn't keep coming to him." She wiped at her face.

Chakotay drew in a deep breath. "How did you feel after he'd gone?" He still felt so unsure of what to say or ask.

Kathryn seemed to just accept his question though. "When he'd gone, I was terrified for months that he'd come back. I'd lie awake at night, waiting for him to come into my room and take me away. Every sound in the house at night made me jump and I was afraid to go to sleep in case he came. I thought he'd blame me for being caught and would come back and get me for that. Over time though, I began to feel a little safer. Having control over what I wanted for breakfast became the highlight of my life, control of anything, even what I wanted to wear. For a time, I was obsessed with controlling everything around me, even stuff that didn't matter, just so I could control something, anything." She laughed slightly. "I think that's why I need to always feel in control now." Chakotay said nothing, just continued to hold her.

"Anyway, I tried to move on, not think about it, build some kind of life. I threw myself into my studies, could hide there. I applied for Starfleet even. I think for a time I even tried to deny to myself that it had happened. Then…"

He sensed her reluctance. "Kathryn, you can tell me anything, you know that. Just let it out."

She pulled back a little from him. "I know that." He gave her some time. "I had the summer off…before joining Starfleet." Chakotay watched her face, seeing her memories written there. "My father was over the moon that I'd been accepted. Life was back to normal. He wasn't there that much but this made him so happy and I was just happy to be able to please him. I think I felt I was making it all up to him, giving him what he wanted although it was what I wanted too. That summer…" She laughed now, although the sound was wrapped in pain. "God, I was naïve. I went on a date, my first date. I didn't know him well. The boys I did know weren't actually knocking on the door to ask me out. I'd been too withdrawn you see, didn't mix with them. So in my efforts to convince myself that I really was normal, I went on this date." He heard the sarcasm drip from her words. "I know now I probably gave him the wrong impression. I only had my childhood knowledge of how to please a man, didn't know the difference and I liked him…, and I only knew one way to show that." He saw tears in her eyes again.

"He thought it was his birthday." She laughed cynically through her tears. "For a while anyway. Only I panicked. Suddenly it all came back to me and I lost it. The trouble was, he was too far gone and couldn't take 'no' for an answer at that stage, so he kept going." The tears fell down her face and Chakotay pulled her tighter against him. "He raped me and I'd walked right into it." She was sobbing now and Chakotay turned her into him.

"No, Kathryn, you didn't. Please, love, don't say that. No man has that right." He comforted her for a while, feeling her breath against his neck. Slowly he felt her relax a little, her hand pressing against his chest.

"I know what I just said but I know you're right. Louise helped me there too. I do know that. It's just sometimes…sometimes…I just forget." She sounded like a lost little girl for a moment.

"Kathryn, you're the strongest person I know. You survived all this and you beat it." She nodded her head against him, her fingers tracing an idle pattern on his tunic.

"I wasn't strong that summer." He said nothing and waited for her to continue. "I hid away for days and then suddenly I just got up and went out. I'd decided, you see, that this was what it was like. This was what it was all about between men and women. They wanted it and I gave it. That was what I had to do. If you loved someone, man to woman, you had sex, and in my head, this was what love and sex were all about. One was the same as the other. No difference between them. I truly thought this was all I could ever expect. It was that or lock myself away." He saw her lower her head.

"For the rest of that summer, I went wild. I was dead inside but I lived on the outside. I went to every party I could, drank like there was no tomorrow, threw up a lot, even tried some drugs. You see, I learned later that the abuse had scarred me deeply in a lot of ways. I'd no self-esteem. I was practically an adult, physically anyway, yet emotionally I was still a child in so many ways. All the 'social maladjustments' as they call them, that come from abuse… Well, I was finding them. Alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity. I was only short of prostitution. The drinking and drugs deadened the pain and the memories. They blocked out the reality. Some victims, if they feel they were abused because they were pretty, will overeat and become obese so they can look unattractive. Others get bulimia. You feel like being sick so often when it happens and later on, bulimia is just another way to act that out. Anorexia is another one. I guess another form of self-punishment, like injuring yourself. Suicide among victims is more common than we know." She felt Chakotay's arm tighten around her.

"And so here I was, all these emotional problems with little understanding of them. So I partied hard and on top of all that, earned a nice little reputation for myself." She barely glanced up at him. "I slept with any boy who came near me. Boy or man, didn't matter. Word got out on that, of course. Janeway was more than willing and they were queuing up. I just didn't care. I really felt nothing. I can say in all honesty that I don't remember half of them, half of what I did or with who. I just lay there and let them do whatever they wanted, let it happen. Most of the time I was either drunk or stoned anyway." He heard the sorrow in her voice, felt her tears splash on his arm.

"Kathryn, that was his doing too. Not yours."

She nodded but kept her head down. "I learned that one too. At the time though, these men liked me and that felt good in one way, despite how dead I felt. When I looked back on it, I couldn't understand how I'd allowed any man to touch me. Between the abuse and the rape… Louise tried to explain that because Uncle Robert had let me down and then my father in his way, that I was needing and looking for love, still wanting to please. I guess it was the old one about confusing love with sex. I don't know if I thought or believed that these men loved me. I don't know. I do know I just cared nothing about myself. I thought this was love and I craved it. The men were just there, all the same and Uncle Robert had just been the first of them." She laughed slightly and then seemed shocked at herself that she could. She looked to Chakotay quickly to try and gauge his reaction but all she saw was love and support, giving her the courage to continue.

"Of course, it didn't take my father long to hear of it all. He actually dragged me half-naked out of a car one night and hauled me home. Mom and Phoebe weren't there and when I thought about it later, I guess he'd sent them out. He had hold of me by my arm and hair and he pulled me up the stairs and threw me into my room. I was crying so hard. I remember screaming at him and pulling at my clothes. 'Do you want some too?' That's what I said to him." She looked up tearfully at the man beside her. "I'll always remember the look on his face although I never understood it. I'd hurt him, I know that. He said nothing about how he'd found me and just turned and walked out the door. He looked back at me and shook his head. 'You'll be attending the Academy early. You leave in the morning. I've arranged some summer classes for you'. Nothing more. He just closed the door behind him. I remember screaming after him and then throwing myself on the bed and crying for hours. In the morning, my mother barely spoke to me. She knew, knew what I'd been doing, must have. She most likely heard about it the same way my father had. Maybe she was even the one to tell him, I don't know. She looked so sad and all I wanted to do was tell her why, why I'd been like this. Of course, I didn't. Didn't understand myself." She shifted a little.

"I left that morning. My father had already left the house and I didn't see him again for a long time." She was quiet for some time now.

"What happened at the Academy?"

She smiled slightly at him. "I was a good girl there. In a way, it was the best thing my father did for me. I was in this new environment, with no reminders, except the ones in my own head. I took all the classes he'd arranged for me and paid attention. I threw myself back into my studies, where I'd always felt safe. There weren't many people staying on campus, most of them in my classes were day students, outsiders, taking the classes as part of their jobs. So I was alone for the first time and at first I was terrified. I mean every noise at night, a floorboard creaking. By day I felt OK, too many people around, but at night…" She shivered. "And then the flashbacks started." She looked up at him. "Maybe we could heat those rocks?"

He smiled down at her and nodded. They both looked up and saw that it had gotten a little darker. "At least it's a lot slower on this world getting dark." Chakotay pointed to the opening high above them. "It apparently doesn't get completely dark at this time of year, kind of like Earth's midnight sun." Kathryn grunted as she moved aside to let Chakotay get the rocks. She watched quietly as he used his phaser to heat them, then sat back. She felt the heat immediately. "Is that better?"

She smiled up at him and nodded. "You're being wonderful about all this. I don't know now why I was afraid to tell you for so long. I mean, I'm pouring my heart and my deepest secrets out to you here and… Well, let's face it, my sordid past. I think I was afraid that you might be disgusted at me."

Chakotay's face was serious. "Kathryn, there's absolutely nothing sordid about you or what happened to you. Please don't ever say that again, even to try and make light of it. I'm deeply honoured that you trust me like this and I'd never, ever be disgusted. Please don't even think like that."

She swallowed and smiled a little, settling back against him. "On with the story then." He didn't miss the catch in her voice. "I had these flashbacks, at least I learned later on that's what they were. At the time, they terrified me. Louise referred to them as 'recollections from the past' and told me that they could be pictures, sounds, smells, feelings, or even the lack of them as in a numbness. Sometimes it was like seeing it, standing back and watching it happen, sometimes the sounds, or both. Other times, there was nothing but this overwhelming feeling of panic and feeling trapped. I'd feel as if his hand was on my face again and I couldn't breathe, or I'd feel the pain, so real. It was like dreaming while awake, one image after another, like waking from one dream into the next one. And then it began to invade my sleep too, to become real dreams and nightmares. I was hardly sleeping, barely eating and I lost weight. It was almost like before, so real and fresh in my mind and I couldn't understand that. I can only describe it as like… It was like my mind had one schedule or timetable and my body another. I can't describe it exactly." She moaned slightly as she tried to move. At the look of concern on Chakotay's face, she smiled weakly.

"It's OK. It's just sore when I move." She settled herself. Chakotay leaned over and checked the bandage. Seeing only a little blood on the dressing, he sat back. Smiling at Kathryn that it was fine, she nodded and went on.


"One day I was just sitting on the grass, no one around. I'd had a flashback and had just come out of it. I remember sitting there, sweating and shaking after it, tears pouring down my face. Suddenly I looked up and this woman was standing there smiling down at me. I was mortified and tried to get up, to run or hide. I couldn't stand though, my legs, pins and needles. She just sat down beside me and smiled. 'That was some flashback'. I stared at her, my mouth hanging open. Eventually she explained that she was Louise Carter and that she was a Starfleet Counsellor, back early for the next term, something about catching up on reports." Kathryn shrugged.

"To this day, I couldn't tell you what else she said or what I said. I only know I was suddenly in her office and I was crying my eyes out while she just sat there and let me. I do know that it was morning when I met her but when I left her office, it was getting dark. That long. She listened as I poured my heart and soul out. God knows how I was able to do that, but apparently because I'd kept it all inside me up to then, it was like a valve opening and the dam burst. I suppose in a way the fact that she was a stranger helped. The relief I felt was… I can't describe it. It was so great. It was all there, you see. I remembered it all. Some victims block it out, all of it or just some of it and don't remember it until years later. The simplest thing can trigger it." She shifted slightly.

"Abuse devastates a child and the effects last into adulthood. I learned all this from Louise. It can be so severe that a lot of victims don't remember it until twenty or thirty years later. The ways you used in order to cope as a child, stay with you when you become an adult and let you 'blank out' the memories. To survive, you separate yourself from your body and pretend you weren't there. It's like thinking the abuse happened to someone else and as an adult, that comes out as memory loss. It's a protective measure. If you don't remember the abuse, it seems as if it didn't happen and then you won't have to deal with it. I often wish I'd been able to do that, could have been that way, and yet a part of me is glad I remembered because I've been able to deal with it and move past it. Otherwise, I'd still have to face it because I believe it always does come out at some time." Chakotay nodded. He was learning things he didn't really ever want to know. Thinking about such evil disgusted him, making him feel he'd be forever tarnished by it.

"It's different for every victim. Sometimes it's a rape or attempted rape which will trigger the memories, even a too real dream that will bring it back. It might be hearing about someone else having been through the same thing, perhaps something as simple as a touch or someone sneaking up behind you. Anything really." She smiled sadly.

"It would be nice if life was simple and you could just forget and move on. The fact is that any 'unfinished' business from childhood affects adult attitudes, feelings, behaviour and relationships. You basically need to get in touch with the pain from then in order to deal with it now. If you had no outlet for your feelings at the time, the problems remain and you need to address them and get help in order to be at peace with yourself." She licked at her lips and then shook her head.

"Some kids are told they're lying if they tell. 'Oh, daddy or Uncle whoever, could never do that'. When it's not addressed, you can feel that maybe you've imagined it or made it up in your own head and since that's mostly what you'd love to believe anyway, those feelings can continue when you start to remember. I'd come close to that as I said but I guess with me, because it went on longer, the memories were always there and I knew it had happened. I couldn't deny it. This was a total takeover of my body, my mind, every part of me, by someone I knew, trusted and loved. I looked to him for protection and he betrayed that and made me live in fear. I lost my innocence, grew up overnight and was robbed of my childhood. I was left with the feeling that I'd asked for it even, because I used to cuddle him." She shook herself.

"Sorry, I can get carried away. I'm jumping ahead." Chakotay just smiled his reassurance. "So it all came out to Louise. I guess, as I said, it was ready to come out, waiting to burst out of me." She sighed deeply and looked up at Chakotay. "That's probably why I'm able to talk to you now so freely. Oh I trust you and have for a long time and that's a major factor but it's also… I think in my mind, I was building up to telling you and now… I suppose I was prepared to talk to you, had almost rehearsed for it. Maybe that's why it's so easy, alongside how I feel about you."

Chakotay smiled softly at her and nodded. "I'm honoured that you trust me enough and that I can be here for you. Thank God you had Louise too."

Kathryn smiled softly, the image of the woman filling her mind. "She was great." She was quiet for a moment and then went on. "I poured it all out and Louise listened but most importantly to me, she believed me. And then she spoke. I think in some part of my mind, even at that stage, I knew I'd just stepped onto a new road, one that would lead to a healing. Anyhow, she explained about flashbacks and I learned why I was having them. You see, I'd locked all this inside me so much that now it was coming out regardless of what I wanted. She told me that it was like I'd kept all this somewhere inside me because I wasn't able to express it or tell anyone at the time. The child I'd been then was still inside me, unable to express all these thoughts and feelings and it was like all that part of me had been put into a time warp until it could come out in the present when I was ready." Kathryn laughed slightly. "I didn't really feel ready though, yet the relief…" She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead.

"She told me that when this happens, the child in me is experiencing the past as if it were happening today. When the flashback happens, it's like you forget that you have an 'adult' self available for comfort, protection and grounding. The extreme feelings and sensations I was having were so frightening because they weren't related to the reality of the present and that's how they often just came out of the blue at me." She cleared her throat.

"I thought I was going crazy. I really did. It honestly never occurred to me to seek help like this. I'd spent so long not telling anyone that the thought now of telling someone just didn't occur to me. I honestly thought some of those flashbacks would kill me. They consumed me. I was totally out of control with them, at their mercy. I couldn't find any trigger for them either. I wasn't anywhere near home, there weren't that many men around… I don't know. They just happened. Louise told me that mostly it is something, a smell or face, that will trigger them but not always. In my case, my mind had just had enough. It was that different schedule again. My body would be doing one thing and my mind was deciding something else."

Chakotay hugged her to him. "She was able to help you though?"

Kathryn nodded quickly. "I often believe she saved my life. I've no way of knowing how I'd have ended up without her. Most likely locked away in a padded cell somewhere. This was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder…full blown. She actually praised me for having coped so well." She laughed sadly. "I looked it up in a manual on psychiatry. It's the normal experience of a person, experiencing an event that is outside the range of normal human experience'." She laughed again but he heard the tears in the sound. "I fit that bill."

Chakotay ran a hand up and down her arm.

"I thought I was going insane. That was apparently because 'the child in me didn't know there was the adult survivor there to help'." She shook her head. "Sorry, I said that. I can forget what I'm saying with this." She cleared her throat. "As it turned out, I did a lot of talking to that 'child within'. It works for a lot of survivors but it didn't help me that much. In my mind, that child was long gone."

Chakotay shook his head. "What did you do instead?"

Kathryn was so grateful for how he was speaking with her, how he was taking all this. "I learned to deal with the flashbacks for what they were. My horrific memories. I told myself that the worst was over and that I'd survived it. I constantly told myself that they were only memories and couldn't hurt me. I learned how to 'ground' myself. That could be just stamping my feet on the ground to let myself know that I could run and get away from them. Touching things, that helped too. Holding something. I learned how to breathe properly." She laughed at that. "I know how that sounds but when you're frightened, you can almost forget to breathe and then because you're panicking, your body loses oxygen and that in turn causes more panic, pounding in the head, tightness, sweating, feeling faint, shakiness and dizziness. A full blown panic attack in other words."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "What else?"

Kathryn thought a moment. "I learned to re-establish myself in the present. Used the five senses for that. Look around me, at colours, shapes, people nearby, anything really. Listen to the sounds around me, birds or music, whatever was there. I'd touch things around me, even my own hands or the ground I was standing on. I used to carry 'taste' pills with me, suck on them, little pills with a strange taste to them, nothing you'd normally encounter." She smiled sadly. "I almost expected Louise to suggest candy but she was smarter than that. That wouldn't have helped. Took me a lot of years to eat that stuff again. Still don't really like it." She sniffled. "I even had a little box with cream perfume in it that I could smell. Anything that helped me. Afterwards, especially if I was in my room or when I got back, I used to just wrap myself in a blanket. I felt safe that way. Louise was always there for me too. I only ever had to call her if it got too bad. Over time though, I got better. I knew them for what they were. Suddenly I knew I wasn't alone, that I didn't have to keep this quiet anymore. Afterwards, I'd try and sleep or soak in the bath. I learned to find great comfort in the bath. That stayed." She smiled softly at him and saw him return it.

"How long did you work with Louise?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Years, actually. I still saw her from time to time, maybe once, twice a year. Up to the time we left." Chakotay seemed shocked and Kathryn just smiled at him. "It takes a very long time to move past all that."

He smiled but looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think. I've just never known."

Kathryn nodded sadly. "Be very thankful for that. I don't mean that to sound…" She sighed. "People are ignorant of it all. It sounds so horrible to them that they stay away from the subject. Unfortunately, that ignorance leads to… I guess not seeing it if it's right there under their nose and so it continues. It's a crime that has been around for…as far back as you can go probably. You'd think in this day and age it would have been stamped out or whatever. It's still there though and probably always will be because people can't believe it can be in their own family for a start. As I said before, we were this perfect Starfleet family and look at us."

Chakotay nodded.

"Anyway, I studied hard and saw Louise all the time. Nearly every day at the start and then every second day. The worst of it came out in the first two years. I learned everything I could, read all I could even, although Louise wasn't sure about me doing that but I needed to. I learned that incest is the most common form of child abuse. Physical abuse is way up there too though and is often part of the sexual abuse. It's abuse, sexual and physical, of the child by the very people who are supposed to care for them. It's the violation of trust that damages the child most." She smiled sadly. "Told you I knew this stuff well."

Chakotay rubbed her arm again, making sure she was close enough to the heat. "Those first two years must have been very hard on you, with your studies as well."

Kathryn nodded slowly. "They were, but the strange thing is, I think my studies helped me. I escaped into them. Everyone else was partying and burning the candle at both ends if you like. I just concentrated on my work. It helped with that and it helped with me. Life can be strange." She smiled softly.

"So, I faced up to it all. Most kids are terrified of the dark. I guess if it happened that way for them. I overcame that slowly. It was more to do with not being able to see what was there in the dark, although I still associated it with him coming into my room when he stayed. My sleep was still bad but the nightmares eased over those two years. What I didn't like was water, especially on my face. Swimming, I hated that, a feeling that I'd suffocate." Chakotay frowned. "I hated anything near my face, eating certain things. I was nervous of swallowing, probably why I ate so little." She hesitated when she saw he didn't understand. "It was… I was afraid of…of gagging, do you understand? Afraid of suffocating?"

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment, suddenly understanding, and pulled her tight against him. "Oh Kathryn, I'm so sorry, love."

She leaned into his strong embrace, drawing comfort from him. "I made myself get past that too. I had to. I even learned to…well, be able to touch myself. I used to feel, I guess, alienated from my own body, not 'at home' in it. I'd ignore what it was trying to tell me, like if I was sick or hungry, but I had to get past that. If I had a cut or sore, I had to tend it. Even more important though was… Well, my own health, checking my…breasts…self-examination…checking for lumps. It was difficult to do because touching there was…a reminder, but I had enough sense to know it was too important to ignore." He nodded slowly. "I'd never seen a doctor, you see…after…" Chakotay looked really shocked and Kathryn shook her head sadly.

"I guess it was another way for my father to deny it all. I think for him it was over. Seeing a doctor would have made him face it, maybe let others know too. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too hard on him. It's possible he never knew how far it went and didn't think I'd need one. Maybe Uncle Robert told him lies, said nothing had happened and my father believed him. I don't know. He could have asked though, made sure. As it was, I saw no one and didn't think or know to go myself either." She shook her head.

"I was mainly a healthy child, no real illnesses. I never needed to see the doctor much as I grew up and when I did, it was mostly for colds or sprains. I never had cause to be examined so nothing was ever noticed. Besides, Uncle Robert always knew when my physical was due and made sure I'd no marks that would arouse suspicion. He was a medic himself, after all. I can remember times when my parents would actually ask him to check me out if I seemed ill. Can you believe that?" She sighed sadly.

"Anyway, Louise insisted that I get checked out and came with me. I saw this female medic, a very kind and gentle woman. She was great, so understanding and supportive. I think Louise took all her patients to this woman. Anyway, she checked me over and… Oh, it wasn't easy, the examination, but Louise stayed with me throughout, held my hand even. Well, there was…damage…and scar tissue…and I needed some surgery. It seems I'd never have conceived without it, not that I will anyway but…" He saw the deep sadness on her face, heard it in her voice, and hugged her a little tighter.

"I spent those first years covering myself up too. I think I wore the most ugly clothes I could find. I even wore my uniform a size too big. I was trying to cover myself, you see? Trying to hide my body. I was terrified of drawing any attention to myself. It was strange actually, after the wild summer I'd been through. Here I was, suddenly terrified of men and sex. I even thought for a while that I was gay." She laughed a little at that. "One area I didn't go in, thank God, was hurting myself. I had the 'I hate myself' period, but I never tried the self-destruction road, unless you count that summer." She smiled sadly. "I wasn't into hurting myself though. Somehow I just felt I'd had enough pain, physical and emotional. I didn't need more. I pushed myself though. I worked so hard and it was only later that I came to realize I was doing that as much for myself as for my father. My reports to him mattered to me. I was still trying desperately to please him, atone for sins I felt I'd committed and the hurt I'd caused him. I still felt I'd let him down in some way." She shrugged and leaned a little closer to the heat. "I'd kill for some of Neelix's leola root stew now. Even that would be good."

Chakotay leaned forward with her. "I'm hungry too. Do you want some more water?"

She shook her head. "I'm OK for the moment. We better save it if we can. We don't know how long we'll be here." Chakotay nodded at the sense of that, marvelling at how even now, going through laying herself so open to him, she could still think logically.

They were quiet for a while and Chakotay leaned to the side a little. "If you don't want to answer…or can't…"

Kathryn turned and smiled at him. "You can ask me. It can't be worse than what I've already told you."

He nodded. "I just wondered… Were you ever suicidal?" He regretted asking her as soon as the words were out but she didn't seem to mind.

She shook her head almost immediately. "Strangely, no, I wasn't. Not really. Maybe at the height of it. I don't really know for sure. I think more wishing I was dead rather than wanting to do it. Can you see the difference?" He smiled a little and nodded. "For a lot of it I was too young to understand about trying to end it all and later on… I don't know. Maybe once or twice I did think about it but not seriously. Don't get me wrong. I was depressed, sometimes paralyzingly so. I had bouts of seemingly endless crying and then I'd be angry again and still the fear. I was actually afraid of being angry. As I say, I had a time of hating all men and at one time thought I was gay or at least wanted to be." She shook her head and actually laughed. "I think I actually had a crush on Louise for a while." Chakotay said nothing.

"I knew later on it was just… She was my saviour and I loved her for that but it wasn't sexual. It was just safe love, deep gratitude, all of that. For a while I felt dependent on her and confused that with something else. She knew of course, had had it before from patients. We actually laughed about it one day."

Kathryn looked thoughtful for a moment. "My biggest fear later on was freezing in a crisis, going into shock or shutting down. A lot of survivors go through that. I was OK though. I passed that test too, thanks to the help I'd had from Louise. I'd never have gotten through the Academy without her help. Subconsciously, I think I chose this career for the control and structure it offered. And I did become a control freak." She smiled. "You'd never have guessed, would you?" She shook her head. "Maybe getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant was probably going too far though, in a search for total control." Her joke fell flat with her and she shook her head.

Chakotay just stared at her. "I think you're amazing, Kathryn, what you've come through. You've been so strong and brave. I'm lost in admiration for you." His words flowed over her and she glowed under them.

"Thank you. That…that means so much to me."

He smiled softly. "I mean it."

She nodded and reached for his hand, squeezing gently. "I know you do. You know, Chakotay, you're one of the few people in my life, one of the very few I've trusted. Only the second person I've spoken to about this. That's quite an honour. I don't trust easily."

He returned the squeeze on her hand. "Don't think I don't feel totally honoured by that either. I'm humbled by it even. Thank you."

She smiled and looked towards the rocks. "Trusting anyone took time. Most victims have enormous problems with trust. A lot will become perfectionists, like me I guess." She smiled a little. "Others have phobias. Denial as I said before. It's a big problem which thankfully I didn't have, not seriously anyway. When you deny as a child, it stops you from enjoying a normal adult life. You don't trust your own perceptions or senses even. You can end up in other abusive relationships because it's all you know or expect. You won't trust your own decisions, second-guess yourself. I had to learn to get past that one. There's the problem for some survivors of being extremely anxious of authority figures. They'll opt to be passive all their lives because it's more comfortable and they'll be afraid to take any risk. Familiar misery rather than risk unfamiliar change. Assertion is also extremely difficult. I had to move past all these because I was in Starfleet. Going into command was the best thing for me. I learned to deal with all that. I needed to let go of it all because I was going into command and going into command helped me let go of it. A double-sided coin as the saying goes. With rank and as a captain, I could hide behind that, giving me this strong outer cover or shell. It was like my armour. I mean, one part of me had trouble taking orders, while another part felt I wouldn't cope without someone telling me what to do. It took a lot of work, but I overcame all that and found the balance." She bit at the side of her nail for a moment.

"Letting go of the guilt, the shame, the low self-esteem. I felt worthless for a time even. I doubted the smallest kindness by anyone. I suspected everyone of having an ulterior motive. They only wanted something from me. That's all I saw. Oh, I craved real love but I couldn't tell the difference with it so I avoided it. Love to me was 'taken' not 'given'. I felt abandoned for a long time too, by my father in particular. I felt so let down by him. I'd let myself become a 'victim' also. If someone asked a favour, I went all out to do it for them. I'd do anything for someone else. I felt incapable of saying 'no' but I couldn't take anything in return. I'm sure they all thought I was the strangest person they'd ever come across. I kept to myself a lot too. Oh, I'd work with people but outside of that, I stayed alone. Whereas some survivors block out those years, I remembered it all and carried it with me everywhere. I felt I had this enormous secret hanging around my neck, which I did of course, but I couldn't tell anyone, didn't trust them enough, so I only had Louise. I think I also felt, and this was a throwback, that no one would believe me or listen to me anyway. It was just too hard to open up."

She turned and looked at Chakotay. "The odd time I still find it hard to believe that you're my friend. I trust you and… I love you. I do." She saw tears spring to his eyes at her words.

He gripped her hand tightly. "I trust you too and you know you can always trust me. I know you know that I love you too. Real, pure, good love."

She nodded, too choked up to answer immediately. "I've known that for a while but at first I found it hard to…to accept that, that you could love me, for me. I guess I still in some way felt that, if you loved me, you just wanted sex." She held a hand up at the hurt look on his face. "I know that's not the case, Chakotay. I know that only too well. I'm saying that at first I thought like that. It was all I'd known." Chakotay nodded his understanding. "As I say, I wanted to tell you all this for a long time and tried to so many times, planned to. I was just always afraid, afraid that you'd turn away, be sickened by it or disgusted at me." She was staring at her feet now, almost as if she was addressing them instead.

Chakotay tugged at her hand. "Kathryn?"

She turned suddenly, tears filling her eyes and he saw a flash of hurt and anger. "Why aren't you disgusted at me? Why aren't you sickened by this and by what I was?"

Chakotay let a flash of anger cross his own face. "Because I love you and because you know damned well that none of this was your fault. You were and are the victim, Kathryn. Nothing that happened was your doing."

She shook her head quickly, knocking the tears from her eyes, sending them running down her cheeks. "What about the whore, the slut I became?"

Chakotay grabbed her other hand now. "I won't ever tell you this again, Kathryn. I never want to hear words like that from you again, do you hear me? You did nothing wrong. Everything that happened was his doing and I know you know that. What you're saying now is just a result of telling me all this, reliving it. You don't believe that and I know it and I'll never believe it either." He watched her face closely as his words made their way into her brain and he saw them find their place there, absorbing into her understanding.

She nodded slowly and leaned into him. "I know. I'm sorry. I don't know why I said all that."

Chakotay held her to him. "It's just traces of old self-doubt and how you felt then coming out from telling this now. You can't talk of what happened and remember that without also remembering and revisiting how you felt at the time. One goes hand in hand with the other."

She pulled back a little and wiped at her face, then attempted a watery smile. "How did you get to be so wise?"

Chakotay smiled gently and wiped some of her tears away. "I'm more than a handsome face, you know. Anyway, it's common sense really. No matter what event any of us remember, we also remember how we felt at the time. It's the same. Good or bad."

Kathryn nodded slowly, digesting this. "You're right. I guess some of it remains though or rather comes back now and then. A part of those feelings will always be there. It's like something giving off a scent and you take it from the room but the scent remains. Traces of it stay for a time."

Chakotay nodded and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "You don't really feel like that and you know it's not that way." He was telling her and not asking. "I know you don't."

She smiled, reassuring him a little. "No, you're right. Most of the time, I know that. It's just the odd time like this. I guess I just never had a 'Chakotay' before, to help with that." She smiled, almost reaching a laugh. "Every good home should have one."

Chakotay squeezed her hand and smiled softly, but she didn't miss the look of sadness he tried to hide. "What about Justin and Mark?" He was afraid of asking too much.

Kathryn just smiled. "I'd come a long way by the time I met Justin. I'd healed a lot and I'd even healed or rather papered over the cracks with my father. On the surface, it was normal, and that suited him. I'd learned to forgive him I suppose, although not forget. I think we would both have been too embarrassed to discuss it anyway. It was always there though, just never spoken of. At one stage, I was actually more angry at him than at my Uncle. I felt he'd betrayed me more. In the end though, I knew it was my Uncle who deserved all the blame." Chakotay nodded. "And then the Cardassians came along and undid so much."

Chakotay's eyes flew to her face and he saw a faraway, haunted look there.

She turned suddenly and looked at him, trying for a small smile. "I was terrified. I was so sure it would all happen again and I knew I couldn't take that, knew I'd crack, go mad. I really expected it though." She shook her head. "Starfleet would never have sent me had they known my history, might not have even taken me on in the first place, but nothing was known. My father made sure of that, and Louise. Everything with her was confidential." She shook her head. "I sat there and listened to Admiral Paris and his screams, going slowly mad. Every Cardassian I saw was my Uncle. I saw him there, actually saw him." Chakotay slipped his arm around her. "Justin was with the Rangers and rescued us before anything happened to me but my nerves were shot to hell and he saw that."

She drew in deep breaths. "My father came to see me once after I got back. His eyes searched my face. I saw him, watched him looking at me. I remember giving him a brief report of what had happened, how I'd been untouched but had to listen to the Admiral. I saw relief on his face, the closest he could come to saying anything. He nodded and I smiled for him and that was that. He left. He left and I fell back to Louise a total wreck. This time though, I was more determined to heal. I'd met Justin and for the first time, I'd found a man who seemed kind to me. He cared and showed it, not by looking at my body but into my eyes. His smile was gentle and he talked to me, not at me. Suddenly, I wanted to heal for him as well as myself. We started dating but never went far. I kissed him a few times and he seemed to find my shyness attractive. So, I worked hard with Louise. She knew what I was doing and why and she let me. She guided me well and controlled the rate I worked at, but she let me do it my own way for the most part and it felt so good. I let go of so much. I even wanted to get rid of my name for a while. I hated that I shared the same name as him but then I thought of my parents and let that go. I decided this bastard wouldn't control the rest of my life and started placing the blame and anger where it belonged."

She smiled, some pride showing. "I accepted that the pain was temporary but that denial and the consequences of it are forever. When you tire of the consequences and become willing to work diligently on the incest issue, only then are you on the way to living your life as a survivor rather than a victim." She smiled slightly. "Louise's words. So, I accepted that the abuse had happened, that I couldn't have stopped it, that I wasn't responsible in any way and that it had hurt me. These were big steps. I accepted that it wasn't my fault but I forgave those around me also. I had to. It would have eaten away at me otherwise." She looked at him sadly. "You see, I've accepted all that. You were right about just before. It was a moment of regression and self-doubt but they happen." Chakotay smiled softly and nodded. "So I felt my loss and I grieved. I mourned for my lost childhood and tried to move on. I honoured my pain, as Louise said, honoured it and moved on into the present and looked to the future."

Chakotay smiled proudly at her and she seemed almost shy. "Did you tell Justin?" He saw a cloud cross her face as she shook her head.

"I was going to, I think, but…" He nodded, knowing the rest but let her say it. "He was killed along with my father before I ever got that chance." He let her grieve quietly for several minutes, paying her silent respects to the two men. Slowly she looked up and smiled a little.

"There was a time when I wondered if my father had ever said anything to Justin. He was always so patient with me but I'll never know for sure, although I don't think so."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "That must have been a terrible time for you."

Kathryn pressed her lips tightly together. "It set me back a lot and I ran for Louise again. I actually felt for a while that I'd been responsible for their deaths, outside of the fact that I wasn't able to save them. I felt that because they'd been around me something bad had rubbed off on them, that I'd cursed them in some way. All crazy thoughts but a part of how you feel with that in your life." She wiped at some tears. "I had the survivor guilt then on top of the rest. Then I sank into a deep depression which Phoebe eventually got me out of to some degree. Louise got me the rest of the way. As a result of all that though, I gained another symptom I hadn't had before but Louise nipped that in the bud." She smiled softly at the curious look on Chakotay's face. "I began to take risks, 'daring the fates' as she called it. I was a bit of a legend for a time and of course Louise heard about it. She brought it up one day and we talked about it for a long time. It's common enough and sometimes the opposite comes about, terrified to take any risks at all. I got sense in the end."

Chakotay smiled slightly. "You do still take a lot of risks."

Kathryn shook her head as she smiled. "I know but… There's a difference in that I at least think about the risks involved now and have an idea of the outcome if you like. I weigh it up. I'm the captain. The risks I take as that are calculated and I've been trained for them. OK, I admit, where my ship and crew are concerned, I'll risk myself for them but it's for them and not a blind, couldn't-care-less kind of risk taking, just for the sake of it or because I feel nothing or don't care. Can you see the difference? I take the same risks you would."

His smile was soft but she saw that he conceded the point to her. "She really helped you."

Kathryn's face was deadly serious. "I don't believe I'd have survived without her. I was a mess when I got back but I slowly worked through it all again and began to heal once more. God, there was so much back and forward in those years."

She shook her head and smiled. "I hid behind my rank then and later as a captain, as I said already. You see, I could hide behind the uniform and the rank, be someone else, anyone but 'Kathryn' because in my mind, 'Kathryn' was weak. Starfleet and the uniform and rank were great 'body and mind' armour. I could feel like someone else, almost like an actress playing a part. Also, of course, I saw it as having saved me in a way. Starfleet had gotten me away from home. Going into space later on, that was my way to 'run away', to escape. I finally found somewhere I could run away to."

Chakotay shook his head and tightened his hold on her. "What about Mark?"

Kathryn looked around her for a moment, as if to check if anyone was listening. "Mark… Mark was…" She smiled. "Chakotay, this is strictly between us." She smiled at the look on his face. "OK, I know. I'm sorry. I've just been so used to keeping this to myself." She smiled again at his frown.

"Mark was…is… Well, he's gay." She smiled again at the shocked look on Chakotay's face. "I know. Look, we were good friends and I felt very safe with him. It was almost as if I sensed it about him. As our friendship deepened and nothing physical came of it, I trusted him more and more. I never told him what had happened but I think he suspected that something bad had happened to me. I think he just assumed that I was a rape victim, a one-off crime or that kind of thing. He seemed to know I had trouble with physical closeness. It was strange because he'd known me a long time and must have known about my famous summer, but he never said anything and he never knew about how I was when I was younger because I kept it so well hidden." Kathryn laughed, more to herself as she remembered.

"He told me one night about being gay, just came out with it. I wasn't surprised and he saw that. He knew he could trust me and I confirmed that to him. After that, our friendship deepened even more. I learned to hug with him and feel safe about it. We'd lie together at night and talk and I felt so secure. He helped me with physical closeness in many ways. We met with his parents a few times and with my mother and Phoebe. I guess they just assumed that we were a couple." She grew serious now.

"You have to understand in some circles it's still a stigma, to be gay, I mean." Chakotay nodded his understanding. "I suppose our 'couple' image was a good cover and although that wasn't how we meant it to be, hadn't thought of it in fact, well as I said, it became a good cover. Mark's parents would have been horrified had they known, probably would have disowned him. That's just the way they were. It's the 24th century in the outside world but not always in someone's home." She began playing with the dust again.

"So he had his 'private life' and I kept to myself and to the outside world we were a happy couple. He was never going to be anything other than what he was and I couldn't see myself wanting anything different either. I couldn't ever imagine wanting to be with a man ever again, despite having had a relationship with Justin. I guess we were both living this lie but it was good for us. So, we got engaged, agreed to marry even and it suited us both down to the ground. We had a better relationship than a lot of conventional couples."

Chakotay nodded quietly. "He got married later though."

Kathryn smiled warmly. "That letter. It sounded so like a 'dear Jane' and I wondered for a long time about it. I know he genuinely felt as if he'd betrayed me in some way, our friendship that is, but I also couldn't help wondering if it was worded as it was because, well in case others saw it." She looked at him slowly. "I know the way I acted when I got that letter. It wasn't that I was deliberately lying to you about how I felt. I'd just lived with that act for so long that it was just second nature for me. Having this fiancé at home also made me feel safe out here, something else to hide behind, more armour making me feel normal. Besides, I did…do…love him still. I did feel as if I was losing something." He nodded his understanding and she smiled her thanks. "I'm just glad he found another woman though, another to be there for him in that way. Maybe she's gay too. I knew of quite a few people at the Academy who were gay, men and women, who married as a cover and it's very sad. Another damn stigma, something else we hide even in this day and age. Just like all this. Keep it hidden away, the skeleton in the closet, the dirty laundry. If they just shone a light on it, it would go away perhaps, wouldn't be a dark and dirty secret anymore. It might even stop it."

Chakotay heard her anger. "Unfortunately, that's the way people are, Kathryn. There'll always be the ones who deny these things or who judge others, no matter that they have no right to." She nodded slowly in agreement. "Did you…?"

He didn't continue and Kathryn looked at him. "Chakotay, don't be afraid to ask me something. I trust you."

He smiled, a look of embarrassment on his face. "I'm afraid of upsetting you by asking."

She smiled but there was a serious look in her eyes. "No. I'd prefer you ask me whatever it is. It's better that people are educated about this and other matters. If more people knew about this, knew what to look for or weren't so afraid of the subject, then less children would be victims of abuse." She shook her head. "I can't really talk either. I've been as guilty for keeping this secret. I never confronted my father and I should have. When he died, I regretted that and yet… Oh, I don't know. There was just so much unfinished and unresolved between us. For a brief time, I felt that with him dead, I'd never have to face it with him and then I felt so guilty for thinking that way. I still felt ashamed of what had happened to me when I shouldn't have. Maybe if people had known more, they'd have been more aware and prevented it happening to even one other child. In the end though, I wouldn't have been that strong. It was hard enough with just me knowing without others knowing also." She was thoughtful for a moment and then she smiled at him. "Sorry, I can get carried away. What did you want to ask me?"

Chakotay still looked embarrassed although he delighted in the ease with which Kathryn spoke with him now.
"It's just you mentioned about your own body, having trouble touching yourself but getting past that for checking yourself, your health and I wondered…" He was beginning to go red. "I know you've always hated your physicals. I guess I just wondered if that was part of it, how you…other women survivors, how you coped with…medical procedures…I guess…women's things…"

Kathryn smiled softly. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?" She smiled at his embarrassment then shook her head. "It's a very valid point though, a good and serious question, one that's rarely addressed in fact." She licked at her lips.

"I guess it has to do with a feeling that you're losing control of your body again. A lot of survivors have difficulty with medical procedures. Women will be afraid of going for smear tests…" She smiled, only slightly embarrassed. "They'll even be afraid to have children because of what that entails from the medical side of it. Some are even afraid to have kids because… Some abusers were actually abused themselves as children. I guess some survivors, men and women, are afraid to have children in case they become abusers also. I'm not sure I understand that though. I couldn't even begin to imagine… The thought of ever doing anything to a child, even hitting them… To do that to my own child, after what I've been through? I don't know. I don't understand it at all, although I suppose there has to be something to it." She coughed slightly.

"My gynaecological exams? They still bother the hell out of me. Oh I know most women hate them, because they're uncomfortable and embarrassing anyway. To me, I'm also in this vulnerable position again, physically and emotionally, with no control and I can feel myself being touched. Well, you know." He smiled comfortingly at her. "It's so much easier when it's a woman medic, like Louise's friend who saw me before. I always went to her after that. Out here, I've no choice. Oh I'm not stupid. I know I need them but I still have to force myself to go, although I avoid them as long as I can." She smiled sadly. "I'm also afraid of being unconscious or sedated, as if something could happen and I wouldn't know." She shook her head and laughed a little. "Still, he's a hologram which helps a little. Mind you, you should have seen me when I heard he'd been altering his program and was experimenting with sex." Her laughter didn't quite hide the tears.

Chakotay managed a small smile. "He doesn't know? Our Doctor?"

Kathryn shook her head. "There isn't anything in my medical files or in any of my records. I never felt able to tell him either. Maybe it would have made things easier if I had but… I didn't anyway. I think there's still a part of me that feels… If there was an official record of it, then it would be more real or… Maybe knowing it's not recorded anywhere is another denial but I don't think so. I think I just feel safer, knowing it's not recorded in some place where it could be found."

Chakotay nodded and was quiet for a moment. "You said earlier that…that he was…dead now?"

Kathryn nodded very slowly, her eyes on her hands now. She knew who he meant. "He died about a year after my father." She looked up briefly. "I was so afraid that he'd come to my father's funeral, would be there." She looked at the floor, as if remembering. "He didn't…wasn't there, thank God. Maybe he didn't know even although he must have. It was big news." She laughed cynically. "I like to think if he had put in an appearance that I'd have killed him." She shook her head. "A lot of counsellors encourage you to try and forgive the abuser, tell you it's part of the healing process. Louise didn't encourage or discourage me in that. I preferred hating him. I forgave him and hated him all at the same time. It was more important to me to forgive myself and my father, even to some extent, my mother."

She looked up at him now. "A year after my father was killed, my mother called me home to tell me my uncle was dead, had been found at his home. Apparently he'd been dead some days." She shook her head sadly. "In a way, even though I hate to admit it, I got satisfaction from knowing he died alone. A part of me wanted him to have had a horrible death." She shook her head again. "My mother anyway, she seemed upset and I wanted to ask her what she knew, if she knew anything. I mean, he'd disappeared from our lives suddenly. Surely she had questions and yet…" She shrugged. "I wanted to ask her what my father had told her back then but I didn't."

She looked back down at her hands. "I couldn't do it, attend his funeral, although a part of me wanted to make sure he was really dead." There was a lot of bitterness in her voice. "I told her I was needed back at the Academy and she just accepted that. When I think about it now, she didn't question that, just said that she understood. So, maybe she did know or at least suspected something. I don't know." She shrugged again.

"I came home again about a month later. There was no mention of the funeral and that suited me just fine. And then a crate arrived, some of his belongings and I almost ran. My mother opened it in front of me and took out books and odds and ends…and then… Oh God, she pulled out a pile of holovids and images and I just froze." She drew in a deep breath.

"Someone was watching over me because a neighbour called at that moment, a God-sent one in my eyes. My mother came back in and told me she had to go out for an hour or so. I plastered a smile on my face and said that was fine. The minute she was out the door, I grabbed them all. Every image, every vid and I forced myself to check through them. Some were just family shots, outings of us all together but the rest…" She dropped her head and felt Chakotay taking her hand.

"They were…?"

She nodded, her head still down. "The bastard kept them, every last one as far as I could see." He squeezed her hand tightly. "I sat there, felt as if I'd turned to ice, frozen to the spot and then like a robot, I just took the ones of me, the few of other kids, walked out to the small tool shed and smashed them to pieces…and it felt great, cleansing. I cried my eyes out as I did it but it felt wonderful." She looked up at him slowly.

"For a long time, I'd wondered about them, where they were, what he'd done with them, what other sick bastards he'd shown them to. Did he use them to…with himself when he was alone? I felt sick thinking about that. I mean he had images of other children. Maybe some are still out there. I often wonder who those other children were, where they are now, what they went through." She shook her head. "I wondered how many more victims he'd left behind him or if I had been the only one. I wondered what he'd been doing all those later years, if he'd been doing it up to the time of his death. I mean all those years, before me, during that time, after me. Were there others?" She swallowed and shook her head and pulled herself back. "Anyway, I left the family ones in the crate and my mother never noticed others were missing, had only seen the ones on top anyway. I guess whoever packed the stuff hadn't looked. I think we'd have heard about it if they had." She laughed bitterly. "God, if my mother had seen them on her own." She grew serious again, not wanting to explore that thought.

"For a brief moment, I actually considered letting the authorities see those images and vids, even the ones of me. The thought that his reputation was still intact after his death was… I don't know. I think I wanted everyone to know what he'd been, have his memory tarnished for all time and his reputation ruined. I hadn't the guts in the end and I also thought of the kids in the other images, what it could do to them. At that stage, it would only have hurt the victims and not him so I let it go. I actually said a prayer for them as I got rid of the images, prayed they were finding a resolution too." She smiled at the look of pride on Chakotay's face.

"What did I do after that?" She shook her head and answered her own question. "I ran back to Louise again." She smiled sadly. "I was stronger this time though, stronger each time and with him dead… Oh it felt good. Finally I felt he could never find me again. I'd never meet him by accident or anything. He was gone and I was going to let him go."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "Does your mom know now, or Phoebe?"

Kathryn shook her head sadly. "No. I never told them. I don't think I ever will either." She sighed deeply. "What good would it do now anyway? Maybe it might help me in some small way and answer a few questions but I care about them too much to open that up to them now. Besides, even for myself, I'd only be re-opening a can of worms that's far better left closed. I know I'm telling you about it but I guess I just wanted you to know and not have this secret between us, but mainly I needed to and have for a long time. And then of course it's been building up and up lately."

He smiled and nodded his understanding. He thought back on the last few weeks and how she'd been. "How do you feel about yourself now? I don't just mean this minute but…"

Kathryn smiled a little at that. "I know what you mean." She seemed to think. "First off, talking to you has helped no end. Think how I was when we ended up down in this cave first and look at me now. You're a good counsellor, Commander." They both smiled softly.

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "You did all the work."

Kathryn smiled a little at that. "I couldn't have done it without your support though or the trust I feel in you. Talking about it is only part of it. Having the right person to tell and who'll listen and believe is the other side. Take it from me, I know." She sighed sadly. "For such a long time, I didn't know what to do with the memories. I could face them, had dealt with them but I didn't know where to put them." She shrugged. "In the end, I just imagined a waste bin of sorts in the back of my mind and pushed them in there." She shook her head and scratched at her chin. "Sounds crazy maybe, but it worked for me. They were still there and I knew it and they'd pop out from time to time but mostly I could ignore them." She smiled sadly again and then grew serious. "As to how I've been otherwise or how I am since we've been out here…" She hesitated and seemed a little embarrassed. "There hasn't been anyone…"

She sighed again. "For a long time, even though I was healing well… I still saw sex as…dirty, I suppose. I still couldn't connect it with love, the love that most people take for granted in a relationship. I envied other women their carefree attitude to sex, their ease with it, no ghosts lurking in the shadows. I'd never, have never, known sex in that way." Her face held a poignant expression at her words and it saddened Chakotay deeply. "I was only seeing the act and not the fact that when real love is with it, it's actually not sex at all but 'making love'." She shook her head. "Maybe I'd never have been able to work that out with Justin. I won't ever know and with Mark it wasn't ever going to be an issue. For a long time, I was afraid to be touched but I felt safe with Justin. We kissed and cuddled a little bit but it never went past that. With Mark, it was just friendship and there was no threat there so touching him or having him touch me was different. It was safe because I knew there was nothing sexual there." She shook her head. "It's strange, because now I can touch people all the time. I do touch them. Mind you, it's only when there are others around. Except with you though. I can touch you when we're alone and I feel safe. That amazed me."

Chakotay smiled his thanks but looked at her sadly. "So you've never known…" He blushed. "I'm sorry. I've no right to…"

She smiled at him and shook her head. "No, Chakotay, it's OK. God, we don't exactly have any areas left we can't talk about, now do we?"

They shared a smile before she looked away, playing with the dust again. "I was afraid of the act and still am I think. I got past my fear of men but not the sex. I've always been afraid to…even on my own." She looked up at him briefly and he saw her embarrassment so he just smiled reassuringly at her. "At this stage, it's not the touching myself that bothers me so much. I do that when I wash or at my time of the month. It's the…" She drew in a deep breath, as if it would give her courage. "I'm afraid of the feelings…the climax…" She looked back at him again and saw only love and support on his face.

"I can understand that. I can really."

She seemed relieved at that. "So many times, I've been tempted, wanted to…masturbate…" She shook her head at the word. "I'm just afraid the feelings will bring it all back and remind me too much. I was afraid to try a relationship because of that in case all my defences just went up and I ran…or worse, like before, whoever it was wouldn't stop." Chakotay squeezed her hand to help her go on when she faltered a little now. "I was afraid of the physical feelings, the emotional… Any number of things could trigger it so I stayed away from all that and so I settled with Mark and it was safe." She sighed and dropped her shoulders a little.

"And I've stayed that way. Out here? Well, that changed things. I was cut off from my support. As I said before though, I don't really have time to think about that."

Chakotay saw the sadness in her eyes. "And you've still never…on your own…?" He prayed he wasn't being too forward.

She just shook her head. "And I probably never will. I don't think so anyway. Maybe someday…" She looked up. "I don't know. I'm a survivor. I know that. I've moved past the worst of it. Don't get me wrong. Being a survivor isn't something you recover from. It's not a disease. It's something that happened to me and will always be a part of me. I've grown strong with the right help and I've done that well. I've moved forward and haven't allowed myself to get caught in the darkness of what happened, the pain or the fear. I've let go of all that went with it and replaced it with good stuff. I know it'll always be there but when it raises its head, like now, I react from different levels of understanding and different emotional spaces. To quote Louise, 'Being a survivor doesn't mean living in pain for the rest of your life. It doesn't mean remaining a victim for the rest of your life.'" She smiled sadly.

"So I've beaten it for the most part, with the exception of the odd set-back like this one." She shrugged. "I've mainly succeeded. I got through it, through the pain and learned that the only way to deal with all that, with the pain, is through it. I also learned that the courage needed for that is… I guess that courage is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. I left the bad stuff in the past and embraced a future for myself. I can't have a relationship with a man but you can't have it all." She met his eyes and saw the love he felt for her there. She felt tears prick her eyes.

"Can you understand now, Chakotay? I'd be afraid to. It's not really the man I'm afraid of but the sex. A part of me, a big part of me, wants to, to have what most women take for granted but that other part of me would be really terrified to. I'd react and you'd think it was you I was afraid of when it would be the memories that I was reacting to and I'd hurt you with that and…and that wouldn't be fair on you or on me ."

Chakotay reached for her hand again and squeezed. "That's why you didn't ever… With me, I mean." He was answering his own question, not really asking one. "Not the reasons you gave about parameters and Starfleet rules."

She nodded tearfully. "I'm sorry. I tell myself that all this happened to the child and now that I'm a woman, I can leave all that behind but my mind has other ideas." She looked up as Chakoty squeezed her hand a little tighter. "I am sorry. I just couldn't come out and say it." He nodded his understanding and saw her smile sadly. "Can you imagine it? 'Oh no, Chakotay, it's nothing to do with parameters or getting this ship and crew home. No, it's because my Uncle abused and raped me. Now can I get you a coffee?'" She dropped her head and gave in to the tears. "I'm sorry."

Chakotay reached for her and pulled her to him. "Oh love, you've nothing to be sorry about. Come on, let me hold you." She nodded against him, feeling safe there. He held her for a long time, rocking her gently. When he heard her tears lessen, he eased her back.

"Kathryn, listen to me. In my eyes, we already have a relationship. It's based on everything that's important. We know we love each other…" He looked deeply into her eyes and she nodded. He smiled softly. "We have love and trust, friendship and respect. We can talk for hours and share our lives. We have fun together. We've laughed and cried, been through the good times and the bad, shared meals … " He dropped his head to the side. "Some were good, some were…" He smiled and she managed one in return.

"I'm not that bad."

He feigned shock. "Of course you're not. You're a wonderful cook. You replicate better than anyone I know…most of the time." She swiped at him for that. "Seriously, love, what we have between us is better than what most people have or will ever have." He smiled tenderly at her now and stroked her cheek. "You're my best friend and I love you. That's all that matters."

She just broke down again and clung to him. "You're mine as well and I love you too." Her words were choked out but he heard them and just hugged her closer to him. They remained like that for a long time.

Finally he felt her shiver in his arms. "Are you cold?"

She pulled back and nodded. "A bit." She looked up at the opening, seeing it was only slightly darker than it had been. "We must be long over our time to have contacted the ship."

Chakotay nodded and eased forward, directing his phaser at more rocks. Instantly a warmth filled the small space. "We didn't wander off the track so I'm sure it won't be much longer now. Come on, come closer to the heat."

She smiled and snuggled against him. "I must have had you going crazy since Naomi went missing, especially after we found her."

Chakotay didn't deny it. "You had me crazy with worry about you. I'll admit that. I just couldn't seem to get through to you. We seemed to be growing closer and then suddenly, I saw you move further and further away from me. I've seen that with you before." He hugged her tighter to him when he saw the sadness in her eyes. "It's OK. I understand now about those times. This was different though. I couldn't understand what I was seeing."

Kathryn shook her head. "I was starting to get paranoid. Even after the Doctor swore to me that she was fine, that nothing had happened to her, that she hadn't been touched in any way, I still worried. I suddenly found myself watching all the male crewmembers when Naomi was around them, even when she wasn't. If they played with her, touched her, showed her any attention at all. And of course they all were fussing around her, worried about her. They just cared. Even the women made me suspicious."

She looked up and saw the frown on his face and shook her head. "Didn't you know that women can abuse children too?" He seemed shocked at that. "Oh yes, they can. It's not unheard of at all. A lot of the abuse will be physical but there's a lot of sexual abuse there too." She sat up a little, her face a mask of seriousness and saw the shocked look remain on his face.

"Almost a quarter of a million kids a year are abused in our part of Earth alone. That's just those they know about. Most will be girls, about three quarters but a third or so will be under seven and another third under six. And as regards women… Of the men who report it, sixty percent of male survivors report that their abuser was a woman."

Chakotay just sat there stunned. "I'd…no idea. I never knew."

Kathryn smiled softly. "That's not your fault, Chakotay. How could you know? You should but that's not your fault either. No one is educated about this. They should teach more about this in schools. Oh they warn the kids not to talk to strangers. 'Never go off with someone you don't know'. That's fine. Unfortunately, the main danger comes from those they DO know. That's not to say people should get paranoid and think that every innocent cuddle or kiss is suspect but they should be aware of what to look out for, how to look for the signs that more might be going on. It's not always just friends or fringe family…or uncles. It's often the parents. I've heard about cases where the mother knew the father or step-father was abusing the child but did nothing, either through fear of getting hurt herself or fear of losing her man. Louise told me of one woman whose attitude was 'At least when he was at her, he wasn't bothering me'. Can you believe that?" She was angry now. "Those women need to be educated to know that their child must ALWAYS come first."

She shook her head sadly, almost in disbelief. "Sometimes I still have such anger. At least it's directed towards the right place." Chakotay nodded sadly.

She smiled lovingly at him now. "You've no idea how much you've helped me here today."

He squeezed her hand. "I'm honoured that you trusted me so much and so happy I was able to help you."

She smiled. "I didn't even need my padd…my steps…" He frowned and she laughed, leaning into him, feeling totally safe and secure.

"It's like a list, a set of rules you recite to yourself. Support groups give them out. I never attended one of those, preferred working one to one with Louise." She began reciting from memory. "We were powerless over what happened. We can restore our lives. We make a decision to do that. We are not afraid to face our memories. No more secrets. We admit to the wrong that was done to us. We remove and put away the hate and pain. We will treat ourselves with respect, compassion and acceptance. We will remove unhealthy and self-defeating consequences of the abuse. We will stop hating ourselves. We will recover. When we find ourselves in a pattern still controlled by the abuse, we'll admit it and when we stop, we'll congratulate ourselves and enjoy that." She smiled softly. "Those are the twelve steps. I don't actually need the padd. I learned them off by heart a long time ago and have recited them often."

Chakotay shook his head. "I'm amazed at you… and so proud. Kathryn, what you've come through, that you survived at all is… But to have come to where you are now…" He felt lost for words.

Kathryn smiled shyly but he saw determination there too. "A part of becoming what I am now and having gotten where I am is… A part of it feels like my revenge on him. Oh I wanted it for myself anyway but… I guess it was 'I won't let this or him beat me'." She smiled proudly. "For the most part, as I said, I'm healed, well consider myself healed anyway. I have to think like that. I'm healed and I just have the odd relapse."

Chakotay pulled her closer and kissed the side of her head. They sat quietly for several minutes.

Suddenly a voice floated down to them. "Captain…Commander…are you there? Are you both all right?" Chakotay and Kathryn pulled back from each other and looked up, barely making out the face of B'Elanna Torres.

Kathryn smiled. "B'Elanna? We're fine. We're a little cold and pretty hungry but we're mainly OK"

Chakotay shook his head. "B'Elanna, ignore the captain. She has a bad gash on her thigh that needs medical attention as soon as possible. I've cut my head and done something to my arm but it's not serious. As soon as you can please. Can you beam us out of here?" Kathryn glared at him.

B'Elanna shouted back down. "No can do. Something in the rock. I have ropes here and can pull you out. Just give me a minute or two to rig something up. Can you both manage that?"

Chakotay smiled at the glare he was still receiving. "That'll be fine. Let us know when you're ready. Oh and the captain is just dying for some of Neelix's leola root stew. Can you let him know?" He got a smack on the shoulder.

B'Elanna's voice drifted back down to them. "Are you sure it wasn't the captain who got the bang on the head?" They heard her laughter. "Sorry it took us so long to find you. It's not easy to scan here. Just a minute or two more."

Chakotay looked back at Kathryn now and saw her face grow serious. Her voice was more like a whisper now, ensuring that B'Elanna wouldn't hear her. "Chakotay, thanks again." She held a hand up when he went to speak. "No, I mean that and I want to say it again. I'm also sorry for what I put you through these last weeks." She looked towards the glowing rocks for a moment. "Look, before we leave this charming cave… I'm glad we talked. Well, glad I talked, talked about this to you. I'm also glad I told you here, the worst of it I mean. Well, all of it." He frowned at her and she smiled again.

"What I'm trying to say is… If it had been… If I'd talked to you on the ship about this, in our quarters or somewhere, I'd always associate there or the ship with telling you. This way, here, I can leave it behind, leave this place behind." She smiled again and shook her head. "Am I making any sense here?"

He just looked at her with love stamped all over his face and nodded. His hand cupped her cheek. "I understand."

Suddenly B'Elanna's voice filled the cave and broke the mood. "Oh come on, you two. So that's how you kept warm. And I thought those heated rocks would have been enough." They pulled apart, just a little guilty. "Too late now. I know what you were up to."

Chakotay's eyes flew to Kathryn's, worried that the Klingon's words might have upset her but instead saw her smiling and then she laughed. He too now laughed and looked up to the opening. "Torres, you like those plasma manifolds, don't you? You like them clean?"

Her head jerked back. "Didn't see a thing. Trick of the light. Rope number one coming down." The rope came down, the sound of her laughter with it.

Chakotay shared a last look with Kathryn as he helped her with the rope, tying it around her waist and shoulders. Their communication was silent but it spoke volumes. She smiled at him softly and nodded. "See you on the surface."

He returned the smile and shouted to B'Elanna. "Ready here. And send down some water so I can deal with and cool off these rocks."

As Kathryn was lifted free of the cave, he took a moment alone to rein in his emotions and lock them away. Later on, in the privacy of his own quarters, then he would deal with it all. For now she still needed his strength.


Voyager's Doctor strutted around and tutted to himself. "I just can't let you people out of my sight for more than a few minutes. Can't you all learn to take care of yourselves and stay away from situations where you can get hurt? Oh no. If there's even a hint of risk or danger, you'll go after it. If there's anything that can cause you harm, you go looking for it. And who's left to fix you up afterwards? That's right, it's the hologram. He can fix anything."

Kathryn's weary voice halted his tirade. "Doctor, can you continue this later? Preferably when we don't have to listen to it?" They were behind a privacy screen and Chakotay tried to hide his smile as the Medic just shook his head and went on muttering to himself under his holographic breath. Chakotay walked over to Kathryn now as she lay on the biobed. In the light of sickbay, he could see just how bad the gash on her leg was. Before he had a chance to speak, the Doctor looked towards her.

"Captain, if you would be so kind as to undress. Please remove your pants. And you, Commander, if you wouldn't mind taking yourself out of here and letting Mr. Paris take care of that cut on your head." He went back to the padd in his hands.

Chakotay looked down into Kathryn's face and smiled softly. "Will you be all right or would you like me to stay with you?" He saw she knew what he was really saying and she smiled softly in return.

"I'd love you to stay. Please. I'm still a bit raw. Ordinarily, I'd be fine, would make myself be fine. It's just…"

He smiled gently and took her hand. "I'll stay."

She nodded her thanks and then shook her head. "I'm being selfish though. You're hurt too. You need…"

He squeezed her hand. "I'm fine. It's not serious and it can wait another few minutes." He saw her relax a little more and felt her hand squeeze his in return.

Kathryn smiled her thanks. "Thanks." They both looked up to see the Doctor watching them, appearing surprised to find Chakotay still there. "I want Chakotay to stay with me so don't even ask." The Medic heard her tone of voice and merely nodded.

Chakotay kept his back turned as the Doctor worked over Kathryn's thigh. He'd felt her cringe a little as the Medic had helped her undress to slip on a sickbay gown and now he smiled down at her and chatted away about trivial matters but he was constantly aware of her discomfort, both physical and emotional.

"Another injury treated. Another patient good as new." The Doctor's tone was smug as he looked at his captain.

"Thank you, Doctor. Can I return to my quarters now?" Chakotay helped her to sit up.

"Of course you may, Captain. Just call me when you decide to test the strength of the bulkheads with your skull on the way back there, or someone attacks us, or…"

Kathryn just glared at him. "Thank you, Doctor. Remind me to have a word with B'Elanna about your 'sarcasm subroutines' Now I believe the commander here is in need of your assistance also." The Medic just shut up and went to work.

Chakotay brought Kathryn a coffee and sat on the sofa beside her in her quarters. He sipped at his own tea a moment and quietly watched her as she lost herself in the experience of her favourite beverage.

After several minutes, Kathryn broke the silence. "Thanks for staying a bit. I'll get some sleep in a while. You need some too."

He didn't argue with that, knowing his tiredness showed clearly on his face. "I'll get some, I promise." He fought the yawn which suddenly appeared, as if to emphasise the point and smiled with it. "I know, I know."

Kathryn just shook her head. "How long were we down there?"

Chakotay swallowed another yawn. "I think about five hours, maybe six."

Kathryn nodded thoughtfully, staring across the room at no fixed point. "Five or six hours to tell about a lifetime." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "That feels strange. A part of me even feels as if it didn't happen or happened a long time ago or… I don't know." Chakotay reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder, earning another smile for himself, this one not as sad. "I'm glad I told you. I don't regret that." She looked down at her cup. "I guess I feel a lot lighter, relieved, like a weight off my shoulders." She looked up into his face and saw that he understood. "It feels good."

He squeezed her shoulder. "I told you. You're my best friend and always will be. I love you and that too will always be the same. It won't change anything about how I feel about you." He suddenly shook his head. "Actually, to be honest, I guess I do feel different with knowing. A part of me wants to hold you forever and never let you go, to remove all that. I guess I feel closer to you and that feels wonderful, yet I feel guilty for gaining that feeling in the way I have." He shook his head again. "I'm rambling here, not making sense."

Kathryn put her cup down and reached for his hand. "I know what you mean. I feel so much closer to you now too and even though it's because of all this… Look, Chakotay, let's just accept this. I've spent years learning to accept what I can't change and I'm not always successful but I do still keep on trying. I love this new closeness I feel with you already. Just as long as it doesn't change things between us, take anything away or make you see me differently. If it adds in any way, that's good."

He smiled back at her, reassuring her. "It won't ever take anything away, I promise you that. And the only difference in the way I see you is, I guess, unbelievable admiration that you survived it all. It doesn't change the woman I've known and loved for the last number of years." She smiled her thanks softly and then they were quiet as they finished their drinks.

Eventually, Chakotay stood stiffly. "We'd better try and get some sleep. I'm tired and you look exhausted."

She smiled and stood with him, her leg still a little stiff and sore. "I am actually." Without warning, she leaned into him and hugged him. Chakotay hugged her back immediately. "Thanks, friend."

Chakotay held her to him. "You're very welcome, friend."

Kathryn saw him out and then got undressed, shedding the sickbay gown and robe she wore. She recycled them along with the remains of her uniform, then slipped into her nightgown. They'd beamed back to her quarters earlier and Kathryn had asked Chakotay to stay, needing to wind down from the intensity of their time earlier.

She stared hard at her face now in the bathroom mirror, expecting to see some change in her eyes at least. She felt different and thought she detected that difference in the eyes which stared back at her. She shook her head now and willed her mind to shut out the previous hours, then made her way to her bed. As she lay there and ordered the lights out, she smiled softly into the darkness and turned her eyes towards the stars, letting them sooth her. The hours she'd spent with Chakotay and all she'd told him slipped across her mind, without any conscious thought on her part. They filed across without any words or emotions accompanying them and she acknowledged what came to her. With them, came a peace, a calmness not experienced before and she smiled at nothing in particular. She felt her eyelids begin to droop and gave into the tiredness which swept over her now. Within minutes, she slipped into a dreamless sleep.

Sleep didn't come as easily for Chakotay as he lay in his bed next door. He tossed and turned for over an hour, mostly staring out at the stars and let his tears flow, something he couldn't remember having done since boyhood. His mind wouldn't stay easy and Kathryn's words repeated themselves, accompanied this time by the emotions he'd hidden so well from her. With no witness this time, he allowed the pain he felt to surface and gave vent to it.

Unable to find any rest, Chakotay got up and wandered around his quarters for some time, then replicated some tea, which failed to soothe him in the usual way. He tried sitting, then standing, then pacing, but his mind continued to race. He'd found it difficult to leave Kathryn's quarters earlier, not wanting to ever let her out of his sight again. He knew that wasn't the way to handle this though, that she needed things normal again, to see that her telling him wouldn't change things between them. He thought back to what he'd told her about how she'd been acting with Naomi and how making the child feel different wouldn't help her. The old adage of 'practice what you preach' came to him.

Everything Kathryn had told him swirled around inside his head now and without meaning to, he found himself sitting at his desk and accessing his computer, arguing with himself as to the wisdom of what he was doing.

For the next hour or more, Chakotay sat staring at the screen as he called up facts and figures, details and medical information. He searched the database to exhaustion. A part of him had hoped that learning more would help him, while the other side of him believed he was only fuelling his own pain and anger. He read the words as they appeared before him.

"Incest is sexual relations within the family unit, where an adult or older sibling uses a child or young person for personal sexual needs. Child abuse, as a general term, covers sexual, physical, emotional or psychological abuse. Sexual abuse relates to any adult or older person using a child for sexual needs. The abuse can include any form of sex or related aspect such as fondling, exhibitionism, intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, taking images of nude children and even child prostitution. In almost all cases, the child is abused by someone they know, love and trust. Sexual abuse includes sexual touching and fondling, exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornographic images, having children pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion on holoimages or in person, peeping or spying on the child, rape or attempted rape. It involves forcing, tricking, bribing, threatening or pressuring the child into sexual awareness or activity.

In most cases, the signs will be there. Unfortunately, parents and carers are rarely equipped to recognize them. The signs of abuse, the evidence to support it, differ greatly from child to child. Very few children feel able to tell about the abuse they are suffering, for varying reasons, or are too young to understand, leaving the signs often misunderstood or ignored. Even when adults or parents are told, they often have trouble believing for themselves that the abuse is taking place. At times, the child is not believed.

The result of abuse in a child's life varies enormously. Some become very passive, while others become destructive, filled with hostility or aggression. Some commit delinquent acts, crimes or fire starting, or have self-destructive behaviour. Some children will mimic adult sex play or behaviour, with other children or their toys, displaying a sexual knowledge, either through language or behaviour that is way beyond their normal years. Some have unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth, genital or anal area, urinary infections or sexually transmitted diseases. Some even develop drug and alcohol problems and sexual activity or pregnancy at an early age, even running away from home or attempting suicide.

Abuse scars virtually every facet of the victim's life, leaving them with little or no self-esteem, leading to an adult with a stifled emotional growth. There are many social maladjustments which arise from incest and abuse, including alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity or prostitution, all used to deaden the painful memories and expel reality. Some victims, if they feel they were abused as a result of their physical appearance, will overeat and become obese in a misguided attempt to defend themselves by trying to look ugly. Others develop bulimia or anorexia as a form of self-punishment or may even self-injure. For some, they reach the ultimate self-victimization act - suicide.

The abuse has a devastating effect on the child, the effects of which last into adulthood. The damage can be so severe that a lot of victims don't recall what happened until they are in their twenties, thirties or even their forties. The coping mechanisms they used to survive emotionally as children, stay in place into adulthood and can allow the victim to block out the memories. The sexual molestation invades the very soul of a child and in order to get through it, they learn to separate from their own body and pretend they weren't there. This shows itself as memory loss. There is usually something which will trigger the memories in later years and this differs from victim to victim. For some, it will be a rape or attempted rape which will trigger the memories, maybe even a dream that seems too real and will precipitate a memory. Maybe it could be hearing about someone else having suffered the same thing. It can be something as simple as a touch or someone surprising them from behind. Unfinished business from childhood affects adult attitudes, feelings, behaviour and relationships.

Abuse is a total invasion of a child's body, mind and privacy, by someone they usually know, trust and love, someone meant to protect them, leaving feelings of deep betrayal in later years. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Incest is the most common form of child abuse. Physical abuse comes second, although it is often part of the sexual abuse. It's an abuse of the child's personal and sexual boundaries by the very people entrusted with their care. Incest is basically the use of any child to meet the sexual or sexual/emotional needs of one or more persons, whose authority is derived through ongoing emotional bonding with that child. It's the abuse of a power relationship, not just a blood relationship. It's the violation of trust that damages the child most, leaving them problems with trust for many years, if not the rest of their lives. Victims will often suffer from phobias and can spend their life in denial. The denial system in the child prevents the survivor from enjoying an unencumbered adulthood, leaving them unable to trust their own perceptions or senses. Some will even subconsciously seek out other abusive relationships because it's all they know and what they expect. They are unable to trust their own decisions and can regard authority figures with anxiety. They might be passive all their lives because it's more comfortable and they may be afraid to take any risk, preferring misery rather than risking change. Assertion is also extremely difficult.

In all cases, the adult survivor will carry the trauma and scars of the abuse until proper counselling is sought. Even with counselling, the effects can last a lifetime."

Chakotay closed his eyes and groaned, letting his head fall back. He felt soreness and stiffness in his neck and shoulders from leaning over the screen for so long. He was also very aware of his own tears.

Some of what he'd just read he knew already from what Kathryn had said earlier. Seeing it on the computer now though gave the knowledge a coldness and reality which hadn't quite touched him before and opened the entire matter up for him, making him think of other children also. He forced his eyes back to the screen and read on.

What he learned now matched everything Kathryn had told him and he rubbed at his temples, trying to ease the tightness he felt building there. Finally, he accessed the files which would give him the cold facts and figures, not sure if he wanted to know them.

"A woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes but most cases go unreported. Only about thirty percent are reported. Sixty eight percent know their assailant. One in four of those attacks are in a public place and most will be between 18:00 and 06:00 hours. Half the assailants will be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In a third of cases a weapon is used. Half the victims will have injuries other than the rape injuries and three quarters will require medical care. These figures relate to adults, men and women.

Almost two hundred thousand children a year are abused and they are just the cases known about.

Three quarters will be girls. A third of those will be aged four to seven. A third will be under six. One in two rape victims will be under eighteen years old and one in six will be under twelve. Sixteen to nineteen year olds are three and a half times more likely to be victims. One in three girls will be abused by the age of eighteen, one in four boys by the age of fourteen and one in six boys by the age of sixteen. An average of five point five children out of every ten thousand enrolled in day care are sexually abused. An average of eight point nine out of every ten thousand will be abused in the home. Fifteen out of every one thousand children will be abused, most of them by someone ten or more years older than them. Almost half of the women and a third of the men will never report it. Of the men who report it, sixty percent of male survivors report that the perpetrator was female. Ninety five percent of victims know the perpetrator. Around seventy percent of offenders are under thirty-five years old and know their victim and eighty percent of those fall within normal intelligence range and sixty percent of them gain access to their victims through seduction or enticement."

Chakotay dropped his head and cried, feeling pain in his hands and wrists from having squeezed his hands into fists. He couldn't believe the facts he'd just read, and he knew they only related to Kathryn's part of Earth. His breathing seemed to cause pain in his chest as he shook his head, as if he could deny the facts in some way.

Without warning, even to himself, he jumped up from the chair and snapped the computer off, unable to look at the words a moment longer. In his mind though, they remained, and he knew they were still within the database. Even if he could erase the words for all time, what they related to could never be undone. He ran his hands over his face and shook his head again. These weren't just words and figures. They related to real people, children, some as young as four, children like the one his Kathryn had been. It struck him that at this moment, countless children were enduring abuse as he stood there. Suddenly he felt an unbearable rage build within him and after a quick inquiry to the computer, he dressed and headed for the holodeck. Calling up his old boxing program, he spent the next hour pounding a punch bag, which took on the persona of someone he'd never even met. An hour later, he fell to the floor exhausted and cried like a baby.

"Damn you to hell, you bastard. I hope you're rotting or burning wherever you are." Kathryn's words, her descriptions of the horrors she'd lived through, repeated in his head, torturing his already agonized mind with the images they brought. "Damn every one of you bastards to hell." Images of children he didn't even know came to him, imagined little faces filled with innocence, love and trust, which would be destroyed by evil men and women who, in his mind, had no right to life. He wanted to stand there and watch them all burn and die in agony. At that very moment, he doubted even the Cardassians could ever be that evil.

Eventually, he pulled himself up from the floor and made his way back to his quarters. He inquired about Kathryn from the computer and felt a little better when he learned that she was asleep. As he stood in the shower and let the water pour over his tired body, he leaned his head against the tiles and cried once more. While Kathryn had gained a peace from having told him everything, she'd unknowingly inflicted him with the knowledge that he may never know peace again.

In time though, he shut off the water and dried himself. The physical exertion had drained his body and like its counterpart, the emotional turmoil also exhausted his mind. His crying had brought about a tiredness he now welcomed. Finally, he fell across the bed and drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

Kathryn and Chakotay both reported for duty the next morning. He was already on the bridge when she appeared and he smiled up at her, seeing that she looked rested and mostly at peace with herself. He prayed she wouldn't notice the effects his own night had had on him. He saw her looking at him closely and nodded to her, his gentle smile and kind eyes answering her unasked question. He knew she was worried that in the light of day, things might be different between them, that having had a night to digest everything, her opening up to him would change the way he saw her. His smile and the look in his eyes, instantly soothed her fears and she relaxed.

Kathryn sought out Naomi later on in her shift and apologized to the young girl for having 'broken their date'. Naomi didn't seem in the least put out and seemed only worried that her captain had been hurt.

"You can see I'm just fine, honey." Naomi nodded and seemed satisfied with that answer. Kathryn smiled over at Sam now. "Tell you what, Naomi. I happen to know that Neelix has just baked a batch of those cookies you like so much. Why don't you head down there and see if you can talk him into giving you some?" Naomi was more than eager and was almost out the door when she stopped and looked back.

"I'll ask him to give me some for you and mom." With that, she was gone.

Kathryn was quiet for several moments, leaving Sam feeling more than a little awkward. Finally their eyes met and they both laughed. Kathryn then grew serious. "I wanted to speak with you, Sam. Just me, not the captain." The other woman nodded and smiled softly but she still seemed a little nervous. "I know I've been… Lately I've been… Chakotay helped me to see that I've been going over the top a bit with Naomi." She saw Sam about to protest and held up a hand. "Sam, I have. I overstepped the mark and I know it. I wanted to apologize for that. I really meant no harm." They both smiled at each other.

"I felt very guilty. I felt I'd let you both down, that as captain I should have been able to protect you. Naomi in particular. I should have been able to protect her better and should have prevented what happened. I'm like that with all my crew."

Sam leaned forward. "Captain, it wasn't down to you. I don't mean that in a bad way. I know you care deeply for her and I welcome that. I'm honoured by it. It wasn't down to you though. We were off the ship and we both have to accept that we can't protect her all the time. None of us can protect anyone all the time. That's just the way life is. I'm her mother and I felt guilty for quite a while. Why wasn't I watching her more closely? Why didn't I see him watching her? Why this? Why that? Captain, it happened. Thank God it turned out the way it did. I've tortured myself thinking what could have happened to her but in the end… Look, that will get me nowhere. All it will do is take away precious time that I could be spending with her. It'll creep in and ruin what I have with her, the relationship we have. So I tell myself that it's over. And it is. I have her back safe and sound and she was unharmed. Oh I know I'll never forget it all, and I'll always be a little nervous and watch her more closely in the future when we're off the ship, but I can't let what happened take over and I can't smother her either. I still think of poor Thal, so I know how lucky I am. I've no intention of letting anything ruin what I have with her. The past is… It's the past. No matter how bad it was, it is still the past. It's gone and it can only contaminate the present and the future if we let it." She suddenly looked frightened when she saw tears in her captain's eyes. "Oh Captain, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

Kathryn blinked back her tears quickly and shook her head. "Oh Sam, no, please. It's just what you said. It made me think of something else. Please, Sam. You didn't do anything." She stood slowly and smiled down at the younger woman. "Thank you."

Sam frowned. "I don't understand."

Kathryn smiled softly. "No, I know you don't. Let's just say that…" She thought a moment. "Let's just say that without knowing it or meaning to, you've helped me with something. Thank you."

Sam smiled but continued to look a little puzzled. "I'm glad I was able to help." Kathryn smiled and nodded and they both turned when Naomi burst in, crumbs still around her mouth and a half eaten cookie in her hand. She held out two small parcels.

"Neelix sent these for you." She shoved the rest of the cookie into her mouth and handed one parcel to Sam and the other to Kathryn.

"Why, Miss Wildman, thank you so much." Naomi just nodded, her mouth too full to answer. "Well, I have to get back to the bridge. I'll talk to you tomorrow about re-scheduling our holodeck time for early next week if that's all right?" She looked at Sam, who nodded. Naomi swallowed quickly and nodded eagerly.

"Thank you, Captain. I can't wait." Kathryn smiled again and then shared a knowing look with the girl's mother. Taking her parcel, she left, feeling happier now.

Chakotay sat with Kathryn in her quarters that evening, finishing off the reports on their time away from the ship. They sipped at some wine and sat back.

"God, I hate reports. I've always hated them."

Chakotay smiled and shook his head. "There isn't a person in Starfleet who likes them. I don't think you'd find a living soul, in any Galaxy, who enjoys them."

She laughed and shook her head. "It used to help me to know that even the top admirals still had to file the damned things. That got me through quite a few of them." Chakotay smiled at her and nodded his head. He'd worried earlier that spending the evening together would be a little awkward but found those worries unfounded now. He'd also been afraid that he'd have had trouble being himself with her again but found that everything was fine. They chatted on about trivial matters for some time and then fell quiet.

Kathryn then turned her head towards him. "I went to see Naomi and Sam today." He merely nodded and let her tell him about it. He sensed from her words that she was happy with how her visit had turned out. "Sam's words though… It's strange how we can say something to someone and never have any idea that it could mean so much more to them."

He thought about that. "In my mind, I believe that's the Spirits talking through other people to help us."

Kathryn digested that and then smiled. "Maybe you're right. I like that." She smiled over at him again and then just lay back, enjoying the peace and quiet, feeling safe in his company. She felt him mimic her as he lay back also.

She turned her head again to look at him and as if feeling her eyes on him, he turned to face her. "You know what I like?" He shook his head and watched her consider her words before speaking. "I like that… that even now, now that I've told you, we can still spend an evening just like this, like we did before."

She sat up slightly. "You knowing… Me having told you… I mean, I finally told someone outside of Louise and the world didn't stop. I'm still here. Nothing terrible happened." He sat up slightly also but remained silent.

"There's still this residue of fear, I guess, there from my childhood, that if I told, it would all crash down around me and someone would die or…." She smiled, embarrassed a little. "But we're still here and I'm still in one piece." He reached for her hand and squeezed gently. She lost some of her embarrassment.

"It also hasn't taken over everything. It hasn't changed our friendship, our relationship or who and how we are with each other. More importantly, it hasn't changed how we act and behave with each other. I was so afraid it would. It's lovely that we can still sit here like this and talk about everything and anything, other things, just like we always have. What we had before still exists. It hasn't taken over from that. I suppose in a way, it's deepened our friendship. I was so afraid it would change everything."

Chakotay brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. "It won't change us. I give you my word on that. I'll be honest and tell you that I worried a little about that too, that I'd let you down and be different but I feel the same with you, like we always have been." She smiled at him and nodded, silently thanking him for his honesty. "You seem so much more at peace today. I was worried that you'd regret having told me."

She nodded again. "I am more at peace and no, I don't regret telling you. I'm glad I did although I did worry about that for a while when I woke up this morning but then I saw your face on the bridge and knew it was all right." Her expression grew serious then. "What about you? I was worried that knowing it all would… You looked very tired this morning, like you hadn't slept much."

He nodded slowly and decided to be honest with her. "I had a lot of pain and anger last night. I got rid of it in a healthy way though." He told her about his night and saw that it upset her. "Kathryn, please don't be upset by this. I needed to know as much as I could and I was shocked to the core by what I learned." He told her some of what he'd read.

She smiled sadly and nodded. "I've read all of that and more. Somehow, reading about it all and how it had happened to others, helped me. It made me feel I wasn't alone in what happened to me. It helped to know that there are others out there who understood what I'd gone through and would know what I was feeling, even though I felt so bad knowing that anyone else had known that." Chakotay squeezed her hand in a show of support. "You didn't get much sleep then?"

He smiled softly and shook his head, then told her about his time on the holodeck. "I dealt with it my own way. It hurt me to know what happened to you. If I didn't care about you so much, I wouldn't have felt that but as I do care so much…" He sighed. "It's just natural. It's very hard to know that someone you love has been through something like this. It hurts that they were hurt. I was also…" He hesitated a moment. "I was very angry, still am angry." She squeezed his hand to encourage him to continue.

"Sorry. I tried so hard to hide how I felt from you yesterday, especially the anger I felt. I wanted to show you love and support more. It's just hard. I want to kill him for what he did to you." He looked down at their joined hands, afraid he had gone too far with his words and would only upset her. He suddenly felt her hand under his chin, lifting his face to hers.

"Chakotay, you've no idea…" She shook her head and blinked back tears. "Yes, I need your love and support and I thank you for them so much. I also want your honesty though. I love you and it matters a great deal to me how my best friend is feeling. However, and this may be hard to understand but…" She stared across the room a moment, trying to formulate the right words, as if something she saw there would give her a clue and help her. She smiled a little when she looked back at him.

"Your anger, the hate you spoke of that you felt for him, the others who do this… You've no idea how much that means to me." She smiled when she saw him frown. "Your anger… It…it validates mine, how I felt and still feel in so many ways. Does that make any sense? By feeling as you do… It's like you're really on my side, there with me, understanding what I feel and showing me that you care that much. If it meant little to you, you wouldn't feel that. You care enough to get this angry and that feels good. It helps a lot actually. I don't want you to feel you have to hide that from me though."

Chakotay smiled warmly and stroked over the back of her hand with his thumb. "I won't then. I was just afraid of hurting or upsetting you." She smiled and leaned into him, delighting him in her trust. He slipped an arm around her and held her to him. "I'll always be here for you. I promise."

She nodded against him. "I know."

They fell asleep like that.

Over the following weeks, their relationship remained unchanged for the most part. They shared a wonderful friendship but an even deeper closeness grew between them. Most nights they worked on reports and then shared a quiet dinner or spent time on the holodeck together. They attended crew functions side by side and Chakotay wallowed in the sense of peace he felt as he saw Kathryn's ease with him. He knew the crew saw a difference in their captain, having overheard many comments in the course of his work. He also saw Kathryn relax more as a person, spending time with B'Elanna and Sam even. She still took Naomi to the holodeck but her routine of time spent with the child had returned to normal.

Only occasionally would they talk about Kathryn's past and their time in the cave. Most of their conversations were as they always had been and Chakotay saw how this helped Kathryn all the more. In his mind, the events she'd spoken of had already shattered her life once. He would die before he let the memories of those events come back to inflict the same damage again. Their friendship flourished and Chakotay saw 'Kathryn' thrive along with it. Having allowed the 'captain' to prop her up for so long, using her rank to hide behind, she now allowed the woman to come out. It was Chakotay who saw Kathryn return. To all other eyes, the captain was back to her old self, with the exception of a more carefree attitude and a peace she hadn't exuded before. The crew saw their captain happy and it rubbed off on them. Voyager was a happy ship.

About three months after their hours in the cave, Chakotay was sharing an evening on the holodeck with Kathryn. They'd opened one of Tom's programs, set on Earth in the mid 20th century. The area they walked sported an amusement park and boardwalk and they strolled along a pier now, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Kathryn linked her arm though Chakotay's and seemed lost in the beauty of the setting sun. He watched her as they walked and then pulled his eyes away quickly as they reached the end of the pier and sat down. They continued to watch the sunset for several minutes before Kathryn spoke.

"I wish you didn't feel embarrassed about watching me." She looked up at him and saw the embarrassment on his face. "You see? That's what I mean."

Chakotay looked away for a moment and then back. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean… I can't help it. You're…"

Kathryn leaned her head to the side to see his face better and smiled. "You can say it. Maybe I'm not being very modest here but…"

He met her eyes and smiled shyly. "You're beautiful. I can't help but look, especially in this light and…" He shut up quickly, afraid of saying too much and upsetting her. "I'm sorry."

She just smiled. "Thank you. That makes me feel good." Her acceptance of his words and her ease with them, relaxed him a little. They seemed shy with each other though and were quiet for some time. He watched Kathryn from the corner of his eye and saw that she was thinking deeply, one hand absentmindedly stroking the worn wood of the pier they sat on. Finally she looked up at him and he saw a serious look on her face. "I'm being very unfair with you, aren't I?"

He frowned. "How?"

She shrugged and smiled sadly. "I'm not stupid, Chakotay. It's not fair to you, me being this close to you yet denying you."

Chakotay leaned a little closer. "Kathryn, please…"

She quickly pressed a finger to his lips and he saw her eyes water slightly. "It's true. You're a man with normal needs. A man who loves me." He went to speak but she pressed her finger a little more firmly against his mouth. "Please, let me finish. I'm not upset by this." He nodded, his eyes never leaving hers.

"I pushed you away for a long time and you never knew why. I gave you so many excuses. Now you know why and we're closer as a result of that. With that though, I'm still holding you back." Chakotay tried to shake his head to object but Kathryn held up her other hand to still him.

"I can tell the difference." She licked her lips, which suddenly felt dry to her. "I know the difference between normal, healthy, physical needs and abnormal, unhealthy, physical needs. I know how difficult this is on you and it's not fair."

He pulled his head back from her hand, determined to speak this time. "Kathryn, I love you. You know that. What we have together is wonderful. It's more than enough for me." He blushed now. "Any 'physical needs' as you call them that I have… Well, I can take care of them myself." He waited to see if he'd gone too far with his words but she just smiled sadly. "Kathryn, listen to me." She looked at him slowly. "I love you and you love me. That's all that matters. We have everything we could want together. I'm very happy." She smiled softly and seemed to accept his words. As the light faded from the sky, they walked back slowly, holding hands. They fell back into their easy way with each other and let the subject drop.

About a week later, they were relaxing after dinner in Chakotay's quarters, when Kathryn raised her head from studying her wine glass. She seemed slightly embarrassed. "Can I ask you something?"

Chakotay just smiled at her and nodded. "You can ask me anything, you know that."

She smiled and nodded her head slightly. "I don't want to embarrass you."

Chakotay leaned towards her a little. "You won't. Now ask away."

She smiled shyly and played with her glass, something to occupy her hands. "You mentioned before about…" She hesitated and drew in a deep breath. "You said about…your physical needs…" She didn't look up. "You said you could take care of them yourself…" Finally she raised her head and he saw her face redden.

Chakotay kept his face serious and nodded. "That's right. Kathryn, I'm fine. I told you." He stopped, sensing there was more to this than what she was asking him. He waited until she was ready to say more.

She met his eyes. "I never told you about…the hologram…"

He frowned. "Michael?"

She shook her head. "No. He was just, I guess, for show. Nothing happened there." Chakotay nodded but remained quiet. "I had another one…of…me…" She saw him frown and shook her head. "It was sad actually. I don't know why I did it."

Chakotay reached for her hand and just patted it. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

She nodded. "It's… I created this hologram of myself, programmed it to act…" She smiled and sighed at the same time. "I guess to act in every way that I couldn't." She looked deeply into his eyes, expecting pity or disgust but finding only support. "I, my holographic self, was this sexually, confidant woman, a sex kitten if you like." She laughed at the memory. "She was everything I wanted to be, thought I could or should have been, if things had been different. I wanted her to be the way normal women are, to see myself acting as they would."

Chakotay leaned towards her a little. "Do you really think 'normal' women are all like that? Kathryn, there's no such thing as a 'normal' anything or anybody. Everyone is different. Women who've never had anything bad happen to them are often… I don't know. I haven't all that much experience myself." He smiled shyly at that. "I know for a fact that some women just don't like sex, for no reason whatsoever, just the same as some men don't."

Kathryn just shook her head sadly. "Maybe, but they're not afraid of it." She looked close to tears and

Chakotay reached his hand out to her shoulder and squeezed gently. "Oh Kathryn…"

She shook her head. "I altered her so many times and in the end I just deleted her."

Chakotay sighed. "I wish I knew what to say to you."

She smiled sadly. "You've helped, talking like this I mean, listening… It's wonderful to be able to talk to you like this, so openly, and feel safe doing so. I've needed that for so long, had to keep all this to myself. I've things inside, things I've never talked about and…"

Chakotay smiled softly. "You can always talk to me, Kathryn. You know that well by now."

She nodded and turned more to face him. "I know. It's just… I was thinking… I mean, you're at ease with your own body and I've never felt that." She bit her lip and looked down, and he waited until she was ready to say more. Finally she looked back at him.

"I…I tried a few times…myself…" He nodded, encouraging her. "I mean, a part of me wants to, needs the physical, what I know is the physical release." Her eyes pleaded with him for understanding and he didn't disappoint as he smiled back at her. "I got so far and then… I was afraid. I'm afraid I'll always associate those feelings with… I've nothing else to associate them with." She looked to the side. "I've never had them outside of…never had the feelings. By that, I mean, physical feelings. I never had them with…when I… I never had them with anyone else, those other men, and I was never with someone I loved and trusted to…" She looked back at him, her eyes silently asking him to help her with this.

Chakotay was just terrified of getting her question wrong. "What are you asking me, love?" He wasn't going to take any chances.

She shook her head. "I don't know. I think I'm just telling you, maybe asking… Do you think I should…maybe try? I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say." She looked lost and helpless.

Chakotay reached over and pushed her hair back from her face. "All I can say to you is this. There's nothing wrong with it, pleasing yourself, giving yourself pleasure." He smiled as he saw her blush. "Kathryn, men and women, from the beginning of time, have done this. There's nothing dirty or wrong with it. It's very natural. If you decide to try, just go slowly and be patient with yourself. Take the time to learn about your own body." She still seemed embarrassed but he saw she was taking in every word.

"Take time to yourself, when you know you won't be disturbed, somewhere you feel safe and comfortable. Take a bath, relax, light candles, fix the mood, play music. Whatever way you'd normally just relax. There's no right or wrong way. Just trust yourself. You can always stop if you need to. There's no pressure."

She nodded slowly, some of the redness leaving her face now. "Thanks. I hope I didn't embarrass you, by asking I mean."

He smiled softly at her. "You didn't, love. You can always ask me anything. If I know the answer, I'll tell you. If I don't, I'll find out for you." To ease her out of the conversation and her still evident embarrassment, he refilled their glasses and they moved onto other areas of conversation. By the time she left, they were completely at ease with each other once more.

Over the next few weeks, Chakotay occasionally wondered if Kathryn had acted on their conversation but she never mentioned anything and he'd never bring it up with her himself. She continued to seem totally at peace within herself and he delighted in that. They still spent most of their evenings together and socialized with the crew on a regular basis so by the end of the third week, their conversation of that night left his head completely.

Over the following week, their shifts alternated as several crew members fell victim to a mild virus which turned out to be uncomfortable for the patient but completely harmless. Kathryn and Chakotay found themselves taking separate shifts to cover for missing crewmembers, Chakotay opting for the night hours rather than have Kathryn's sleep pattern disturbed.

He passed her in the corridor on his way to the bridge now and smiled. She looked a little tired but her face lit up when she saw him.

"Hey there. How was the day…?"

She smiled and shook her head. "Next time we split shifts, you get Tom Paris as part of the deal. He was really in one of his moods today. I think he's sulking because B'Elanna won't let him try a new ski program he has. Personally, I'd encourage him all the way." They laughed together.

"Tom strapped down with broken bones for a week or so in sickbay? Think of the peace and quiet."

Kathryn shook her head. "I'm not sure I'm bad enough to do that to the Doctor though. I know he can drive me crazy too but even he doesn't deserve that." They laughed again.

Chakotay made to move off. "Tell you what. This is my last night duty. How about I 'buy' you dinner tomorrow night? I'll sleep while you're on duty tomorrow and can have something prepared by the time your shift ends. We've hardly had five minutes together to chat over the last week." He saw her smile eagerly.

"I'd love that. Is 19:00 OK for you?"

He thought quickly. "That's perfect." He smiled again. "So, anything exciting planned for this evening?"

She lowered her head a moment, and he couldn't see her eyes. "Just relax. A bath, a good book and bed." She looked back up at him, just as two crewmembers came around the corner. Chakotay thought he saw something on her face which he couldn't read but dismissed it.

"Well I'd better get to the bridge and keep young Mr. Kim in line. I'll see you in the morning." She smiled softly and nodded.

Kathryn entered her quarters and ordered the lights on low. She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes a moment. "Get a grip, Kathryn." She chided herself and then smiled.

She entered her bedroom and stripped off her uniform, slipping on a comfortable robe, before making her way to the replicator and ordering a light meal for herself. She took her omelette to the table and ate slowly, eating some bread along with it. She sipped at the glass of wine she'd allowed herself and stared ahead at nothing, her thoughts mixed now. Finally she finished her meal and recycled the dishes then turned away from the replicator before stopping.

"You can do it, Kathryn, come on." She turned back to the replicator and within a minute, took the second glass of wine, the small bottle of bath oil and the scented candles she'd replicated. She smiled now as she walked towards the bathroom.

Ten minutes later found her slipping into her bath, the scent of jasmine filling the air as the candlelight flickered around the small room. She sank down into the water and immediately felt the heat soothe her tired muscles. The soft strains of classical music drifted over her as she sipped at her wine. She drained the glass and let her head fall back, forcing her mind and body to relax.

It was only the water cooling which forced her to leave the tub and she stood slowly, letting the water drip off her body, then reached for the towel, wrapping herself in its softness. She drained the tub and took the candles with her to the other room, placing them around her bedroom. She then made her way over to the full-length mirror and stood before it.

It took her a few minutes before she finally stepped right up to the mirror and opened the towel. She slowly let it fall to the floor and stared into her own eyes, before allowing them to drop to the reflection of her body. Slowly, she looked herself over, before bringing her hands up, pulling and turning herself this way and that, examining her figure. She lifted her hands and cupped her breasts, studying her nipples in particular. Tentatively she ran her fingers over them and stroked gently, then a little more firmly. She sucked in a breath at the sensation her actions caused and pulled her hands away. Taking a moment, she closed her eyes and then opened them again and repeated her action. This time, she continued, forcing herself into relaxing and trying to enjoy the feeling her caress caused.

As the perfume from the candles reached her, she allowed her hands to move down her body, stroking over her stomach and then further down. When she reached her thatch of hair, she stopped and drew in several deep breaths. As slowly as she could, she slipped a finger through the hair and down into her folds. She stopped immediately and held her breath, willing her mind to relax and telling herself that she could stop any time she wanted to. She then moved her finger down a little further and gently explored herself, almost holding her breath as she felt herself shiver. Finally she pulled her hand away and studied herself for a minute more before walking to the bed.

Kathryn lay down on the cool sheets, having pulled the blanket back. She took several deep cleansing breaths and once more explored her breasts. She trailed her fingers around them and up and down her neck, trying to enjoy the touch. She smiled suddenly to herself and brought Chakotay's face into her mind, knowing she was always safe with him, even if it was just in her mind.

Kathryn now closed her eyes and let the perfume in the room and the soft music guide her. Chakotay's face filled her mind as her hands and fingers worked their way over her body. She felt herself respond now, determined to think only of Chakotay and force away any unwanted thoughts or memories. As she pinched and twisted at her nipples, her breath caught in her throat and she moaned slightly. She let one hand wander down over her stomach and gently traced patterns over her skin, concentrating only on the physical touch and the feel of it. Still stroking and twisting a nipple, her other hand moved down between her legs and she forced them to part slightly, her fingers finding their own way. As she traced over the sensitive skin of her inner thighs and then through her folds, she stopped suddenly and her eyes snapped open. She smiled slowly in the candlelight, as if having just discovered a secret. She was wet and she was enjoying this.

Kathryn closed her eyes again, her fingers becoming Chakotay's, and forced her mind back to where it had been. Her fingers traced through her wetness now and she moaned again, enjoying this new sensation, new in the sense that for the first time, it wasn't coupled with fear or guilt because she was refusing to allow it to be so.

Moving her fingers to wherever felt good, Kathryn worked by instinct, slowly building the sensations which passed over her. She lowered her other hand now and stroked and rubbed herself, the area slick by this stage. She bent her knees and parted her legs further and then tensed for only a moment before slipping a finger inside herself, ignoring the slight sting. Throughout it all, she kept the image of Chakotay's face before her, using 'his touch' to guide her. Without any effort on her part, she felt her hips begin to move and allowed it. As the sensations built, she went with them, letting them build up and up, forcing down a rising panic and anything which threatened to come at her from her past, keeping Chakotay with her the entire time.

Finally she pinched gently at her small bundle of nerves and felt the end approach. As the feelings intensified, she forced herself to concentrate on them only, still picturing Chakotay in her mind. Her breathing quickened as she climbed and then it happened. One last firm stroke, one last push of her finger inside herself and she came, her hips arching off the bed, the sensations taking over and smothering all else. She cried out as it washed over her, but the cry contained only one sound. Chakotay's name.

Afterwards, she lay bathed in sweat with tears pouring from her eyes. She still stroked herself gently as her mind tried to work through what she'd just experienced. She felt the remnants of her panic subside, telling herself that she was still in one piece. She faced the last of her fears and let them go as she felt herself building once more and worked with it, shuddering in her second release.

"Oh God…Chakotay…Oh…" She fell back against the bed and smiled through the fresh tears. "I did it, Chakotay. I did it." She barely had enough strength to ease out of bed to extinguish the candles, then crawled back between the sheets. As she felt sleep claim her, she imagined Chakotay's arms around her, keeping her safe, staving off the bad memories and a lonely ache filled her. Just as she drifted off, she pressed her fingers to her lips, carrying her own scent. She kissed them and let them 'kiss' her back. "Night, love. I wish you were here with me." Her words trailed off as she slipped away to a dreamless state.

Kathryn woke early the next morning, coming to life slowly, the memories of her experience of the previous night with her immediately. She stretched lazily and smiled to herself, pushing away any negative feelings, along with the remnants of her fear and guilt. As she sat up now, she realized that she'd slept nude and shook her head. She felt more free than she could ever remember feeling.

She pulled herself from the bed and spent over fifteen minutes in the shower, letting the water caress her. She stroked over her body as she soaped herself, pushing aside any guilt which threatened, as she enjoyed the feel of her own body, something she felt had been too long denied her because of the past. She suddenly felt now as if she was finally on the road to reclaiming it, taking back what should have rightfully been hers all the time. It felt like being reborn, a part of her coming alive which had been too long dead. Eventually, she shut off the water and stood before the bathroom mirror, once more studying her body.

"Not bad for your age, Kathryn." She smiled at herself and watched her face closely, half expecting her reflection not to cooperate. She took time with herself now, rubbing cream into her skin and powdering herself with talc. "You deserve a little pampering." Her image didn't object.

When she appeared on the bridge bright and early, Chakotay looked up quickly. He smiled gently at her, his mind trying to decide what seemed different about her. Kathryn returned his smile and made for her chair. "Quiet night, Commander?" She tapped at her console, forcing her smile to ease down.

"Aye, Captain. Nothing to report."

Kathryn nodded without raising her head. "Well, as I'm here, why don't you get off to bed early. Grab some breakfast for yourself." She finally looked up and smiled softly at him.

Chakotay stood slowly, stretching his large body and nodded. "I'd appreciate that, Captain. I can never understand how the quiet shifts are more tiring." He moved to stand in front of her. "I'll see you later?"

Kathryn immediately caught the true meaning of his words and nodded, her smile intensifying. "You will indeed. Sleep well, Commander." Chakotay nodded again and made his way to the turbolift. He was about to turn back and make eye contact with her again when Tom burst from the lift.

"Damn woman." He blushed deeply when he saw Chakotay staring at him. "Sorry, Sir."

Kathryn turned around now and smiled. "Problems, Mr. Paris?"

Tom muttered to himself as he made his way to his station. "Nothing I can't handle in retaliation, Captain." He watched the puzzled, yet amused faces of the command team as they watched him and smiled a little. "B'Elanna took my program, the ski slopes of Tallis Prime. She stole it." Kathryn bit her lip to stop herself laughing out loud and shared a look with Chakotay. "She thinks it's the only copy…" Realizing his slip, he shut up immediately.

Kathryn shook her head. "Don't worry, Mr. Paris, your secret is safe with me. It's safe that is, depending on how well this shift goes."

Tom got her message and sat quickly. "I'll be the consummate professional all day, Captain."

Chakotay caught Kathryn's eye and smiled. "Good luck."

She smiled back at him as he entered the lift, leaving him with a feeling that he'd missed something.

Chakotay woke around 17:00 and spent the next two hours getting ready for his dinner with Kathryn. He felt completely relaxed and looked forward to the evening and the chance to catch up with her. They'd had so little time alone lately and he missed their dinners together. He missed his friend.

Prompt as always, Kathryn arrived at his quarters with a minute to spare and handed him a bottle of wine. "I wasn't sure what you had planned so I brought a Rosé. I hope that's all right?"

Chakotay took the bottle and smiled at her. "That's perfect but you shouldn't have. This is my treat tonight. Besides, I owe you for two dinners if I remember correctly."

Kathryn shrugged and smiled. "Who's counting?"


They spent a leisurely two hours over their meal and the wine, chatting about the crew and recent events. They lay back on the sofa, feet propped up on the small coffee table, shoes off, totally at ease in each other's company.

"Did Tom behave himself for the rest of the shift?"

Kathryn laughed. "He was like a little lamb. Barely a squeak out of him. I think he's terrified I'll let his little secret slip to B'Elanna. You'll probably have his complete cooperation too, since you know about this."

Chakotay nodded his head and smiled evilly. "I think I might just enjoy that."

Kathryn nudged him. "Just don't go too far. Tom has a way of bouncing back from these things. He always lands on his feet."

Chakotay shook his head as he refilled their glasses. "I'll be careful. I'm not going to do anything to risk the enjoyment I can get from this." They were quiet for a while as they sipped their drinks. Chakotay watched Kathryn quietly, almost seeing her thoughts sort themselves in her head. He'd had a feeling all evening that something was on her mind but didn't push. He knew she'd tell him if or when she felt ready. He studied her covertly. There was definitely something different about her and he found himself comparing how she'd appeared on the bridge earlier with how she seemed now. He then joined those two images and compared them with how she'd seemed the previous evening. Before he came to any conclusion, she turned and smiled at him, catching him in his study. She smiled as his face flushed and he took a drink of his wine to cover his embarrassment.

"I told you before about that. I don't mind you watching me."

He smiled softly and met her eyes. "I know. You look lovely tonight." She smiled her thanks. She was wearing a sea green dress with three quarter length sleeves, which he hadn't seen before and the colour suited her. It was gathered in at the waist and fell to just below her knees. He sensed her watching him now and pulled his attention back to her.

She returned his smile for a moment and then her face grew serious, a slight flush coming to her skin. "Can I… Can I tell you something? A confession, if you like."

He let his own smile slip a little and softened it. "You know you can. You can always tell me anything."

She blushed. "I need to tell you…want to…to tell you…something…" She was stumbling a little over her words. "It's a bit…embarrassing. I'm a bit embarrassed."

Chakotay placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled gently. Don't be. Please Kathryn, you never need to be."

She nodded and smiled. "I need to tell you that… I used you…without your permission." She looked at him and he saw her biting at her lip.

He frowned slightly. "How?"

She drew her top lip between her teeth for a moment. "Last night… I need to tell you what I did last night. What I…" She shook her head and he squeezed her shoulder, a little concerned now, and it showed on his face.

"Kathryn, there's nothing you can't tell me."

She nodded and replaced her top lip with the bottom one, chewing on it for a moment. "It's about what we talked about…before…what I asked." Her shyness was amazing to him. "It's…" She drew in a deep breath. "You made love to me last night." Her eyes were anxiously fixed on his face, waiting for his reaction. All she got was his gentle smile.

"Do you want to tell me about it? Did you dream?" He saw her relax a little as she dropped her eyes to her glass. Chakotay kept his hand on her shoulder.

"No, it wasn't a dream. It was… I'd been half planning it for weeks, I suppose…building up the courage slowly and last night…" She took a gulp of wine, hoping to steady her voice. "I had a light meal, then a bath. I used the bath oil, the scented candles, played music, relaxed. Like you said." Chakotay smiled inwardly but said nothing.

"Afterwards… I took the candles into the bedroom. I stood in front of the mirror for a long time…then I dropped the towel." She glanced up at him for just a second. "I really looked at myself for the first time in… I don't know. I really looked at my body and then…" She sighed deeply. "I touched…touched myself…" She looked up at him again and saw his gentle smile. He nodded for her to continue.

"I was frightened for a while…at some of the feelings…afraid to…" She swallowed some more wine. "I lay on the bed naked." She looked up once more and smiled shyly. "Very daring for me." Chakotay just smiled back, letting her do this at her own pace.

"I lay there, the stars with me, the candlelight, the music and I touched myself, let it happen but I was thinking about you." He squeezed her shoulder slightly, a gentle reassurance and saw her smile. "My breasts, down and…there…" He nodded slowly. "I concentrated on just the feelings, pushed everything else away, just the feelings and…and you. I kept thinking only of you." She looked at him, her face red. "It was my hands and fingers but it was your touch…or how I perceived your touch to be." She kept looking at him, waiting for him to show annoyance or something but all she got was his soft smile and it gave her courage.

"I looked up at the ceiling and it was your face I saw looking down at me…and…I used you…" She stopped speaking, lifted her legs down off the table, then leaned forward and placed her glass down, then leaned back again.

Chakotay stroked her hair now. "You tried it?"

She looked back at him, her shyness clearly evident. "No. Actually…I…succeeded."

He saw the red flush cross her face and smiled at her. "I'm very proud of you, Kathryn."

She seemed to glow under his words but still appeared very nervous. "But I used you, your image and I wasn't sure I had the right…thought maybe you'd be angry, annoyed at least."

Chakotay shook his head, his smile still there. "I'm not angry or annoyed. Why would I be? I'm honoured. I'm glad I could help, that you trusted me that much, felt safe with me." He smiled again and Kathryn smiled back, deep embarrassment on her face as she blushed deeply.

She dropped her head and stared down into her lap, twisting her fingers together. "You were good." She looked up briefly and saw his smile widen. She dropped her head back down, her skin growing redder, a deep embarrassed smile on her face. "Actually, you were very good." She swallowed and laughed slightly. "Both times." She looked up now and finally met his eyes, her face bright red but her smile growing a little.

Chakotay laughed slightly and shook his head. "Was I?" She nodded shyly. "I'm glad. I'm very happy for you." He smiled very softly. "You did seem different this morning."

Kathryn seemed to relax a little now at his reaction. "I felt different. I was sure everyone would notice it or see it. I thought I'd look different even."

Chakotay leaned forward and lowered his legs to the floor. He put his own glass down then leaned back and reached for her hand. "How do you feel now?"

She shrugged and smiled shyly. "I'm OK. I'm fine. Actually, I'm good…great. I…" She bit her lip and he squeezed her hand.

"Kathryn, please don't be embarrassed with me."

She nodded and smiled again. "I touched…there…just followed what felt right…and used…my finger…in…" She stopped, waiting to see if she was embarrassing him but his expression didn't change. "It hurt, stung…just for a minute." He nodded his understanding and squeezed her hand a little tighter. "It faded quickly…and the feelings… They came and I let them, went with them and I felt panicked for a moment, afraid even…but I fought it and afterwards… I thought I'd feel guilty or ashamed, dirty even but I didn't…didn't let myself think like that. You'd really helped me believe I could do it."

He nodded again and smiled his reassurance to her. "I'm so happy about that. You should never have felt anything bad about it. You deserve to feel good. So you were OK…?"

She nodded. "I didn't let myself think of before. I just concentrated on what I was feeling now and on you." She smiled shyly again. "I felt the sensations without fear or guilt for the first time." He smiled his understanding. "I think I didn't think of it because it was different. It wasn't like before. It was completely different. It felt safe and I…I had you. Most importantly, I also knew I could stop it at any time and I'd still be safe." She hesitated a moment. "I even called out your name when I…when it happened…each time…" She looked up at him, her expression half happiness, half worry.

Chakotay just smiled and opened his arms to her. She went willingly and let him hold her. "I'm very proud of you. I'm also so happy for you."

She pulled back just a little and looked up at him. "I actually cried immediately afterwards but it was good crying. I'd just let it happen and followed my instinct."

Chakotay stroked her cheek. "And you were comfortable with that?"

She nodded. "Yes, I was…and it felt good." She blushed again. "I don't just mean that part of it. I felt free, I guess."

Chakotay kissed the side of her head. "I'm so happy for you and I know I keep saying that, but I am, and if I helped in any way, I'm happy I was able to. I also thank you for telling me, for feeling comfortable with me and trusting me enough to tell me."

Kathryn lay a hand on his chest, relaxing into his embrace. "It feels wonderful to be able to trust you so much and to be able to talk to you like this."

Chakotay kissed the side of her head. "You always can." He stroked her arm a moment. "I'm just so glad it was a good experience for you." He felt her nod against him.

"It was good but…"

He frowned and leaned back a little so he could see her face. "Kathryn?"

She shrugged a little. "It was good but… I felt… It was lonely too, solitary. I mean it felt what it was. Oh, I felt I'd taken a big step, achieved something but… In the end, it was just…physical." He nodded his understanding. "I enjoyed it, for what it was and it made me realize that I could and did enjoy…the physical, the release…that I needed it, you know?" He nodded slowly. "I just missed… I missed something I've never had and I don't know how I could do that but I did."

Chakotay stroked up and down her arm. "What was that?"

She smiled sadly. "I missed… I missed what should go with it. The love, the comfort and tenderness, the loving touches and caresses. I missed the whispers, lying in someone's arms afterwards, all that I've heard about but never had and I think I need that more than anything else. I need all that can go with it. I fell asleep alone. I even pressed my hand to my lips and pretended that you were kissing me 'goodnight'. I wanted you to hold me afterwards…and I was alone when I woke up."

He suddenly felt dampness against his shirt and realized that she was crying. He pulled her tightly against him. "Oh, Kathryn. Oh, love." He didn't know what to say.

"I wanted you beside me, not just in my mind. I'm only seeing that now."

Chakotay rocked her as he heard her sobs. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I wish I knew what to say. I…"

She pulled back and looked at him now, tears running down her cheeks. "I missed you, wanted you there. Could you ever…?" She sniffled loudly. "I'm sorry. I've no right to ask…"

Chakotay held her back a little further from him so he could see her face clearly. Her tears upset him. "Kathryn, what are you saying here?"

She shook her head and wiped at her tears. "If perhaps…maybe…next time…you'd be there. I'd really like… I want to…to be with you…"

Chakotay found his breathing suddenly very shallow. "Kathryn, think about this please. I know what you're asking me here but… And I know… Kathryn, are you sure? This is a very big step."

She nodded slowly. "I know but I want to, for you and…"

Chakotay cut her off. "Kathryn, this has to be your decision. Yours only. You need to be very sure about this, that this is what you really want. There's too much at stake here. You have to do this because it's what you want. I don't want to ever think that you're only doing this because you think you should or because you feel you owe me something or a hundred other reasons. It has to be because you want this for yourself. You owe me nothing and you don't owe anyone else anything either. If this is what you really want… I just want you to be sure."

Kathryn just stared at him with tearful eyes. "I do want this." She wiped at her tears again. "I guess I feel this is the final step I need to make to be free of all this but I don't want you to think I'm only using you for that. I want it for me because I feel it's my right and it's been denied to me. I also want this because I love you."

Chakotay felt tears come to his own eyes but he still held back. "Kathryn, listen to me now. I want you to do this for me." She nodded. "I think it would be better for you to continue as you are for the moment. This is still very new to you. Continue like this for now. Become comfortable with your own body and then maybe I could stay over with you one night, or you stay here, and I'll just hold you. Maybe I could just stay with you afterwards, after you've…"

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "Chakotay, that's not fair to you."

He pressed a finger to her lips. "It's my choice. I'll just hold you and sleep beside you. I think you should take this slowly, OK? I don't want you to rush this, Kathryn. It would be better if…"

She pulled back more now, her tears returning. "Chakotay, I know what I'm saying. I want to do this." She pulled back again and sat forward. "Look at me up to this. Even now. I'm still letting him win. I'm letting him deny me a normal life, deny us even. I have to do this. I want to." She turned to look at him, tears sliding down her cheeks.

"Louise helped me no end but I could still never reclaim it all or have what I felt I was entitled to by right. That last part, this, always eluded me. I told her everything that had happened and that was one thing but when I thought about it, I felt it was safe to tell her, because she was a stranger to me and I knew she'd never repeat it. I never had the guts to take that last step though. There was still this whole area of my life that he controlled." She reached for the wine and took a long swallow.

"I'd never told someone I knew, never let myself trust someone enough to do that. I never let anyone get close enough for that." She sighed and shook her head. "To have a normal loving, physical and emotional relationship, just like everyone else… He always still stopped me from doing that. I have to be stronger than him now. I have to be." She stared deeply into his eyes now, pleading with him almost.

"Chakotay, I love you. I want to be with you in every way. I don't want to let him stop me doing that. He's already controlled so much of my life and had a hold over me for too long." Chakotay saw her pain. "I've been running from this my whole life. I'm tired. I'm tired of running and hiding and I'm lonely. I've this big empty space inside me and I've let him invade it for too long, instead of filling it with what should be there." Her next words tore at him.

"It's been a very solitary journey, Chakotay." Her eyes swam with tears as she pleaded with him. "Please help me with this. Where I want to go, it's a journey that can't be taken alone." She looked down suddenly, more tears falling. "Of course, if you can't bring yourself to, don't want… I'll understand." She jumped suddenly as she felt him grab her upper arms and pull her to him.

"How can you say that? Oh Kathryn, I'm sorry." He pulled her to his chest and held her as she cried. When he eventually heard her quieten, he eased her back a little. Staring deeply into her eyes, he stroked her face, wiping her tears.

"Kathryn, please just hear me out here. First off, I love you more than my own life, more than anything I can think of. Please don't ever think that I wouldn't want you or want to be with you. I just want you to try and understand me now." He shook his head a moment.

"I don't want you to feel you have to beg me for this. I'm not being weak here but I'd always have been afraid to ever make this move. You have to try and understand this from my side a moment." He sighed deeply. "What you've been through in your life… I can't ever begin to understand the pain you've had. I can't take that away or undo what's been done. I just feel so helpless, so useless. I'm powerless to do anything for you and that makes me feel… I feel so angry and inadequate. I also can't help but think of my own gender. A man caused you all this pain and I'm a man too. As a man, I feel guilty for what was done to you, guilt by association or something, collective responsibility if you like. I'm terrified of hurting you in any way, physically or emotionally, even by saying the wrong thing. It would kill me to know that I'd brought it all back to you or caused you hurt or pain simply by saying or doing the wrong thing. It would be my body, as a man, that you'd see." He squeezed his eyes closed a moment and shook his head, not caring that she saw his tears.

"Please don't ever think that I wouldn't want to be with you though, to touch you and hold you, just because of all that. I love you. From that side of it, nothing that went before makes any difference to how I feel about you or how I see you. You could have been a prostitute for all I care. I'm just terrified of hurting you in any way and I was afraid to ever suggest that we had more in case I frightened you or hurt you or… I know I wanted this and pushed for it before, before I knew, but now… I'm sorry. I'm saying this all wrong and making a complete mess of it." He lowered his head but looked up quickly when he felt her hands on his face. Her tearful face met his eyes.

"You couldn't ever hurt me, Chakotay. I promise you that. The first day I saw you on the bridge… I was this Starfleet captain and you were supposedly this terrorist, the rebel Maquis leader, dangerous, a murderer, whatever. In those first moments, you showed me more respect and caring than that bastard did my entire life. Can you understand that? I was your enemy, someone you were meant to hate and despise and still you showed me more than he ever did, someone he was supposed to love and protect. Can't you see that?"

Chakotay nodded tearfully and pulled her to him. "I love you, Kathryn Janeway. I don't deserve you." They rocked together for several minutes before they pulled back a little. Chakotay looked into her eyes now.

"Kathryn, are you sure about this? I still want you to take your time with this. We've plenty of time. We do this slowly. We already have the relationship and we already love each other. The rest can come slowly. I'd love nothing more but I just want you to think about this and be absolutely sure. I don't ever want anything to ruin what we already have."

Kathryn nodded tearfully. "I'll do what you said. I'll take the time and think and continue as I am but I still know my answer. I want to be with you because I love you and trust you, feel completely safe with you and I know we'll be OK, that it won't be anything but good. What we've shared the last few months has given me more strength and courage than I ever had. I'm ready for this because you've made it possible."

Chakotay stroked her face again. "Don't dismiss what you've achieved like that, Kathryn. You did all the work and came all this way on your own. I know Louise helped enormously but you did all the work. The strength and courage needed for that came from you. You did it. You beat it. As to us, it will be good with us. I know that. Nothing from the past will ever come into this, no matter what it is. What happened or previous relationships, they won't exist. It'll be different with us. No two couples are the same anyway. Even for one person, each relationship they'll have had will be different. Just as long as you're sure, Kathryn. Think about it as I said and if you change your mind, it doesn't matter. I'm perfectly happy with what we have."

Kathryn stroked his face now. "I love you. I love you for understanding, for your patience with me, for being there, for listening, holding me, helping take the pain away, for loving me, for it all."

Chakotay pulled her back into his arms. "You'll always be safe with me, Kathryn. I give you my word of honour on that. I swear it on my life. I'll always love you and I'll never hurt you in any way. I swear it. You'll never be alone again. No more loneliness. No more solitary journey. We share it all now. It's time to stop running. You've been running alone for too long. It's time to rest. You're home." He held her tightly as she clung to him, heard her sobbing as he whispered softly to her, rocking her, caring for her. He held her long after she fell asleep in his arms, finally home.

There was no way they could have hidden the closeness between them from the crew, and Chakotay worried that Kathryn would be upset with that. He'd already warned Tom Paris to keep his mouth shut about the betting pool they all knew existed. Kathryn for her part, seemed more at peace with herself than any crewmember could ever remember. She was sleeping and eating better than she ever had, and it showed, much to the Doctor's delight. She found herself touching Chakotay more and more in front of others and seemed totally at ease with it. When they attended parties on the holodeck, she danced closely with him, not caring who was watching. As she led the way, Chakotay followed and relaxed more.

Several times now in the past month, Chakotay had stayed over with Kathryn when they'd worked late into the night. The first time, Kathryn fell asleep beside him on the sofa and Chakotay had sat awake all night in case she woke up and was upset. The second time, Kathryn caught herself before she fell asleep and asked him to stay with her when she saw how tired he was too. They'd made their way into the bedroom and lain together, just holding each other and Chakotay had relished the trust he felt from her at his presence in her bed. At first she'd seemed nervous and he'd worried that they were going too fast, but Kathryn had quickly assured him that what he was seeing wasn't nervousness but embarrassment, something which quickly passed because she pushed it away. She pressed home the point to him that she trusted him completely and in this way eased his concerns.

From then on, he stayed other nights. Kathryn slept well when he was there, curled into his warm body, totally at peace with herself. Chakotay, for his part, was very proud of his own self-control as she spooned herself against him before falling asleep.

On those nights he stayed with her, he'd lie awake for some time, listening to her soft breathing, his face pressed into her hair, inhaling the delicate scent of her shampoo. She always slept soundly, nothing disturbing her mind while it rested, something he'd been worried about. He'd feared his physical presence beside her would trigger some horrors from her past, especially if she woke during the night and forgot he was there, but it never happened. On a few occasions, she'd woken, needing the bathroom, but had been as secure with him being there then as she'd been when she'd fallen asleep first. He knew she was continuing as she'd said she would and occasionally spoke of it with him, never going into too much detail, either out of embarrassment to herself or for him but he saw her grow more and more at ease with her own body and delighted in the fact.

As time passed, Chakotay began to slowly touch Kathryn a little more, stroking her hair or her hand, holding her against him as they sat on the sofa, but always asking her permission first. When he slept over with her, he'd hold her until she fell asleep and marvelled as how at ease she was with it all. He was desperate to show her how much she could trust him and she constantly thanked him for that.

One night as they sat on the sofa listening to soft music, he looked down to see her staring up at him studying his face. She smiled softly as he met her gaze and then reached up, tracing her fingers over his tattoo. Chakotay remained still but relaxed, letting her fingers explore the dark lines. Slowly her hand trailed down over his cheek and then to his lips, her thumb stroking over them. She removed her hand eventually, letting it drop into his shoulder, her eyes moving from his eyes to his lips and then back again. She leaned forward very slightly and Chakotay, taking his cue from her, reached up his own hand and stroked her cheek.

"May I kiss you?"

Kathryn nodded, her lips slightly parted. "Please. I'd…like that." Chakotay smiled softly and leaned down slowly, bringing his lips to hers as gently as he could. One hand moved around her back, resting there only but not applying any pressure. He brushed his lips across hers and heard her intake of breath. He pulled back, worried for a moment, until he saw her face. Her eyes were closed and a look of peace sat on her features like none he'd seen before. She slowly opened her eyes, missing his touch already and smiled softly at him, her eyes silently telling him that she was fine. Once more, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. For long minutes, he just moved his lips over hers, pressing a little more firmly now. Kathryn, for her part, leaned in also, adding to the pressure from her side.

Chakotay moved his other hand to the back of her head, slipping his fingers through her hair, the silkiness caressing his skin. Again, he didn't apply pressure and simply caressed. He now opened his mouth slightly and felt Kathryn follow him. He felt her hands on his back, pressing softly into him, easing him towards her a little more. Tentatively, he allowed his tongue to snake forward and caress her lips, Kathryn again following him, as if learning from him or waiting for him to lead the way. As they tasted each other slowly, their kiss deepened, until Chakotay nibbled gently on her lower lip, before slowly slipping his tongue into her mouth, sweeping the warm cavern he found. He heard her moan softly from the back of her throat and felt her arms tighten around him. Constantly on the alert for any sign of discomfort on her part, he took his time, applying only a little more pressure against her back and head, leaving her plenty of room to pull back any time she felt she needed to.

Kathryn was going nowhere though. She mimicked all of Chakotay's actions, tasting him as he tasted her, her hands moving over his back, learning the feel of his muscle structure. One of her hands then went to his head, her fingers playing through his hair. She almost clung to him now as the kiss deepened even more and Chakotay responded to her but didn't let go of his caution. Finally, he eased back, needing air as much as wanting to give Kathryn a break. He stroked her cheek and smiled down at her, his eyes taking in her lips, swollen from their kiss.

"Are you all right?" He still stroked up and down her back and felt her hands still on his own.

She nodded and smiled back at him. "I'm fine. I feel in a way like that was my first real kiss." A slight frown pushed her smile away then. "I'm not very good though."

Chakotay shook her very gently. "You're wonderful. Please don't think otherwise." She didn't argue, didn't need to, because she believed him. She saw the sincerity in his eyes.

She smiled again and flushed slightly. "Can I have another one then?" Chakotay obliged and then just held her to him. He'd no intention of going any further. He held her until she fell asleep in his arms and then gently carried her to bed, slipping in beside her. She stirred and opened her eyes sleepily.

"Night, Chakotay." She snuggled into him, feeling totally safe and secure, giving him a gift she didn't realize she was offering and he accepted it with open arms.

"Night, love." He kissed her on the cheek as she drifted off, a faint smile still on her lips.

As time passed, Chakotay spent more and more time in Kathryn's quarters. As he dressed and undressed, he subtly allowed her to see more of his body, without going too far. Feeling comfortable seeing him now in various stages of undress, Kathryn slowly began to feel more at ease with him seeing her also. She'd padd around her bedroom in her underwear, looking for her uniform, knowing he was watching her from time to time, something he deliberately didn't hide from her, and she felt at ease with him completely. She'd leave the shower or bath with just her towel wrapped around her, knowing she was safe with him, that he'd never do anything to hurt her. All of this was a lesson in trust, Chakotay determined to show her that she was safe with him, that even when he watched her, she'd know he'd never cross the line and touch her in any way without her permission. Kathryn learned the lessons well, knowing now that even when she was in what she felt to be a vulnerable position, like when she was half dressed, she could trust him.

At other times, Chakotay would give her neck and back rubs, easing out the knots from muscles which had remained inactive too long from sitting too many hours pouring over padds and reports. She felt perfectly safe with his hands on her body and Chakotay never once gave her any reason to doubt him. Some nights, she'd lie back on the sofa, her feet in his lap, as he kneaded her feet and calf muscles, occasionally tickling her. As she relaxed, Chakotay was painfully aware of how delicate a line he was walking and he was terrified to cross it. He never touched her knees, remembering only too well her telling of how her uncle had touched her there.

One evening, as he was rubbing moisturising cream into her legs, his hand slipped in the cream over her knee and he jerked his hand back quickly. Kathryn sat up immediately and stared at him and Chakotay felt his blood almost freeze, terrified he'd hurt her emotionally. She just smiled sadly at him.

"Chakotay, you're not him. Your hands aren't his. Please don't be afraid with me." Their eyes were locked and she saw his worry. "Chakotay, please don't. Can't you understand by now that I trust you completely? I KNOW you won't hurt me. Being so careful with me, that reminds me more. Please just be yourself with me. If anything you do upsets me, I'll tell you. I trust you and now I'm asking you to trust me on this." Her words made their way to him and he accepted them.

"I'm sorry. I just worry so much."

Kathryn smiled her understanding. "I know you do and I understand that. Maybe I'd be the same if I was in your shoes but please take it from me. You're not upsetting me. I really do feel completely safe and secure with you. I can talk to you about anything, have in fact. I can tell you anything, say anything and not be worried by it. I trust you with my life, Chakotay. Doesn't it stand to reason then that I trust you with my mind and body also?" Chakotay felt tears fill his eyes and nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Kathryn reached a hand out to him and he took it. "I know you'd never, ever, hurt me, Chakotay. If I had any doubts or fears in that direction, I wouldn't be lying here with you like this." He nodded again and found his voice.

"I wouldn't ever do anything to harm you, Kathryn. I'd die, kill myself, before I ever hurt you. That's fine though in the sense that I'd never intentionally hurt you. What about unintentional hurt though? I'm afraid of doing something that will cause you pain and I won't know about it."

Kathryn shook her head sadly. "That applies to everyone, Chakotay." She smiled slightly. "Remember me telling you about Sam's words about the past and how they meant something to me that she could never know?" Chakotay nodded. "You told me that that was a way for the spirits to talk to me." He nodded again. "She spoke those words and they could just as easily have hurt me. We say and do things every day that we can't ever know about. We can't know if we're hurting someone. It's just a part of life. You could make a passing comment to someone and say 'oh you know how mothers or fathers or whoever can be'. You wouldn't know that their mother or father had been killed the previous day or something else terrible had happened. We're not psychic. If you didn't want to ever hurt someone by saying the wrong thing, you'd never open your mouth." She smiled softly at him. "Just take my word on this please. Trust me as I trust you. If you upset me or I remember something, I'll tell you. If you do something I can't take, I'll let you know." She dropped her head to the side, her expression serious.

"Did you ever think that I could hurt you just as easily?" He frowned at that. "I could make some quite innocent but to you insensitive comment, some Starfleet rhetoric about the war and you'd think of your family, and that would hurt you. I wouldn't mean to hurt you but I would."

Chakotay shook his head. "This is different."

Kathryn pulled her hand back and held it up to cut him off. "No, it's not. The subject is different but the easily made, unintended mistake would be the same." She shifted her arms behind her, leaning on her elbows to prop herself up.

"Chakotay, I've come a long way since it all happened. I always tended to divide my life into 'before Louise' and 'after Louise'. Once we were stranded out here and I couldn't go to her, I had to manage on my own and I did. So then it became 'since Louise'." She shifted slightly to get more comfortable.

"I had the odd setback but they got fewer and fewer as time passed. I learned to acknowledge what happened without feeling the pain associated with it. In the past few years, I've had very few of those setbacks and I dealt with them fairly easily. The incident with Naomi brought about what you saw because I was going through one of those times when it happened. I was slightly shaky with that and then being close to you again and trying to decide whether to tell you had me a little more off-balance. So when Naomi was taken, I struggled to stay on my feet and then in the cave, I just fell, couldn't stay standing any longer." She smiled lovingly at him. "You were there to pick me up though."

Chakotay smiled sadly. "I was the trigger there, wasn't I? In the cave, I mean, when I removed my shirt."

Kathryn smiled a little and shook her head. "Not the way you think. It was just the action at that precise moment. It wasn't you, Chakotay. I wasn't afraid of you. Normally, that action wouldn't affect me in any way. It was just the straw that, as I said, at that precise moment. I was agitated, upset, everything was pressing in on me and it was the tiniest last nudge needed to topple it all. The dimness down there probably didn't help me either and was part of the reason for my reaction, coupled with everything else. It all just came together in a set way but at least having you there helped get me past it fairly quickly. You were there to ground me, someone I trusted and that can make all the difference. If it had happened when I was alone or with someone else, it would have been a lot harder."

Chakotay nodded as he subconsciously still rubbed at her feet. "I didn't help talking about family holidays before that either."

Kathryn shook her head and smiled again. "That goes back to what I said before about none of us being able to know how our words will affect anyone else. Chakotay, let it go. We were there and now we're here. All you need to accept now is that I trust you and feel perfectly safe with you." He smiled at that. Kathryn sat up a little more.

"You know, I felt safe with Justin and then later with Mark. I probably felt safest with Mark out of the two, because I knew he was no threat to me, no physical attraction. I have to tell you though, that I feel even safer again with you. Above all else in my life, I know that you won't ever hurt me and that I'm safe with you. I'm more sure of that than I am about anything in my life." She saw that finally she had him convinced.

His hand tightened on her foot and he smiled. "Thank you for that. You've no idea how much that means to me."

Kathryn smiled softly at him. "It's the truth." She pulled her feet down from his lap and sat up, then took his hands in hers. "Chakotay, listen to me." He watched her carefully as she took a moment to be sure of her next words.

"I want to say this right." She moistened her lips. "I still want us to be together but I want to make sure that you understand something first." She stared deeply into his eyes, making sure she had his full attention. "I'm not afraid of you in any way. If I'm honest, I'm not even afraid of men in general. I learned to get past that a long time ago. I know that not all men are like that, only, thank God, a very few. I'm probably not even afraid of sex. I probably appear nervous with you at times but it's more shyness because this side of us is still new. What I am afraid of is my own reaction to it and the memories it might trigger in me. What I need to do is learn to separate those things and I've come a good way in doing that these last few weeks." She smiled shyly as if making her point and shook her head.

"Look at me now. I'm able to talk to you this openly and I'm fine with that. That's a combination of how far I've come and how much I trust you." She lifted one hand and rubbed at her chin. "I thought going this slowly would help. Now I'm not so sure."

Chakotay sat forward. "Kathryn, I don't want you to rush anything."

She smiled back at him. "I know that but I don't think I'm helping myself by holding back, not with the way I am." She sighed deeply. "It's like knowing there's something in the dark corner and being afraid to turn on the light. The longer you delay putting the light on, the more scared you get. This way, I'm just torturing myself." She grew serious and seemed to hesitate a moment, then found the courage she needed. "Would you do something for me, with me?"

Chakotay nodded his head immediately. "Whatever you want."

Kathryn squeezed his hand again. "I guess I'm more asking you to help me with something and you'll think I'm the daring one but… Would you take a shower with me?" She watched his reaction closely and saw a flash of deep apprehension cross his face. "Chakotay, I can always just get out if I need to."

He was quiet for just a moment. "Kathryn, are you sure? Please think carefully about this."

She stood up and pulled at his hand, but looked a little hesitant for just a moment. "I'm sure. Please." She seemed a little more certain now that the words were out but he still thought he detected a trace of nervousness. He knew however, that she needed to try this, but he still had deep reservations and felt the need to voice them as honestly as he could.

"Kathryn, you'll be seeing me naked and in a place… I'm afraid that…"

Kathryn held his eyes. "I know that, and you'll be seeing me, but Chakotay, this comes down to trust again. I'll be embarrassed, I know that, and in some way, you probably will be too but that would be the case anyway. The battlefield is in here." She pointed to her own head. "It's me who has to fight that battle and I'm determined to do that. I need to speed it up a little though, because I see now that there are things here we both need to get past. Can you understand what I mean?"

Chakotay nodded, finding himself suddenly filled with an avalanche of admiration for the woman before him and at her strength and courage and the big step she was taking. "I understand and I'm very proud of you." He watched her smile as she accepted the praise. "OK love, but the minute you feel in any way that…"

Kathryn pressed a finger to his mouth. "I will. I promise. Chakotay, I need to try this." She hesitated again for just a moment and then spoke. "Promise me one thing though." He nodded, holding her hand tightly. "I know I said I can always get out or stop. If I start to… If I appear as if I want to… If I seem too nervous or…"

Chakotay smiled at her softly. "You can end this at any time and I'll stop it immediately. You know that."

She smiled but shook her head. "I know and that makes all the difference, in two ways." He frowned now. "I mean that it helps and hinders at the same time." He dropped his head to the side, not understanding her. "I mean that it helps to know I can stop at any time but I think I also need… I have to do this and while that helps, it also gives me an easy way out."

Chakotay pulled her back down on the sofa beside him. "Kathryn, listen to me. You can't push this. If you force yourself or force this, it could cause untold damage to you."

Kathryn nodded slowly and looked down at their still joined hands. "I don't mean that." She looked up at him. "I mean that I need your reassurance, your gentle persuasion. A mild urging, if you like, if I begin to falter. Does that make sense?"

He nodded his understanding. "I think I know what you mean but… Kathryn, I'm terrified of upsetting you in any way. If I set you back, it's me you'll always associate that with. If I hurt you…"

She cut him off. "You won't. If I really need to stop, I'll let you know. What I'm asking you, and I know it's asking a lot and putting you under a very heavy obligation, a lot of pressure, but what I'm asking is… I'm asking you to help me with this, help me along and encourage me. I don't need you to tell me that I'm safe with you and that I can trust you, because I already know that. I just need you to be there with me and tell me I can do it, even if I seem sure that I can't. I'm more afraid of trying than doing. It's the thought of it, the thought of trying that's hardest to get past, rather than the doing. I just need that little push."

Chakotay smiled and nodded his understanding. "OK, Kathryn, I understand that. Just do one thing for me. I want you to trust me with something too. I want you to trust me to know when or if to stop all this if I also feel that I can't handle it or that it's too much on you. Is that all right?" She nodded and smiled softly, then stood up, still holding his hand. Chakotay stood with her and let her lead him to the bathroom.

They undressed slowly, separately, glancing at each other occasionally. Chakotay didn't miss the flush on Kathryn's face but knew it was embarrassment more than anything else. Finally undressed, Kathryn forced herself to stand still and let Chakotay look at her. She took his breath away.

"God, you're beautiful, Kathryn." She bit at her lip and felt tears fill her eyes. She saw the way he looked at her, an almost reverent look and relaxed. There was nothing lustful in his gaze, only love and admiration of her beauty. She blinked her tears away and let her eyes wander over his body, admiring what she saw, especially how well toned his muscles were.

"So are you." Her voice was barely above a whisper and she didn't know what else to say. She looked away and then back, then away again, clearly embarrassed and seemed to hesitate now. She didn't speak further, silently asking him to make the first move. Chakotay just smiled reassuringly at her.

"Let's turn the water on or we'll get cold standing here." He slowly reached to the shower controls and turned on the water, testing the temperature with his hand before stepping into the stall. He turned then and held out a hand to Kathryn, his eyes looking directly into hers. "Come on, it's lovely and hot." She hesitated only a second before taking his hand and joining him, then concentrated on the hot jets of water as they poured down on them both.

Chakotay reached for the bar of soap he saw on a small shelf and began to work up a lather on his hands before soaping himself. Kathryn stood still for a few minutes, watching him closely. Her mind raced as she prepared herself for battle against the onslaught of bad memories she expected but they only appeared briefly, her mind acknowledging the events, rather than remembering them. She watched the man before her, his presence taking more of her attention now and smiled softly to herself. She forced herself to concentrate on what was happening in the present, taking in every sound and smell, branding it in her memory, using it not to push away the past, but replace it. This was Chakotay. She trusted him and was safe with him. Nothing else existed.

Chakotay was well aware of how still Kathryn was standing and worried about where her mind was. He knew he had to let her work through this for herself though and concentrated only on washing himself. He almost jumped when he felt her hands on his back and turned slowly to face her. Her eyes met his and she smiled.

"I'm fine. Really, I'm fine." She seemed amazed at her own discovery and he smiled back at her, his love for this woman clearly showing. He handed her the soap and she took it, holding it under her nose and inhaling the delicate fragrance, adding more stitches of memory to the new tapestry she considered her life to now be.

Kathryn rubbed the soap between her hands, still holding Chakotay's eyes and then rubbed the lather over his chest. He stood still and let her lead the way. He filled his mind with how much he loved her, and ordered his body to stay relaxed as she worked her soft hands over his skin, caressing rather than washing. She turned him then, and soaped his back, her hands following the direction of the suds as they moved downwards. Chakotay braced himself against the tiled wall and went with the feelings which flowed over him. He felt her hands move down over his buttocks and then on down the back of his legs. Her hands on him were soft and gentle as she tugged on his leg, indicating that he turn.

He moved slowly and looked down, seeing her sitting on the floor of the shower. She washed his feet and lower legs, then stood, working her way upwards over his thighs. Her hands washed over his genital area, with only a slight hesitation on her part and Chakotay knew she was battling with herself and forcing herself on. He was battling with himself also, ordering his body to obey the commands of his mind. There was no way he'd betray her trust in him. He stayed very still, then felt her hands move up, stroking over his stomach and chest, then to his arms. She didn't meet his eyes as she worked, all her attention on her task. She took each of his hands in turn and soaped them also. Finally she met his eyes and smiled, pulling him under the spray and rinsing the soap from his body. When she seemed satisfied, she smiled up at him, a look of triumph on her face.

Chakotay stared at her, his smile soft, then reached up and cupped her face in his large hands. "Do you have any idea of how proud of you I am?"

She nodded slowly. "About as proud as I am of myself?"

He shook his head. "More so. You've every right to be proud, Kathryn. You've taken a huge step."

Kathryn smiled softly, droplets of water caught on her eyelashes. She handed him the cake of soap. "Half a step. I've only taken half a step."

He held her eyes for a moment and saw the trust there. He took the soap and smiled. "Turn around."

She did as he asked and placed her own hands against the tiles. She felt his hands, soft yet strong, as they stroked over her back and shoulders, then down to her waist. All Kathryn was aware of, all she allowed herself be aware of, was the feel of his hands and the hot water pouring down over her body. Chakotay's hands moved down over her buttocks and she forced herself not to tense, determined to beat this. The brief moment passed then as she felt him washing the backs of her legs and turned when he asked her to.

She faced him now and saw that he was watching where his hands were, rather than looking at her face. His hands skimmed over her shoulders and arms, then down to her hands. They then returned to her chest and spread the lather over her breasts. Kathryn caught her breath as he made contact with her nipples and his eyes flew to hers. She smiled softly and nodded to him. Chakotay continued, accepting that she was fine. He worked down, watching as suds caught in her thatch of curls.

Kathryn leaned back against the tiles as he moved his hands over her hips and stomach and then made a decision. She moved her legs slightly apart, the movement not missed by Chakotay. Without looking back up at her, he allowed one hand to briefly pass beneath her, washing her only, and then withdrew quickly, before working his way on down her legs. For Kathryn, it was another battle won. Finally, he pulled her under the spray and rinsed her off, as she'd done with him. Not sure of his next move, Kathryn made one of her own. She threw herself into his arms and hugged him. "Thank you, love. Thank you."

Chakotay pulled her tightly against him. "Thank you, love. Thank you for the honour and the trust." They stayed like that for some time, the water surrounding them, almost cocooning them, as they just held each other.

Eventually, aware of wasting resources as much as anything else, they shut the water off and stepped out of the shower stall. Chakotay quickly wrapped a towel around his waist and then set about drying Kathryn off. She allowed him his task of love and stood quietly as he dried into each crevice, nothing sexual about his movements.

Kathryn smiled at him lovingly. "Chakotay, I know you felt it would be better to go slowly and I know I kind of pushed for this but…" He turned worried eyes to her then saw her smile. She shook her head a little. "Chakotay, I've never felt more at peace than I do at this moment."

Relief washed over his face and he pulled her to him. "You deserve that peace, love. I'm honoured I'm able to share it with you." They held each other for some minutes and then Chakotay pulled back and wrapped the towel around her. "Go get changed into your nightgown. I'm going to replicate an old treat of my mother's. Hot chocolate made with milk." He laughed as her eyes lit up.

"Sounds shamefully wonderful."

He nodded and laughed. "Oh, it is, especially when you sprinkle chocolate on top. Now go on and curl up in bed and I'll introduce you to this gastronomic sin."

Kathryn lay against Chakotay and drained her mug, then ran her finger around the froth still at the rim and licked it clean.

Chakotay shook his head and smiled. "Would you like seconds?"

She blushed and placed the mug on the bedside locker. "No, thank you. One sin a night is enough. Thanks though, that was indescribably delicious. Now I know why I made you my First Officer."

Chakotay feigned hurt. "Is that the only reason? What about my dashing good looks, my computer like brain, my skills with…"

Kathryn laughed and pressed a hand to his lips. "Enough, Chakotay, besides I can't promote you without putting myself out of a job so you're wasting your time with self-flattery." She turned and snuggled down against him. "I can't thank you enough for what you did for me tonight."

He saw her eyes already starting to close and just hugged her tightly to him. "You did most of it yourself." He kissed the top of her head. "Go to sleep now. I'm very proud of you. I love you."

Her eyes were already closed and her voice was soft. "I love you too."

As time went on, the crew continued to marvel and be happy at the ever-growing closeness between their captain and her First Officer. Tom had been ready to clean up on the betting pool until B'Elanna warned him off. Being a man who knew when to quit while he was ahead, he sat back and watched with the rest of the crew, just as happy as they were to see his captain finally find what had been waiting there for her all along.

For Kathryn herself, she truly believed she'd never been happier or more content and secure in her life. In her mind, she felt as if all the pieces were finally coming together for her, yet knew it had been a very long and dark road she'd had to travel to get there.

Chakotay stayed over with her almost every night now, holding Kathryn in his arms, as she slept better than she ever had. They shared every meal and more often now, the shower, totally at ease with each other since that first time. Most of their off-duty hours were spent together on the holodeck. B'Elanna had finally found out about Tom's copy of his ski program and had modified it so all the crew could enjoy the sport, without any risk of injury whatsoever. It turned out to be almost as popular as Sandrine's.

Early one evening, Chakotay had taken Kathryn to the resort, revelling in seeing her so carefree as they sped down the slopes, the chill wind making her cheeks red and adding a healthy glow to the rest of her face. Finally exhausted, they'd left the others to clown around with a snowball fight and had returned to Kathryn's quarters, Kathryn desperate now for one of Chakotay's hot chocolate drinks.

As they sat sipping them now, she lay back on the sofa totally content and propped her feet up on the coffee table, having rid herself of her ski clothes and boots. Chakotay hid his amusement at the big floppy slippers she wore.

"God, I'm not sure if that was good for me or bad. I'll be sore in the morning." Kathryn smiled over at Chakotay as he rubbed the muscles in his right calf.

"YOU'LL be sore? Oh yes, that's it." He kneaded the muscle and then relaxed. "I don't know whether to thank Tom or kill him. Mind you, if B'Elanna hadn't altered that program, he'd probably have done the job himself. Did you see the first version?" He shook his head in disbelief.

Kathryn laughed and nodded. "See it I did. So did the Doctor. I thought he'd blow a circuit or something. He was only short of steam coming out of his ears. He was shocked to say the least. I think Tom got an ear-bashing from him about risking life and limb."

Chakotay smiled as he drained his cup. "Ah well, all's well that ends well." He frowned a little. "Wasn't that the name of an old play or something? Apart from being an expression, I mean." He looked to Kathryn and saw her nod.

"A playwright named Shakespeare. 16th century Earth or maybe 15th. I'm too sore to think or maybe tired or…" She sat up a little. "Did you ever feel like that? You don't know what you feel? I'm on this adrenalin high from that workout and now I don't know whether I'm tired or could run for miles."

Chakotay put his mug down on the table and nodded. "Oh I know that one well. Best thing for that is to just wind down slowly and then decide how you feel." He smiled over at her. "Do you want those muscles massaged?"

Kathryn finished her own drink and nodded. "My legs are the worst." She swung her legs up into his lap and leaned back.

"Where's the worst area?"

Kathryn sat up again and looked at him, a serious look on her face. "Actually, my thighs. Are you all right with that?"

Chakotay stilled his hand on her legs. "Are YOU all right with that?"

Kathryn just smiled and lay back down. "I'm fine. Damned sore but fine."

Chakotay nodded slowly. "Where exactly? The back? We were going downhill so it's usually the back that's affected with that." Kathryn barely moved her head and nodded, then turned over. She folded her arms and lay her head on them.

"That's the spot, all right." She closed her eyes and felt him move up the sofa, then his hands on her thighs. She felt no fear, no discomfort, no apprehension but she was aware that Chakotay did. He finally seemed to snap out of wherever he'd been and began to knead the muscles.

Kathryn groaned and raised her head. "Oohhhh…oh God…"

Chakotay stopped immediately, terrified he'd upset her in some way. "Kathryn? Are you all right?"

She turned her head and saw the deep worry in his eyes. She smiled softly and then grimaced. "I'm all right but my muscles aren't. Dear God, they're more sore than I thought."

As he saw how relaxed she was, he let out the breath he found he'd been holding. "No pain, no gain."

Kathryn rolled her eyes. "You don't say. Well, it had better be worth it. OK, OK, give me the pain if there's a gain in there somewhere. Just make it a quick return." She lowered her head and felt him start working again, kneading more gently this time.

Kathryn jerked awake and sat up. She looked around her quickly and saw Chakotay sitting at the end of her sofa, reading from a padd.

"Sorry, I fell asleep." He didn't look up from his reading. She moved down to him and glanced at the padd in his hand. "That's my story." She went to grab it but he pulled it from her grasp, holding it away from her as he laughed.

"Kathryn Janeway, I never knew you were into reading such stuff."

Kathryn blushed. "It's not that bad. Anyway, B'Elanna loaned it to me."

Chakotay's eyebrows shot up, in a fair imitation of Tuvok's. "Not that bad?" He held the padd out in front of him and began to read. "Her chest heaved with desire as he approached her, his trusty mare slowly coming to a stop. Agnes knew that this man answered all her dreams and almost swooned as he dismounted and his eyes held hers."

Kathryn reached out and grabbed the padd. "All right, so it's a bit…" She blushed again, her face redder now.

Chakotay shook his head and smiled softly. "I don't know. Why don't women ever swoon for their men anymore?"

Kathryn stood up and made her way to her desk then shoved the padd into a drawer. "Maybe the men aren't worth swooning over." She laughed as Chakotay put on a puppy dog face and stuck his lower lip out.

"I think I'm worth swooning over. I can be cute, devastating, charming…"

Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Modest?"

Chakotay shrugged, his smile threatening to break out into all out laughter. "One of my lesser known attributes, I'll grant you, but still there in abundance."

Kathryn snorted. "Lesser? It would hardly rate as a speck on the viewscreen." They held eyes for several seconds and then dissolved into howls of laughter. Kathryn practically fell towards the sofa and flopped down beside him. It was some time before they were able to regain control of themselves.

It took Kathryn a minute to realize that Chakotay had stopped laughing and was staring at her. She smiled at him and cocked her head to the side. "What?"

He smiled still and shrugged. "It's just wonderful to see you so happy. Laughter suits you. You should wear it more often."

She playfully slapped at his arm. "I've had a wonderful teacher of late."

Chakotay's face grew very serious. "All I've ever wanted was to make you happy and make your burden lighter. Just to stand by your side. There's nowhere else I ever want to be." He saw her eyes fill up with tears and her hand reached out to his face.

"Oh Chakotay, you make me very happy and as to making my burden lighter…" She shook her head. "On this ship, you've done that so many times, even when I went my own way and still you were there for me." She caressed his cheek. "As to the rest, to my life… I don't think I have to tell you what you mean to me where I'm concerned. Lighten my burden? You've practically removed it. I never dreamed I could come this far with you, with any man but especially with you. You've completed me and helped me be what I was meant to be." Her tears overflowed and she threw herself into his arms. "Stay with me tonight. Be with me." Her voice was slightly muffled against his chest and he eased her back a little and smiled down at her.

"Of course I'll stay with you."

She smiled softly and shook her head. "No, Chakotay, stay with me. BE with me." Her eyes scanned his face as she tried to read him.

"Kathryn, are you saying…?"

She just nodded. "Please. I feel ready. I think I am…"

Chakotay eased her back a little more. "Kathryn, I only want this if you're more than sure."

She nodded and looked around the room a moment, then back at him. "I want to." She tried a smile. "I need to. It's…" She shook her head, frustrated with herself almost. "The issue isn't about my trust in you. It isn't about you." She saw him watching her very closely. "It's about getting past my own fears, my own bad memories. I can't let them or him beat me any longer. I want to do this. I'm just asking you to help me with that. It's kind of like the shower but…" She shook her head again. "No, that's not right. That's just a small part of it. I want to be with you because I love you. That's first and foremost. The rest… Well, I need to get past that for myself." She shifted slightly in his arms.

"It's the difference between thinking and reacting. Can you see that? I'll think about it from time to time. It's there and it happened. I can choose though, when to think about it and not let this be one of those times. As to reacting, I can stop that too if I make myself. It's having someone with me, someone I want to do this for, as well as for myself." She leaned back from him a little.

"Have you ever been reading something, a story, and been deeply immersed in it? You could be reading about it raining and when you stop reading, you get up and look out the window and for a moment, you expect it to be raining there, are so sure it will be. You were so involved in the story that you expected it to cross over into real life. One becomes part of the other." Chakotay nodded slowly, understanding what she meant.

"I can choose to let that happen to me, OR I can put the story away from my mind before I stand up and think only of the day I know is outside that window. Maybe I'm not making much sense here but I know the difference, Chakotay. I want and need to be with you. I just might need a little help again." Her eyes almost pleaded with him.

Chakotay felt tears fill his eyes and pulled her to him. "I'm here for you. You never have to ask. This is about what you want, Kathryn." He felt her tracing a pattern on his chest before she pulled back again. Her eyes were sad.

"Teach me? Show me what to do? I don't know how to be…to act…"

Chakotay stroked her hair. "Kathryn…"

She shrugged. "It sounds awful but I don't know how. Not how as in… I mean how to act." She laughed cynically. "My 'experience' outside of him, of that, was to lie there and just let it happen." She pulled away now and sat forward with her elbows on her knees. "God, that sounds… You must be disgusted with me, at me."

Chakotay leaned over quickly and grabbed her shoulders, pulling her around to face him. "Listen to me now, Kathryn. We've been through this before but I'll say it one last time for you and then it ends. I am not and never could be disgusted with you. I love you. Plain and simple. What happened to you in your life was a crime. I can't find the words I want to describe it but they wouldn't be in any dictionary. You were a victim of terrible evil but you survived. That is the past now. You beat it all and now you're here, the woman you are."

Tears flowed down Kathryn's face. "I still need your encouragement, your guidance, pushing me a bit if I falter. Please, Chakotay." He barely nodded. "I know how to have sex." He heard the pain in her voice. "I don't know how to make love. I don't know how to be with you."

Chakotay pulled her to him as she broke down and cried into his chest. "Oh sweetheart, I don't know either, you know." She managed to pull back a little and looked up at him, a puzzled look on her face. He smiled down at her. "I mean that this is new to us. No two people are the same, Kathryn. What pleases one, won't please another. We learn what we like from each other and it's no different than the way we've learned about what we like in other areas. We took time to know each other's favourite foods, hobbies, that kind of thing. I know you can't compare that completely, but as far as getting to know each other is concerned, it's not that different. Besides…" He shook his head. "Look, sex is… It's a physical act between two people who feel little or nothing for each other. When two people love each other like we do, it automatically becomes 'making love'. That's all there is to it. Don't sell yourself short." Kathryn's vision was blurred with her tears and she tried to blink them away, sending them running down her cheeks.

Chakotay reached up and gently wiped them away. "Kathryn, just be you. All of it is entirely up to you. There's no right or wrong way, only what you're comfortable with. You're in control of this. You act on what you feel and follow your heart. This isn't about some exam or test with someone judging you."

She shook her head. "But I don't know how to act."

Chakotay smiled softly at her. "Just be yourself, as you want to be. Listen to your own body and what it's telling you. Do what feels good or right, just the way you have been. Nothing between us has anything to do with the past. We'll be making love, giving pleasure to each other. There's nothing wrong or dirty about that. This is new and fresh."

Kathryn sniffed and nodded a little. "It's just that before…"

Chakotay caught her hand in his, a stern look on his face. "Kathryn, there is no 'before'. There's only 'us' and 'now'. There's no 'before' for either of us. We love each other and that's all that matters. Just know that you control everything between us for this."

Kathryn squeezed his hand. "I know and I love you for offering me that control and I feel very safe knowing that it's there but I'm asking you to lead me here. The only control I need is to know that I can stop and I have that. As to the rest, I'm asking you please to guide me." Her eyes were pleading with him almost and he slowly nodded.

"I understand what you're asking me but you'll guide yourself." He was silent for a few moments and then looked deeply into her eyes. "Kathryn, I need to know that you're completely sure about this."

She smiled gently at him and nodded. "I've never been more sure of anything, except how I feel about you…" That brought tears to Chakotay's eyes. He smiled softly at her, his hand holding hers still. She lay a soft hand on his leg.

"Chakotay, I love you. You've made my life by giving me the gift of your love. What I knew before…" She sat forward a little more. "Look, I debated with myself for so long as to whether I should tell you everything and then how to tell you. I kept you away for so long and hurt you a lot." She shook her head and held up a hand. "Please, let me say this." Chakotay nodded his consent.

"Telling you was the best thing I ever did. No, the second best. I was so relieved when I finally told you." She smiled a little sadly at the memory. "I could have picked a better way to tell you…" She shook her head and grew serious again. "Trusting you and letting you into my life was the best thing though. You helped me to discover myself. You helped me discover my own body even and re-taught me how to separate what I feel now with then. When I should have been able to separate the captain from Kathryn, I couldn't and I let the captain take over, mainly to hide behind her. On the rare occasions I let Kathryn out, I was two people again. There was the woman and then the child and I often think the child was better able to cope. I'd forgotten so much, what I'd learned. I'd no one to remind me anymore, until you." She shook her head sadly until Chakotay reached up and stroked her cheek.

"Kathryn, we're all different people in different areas of our lives. Look, the captain is fine. She knows her place now. We deal with Kathryn only. You let the child go. Take what you need from her and let her go. You incorporate her into the woman. The child did her job. She protected you and you survived. The part that is 'you' now, she isn't woman or child, she's just 'you', just Kathryn. Surviving as you did, that's a testament to you, the strength of you and the courage you have." Kathryn smiled and bit her lip.

"You're the strongest woman I know, Kathryn Janeway. I feel I'm supposed to be strong for you and I know that's a man thing, even in this day and age." He smiled and shook his head. "It's turned out though, that you're the strong one and I'm so very proud of you."

Kathryn blushed and tried to shrug it off. "I've just had longer to live with it."

Chakotay grew serious very quickly. "No, Kathryn, you're one very strong woman and he didn't and couldn't beat you. Always remember that. Don't ever diminish what you've achieved." He cupped her cheek gently and used his thumb to wipe away some tears. She nodded tearfully and let him pull her into his arms. He held her for several minutes, thinking his next words through, then eased her back and spoke softly to her.

"Kathryn, just hear me out on this." She nodded. "I'm asking you to trust my judgment on this." Again she nodded. Chakotay drew in a breath. "I'll stay with you tonight but like before only." He pressed a finger to her lips when she went to protest. "I know you feel ready but I don't think tonight is the right night." She remained quiet when he removed his finger and waited for him to explain.

"Kathryn, we're speaking like this and there are other things we need to talk about first. I want to be with you. Don't ever doubt that. I just want to make sure that it'll be perfect for you. We needed to talk like this first. If we made love now, tonight, I don't think it would be the right time for us. It would feel like, maybe a test or an experiment, and I don't mean that in any hurtful way. There's no hurry here. When we make love for the first time, I want it to be right for us, to be… Not really spontaneous, yet not planned either, if that makes sense. I mean that it should come naturally, be and feel right." He smiled tenderly at her. "The other part of this is that I'm also so afraid of hurting you."

She shook her head quickly. "Chakotay, you won't. I've told you I feel one hundred percent safe with you. I trust you with my life, know that I can. I love you and trust you. You won't hurt me. You couldn't."

Chakotay shook his head. "That's not what I meant."

Kathryn reddened a little suddenly, getting his meaning now. "Oh, I see." She smiled shyly.

Chakotay squeezed her hand. "Yes, I'm also afraid of hurting you emotionally, by reminding you but I'm terrified of hurting you physically and I will. I don't want your memories of this to be a time of pain. There's been enough of that in your life. I just want everything to be perfect for you. I'd die if I hurt you."

Kathryn stroked the back of his hand and shifted on the sofa. "Chakotay, I'll be fine. I know there'll be a little pain after so long."

Chakotay sighed. "Kathryn, I don't want you to have any pain. Maybe you should ask the Doc, get a muscle relaxant or…"

She cut him off. "No. I don't want to talk to him and I don't want him knowing, not yet anyway." She licked at her lips. "Chakotay, I want this to be real. Too much in my life has been false and covered up. I don't want this to be anything like that."

Chakotay still looked worried. "Maybe… Maybe a lubricant…" He stopped dead and the blood seemed to drain from his face. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I didn't think. Did he…?" He was terrified now that he'd opened a horrifying memory for her.

Kathryn looked confused for a moment and then understood. "Chakotay, it's all right. No, he never…"

He didn't think about his reaction. "Bastard." He stopped dead again. "Sorry, I just… I'm sorry."

Kathryn grabbed his hand tightly. "It's all right. Please, Chakotay. Look, this is our time now. It's all up to me. He's dead and gone, not here anymore. He's only in my mind and can only hurt me again if I let him, let him control me still from beyond the grave." She took his other hand now.

"Listen to me. This is only about us, about our love, about what love really is and I know that now because you showed me that. As I said, I know there'll be a little pain but this is very different. This is only physical pain. It's the emotional pain that's ultimately the hardest to take. Even the physical though…" She thought for a moment, wanting to get her words just right for him. "Chakotay, the pain I knew before, the physical pain… That was inflicted, deliberate. Can you understand what I mean? This will be good pain and I won't feel a loss of control with it because I know it's not the same and I know that the control is there for me. I can stop if I need to and I know that you'll stop if I ask, despite how unfair that would be on you."

Chakotay squeezed her hands. "You know I'll stop at any time. Don't worry about me please. This is about you and about us, about loving each other, feeling safe, trusting."

Kathryn nodded seriously at him. "I know."

He stroked her hair softly. "When we come together, it'll be… There'll only be that moment, that time. I'm not going to tell you to 'just forget about the past' or 'don't think about what went before'. We'll be creating something new, something in the 'now', something between us that's good and pure. We just concentrate on that. Everything else will fade away."

Kathryn leaned into him, fighting more tears. "How did I ever get so lucky to find you and have you in my life?" Chakotay hugged her tightly until she leaned back a little and smiled up at him. "For you. I'd swoon for you." She laughed through her tears at her own joke.

Chakotay kissed her on the cheek. "I'll keep you to that." He rubbed his hand up and down her arm. "Are you OK with waiting a little longer then?"

Kathryn nodded against him. "You're right, I know that."

Chakotay held her, rocking her gently against him. "Look, Kathryn, we choose a time when we know we have the evening to ourselves, maybe the morning off too. We have dinner, relax, a bottle or two of wine and if you're comfortable and ready, we just let it happen naturally. What do you think?"

Kathryn was quiet for a few moments, thinking it through and then pulled back and looked up at him. She nodded, a smile on her lips. "That sounds perfect. It sounds the way it should be, the way normal people…"

Chakotay smiled sadly and tickled her under the chin. "We are normal people, Kathryn. This is natural because it's about two people who love each other and want to be together. Nothing else enters into the equation."

She lowered her head a little and kissed his fingers. "You're right again. I'll have to stop you always being right." She laughed a little as he smiled back at her.

"What about… Kathryn, where… What I mean is…" He sighed. "Do you want to stay here or go to my quarters or the holodeck?"

Kathryn sat up a little more. "I want to be here." His face was serious as she spoke on. "Chakotay, I know what you mean. You're afraid that if something goes wrong, I'll have to live with the memory of that here but nothing will go wrong and that's a leap of faith if you like but really it's just a small step in distance in my mind. I know it'll be perfect, otherwise I wouldn't say it."

Chakotay's eyes were misty as he stared at her. He could feel himself shaking almost. "My Kathryn, I wish I was a poet, someone with the right words because at this moment, words fail me to express what I feel inside for you. 'I love you' sounds overused and doesn't come near expressing the depth of my feelings for you. If I hugged you right now, I'd be afraid that I'd squeeze you to death."

Kathryn's tears joined his and she leaned into him, hugging him tightly. "I'll take that chance. Anyway, what a wonderful way to go." His arms tightened around her as he hugged her fiercely. They remained like that for a long time.


Two nights later, they both had the evening off, along with the following morning, thanks to Chakotay's quiet handling of the duty roster. He wasn't quiet enough though. Tom was first to notice the new duty arrangement and informed B'Elanna, who quietly passed word to the rest of the crew and so a silent understanding came about that something special was planned by their First Officer for his captain. Tuvok was even brought into the conspiracy, surprising everyone with his agreement and quickly issued the order that the command team were not to be disturbed and that all ship's business was to come through him. Chakotay finally uncovered their little plot but said nothing, afraid of Kathryn finding out. He quietly thanked Tuvok and B'Elanna, without admitting to anything and set off to plan the evening.

B'Elanna was more forward with him though. "I'm not being nosy but we all get the feeling that you're planning something special for the captain tonight. We don't mean to interfere. We just care about you both and want to help."

Chakotay rolled his eyes and tried to hide the smile on his face. "I know you do. Normally though, this crew's idea of quietly helping ends up sounding like a herd of elephants."

B'Elanna pretended to be hurt at that but had to agree. "We aren't always as subtle as we'd like to be, I agree with you there." She winked at him. "So what's the big occasion?"

Chakotay shook his head. "Just a quiet dinner. Now leave it."

B'Elanna smiled knowingly. "OK, keep your little secret. Tell you what, I'll call her down here just as your shift ends and you can get started on your 'quiet dinner'. I'll make sure I delay her long enough for you to get things ready."

Chakotay felt a surge of warmth pass through him. "You're a good friend, B'Elanna. Thank you. Look, I just want this evening to be perfect. I don't, however, want to hear a word spoken about it by anyone. This is personal and special, just between Kathryn and me. If I hear this discussed anywhere on this ship or off it or find out that Kathryn has heard anyone talking, I'll make sure those responsible pay big time. This is private and personal between us and doesn't concern anyone else."

B'Elanna softened and laid a hand gently on his arm. "Chakotay, what do you take us for? We care deeply about you both. I know we talk and clown around but it's not meant in any harmful way. I promise you won't hear a word spoken. We all respect you too much. Now go on. I'll call her down here at the right time and hold her for about fifteen minutes. Any more would look suspicious."

Chakotay took her hand and squeezed it. "Thanks, B'El. I owe you one."

She laughed and moved away. "And you'll pay, don't worry about that."

Chakotay looked up when the doors to Kathryn's quarters opened to admit her. She smiled softly at him but he could see how tired she seemed.

"They know, don't they? They know how we planned to have tonight and tomorrow morning off together and that we'd planned something." Chakotay froze until she smiled again. "Relax, love, I don't mind. There was a time I'd have worried about them knowing anything about us, even though there wasn't really an 'us'. Now I don't mind at all. I guess in a way it's another way for me to feel normal." She dropped her head to one side. "I know. We are normal." He smiled back at her this time and moved towards her. "So, what exactly have you planned, Mister? You're being very quiet about all this."

Chakotay took on a look of deep contemplation and stroked his chin. "Mmmmm, let me see now. What have I planned? I'll have to think about that."

Kathryn punched him playfully on the arm. "Well, I'm going to change out of this uniform while you think about it."

She moved away but Chakotay caught her arm. "Just change into your robe."

She gave him a puzzled look, mated with a half-smile. "May I ask why?"

Chakotay stroked her cheek. "I have a full evening planned for you, love. Just trust me on this."

Not needing any more than that, Kathryn nodded and smiled. "OK, just my robe." He nodded and leaned in, kissing her forehead gently.

Five minutes later, Kathryn turned to find Chakotay standing in the doorway, smiling softly at her. "Ready?" She nodded and smiled, her hands indicating the robe she wore. "Good. Come with me then." He led her to the bathroom and heard her gasp of surprise when she saw what he'd done. "Do you like it?" Tears sprang to her eyes as she looked around the small room. On almost every surface, candles burnt, their gentle scent filling the room as their light flickered and danced off the walls. She looked towards the tub, seeing it filled, the steam of the water rising gently with the perfume it carried. Bubbles barely hung onto the rim, almost overflowing onto the floor.

"Oh Chakotay." Kathryn shook her head, not trusting herself to say more.

Chakotay took her hand and pulled her to him. "You've had a long day and you're tired. I want you to soak here and relax while I get dinner." He pointed to a small table beside the tub. "I've left you a glass of wine, so lie back and let the water work its magic." She was too choked up to say anything, but her eyes spoke for her. Chakotay smiled his understanding.

"Kathryn, tonight is about us relaxing and having dinner, just spending time together. How this evening ends isn't planned. There's no pressure or obligation here on either of us. We're two people who love each other having a quiet evening together. We take it as it comes and just enjoy each moment." He cupped her cheek and she leaned into his hand, nodded through her tears. She mouthed 'I love you' to him silently and he understood. His eyes held hers as his hands reached for the tie on her robe. "May I?" She nodded, blinking back more tears. He slowly untied the thin strap and opened her robe, letting it slip from her shoulders. He took her hand gently in his and led her to the tub, holding her while she stepped into the bubbles, then slipped down beneath them. He reached over and pulled her hair up, fixing a clip in place. He then handed her the wine, touching the back of his finger against the glass.

"It's still chilled enough." He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Drink that and then lie back and relax totally. When you're finished, dinner will be ready." He moved away now, leaving her in peace.

Her voice stopped him at the door. "Chakotay, thank you. I love you."

He smiled tenderly. "I love you too."

Kathryn emerged from her bath, her entire body totally relaxed. The fragrance of the bath oil still clung to her skin as she brushed out her hair, almost dry now in the steam of the bathroom. She'd hated blowing out the candles, feeling almost as if she was ending a moment she wanted to keep going and cherish for all time.

"It's still in your heart and memory for all time, silly woman." She chided herself as she looked towards the bed and stopped, her hand in mid-air. Lying there was a beautiful deep green dress with small sequins dotted here and there on the silky fabric. She reached down and fingered the delicate material and almost cried. Beside the dress lay a bra and brief set, in matching silk with delicate lace piped around the edges and beside those lay a pair of shoes, almost matching the dress in colour, thin straps crossing over each other. Kathryn sat down on the bed beside the clothes and brushed at the tears she felt on her cheeks. She looked up to find Chakotay standing in the doorway, a look on his face halfway between worry and hope.

"Do you like them? I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing or…"

Kathryn smiled tearfully up at him. "I love them. The dress is…"

Chakotay saved her from her attempts to find the right words and just smiled. "Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Take your time." He smiled at her once more and then returned to the other room. She heard him setting out the table, faint clinks of crystal against silverware. She smiled to herself and stood slowly, turning her mind to getting ready.

Ten minutes later, she stood in front of the full-length mirror and appraised her appearance. The dress clung to her in all the right places but didn't quite reveal what lay beneath, merely hinted at it. It fell to just below her knees in delicate folds, moulding itself to her shapely legs when she moved. The heels of her shoes were just right, giving her a little extra height but still comfortable to walk in. Kathryn smiled to herself, for once pleased at what she saw with her reflection and gave a last adjustment to the thin straps of the dress, which criss-crossed her shoulders. She checked her make-up and gave her hair a last brush then added the finishing touch with a spray of perfume. One final inspection and she moved away, the image of how she looked staying with her.

Chakotay looked up when he heard her enter the room and stopped dead. His eyes swept over her, his breath caught in his throat. He'd been worried about his gift, especially the underwear but seeing that Kathryn was fine with the garments, he relaxed. His voice sounded breathy when he spoke.

"You look…unbelievably beautiful…a vision…a…" He put down the vase of flowers he'd been holding and moved towards her, unable to tear his eyes away from her. "So beautiful…"

Kathryn blushed under his scrutiny, actually feeling beautiful for the first time in her life as she saw the truth of his words reflected in his eyes. "Thank you. I actually feel it." She blushed again, admitting the compliment but finding it sitting a little uneasily with her.

Chakotay reached out a hand and stroked her cheek then leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. "Come and sit down. Dinner is ready. I'll just pour the wine." He took her hand and led her to the table, Kathryn taking in his appearance for the first time as she watched him pour the wine, the candle flames reflecting through the red of it. He wore dark slacks, the colour not completely distinguishable in the candlelight of the room. She noticed little things then, like the pleats leading up to the waistband and the tiny pattern on the cream shirt he wore. The spicy scent of his aftershave made its way to her nostrils and she inhaled it deeply as it mixed with her own perfume.

As she sat, he handed her a small red velvet box, which had been lying on the table unnoticed by her. Kathryn looked up at him, a slightly puzzled look on her face. "What's this for? You've already given me so much."

Chakotay just smiled and nodded towards the box. "Just a little something for you. Open it." Kathryn nodded and opened the box then gasped. Inside lay a gold pendant in the shape of a rose, three tiny diamonds fixed into it, representing dewdrops. Kathryn's face crumpled and tears filled her eyes as she stared down at the gold rose nestled against the deep red velvet. She blinked back her tears as Chakotay reached for the box and took it from her, before taking the chain and lifting it from the velvet, then moving behind her and placing it around her neck. Kathryn's hand went immediately to the place where she felt the small weight lying and fingered the rose.

"I love it so much. Thank you. It's beautiful."

Chakotay's hands slipped to her shoulders and squeezed gently. "It pales in its beauty against you." He moved around to look into her eyes and smiled tenderly then dropped his eyes to look at the pendant in place and nodded, satisfied with his choice. When he looked back at her, he saw her still fighting her tears. "Come on." He stroked her cheek with the back of his finger. "Let's eat."

Over the next hour and a half, they sat and enjoyed the food Chakotay had prepared, chatting generally between mouthfuls. Kathryn was amazed at what he'd managed. Roast lamb, the delicate taste of rosemary coming through, accompanied an assortment of vegetables and cream potatoes and she smiled as she saw Chakotay eat the meat also.

"For you and for tonight, I make the exception." Kathryn shook her head and smiled, her mouth full, savouring the flavour of the meat.

For dessert, he produced something which practically had Kathryn crawling through hoops for a second serving. He laid a plate of gateaux before her, segments of orange mixed in with cream between layers of sponge and topped with cream flavoured with chocolate and coffee, along with chocolate swirls. Kathryn closed her eyes as the tastes exploded in her mouth and opened them again to see a very amused look on Chakotay's face.

"What do you expect?" She sighed and took another mouthful, moaning again. "I once knew a girl at the Academy who had a perfect way to describe this." She smiled and blushed a little. "She called this a 'digestive orgasm'. I see now what she meant."

Chakotay laughed as he took a forkful himself and sampled it. "OK, I can see how she came to that conclusion."

Kathryn laughed along with him. "They say 'a minute on the lips and a lifetime on the hips' but so what. I think I'll keep you. You've discovered the real way to my heart."

Chakotay forked more into his mouth and laughed. "Chocolate and coffee and the lady is mine?"

Kathryn raised her eyebrows and laughed. "You'd better believe it." She let a last forkful melt in her mouth and scraped the plate. "That was beyond words."

Chakotay smiled at her. "More?"

Kathryn leaned back and patted her stomach. "No, maybe later. If I have any more now, I won't get up from this table."

Chakotay laughed at that. "OK. I suppose you don't have room for coffee then." He feigned fear at the glare he received.

"You'll never find a day when I don't have room for coffee. That's something worth remembering."

Chakotay stood and picked up their empty plates. "It's filed away under vital command information." He laughed as he made his way over to the replicator and recycled the dishes then ordered the coffee. "Let's move over to the sofa for this." He turned to find Kathryn already stretched out there and smiled to himself. He brought the cups over to her and sat down. He placed her coffee before her and smiled softly.

"Is this music OK for you? I wasn't sure if you liked this kind of cocktail piano style."

Kathryn sipped her coffee and smiled, savouring the rich brew. "It's perfect. Just right for the mood of the evening." She smiled up at him. "It's all wonderful. My bath, my dress, the food, my present." She reached up and fingered the pendant again. "Most of all though, the company." She put her cup down and turned towards him, taking his cup and placing it beside her own. She then took both his hands in hers.

"Thank you for everything you've done for me this evening and it's not over yet."

He smiled tenderly at her. "No, it's not. I haven't danced with you yet." He stood slowly and pulled her gently to her feet, then led her into the centre of the room, before slipping his arms around her.

They swayed slowly to the soft strains of the music, Kathryn's head on Chakotay's shoulder. She closed her eyes and let the warmth of his body caress her skin, feeling his hands trace over her back as they danced. They let one more song play before returning to the sofa, Chakotay bringing the wine with him and refilling their glasses. For the next half hour or so, they sat and sipped the red wine, lying back and holding hands, chatting occasionally but just as comfortable in their silences.

Kathryn felt so at peace with herself, something Chakotay didn't miss. There was no pressure on her as to how this evening would end and they both knew that. When they finished the bottle of wine, Chakotay sat up a little and smiled down at her. "Do you want me to get another bottle?"

Kathryn lay back, totally at peace with her world and shook her head. "No. I know what I want to do." She tugged gently on his hand which still held hers.

Chakotay put his glass down and leaned back with her. "What's that?"

She reached her hand up and stroked his tattoo, her fingers soft against his skin. Her eyes held his. "I want you to make love to me." There wasn't a trace of doubt in her eyes and Chakotay smiled softly at her.

"As long as you're sure, are ready for this."

She smiled back and nodded. "The time is right for us. I feel that."

He nodded again and sat up, almost cradling her hand in his. He stood slowly as she joined him. "I'll just blow out the candles." He went to move away but she held his hand.

"Bring them with us into the bedroom."

He smiled again and nodded slowly. "Wait here."

She did as asked, watching him as he picked up the candles and brought them into the bedroom. While he was gone, she quickly examined her feelings for any sign of something she didn't want to find there. Apart from a slight apprehension, there was nothing. Her love for this man replaced everything else. She looked up now and saw him watching her as he came back to her side.

"Are you all right?"

She smiled and nodded her head. "I'm fine. I'm really fine."

He took her word for it, knowing that asking too much or too often wouldn't help her. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom, sitting her on the edge of the bed. Kathryn looked around her for a moment, the room bathed in the glow of the candles, then turned back to the man beside her. He smiled tenderly at her, then took her face between his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "I love you, Kathryn Janeway."

She stared back at him, swallowing the lump which was forming in her throat. "I love you too, Chakotay."

He nodded, his face tender, yet serious. "I need to ask you one last time if you're sure about this. If you…"

Her hands came up and covered his. "I'm sure, Chakotay. I want this and I want you."

He nodded again, love shining from his eyes and saw it reflected in hers. One of his hands slipped around the back of her head and into her hair. "We'll go slowly. Don't be afraid to talk to me, even though I know that can be a little embarrassing." She smiled shyly and blushed. "Tell me if anything I do is wrong for you. Tell me also if it feels right because that's how we'll learn about each other." She smiled softly again and nodded her agreement. Chakotay remained serious. "If anything at all upsets you in any way, tell me immediately."

Kathryn nodded again. "I feel like a virgin, I guess."

Chakotay smiled at that. "So do I. In a way, we both are." He sighed softly and took her hand. "I'm just so afraid of hurting you."

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "We've been through that."

He nodded and smiled tenderly. "I know. We'll be fine. We just take our time and allow this to happen, do what feels right for us both."

Kathryn nodded and smiled up at him, tears gathering in her eyes. "I love you." She choked on her words and leaned into him, feeling so at home in his arms. She heard his soft whisper in her ear.

"I love you too." He held her close.

Finally, it was Kathryn who pulled back. She smiled and then leaned forward a little, her eyes on his lips. Chakotay leaned in too and brushed his lips to hers, his fingers stroking through her silky hair. Kathryn leaned in the rest of the way and pressed her lips firmly to his. Kissing was something they were well used to now but somehow, it still felt new. Kathryn opened her lips a little, inviting Chakotay in, an invitation he took gladly as his tongue entered and swept her mouth, tasting her and the wine. He felt her hands on his shoulders and then holding his head in place as she slipped her own tongue into his mouth, duelling with his. He heard the faint moans from the back of her throat and felt her arch a little against his body.

Chakotay left her lips to trail soft kisses across her cheeks and eyes, the faint cry from Kathryn heard by him, as if she felt abandoned. Picking up on his intentions though, she copied his actions and began to spread kisses of her own across his face and down his neck, her fingers threading through his hair. Chakotay groaned softly at the responses he felt to her soft touch and tilted his head back to give her further access. As he did, she moved her own head, leaving the way clear for him to explore the same trail.

Eventually, they pulled back from each other, their eyes both sparkling with emotion. Chakotay reached for her hands and placed them at the buttons of his shirt, a gentle invitation if she wanted to take it. She understood and began unbuttoning, working her way down quickly. Chakotay forced himself to relax but kept a very watchful eye on her, on the alert for the slightest sign of discomfort. She concentrated on her task, looking back up at him now and then. Finally, she had the shirt open and pulled it from his waistband. He saw her draw in a shallow breath before running her hands over his chest and around his back. When she looked up at him again, he smiled at the slight look of uncertainty on her face, knowing she was asking him with her eyes for direction. He pointed to his chest.

"Kiss me here." She smiled and nodded then leaned in, her lips skimming over his skin. Chakotay couldn't help the moan which escaped his throat. "Oh Kathryn." She covered his chest with small kisses until he eased her back a little. He watched as one of her hands went to a strap on her dress and reached over, covering her hand with his. She looked puzzled for a moment until he smiled tenderly at her.

"May I?" She nodded and smiled, her hand dropping away. Chakotay held her eyes as his fingers slipped beneath the thin straps and then lowered them. She pulled her arms free of them and let the soft fabric pool at her waist. Only then did Chakotay look down.

"You are the most beautiful woman, Kathryn." He met her eyes again and she nodded to him, giving her permission. Chakotay leaned down and ran a finger over her cleavage, the lace of the strapless silk bra in his way. He looked to her and she nodded, reaching behind her and opening the clasp but leaving the final removal to him. He smiled his thanks for the honour and gently pulled the dark green fabric away, revealing the wealth which lay beneath. With tears in his eyes, he stroked over her nipples, noticing that they were already partly erect. He smiled softly to himself then ran his hand over her breast, the other one joining in. Kathryn drew in a deep breath and he looked up immediately. What he saw brought tears to his eyes.

Kathryn's head was dropped back, her eyes closed and her mouth slightly open. Chakotay watched her face closely as he stroked her breasts gently at first and then a little more firmly. He listened to her breathing, taking note of what it told him. He stilled his hands then, waiting until she opened her eyes and looked at him. She seemed a little embarrassed at her reaction but his shake of the head told her she shouldn't be. With her watching him now, able to see his movements, he leaned down and licked his way across her breasts, tonguing her nipples to full attention. He felt her hands trace their way into his hair, her grip firmer this time. Little cries were torn from her throat as he worked his magic on her, her chest heaving almost.

Kathryn let the feelings Chakotay was evoking in her flow through her. She'd known immediately that this was like nothing she'd experienced in the previous weeks of her own experience. Her breath seemed to have a mind of its own, working in its own direction and creating a strange feeling in her throat. She felt the rest too, almost immediately made known to her, as the feelings and sensations began to gather between her legs. She knew them now, recognized them but never had they been this intense so quickly. Rather than think about it, she just relaxed and enjoyed, amazed at how calm and at peace she felt.

When Chakotay felt Kathryn was ready for a little more, he leaned back, the disappointment in her eyes clear to see. He pulled away from her and slowly removed his shirt, making sure she saw every move he made. He took her hand and she stood, the dress falling the rest of the way on its own, leaving her standing in just the lace panties. Chakotay's breath caught in his chest at her beauty.

"Oh God, Kathryn, you're beautiful beyond words."

She smiled shyly. "Only when I'm with you." They locked eyes, reading the love for each other there. Kathryn reached out slowly and hesitantly, showing her nervousness, as her fingers rested on the catch of his trousers. She looked to him, almost for approval, and he nodded. She slowly opened them and eased them down his hips, until they too fell to the floor, following the route taken by her dress. Chakotay toed his shoes off and stepped out of them, watching as she stood out of her dress, slipping her own shoes off.

He reached out slowly to her and held her to him, easing them both back down into a sitting position on the bed. He kissed her gently, then more deeply, feeling her respond more urgently this time. His hand brushed her breast again and he felt her hands stroking up and down his back, making contact with the elastic of his boxers, barely slipping beneath it. He dropped his mouth to her breasts once more and worked her back up, hearing her breathing shallow again. After a few minutes, he moved up to her mouth and kissed her, then holding her eyes, eased her back on the bed so slowly, he was barely aware of the action.

Kathryn lay back, no sign of distress about her and smiled at the man beside her. She knew he was watching her closely and was trying hard to reassure him. Her hand slipped shyly and hesitantly under his boxers, her way to tell him she was fine and he nodded, understanding her message. He eased himself onto the bed, lifting his legs up from the floor and stretching out, then watched as Kathryn did the same. She lay mostly on her back and smiled up at him, her fingers stroking over his chest again. His own hand stroked down over her stomach and he saw her draw in a deep breath as his fingers traced over her skin.

He whispered softly to her. "You're safe. I'm here with you. I'll never hurt you. Don't be afraid."

She nodded and smiled softly. "I'm not afraid. What I am is shy, nervous, worried about disappointing you."

Chakotay shook his head, his hand still stroking her. "Disappoint me? Oh Kathryn, that's something you could never do, even if you tried." He saw her respond to his touch and gloried in the trust he saw she had in him.

Her hand once again slipped beneath his boxers and then stopped. He saw from her face that she appeared a little apprehensive. He was worried that she was pushing herself, either for his sake or to prove something she didn't need to prove. "Kathryn?"

She shook her head, knowing he was worried only about her. "I'm fine. I'm just…" She swallowed. "I'm not being too forward, am I?"

Chakotay wanted to laugh but just smiled softly. "Never. Please love, just be yourself. Do what feels right for you, not what you think I want. You've nothing to prove here." She smiled shyly and resumed her journey, slipping her hand around and stroking his buttocks, Chakotay following her lead now, his hand dipping into the back of her panties, ever watchful.

She saw that with him and shook her head. "I know I've nothing to prove and I told you, I'm fine."

He smiled an apology. "I know. I just worry."

She slid her hand around to his hip, pausing there. "You don't need to. I'm fine, better than I thought I'd be." Chakotay took her word and leaned down, claiming her lips again. He stroked across her buttocks and around her hip, matching her movements, determined to go no further than she did. Inch by inch, he felt her hand move, her fingers barely brushing against his skin, so that she tickled him almost. He held still and let her explore at her own pace, matching her movements.

Slowly her fingers traced their way down the front of his boxers and brushed against his hardening manhood. Her hand stopped for just a moment and he knew this was a tough test for her. He stilled his own hand and continued kissing her gently, then felt her hand resume its caress. He moaned loudly as her fingers closed around him and opened his eyes. He looked deeply into hers, trying to read her. For just a second, he detected a trace of pain, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"It's…not the same. It's…fine. You make it fine." She stroked hesitantly up and down him and he tried to hide the worried look in his eyes. She gave him a small smile, her voice quiet. "I thought…thought the feel would make me…but it doesn't." She looked down to where her hand was hidden beneath his shorts and smiled sadly.

Chakotay placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face to his. "What is it, love?"

She looked over his shoulder for a moment, trying to find the right words, an expression of what he thought was almost wonder on her face, then looked back at him. "It's strange." She smiled at the worry and puzzlement she saw on his face. "I've realized that it's not…not the physical…the touch and feel…which is what I was worried could upset me. It's not what I remember so much and probably hasn't been for some time."

Chakotay placed a hand on her arm to still her caresses. "What is it?"

She shook her head. "It's not the physical feel but…the way it made ME feel. Can you understand that?" Suddenly Chakotay did and he smiled softly. "It's like…like a fire. I've realized I'm not afraid of the flame, don't remember the feel of it but I remember the pain of the burn."

He smiled to himself at her analogy. "I do understand. I was worried."

Kathryn began moving her hand again. "Please don't be. You asked me to just be myself. I'm asking you to do the same."

Chakotay leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose. "Then let me love you. Let me show you real love."

She smiled through the tears which filled her eyes and leaned into him, her lips on his now, her hand continuing its exploration. Chakotay deepened the kiss, concentrating only on the feel of her lips on his. Eventually, he pulled back and traced his hand around the rim of her panties. His eyes on hers, he saw her nod her permission and slowly slipped them down past her hips as she sat up to help him. He sat up also as she slipped his black boxers down. And then they were naked, nothing hidden from each other.

Chakotay made love to Kathryn slowly and tenderly, teasing her ever gently with his hand first, using her body language and soft cries to guide him. He felt her wetness as his fingers traced through her folds, his mouth on her breast. Slowly he worked his way down, constantly on alert for the smallest sign from her that he was going too far or too fast. None came.

When he finally nuzzled his way up her inner thighs, she opened her legs for him, the ultimate sign of trust in him. He looked up to her face, saw her eyes closed, her head back and knew that she was all right. He brought his mouth down on her, her hips jerking in response as she cried out, and brought her to her first climax. His heart exploded in joy as she almost screamed out her release and he wept, the fear that this would have been one of the hardest tests for her now fruitless. He stroked her stomach as she came down and moved up beside her, his eyes on her face. Slowly she opened her eyes and smiled at him.

"Oh Chakotay."

He stroked her face softly. "Are you all right? Was it OK? I mean that way and…"

She pressed her fingers to his mouth. "It was beyond anything I could have imagined. I've never felt more wonderful or safer or more loved, and I love you, for everything." She grew tearful and choked up.

Chakotay stroked her hair. "I love you too, so much." He kissed her again, keeping his body a little away from hers, still frightened of scaring her in some way.

Kathryn reached her hand down again and stroked him then pulled her mouth from his. "Don't try and hide from me. I'm not scared."

Chakotay's face wore a gentle smile. "Kathryn, maybe we should wait until another time. Take this slowly."

She shook her head, her expression matching his. "No. I want you. I want you to make love to me. We're waited a long time. Please, Chakotay." She pulled a little on his shoulders and lay back, allowing him to settle over her. She moved her legs around each side of him, her hands stroking his upper arms now. "I'm fine. Please. It's OK."

Chakotay nodded slightly. "Would you prefer…? You'd have more control if I was beneath you."

She leaned up and kissed him. "Thank you for thinking of me like that and for offering me all the control. Please Chakotay, I'm fine. Worrying like this is letting the past come between us."

He nodded slowly, understanding now that he wasn't helping her by being so careful with every word and movement, that by hesitating over every touch, he was only reminding her more. "OK love, I'm sorry. You've told me you're fine and that's all I need. I'm just a worrier and I love you so much." He settled against her, taking his weight on one arm and reaching down, stroking her intimately again, determined to ease her in any way he could. She was ready for him and he lay over her, one arm on each side of her head now, taking most of his weight. He leaned down and kissed her deeply.

"I love you so much. I'll be as gentle as I can."

She smiled softly in return, the tiniest trace of apprehension in her eyes. "I'm OK. Really."

He stroked his thumbs over the sides of her face and pressed gently against her. He felt her lift her legs a little and saw her draw in a deep breath as she smiled up at him, making her body relax.

Chakotay pressed a little more against her now, slipping inside her more easily than he had thought. She didn't tense once and held her eyes open, not wanting to lose contact with him. He pressed deeper and felt her tense now, very slightly. His eyes questioned only but she smiled back at him.

"It's OK. Go on." He nodded, pushing more, feeling her tightness surrounding him and forced his body into obedience. He saw by her face now that she was hurting and stopped but she shook her head. "Please, don't stop." His eyes betrayed his worry. "Please Chakotay…" He barely nodded and pressed further. He felt her hands grip his shoulders, her nails digging in and stopped again. Once more, she whispered to him. "It's only for a moment. I'm fine." She pressed her own hips up now as she tightened her grip on his shoulders more.

Chakotay knew she was hurting, knew he was hurting her but suddenly he understood. She was pushing herself, needed to, knew that to stop now, would hurt her more. If she felt she'd failed at this, her past would have won and she would have failed. He kissed her cheek, working around to her ear.

"Just a little more, love. I love you. I won't let you fall." He felt her nod against him.

"Please. Complete me. Make me whole."

He met her eyes and nodded his understanding. "Just hold on tightly to me." She drew in another deep breath and nodded, her eyes never leaving his. Holding her face gently between his hands, Chakotay pressed forward quickly, completing the journey. He saw her fight to keep her eyes open, heard her small cry, the following hiss of pain and then she was quiet as he held as still as possible until her body adjusted to him. He whispered softly to her as he held her to him.

"We're one, Kathryn. We're joined together for all eternity. I love you so much. You're my life. I'll hold you forever." His words flowed over and through her, like a balm to any remnant of pain she had. Kathryn felt the stinging ease, felt herself stretching around him and moved a little, instinct dictating for her now. Chakotay read her well and began to move very slowly, building gradually into a gentle tempo, listening to her sighs and small moans, using them as his guide. She held his eyes the entire time, her grip loosening on him then tightening again as he saw her eyes widen. He felt her inner muscles contract at the same moment and forced himself to hold on. He smiled as her mouth opened more.

"Ohh…" It was barely a sound and he moved a little faster now.

"I love you, my Kathryn. You're almost home."

She began panting slightly as she felt the sensations build, familiar and yet new. Physically she knew what she was feeling but emotionally, this was new ground. Her fingers dug into his flesh now as the wave crashed over her, her head snapping back at the intensity of it. "Ohhhh Chakotay…"

He felt her legs grip his hips tightly and her release triggered his but he held on for one last moment, unable to resist the sight of her as she was at this moment.

"Ohhh Kathryn…ohh Goddd…." He spilled himself inside her, feeling their bodies merge on some plane of existence he didn't understand.

Chakotay stayed sheathed inside her, easing her down gently and letting her body relax and calm slowly. She finally opened her eyes and smiled at him. "I'm home, Chakotay. I'm finally home."

He nodded tearfully and kissed her gently. "Yes, love. You're home. We're home." He pulled himself from her, hating to leave the warmth of her depths. He watched her face carefully and saw her grimace a little. "Are you sore?"

She nodded slightly. "It's not bad. Really, it's not."

Chakotay caressed her cheek and kissed her again, then got off the bed. "I'll be right back."

She watched him, her hand on his arm as if not wanting to ever let him go. He smiled again. "I'll be back in a second."

She smiled shyly and let him go, curling into herself a little and pulling the sheet over her body, as she watched him cross to the bathroom. In a minute, he was back, a bowl of warm water and a cloth in his hands. He eased the sheet back from her and proceeded to wash her gently, cleansing her and then opened a small jar she hadn't noticed.

"An old tribal remedy, all natural." He answered her puzzled look and opened her legs a little, spreading some cream on her from the jar. She immediately felt the soothing effect of the ointment, the scent of fresh pine reaching her nostrils.

"That feels wonderful." She smiled as she realized they were whispering to each other, treating the moment with a deep reverence. Chakotay smiled tenderly at her then sat her on the edge of the bed and pulled on her nightgown.

"I'll just be another minute." She nodded as he returned to the bathroom to clean up and came back to her wearing a fresh pair of shorts. He slipped in beside her and pulled her into his arms, kissing the side of her face.

"This is the best part, lying together afterwards, sharing the afterglow, the closeness." He felt her nod against his chest but she didn't answer. He looked down at her and saw that tears were pouring down her face. "Kathryn?" The whisper of her name from his lips broke the dam and she sobbed, burying her face in his chest and clinging to him. He held her until it passed, stroking up and down her back and arms, whispering no words, only soothing sounds. Eventually, she cried herself out and stared up at him with puffy eyes.

"I'm sorry. It just…came. I don't…"

Chakotay smoothed her hair back from her face. He knew this had to happen, that her body and mind needed the cleansing her tears provided. He knew she needed to break free from the last tenuous hold the bad memories and horrors of her past had on her.

"It's all right, love. Just let it out."

She let him rock her, trying to make sense in her mind of what had just happened to her. "This is everything I ever wanted, hoped it would be. It was beyond that even and I just… I'm feeling everything and…" She swallowed deeply as he tilted her face up.

"Kathryn, some things can't be explained and some shouldn't be questioned. Your body needed that release. There was a lot of emotion stored up inside you and it had to come out. You needed to let it all go." He stroked her cheek, a worried look on his face. "You don't regret…?"

She jumped in instantly. "No, Chakotay. Please don't ever think that. If you walked away from me this moment, I'd never regret this." She stared lovingly into his eyes and reached her hand up to his face, tracing her finger over his lips. He saw the tears returning to her eyes. "The angels gave you to me. I'm so lucky. I'm blessed. All that I have now, loving you and knowing how much you love me, this moment, what we just shared…" She swallowed the growing lump in her throat. "It erases it all. I'd go through hell and back for just one day with you."

Chakotay's tears kept hers company now. "Oh Kathryn." He kissed her eyes, her cheeks. "I feel that this night is what my whole existence has been about, that this was where it all led." He took her face in his hands, his face solemn. "You and I, Kathryn, we will never separate in this life, nor in the next. We're bonded together for all eternity. I'll never leave you unless you ever tell me to go and even then, I'd fight you."

Kathryn mimicked him, taking his face between her smaller hands, barely aware of the tears which fell from her eyes. "I won't ever let you go either unless you wanted to leave and then I'd probably follow you. I love you with my life and soul, Chakotay. You know everything about me, every secret, every weakness and still you love me."

Chakotay's fingers caressed her face. "That works both ways, Kathryn. I love you too. It's what love is all about. It's knowing everything about the one you love, the good and the bad, and loving them just the same. It's about sharing every joy and every pain, the good times and the bad ones. It's holding the one you love up when they're falling and having them there to hold you up when it's you who's stumbling. I could talk on like this for all time but you know what I mean. In the end, it's you and me, loving each other, being there for each other. Nothing else matters in the end."

They clung to each other for some time, no more words needed as they continued to share the love they had between them. Eventually, towards morning, they fell asleep in each other's arms.


They stood in the doorway together, the recently constructed archway between their old quarters, their arms around each other. A soft sound came from the other side of the room and then it was quiet again.

"She's really here, isn't she? She's really ours?" The wonder was clearly audible in Chakotay's voice.

Kathryn smiled up at him. "Oh, she's here all right. The soreness I'm still feeling in a certain part of my body is testimony to that."

Chakotay smiled and nodded, unable to pull his eyes away from the small body in the crib. His arm tightened around his wife. "I was so proud of you when you gave birth to her, through the entire pregnancy actually. Did I tell you that?"

Kathryn laughed. "Only about a hundred times a day." She scratched the side of her head. "Except the day she was born. I think you managed closer to a thousand times that day."

Finally, he looked down at her. "I meant to ask, was wondering…" He smiled softly. "Do you regret telling the Doctor?"

They both remembered back to the day the Doctor had informed them of Kathryn's impending motherhood. Chakotay had worried immediately, despite how far they'd come in their relationship. Two days later, Kathryn had taken the Doctor to the holodeck and confided in him, leaving out most of the details but letting him know the main facts. He'd been understanding beyond her belief and had become a tower of strength for her throughout the nine months. When the day came, he'd taken them to the holodeck for the birth, having programmed in a comfortable country-cottage bedroom with a wide window opening out onto a lush garden, no trace of anything 'medical' about the scene. Hayley Amber Janeway came into the world to the delicate scents and sounds of nature, her father easing her journey, before laying her across her mother's chest and cutting the cord.

"I don't regret it for a minute." She smiled as she looked over at their daughter. "He's entered nothing into my records, you know that? He's kept it all to himself."

Chakotay nodded and smiled. "I know. He told me. He's one very special person."

Kathryn nodded her head. "Asking him to be a godparent, seeing his face… I'll never forget that moment."

Chakotay smiled as he remembered also. "There are many moments, millions in fact, of our life together that I'll never forget." He tightened his arm around her. "Asking you to marry me, our wedding day, delivering our daughter…" He kissed the side of her head. "Every day, in fact, every moment."

Kathryn's arm tightened around him too. "I feel the same." She hesitated for a moment then and he gave her the silence she needed. "Chakotay, there is one thing, something that's been on my mind."

He looked down at her and nodded. "Come on, let's sit down." He led her across to the bed and sat her down, taking his place beside her. "What is it?"

She bit her lip a moment. "It's the only area, in the future I mean, where I'll need you to watch me, I guess." She sighed as she saw his worried look and gripped his hand. "I've one area of worry with her, I mean, and with me." Chakotay believed he knew what she was trying to say but remained quiet.

Kathryn's eyes filled with tears. "Chakotay, what if I smother her, overprotect her or… I'm terrified of something happening to her someday, of history repeating itself. I know I trust everyone on the ship but I trusted him too. My parents trusted him completely, never thought or suspected… What if I do the same and she's…"

Chakotay took her hands in his and squeezed gently. "Kathryn, listen to me now. I'll be honest and tell you that I expected you to voice this at some time and I've been thinking about it." He shook his head gently. "Kathryn, every parent worries and I know that because of what happened to you, you'll worry more than most." He sighed softly. "I can't tell you that nothing will ever happen to her, or to you or me, for that matter. The future is uncharted territory. Think about this though." He saw the pain on her face.

"Kathryn, think of it this way. You once told me that if more people were educated and knew what to look for, this wouldn't happen or at least wouldn't happen on the scale it does." Kathryn nodded, hanging onto his words. "We have an advantage on others, and I wish I had a better way to say that, but we'll always know what to look for, the signs if they're ever there. In that way, she'll be safer. I'll say this too though. Please don't waste the time you'll have with her worrying about what might or could happen to her. We watch her but let her grow as normally as she should. Every parent worries about their child. That's just natural. What you have to learn to do is keep that worry in proportion. If you're constantly watching her and everyone around her, she'll pick up on that and it'll affect her. We let her grow up the same as any other child, just keep a careful watch from the side-lines without letting her know it."

Kathryn sniffed loudly and laid a hand on his chest. "You're right, I know that. I'll be letting him infect the next generation if I let myself get pulled into this. If I worry every minute of every day, I'll miss what we should be having." She smiled up at him. "I'll just need you to remind me of that from time to time."

Chakotay hugged her to him. "I will. If I see any sign of you heading in that direction, I'll say it." He eased her back a little and cupped her face. "One thing I'll never stop reminding you of though, is that I love you. Be prepared to hear that a lot."

Kathryn leaned up and kissed him. "I love you too. I'll keep reminding you of that also."

Chakotay kissed her deeply and then eased them both down on the bed. "We'll all be fine. Come on, lady. Get some sleep. In no time at all, a certain madam will be awake again and screaming for her next feed." They laughed together and lay back in each other's arms. Within minutes, the whole family was asleep.