Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
When a trading mission goes disastrously wrong, Kathryn gives her life to save her crew, leaving shattered lives behind her. Voyager continues on without her, until an alien ship catches up with them, bringing a story which might just give hope.
Note 1:
This story is based around and continues on from Ragpant's wonderful 'A Duty To The Ship'. I just couldn't take the sad ending. Well you know me. I'd strongly recommend that you read this story first.
Note 2:
The scene at the end of this story (THAT kind of scene) was written before I read Shayenne's fabulous story 'Show me How It Can Be' and put me to shame. The small similarities are not intended in any way. I've re-read Shayenne's story so many times now and can't recommend it enough.

The Stars Look Down

by Kat Lady



I stand here and look out at the stars, the same stars her eyes beheld just days ago and some part of me almost believes that she's one of them. As a child, I believed that each and every star was the soul of someone who had departed this life, who then looked down on those of us left behind. As a man, I long for the comfort of that childhood belief again.

These are different stars which look down on me now, not the stars I knew as a child nor the ones Kathryn knew, the ones we both stared at as children, sharing a dream but not the knowledge of each other's existence. They're not the stars which brought me peace back then but then peace is something I shall never know again.

Kathryn is gone from me now, her physical presence, and yet I still hear her, smell her, see her, almost feel her gentle touch but there's little comfort there because I also hear her scream and that will never leave me. Her scream stays with me, haunting me day and night, her face along with it the last time I saw her. It fills my nightmares. I shake my head at my own thoughts. It's only been two nights and two days and yet I know they set the mould for the rest of my life.

I look around me in the darkness now, not having ordered the lights on, preferring the light from the stars instead. Maybe I feel that this way I can pretend she's in the room with me, that the darkness hides her from my eyes. I don't know why I've come here to her ready room, perhaps to feel closer to her one last time, because I know I'll never use this room, never enter it again after today. There's too much of her here, the padds on her desk, touched by her fingers so short a time ago, her coffee cup left forgotten beside them, so much of her here, her scent still in the air, as if she's just stepped outside a moment.

I think it strange that I've chosen here over her quarters and suddenly the answer comes to me and fills me with even greater sadness. There's more of her here in her office than in her quarters and I shake my head. I also realize though that this room housed the captain, not Kathryn and that she was the dominant one. Kathryn existed only briefly in her quarters but I was rarely privy to that so it's cut off from me.

My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the doors opening and a shaft of light, no permission sought to enter, and without turning, I know the one who dares.

"B'Elanna." I turn slowly as the doors close behind her. I see her face by the light of the stars, deep sadness and fatigue sitting upon her features. She doesn't speak. "Tuvok?"

She nods slowly and comes a little closer. "Doc said he'll make a full recovery. Collins also." I nod, pushing down my feelings of guilt for briefly wishing it was Kathryn in sickbay instead. I turn back to the window, and once more stare out at the stars and the far off nebula, the one Kathryn found such beauty in only days before. I feel B'Elanna's hand on my back as I speak.

"I feel so angry at beauty like this. I feel it has no right to exist without her in the world to see it. It's as if none of it has any right to go on without her, as if every living being should be mourning her."

Her hand moves to mine and squeezes gently. "Chakotay, I know how much you love her." I nod and swallow, never denying the truth of her words. I've loved Kathryn Janeway from the moment I set eyes on her and have never been able to hide that, not even from Kathryn herself. I never got to tell her with words though and that tortures me now.

B'Elanna speaks quietly as if reading my thoughts. "Chakotay, she knew and I believe she loved you too." I can't answer, too choked up. I know now I'll never hear those words spoken by her, never hear any words from her lips again.

"Why?" I ask the question as B'Elanna leads me over to the couch and we sit, the same way I sat with Kathryn so many times.

"I don't have to tell you that. She did it for us, all she felt she could do."

I'm angry again. "Her duty to the ship, sacrificing herself for us. We didn't ever ask that of her."

She nods sadly. "I know that but it's who she was, Chakotay. Even that side of her was part of what made up the woman you loved."

I feel myself shake. "Love, not loved. I'll always love her." She remains quiet and suddenly I feel she's come here for more than this, another reason besides comforting me.

"Spit it out." I look at her and let her see that I know there's more.

She takes another minute and then nods. "We, the crew, all of us…" She takes a deep breath. "We want to go back." I stare at her in disbelief. "Chakotay, we know she'd… We know that it's against her last orders but… We know the risks. We all do. It's just… We want to take her home, not leave her there." She's unable to continue.

"B'Elanna, she's dead. We heard…" I stand quickly. This is too fresh and my feelings are too raw.

"Chakotay, her…her body, I mean. We want to take her home. None of us can bear the thought of her… Not there." She stands also and shakes my arm gently. "I know this is hard and very painful but…"

I turn slowly to her, not hiding my tears. "B'El, I want nothing more. I want to take her home too. I can't stand the thought of her lying down there on that cold planet with no grave or resting place." I can't take the images that accompany my words. It takes me a few minutes to control myself, time my old friend allows me. "It's too risky. It was her last wish that we get to safety. Leave her with that at least. Don't let her have died in vain." I see her reluctantly accept my words. "Please B'El, I need to be alone."

She says nothing and leaves, leaves me to my silent vigil once more, alone in the dark with the ghost of the woman who gave me a reason to go on living. I'll go on now simply to fulfil the promise I made to her in those last seconds I shared with her. I'll get this crew home but only for her.

That evening, Chakotay forced himself to Kathryn's quarters and turned on the computer, inserting the data chip which had activated when her death had been entered into the ship's main computer. As her face filled the small vidscreen, Chakotay steeled himself. He ground his teeth together as she smiled softly at him.

"Chakotay, I know you're watching this only because… Well, I guess I'm dead." He watched her shake her head slightly, not wanting to imagine her own death. "Knowing me, a lot has gone unsaid between us and maybe I'm being presumptuous or egotistical but I believe you still loved me in some way, at least I hope you did." She drew in a deep breath and licked her lips.

"I love you." She stared into the imager, her eyes almost meeting his and he saw them fill with tears. "I hope and pray that doesn't cause you more pain and I wish to God I'd had the guts to say it to you before." She smiled slightly. "I can face so much, the Borg, the Hirogen, and yet I can't say what's in my own heart and Chakotay, for that I'm so sorry." She shook her head again.

"I suppose it's better late than never and I have so many regrets for all I've put you through. I ask some things of you now though." She straightened her shoulders. "The business end of it first." She smiled a little. "Get them home for me. I know you will. Take care of them all. Hell, you know all this." She grew serious again. "The rest? Well, as I said, I love you, my angry warrior. I want you to carry that with you always, that I loved you beyond anything. I never knew a love like this could exist and I ask you to go on, my love. Live your life and be happy. If you feel grief now for me, let it go. I don't want to think of you like that." She shook her head again.

"I wish I had the right words and only one thing comes to me, a remnant of some poem about going on after someone dies. 'Better by far you forget and smile – than that you should remember and be sad'. Something like that. Remember me as I'll remember you, with love and affection, the memories of the good times, the closeness and friendship, the laughter and quiet moments. All we shared." She was choking up again and stopped a moment.

"I guess that's it. I want to stay here forever and talk to you but I'm sure I'm only adding to your pain. Know this, Chakotay. If there's any way in which I can watch over you. I'll do that. And I'll wait here, if that's how it works. I'll wait for you and be here for you until you join me, if you'll still want me then. Oh God, I'm sorry." She sniffed loudly. "I've caused you so much pain by holding you back, denying you and myself. I'm sorry." She took several moments to compose herself.

"I'm sorry. I'm not helping you. OK. Chakotay, I love you. Go on and live a full and happy life for me and for yourself. Thank you for everything you've given me because you made it possible for me to get through so much out here. I'll see you again someday. I know that. So for the moment, goodbye, my love and I love you." She reached forward and touched the screen and he found himself reaching for her also – and then the screen went blank. Chakotay fell to his knees, sobbing loudly and remained curled in a ball of pain for many hours.

Three days had passed now since Voyager had lost her captain and Chakotay slowly made his way to the bridge, answering the hail he'd received from Tuvok, now back on duty. He shook his head as he made his way along the corridor, barely nodding at passing crewmembers, each as affected as the other by the events of the past days. He knew he needed to arrange a Memorial Service for Kathryn, but was unable to bring himself to think about it. He could see that the crew needed a form of closure so they could grieve and try and move on and that it would probably help him too, but in his mind, it was still too soon. Maybe in another day or so.

Kathryn Janeway's death had taken the soul from the ship and Chakotay felt now that it would never be returned. He remembered Tuvok's voice, usually sounding devoid of emotion, but now lacking even the sound of a living being behind it. He knew the guilt the Vulcan felt, however well suppressed and understood only too well. Survivor guilt was an old acquaintance. As he entered the turbolift, despite himself, his mind took him back, back to a moment he forever wanted to forget and yet, even Kathryn in those moments was better than moments without her.

They'd beamed down to the surface of Solus, with the promise of negotiating for badly needed supplies, but instead found that they'd beamed straight into a trap. Chakotay leaned against the wall of the lift now as the memories assaulted him, despite his best efforts to shut them out.

Kathryn leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Chakotay sat down in front of her desk and studied her, smiling to himself before speaking.

"God, can they ever talk." His voice broke into her thoughts.

Kathryn opened her eyes and smiled. "They talk but they say very little." She grew serious now and shook her head. "Why can't I put my finger on it?"

Chakotay frowned at her. "What is it?"

She leaned forward now and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Don't you see it? There's something about them. Something…" She chewed her lip, deep in thought.

Chakotay shrugged. "I admit they're long winded in their manner of speaking but I don't get any other feelings about them. They seem genuine in their negotiating."

Kathryn shook her head again. "I know. I admit what you say and I agree but… Call it a hunch, a feeling that they're hiding something, trying to read more from us or something."

Chakotay leaned forward a little, trusting her judgement. "What do you want to do about it? I'm sure we can get out of these negotiations politely if…"

Kathryn sighed deeply. "No. We need these supplies too badly. I'm probably just imagining things. I need a vacation or something."

Chakotay laughed at the idea. "You?"

Kathryn gave him a mock glare. "It has been heard of."

Chakotay smiled and leaned back. "Oh right. I seem to remember hearing a rumour when I was at the Academy."

Kathryn shook her head and stood. "Very funny, Commander. I'm falling apart here with laughter." She dropped the smile and looked down at him. "Look, I'm probably just tired and I'm reading too much into all this. Even Tuvok is happy with the situation. I really thought when they invited the Command Team down to the surface to meet their Emperor, especially all of us together… Well, I was sure he'd object. I don't like it myself but no one else seems to feel that way." She stared off over his head.

Chakotay stood too. "You've been down with Tuvok and met this Emperor."

Kathryn nodded, her words now cutting him off. "I know and everything was fine. We've been down to the surface a few times and they've been here on Voyager even more. I've nothing to base my concerns on, just this feeling."

Chakotay folded his arms. "Have you mentioned any of this to Tuvok?"

She nodded. "He listened but there's nothing there for him to be suspicious about. The crew have been down for short periods of shore leave. Hell, we've all been down there. Everything was fine." She thought a moment. "Maybe that's it." She smiled at Chakotay's frown. "Maybe it's fine and I can't accept that. Maybe I just always look for a problem, even when there isn't one."

He smiled now. "I can't blame you for that. Nine times out of ten out here, that's the way it is. Maybe we're just due for a break, some good to happen for a change."

Kathryn nodded and shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."

The following day, Kathryn beamed down to the surface along with Chakotay, Tuvok, Tom and B'Elanna, leaving Harry in charge of the bridge. A small number of crew joined them, making the group ten in all. Chakotay met Kathryn's eyes just before the transporter beam took them and saw her concern there. He smiled his reassurance and saw her try to return it.

As soon as they re-materialized, the smile fell from Chakotay's face. He looked around him quickly and saw that instead of finding themselves inside the palace where they usually beamed to, they were in a small ravine, nothing behind them but a steep cliff face. Suddenly the sound of weapons fire rang out and he dropped to the ground quickly, following his captain's lead and saw the others also dive for cover. He scanned the area as best he could from his vantage point and saw that the only exit from the ravine was a narrow passage through which he could see a clearing at the other end. He looked over at Kathryn and saw the deep worry on her face as she tried to make sense of what had just happened. He glanced over at Tuvok then and met the Vulcan's eyes, seeing actual shock on his features.

Chakotay reached for his commbadge at the same moment Kathryn and Tuvok did, hearing only static in reply. He pulled out the phaser he carried, standard issue on any away mission and returned fire, or at least intended to. For a few seconds he stared at the weapon in his hand, confused as to why it hadn't responded to him and tried again. Still nothing. He looked around and saw that the others had the same problem.

"Something in the rock?"

He heard Kathryn's whisper to him and nodded. "That or a dampening field but then…"

Kathryn finished for him. "Their weapons wouldn't be working either. We're nearer the cliff. It either only affects weapons and communications at this close range or their weapons are immune to it." She twisted on the ground and looked at her Security Chief.

"What are our chances of making a run for that passage?" Tuvok took a moment and seemed to shake himself. Chakotay saw deep embarrassment and self-blame on the face of the Vulcan and sympathised. The same feelings washed thorough him also, of how he should have listened to her, been there to prevent this and protect her. Knowing these thoughts would only hinder them, he pushed them aside and concentrated on Tuvok.

"I can't recommend that course of action, Captain. We'd be cut down before we got that far. There's a clearing between us and the entrance. We'd be open targets." Kathryn nodded and turned back. For several minutes, no fire came their way and Kathryn used the opportunity to try and reason with whoever was firing on them, to no avail. She repeatedly called to the aliens who held them pinned down, but not once did she receive any reply.

"Options anyone?" Kathryn twisted her body on the ground, her uniform covered now in a fine dust.

Chakotay felt helpless. "Trying to reason with them obviously won't get us anywhere. Making a run for it or attempting to hold out until Voyager realizes what's going on…"

Kathryn shook her head quickly. "It'll be hours before Harry sees a problem and we don't know they haven't attacked Voyager already." Chakotay saw her emotions clearly on her face but knew they showed themselves to him only because he knew her so well. With the exception of perhaps Tuvok, none of the others would notice. To them, their captain would appear calm and in control. Kathryn turned her head back and scanned the area. "Trying to get out of here is the only option." Chakotay nodded silently. His mind raced with a million unanswered questions but he forced them away, needing now to concentrate on the matter in hand.

Just as he was about to speak, he heard the sounds of a scuffle off to his right and B'Elanna's raised voice issuing a string of Klingon expletives. He immediately made for her position and saw her grapple with one of the alien soldiers who'd become too daring and moved in. B'Elanna was trying to wrestle his weapon from his hands and Chakotay quickly helped her disarm the soldier and watched, almost in slow motion, as she slammed her fist into the alien's throat, instantly crushing his windpipe. The soldier crumpled to the ground without a sound. Chakotay looked into the eyes of his old friend and saw brief shock there at her actions but it passed quickly and she set about studying her trophy.

"It's coded but I'd say it works because he was using it." Chakotay nodded quietly and flinched when she aimed it and fired at the ground. They were both surprised to see the dust kick up. "Yeah, it works although it seems to fire projectiles of some kind." She shook her head. "Explains why their weapons work."

Chakotay motioned to her to stay put. "I'll report to the captain. Hold off firing unless you have to. We've no way of knowing how long it'll last." She nodded to him and as he moved off, he saw her look over the body beside her. He knew killing the alien sat very uneasily with her but she'd had no choice. Like him, she now hated the thought of taking life, but they both knew also that often there was no other choice, that it was kill or be killed.

Chakotay made his way back to where Kathryn lay hidden and ducked down quickly as another round of weapons fire whizzed over his head. He heard a soft grunt from where he saw Kathryn's legs sticking out and let out a breath of relief when he saw them move. He quickly closed the distance between them.

"Captain?" He looked into her worried eyes and then saw Tuvok, a deep wound in his upper chest and shoulder.

"We can't hold out here much longer. Report." She worked quickly to try and stem the flow of blood from the Vulcan and then leaned back as Tom took over.

Chakotay pulled his eyes away from the wound and met her eyes, seeing a controlled fear there. "B'Elanna managed to get one of their weapons. It works but it seems to fire metal projectiles."

Kathryn nodded quickly and he saw her digest the information, knowing she was running through options in her mind. Finally, she seemed to come to an answer. "Get B'Elanna over here." She said nothing more and Chakotay knew not to question her. He obeyed without hesitation and returned to B'Elanna's position. When he returned with the engineer in tow, he saw Kathryn and Tuvok whispering together, heads close, and something stirred in his gut. Kathryn quickly pulled back as they approached and managed a weak smile. She held her hand out for the weapon, just as another volley of shots rang out. A cry to their left caused them all to jump. Kathryn immediately looked to Chakotay and he nodded, moving off to check on the sound. Within minutes, he was back, his face telling Kathryn that his news wasn't good.


He could hear the forced calm in her voice. He tried to smile. "Ensign Collins." He looked away a moment then back at her. "A bad wound to the shoulder. He can walk though, I think." Kathryn nodded and he saw how angry she was becoming, using the emotion to control her fear. His own fear started again as he saw her lock eyes with Tuvok. "Captain?" Chakotay got no further as she cut him off.

She shook her head quickly. "Right. Listen up." She barely looked at him and his fear grew, knowing he wouldn't like what she was about to say. She took the weapon from B'Elanna now and studied it before speaking again. Finally, she met Chakotay's eyes.

"Commander, here are your orders. You're to take everyone and get ready to make a run for that passage. You should be able to contact Voyager once you're free of the rock. Tuvok and I will hold them off with this." She looked down at the weapon in her hands again then looked at Chakotay and locked eyes with him, daring him to oppose her, seeing the shock and the pain in his eyes. "Davis and Travers are the strongest. Get them to help carry Collins." She looked now to Tom beside her. "Tom, pass that on to the others now." The pilot hesitated a moment then nodded and moved off.

"Chakotay, get ready on my mark." She saw he was about to object and held her hand up. "No questions, Commander. We're out of options and you know it. I'm the captain and I'm also the best shot. You have your orders." Her eyes bored into his, saying what her words couldn't, pleading with him not to make this any harder for her. Fighting a fierce battle with his emotions, he finally just nodded. They both knew this was the only way, the sacrifice of the one for the many. As Chakotay looked at her, her image blurred in his mind, alternating between Kathryn and his captain. In the end, his training and common sense smothered his emotions and he allowed it, cursing himself for it.

B'Elanna wasn't as co-operative however. "Captain, you can't…"

Her Captain glared at her. "Lieutenant, I've given you an order which you will obey. You'll also follow the orders of my First Officer. Is that clear?" B'Elanna's glare matched her captain's. "Is that clear, Lieutenant?" B'Elanna's face showed her feelings very clearly but finally she nodded and turned her face away.

Kathryn shook her head. "Look, we'll follow once you get clear." She said it for their benefit but they all knew it for the lie it was.

Tom crawled back now and reported that everyone was ready. Kathryn nodded her understanding and looked back at Chakotay.

"Get ready then." She stared deeply into his eyes. "Get them to safety. Get them home for me, Chakotay. Don't look back." Her voice broke slightly as her words betrayed her lie about following them and she turned away quickly.

"Kathryn…" He needed to say her name to her face one last time. His own voice choked up, knowing there was too much to say but no time to say it, that it was too late now anyway.

She turned back to him and nodded. "I know. I hope you do too." As they stared at each other, a deep connection was made. Finally, she tore her eyes from his and looked at Tuvok beside her. She nodded quickly to him. "Pass on any last orders, Tuvok." She turned her head slightly as the Vulcan nodded, obviously in a great deal of pain as he turned to face Chakotay. With lightning speed, Kathryn reached her hand over and applied a Vulcan neck pinch, causing Tuvok to slump to the ground instantly.

She looked up at Chakotay and tried a small smile. "He taught me that." She sobered quickly. "Can you manage to carry him between you?" Chakotay felt his nails dig into his palms and nodded his head then closed his eyes a moment. Eventually he looked at her then at B'Elanna, seeing the shock and pain on the Klingon's face.

"We can manage." He wanted to grab her, shake her, pull her away. Instead he nodded again and lifted the unconscious Vulcan towards him. "He'll never forgive you for this." His small joke was weak and he knew it, but it was either that or break down.

Kathryn tried and failed to smile. "You know what to do." He nodded and reached over, gripping her hand tightly, desperately needing to touch her and she returned the squeeze. She nodded briefly then let go. Chakotay tried to freeze everything within him and turned away, pulling at B'Elanna's arm now.

The young woman shook herself, not hiding the tears which flowed from her eyes now and tried one last appeal to her Captain. "Captain, there has to be another way."

Kathryn forced herself to harden her face. "You have your orders, Lieutenant, now get moving." She turned away quickly before she broke completely and raised the weapon in her hands. "Ready?" She glanced back briefly and locked eyes with Chakotay one final time. He tried to convey everything into that look, praying she understood and saw that she did. He saw the beginning of tears in her eyes which she quickly forced away. She nodded slightly and smiled softly.

"Get ready." She turned to face the alien soldiers. "NOW." Kathryn opened fire with the weapon and risked a quick glance behind her to see Chakotay and B'Elanna lifting Tuvok and moving quickly. She barely managed to see the others following them. Shutting off her emotions, she concentrated on the last duty she could perform for her crew and sprayed the area before her with fire. Continuing to shoot, she ducked down as her fire was returned with a vengeance and with a final glance behind her, saw Chakotay and the others cross the clearing and enter the narrow passageway, successfully ducking the weapons fire all the way.

She eased back up, continuing to fire, drawing all the comfort she could from the fact that she'd fulfilled her final duty to her crew, that she'd hopefully saved them. She uttered a small prayer for their safety and continued to shoot against the now increased weapons fire pouring in on her, knowing that these soldiers would know now that only one person remained.

The sounds didn't change at first, still just the deafening roar of the shooting. She now vaguely heard another sound, recognizing it as her own scream and berated herself briefly for showing any weakness. Then she felt it. It was like a red-hot knife ripping through her, across her chest and stomach. Kathryn stared down as the weapon fell from her hands and she felt herself falling. For a few moments, there'd been no pain and it fleetingly entered her mind that she'd been hit and her scream had come before she felt the first slash of pain. For another moment now, the pain vanished, strangely gone for a second, leaving only a roaring sound in her ears as time seemed to stop. She prayed that Chakotay and the others wouldn't have heard her above the other sounds of the battle. And then she was lying on her back, trying to swallow the blood she could taste in her mouth, as the pain started again and assaulted her relentlessly. She fought to control her breathing, feeling a coldness seeping into her, knowing in some part of her mind that her body was quickly going into shock. A shadow crossed her vision and she looked up into the face of a soldier, a member of the race she'd come to know well over the last days. She barely managed to whisper to herself.

"Get them home, Chakotay. I love you."

They all heard it together, a blood curdling scream. B'Elanna cried out and stopped, almost dropping Tuvok, pulling Chakotay to a stop with her.

"Chakotay…" Her eyes pleaded with him and he forced the sound from his mind, shutting off everything within him.

"Get moving, Lieutenant." B'Elanna continued to stare at him, tears pouring down her face. "B'Elanna, there's nothing we can do. This is what she wants. Don't let her down." No response. "Dammit, Torres, move now or I'll knock you out too and carry you both."

Tom came up to them quickly and gripped his wife's arm. "Come on, we're almost there. Davis has contact with Voyager. Harry can beam us up." He gripped her arm tighter, causing her to flinch.

Finally she moved, her face angry now. "Can he lock onto the captain?"

Tom said nothing and just shook his head, his eyes pleading with her to keep moving. Within minutes, they'd cleared the passage and been beamed back to Voyager. The ship immediately broke orbit and left the space which had brought them so much pain, leaving behind the greatest part of her, the soul of them all.

Chakotay entered the bridge now, forcing his mind to shake off what he felt and remembered. His eyes met those of Voyager's Chief of Security and Chakotay actually saw pain in their depths. He knew in that instant that he wasn't the only one who'd never again have another peaceful night, but at least Tuvok had been spared from hearing his captain's last scream.

"Report." Even that one word brought back memories of Kathryn and his mind filled with a hundred images of her striding onto the bridge, demanding a progress report. He shook his head quickly.

"Captain…" Tuvok halted a moment, the title uneasy on his lips. Chakotay knew the hesitation wasn't from a lack of respect or acceptance of himself as captain now, only from the reminder of who it should have been addressed to.

"What is it, Tuvok?" Chakotay broke the moment, understanding showing on his face and he saw Tuvok nod his thanks.

"There is a ship approaching off our port bow. They are hailing us."

Chakotay nodded. "On screen." He stepped down to the command chairs but didn't sit, refusing to even look at them. "This is the Federation Starship Voyager…" The face that met him was of a very similar race to the Solusians and Chakotay felt his blood boil.

"Captain, my name is Danus. I see that I am correct in assuming from your demeanour that you have come across my people before, or at least one of our associate races, shall I say. I believe you're the people we're looking for." Chakotay barely controlled his emotions and merely nodded.

Danus smiled softly. "I understand your feelings well, Captain. We were amazed to find that you survived any encounter with Solus." Chakotay glanced back at Tuvok, not needing to say anything.

The Vulcan spoke softly. "They have not raised their shields." Chakotay nodded and turned back to the viewscreen.

The alien's voice broke the silence. "Captain, I can assure you that you have nothing to fear from us. We mean you no harm. I would, however, like to speak with you. I'll trust you in this matter, which means I'm the one taking the chance. We can speak face to face wherever you like, your ship or mine."

Chakotay stared back hard at the man before him. "What do we need to speak about?"

Danus gave a small smile. "I would much rather speak in person but I believe we can help you. I can tell you that I'm aware of what took place some days ago on Solus." Even to the alien, the pain on Chakotay's face was clear to read. He glanced back at Tuvok and nodded.

"Make arrangements to beam Danus over to Voyager."

Tuvok hesitated a brief moment and then nodded his compliance. "Aye, Sir."


Chakotay sat facing Danus and one of his aides in the boardroom on Voyager. He forced down his feelings and fought to wear a neutral expression. Tuvok sat to his right and Tom and B'Elanna to his left. Tuvok was a classic example of stone in a living being, Tom and B'Elanna not even trying to hide their feelings, the tough Klingon in particular. Danus simply smiled softly and spoke quietly.

"Believe me when I say I understand how you must feel towards us." He glanced to his aide and nodded. "Please allow me to explain." He looked at Chakotay now, who nodded.

"My race and those who are in power on Solus at this moment are quite closely related, as you can see. Some of us even look completely alike. Our two races have crossed many times over the centuries, sometimes in peace, hence our similarities in appearance when we interbred with each other, and often in war, like we have now." He paused a moment before continuing.

"On Solus, there are two societies. Our race was always the strongest of the two but in the last year or so, the others have managed to gain power, ruling mostly by fear. Some of our people are amongst them, placed there by us. They are trusted and therefore not suspected. I accept that this is a strange situation and one you'll perhaps not understand. We never named the two different races, always referring to each other by the same race name. We and they are Solusians, nothing more. It was always hoped that this would avoid what we have now, but alas that was not meant to be." Chakotay leaned forward now but remained quiet.

"We have been fighting back for almost a year now. Understand that we despise what our fellow brothers are doing."

Chakotay cleared his throat and spoke now. "Just what is it they are doing? We were trading peacefully with them."

Danus held up a hand and smiled softly. "Captain, you were only led to believe that. Trade was never an issue. This is how they work."

Tuvok spoke for the first time now. "What is the issue?"

Danus looked sadly at his aide and sighed deeply. "Taking what you have. Once you've been lulled into a false sense of security…" He shook his head. "Many ships have come to this fate. It's the way it is done by them. They are similar to space pirates but they have found a way whereby they never have to leave the security of their own world in order to practice their evil trade." He leaned back in his chair and made patterns with his fingers on the table before him.

"It's always the same. They speak of trade and friendliness. They meet with the captain of the ship and members of the senior crew several times. Often on their ships and also on Solus. All appears normal. They use this time to gain more and more knowledge of you and your vessel, assess what you have and what they want. They gauge your strengths and your weaknesses, lulling you into this false sense of security. Finally, when you feel safe, suspecting nothing because you have already visited the surface so many times, they arrange for the most senior Officers to come down to the planet together. They then…" Danus swallowed and hesitated a moment. "They then kill them, leaving the ship without its command team, its brains so to speak. After that, it's easy pickings." His eyes apologized for him and Chakotay nodded, forcing images of Kathryn away, battling to control his emotions.

"We believed we were beaming down to the palace."

Danus nodded. "Instead you found yourself at another location, one impossible to defend yourselves from." He saw the answer without it being confirmed in words. "They are quite capable of altering transporter coordinates. May I ask how you escaped? No one before…"

Chakotay stood quickly. "Our captain sacrificed her life for us, held them off." He turned away to gain a moment to control himself.

Danus's voice filled the room. "I offer you my deepest condolences for your pain. I'm so very sorry."

Chakotay turned back, shaking his head, wanting nothing more than to escape the room. "You've explained to us. What do you want from us now?"

Danus leaned forward again. "I explained that some of our people are within the ranks of the ruling party and within their army." Chakotay merely nodded. "That is how we know of you and what occurred on the planet's surface. I'll be honest with you and tell you that we had already been informed that one of your group gave herself…" He sighed deeply when he saw the pain on the faces before him.

"We are fighting what can only be described as a civil war on our world. We are winning too. Anytime now. There are only pockets of resistance left, the main government building."

Chakotay sat again. "What has that to do with us? Surely you're not asking for help."

Danus shook his head. "No, Captain. As I say, we are winning. I'm here because…" He glanced again at his aide and nodded.

The other man spoke now. "My name is Coren. I liaise between my people and those we have within the government. Word of your situation reached us." He coughed slightly and then continued. "We know of your captain, the one who remained behind. We followed your warp trail." He shook his head now, his eyes filled with apologies.

"What I tell you now, I speak of with some reservations because I don't want to give you false hope."

Chakotay and B'Elanna were up out of their chairs immediately. "What are you trying to say? What…?" Chakotay was gripping the edge of the table painfully, his knuckles white.

Coren held up his hand. "Please." Chakotay eventually nodded to B'Elanna and they both sat slowly. "One of our men spoke with me briefly. He had word of your captain." Chakotay found the breath stilled in his lungs. "All I can tell you is that she was wounded but was still alive when his unit left the battle scene."

Chakotay was on his feet again. "She was still alive? She survived that?" Pain ripped through him, guilt alongside it, at the knowledge that they could have gone back and saved her but it was joined by the awareness that they could all have been killed had they tried, that there was no way they could have known. Instead he filled himself with anger, trying to hold himself together. "She was still alive and they just left her there?" His rage almost consumed him until he felt Tuvok's hand on his arm.

Coren nodded sadly. "It's their way, another of the many reasons we fight to rid ourselves of them."

B'Elanna jumped up out of her chair. "We should have gone back. We heard her. We left her. We could have saved her." She stopped suddenly when she saw the pain her words were causing Chakotay, knowing they were already in his mind. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"

Chakotay just nodded sadly, letting her see he understood but inside his pain was ripping him apart. He turned his attention back to their two visitors, trying to think clearly. "How do you know you can trust this man? How do you know some of their people aren't within your own ranks?"

Coren accepted the questions gracefully. "Firstly, the man I speak of is my own brother. Secondly, every single member within our ranks can be traced back through their family. His or her loyalty to us is something they inherited upon birth. If there is even a slight chance of us not feeling we could trust someone, they are refused entry to our units. We operate within closely knit community groups. The government pays for their 'loyalty'. No one who comes to us receives any compensation for their time or sacrifice. We know each of them and their families."

Chakotay nodded, having no choice but to accept this man's word. "Is there any hope that…?" He swallowed loudly. "Is there any chance…?"

Coren rubbed at his face. "I don't know. I can tell you that our man did all he could. He left a small signal emitter with her."

Chakotay shook his head and frowned. "I don't understand."

Danus answered now. "Our people carry them in case they get separated or need help. It's not much comfort to them but it at least provides a chance that some of the people on our side who live in the many small villages can pick up the signal and try and rescue the fallen one."

Chakotay stood again quickly and began pacing. "So there's the possibility that someone picked up this signal and came for her? Can I speak with this man, this soldier, your brother?"

Danus and Coren exchanged a look and finally Danus nodded. "We'll try our best to arrange this. This is Coren's area. It's up to him." He looked to his aide.

Coren smiled gently. "I think it can be arranged. My brother was removed from his position only yesterday. We felt it was too dangerous to leave him in any longer. I'll try and arrange it." Chakotay nodded his thanks as the two aliens stood now. "I'll contact you within the hour." Tuvok and the others stood also, Tom reading the Vulcan's silent order to see their guests back to their ship. B'Elanna left with him.

Once they were alone, Chakotay let go a little, his shoulders sagging. He turned to Tuvok, seeing the weight of the last few days bearing down on the man, despite the Doctor releasing him from sickbay. Chakotay knew the medic had recommended several days off duty which the Security Officer had refused. Forcing his own feelings down, Chakotay tried to focus on the matter at hand. "What do you think? Can we trust them?"

Tuvok took several minutes to answer and as Chakotay sat, he watched the Vulcan consider all the options, knowing the man was terrified in his own eyes to fail again. Finally he spoke. "I feel I must be completely honest with you, Captain…" Once more he hesitated over the word. "One part of me tells me to ignore them and not trust what they say. The other part…" Chakotay saw how difficult this was for Tuvok to speak of. "My heart, my emotions, normally so well controlled…"

Chakotay smiled sadly. "Heart versus head." Tuvok merely nodded. "Tuvok…" Chakotay hesitated briefly then pushed on, saying what he needed to say and what this man so badly needed to hear. "Tuvok, this wasn't down to you. The Captain also told me of her concerns and I… I guess I also ignored them or dismissed them. I couldn't see anything wrong in all this. Not one member of this crew saw this. Only her." Chakotay dropped his head and shook it. "I know exactly how you feel. Every minute, I hear her, see her." He raised his head and saw the closest he would ever see to a Vulcan in tears. "Tuvok, you're not to blame and neither am I and I know how difficult that is to accept. I still blame myself but I know without a doubt that she'd never want that." There was so much more he wanted to say but he knew this wasn't the time. He stood now.

"I'm trying to decide… B'Elanna came to me…" He told the Vulcan about his conversation with the Klingon and about the crew's wishes to return. "I need your counsel, Tuvok. Am I considering going back for a false hope, perhaps leading us to all our deaths, just so I appease my own guilt or in the vague hope that she's alive? If she is dead, maybe I just don't want her left there, her body, just want to take her home. Do I ignore all that, how we all feel and just carry out her last order? Like you, head versus heart."

Tuvok shook his head. "I wish I had the wisdom to counsel you wisely. I feel I have failed in that now, in my ability to counsel anyone wisely. I also feel as you do…" He shook his head. "So long I've tried to put away feelings and yet…"

Chakotay sighed deeply. "She has that effect on us all, Tuvok." He still couldn't bring himself to think of her in the past tense. He sat again. "I want this crew to decide. They all have a right to their say in this decision." Tuvok didn't answer but nodded his agreement.

An hour later, the vote was in. Chakotay had made his ship wide announcement, not receiving one single objection to his suggested plan and so when Danus and Coren contacted them again, Chakotay requested permission to speak with Coren's brother.

The decision was made to take the chance and return to the area around Solus. At high warp, the other ship keeping up with Voyager, they returned in one day, holding position on the outskirts of Solusian space. Later that same day, Chakotay sat once more in the boardroom, facing a similar looking alien and found himself instantly liking the young man before him. He sensed something of himself in this soldier, a maturity far beyond his years, placed there by the horrors he'd seen.

"Coren, your brother, he told me your name was Tamar?"

The young man nodded. "That is correct. I'm sorry we must meet under such circumstances." Chakotay didn't miss the haunted look in the man's eyes, similar to the one his own eyes had held, before Kathryn removed it from them.

He stood and placed a holoimage on the table in front of Tamar. "Is this the woman?"

Tamar studied the image for a moment and then looked up at Chakotay. "That's her, also her uniform, like yours." He pointed to Chakotay's.

The big man nodded then looked towards Tuvok, who he had insisted attend this meeting. "What can you tell us?" Chakotay sat again and forced his emotions down, knowing what followed would tear him in two.

Tamar cleared his throat and began speaking. "This is difficult to tell. I'm also only too well aware of how difficult it will be for you to hear. I'm sorry for that." Chakotay merely nodded for him to continue.

"We saw you leaving and at first we couldn't understand where the firing was coming from. We quickly realized it was one of our own weapons, so we easily worked out that one of you had remained behind and somehow gotten hold of one of our rifles." Tamar leaned back in his chair, showing his uneasiness.

"We returned fire. I made sure my aim was well off but didn't let that show. I'm well practiced at this. It's how our men fight within their ranks. We never hit anything but it looks convincing." He shook his head slowly. "I heard her scream out." He hesitated a moment before continuing. "I knew one of them had hit her. Our Commander was screaming at the men, for letting the rest of you get away." He leaned further back in his chair again, unable to keep still.

"I was the first to approach her. I saw her… I saw her lying there, looking up at me, my body a shadow over her face." He looked at Chakotay, his eyes trying to convey his apologies. "She just looked up at me. She didn't move, couldn't, so much blood." He shook his head. "Our weapons are coded to the user. They fire projectiles so nothing stops them working. They use a dampening field to render other weapons useless."

He looked down at the table now, not wanting to see the pain his words were causing. "My Commander came over and looked down at her. I remember him shouting at her, obscene names, and then he…he spit on her." He glanced up and saw tears running unchecked down Chakotay's face, the big man not ashamed of them.

"He then, my Commander, he just looked at me coldly and he told me to leave her there, to let her die or 'drown in her own blood'. I'm sorry." Chakotay simply nodded for him to continue, unable to utter a word as he fought to hold himself together. "He pulled me away. I saw her. Her eyes moved after me, so much pain in them and I could hear her breathing, ragged. She was fighting for breath." He pushed his chair back and stood now then paced a little.

"We left her there, cold, bleeding, in pain, for a long time. The Commander said he wanted her to 'die slowly and in agony for her crimes'." He stopped in front of the viewport and stared out at the stars. "Sometime later, I don't know why, the Commander ordered us back to the scene. I saw him walk over to where she was lying and then he returned to me immediately. As coldly as he could, he just ordered me to kill her, to 'finish her off' as he put it." He turned back into the room now, shaking his head.

"I walked over to her. She was still alive, still conscious, and so much blood. I couldn't believe she could still be alive, especially conscious. I couldn't imagine how much pain she was in. I wished so much that she wasn't. I remember thinking that, truly believed she'd be better off dead, at least out of her pain."

He moved back to his chair and sat again, still not looking at the two men before him. "Her injuries were… I saw how severe they were, her chest and stomach area, covered in blood." He drew in a deep breath. "She was in agony, so much pain." He looked up now with the saddest eyes Chakotay had ever seen, without looking in a mirror.

"The others moved away I'd glad to say. I saw the Commander looking towards me and I raised my weapon to give a good show. As soon as I did that, he moved off again." Tamar spread his hands on the table before him, studying them as if they were alien to him. "I looked into her eyes, so blue, and she stared at me. I saw it all there in her eyes, all the pain, and I heard how bad her breathing was, a rattling sound in her chest and a sound in her throat, like blood. There was blood coming from her mouth, I remember that." He pushed back and stood again, pacing once more, the memories difficult to deal with.

"She watched me raise my weapon and she said one word to me. One word." He looked at Chakotay. "She said 'please'. Just that. 'Please'." Tamar shook his head sadly. "I through she was asking me, pleading with me not to kill her. I really thought that. Her next words proved me wrong though and will haunt me forever." The young man sat again, not seeming to know where to be.

"She spoke a few more words, whispered them, a rasping sound. 'Please, end it for me, end the pain, do it quickly'." Tamar's eyes bored into the two men in front of him. "She wanted me to kill her, end her pain, and I couldn't. I couldn't do it."

Chakotay jumped up and left the room. Tuvok just nodded to the young man, showing his understanding of the pain he was in, but his own pain showed also.

Within five minutes, Chakotay returned, apologising.

Tamar shook his head. "Please, I understand. You have every right. I'm so sorry for what I tell you."

Chakotay looked at Tuvok and saw the fight for control there matching his own. He turned back to Tamar and nodded for him to continue. Tamar tried a smile and failed miserably.

"I looked back and saw the Commander watching me. I did all I could, the only thing. I took aim. He saw me." He paused and drew in a deep breath. "Her eyes locked with mine and she… She just stared at me. I saw her lips move, heard her say something else. I couldn't understand at first and she said it again, what I believe she wanted her last word to be. A name." He slowly looked over at Chakotay. "One word. 'Chakotay'. Your name, I believe." Chakotay held Tamar's eyes for a brief moment and then stood up. He turned quickly and made for the viewport, staring out at the stars as they stared back at him. No one spoke for several minutes until he turned back to the others, having regained some control. Tamar then continued.

"I fired into the ground above her head. For a moment. her eyes shut. I think she thought I'd done it, then she opened them again, stared back at me and I saw the same pain and then more and her question. Why hadn't I killed her? I looked away, couldn't meet her eyes. I looked over and saw the Commander laughing. He was actually laughing and all I felt was sick to my stomach." He shook his head slowly.

"It was all I could do, without getting myself and my friends killed. You must understand. We enlisted together. They'd have known, knew we were all friends. If one of us had been the enemy, they'd have known we all were." Chakotay nodded his understanding to the face before him which pleaded for it.

"I bent down and slipped my signal emitter into the front of her uniform. I don't think she understood. I think she was close to passing out at that stage, the pain, shock, blood loss." Tamar stood again and sighed.

"I just walked away from her. I looked back and saw her watching me leave. I saw so much pain there in her eyes. I think I heard her. She seemed to be trying to cry out after me. I don't know. I left her alone there, almost as bad as he was. I left her. I couldn't do anything else." He sat again now.

"The Commander walked towards me. I was so scared, and then he walked past me, said something about 'checking my work'. I was so sure that was the end for me. I remember walking back with him when he told me to follow him and we got to where she lay… I think I let out a deep sigh of relief. I still feel guilty for that." He looked at Chakotay. "She'd finally passed out. I thought she was dead even, wasn't sure. She was so pale, her face. The Commander merely grunted and kicked out at her but she didn't move, nothing, no sound. The injuries she already had, they covered up for me, led him to believe I'd shot her again. It was impossible to tell. Then he walked away, didn't look back once." He shook his head. "I took a chance. I quickly reached down and felt for a pulse. It was there, very weak but there, but she felt so cold. He called me then, the Commander, and I left. I prayed that the villagers would find her."

Chakotay wiped at his face, refusing to hide his feelings. "Have you any idea? Do you know anything?"

Tamar shook his head. "I believe they came for her. I managed to return later undetected. She wasn't there, only her blood on the ground. There was so much."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment. "Could she have moved on her own, crawled?"

Tamar again shook his head. "No, there is no way. She couldn't. It had to have been the villagers. I'm sure they took her in."

Tuvok spoke for the first time. "How can you be so certain it was the villagers, in particular those who are on your side. Could the Government not have located the signal?"

Tamar shook his head, a certainty showing for the first time. "I am certain of this. The villagers would only have taken her because of the signal, knowing they could trust it. They would never touch any injured without it. With this homing signal, they would have known for certain that it was one of us. This signal operates on a frequency only we are aware of and it is only our people who know of its existence. The frequency cannot be detected without the specific tracking system we use. Trust me here. Our signals have never been detected by the enemy. They, our people, would have taken her in simply because she had the emitter." He paused now. "As to whether she…"

Chakotay stood and finished for him. "As to whether she survived or if she's still alive?" Tamar nodded, unable to meet the other man's eyes. "Can you find out? You must have contacts, people who'd know. They'd know her, she's…"

Tamar looked up sadly as he heard the desperation in the other man's voice. "I'm doing my best and have asked through every channel I can. Please understand that while an alien captain would be instantly known of, these are hard times, little trust until people know they can trust for sure. The fact that she had the emitter would have marked her as one of us so they will protect her fiercely." Tamar sighed deeply. "Our freedom is almost won, only pockets of resistance now. I should know any time. You must understand that communication between the villages is slow. They tend to shun technology. I promise I'll know soon and I'll let you know immediately."

Chakotay rubbed at his face and nodded, having no choice but to wait. As the young alien left, Chakotay's voice halted him. "Tamar, thank you. I know this was difficult for you. Please find her for me, for us."

Tamar nodded sadly. "I'll do my best. I give you my word on that. They will have done all they could for her. I can tell you that. There are many wounded to treat but they will have done their best." He met and held Chakotay's eyes.

Chakotay then forced the next words from his mouth. "Tamar, I understand. Please though, even if, even if she's… We still want her back, do you understand?"

The young man nodded his understanding. "I understand. It is the same with our people. I'll get back to you as quickly as I can." He turned and left, unable to see the pain on the faces before him a moment longer, no matter how hardened he'd been with what he'd witnessed over the past year.

Chakotay slowly made his way to his desk, then hesitated before moving around to sit behind it, his fingers stroking the edges. He studied his own action, unsure why he was doing it. Finally, he sat and looked over at Tuvok. "We have to. If there's any chance."

The Vulcan nodded slowly. "I agree completely. There should be no other way."

Chakotay nodded slowly also. "Even if she…is dead, I want to take her home or at least… I think she might have liked it, to be out there amongst the stars, be one of them." Chakotay suddenly found himself telling this man all about his childhood beliefs and was amazed at the response.

"Vulcans also hold a special respect for the stars, as I believe do all races. It perhaps has to do with something being greater than ourselves or beyond our comprehension. They have a mystery which has always drawn us to them. Were this not so, every race would still be planet bound." The two men looked at each other and in that moment, a deep trust and friendship was shared.

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "I'm trying to draw some comfort from… I guess that, even if she is gone from us, if she died…" He drew a deep breath to steady himself. "At least it wasn't alone, in that cold field, that she at least at people around, someone who cared in some way." Silence followed as the two men fought inwardly to banish the images which haunted them.

That evening as they waited for news from Tamar, B'Elanna sought Chakotay out in his quarters. She found him sitting on his couch studying holoimages he'd taken of Kathryn over the years. She smiled and sat beside him for a while in companionable silence and shared the memories with him. Some of the images were unknown to her and Chakotay spent some time telling her about their time on New Earth.

When he finished speaking, he suddenly seemed to remember his old friend's presence and smiled softly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to get carried away like that."

B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "It's all right, Chakotay. I'm so glad you have all those memories, all that you shared with her. It can be a great comfort."

He shook his head and stood, walking over to his desk to replace the images in a drawer there. "I'm praying they won't be all I have left." B'Elanna didn't say anything. There was nothing she could say to that.

She looked up now as her old friend handed her a cup of tea and shook herself. She hadn't even heard him replicate it. "Chakotay, I came here tonight because…" She looked into his eyes and shook her head sadly. "I need to apologize to you, for today and for on the planet, what I said, how I acted…"

Chakotay put his cup down and covered her hand with his. "B'Elanna, let it go. I've learned a long time ago to let go of what's of no use to us. All that matters is that we all know we care about each other a great deal. Anything else is… It's not important now. I feel the same way as you do and I've tortured myself all day, ever since I learned that she was alive after…"

He turned away a little and B'Elanna pulled her hand from his and covered his hand now, squeezing gently. "I'm sorry for that, for what I said. I guess we couldn't have known."

Chakotay turned to look at her now. "No, we couldn't have. We did what was best, what she wanted. All we can do now is pray that…" He didn't say anymore and didn't need to.

Early the next morning, Danus and Coren contacted Voyager to inform Chakotay and the crew that the Government had been brought down. Danus informed them that Tamar had returned to the planet and had been out in the villages all night and was expected back at any moment. Chakotay requested and was granted permission to beam down to the surface then turned to face Tuvok, waiting to see his reaction. Voyager's Security Officer merely asked permission to join him and Chakotay nodded, getting approval from Danus. Voyager was moved into orbit of Solus and an hour after that, they had beamed down.

When they re-materialised this time, Chakotay glanced around him quickly and saw that they were in the palace which they'd beamed to many times before. His mind though, was instantly assaulted by horrific memories of the last time he'd come down to this planet. He silently vowed that this time he would only leave when he had Kathryn with him. He took in the scene before him, evidence of a fierce fight all around, although what casualties would have been had obviously been removed, leaving only the evidence of their existence in the blood stains on the floor. He shook himself and forced a small smile to his face to greet the two aliens who stood before him. "Has there been any word?"

His eyes pleaded desperately and he saw Coran nod. "Tamar is on his way. He reported that he has news."

Before he could finish, the young soldier entered through the door and made his way to Chakotay and Tuvok. "I've found the village where she was taken."

Chakotay cut across him immediately. "Is she alive? Please…"

Tamar held up his hand. "Captain, please, I only know where she was taken. There's no communication with this village at the moment. There was fierce fighting close by and all communications are down. We must go there now." Chakotay was already out the door, Tuvok and the others rushing to catch up with him.

Within a short space of time, they arrived at the small village, which was located at the base of a steep mountain. They landed Tamar's shuttle near the edge of the village and were warily approached by a small group of men. Tamar quickly explained to Chakotay and Tuvok that landing any closer would only terrify the inhabitants, especially the old and the very young.

Chakotay and Tuvok now stood back a little and let Tamar explain the reason for their presence and watched as the men slowly nodded. At a nod from Tamar, they followed the small group into the centre of the village. Chakotay looked around him and gasped inwardly at what he saw.

The settlement was comprised of many huts, built using natural materials and small fires burned in front of many of the small dwellings. Barefoot children raced after each other, unaware of the turmoil of their world. Women sat in small groups, whispering quietly to each other, occasionally stirring the contents of small cooking pots which sat on the fires. All around them, animal pelts and recently dyed fabrics hung from thick ropes strung from one dwelling to another. Chakotay glanced at Tuvok and saw that the Vulcan was as surprised as he was by the way these people lived. They both felt they'd travelled back in time.

Chakotay became aware of Tamar speaking with a woman now and drew his attention from the villagers who were staring at the strangers with a fearful curiosity. Tamar's voice broke the quiet which had descended on the village. "Captain, this is Seena." Chakotay tried to smile at the woman before him, gauging her to be middle aged, at least by human standards. He immediately noted a marking on her neck, almost like a tattoo and forced himself to stop staring at the marking. Seena simply stood silently and allowed his gaze. Tamar had also noticed and tried to explain.

"Captain, I understand. I noticed your own marking immediately when I met you for the first time. In our culture, when two people bond, they take on the marking. Seena's bonded one carries the same mark."

Chakotay looked at Tamar in amazement. "There's so much here… It's so like my own people and how they used to…" He stopped himself, afraid of hurting anyone's feelings.

Tamar simply smiled. "Captain, the villagers choose to live like this. They prefer to shun modern ways of living. They use only what they need from the present, medicine and such like. For the rest of their lives, they prefer the past. They've seen what the present and talk of the future can do, the warring and fighting." Chakotay smiled his understanding. He turned back to Seena now, frantic for news of Kathryn and saw her staring at him, especially his forehead.

She slowly reached out and touched his face, Chakotay allowing her. "We all carry our markings but never here. Often they are partly hidden, only a part showing to let others know we are bonded." She smiled softly at him. "I know your marking. It's the same. So different from ours though."

Chakotay frowned now. "You know my tat…my marking?"

Seena nodded and smiled again. "Ours are smaller and less detailed. Yours are… I like them."

Chakotay shook his head in confusion. "Them? Seena, how do you know?"

Seena now frowned. "How do I know? From Miraba, of course. You're her bonded one, aren't you? You carry the mark as does she." She looked at him as if he should know all this.

Chakotay turned quickly to Tamar. "Is Kathryn here? Tamar, please…"

The young soldier nodded slowly. "She is here but… Captain, they have done all they can. She's very weak."

Chakotay was already giving Tuvok orders to get the Doctor and Tom down, then looked at Tamar for permission, his eyes begging.

Tamar spoke quickly with another man and then gave his permission. "They trust me, know they can. They can come. I just needed for the villagers to know what to expect." Chakotay nodded his understanding but his eyes pleaded and Tamar moved off, indicating for them to follow him.

Chakotay spoke quietly with the young man as they walked. "What did Seena mean about knowing my marking, and what or who is 'Miraba'?"

Tamar spoke quietly when he answered. "I'm unsure how she knew your marking unless your captain is also your mate and carries your mark." Chakotay shook his head sadly but didn't speak. "As to the name… 'Miraba' is our word for… It's difficult to explain. It's a cross between stranger and friend, one you help, one who moves quickly from stranger to friend. It's hard to explain." Chakotay again nodded his understanding.

Seena led them to a slightly larger hut than the others and called out to someone inside. Tamar stood back and let Chakotay and Tuvok precede him inside. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the dimness and Chakotay looked around him. The scent of herbs and smoke filled the interior of the building and Chakotay found his mind drifting back to his boyhood, a thousand memories filling his head. He almost felt his father's presence with him. He now made out a small cot, the occupant hidden from his view by another woman. He slowly made his way towards it, steeling himself for what he'd find. The second woman looked up slowly and nodded, then stood back as this stranger approached.

Chakotay was barely aware of her taking in his tattoo as he met her eyes briefly then looked towards the small bed. What he saw there brought him to his knees.

Kathryn lay on the cot, her eyes closed and even in the dim light, her skin appeared an unnatural, almost grey colour. The rasping sound of her breathing reached his ears and he slowly reached out a hand to touch her arm. He gasped as his fingers made contact with her skin, the heat radiating off it almost burning him.

"Kathryn…oh Spirits…" His voice choked up and he felt his tears falling. "Kathryn…" He became aware of a soft hand on his shoulder and looked up into the face of Seena.

"We have done all we can. We managed to remove some of the projectiles from her body but others were too deep." Chakotay nodded, his eyes never leaving the sight before him. "The medicines, the ones from the outside, they don't work in her body. We've used our own, herbs and such like. They help but…"

Chakotay looked up finally, refusing to hide his feelings from this woman. "Thank you for helping her. How is she?" His throat was closing, shutting off his words.

"She has a high fever. We've tried so hard to bring it down. Her wounds… They are badly infected and she has lost so much blood. We've no way of replacing it." Chakotay barely managed to nod his understanding. Seena bent down beside him now and reached for the thin sheet which covered Kathryn.

"We've done all we can and kept the wounds as clean as possible. We used poultices to try and draw the infection out and tried to stop the bleeding…" She pulled the sheet back and Chakotay almost fell backwards in shock. Kathryn's chest and abdomen were barely covered with loose-fitting dressings, blood and other fluids soaking through them, the herb pastes coating her skin. "We can't stop the bleeding. It's slowed considerably but we can't stop it. She's unconscious most of the time which is a blessing. She has a lot of pain." Chakotay bit down painfully on his lip and nodded. He then felt a hand on his arm and looked up into the face of the other woman.

"You are her bonded one. You carry her marking." She pointed to Chakotay's tattoo and frowned when she saw him shake his head in confusion. "Her marking." She pointed to the woman lying before her. She looked to Seena now and together they reached to their 'patient' and rolled her slightly, careful not to disturb the wounds. What Chakotay saw caused him to fall sideways into a sitting position, his eyes now riveted to the back of Kathryn's shoulder. There, in identical detail, was a copy of his tattoo. Without realizing the action, his hand reached out to touch the mark.

"Oh Kathryn…oh Spirits…" Before he could say anymore, he heard movement behind him and looked around quickly to see the Doctor and Tom hurry in. He heard Tuvok and Tamar explain quickly and forced himself to move back, allowing the medic to work. He heard his own voice but didn't realize he'd spoken.

"Doc, please help her…" He saw the EMH nod and move to Kathryn, quickly scanning her. He was then aware of Seena and the other woman speaking to the Doctor, telling him all they could.

"Occasionally she wakes but it's not real and she seems to have no understanding except the pain. Her eyes don't seem to see what is in front of her and she quickly grows frantic, tossing and trying to move and then she'll shake, almost like a seizure."

The Doctor nodded. "They are convulsions, as a result of the high fever and the infection."

Seena nodded. "She has torn the wounds open many times and we have more blood lost. We had no way to replace it. I'm sorry. We are quite different. There was so little we could do."

The Doctor looked up a moment and smiled softly. "You've done a wonderful job. The fact that she's still alive is a miracle." He caught himself quickly and glanced over at Chakotay. "I'm sorry."

Chakotay didn't look away from Kathryn. "Just help her, Doc."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Doctor nod and then heard him call to Tom. "Mr. Paris." Tom was beside the cot immediately, tearing himself away from staring at his captain, pushing down his emotions to concentrate on helping her. "I need to get some antibiotic into her now and we have to try and get this fever down before her heart gives out. She also badly needs blood and fluids." Chakotay watched helplessly as Tom and the Doctor went into action, scanning and pressing hypo after hypo against her neck. Within a short space of time, he heard her breathing ease a little.

"We need to get her back to the ship immediately. These bullets must be removed. One is too close to her heart for my liking. I don't want to move her but…" He looked at Chakotay first, then changed his mind and spoke to Tuvok instead. "Can we transport her from here?" Tuvok nodded immediately and contacted Voyager to arrange the beam out.

Just as they were about to transport, a soft moan filled the air and all eyes flew to the woman before them. Chakotay gasped when he saw Kathryn's eyes barely open and her head move slightly.

Seena rushed forward. "We have to hold her. This is one of her fits." She saw the Doctor before her nod his understanding and move into action. Suddenly Kathryn's body convulsed before their eyes and she cried out, her back arching off the small cot. Seena and the Doctor barely managed to hold her in place.

"Chakotay…" It was a painful cry and tore at Chakotay's heart.

Without pausing, he moved to her and stroked her face, whispering quietly to her. "I'm here, love. It's all right. You're safe. Shhhhh now, I'm here." She seemed to hear him somehow and within a minute, settled down. Her eyes were barely open, staring unseeing at him and beads of sweat covered her face and body but she continued to almost shiver.

"Chakotay. Help me." Her voice was a bare whisper and he continued to speaking to her, praying she could hear him, that he was giving her some comfort. "Please. Pain. So cold." Her words cut through him.

"Shhhhh, it's all right, love. I'm here." The heat from her skin burned into his hands. "We're taking you back to Voyager. Everything is all right. You'll be fine. I'm here." Slowly her body stilled and her eyes slipped closed again but her breathing had deteriorated once more. Chakotay looked quickly to the Doctor, seeking what hope he could find.

"We have to get her back now. We can't delay another second." He looked to Tuvok who nodded and within a minute, they were in sickbay.


The next hours took on an unreal quality for Chakotay as he waited for news. At times the hours seemed to crawl by, yet again he would feel they'd only just arrived. He sat for some moments and then stood and paced before sitting again, unable to keep still. Every now and then he looked towards the door to the surgical bay but it remained closed, hiding behind it the struggle for life he knew was taking place inside the small room.

Finally, some five hours later, his head snapped up when he heard the door slide open and saw Voyager's EMH emerge, his surgical gown covered in Kathryn's blood. Chakotay's eyes bored into the Doctor's and he watched as the man removed his soiled clothing and discarded it, before making his way to his office where Chakotay had waited.

"Doc, please. Tell me she'll live. Tell me…"

The Doctor held up a hand and motioned for him to sit before easing into his own chair behind his desk.
"Cap…" One look at the man before him, stopped him. "Commander… I can only tell you that her condition is critical. I'm sorry I have no better news. I'm amazed she came through so much surgery at all." The Doctor averted his eyes from the sight before him, Voyager's First Officer as a broken man. It was a sight he'd become far to used to seeing of late.

"Commander, I've managed to remove all the metal projectiles, the bullets. As I said before, one of them was nestled very close to her heart but I've removed it safely. Her wounds were extremely serious. The internal damage was extensive but that is the least of our worries." Chakotay shook his head, trying to filter some hope from the Medic's words. "Our biggest problem now is the infection which unfortunately is well established and the resultant fever. Her temperature is extremely high and the risks to her heart from all this strain…" Chakotay stood quickly and turned away.

"Commander, those people kept her alive against all the odds. By rights, she should have died almost immediately. The blood loss and shock alone. I'm sorry for how that sounds but I believe you can draw strength from that. That she's come this far is a testament to her own strength. I truly believe this would have killed a lesser person."

Chakotay turned quickly and fixed the Doctor with a painful look. "I know what you're saying and I know it should help. It's just… Spirits, I feel so useless, so helpless. Why didn't I go back immediately? Why didn't I…?"

The Doctor stood abruptly. "Commander Chakotay, this will not help. It won't help you and it won't help her either. We deal with what we can now."

Chakotay held his hands up in surrender.

"I know. I know. It's just…" He saw the Doctor understood only too well. "I'm sorry."

The Doctor nodded his understanding. "Tom is making her as comfortable as possible. You can see her in a moment and sit with her for a while. It'll be some time before we know."

Chakotay shook his head, trying to force himself to function. "How long before…?"

The Doctor came around from behind his desk and patted his Commander's arm. "The next twenty-four hours are the most critical. If she gets through that, she has a better chance. She won't be out of the woods but she will have a good fighting chance. The next twenty-four hours following that will tell us everything." Chakotay nodded and turned to stare though the glass panel which cut the small office off from the rest of sickbay. He idly traced patterns on the glass, watching the smudges his fingers made.

The Doctor's voice made him turn around again. "Commander, you must be prepared for… Well, especially the next twenty-four hours." Chakotay just stared at him. "I'm saturating her system with antibiotics and many other drugs. We have to control this infection and bring her fever down. I've also added painkillers to this cocktail of drugs. We must hope that her system can take this rigorous treatment but without it… This is her only chance despite how risky it is." He hesitated a moment and then decided to be totally honest.

"I must also warn you that she will most likely suffer more seizures, more of what we witnessed earlier. I've healed her wounds so she won't suffer any further blood loss. All her internal and external injuries have been healed and I'm giving her fresh blood transfusions as we speak." They both looked up at the sound of the door to the surgical bay opening again and saw Tom emerge, his own gown blood splattered.

The young pilot nodded to them both as he removed the gown and threw it away. He then made his way to the office. "She's comfortable, Doc."

The medic nodded and smiled slightly. "Go sit with her, Commander. I'll be right here if you need me. I'm monitoring her extremely closely." Chakotay nodded his thanks and gripped the Doctor's arm then Tom's. Unable to find the right words, he turned and left. He missed the sad look which passed between Tom and the Doctor.

Over the next twenty-four hours, Chakotay refused to leave Kathryn's side and the Doctor gave up trying to move him. Together they battled endlessly to save the life of the woman lying before them. Kathryn had several seizures, her body arching and spasming as the infection and fever raged through her. She cried out in agony and desperation, despite the painkillers, as Chakotay and the Doctor or Tom helped him hold her down. Each time though, Chakotay's quiet whispers seemed to penetrate the waves of pain and reach her somewhere and she'd slowly settle, her eyes staring at nothing, a pained yet glazed look in them, before they slipped closed once more.

Chakotay spent hours sponging her body down with cool water in the hope of bringing her temperature down and noticed that the coolness of the liquid always seemed to sooth her in some way. When the episodes of delirium took over, she repeatedly called out to him, her cries tearing into his heart like knives. During her quieter times, he just sat beside her and held her hand, reading to her from anything he could find, praying that his voice reached her and brought her comfort.

At the end of thirty-six hours, the Doctor appeared more hopeful and informed Chakotay that her temperature had fallen and the infection was lessening. "We still have a way to go, Commander. You know that."

Chakotay nodded his understanding but he couldn't help the tinges of hope which crept into him. "I know that, Doc. I just feel she'll fight this. I know she won't let go that easily."

The EMH nodded his head. "I'm sure you're right but none of this has been easy. She's fought like I've never seen anyone fight before. You must expect that even if she comes through this, it will take her some considerable time to get over it. She has a long road ahead of her."

Chakotay sighed deeply. "I know all that but I also know the fighter she is." He looked up and saw the Doctor smile his understanding. A sudden thought came to him now. "Doc, I wanted to ask…" He looked away a moment then back. "Did you know anything about her tattoo? I saw it…"

The Doctor hung his head a moment then looked back up. "She requested that quite some time ago, about a month after the two of you returned to the ship from that planet where you both contracted the virus. I'm sorry. I shouldn't really be discussing this. She swore me to secrecy." He smiled slightly. "Since you've already seen it though… I remember we were both nervous. Her first tattoo and my first time drawing one. She gave me a holoimage to work from. I think I did rather well actually."

Chakotay managed a small smile. "It's perfect. I just never knew. She never spoke of it."

The Doctor shook his head sadly. "No, she wouldn't have, more's the pity." Chakotay frowned as the Doctor smiled now. "Come now, Commander. Do you really think none of us know what's between you both?"

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "There's nothing between us. Not like that."

The Doctor moved a little closer. "As I said, more's the pity." He smiled at the look on Chakotay's face. "What I meant was… Well, it's plain to see how you both feel about each other. It's only the two of you, and especially the captain, who think a relationship wouldn't be welcomed by every member of this crew. You forget, Commander, that as this ship's only Doctor, I hear just about everything. There isn't one crewmember who would object in the slightest to the two of you being together. In fact, they'd welcome it with open arms."

Chakotay shook his head sadly again. "I know that. I just wish she did."

Chakotay felt the Doctor's hand on his arm and looked up. "Perhaps it would be wise to tell her that then, Commander. She's going to have a lot of time on her hands over the coming weeks. She certainly won't be allowed to return to duty until I'm completely satisfied that she's ready. Look, at this stage, I truly believe she'll recover fully from this. Use that time well and make her see how wrong she's been." Chakotay managed a bigger smile this time.

The following day, Chakotay and Tuvok agreed it was best to break orbit and move on. They both transported to the planet to say their goodbyes and to thank Danus, Coren and Tamar for all their help. Chakotay returned to the village with Tamar and Tuvok and spoke with Seena and the other women who had cared for Kathryn so well, thanking them for all they'd done and telling them that she would most likely make a full recovery. He explained as gently as he could that they had to leave, telling them of their long journey to reach home and was grateful to see that they understood. As Voyager moved on, Chakotay and the crew all felt a weight lifting from them. There were too many bad memories on Solus, despite how everything had turned out.

Another three days passed while Kathryn remained unconscious but her seizures had stopped and her breathing was almost back to normal. The Doctor reported to Chakotay that the infection which had raged through her body was finally out of her system and her temperature was almost back to what it should be. All signs of her fever had also left.

"Why doesn't she wake up?" Chakotay was showing the strains of the past two weeks, in particular the past days. He'd barely left Kathryn's side, leaving only to beam down to Solus that one time or to check on the ship and grab something to eat. He'd even taken to sleeping in a chair by her side or stretched out on one of the adjoining biobeds.

"Commander, you know as well as I do that the human body, mother nature if you prefer, makes its own way in these matters. The captain will come around when her body is ready for that, not before. It has been through a terrible trauma and needs time to recover."

Chakotay smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Doc. I just want… I want to see her open her eyes so much and know that she's really back with me, with us."

The Doctor smiled and nodded his understanding. "Just as long as you give me your word that the moment she comes around, you'll go to your own quarters and get the sleep you so badly need. The captain will need her sleep too, despite having been unconscious for so long. She'll need real sleep, not what this is."

Chakotay sighed and closed his eyes a moment. "I promise. As soon as I see her…" Almost as if sensing his words or even hearing them, Chakotay felt Kathryn's hand move slightly in his. The change in his expression alerted the Doctor first, just before the monitor sounded.

Kathryn moved her head slightly, her eyes moving under her eyelids as she fought towards consciousness. Chakotay leaned over and whispered into her ear, using his voice to guide her. "Kathryn. Kathryn. Follow my voice. Come on, open your eyes. Kathryn, come on." She murmured slightly and barely managed to pry her eyelids open before closing them again. Immediately the Doctor ordered the lights to 50% illumination.

Chakotay smiled his thanks and called to her again. "Kathryn, come on now. Open your eyes. It's not as bright now. Come on, Kathryn. Fight this." He was finally rewarded by her eyes opening, showing him the blue depths he loved so much. "There you are. Kathryn, look at me."

She managed to turn her head and slowly focused on him. "Chakotay?" Her voice sounded hoarse and she licked at her lips, trying to wet them.

Chakotay's face broke into a tearful smile. "Yeah, it's me. Who were you expecting?"

She seemed extremely confused and he saw her try to work things out in her head. "You can't be… You have to leave. Get them safe. Leave me."

Chakotay fought to keep the pain from showing on his face. "Kathryn, listen carefully to me. We're all safe. It's over. We got back to the ship. I'll explain it all later but we got you back. You were hurt but… Kathryn, you're back on Voyager. You're safe." He saw how confused she still was and squeezed her hand tightly.

The Doctor now moved around to her and she moved her eyes to him. "Doctor, I don't…"

The Medic smiled gently. "Excuse me, Commander." Chakotay reluctantly let go of her hand and stood back, allowing the Doctor to do his work and watched as he scanned his patient. "Captain, it's all true. You're back on Voyager and you're going to be fine. Mr. Tuvok and Mr. Collins are both fully recovered. You had some bad injuries but they're healing very nicely." Chakotay saw her slowly accept the Doctor's words. "Now Captain, I want you to get some real sleep for me and hopefully the Commander here will keep his word and return to his quarters where he'll join you in the land of nod." The Medic stared pointedly at Voyager's First Officer.

Chakotay gave in and nodded. "All right. I did give you my word. Just reassure me that she'll be fine." One look from the Doctor and he shut up. "All right. I'll just have a quick word and then I'll go, I promise." The Doctor snapped his tricorder shut and moved away, shaking his head.

Chakotay moved back to Kathryn's side and took her hand again. "You heard him. You're going to be fine." He felt his throat closing off and said nothing more but even in her weakened state, Kathryn saw the effect everything had had on him.

"You've…" She tried to clear her throat. "You've been here how long?"

Chakotay just smiled. "Oh, on and off. A few days. Someone had to keep an eye on you."

Kathryn just stared at him. "Why? I don't deserve… You're always there for me." She tried to turn her head but his finger on her chin stopped her.

He looked deeply into her eyes. "Well, you are my bonded one." He saw that his words confused her and smiled. "I'll explain later. For now, just know that I'm here and that we're all fine. Just sleep, Kathryn. Rest and get well again." She nodded and blinked back a few tears. Chakotay played his instinct then leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "Sleep well, Kathryn. I'll be back later." She managed a small smile before her eyes slipped closed again. Chakotay studied her for another moment then bent and brushed his lips to hers. She smiled slightly in her sleep.

Over the next few days, Kathryn amazed the Doctor with a remarkable recovery and within four days, was already demanding to return to her own quarters, although she never asked about what had happened on the planet and no one mentioned it to her either.

"Captain…" The Medic appeared stern. "You're well enough now to take this. I can tell you that you came extremely close to dying." He saw how shocked she was at his words but he pushed on. "I don't mean to shock you or upset you with that but you have to accept how close you came this time. You cannot push yourself like this. I've often allowed you to have your own way, even when I thought better of it, but not this time. You will remain here for another two days and then, and only then, will I allow you to return to your quarters if I'm satisfied with your progress. Now Captain, do we understand each other?" Kathryn just stared at the Hologram and managed to nod. Her eyes went to Chakotay now who'd been standing to her right.

He moved over to her as the Doctor returned to his office. "You took that well." He couldn't keep the smile from his face.

"Can you believe him? The nerve…"

Chakotay's smile slipped a little now. "Kathryn, he's right. You have to know how close we came to losing you." He stopped and looked away, unable to say more.

Suddenly he felt her soft hand on his. "Chakotay, I'm sorry. I understand."

From out of nowhere, an anger filled Chakotay. "No, Kathryn. I don't think you do. You've no idea of what we, what this crew, what I, what we all went through over the past weeks." Suddenly feeling ashamed for almost attacking her, he turned away, pulling his hand from hers. When he looked back, tears were running freely from her eyes. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. It's just…" He reached for her hand again and clutched it tightly. He was afraid he'd break down if he said anything else.

"Chakotay, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. What happened down there…"

He squeezed her hand and nodded. "Look, now is not the time. We'll talk in a few days when you're out of here and well on the road to recovery." He managed a small smile and she returned it.

"Oh, you'll wait until I can defend myself a little better?"

He nodded his head. "Something like that." They were silent for a moment, just staring at each other, until the Doctor returned and threw Chakotay out.

True to his word, the Doctor let his patient leave sickbay in two days time and Chakotay escorted her back to her quarters. "You know it'll be another week before you're allowed any coffee?"

Kathryn sighed deeply and shook her head. "Knowing our Doctor he has my replicator monitored." She grinned at Chakotay now. "You could get me one from yours though."

Chakotay laughed and shook his head. "Oh no, woman, you're not dragging me into this. I'm with the Doc on this one. I'm bowing to his superior knowledge on your medical condition. He knows what's best for you."

Kathryn pouted. "Traitor."

Chakotay only stayed long enough to replicate Kathryn some tea and see her settled. She was more tired than she let on and finally agreed to take a nap, her lack of argument telling Chakotay just how worn out she really was. He returned that evening and prepared some dinner for her, staying only an hour afterwards, before letting her return to her bed.

This set the pattern for the next two days, time in which they both still avoided talking of what had happened on Solus. Eventually the Doctor gave Kathryn permission to return to limited duty and she jumped back in, having been nearly out of her mind with boredom and badly needing the distraction from her thoughts. She delighted in the crew's reaction to her, refusing to hide their feelings at how happy they were to have their captain back.

As the days passed, Kathryn slowly began to sense a change in Chakotay, although he never spoke of anything, simply being there for her as he had always been. She couldn't help but notice though that there was something bothering him, something he kept hidden just below the surface but which was beginning to show a little now. She casually questioned him occasionally but he constantly assured her that he was fine. Finally, she'd had enough and left a message for him to meet her on the holodeck after their shifts had ended, knowing they finally had to speak of what had happened.

When Chakotay entered Holodeck 2 that evening, he found Kathryn sitting on a beach she'd programmed in. He slowly made his way towards her and managed a smile. "Why did you want to meet me here?" He tried to keep his voice even.

She smiled at him and patted the sand beside her, watching him as he sat down slowly. "I thought we needed some time together." She ignored the nervous look on his face. "I've brought a picnic dinner but I thought we could take a swim first. I've left some swimming shorts for you there beside that towel." Without giving him time to think about it, she stood quickly and slipped her robe off then headed towards the water. Chakotay stared after her for a moment, admiring her body. He saw that the swimsuit she wore was designed to cover her back and shoulders, hiding her tattoo from view. The image of it filled his mind for a moment and he wondered how she'd react when she learned that he knew of its existence. He decided to leave that thought alone for the moment and turned away before starting to undress. Suddenly the air was filled with Kathryn's scream.

Chakotay jumped up and raced towards her and grabbed her from behind, pulling her back out of the water which had only reached to her knees. Kathryn twisted in his grasp, her heart pounding and stared into his face. The look of fear there almost stopped her breath.

"What's wrong? Are you hurt? What happened?" He was close to full panic as his hands gripped her arms tightly, bruising her.

"I'm fine." She couldn't understand his reaction and pulled a little from his painful grasp. "Chakotay, what's wrong?" She saw tears fill his eyes.

"You screamed. I thought…" His eyes searched her face.

"The water was cold." Her confusion grew and suddenly she saw him grow angry as he started to shake her.

"Don't ever do that again. You scared the hell out of me. I thought…" He stopped dead when he realized how hard he was shaking her and instantly dropped his hands. "Oh Spirits, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" He stood back from her but Kathryn moved towards him.

"Chakotay, I don't understand." She saw his anger re-surface as he glared at her.

"Of course, you don't. You've no idea, on top of which you don't care." He watched her shaking her head, seeing that she didn't understand. "You've no idea of what you put us all through, what we went through." He stared at her a moment longer and then turned and marched away.

Kathryn stood shaken for a moment as she rubbed her arms where his fingers had pressed into the flesh so forcefully. Finally she found her voice and ran after him, picking up her robe and slipping it on as she went. "Chakotay. Chakotay, wait." He kept walking and finally she managed to catch up with him and move in front of him, almost being knocked over. "Dammit, Chakotay, don't you dare walk away from me like that." She saw the pain and anger still in his eyes.

He spat his words out at her. "Is that another order, Captain?" His words cut her to the quick with their harshness. Tears sprang to her eyes as a wave of hurt washed over her. She stood for a minute, shaking her head then backed off a little. Without warning, she turned and ran.

It took Chakotay several minutes before he was thinking straight and by the time he came back to himself, Kathryn was nowhere in sight. He asked the computer for her location and was informed that she was on Holodeck 2. Instead of searching for her, he ordered the program to shut down, knowing he'd see her immediately then. His eyes now scanned the empty metal room but there was no sign of Kathryn, only her comm badge lying on the floor near him where she had taken it off. He cursed loudly and picked it up. He'd have to look for her now but he knew she'd most likely have headed back to her quarters, wearing only a swimsuit and robe.

He quickly left the Holodeck and almost ran to her quarters, where he rang her bell three times, receiving no answer. He used his override code and entered but there was no sign of her. "Computer, locate Captain Janeway using her bio signature."

The flat voice of the computer came back to him. "Captain Janeway is in Storage Bay 3." He shook his head, grabbed a blanket and left.

Chakotay entered the Storage Bay and shivered. Trust Kathryn to pick the coldest spot on the ship. He searched around for several minutes, not wanting to call out to her and cause her to run again. Finally, he heard muffled crying over in the corner and followed the sound. The sight that met him brought tears to his own eyes.

Kathryn sat huddled in the corner behind a storage bin, her knees drawn up to her chest, her head down and her arms wrapped around her legs. He saw the beginning of bruises on her arms where the short sleeves of her robe had fallen back and shivered. Her entire body shook with sobs. Chakotay quietly knelt down in front of her and gently reached out and touched her leg. She jerked her head up, a look of fright on her face. Tears poured down her cheeks. She tried unsuccessfully to move away from him and stand up but he grabbed her and held her in place. "You're not running from me again, Kathryn."

She turned her head away from him. "Just leave me alone, Chakotay."

He pulled her back to face him. "Kathryn, I'm sorry for what I said and for hurting you. I just wanted you to know, to understand." He sighed deeply. "Kathryn, come back to your quarters or mine. You'll freeze down here." He rubbed her arms. "You're already cold and you're bruising. I'm sorry for that."

She sniffed loudly. "I'm fine. Just let me be, and before you say it, that's not an 'order'."

Chakotay smiled sadly. "I guess I asked for that one." He shook his head. "Kathryn, I've said I'm sorry. Just come back and talk to me. Kathryn, please." He watched her closely as she studied the floor in front of her and finally she nodded. He stood now and pulled her up with him, slipping the blanket around her shoulders. "Come on. You're cold." She said nothing as they left the Storage Bay and returned to her quarters.

Kathryn sat quietly now as Chakotay replicated tea for them both. He studied her as he sat down on the sofa beside her. He set the cups down and reached out to pull the warmer blanket he'd thrown around her shoulders a little tighter. "Feeling any warmer?"

She barely nodded and reached for her tea. "I'm fine."

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, look once again I'm sorry if I hurt you. You just scared me. When you screamed, it brought it all back and I just reacted." He looked at her and saw her turn her head to him.

"I don't understand."

He nodded and reached for his own tea. "How much do you remember? I mean on the planet." He looked back at her, finally touching on the subject they'd both avoided and saw her remember.

"Do you mean after you left?"

He shook his head, trying to control his emotions. "Yeah, I mean after that, after you ordered us to leave you there."

She heard the bitterness in his voice. "Ah, so that's what this is about. Well, I guess we do need to talk about this." She smiled softly. "Chakotay, you'd have done the same thing and don't deny it." She saw from his face, which he now averted from her eyes, that she was at the truth.

Finally, he spoke. "All right, you're right." He drew in a deep breath. "I'd have done the same but you have to understand that if it had been me…" He looked up at her again. "If it had been me, you'd be the one sitting here saying my words now and you know that."

Kathryn smiled a little. "Touché. So what do we do now?" She met and held his gaze.

He shook his head. "I guess we talk. We try and explain to the other what each of us is feeling and then attempt to understand each other. Can we try that?"

Kathryn nodded her head. "Sounds good. Do you want to go first?"

He shook his head. "I asked you first." She nodded and took another sip of her tea then placed the cup back on the table. She pushed the blanket back from her shoulders, warmer now and played with her fingers.

"I don't have much memory of later. You know the first bit. You were there." She looked up at him briefly and saw the pain the memory caused. "I remember looking behind me, seeing you crossing the clearing and knowing you were into the passage. I was still firing and then… I don't know. Somewhere in my mind I knew I'd been hit but there was no pain for a minute." She pulled at a fingernail. "I remember seeing the gun fall from my hands and then there was this slash of pain, right across my body. Strangely, I don't remember seeing any blood. I felt myself falling and I remember hearing a scream but I didn't know if it was mine." She looked up into Chakotay's eyes. The pain there, along with the memory of his earlier reaction, told her the scream had been hers, that he'd heard it. She nodded sadly. "I see it was my scream and that you did hear it." She looked away a moment then back at him again when he spoke.

"We all heard it, Kathryn. It haunted me for… It still does."

She waited to see if he was going to say more and when it didn't, she continued. "I remember a soldier standing over me, his head blocking the sun from my eyes and then there were others." She licked at her lips now. "The first one had just looked down at me, said nothing, but the other one, I think a leader or something, he screamed at me, spat on me. He said something about leaving me there, letting me die in my own blood and then they left." She blinked back her tears and reached for her cup again but didn't drink, just needing to have something for her hands to do.

"I don't know how long I lay there. I know the pain was… It was all consuming and I couldn't breathe very well. I felt cold and I couldn't move. Then the first soldier was back and he looked down at me again." She swirled the liquid in her cup, unable to look at Chakotay now. "Finally he raised his weapon to me and I thought he was going to finish me off and I was in so much pain. I guess I…" She finally looked at him but said no more.

"You asked him to end it for you, to end your pain, to do it quickly."

Kathryn's eyes grew wider. "How did…?"

Chakotay pulled his eyes from hers. "I spoke with that soldier. His name is Tamar and he was a plant in their army. He came here and led us to you. He told me everything." He looked back at her and saw her tears return. "Your words still haunt him."

Kathryn gasped now and her hand flew to her mouth. "I'm sorry. I didn't know, didn't realize. Oh Chakotay, I'm sorry." She put her cup down and reached out to touch his arm. "I'm sorry you had to find out like that. It was just…"

Chakotay shook his head. "I thought you'd know all this, would have read the reports, especially since coming back on duty."

Kathryn shook her head. "I guess I've been avoiding it. Oh, I started to read them several times but then… I don't know. I guess it's been haunting me too." She looked at him sadly and moved her hand down his arm towards his hand.

Chakotay pulled from her hand and stood quickly. "You know why I'm so angry?" He looked back at her as she shook her head. "It's because I DO understand. I understand only too well because I'd have done the same. It just hurts like hell because I know what you went through, because I understand it more than I want to and I can tell you the rest too." He kept his eyes locked on hers and saw her tears. "He fired into the ground above your head and you thought he'd done it, finished it for you. You said my name just before he fired." He ignored the sob which tore from her throat. "You then watched him walk away. He thinks you tried to call after him, perhaps beg him to do it." He saw from her eyes that he was right, a look of something akin to guilt there. "When they came back…" He watched her closely. "That's right. Tamar's Commander came back to check his work but you'd passed out at that stage and they thought you were dead. Do you remember him putting something into your uniform?" Kathryn looked confused now and then remembered. She nodded slowly, as she stared back at him. Chakotay shook his head.

"Kathryn, that was a homing device, something the Resistance used to locate their fallen soldiers. He gave his up for you, in the hope that the villagers would come for you and find you. It was all he could do for you." He shook his head again and sat down beside her.

"They came, all right. They took you back and tried their best to treat you. Tamar's brother Coren and another man named Danus contacted us. Tamar found you again and brought us to you. You were bad, Kathryn. You were close to death. We took you back here and you know the rest." He sighed again.

"What you also don't know is how we all heard your scream when you were shot and have had to live with the memory since. When Tamar spoke with us and told us about what had happened at the ravine, that added to it all." He rubbed a hand across his forehead. "We didn't know for some time if you were alive or dead. There was hope suddenly after so much pain and yet… Then we found you. You've no idea of the guilt I still feel for not going back immediately after the attack or at least a little later, for letting you stay in the first place."

Kathryn reached for his hand. "You followed my orders, just as you'd have expected me to do. You couldn't have known."

Chakotay stared at the floor. "That doesn't help me, doesn't take away how I feel." He leaned back then and told her about Seena and the markings they all carried and how he'd seen the tattoo she carried on her shoulder.

"That's what you meant in sickbay about me being your bonded one?" Kathryn looked away now, deep embarrassment on her face.

She felt Chakotay's hand on her arm. "Why didn't you tell me? Why did you get it done?"

She forced herself to meet his eyes. "I wanted, needed something of you. It seemed the only way." Tears balanced on her eyelids and she blinked, causing them to run down her face.

Chakotay reached up and gently wiped at them. "Oh Kathryn, you didn't need that. Not when you can have it all. You've only ever had to say, let me know. I'm here for you and always have been."

She dropped her head. "I didn't for a long time. I couldn't. And then when I felt that I couldn't go on, not on my own… I thought you'd stopped, given up on me and I was afraid to say anything. I couldn't bear to hear you say you didn't feel anything anymore." She felt him lean over and gently grip her elbows. He shook her softly, getting her full attention and making her look at him.

"I never have and never will stop loving you. When I had to leave you there… Kathryn, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do and I only did it because I knew it was what you expected of me, that I understood that I'd have done the same, that it was all we could have done but I came so close to knocking you out too and taking your place and even now, I wish I'd done that. I can't forgive myself for not but my biggest regret was knowing that we had no more time, that we'd never said those words to each other and then I got your last message when we, when the computer… And I heard your words." His tears joined hers now and he didn't attempt to hide them. "It was as if you had the chance to tell me, even after what I thought was your death but I'd still been denied it, denied the chance to say it to you."

He swallowed deeply. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I know my anger is the last thing you need, that you need my support more than anything to get through all this but you have to understand…" He shook his head sadly. "I was so angry with you for making that sacrifice, for giving your life for us and we all felt that way. I guess it was survivor guilt or something. I know you felt you had to do that for us but you have to realize that for me at least, I'd rather have died. I'd rather be dead than live with the knowledge that I was alive at the cost of your life. Can you understand that? Even Tuvok can't deal with this."

He spoke on for a long time, telling her everything that had happened, wanting nothing unsaid between them. He downloaded all the reports and let her read them, sitting quietly as she read through them, a silent witness to her tears. In the end, they clung to each other, finding a solace and a release in each other's arms, beginning what they both hoped was the start of a deep healing.


Chakotay woke first and slowly realized that they'd both fallen into a deep sleep in each other's arms. He lay still for a long time, watching her sleeping face, drawing comfort from her soft breath on his face. As if sensing his gaze, she slowly woke, her eyes opening, revealing the blue depths which had been hidden. She smiled softly at him and stretched in his arms. "What time is it?"

He shook his head. "I don't know." He asked the computer for the time and was informed that it was 06:30. "It's still early and you're not yet back on full duty. Why don't you go to bed and get some more sleep? I have to be on duty but I'll call by at lunchtime and see you."

She nodded slowly. "I think I will." She hesitated a moment. "Chakotay, about my tattoo…"

He kissed the side of her head. "We'll talk about that later. Just tell me that we can make this work, that you'll let me into your life now." He watched her face carefully, afraid of her answer. He let out the breath he'd been holding when she simply nodded her head.

"If you still want me." Her answer came in a crushing hug.

When Chakotay called by Kathryn's quarters at lunchtime, he found her still asleep and decided she needed the rest more than she did something to eat. He left a message on a padd on her bedside table and quietly let himself out again.

Kathryn awoke about 14:00 hours and stretched lazily. She was surprised by how long she'd slept but her body quickly let her know how much she'd needed the rest. For the first time since she'd regained consciousness, she felt almost human again. She showered and dressed then requested from the computer the location of Tuvok, Tom and B'Elanna. Staying in her quarters only long enough to eat something light, she headed off to see her Security Officer, who she knew was off duty, and spent the next hour and a half with him, trying to explain why she'd knocked him out and attempting to ease his guilt. In the end, she felt she'd succeeded. When she left him, she knew their friendship would be all right and that Tuvok had gained an acceptance and a peace he'd been lacking.

Tom and B'Elanna were both still on duty but Kathryn made her way now to visit the other members of the original away team and by the end of the afternoon, had settled things with them. She finally saw the effect her staying behind had had on them all, but she also got them to understand why she'd acted as she had.

Near the end of the shift, she cornered B'Elanna in engineering and took her off duty a few minutes early. She then spent the next half hour in the engineer's office, mending fences there. Kathryn acknowledged the Klingon's feelings and listened patiently as they were spread out before her in no uncertain terms. Kathryn finally spoke and let her own feelings be known. As with the others, closure was reached.

As Kathryn left engineering, Chakotay contacted her and she promised she'd meet him within an hour, quickly explaining that she had things to take care of and would talk to him later. She then sought out Tom.

Tom found it easier to understand than the others had, but Kathryn still saw how everything had affected him. She learned from the young pilot just how badly Chakotay had taken it all, Tom passing on things B'Elanna had told him but which the young woman had omitted when they'd talked earlier.

Kathryn finally made her way back to her quarters, her energy level of earlier near rock bottom now. As soon as the doors closed behind her, she sagged against the wall in the darkness and slid to the floor, giving her tears the release they badly needed.

"Oh God…" She closed her eyes and banged her head off the wall. She brought her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. "I'm sorry, all of you, but I had to do it. Why couldn't you understand?"

A soft voice broke through her misery. "We understood but it still hurt like hell."

Kathryn's eyes flew open to see Chakotay sitting on her sofa in the dark. She shakily rose to her feet. "I didn't see you. I was… I had to…"

Chakotay stood now and walked towards her. "I know where you were and what you were doing. I'm not scolding you, Kathryn. I'm just trying to explain how badly affected we all were, how much pain we were in."

Kathryn stared back at him. "Especially you? I heard about…"

Chakotay actually blushed. "B'Elanna?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Actually it was Tom but he meant no disrespect. He just felt I should know and I'm glad I do."

Chakotay turned away now. "What difference does it make?"

Kathryn moved to him. "It makes a lot of difference because it helps me understand what you went through." She reached out and gripped his arm gently. "Chakotay, you said before that we needed to understand how we each felt."

He turned back to her. "I know I did and I do understand. It's just letting go of the feelings from it all." He looked deep into her eyes. "It'll just take time." Kathryn nodded her understanding. Slowly they made their way to the sofa and then sat talking for the next two hours. By the end of that time, a lot had been resolved.

They sat close together, silent now but at peace with each other for the most part. Kathryn stirred now and looked at him. "Chakotay, I know this sounds crazy but did you thank Tam…that soldier. I can't remember his name. I'm sorry about that."

Chakotay nodded his head. "Tamar and yes, I thanked him. I thanked them all." He shook his head. "I know you'd probably like to have spoken with them but we needed to move on. That was my decision and they understood. We'd still be in communications range if we boosted the power output…"

Kathryn nodded. "I'd like to speak with them, especially Tamar and perhaps the villagers who looked after me."

Chakotay nodded his understanding. "I'll see what we can do." He stood up and looked down at her. "I'll let you know if it can be done. I'll go now before we get any further away." Kathryn smiled and nodded.

Within half an hour, communication had been established with Solus and Kathryn managed to speak with Tamar over a slightly distorted link. She passed messages on to Seena and the others who'd cared for her so well, asking Tamar to record her message so they could hear it for themselves. She ended by thanking them all again and wishing them all the best for their future. When she finally closed the link, she felt more at peace with herself and knew from his face that some of Tamar's ghosts had been laid to rest also.

Kathryn returned to full duty three days later. In that time, Chakotay had not mentioned Kathryn's tattoo again and she hadn't brought the subject up either. They shared their evenings over dinner and talked long into the night about everything but that one subject. Finally, they both felt everything else had been dealt with, accepted and put away. They both now knew only one matter remained.

As they sat quietly sipping coffee after dinner one night, Chakotay finally brought the subject up. "Can you tell me about your tattoo? Can we talk about this now?"

Kathryn looked at him and nodded. "I asked the Doc to do it."

Chakotay nodded. "He told me. Nothing much but just that he'd done it, that you'd given him a holoimage to work from."

Kathryn smiled at the memory. "I think he was shocked. Not in a bad way, more surprised and I also think he was terrified."

Chakotay smiled also. "He was." He grew serious again. "I wish…"

Kathryn reached over and laid her hand on his arm. "So do I." She leaned over and put her cup down. "I hope you don't mind that I got it. I mean, is it all right? I often felt guilty for having it and knowing that you didn't know. It was like I'd stolen something from you, done this without your permission."

His smile answered her and he shook his head. "Kathryn, it honours me." He watched her carefully. "Could I…?" He hesitated. "Could I see it?" She nodded and smiled shyly then turned her back to him, slipping her loose sweater off her shoulder. She felt his fingers gently tracing over the area and shivered slightly at his touch. "It's beautiful. Amazing."

She heard the barely controlled tears in his voice and turned back to him, almost embarrassed as she slipped her sweater back up over her shoulder. "I felt that I'd no right to it, that I was going behind your back but it seemed the only way to have a part of you."

He shook his head again. "I just wish I'd known before."

Kathryn nodded sadly. "When we looked at each other, that moment before I… Well, you know." He barely nodded. "So much had been left unsaid and I knew in that moment that you still cared, still had feelings for me. For a second I thought perhaps it was just deep friendship but then I knew. I saw it all in your eyes, the depth of it all and that was worse." She saw him frown slightly.

"Chakotay, it was harder than facing my death." Her eyes began to tear up and she blinked, seeing him trying to fight his own. "I have regrets in my life, just like anyone and they all flew across my mind in those moments." She sighed deeply. "It was… I knew suddenly that I could live with the regrets for the things I'd done but it was…" She shook her head. "It was the regrets for the things I hadn't done that caused me the most pain."

Chakotay covered her hand with one of his and tried a smile. "I felt that too. There was so much I hadn't said and no more time." He choked up and felt his throat closing off painfully.

Kathryn nodded. "That was how I felt. I suddenly knew that I'd wasted all that time, I guess thinking there'd always be time to say or do…" She swallowed deeply. "In what I thought were the last moments of my life…" She saw him bite his lip hard. "In those moments, the deepest sadness came over me, not because I thought I was dying… I mean knowing I'd hopefully saved you all helped there, knowing that you'd get them home but it was the rest. My deepest sadness was because of what I'd lost." They just stared deeply at each other for a long time now, silently reading the depth of their feelings in each other's eyes. Finally, Chakotay just pulled Kathryn into his arms and held her, rocking her gently until they both fell asleep, both at peace.

Chakotay awoke the next morning to find Kathryn studying him this time. He yawned and smiled sleepily at her. "We keep falling asleep on each other."

She smiled back at him. "I guess you just make me feel so safe and loved." There was a faint touch of uncertainty in her eyes as if she felt she was being too forward.

Chakotay reached up and stroked her cheek with his finger. "That's because you are and I feel that same way with you." They remained quiet for a few minutes, each studying the other.

Finally, Kathryn spoke. "I didn't think I'd ever get the chance to tell you how I feel and I'm so sorry for wasting all that time." She looked away for a second, then back. "Chakotay, I love you. I so wish I'd said that to you before now to your face. I love you. I want to love you forever, make love to you, make love with you and share it all." She seemed slightly startled at the intensity of her own admission but her words broke a dam in him and he pulled her tightly to him.

"Oh Spirits, Kathryn, how long I've wanted to hear that." He pulled back and stared deeply into her eyes. "I love you too, more than you'll ever know. I want to love you for eternity, make love to you under the stars, worship you, touch you, feel you…" He swallowed deeply, his voice cracking.

Kathryn managed a watery smile. "If we didn't have to be on duty…"

He managed a small smile of his own. "Tonight. Tonight will be ours but there's something… Will you trust me with this? There's something I want to arrange for this, something I need for us. Will you let me do this?"

Kathryn nodded slowly. "Tonight." She looked embarrassed for a minute. "How I'm going to get through this shift though?"

Chakotay laughed and kissed the tip of her nose. "Think how much harder it'll be for me." He shook his head and laughed again. "Guess I should have phrased that better."

Kathryn laughed now, a flush coming to her face. "We're like a couple of High School kids."

Chakotay nodded his head. "I suppose we are. I just want our first time to be special beyond anything. I want it to be something we remember in our old age."

Kathryn fidgeted her way through her shift, drawing more of Tom's attention than she wanted to. Whenever he was on the bridge, Chakotay repeatedly gave her knowing little smiles that didn't help her either. Earlier, he had requested and been granted an extra long lunch break, Kathryn knowing he was arranging whatever his 'surprise' was. Never the most patient person, Kathryn was almost clawing at the bulkheads by the time her shift ended, much to Tom's amusement and Tuvok's confusion.

Kathryn hurried back to her quarters, knowing she only had an hour before Chakotay called for her. She promised herself half of that time to soak in the tub and lay back in the scented water, fighting the impulse to touch herself in response to the thoughts which raced through her head as she imagined the night ahead. For a moment it saddened her to remember how for so long the only loving touch her body had known had been her own. She was determined though to 'save herself' for Chakotay now, knowing the release when it came would be so much sweeter for it. She felt almost shy with herself at her own thoughts and uncertain also, hoping that she'd be able to please him, that she wouldn't disappoint him. Wanting him took over though and she pushed these thoughts away now.

Eagerly pulling herself from the water for once, she hurriedly dried herself and combed out her hair. She dressed carefully in a knee length lilac silk dress, adding the barest touch of make-up and perfume, before pinning her hair back, just at the sides. With only minutes to spare, she stood back and inspected herself in the bedroom mirror and nodded her head in approval. The door chime broke into her thoughts and she hurried to open the door.

Chakotay just stood in the open doorway for several minutes and stared, ignoring any passing crewmembers, much to Kathryn's amusement. She found she suddenly didn't mind their knowing looks and knew that within the hour, news of this would have passed through the entire ship. Chakotay suddenly came out of it and realized that he'd blown their little secret. His eyes flew to hers in apology but he saw immediately that she was more than comfortable with the situation. He slowly entered her quarters and smiled shyly. "Sorry about that. I guess they'll all know now. Are you all right with that?"

Kathryn returned his smile and nodded. "I've suddenly realized that I don't mind in the slightest. I guess I want them to know." Her face grew serious now. "Chakotay, I'm proud of what I feel for you and I don't care who knows it, even though it's taken me long enough to come to this point. I've too much shame and guilt for keeping it from you for so long. I don't want that anymore."

Chakotay swallowed and moved to her, taking her gently into his arms. "Let that shame and guilt go, Kathryn. Concentrate of what we have now and where we go from here. Nothing else matters."

She nodded her answer and buried her face in his chest. He barely heard her words. "I love you so much."

He smiled to himself. "I love you too, sweetheart, for now and for always." They swayed together for a few minutes and then Chakotay pulled back. "Come on, dinner is waiting." He smiled at her puzzlement. "All will be revealed as it happens." She'd get no more out of him for the moment.

Chakotay led Kathryn to the holodeck which he'd reserved for the entire night. Knowing crewmembers, having suspected something earlier in the day when they saw him checking the rota, had within minutes suddenly had other arrangements and cancelled their holodeck time for that evening. Chakotay had smiled his thanks to them, no words needed from either party.

Kathryn gasped when she saw the setting he'd programmed in. All around her were trees, their leaves rustling gently in a warm evening breeze. A large lake stretched out before her, water lilies and floating candles bobbing gently on the surface. The sky glowed in an array of colours, sunset fixed in time for them. Chakotay took her hand and led her over to a table and chairs she hadn't noticed, their meal already laid out and champagne on ice beside it.

"Oh Chakotay, it's all so perfect. I couldn't have wished for…" Her eyes filled with tears as she shook her head in wonder at it all.

Chakotay raised his hand and gently traced a few stray tears with his finger. "Only the best for my love." Not wanting her to break down completely, he pulled her gently over to the table. "Dinner is served, Madam. Your table awaits."

They spent a leisurely hour or more over their meal. Chakotay had opted for more simple fare, roast fowl and vegetables, finished off with coffee ice-cream, just because he knew it was her favourite. They danced slowly to soft music and eventually sat on the grass at the water's edge, sipping their drinks and watching the end of the sunset which Chakotay had ordered the computer to advance now.

As darkness fell around them, the air filled with the sweet smells of summer flowering stocks and the gentle noise of crickets. Chakotay watched Kathryn's face for several minutes, lit only by the stars and the candle light all around them, framing the image in his mind of the contented look he saw there. This was Kathryn at peace with her world and in love. He prayed silently to himself that tonight would be only the beginning of that look, that it would continue for the rest of her days and his.

Sensing his stare, she turned now and met his eyes. She smiled softly and reached for his hand, softly stroking the back of it with her thumb. "Thank you for all this. I'll never forget tonight." He smiled and nodded at her, turning his hand to squeeze hers. "How did you manage to get the holodeck for so long?"

Chakotay shook his head and told her about earlier in the day. Kathryn laughed. "So they knew already?"

Chakotay shrugged his shoulders. "I get the feeling that if they didn't, they copped on pretty quickly. Are you sure you're OK with them all knowing?"

Kathryn returned the squeeze on his hand. "I'm more than sure. I feel like running out there and telling them all for good measure, just in case someone hasn't heard yet." She laughed again now. "I wonder if Tom's enjoying his winnings?"

Chakotay's face dropped. "You know about that?"

Kathryn laughed harder now. "Chakotay, without worrying you, there's nothing on this ship I don't know about. Well, eventually, and Tom's betting pool has been going on for some time. I wish I'd thought to try my own luck now but I guess that would be cheating."

Chakotay just stared back at her in amazement. "Kathryn Janeway, you never cease to amaze me. I was sure they'd managed to keep that secret from you. I even warned Tom on many occasions." He laughed with her. "Guess I wasted my time."

Kathryn smiled and shook her head. "Thanks for thinking of me anyway." She smiled softly and looked down at their joined hands, watching her fingers trace over his knuckles. He sat up, took their glasses and placed them on the grass then laid his other hand over their joined hands and softly stroked the back of her hand now. She smiled and added her other hand, joining them. They looked up at each other at the same moment and stared deeply into each other's eyes. There were no words, just silent, unspoken love between them. Chakotay gently pulled one of his hands loose and brought it to Kathryn's face, his fingertips trailing softly down her cheek. His touch was almost electric to Kathryn and she gasped.

Chakotay stopped immediately, unsure for a moment until she smiled. "Your touch. It's… I'd forgotten." She was suddenly aware of her breathing changing and saw that he heard it also. He moved his hand and cupped her cheek, delighting in her response when she leaned her head to the side and into his hand. Answering his unasked question, she stared deeply into his eyes and nodded, as if giving her permission for the rest of their life to commence.

Chakotay moved his hand and just stared at her for a moment longer. He drank in the sight of her, determined to commit this moment to his memory for all time. Tearing his eyes away for a moment, he gazed up at the stars above them. "I need to tell you about this." He looked back at her. "I need to tell you about these stars." She barely nodded, knowing to remain silent and let him speak.

"Two days after, when I believed you were…" He choked up on the words and took a moment, swallowing deeply. "When I thought I'd lost you." He openly and honestly told her about standing in her ready room, staring out at the stars and what they'd meant to him as a child. He told her of his feelings that day and since, baring his very soul to her. By the time he'd finished speaking, tears ran down his face and he let them, ashamed of nothing where his feelings for this woman were concerned. He searched her face and saw his own sadness reflected there, his own tears, but drowning it all out was her love for him.

"Kathryn, can you understand why I wanted our first time to be here under these same stars?" She nodded, not trusting herself to speak and raised her hand to his face, gently stroking a finger across his lips. "And they're real, not a holoimage. These stars are reflected from outside. They're that important to me."

Kathryn shook her head in amazement at the trouble he had gone to for her. "I understand and I love you so much for it. Thank you for loving me so much."

Chakotay shook his head. "I could never not love you, Kathryn. You're the essence I breathe in every day, the substance of my soul, the reason for my being. I love everything about you and although that can cause me a lot of pain…" He saw a brief hurt cross her eyes. "Kathryn, I'm torn on this. To know that you would sacrifice your life for us all, it pains me, tears me apart that you'd leave me and yet it's who you are and why I love you, a part of who you are. Spirits, am I making any sense here?"

She smiled and nodded. "And you'd have done the same." She paused and drew in a deep breath. "Chakotay, it's over. Dwelling on it will only cause us more pain. I want to put all this behind us now and live. I want to live and love you. Nothing else."

He knew she was right and fought his pain down, letting his love for this woman drown it out. Instead of speaking anymore, he moved his face a little closer to hers and to his delight, she moved towards his, until there was almost nothing between them, except the feel of each other's breath. Slowly, gently, he brushed his lips to hers, then pressed a little more firmly. He felt a surge of joy and love rush through him as Kathryn responded and he heard a groan come from her throat.

Chakotay's hand snaked around the back of Kathryn's head, his fingers weaving through her soft hair. He pulled back a moment and undid the clips in her hair, brushing it out with his fingers until it fell softly around her face, framing it. His eyes drank in her beauty until, unable to resist her lips any longer, he leaned in for more.

Kathryn reached out for him and pulled him closer to her, their lips pressed tightly together now, mouths opening under the gentle pressure as they both fell backwards onto the grass, still holding tightly to each other. Chakotay's hand now slid down Kathryn's back, holding her to him as he felt her hands stroke up and down his own back, learning the feel of him. Slowly and gently he eased her backwards until she was lying beneath him, his hand now coming around to stroke the underside of her breast. Kathryn moaned softly as his hand covered the soft mound, his fingertips seeking her nipple, already peaked.

His lips left hers now, the air cooling them and instantly she missed his warmth. It was quickly replaced though by their heat trailing down her neck and around her ears. Kathryn bit down on her lip as his mouth teased her skin, his fingers now seeking the opening of her dress. He then leaned up and undid the small fasteners there, exposing her chest to his eyes inch by inch, his eyes showing his appreciation for the beauty they now witnessed. Kathryn felt herself blushing under his study and fought to hold herself still as he opened the front catch of her bra, then gasped as he peeled it away to reveal her breasts to his eyes.

"Oh sweet Spirits, Kathryn. I never could have believed…" He looked up into her eyes and frowned when he saw her worried look. "Sweetheart, what's the matter?"

Kathryn bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I'm not too… Well, I'm not exactly big or…"

Chakotay shook his head. "Kathryn, you're beautiful. I never could have believed the beauty you were hiding." He smiled when he saw the look of disbelief on her face. "Kathryn, honey, you're so beautiful. Never believe anything else. I'd never lie to you." Suddenly he dropped his head and took one nipple into his mouth, suckling hungrily. Kathryn gasped out loud, the warmth of his mouth and the sensation of his suckling causing a rush of pleasure through her. Subconsciously, she found herself arching her back, pushing her breast further into his mouth as his other hand sought her other breast, his fingers teasing the nipple there.

Kathryn lay in a daze of arousal and pleasure as Chakotay worked over her breasts. Her hands gripped at the grass beneath her, her body incapable of functioning beyond accepting the pleasure he gave her. She groaned as his mouth and hands eventually left her breasts and worked their way downwards. Her desire built, surging through her as her hands stroked over his back and shoulders now. She bit her lip to keep from crying out as his mouth moved agonisingly slowly down her body.

And then he was lifting her skirt, sliding her panties off and spreading her, the cool evening air making contact with her most private of places, arousing her further. She raised her head slightly as she saw his head move lower and tried to draw her legs closed but he wasn't allowing it.

"Let me look at you, Kathryn. You're so unbelievably beautiful." His words caused her breathing to quicken and she bit off another moan as he gently pushed her legs open a little further.

His mouth then descended on her and she cried out. "What…what…are you…? Oh God…" Sensations rushed through her and Kathryn was suddenly mortified as Chakotay looked up at her.

"Sweetheart, what is it? Did I hurt you?" He looked worried now.

Kathryn knew her face was bright red and looked away quickly. "No. I just… I never felt… I've never…" She slowly looked back at him, her deep embarrassment showing.

"Hasn't anyone ever…"

She shook her head quickly. "Not like that…with…"

Chakotay leaned up and smiled at her. "If you'd really rather I didn't, but Kathryn, I want to love you completely and give you all the pleasure I can. I'd never hurt you, you know that."

Kathryn dropped her eyes. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm just… I've never spoken about…especially during and never… No one ever saw… I mean it was always in the dark. Never… I'm sorry. I'm not very experienced."

He saw how uncomfortable she was and pulled away a moment to lie beside her. "Kathryn, I'll only ever do what you're comfortable with. However, I want you to just be yourself. Scream and cry out, moan and groan, whatever you want. I also want to see you, all of you." He was amazed to see her blush deeply at his words.

"Kathryn, listen to me. Without sounding egotistical, I got the impression that I was giving you pleasure and that you wanted to… I don't know. Verbally express that. Am I right?"

Kathryn nodded slowly. "I'm sorry. I've just never… I've always been afraid to… I felt it wasn't right and that it would be thought badly of."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "Honey, listen to me now. When we make love to each other as we're doing now… Please Kathryn, let go for me. Tell me what you like and don't like, what feels good." He was amazed at the look of fright on her face. "Kathryn, there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not going to think anything bad about you. I want you to let go, release yourself to me, scream or cry, moan, groan, do whatever you feel. Please don't ever hold anything back from me. Show me it all. Show me you. There's nothing we can't share between us. If there's something you truly don't like, just tell me, but it's vital that we talk to each other and share it all. There shouldn't ever be anything untouchable or undoable between us unless it hurts or upsets one of us. Then it's not all right. And by hurt I mean physically or emotionally. This is between us only, our private world. I want to give you it all and share our souls."

Kathryn just burst into tears at his words and he cradled her in his arms. "Oh Chakotay, I want to be that way with you. I've never allowed myself to open up to anyone the way I want to with you. I was just so sure you'd find it, find me, cheap or not right, I guess. That's the only way I can say it. I want to let go completely and be me totally."

He kissed her softly. "Then do it, love. What went before is nothing. Let go and give yourself to me completely. It'll be the greatest honour of my life, the greatest gift you could ever give me. Never be embarrassed with me. I love you and respect you beyond words." He looked deeply into her eyes and saw that she accepted his words and he smiled. "May I continue?" She nodded eagerly.

Chakotay removed her dress and turned her slightly, his fingers and lips tracing over her tattoo for a moment. He then lay her down and slipped his own clothes off, before he moved back to her breasts, almost starting over. He moved up and kissed her deeply again before his lips trailed their way back to her breasts. As her arousal and desire climbed again, Kathryn finally let go and moaned loudly, her body responding in ways she'd never allowed it to before. She writhed beneath him as his hands and mouth continued to torture her.

This time when Chakotay moved lower and spread her legs, she lay back and welcomed his gaze. She felt him stroke her softly as a deep sensation started in the pit of her stomach and she allowed it, her breathing getting heavier by the second.

When he lowered his mouth over her hot and aching centre this time, she screamed out, her hips bucking, causing him to hold her down gently. She cried out continuously as his lips and tongue worked over her, his teeth delicately nipping at her, his fingers questing now and seeking entrance to her body. She shrieked when he pressed two fingers deeply into her, tears falling from her eyes with the pleasure he gave her.

"Ohhhh Godddd…Chakotay…ohhhh yessss…" She felt shock slam into her at her own response but her body was in control now, her mind a helpless passenger on this ride of pleasure. "Ohhh sweet God…oh Chakotay…" He sucked hard on her small bundle of nerves, three fingers now pushing in and out of her and then it came, slamming into her senses like a freight train and she screamed out at the top of her lungs as her world shattered around her.

Before she had time to come down, her mind feeling adrift from her body, his fingers and mouth were already bringing her back, building the sensations and pleasure again, bringing her higher and higher, before dropping her back over the edge, his name tearing from her lips as she bucked against him, almost in pain with the orgasm that ripped through her.

When she finally came back to herself, she was suddenly aware of Chakotay leaning on one elbow beside her, staring down at her with a smile on his face. "Thank you so much, love. Thank you for giving me yourself like that."

She managed to smile, the edge of her shattering orgasms still with her. "Oh God Chakotay, never have I known that. It was…" She was still panting, all coherent thought fleeing from her. He smiled softly at her, his eyes telling her he understood, telling her how she pleased him and how much he loved her.

Kathryn finally managed to roll onto her side, determined now to return the favour. For the first time in her life she felt she could explore her lover as she wanted to. It also registered with her that never before had she had a lover she wanted to give this much pleasure to. All shyness and reserve gone from her now, something awakened inside her as she smiled wickedly and pushed Chakotay onto his back. It was now his turn to moan and cry out as Kathryn let go once more, kissing and licking her way over his body, her hands learning the feel of every inch of him. She worked her way to the proud, erect specimen awaiting her attention and went in for the kill.

Chakotay groaned repeatedly as Kathryn used her mouth and hands on him, her tongue teasing up and down his hard shaft, her teeth occasionally nibbling at him. Her nails scraped over his scrotum, feeling it tighten in response. Daringly, she pressed a finger against his anus and was rewarded with a loud cry of pleasure from the man beneath her.

Chakotay knew he couldn't take anymore, not without exploding in her mouth and he knew he didn't want that for their first time together. He also knew he desperately wanted to be inside Kathryn, to feel her warmth close around him.

"Kathryn, I can't take anymore. Please, love. I'm only human." She raised her head and smiled at him, licking her lips for good measure, drawing another deep moan from her lover. "Oh Spirits, Kathryn, you are the sexiest woman. A total vixen. If I'd known what you were like, you'd have been across your desk years ago." They both began breathing more heavily as the image filled their minds. Kathryn felt more daring and alive than she ever had.

"On my back or face down?" She shocked herself for a moment and then let it go. She knew now she was safe with this man, that suddenly Kathryn, the real Kathryn who was meant to be, was finally alive and living life for all it was worth.

"Oh, I think face down and if you're a good girl, I'll let you find out." Kathryn felt a rush of pleasure between her legs and marvelled at it. She fell back just as Chakotay rolled over her and stared deeply into his eyes.

"I want you, need to feel you. Please."

Chakotay smiled and positioned himself over her, Kathryn unashamedly spreading her legs around him.

"How, Kathryn? Tell me. Say it all."

Kathryn was panting again. "Please Chakotay, take me, fill me, hard."

Her words, hearing them in her seductive whisper, was almost too much for him. Without thinking, he pressed against her and slammed himself home. He felt her stiffen against him as she clung onto him and heard her quiet hiss of pain. He stopped immediately. "Oh love, I'm sorry. I didn't think."

She smiled softly at him. "I didn't either. It's OK. Just give me a second." Chakotay went to pull himself from her but she held him tightly to her, keeping him inside her. "No, please don't. Stay with me. I want you so badly." Feeling herself adjust to him, she began to thrust against him, telling him she was ready. He slowly and gently began to move within her, feeling it go easier now. Kathryn moaned deeply, the momentary stinging now replaced by a deep pleasure and once again she felt the onset of orgasm, shocking her completely. Her eyes opened wide and met Chakotay's smile, and she saw that he knew what was happening. "Ohhh Godddd…ohhhh…Chakotay….I don't…."

He moved faster now, one hand reaching down and drawing her leg up around him, deepening his penetration. "It's all right, love. I know. Just let it come, let it happen."

He saw that she appeared slightly frightened for a moment. "It's never… I've never… How can…?"

He leaned down a moment and kissed her. "Let it happen, Kathryn, let the pleasure come and take you over. Just go with it." He smiled to himself as she threw her head back and he increased his pace, his body taking over control now, no matter how hard he fought it. Suddenly he felt her start to tighten around him and she met his eyes again, a look of total shock on her face. She held his eyes for only a second more before her entire body arched beneath him and she screamed out, her inner muscles clamping down almost painfully on his thick member, milking him and drawing a soul rending release from him. He screamed out her name, his voice drowning out hers as he exploded inside her, his fluid filling her deeply.

Time lost meaning as they lay together for a long time afterwards. Chakotay came back to reality as Kathryn stirred in his arms, snuggling against him. He eased back a little and smiled down at her, the look of total bliss on her face, taking his breath away. "Are you all right? I'm so sorry for hurting you."

She saw his worry and reached up and stroked his face. "It was only a moment and I'm fine. Chakotay…" She held his eyes. "Chakotay, thank you. Thank you for showing me that, showing me that it's all right to be me, for loving me, for allowing me to love you, and I do. I love you with everything that I am. I love you forever." She saw his eyes fill with tears, matching her own as he leaned in and kissed her deeply.

"Thank you for giving me yourself. All of you. For loving me and making my life complete. Kathryn, I love you too and I always will." He pulled her tightly against him.

Quietly, they fell asleep under the stars, the same stars which only a short time ago had witnessed such pain and horror. Now they looked down and smiled on the couple below them, sprinkling their light across the scene of love and happiness they were privy to. They twinkled, almost in salute to the quiet and peaceful pair they watched over, their soft light covering them in a blanket of love, keeping them safe until morning.