Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc. Besides, I can't do any worse than you know who. An illiterate snail could do better than him.
NC 17
Voyager has landed on a planet to undertake essential repairs. Showing no regard for her own safety during the work, Kathryn is badly hurt in a fall. Unable to take the pain of seeing her injured and almost losing her again, Chakotay pulls back in an attempt to protect himself. This was written for the Secret Steamy Summer 2006.

Therein Lies Peace

by Kat Lady

"Just say something." Chakotay leaned back on his couch in frustration. "Oh, forget it. End Log." He spoke to the empty room. "End log? I haven't even started." He shook his head. "Sitting here for this long and not being able to think of a word is madness." He stretched and rolled his eyes. "So is talking to yourself, you fool." He wondered if this was how Kathryn had felt in the void. Trying to understand what she'd meant, he echoed her words. "What I wouldn't give for a few Borg cubes right about now."

He lay back again and asked himself the same question she had asked, whispering it to the still room. "How did we end up here?" His answer was a lot different. Six weeks of battling a race called the Mori before they'd finally given up. Apparently that was their way…a sport to them. They'd left some mess behind though. Hardly a system had gone undamaged and they'd been practically dead in the water. Had they not stumbled upon the planet they now sat on, he knew he wouldn't have to worry about what to put in his log. They'd all be dead.

He thought about their hosts. They were a strange race, the Daalans. Kathryn had pleaded long and hard for permission to put down on their world so they could undertake essential repairs. They saw for themselves how badly off Voyager and her crew were and Chakotay thanked every Deity he could think of that they weren't a war-like species. They could have destroyed the ship by blowing on it because Voyager was in such bad shape.

They now sat on the surface of this planet while the crew worked on restoring their home to some semblance of her former glory. The work was urgent for one reason only. They all wanted off this world.

They'd been here a month now - 33 days to be exact. And B'Elanna had informed them at the last senior staff meeting that even with all qualified staff working flat out, they couldn't expect to take off again for at least another three weeks. It was painstaking and tedious work, with people only able to keep going for short periods of time because of the excessive heat. Environmental controls were mostly out too which made the work even harder, but there had to be priorities and despite the temperatures onboard the environmental controls didn't fit into that category. The engines had to come first.

So they moved around as slowly as possible because the heat wouldn't allow for anything else. Chakotay stood stiffly to look out the view port and sighed heavily. There was nothing as far as the eye could see.

They were on a deserted part of a southern continent. No one lived here - they had more sense. Those who inhabited the nearest cities had vacated them for the hottest months and moved north. They'd migrated with every other sentient life form.

The Daalans had chosen the place well. It satisfied their need for security against their religious obligation to help travellers. This way outsiders couldn't come into contact with the general population and contaminate their minds.

"I need another cold drink." He groaned. "My…" He shook his head. He'd lost count. At least the replicators were working but it was an uphill struggle to keep them going. The demand for water and ice was staggering, but necessary. They'd all have wilted away to nothing otherwise.

A noise from outside drew his attention. Repairs were needed out there too. He pitied the poor unfortunates who'd drawn the short straws for that. The temperature inside was bad enough but he knew it was possible to fry eggs on the ground outside.

He sighed as he took a deep drink. "And leading the work details every day out there? Kathryn Janeway, of course." Voyager's leader refused to listen to any reason. This was the captain pushing and punishing herself again and Chakotay was very close to challenging her and having her removed from duty. The Doctor was more than ready to back him up.

"One last cold drink before I try and get some sleep." He'd pulled an all-nighter and B'Elanna had finally ordered him back to his quarters. Excuses about not being able to sleep with the sun pouring in through the viewport were met with a full Klingon glare to match anything Kathryn Janeway could have produced. He wondered if they compared notes.

Chakotay managed five hours of sleep before he woke to sweat drenched sheets and a bad headache. He pushed himself from the bed, taking the sheets with him. He threw them into the recycler then stripped off his t-shirt and shorts and tossed them in too before heading to the shower.

As he stood under the tepid water, he quickly soaped himself and rinsed off, ever mindful of conserving water and energy. He was just towelling himself dry when the Doctor called him.

"Sickbay to Commander Chakotay."

Draping the towel around his hips, he ran a hand through his damp hair. "Chakotay here. What is it, Doctor?"

The Medic didn't take time for pleasantries. "Commander, the computer informed me you were awake. Please report to sickbay. I need to speak with you."

Chakotay groaned. "Is this important? I'm just out of the shower after a much too short sleep…"

The Doctor cut him off. "As soon as you can please."

Walking back into the bedroom, Chakotay surrendered. "All right. Give me ten minutes."

The Doctor was just pressing a hypo to Harry Kim's neck as Chakotay entered. He nodded at the young Ensign while he waited. The EMH acknowledged his presence with a nod of his head. "Commander, where is the captain?"

Chakotay frowned. "Where? I'd imagine she's in bed asleep…as I'd still be if this damn heat and my headache hadn't woken me."

The Doctor turned to look at him. "You should have come in for your hypos before going to sleep. You know the procedure by now."

Feeling like a child being chastised, Chakotay dropped his head. "I know. I'm sorry. I was just so tired and…"

The Doctor ignored that. "That's no excuse. This heat is affecting everyone. I supplied this crew with a rota for their hyposprays. They need to be taken to avoid the effects of the heat and dehydration. They're vital. You need to be a good example for the rest of the crew."

Chakotay shared a look with Harry which told of them both having heard all this before. "Thank you, Doctor. It won't happen again. Now if you could just tell me what this is about…"

The Medic threw down the hypo he'd been holding and gave the First Officer his full attention. "Same question. Where is the captain?"

Chakotay leaned against a biobed and folded his arms. "As I said…"

He got no further. The Doctor, ignoring Harry listening in, answered for him. "Wrong answer. According to Ensign Kim she's working outside the ship."

Chakotay leaned forward and frowned. "No. She was due to end her shift when I did. We both pulled a double. I know I only slept for five hours so it's too soon for the next shift…"

The Doctor's expression spoke volumes. "That's because the captain never stopped work AND she did not report to me for her hypos. You know as well as I do that those working outside need additional protection to alleviate the risk of sunstroke." The Doctor's anger rose another notch.

"It has also been reported to me that she is not wearing the protective clothing I recommended… Amend that. The clothing I ORDERED. Nor is she taking the required breaks I demanded of those on exterior shifts. Most importantly, she is not drinking the prescribed amount of water. Not even close to it."

Chakotay felt his own anger rise to the surface. "I didn't know. I just assumed that…"

The Medic cut him off and turned to his patient. "That will be all, Ensign. Go get some sleep and report back here for your next treatment before you begin work again."

Harry quickly jumped off the bed, clearly anxious to leave. "Thanks, Doc." He gave Chakotay an embarrassed look as he passed. "Sorry, Sir. Night, Sir." With that he was gone.

The Doctor waited until the doors had closed before he turned his attention back to Voyager's First Officer. "This is the way it's going to be. I can go outside right now and relieve her of duty. Or…you can go and bring her back here, whereupon I'll check her over and then send her to her quarters for two full days of rest, at least. There will be no arguments on this, or none I'll accept."

He folded his arms. "The latter would be preferable because if I go I'll drag her back inside by the hair, kicking and screaming if need be, and tie her down to one of these biobeds." He shook his head. "My patience isn't just wearing thin or at breaking point. It has snapped."

Chakotay leaned back against the biobed, barely keeping his anger under control. "I'd no idea. I spoke with her briefly as I was ending my second shift and heading back to my quarters for some sleep. I assumed she was doing the same."

The Doctor's demeanour softened. "Yes…well…from what I can gather, she never went off duty." He picked up two hypos. "I'll just administer these to you and then you can go and take care of our little problem."

Chakotay stormed down the corridor while fighting down his anger. At the same time he felt a deep sadness for the woman who was the cause of his mixed emotions. Why she had to constantly push herself to the edge was beyond him. Not one member of the crew expected it of her yet still she felt the need to work herself into the ground and risk her life at every opportunity.

He knew what was behind it. Apart from the kind of 'hands-on' captain she was, Kathryn Janeway was driven by a deep guilt, one which haunted her every waking moment and probably most of her sleeping moments too.

As he reached the turbolift, he met B'Elanna. She glared at him. "I distinctly remember telling you to get at least ten hours of sleep."

He growled at her. "Stow it, B'El. I'd every intention of obeying your 'order' but something came up. Or should I say someone…" He drew in a deep breath as the lift arrived. At least his headache was gone. "Sorry - I'm not angry at you."

B'Elanna followed him into the lift. "But you are angry at someone. I don't need to ask who either. There's only one person on this ship who can make you this mad or upset." She smiled slightly. "What has she done now?"

He closed his eyes a moment and shook his head. "The Doc called me. She never went off duty. She did a double as I did but she decided in her twisted wisdom to keep working."

B'Elanna leaned against the wall of the lift and folded her arms. She shook her head sadly. "I've heard so many stories of how she's been pushing herself these last weeks. More than usual, that is. She never seems to sleep and works every hour she can. We all have to work at a slower pace than usual, but she pushes herself to keep going at a normal rate. It's not wise in these conditions. Carey told me she hardly ever takes breaks."

Chakotay turned to look at her. "According to the Doc she's also not drinking what she should and isn't wearing the protective clothing he ordered either."

B'Elanna shook her head, at a loss as to what to say. "I don't know what to tell you, Chak. I do know it's not helping the others. They feel the need to keep up with her and physically they're not able to. I know she doesn't expect it of them but you know this crew. They worship her and feel they're letting her down if they don't work as hard as she does."

Chakotay folded his arms. "I wish you'd told me this sooner." He received a glare for that one.

"In case you haven't noticed, Commander, we're all working flat out. Anyway, it's not our place to question her. You've seen the same thing we've seen and you're closer to her than anyone. Why haven't you done something about it?"

The point hit home. "I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't be taking this out on you."

B'Elanna softened. "No, I'm sorry. I'd no right to say that."

He smiled sadly. "You're right though. It's my responsibility, not yours. I'm just not thinking straight."

She smiled softly. "Chak, you're tired. You've been working flat out too and you got very little sleep."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "That's no excuse. I should have acted long before now. I've been watching her, half threatening to have her removed from duty. I even had the Doc ready to back me up. I shouldn't have let it get to this. I'm surprised Tuvok hasn't talked to me yet."

B'Elanna smiled at that. "He and Vorik are the only ones suited to this climate, and even they're showing signs of strain."

Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and then pushed himself away from the wall. "I should have made sure she went to her quarters after her double shift."

His friend reached over and rubbed his arm. "You're taking care of it now. That's all that matters."

Chakotay walked around the outside of the ship, his hand to his face to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. The heat was stifling, feeling like a heavy weight bearing down on his chest. He could already feel the sweat prickling under his uniform, despite only being out of the shower less than half an hour.

Several crew members nodded to him as he passed, the conditions under which they were working clearly evident in their slow movements. Chakotay stopped one of them. "Have you seen the captain?"

The young man nodded and pointed towards the makeshift scaffolding which had been erected around the port nacelle. "She's up there, Sir."

Chakotay shielded his eyes again as he scanned the structure and groaned. Kathryn was right at the top. He looked back at the young Ensign. "How long has she been up there?"

The man shook his head sadly. "She was there when I came out, Sir. That was almost four hours ago. I was assigned to the cargo bay before that so I've no idea if she's been here the entire shift."

Chakotay sighed heavily and nodded his thanks, then went to move off.


Chakotay turned back. "Yes?"

"Permission to…to speak freely, Sir."

Chakotay nodded and smiled encouragement at the nervous hesitation of the young man.

"It's just…" He shifted from one foot to the other. "I've had my breaks…the ones the Doc ordered. The captain was up there when I left and was still there when I returned each time. I just…I don't think she's had a break at all. And some of the others said she worked the previous shift and maybe the one before that and…" He shrugged and hesitated again. "It's also…her clothing, Sir. Doc left strict instructions on what… I mean…I'm wearing what he said to wear…the others too…" He indicated the light overalls and hat he wore. "She doesn't keep her head covered and in this heat…and she's got such light skin…" He swallowed loudly. "Sorry, Sir. I don't mean to speak out of turn or nothing, but… Well, we're worried about her…" His eyes pleaded for understanding.

Chakotay looked around and saw that several other crew members were watching them. Apparently overhearing their conversation, they moved closer now and joined in. A woman from Engineering nodded at him. "We're all worried about her, Commander. I mean, we all want to get out of here but it's not the worst place to be. We're in one piece…we're safe, alive and healthy…and most importantly, we're together. We'll leave here when we're ready. If that takes a bit longer than we thought, then so be it."

Another man joined in. "Commander, it's not worth the captain's health. She works way too hard. As David here said, we're really worried about her. She seems so…" He stopped as if afraid to say more.

Chakotay nodded for him to continue. "Go on, Myres…"

Ensign Myres nodded his thanks. "It's just…she seems so driven…and we all feel we're letting her down because we're not able to keep up with her."

Chakotay nodded again and sighed loudly, B'Elanna's conversation of only minutes before coming back to him. "Point taken." He glanced up at the scaffolding then back at the small group. "Well, take my word for it. She's going to stop work right now and have a very long rest."

They all smiled at that. "Happy to hear it, Sir."

Chakotay stood at the foot of the makeshift pylon and just watched Kathryn for a moment. Her face and exposed lower arms were bright red with sunburn. Her hair was wet with perspiration and plastered to her face. He groaned to himself. "Where's your damn hat, Kathryn?" He also noticed that she wasn't wearing her water bottle around her waist the way everyone else was. "Spirits, give me patience…" He placed a hand on one of the cross beams and called to the nearest crew member. "Ensign Hayes?"

The man looked down at him. "Yes, Commander?"

Chakotay drew in a controlling breath. "Could you please send word up to the captain that I need to speak with her?"

The man smiled slightly, sensing the mood of his commanding officer and easily guessing who and what had him in that mood. "Yes, Sir."

He looked up and was just about to shout to the next man when Kathryn stood up straight. She wiped a hand across her sweaty face, smearing dust across it. She turned slowly and for a moment seemed to stumble, one hand reaching out for the rail which had been fixed in place around the top of the platform. Chakotay felt a stab of panic when he suddenly noticed that she wasn't wearing her safety harness. He kept his eyes on her as he spoke to the other man, the urgency in his voice unmistakable. "Get her down here NOW."

Before either man could react Kathryn moved away from the rail towards the centre of the platform. She stumbled again and lost her balance, falling against the opposite rail.

The two men watched in horror as it gave way under her weight. Chakotay froze for a second, aware only of the sound of Kathryn's scream of terror. His legs refused to move but his eyes followed her body as it crashed against several beams as she fell. Then there was a split second of silence before he heard her hit the ground, the sickening thud accompanied by the noise of falling debris.

Chakotay and several others were at her side in a second. For a moment her eyes met his. He thought he saw apology there but mostly pain and confusion showed. Her lips moved slightly, a faint whisper escaping them, along with a thin trickle of blood, and he leaned down to her, afraid to even take her hand in his.

"Don't move, Kathryn. I'm here. Don't try to talk." He slammed his hand against his comm badge. "Doc, get out here now. The scaffolding at the port nacelle. The captain's fallen." He stroked her cheek, even afraid to do that but needing to offer some comfort to her.

"Hang on, Kathryn. Doc's on his way. You're going to be fine." He prayed it wasn't a lie. "Don't move. Just hang on."

He saw her try to speak again, her lips barely moving. Her eyes held his for as long as she could before they slipped closed. "Kathryn…NO!!!…HANG ON!!!…"

Suddenly he felt himself pulled back and turned to see the Doctor beside him. The Medic quickly took in the scene. "What happened? Where did she fall from?"

Chakotay was incapable of answering and heard someone else fill the Doctor in. And then Tom was there, quickly following the orders issued to him. Chakotay looked around a moment at the shock and horror on the faces of the gathered crew, some openly crying with their hands to their mouths to try and stifle their sobs.

Finally Kathryn was transported to sickbay with the Doctor and Tom, leaving Chakotay sitting on the ground staring at the blood stains left behind on the rocky ground.

Hands on his arm drew him back and he looked around into the face of B'Elanna. "Come on, Chak. Let's get you inside." He barely nodded and stood shakily. He looked back down at the blood and then up at the scaffolding. He closed his eyes and felt himself sway, his mind reliving the horror of only moments ago.

B'Elanna pulled at him and nodded to a crew member to help her. "There's nothing out here for you, my friend. Come on. She'll need you inside." She nodded again at the other woman. "Jo, help me with him." Together the two women got him moving.

Chakotay lost track of time as he waited in sickbay for Kathryn to come out of surgery, praying that she would in fact come out of it. B'Elanna waited with him, staying silent most of the time because there were no words for this. 'She'll be fine' or 'she's in good hands' seemed useless and meaningless.

Chakotay looked over at her, his face etched in fear. "She can't survive that fall…"

B'Elanna reached for his hand. "She's tough, Chak. She…"

He shook his head, gripping her hand tightly. "No one could. Oh God…I can't stop seeing it…hearing her scream…"

B'Elanna racked her brain for the right words. "You have to stop thinking like that. The longer she's in there…"

He let go of her hand. "I know…I know… Just pray. It's all we can do…"

What seemed like hours passed before the Doctor came to see them. Not trusting his legs to hold him up, Chakotay remained seated and waited for the Medic to speak.

"She's out of surgery. Tom is just finishing up. We'll move her back in here and settle her shortly."

Chakotay watched him closely. "I was so afraid she wouldn't come through it. Is she going to be all right?"

The Doctor nodded slowly. "I believe so. She's doing well…considering."

Chakotay closed his eyes in relief and let out a long breath. "Oh, thank the spirits…" He dropped his head back and consciously forced some of the tension from his body. He raised his head and looked at the Doctor. "I was so sure… It looked so bad…" He drew in a deep breath. "Thank you. I wish I knew of something more to say but…"

The Doctor waved that away and leaned back in his chair. "As I said, she'll be fine. That's in time, however. She sustained some very serious injuries and I have to be honest with you and tell you that we almost lost her during the surgery. Her heart stopped twice."

Chakotay squeezed his eyes closed for several moments at that piece of news. Finally he opened them and sat forward. "I just want the truth, Doc. Plain speaking with no sugar coating. I need to know what we're dealing with."

The Medic nodded. "All right. From what I can gather, the details I got from those who saw it…"

Chakotay sighed. "I was no help to you there…"

The Doctor smiled his understanding. "You were in shock." He leaned forward. "She fell against several cross beams on the way down…" He stopped a moment when he saw the look on Chakotay's face, knowing he was seeing everything in his mind all over again. "I'm sorry, Commander. Do you want me to stop?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, I need to know."

The EMH nodded. "All right." He laced his fingers together. "The beams she fell against caused injuries but they also helped break her fall. They saved her life actually. Had she fallen straight down from that height…" He didn't need to finish for the message to get through.

Chakotay closed his eyes again. "There was so much blood…" He felt B'Elanna's firm hand on his shoulder and reached for it.

The Doctor nodded slowly. "We're replacing the blood she lost, which was considerable. She had a serious head injury, as well as internal bleeding. That she survived this is a miracle." He sighed. "She fractured her skull and there was bleeding on the brain. We've reduced the swelling and removed a blood clot. She broke both legs and her hip, her right wrist and several ribs. My first fears of spinal injury turned out to be unfounded. As I said, it's a miracle. There was extensive internal damage but we've healed that also. The bruising was considerable and I've dealt with most of that. The rest will take care of itself. I've also treated her for heatstroke and dehydration, as well as some pretty bad sunburn…"

Chakotay nodded and rubbed a hand across his face. "She'll make a full recovery?"

The Doctor smiled. "In time. She's going to be here for at least a week. I'll keep her unconscious until all the swelling on her brain has gone down. After that, I'll keep her immobilized until the broken bones knit fully."

Chakotay sat back, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by everything. "Is there anything else?"

Voyager's Doctor sat back also and shook his head. "She was very lucky. I still can't believe it myself."

Chakotay stared down into his lap for a moment and then stood. He felt everything crowding in on him and knew he had to get out of there. "Doctor, thank you for everything. Those words seem so inadequate but they're all I have. Please call me when she's settled." With that he turned and walked towards the door.

The Doctor called after him. "It'll only be a few minutes. If you want to wait…"

Chakotay turned and looked back at the two of them. He grasped for an excuse to leave. "I have to take care of a few things. The crew will be worried and I have to speak with Tuvok…make arrangements and so on…" He nodded to them both and left.

B'Elanna stayed where she was and stared after her friend in shock. "That's a first…"

The Doctor stood, showing concern of his own. "Yes, Ms. Torres. It's also going to be a problem, I think."

The Klingon woman turned to look at him and frowned. "How do you mean?"

The Medic shook his head. "Have you ever known a time when he didn't make straight for her bedside when she was here either sick or hurt?"

B'Elanna looked towards the door and shook her head. "No, I haven't. It's always been her first and other things second with him. Maybe it's just the shock of it all…seeing it happen and so on. Once he knew she was going to be all right…"

The Doctor nodded and moved some padds around his desk. "Perhaps."

B'Elanna frowned again. "He cares deeply, Doc. You should have seen him out there…"

He nodded. "I did. He was incapable of moving…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "I know that…but I mean after you beamed back here with the captain. Jo Lord and I almost had to carry him back in."

The Doctor's attention was drawn towards Tom leaving the surgical area. "I don't doubt his…devotion to the captain, Lieutenant. I just think something more is wrong with the commander." He moved from behind his desk. "Time will tell. Excuse me. I see Mr. Paris is ready."

Chakotay stood in the middle of his quarters for almost ten minutes and just stared at the floor. His mind replayed the past hours over and over until his legs gave way and he sank to the floor. He looked down at his hands, then at the front of his uniform, all still stained with Kathryn's blood.

He stood shakily and made his way to the bathroom, ripping his clothing off as he went. He stood in front of his mirror and stared hard at himself trying to see the effects of all that had happened.

He pulled his eyes away and turned on the water, filling the basin, then shut the water off, still mindful of wasting the previous liquid. He eased his hands into the water and watched mesmerized as the blood washed off, creating strange patterns.

Finally he forced himself to snap out of it and concentrated on washing the rest of his body. He badly wanted to stand under the shower for an hour but knew that wasn't possible. He dried himself off and recycled his uniform, opting for light shorts and a t-shirt. He replicated another cold drink and sat on the side of the bed, staring at nothing in particular as his mind strayed in a million different directions. Questions poured in on him. How many times had she done this? Why was she so driven? Did she realize the risks she took? Did she realize the effect it had on others?

He drained his glass and shook his head. "Oh Kathryn…every time you hurt, I hurt. Do you have any idea what you do to me?" Talking aloud helped. It somehow grounded him. He sighed heavily. "I don't know if I can keep doing this…keep going through this…" He stopped at that, feeling somehow as if he was betraying her with such thoughts.

He shook his head as if trying to dislodge the bad thoughts and then put his empty glass down on the locker. He lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, forcing his mind to relax. He needed sleep if he was to be of any use during his next shift. He felt a brief stab of guilt for not being at Kathryn's side and pushed it away, closing his eyes. "Sleep, man - sleep. She's fine."

Voyager's Doctor kept his patient unconscious for a full three days until he was satisfied with her condition. During that time Chakotay came and went from sickbay, never staying too long. He didn't miss his shifts but delegated a lot more responsibility to Tuvok while their captain was incapacitated.

When he was in sickbay he'd sit by Kathryn's bed and just stare at her, his thoughts his own. He'd watch the rise and fall of her chest, listening to the even rhythm of her breathing. At some unseen signal he'd stand and whisper something to her, then leave.

The Doctor and B'Elanna stood back and watched it all unfold. "He's angry with her."

The Doctor nodded. "He's also extremely worried and trying to hide it. I've assured him she'll make a full recovery but there's something there I can't read. I've never seen him like this before and it concerns me greatly."

The engineer sighed heavily. "All we can do is stand by and wait to pick up the pieces, I guess."

The Medic began to clear away some equipment. "There'll be some pieces for you to pick up when I'm finished with our captain too. She isn't getting out of here without a very stern lecture from me."

B'Elanna smiled at that. "I'll stand by to repair the damage to your program."

For the first time in weeks, Tom and B'Elanna managed to get some time together. They scraped together as romantic a dinner as rations allowed then sat back to relax for an hour.

B'Elanna softly traced a finger over Tom's arm. "We badly needed this."

He dropped his head against her shoulder. "This should be on the Doc's treatment list."

They were silent for a while, just enjoying each other's company. Tom drained his glass of juice, all they felt guiltless about drinking. He looked at his wife. "I hate to talk shop but have you seen much of Chakotay?"

B'Elanna sighed. "I see him around. He's in and out of sickbay but not for long. He works his shifts but…"

Tom nodded at that. "What's with him? Some of the crew are a little concerned."

B'Elanna let out a long breath and shook her head. "I don't know." She looked towards the viewport. "You should have seen him out there when she was hurt…and in sickbay after…" She turned to face her husband. "Tom, I've been with him before when we waited for news when she was hurt or sick. This time was no different until…" She sighed. "He just walked out." She shook her head again. "Normally…if you can use that word for these situations…he goes straight to her bedside and you'd need a photonic charge to move him. Something's not right."

Tom studied her. "But she's going to be all right. You know that. He knows that. There's nothing to worry about."

B'Elanna stared down at the floor. "Usually that would make no difference to him though. He'd be there if she had toothache."

Tom touched her arm and she looked up at him. "What do you think is wrong then?"

She shrugged. "I've no idea…but if he keeps it up, I'll bloody well find out."

Tom smiled lovingly at her. "No better woman for the job." He leaned back against the sofa until a thought struck him. "Hey…sorry to change the subject, but did you hear about Vorik's little discovery?"

B'Elanna pulled her attention back to him. "What?"

Tom smiled. "Well, he went for a little stroll in the desert…"

She rolled her eyes. "Vulcans. I actually envy their tolerance for this heat right now. A 'stroll' out there would fry me."

Tom laughed at that. "Imagine what it would do to me. Lobster anyone? Neelix would serve me for lunch." They both laughed at that. Tom sat forward. "Actually, he discovered something…and it could be wonderful…"

He laughed at the eager look in his wife's eyes. "What…?"

He shook his head at her impatience. "You know that small range of hills or mountains or whatever you want to call them. I'm not measuring them to tell the difference. Basically that rock formation to the east of us…"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes but nodded. "I know them. They shimmer in the heat."

Tom nodded. "Well, Vorik decided to explore them and he discovered what our scans didn't…basically because we didn't look. We mapped them but didn't scan beneath them. No need to."

B'Elanna was eagerly sitting forward now. "What did he find?"

Tom sat back with a smug expression. "Only an underground cavern system. There are rivers or streams down there…what almost resembles a small city, according to him. It's vast and there are caves, each with their own share of the streams. It's all fed from a natural spring and it's loaded with minerals. The water is warm but the caves are cooler."

B'Elanna's eyes were alight. "Is it safe? Can we use them?"

Tom delighted in her enthusiasm. "He did basic scans and it all seems safe. However, we'd have to do more scans and get the Doc to test the water and air, but it all seems fine at first glance." He shrugged. "As to using them…I guess we'd need to get permission from the Daalans. It may be a sacred place to them although Vorik said he saw no signs of any religious practices."

B'Elanna's mind raced. "There's no harm in asking." She nodded to herself. "We can't ask the captain. And Chakotay…I'd rather not bother him with this at the moment." She looked at Tom. "Tuvok?"

Tom agreed. "Best choice. Yeah. We can put it in 'logical' terms for him. Crew morale and so on…"

B'Elanna sat forward. "It wouldn't be a lie, Tom. Crew morale is a priority since the captain's accident. They can't use the holodecks and they need somewhere. It might keep them from pestering the Doc every ten minutes to ask how the captain is." She smiled. "So who draws the short straw?"

Tom sat back again. "Well, we all know what he thinks of anything I suggest. He'd be suspicious from the start…wondering what my angle was and how many replicator rations I was making out of it…"

B'Elanna rolled her eyes and laughed. "And he'd usually be right." She stopped. "Tom, stay away from this if it pans out. No charging people to use the place…"

Her husband looked the picture of innocence. "Would I do that?"

She slapped him. "Yes…you would." She reached for a padd. "Now come on…help me word this right."

Chakotay was back in his quarters after having visited Kathryn. He paced his living room and began talking to himself again. It was becoming a really bad habit.

"What are you doing? Why are you here? You should be with her." He paced some more and then stopped, staring out the viewport. He whispered his words this time. "Because being here hurts just a little less than seeing her lying there."

The words were spoken. They were out. The seeds of something he couldn't identify were planting themselves in his mind and he'd no idea what would grow from them.

That afternoon B'Elanna took their proposal to Tuvok. When she left the turbolift, Tom and Harry were waiting for her. Tom grabbed her arm, frightening the life out of her.

"Well, did you talk to him? What did he say?"

B'Elanna stopped and rolled her eyes. "You two are like little kids." She couldn't help laughing at them though. "Yes, I talked to him…and yes…he thinks it's a good idea."

Tom and Harry shared a grin. "I told you, Harry. That's ten rations you owe me."

B'Elanna glared at him. "I thought we agreed you wouldn't make anything out of this."

Tom smirked. "Hey, this is just between friends. Besides, I didn't say anything about not making something on the sidelines." He waved his hand. "Come on. What did he say?"

B'Elanna glared at him a moment before giving in. "He said he agrees it would be good for morale but that he has to speak with the Daalans first. He also wants to check the place out himself and get the Doctor to run scans…test the water and air. On top of that, he needs to check the logistics of beaming people there and back but believes that will 'pay for itself' in that less energy will be used on the ship, showers etc, with people over there. Anyway, he'll do all this himself." She sighed, becoming serious. "Apparently our First Officer has delegated quite a lot to our Vulcan friend. Tongue in cheek he said there was no need to bother Chakotay at this time."

Tom and Harry shared a concerned look at that. Tom spoke for them both. "Something's going to give there…"

B'Elanna tapped her padd against her hand. "Maybe…" She shrugged. "Well, Tuvok said he'll check it all out and get back to me later. He'll talk to the Daalans first though. If they say no, they say no and it goes no further. If they say yes, he'll get the Doctor working on it and check it out himself. All we can do is wait and see."

The following morning Tuvok called B'Elanna to his office.

"I've spoken with the relevant delegates of the Daalan Government. They see no problem with the crew making use of the springs. According to Minister Na'al this region is dotted with such underground systems and the population here use them all the time. I checked and they have no religious significance."

B'Elanna smiled broadly. "That's great. The crew really needs something like this."

The Security Officer nodded his agreement. "They do indeed. Morale has been of great concern to me, especially since the captain's accident." He placed his padd down on his desk. "I deemed this matter rather urgent so I've already inspected the caverns. I took my own scans and mapped the area. I feel it prudent to cordon off just enough of the caves for our use and designate the rest of the system 'off limits'. Each crew member can be issued with a map which they can download onto a tricorder. That way no one can get lost and we won't need to organize any search parties and rescue missions. Each group can pass the tricorders to the next group using them."

B'Elanna sat back. "That makes sense." She couldn't quite keep the smile from her face. "Can we get the Doctor to…?"

Tuvok was ahead of her. "That has already been taken care of. I had the Doctor report there earlier. He has just forwarded his results to me. The air is perfectly safe to breath and there is nothing harmful in the water. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Minister informed me that his people use these waters for their health and everything the Doctor discovered backs that up. The water is very beneficial to health…minerals and so on."

B'Elanna sat forward. "So what's our next move?"

Tuvok sat down behind his desk. "Firstly, we need to install temporary lighting. You can organize someone from Engineering for that. You will also need to keep on top of the energy required for the transporters." B'Elanna nodded. "I then suggest we organize a rota for visiting the springs. It would also be proper protocol to inform Commander Chakotay at this time."

The engineer nodded eagerly. "I'll get right on it. Will you tell Chakotay or…"

Tuvok glanced at the pile of padds on his desk. "I shall leave that honour in your capable hands."

She laughed and rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Tuvok. I think I drew the short straw on that one." She immediately held up a hand. "Sorry. It's all right. I'll tell him. And thank you. This will mean a lot to the crew."

Tuvok merely nodded at that and went back to work.

B'Elanna finished her shift and sat down with Tom to work out a rota for the springs. It was late and they were both tired but they were also excited about the possibilities.

She threw the last tricorder down on the table. "That's it. Everyone will have a map of the area they're allowed to use and explore. The rest is off limits. They can pick up a tricorder before they visit and bring them back afterwards for the next lot."

Tom nodded. "Have you seen the place?"

She lay back. "Oh yes. I had to oversee the lighting. It was everything I could do not to just jump right in there and then. It's beautiful. And with so many smaller caves, people can have some privacy if they want or need it." She hit her husband at the lecherous look he gave her. "Down, boy." She sighed happily. "They're all so excited about this. It was impossible to keep it quiet until everything was up and running. Still, just knowing about it has already boosted morale."

Tom lay back beside her. "Tell me about it. It's all they can talk about, but the work rate has actually increased." He rolled his head to look at her. "Have you talked to Chakotay yet?"

She shook her head. "Not yet. I didn't find the right time today. He was either hard at work or in sickbay with the captain." She sighed heavily. "I'll talk to him when I find the right time, although I know he won't have a problem with it. If Tuvok approved…" She smiled. "Well, he is the ultimate test, isn't he?"

Tom smirked at that. "Oh, I don't know. He did put his own name down on the rota. I'd say our Vulcan friend is as anxious to get in there as the rest of us."

The Doctor finally allowed Kathryn to regain consciousness the following morning. She was groggy at first before memories of the fall came back to her.

Chakotay watched her closely and saw the moment she remembered it all. He saw the look of terror in her eyes before she fought to hide it. She tried to sit up and groaned. The Doctor eased her back down. "Easy, Captain."

She looked around her and finally saw Chakotay. "What…?"

Chakotay stood back, fighting his emotions and let the Medic explain everything. "Captain, do you remember what happened?"

She licked at dry lips and nodded. "Fell…"

He nodded at that. "Yes. You are one very lucky lady. Your injuries were extensive but they're healing nicely. I'll explain them to you in detail."

Chakotay stayed where he was and tuned out the Doctor's words. He didn't need to hear them again. He saw Kathryn's eyes following his movements and turned away. He studied an instrument tray as his thoughts swirled around. He realized this was the first time Kathryn had come around in sickbay when he hadn't been there to hold her hand. The thought disturbed and pained him.

He jumped when he felt a hand on his arm and turned to see the EMH looking at him. "I've explained everything. She's still groggy so she's accepting her restrictions for the moment. I expect a different story tomorrow."

Chakotay saw the Doctor watching him closely. "I'm sure you can handle her, Doctor."

He nodded at that. "I'm sure I can." He frowned. "Commander, are you all right? I've been concerned for some days now about…"

Chakotay cut him off. "I'm fine." He turned away. "I'll speak with the captain for a few minutes and then come back later."

Kathryn felt groggy but she was aware enough to sense a difference in the man sitting beside her.

"Is everything all right?"

He didn't smile and just nodded. "Everything's fine. Work is progressing well."

She wanted nothing more than to sleep but something about his behaviour disturbed her. "I didn't just mean the ship."

He barely nodded at that. "Everything's fine."

Kathryn watched him for a moment, noticing that he wasn't really looking at her. Something clicked in her mind that he was sitting further back than he normally would. His eyes scanned the sickbay and she turned her head, wondering if the Doctor was hovering close by. She saw him in his office and frowned. When she turned back, Chakotay was examining a fingernail.

"Chakotay, are you all right?"

He finally looked at her and managed a tired smile. "I'm fine. Just tired." He looked away again and then stood. "You're tired too. I'll let you get some sleep. I promised the Doc I wouldn't stay long." He moved his chair back, giving his full attention to the action.

Kathryn fought her tiredness and grogginess. Something wasn't right but her mind refused to cooperate. She licked at her lips and nodded. "All right. I'll see you tomorrow?"

He managed more of a smile this time. "Sleep well, Kathryn."

She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them again, he was gone.

Chakotay sat in his darkened quarters. He'd called into sickbay to see Kathryn after his shift but she'd been asleep.

He sat back and tried to understand his attitude towards her. He'd wanted nothing more than to sweep her into his arms, and while he knew he wouldn't have done that, he'd usually have held her hand or touched her in some way.

He knew he'd been almost cold towards her and couldn't understand why he'd behaved that way. Something just stopped him getting too close – and Kathryn had noticed. He was sure of that.

He allowed the reasons to line up in his mind. He had a lot of work, and he was exhausted. There was lack of sleep, due to the heat and his bad dreams of the accident, which left him even more exhausted. He worried about the low crew morale, overseeing the repairs, the extra responsibility with Kathryn indisposed, although he delegated a lot to Tuvok so that didn't really count.

He recognized the reasons for what they were. Excuses. But at this moment he had nothing to replace them with. The truth eluded him and he wasn't sure if that was deliberate on his part or not. In the end he gave up and tried to get some sleep.

Kathryn was a lot more alert the following morning when Chakotay visited her. He sat stiffly beside her, giving her a very brief rundown on the progress of repairs. Not once did he meet her eyes and she noticed it keenly. Her inquiry as to how he was elicited the same answer as the previous day. He was fine.

She noticed once again that he didn't touch her in any way and she wanted to push it, to ask once more if something was wrong, but a small inner voice told her to leave it alone.

He returned in the afternoon and again that evening, before retiring for the night. During each of his visits his manner towards her was the same, leaving Kathryn worried about something she couldn't name.

Kathryn lay in the quiet of sickbay long after Chakotay had left. It was that time of night in any medical facility when all 'business' was concluded for the day, the visitors had gone, the lights were dimmed and everything took on a surreal quality. It was also the loneliest time, the time when patients felt most alone and scared. There was no activity or treatments, no visitors with news of the outside world to distract their thoughts, and at that moment Kathryn's thoughts had free rein.

Just before he'd ordered the lights down, Kathryn had asked the Doctor if there was something wrong with Chakotay, if he'd noticed anything in their First Officer's behaviour.

The EMH had simply shrugged, saying that his only concern was his patients and that he didn't have time to study those who came to see them.

Something in his words disturbed her. She didn't believe he was lying, but she felt he was doing his best to disguise the truth. Basically, she believed that he knew something she didn't.

She thought back over Chakotay's behaviour and manner. So much about it left her feeling unsettled, but she found she couldn't pin down what it was. He was quiet, spoke only about the ship and the progress of the work. He didn't talk to her about anything else.

She muttered to herself. "What do you expect him to talk about?"

She pondered that, and then realized that it wasn't what he said that bothered her, but rather what he wasn't saying. Not once had he admonished her for her actions which had led to her presence here. She knew he'd witnessed her fall, yet he didn't speak of it. She suddenly realized that his usual 'lecture' on her recklessness, overwork or whatever, had not been delivered.

Rather than face the fact that there was a problem between them, she pushed it away and supplied the answer that he just wasn't comfortable speaking to her that way with the Doctor present and in what was essentially a 'public place'. She refused to acknowledge the fact that it hadn't stopped him before. He was working long hours, was tired as he'd said. He was still upset and unsettled by her accident. He'd be fine in time and it would all work itself out.

Pushing her thoughts aside, she closed her eyes and sought sleep. It was slow in coming.

Chakotay's visits to his captain over the next days were mostly business, with only the occasional reference to their friendship. He knew Kathryn was aware of this but she said nothing. They didn't discuss the accident and spoke mostly about ship's business and crew members.

For her part, Kathryn was still worried, although she hid it well. Her late-night thoughts came back to her during his visits, adding more worries about his behaviour to the pile she already had. He still blamed being tired, the heat, and his work at getting the repairs finished. All reasonable excuses, but to Kathryn his words sounded hollow.

She tried asking B'Elanna about it during one of her visits. "You're his friend. Is something bothering him?"

B'Elanna shook her head and hid her own concerns. "He's said nothing to me."

Kathryn smiled slightly. "That's not really what I asked." She sighed. "B'Elanna, I'm not asking you to betray his confidence, but something isn't right."

The chief engineer sighed also. "I honestly don't know, Captain. He's been working very hard, so I imagine he's pretty worn out at the end of the day…and it hasn't been easy to sleep in this heat. We have environmental controls back online now, so maybe if he can sleep better…"

Kathryn stared at the ceiling and shook her head. "I think it's more than that…"

B'Elanna didn't have an answer. "He was very worried about you…"

Kathryn looked at the younger woman. "Yes…I just…" She gave in. "It's OK, B'Elanna. Leave it. I'm sure he'll be fine."

Kathryn had other problems of her own. She grew more and more frustrated being restricted to sickbay. She hated being restrained on the biobed. Chakotay walked in on the seventh evening since the accident to see Kathryn trying to sit up. The Doctor was having none of it though. He pushed her back down almost forcefully.

"Captain, lie down. You will listen to ME now. In this matter I outrank you. My orders override yours. It's that simple."

"Now…while this planet may not be the 'Garden Of Eden', it is safe. We are not under enemy attack nor are we in any danger here. The crew may be fed up with the heat, but thanks to my intervention and treatment, it won't kill them. Yes, it's damned uncomfortable, but they'll survive it as long as they do what I tell them. Many are also bored when off duty, but boredom is not terminal. Nobody's life is at risk here as long as they're sensible."

"That brings us to you, however. You have been anything BUT sensible. You've set a terrible example to your crew by endangering your health the way you have. You also almost killed yourself. You came close to dying because of your recklessness. That situation, I'm happy to say, has now been resolved."

Chakotay thought the Medic's demeanour was about to soften but he was mistaken. If anything his temper was rising.

"I will never understand what you try to prove by pushing yourself as you do. You already have the love and respect of this crew, yet you seem to believe that if one of them cuts a finger, you need to chop off your whole hand." He threw his hands up. "You've nothing to prove to them."

Kathryn finally found her voice. "I'm their captain…"

It was a weak argument, lost on him. "And how will a dead captain serve them? What good will you be to them then? I'll tell you. No good. Now you will lie there and take my treatment until I deem it no longer necessary. You will remain in this sickbay for at least another two days. At that stage I will consider letting you return to your quarters. You will then take at least another week off. And don't even try and argue with me on this because I am in no mood to hear it. Now, do we understand each other?"

Kathryn stared at him in shock for a moment. Finally she found her voice. "Yes, Doctor."

He nodded curtly and moved away. "Good. Now have your visit with the commander and we'll begin your physiotherapy later." He looked towards Chakotay. "Not long, Commander."

Chakotay nodded and moved to Kathryn's side. "Thank you, Doctor."

Kathryn studied Chakotay carefully for a moment. When he made no mention of the Doctor's words, she brought it up herself. "I suppose you agree with him…"

He barely nodded and didn't look at her. "He's the expert."

She nodded at that and continued to watch him then decided to chance it. "Chakotay…are you…? Is something wrong? I've noticed…"

He handed her a padd, cutting off her words. "Progress report on the work. It's not the full report but the main details are there."

She took it from him but didn't look at it. "Are you all right?"

He busied himself with getting a chair. "I'm fine. Just tired. I can't stay too long."

Not having the energy to push him on the matter, she let it go. "All right."

The rest of the short visit was small talk.

It was the predicted further two days before the Doctor agreed to let his patient leave sickbay. She hadn't questioned him again but pushed herself with the exercises he took her through.

Chakotay still visited but their time together left her feeling unsettled to say the least. He was friendly but something vital in their friendship was missing and she missed it badly.

As he was leaving, the Doctor came in and informed them both that Kathryn could leave the following morning. "Can you escort the captain back to her quarters in the morning, Commander?"

Chakotay nodded. "What time?"

The Medic checked a padd. "I'll go through her exercises at 10:00. Call by at 11:00. That should be fine."

Chakotay placed his chair back against the wall. "Fine." He managed a smile for Kathryn. "I'll see you then."

She looked at him, a concerned look on her face. "All right. Thanks, Chakotay." She was talking to a closed door.

B'Elanna was just leaving their quarters when Tom bumped into her on his way in. "Easy, hon. Where's the fire?"

She smiled and kissed him quickly. "I'm just off to find Chakotay and talk to him now. I've left it long enough."

Tom shook his head at that. "He hasn't exactly been in the best of moods for talking lately."

B'Elanna sighed. "I know. And of course the captain asked me about him when I visited her. She wanted to know what was wrong with him."

Tom frowned. "What did you say?"

She shrugged. "There was nothing I COULD say. I'm as much in the dark as she is." She sighed heavily then kissed him again. "Well, wish me luck."

Tom gave her his best smile. "I'll keep a light burning for you."

B'Elanna found her old friend sitting alone in the darkened mess hall. "Mind some company?"

He looked up from the untouched tea he'd been studying and nodded to the chair opposite. "Help yourself. I'm not in a very sociable mood though."

B'Elanna sat down and studied him. He looked exhausted. "I'm worried about you."

He shrugged at that and managed a tired watery smile. "Waste of time." He looked around the deserted space. "Where is everyone?"

B'Elanna stretched her arms above her head. "At the springs…" She shrugged when she saw his puzzled expression. "Yeah…we've been meaning to talk to you about that for a few days now. You just seemed to have enough on your plate."

She leaned forward and joined her hands on the table. "Just hear me out, OK?" He nodded at that but his suspicion showed. "We just didn't want to bother you and Tuvok took care of things…" She sighed and jumped right in.

"OK…here's the story - best to say it quickly. Vorik is very tolerant of this heat as you know. He and Tuvok are the only ones able to cope with it." Chakotay just nodded. "Well, Vorik decided to…explore…the area surrounding us. Nice little stroll in the heat of the day that would have killed the rest of us…" She fought the smile she felt coming on. "Anyway, he made this discovery…a cave system close by…"

Chakotay nodded. "Under that rock formation we mapped?"

B'Elanna nodded. "Except we didn't scan beneath it. Vorik explored it and found what can almost be described as an underground city. It's vast down there. There's a series of small streams…fed from a natural spring. And best of all…the water is loaded with minerals and it's warm. The caves are cooler though. Well, cooler compared to the furnace outside. The water is perfect - warm as I said, but so refreshing."

Chakotay stared at her. "It sounds to me like you've checked this out for yourself."

She blushed now. "Actually…we all have." She held her hand up in her own defence. "Now before you go off on a tangent, we ran all this by Tuvok first. He saw the advantage immediately and agreed to contact the Daalan authorities to seek their permission. They had no problem. And yes…we should have spoken to you first but you have enough to cope with."

Chakotay sat back. He knew he should feel some anger but couldn't. The crew needed this. "How safe is it? What about the water?"

B'Elanna smiled. "All checked out. We got Doc to do all the scans and tests he needed. And the Daalans also confirmed the safety of the place. Apparently the locals use them all the time when they're here. The desert is dotted with these cave systems and underground streams." She leaned forward, her enthusiasm rising. "Chakotay, you have to see the place. It's a labyrinth down there. We've mapped it out and issued everyone using it with tricorders so they can explore and still find their way out. We've also installed temporary lighting." She saw his worried look.

"Relax. We only use a small area and no one goes beyond that. It's small compared to the size of this place but it's still big enough that people can have some privacy if they want it in the smaller caves and play together in the larger ones if they prefer that."

She smiled again. "Look, we still can't afford the power drain to use the holodecks and this is the next best thing. They need it. This place is a respite from life here and it's saving power because people need fewer showers. As to transporting people… They can transport over there and back to the cave entrance. Transporters don't work inside but they have their map. We're actually saving energy while they're over there and off the ship." She laughed. "It's amazing. People are actually 'booking' time in the smaller caves like they would with the holodecks." She smirked suddenly. "They leave their bags outside the smaller caves when they…don't want to be disturbed. Everyone respects it."

She sat back now and smiled at the still shocked look on her commanding officer's face. "Would it help if I told you that morale is way up and the work is going faster than we thought possible? Efficiency has increased tenfold. Between having the springs and knowing the captain is all right, they're on a high."

Chakotay played with his cup and shook his head. Finally he nodded and smiled. "This crew never fails to amaze me."

B'Elanna nodded at that. "They're amazing, all right. I guess it comes down to having an amazing captain and command team." She pushed her chair back and stood up. "Get some sleep, my friend. She comes home tomorrow."

He looked up at her, his expression unreadable. "Yeah…" He looked back down at his tea again.

B'Elanna frowned and sat back down. She reached over and laid a hand on his wrist. "Hey, what is it? Aren't you happy?"

He shrugged. "I'm fine. Go get some sleep yourself." He looked up when she didn't leave. "Goodnight, B'Elanna."

She stared hard at him. "Something has been bothering you. You've been so different since her accident."

Chakotay pulled his hand away. "The accident of her own making, you mean?"

B'Elanna nodded slowly at that. "Ahhh…now I'm starting to see. This is about her taking risks again."

He looked away. "I can't stop seeing her fall…can't stop hearing her scream. And she tried to say something to me I couldn't understand." He looked back at his friend. "It's no secret to you that I love her…" He saw that it was no surprise to her. "I just don't know if I can keep doing this…keep taking the pain of almost losing her every time she risks her life like this."

B'Elanna sighed. "It's who she is, Chakotay. You always knew that. Besides, what can you do? As you said, you love her. You can't change that."

He stared ahead at nothing. "I don't know." He pulled himself out of it. "You're right. I'm just tired. It's been a long week." He pushed back his own chair. "Come on. We both need sleep." He smiled at her, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

Kathryn lay in the dimness of sickbay on her last night there and listened to the sounds which had become so familiar over the past nights. Her thoughts skimmed over the problems she saw with Chakotay.

Feeling she had no control over them, she grasped at the belief that once she was back on her feet, out of sickbay and even back on duty, all would be right with the world again. Once the memory of the accident dimmed, they'd return to their normal friendship.

She refused to entertain the idea that she was deluding herself.

Chakotay's evening mimicked Kathryn's. He lay on his bed in the dark, his thoughts occupied with the following day. This time his 'excuses' refused to work.

Eventually the truth, which had been mere seeds, began to spout and grow, smothering those same excuses. Seeing Kathryn lying in sickbay unconscious had hurt so much, and even though she was now awake and recovering, the memories were still very strong.

And there'd be a next time, and a next time, and more times after that. And eventually her luck would run out. The thought of facing that day terrified him and he knew he couldn't do it.

He stopped dead as the realization dawned. He was repeating Kathryn's words, issued long ago, of how she feared getting involved with him because the fear of losing him was too great and how she couldn't cope with that, with sending him into danger. And here she was doing the same thing…putting him in the position she couldn't face herself.

He knew now he'd been avoiding her…subconsciously at least. He'd distanced himself from her in the impossible hope that it would hurt less. It struck him that he was even trying to fall out of love with her, that loving her would only lead to pain, the kind of pain he wasn't strong enough for.

He failed to realize that he'd set himself an impossible task. Kathryn was in his heart for eternity and his love for her was immortal. At that moment though, he grasped at the concept. Anything to avoid the pain that loving her involved.

Chakotay was right on time the following morning when he picked up Kathryn. The Doctor stood sentry duty until he'd reminded them both of his 'conditions' for his patient's release.

"For the next two days, at least, you are confined to your quarters." He ignored the glare Kathryn sent his way. "You may still receive some reports but nothing too much or for too long. For those two days these reports are to be verbal only. No checking things out for yourself, Captain."

Kathryn rolled her eyes this time. "I'm a big girl now, Doctor."

He almost sneered at that. "After that time, if I deem you fit enough, you may put in two hours a day, divided of course. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. During this time you may receive reports and discuss work progress or whatever you need to do. What you cannot do is inspect that work." He folded his arms. "Put it this way, Captain. If I see or hear of you in a uniform before I say so, you'll be straight back here. And don't doubt me. I have my spies. Now, do I make myself clear?" He looked from one to the other. "Commander? You'll see to this?"

Chakotay nodded. "Of course, Doctor."

Kathryn seethed, her glare almost burning holes in the door. She spoke through gritted teeth. "Yes, Doctor."

Their walk to her quarters was silent, save for the occasional greeting from an elated crew member on seeing their captain up and about again.

Once in her quarters, Chakotay eased Kathryn down onto her couch and fussed around with the cushions for several minutes. He moved over to her coffee table, straightening padds that were just fine as they were.

Kathryn silently watched him and realized for the first time that she was actually nervous with him. She knew him well enough to sense his mood and know that there was a lot bubbling under the surface with him. She thought back to his visits to her in sickbay, how they'd only spoken about ship's business, not even skirting around her accident. So much hadn't been said.

Finally he broke the silence. He spoke to her but his eyes didn't quite meet hers. "Can I get you something to eat or drink before I go?"

She barely nodded. "I'd love a coffee."

He didn't acknowledge their standing joke. "OK."

Silence descended again as he got her coffee. She watched him closely. "Aren't you having something?"

He shook his head. "I'll get something later. I have a duty shift and several reports."

She almost smiled at that. He sounded so like herself. It worried her though. She held her cup but didn't drink. "Can you stay just a little while? Please? We've hardly spoken recently."

He barely nodded and sat down, not beside her on the couch the way he usually did, but in the chair facing slightly away from her. It spoke volumes.

Kathryn studied her coffee for a moment then put the cup down on the table before looking over at him. She knew now that things were not going to just fall back into place. She had to tackle this head on. "You're very quiet. I think also you must be very angry at me."

His head snapped around to look at her and she saw the truth of her words in his eyes.

She smiled sadly. "I thought so. Chakotay, please talk to me."

He looked away. "I don't think you want me to do that."

She sighed. "So it's that bad?"

He stared down at his hands. "Just leave it, Kathryn."

She shook her head. "I can't. I can't bear you thinking badly of me…"

He glared at her. "Think badly of you?" Something snapped inside him and he stood, startling her. He raked a hand through his hair. Suddenly all his emotions and feelings of the previous week came boiling to the surface. "I could never think badly of you and you bloody well know that." He faced her fully but his voice didn't soften. "I love you…" He took in her surprise at that. "Oh let's not pretend you don't know that. You've known that for a long time."

Suddenly he began to pace. "I love you…and I can't deny that anymore…especially after almost losing you. I don't care whether you can accept that or not, but it's a fact. Even if you ignore it, I'll live easier with myself knowing that I told you."

He stopped pacing and stared hard at her. "However, you're right. I AM angry at you. Spitting… fire… angry. At you and myself. I'm angry at you for endangering your life the way you did - AGAIN."

His voice rose. "What the fuck did you think you were doing? And I fucking let you."

Kathryn sat in shock…at his words and his use of language. She'd never heard him curse before. She weakly tried to defend herself. "I'm the captain. It's my responsibility…"

He wasn't taking that. "Oh cut the crap, Kathryn. I saw you out there. We all did. You were working way too hard. You were half way through your third damn shift in a row. You weren't wearing the proper clothing…had nothing covering your head in that heat. You weren't drinking…didn't even have your water bottle. And worst of all…dear God…you didn't even have your safety harness on. What the hell were you thinking? Had you seen a crew member doing that, you'd have read them the riot act. Yes, you're the captain, but you're also a member of this crew…one out of 150. You wouldn't let them do what you did and you shouldn't have let yourself. And yes…I know it's your life…but when you have so many people who love you and care about you, depend on you, you owe them something."

He stopped once more and looked at her. She sat staring at him with her mouth slightly open. Some part of him was actually shocked at her for sitting there and taking what he was dishing out. Mostly her silence angered him even more.

He began pacing again. "You say it's your responsibility… Well, start acting responsible then. You promised to get them home. You actually have to be alive to do that. It's not the same if we just have your ghost on the bridge as we come into view of Earth."

Once again he stopped. "This crew needs you, Kathryn, and you're hurting them." He saw her eyes widen at that. "You're hurting them in more ways than one. Did you know that they push themselves beyond their limits to keep up with you?" He ignored her obvious distress at that. "They agonize over disappointing you…letting you down. They try their hardest and you keep raising the bar…and then they have to try even harder."

Tears filled her eyes now and her hand came up to cover her mouth. He pushed on though, knowing she needed to hear this. "You've never looked at it that way before, have you? Well, it's about time you did." He shook his head and moved over to the viewport.

"Let me tell you about the day of your 'accident'. I'd already spoken to the Doc about my concerns. He was ready to back me up if I challenged you and wanted you removed from duty. He called me down to sickbay when he learned you were still working." He glanced at her and saw that she had her head down.

"It was a case of him going outside and physically dragging you back in or me getting you. When I got out there, I stopped one of the crew and asked if he'd seen you. He talked to me…told me how worried he was about you. He told me they all were. In fact, several others heard him and came over to tell me the same. I'd heard of others too…had other reports of crew trying to keep up with you…feeling they were failing you."

He moved back into the room and waited until she looked up at him. Tears streaked her face. His voice softened for the first time. "I know you feel you owe them. You feel you owe them your life. That's the key word, Kathryn. LIFE. You don't owe them your death. Well, the way to repay them for what you feel you owe them is to keep yourself safe and get them home. Get us ALL home."

He sighed and moved back to his chair. "Kathryn, you're a barometer, to use that old term, by which this crew measures everything. They see you happy and secure and they feel the same way. If you're unhappy then they're unhappy."

He leaned forward. "I saw their faces, you know. I saw their faces as they looked at your broken body lying out there in a pool of blood. None of them could work afterwards when the Doc was fighting to save your life. They were all too worried and upset. And later when you were lying there in sickbay - they drove the Doc mad looking for news of you."

Tears poured down Kathryn's face. "I…hurt them…I was…oh God…" Her hands came up and covered her mouth as she shook her head.

It was heartbreaking to see and Chakotay wanted nothing more than to go to her but forced himself to stay where he was. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I don't want to cause you pain but you have to know this. I didn't say all that to hurt you or upset you, but to get you to see it…to accept it and hopefully change. It's not meant to be one more imagined thing for you to feel guilty about."

Her head came up at that. "What do you mean?"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "You know what I mean. You carry a lot of guilt and stuff around with you all the time. It's time to free yourself of all that emotional baggage. It's been dragging you back and weighing you down for long enough. Let it all go and you'll find…"

She glared at him. "What will I find, Chakotay? Some magic cure? Will it get us all home?"

He stayed calm. "You'll find 'therein lies peace'." He sighed. "Think of it this way. The guilt you carry clouds every decision you make out here. Yes, you'd make different decisions out here than the ones you'd make in the Alpha Quadrant. The rules here are different, the situations unthought of - unimagined…but ask yourself this. Would your decisions be different without your guilt?"

Kathryn looked down into her lap. "I make the decisions I need to make, for whatever reason. I'm the one who stranded us out here and I'm the one who has to remedy that mistake. Maybe I'm more driven because of that, but that can't be a bad thing. I push harder to get them home."

He wasn't buying that. "I know you, Kathryn. You'd still push that hard. It's who you are…the kind of captain you'd be no matter where you were. There's nothing wrong with that provided you keep it in perspective. This self-imposed guilt though… It pushes you to take crazy risks…pushes you beyond what's humanly safe. It also eats away at you. Maybe you can cope with it when you're wearing your uniform, but what about afterwards? What about when you take that uniform off at night? What life do you have then? And don't deny the guilt we all know you feel."

Kathryn turned her head away. "Enough, Chakotay. I get the message."

He shook his head, his anger rising again. "No, you don't. You carry this misplaced guilt with you constantly. And in case you don't get it, the key word here is 'misplaced'." He drew in a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair.

"God, Kathryn…you're not a stupid woman. I really don't see why you haven't worked this out for yourself. Or maybe you have but don't want to accept it…or you've become way too used to dragging it around with you." He looked down at the floor. "I don't know, Kathryn. Maybe you don't intentionally risk your life. Maybe you do it without thinking…not just out of your guilt, but out of dedication to this crew. No one doubts how much you care for them. I know you have the highest regard for them. You just don't have it for yourself. They see that and it hurts them." He sighed. "You're hardest on yourself…set the highest standards for yourself. You can't seem to accept your own limits. You expose yourself to danger all the time and you probably don't even see it. Deep down you may know the risks, but you push your luck believing it'll work. You repress the possibility that your luck can run out." He shook his head in exasperation. "God…even Tuvok once said that calling you 'reckless' was an understatement."

She stared hard at him for a moment and then stood up. "You said you have reports and a duty shift." She turned sharply when she heard him laugh. "What's so funny?"

He smiled sadly. "You are, Kathryn. Get too close to anything personal and you run and hide with the best of them. Nothing I've said here has made any difference to you."

She played with a vase of flowers on the table. "And maybe I'm just tired. I did only get out of sickbay today."

Chakotay stood slowly. "If you were tired, you wouldn't have asked me to stay in the first place." He shook his head in defeat. "All right. I've said what I wanted to say. Get some sleep." He crossed the room and stopped beside her. "Just know that none of this was to hurt you. I spoke as I did because I care so much. I actually thought it might get through to you." When she continued arranging her flowers he nodded to himself and moved to the doors.

"Kathryn, think about this. Something one of the crew said to me just before the accident. She said that although we all wanted out of here, it wasn't the worst place. The main thing was we were all in one piece. We were alive and healthy and most importantly, we were together. She said if it takes a bit longer than we thought to get out of here, then so be it."

Kathryn seized on that. "They all want off this planet. You just said it yourself. And you ask why I push so hard. They're here because of me. They're stuck in this damn place…battling this damn heat…bored out of their wits. They can't be expected to put up with this. The conditions are… I have to protect them, look after them. They can't live with this heat and they shouldn't be forced to accept the intolerable…" She actually jumped back when Chakotay all but ran at her.

"You haven't heard a word I've said. You just take what you want to hear." He shook his head sadly. "You don't know your crew very well, do you, Kathryn? You underestimate them and you insult them." He ignored her shock at the harshness of his words. "Well, it's about time you got to know them." He pointed a finger in her face. "Don't you dare see them as helpless. That's an insult to their intelligence, the initiative they're capable of. You trained them better than you think. You're so busy cocooning yourself in that guilt that you can't see the very capable people they are. They've actually…" He stopped and sighed, remembering the Doctor's orders not to load her down with too much. He knew if she was aware of the springs, she'd rush out to inspect them. "You don't know your own crew, Kathryn." He shook his head in defeat and looked down, closing his eyes for a moment.

Finally he looked up at her. "You'll never change, Kathryn. I see that now."

She barely met his eyes. "I'm responsible for them. Maybe they can face it, but they shouldn't have to. If I can spare them any hurt or hardship then it's my…"

He shook his head. "Enough, Kathryn. I've heard it all too many times." He drew in a deep breath and made the hardest decision of his life, one he suddenly realized he'd been toying with all week. Thinking of doing it and actually doing it were two very separate things though. He moved a little closer to her and forced the words out. "I can't do this anymore. I love you, Kathryn. You know that. I can't take it though. It's tearing me apart."

She looked at him now. "Chakotay…I…"

He raised a hand to stop her. "This isn't about you returning my feelings, Kathryn. It's about disregarding them completely. It's about you being so reckless and not thinking about or caring what your death would do to me and this crew. What I went through with you this time… Do you know what it does to me every time you end up in that sickbay? Well, I can't do that anymore. I surrender. Call me weak but I can't feel that pain again. Loving you hurts too much. I don't regret telling you what I feel for you. I had to do that. But now I have to pull back if I'm to save anything of myself. You want to kill yourself? Go ahead…but it won't be on my heart's time. It won't be easy, Kathryn, but from this moment on, I'm hardening my heart to you. There's too much pain involved in loving you. I'll serve as your First Officer to the best of my ability. You'll have my loyalty and respect as you've always had. I'll still care for you, but as a friend only. I'm just not strong enough for anything else."

He turned away, unable to look at her and moved to the door. "I'm ending something that never got a chance to start. How pathetic is that?" When he glanced at her, she was staring at him in shock. He held her eyes for a moment and then sighed sadly.

"You once said to me that being in a relationship with me would be too hard because of the fear of losing me…having to send me into dangerous situations. I finally understand what you meant. Strangely, you've been doing that to me though…making me face that fear all along."

He shook his head sadly. "You cried when I told you about the crew. You were horrified that you might have been hurting them. I tell you I can't love you anymore and you just stand there and stare at me. No emotion. I think that says it all." He nodded to himself and looked away quickly. "Get some sleep, Kathryn." With that he walked out of her quarters leaving her staring at the closed door.

Kathryn slowly made her way back to her couch after Chakotay's departure, her legs barely making the short journey. She fell down onto it and sat staring at the closed door for a long time.

She longed for it to be night. That way she could order the lights off and sit in the dark. Somehow the darkness always comforted her at times like this. She could lose herself in it…hide in it. Instead the sun streamed in, almost mocking her.

Chakotay's words swam around in her head, no real clarity to them. She knew that would come later. Only then could she sift through them, slowly unravelling them in order to make sense of what he'd said. For the moment she felt incapable of even thinking of her own name.

Chakotay took his shift and threw himself into his work. Not once did Kathryn try to contact him. Eventually he dragged himself back to his quarters and checked his console for messages. There were none.

He slept badly that night, despite environmental controls being back online. He was torn between regretting his words to Kathryn and knowing he'd had no other choice. He lay awake and autopsied the entire thing.

Eventually, in frustration, he got up and paced his living room, cursing himself. His mind was in turmoil, but guilt at how he'd spoken to Kathryn stood out clearly. He stopped a moment and stared at the wall between their quarters, wondering if she was asleep.

Unable to face his own thoughts and afraid to examine his actions too deeply, he freshened up and made his way to his office. Losing himself in work seemed good at this moment in time. Anything was better than facing the actions he knew he'd regret for the rest of his life.

As Chakotay tried to work away his demons, Kathryn lay awake, her pillow soaked with her tears. It was finally dark and she curled herself up in her bed, hoping to find some semblance of comfort in the darkness but there was none to be found as Chakotay's words repeated in her head. Her mind was at war with itself, half acknowledging the truth of his words, the other half denying them.

Finally she had no more tears left to cry and her throat felt raw and sore. She rolled over unto her back and stared out at the unmoving stars. Their stillness unsettled her, as did the silence of the ship. She'd grown so used to the thrum of the engines.

She drew in several deep breaths and draped one arm over her forehead. "Oh Chakotay…" She willed herself to slow her breathing and concentrate, analysing all that had passed between them.

He loved her. And he was right in that she knew it. It wasn't how she'd imagined hearing the words from his lips though. She sighed sadly as she remembered how angry he'd been too. She couldn't blame him for that. She knew it was his love for her that had fuelled it…along with his fear for her. He'd been worried enough to consider relieving her of duty, not something he'd ever do lightly.

She tried being honest with herself. He'd been right about so much and it hurt to admit it. She had ignored the Doctor's instructions, not wearing the right clothing or drinking enough water. She closed her eyes as she thought about how stupid she'd been in not wearing her safety harness. Another thing he was right about. Had she seen anyone else without their harness, she'd have chewed them out.

She thought about something else he'd been right about. The crew did try to keep up with her and she was grossly unfair to them. She knew she set the highest standards for herself and knew where it came from too. All her young life she'd tried to keep up with her father's expectations and even after his death, that hadn't changed. She still tried to live up to him. So she kept striving higher and higher. While she never expected the same from her crew, it was now obvious that they'd pushed themselves beyond their limits to try and keep up with her, to not disappoint her. She now saw how much they looked to her, their happiness and security dependent on hers, and realized that she didn't consider that enough. It was unfair to them, and even if she hadn't realized what she'd been doing, it still fell at her feet.

She played her fingers together as she stared out at the night and sighed. Guilt. He'd spoken about her guilt…something she knew was true no matter how much she denied it. There was nothing she could do about it though. It was there. She whispered into the darkness. "You could try though…."

She rolled onto her side. One fact remained uppermost. She'd hurt him…and in his words…she'd hurt him AGAIN. She truly hadn't thought about how much it affected him every time she took a risk and got hurt. She'd stood back from him to avoid the same hurt but subconsciously had forced him into the same position in her stead, making him suffer.

'Ending something that never had a chance to start'. That was like a knife in her chest. He loved her and she knew she loved him too. If only…

As her thoughts brought no answers, she borrowed something her mother had always said…an old Russian saying. 'The morning knows more than the evening'. She forced her thoughts to still and closed her eyes. Perhaps if she could sleep for a little while, things would seem clearer in the morning. One thing was for sure. She knew she'd have plenty of time over the coming days to think.

Over the next days, Kathryn remained in her quarters, following the Doctor's orders. True to his word, after two days he allowed her to 'work' one hour twice a day, provided, in his words, she lifted nothing heavier than a padd.

Chakotay continued to report to her in his capacity as First Officer, mostly during the two hours in her ready room. He kept her up to date on repairs, but again, on the Doctor's orders, she was only allowed to read the reports and make recommendations, not inspect the work. She was also 'ordered' to just concentrate on vital reports and nothing else. With this in mind, Chakotay didn't discuss anything outside of that, still not mentioning to her about the crew or the springs.

Kathryn accepted the padds from him as he made his status reports. She acknowledged them, and made the odd comment. Her eyes, however, silently begged for so much more to be said. When he didn't really meet her eyes, she gave up and spoke the only words she felt were permitted, anything pertaining to the ship and repairs.

Once his brief reports were made, Chakotay would nod at her and ask permission to be excused. She had no choice but to grant his request.

During the time Chakotay brought Kathryn the progress reports, he waited to see if she'd bring up what had been said between them but she stuck to the business at hand. He hadn't dared to look at her face too closely, afraid of what he'd see there, and in that way, he hadn't seen her silent pleading. Instead it seemed to him she was taking a leaf out of his book and sticking strictly to business.

Outside of her two hours on duty, the Doctor demanded that Kathryn returned to her quarters to 'rest', leaving her going stir crazy. She mostly hated being in her sitting room, memories of her last time there with Chakotay invading her thoughts.

By the fourth day, she thought she was going insane. Having no routine or work was bad enough, but she mostly missed Chakotay's presence. All she had was her own thoughts for company as she considered long and hard what he'd said to her. With all that came the realization of just how much she loved him and how much pain she'd been causing him.

Needing to get away from her quarters, if not her own mind, she pleaded with the Doctor to let her increase her hours. He reluctantly relented and permitted her to work quarter shifts on very limited and restricted duties. He also insisted she remain on the ship and not dare venture outside.

Kathryn grasped his offer with both hands. At least in this way she could interact with her crew again. They all greeted her ecstatically as they went about their work, leaving her in no doubt as to their deep respect and affection for her. Many stopped to talk to her, telling her how wonderful it was to see her back on her feet and how scared they'd been when she'd fallen.

Outside of that, Kathryn noticed a difference in them all. They all seemed more relaxed and happier in their work. At first she put it down to environmental controls being back on line on the ship, giving everyone an escape from the fierce heat outside. She also thought a big part of their improved morale was due to the fact that as far as the work was concerned, the end was in sight, and they'd soon be leaving the planet. While they were happy to see her, she didn't for one moment believe that her return to even partial duty contributed to their improved morale.

In speaking with them though, Chakotay's words returned to her and she finally began to understand the effect her accident had had on them all. When they spoke of how scared they'd been for her, and how upset, she began to see what it had all done to them. As she wandered her ship, watching people working together, she began to visualize them all as one large chain, each link as important as the next. While she and the other senior staff led them, each depended on the other. If one link was weak, it threatened the entire chain.

Chakotay sat in the empty mess hall and nursed a late evening cup of tea before retiring for the evening. He looked up to see B'Elanna standing in the doorway watching him. She smiled at him and moved towards him. "Hey there…"

He gave a half smile. "Hey yourself." He took in her damp hair and the towel slung over her shoulder. "Where were you?"

She laughed at that. "Where else..." She dropped her head to the side. "Have you been over there yet? You should at least have a look at the place…"

He sighed. "It's certainly having a very positive effect on the crew."

B'Elanna let her smile slip. "Seems to me you could use a 'positive effect' yourself." She pulled the towel from her shoulders and draped it over the back of one of the chairs. "How's the captain?"

He looked up at her and shook his head. "I don't know. She was fine this morning when I made my report. Tuvok took the afternoon ones into her."

B'Elanna bit at her lip and looked out at the night sky a moment. Finally she nodded to herself. "I knew something was wrong…" She pulled a chair out and sat down opposite him. "OK Chakotay…what's going on? And I'm not being nosy. I'm your friend and I'm worried about you. I have been for a while."

Chakotay just looked away. "I told you before that was a waste of time." He looked around the deserted mess hall. "Come to think of it, I told you that right here not so long ago."

She merely shrugged at that. "Well, I didn't listen to you then and I'm hardly likely to start listening to you now. Worrying about you is in my job description as friend…" She leaned forward. "So…out with it."

Chakotay stared at her then shook his head. "You don't give up, do you?" He lost the battle with his smile. "What am I saying? Tenacious Torres." He leaned back and sighed heavily. "All right…but you may well regret asking."

B'Elanna pretended to really think about that. "Doubtful. Try me."

Chakotay grew serious and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table that separated them. "OK…you asked for it. I warn you though. It's a sorry tale of a pathetic excuse for a man…"

He proceeded to tell his old friend everything. He recounted how he'd spoken to Kathryn in her quarters on the day she came 'home' and his thoughts leading up to that. He told her of his fears and doubts and how he now regretted it all. He spared her no detail of his behaviour, making no excuses for it either.

Eventually he sat back, not sure if he felt better or worse for unburdening himself. "So there you are. I'm surprised you're still sitting there."

B'Elanna shook her head sadly and reached for his hand. "Oh Chakotay…I'm sorry." She stroked her fingers over his hand. "I understand why you said all that. I do." She sighed and gave him a small smile. "I feel the same way with Tom, just as he does with me. But Chakotay…this is the business we're in. We have no choice. We're out here and life is a gamble every day. And even if we weren't here…if we were all nice and safe at home, it would still be a gamble because life is just like that. It's a precarious business." She looked down at her hand on his. "You know I once read somewhere that it's more dangerous to eat fish than live under a volcano. More people die of choking on fish bones than from volcanic eruptions."

Chakotay placed his other hand over hers. "I know that. Why does she need to push the risk level then? It's dangerous enough out here."

B'Elanna shook head slowly. "It's who she is, my friend, and you love her. I told you this before. She's not doing it deliberately. She just cares deeply for her people and when they're at risk or in need, she steps up to the bar. It's who she is and what she is. And besides, as I said, you love her. She was like that when you fell in love with her. For her to change now…well…she wouldn't be the woman you fell for. As to trying to stop those feelings…" She smiled at that. "Trying to stop them would be like trying to stop one of those volcanoes…or an earthquake…or a meteorite. Love is a force of nature too. Do you really think standing back will stop the love or make it hurt less if, God forbid, something happened to her? All you'd have would be a ton of guilt on top of your grief, instead of loving memories."

He stared at her for a long time as her words sank in and began to make sense. He pulled his hands from hers and rubbed at his face. "You're right. You're right." He sighed heavily. "Why couldn't I see that?"

She smiled lovingly at him. "Sometimes we're just too close to things to see them clearly." She reached over and tousled his hair. "That's why we have friends to talk things over with."

He in turn reached over to her and cupped her cheek. "And don't for one minute think that I don't appreciate the gift of that friendship. Thank you." He shook his head. "I have so many regrets. I curse my own cowardice. You're right. I can't stop loving her and I'll never be able to stop. I know now that the pain at the risk of losing her is better than being without her." He sat back. "How do I undo it all though?"

B'Elanna sat back also. "You'll know how." She pushed her chair back and stood. "Tell you what. Why don't you take some time at the springs. Soak in the waters and clear your mind. Then go and talk to her."

He considered that for a moment and finally nodded, drawing in a deep breath. "You're right. Again." He smiled up at her. "How do I go about 'booking' a cave?"

She threw her towel at him. "I happen to know that the one Tom and I just made use of is free for the rest of the night. Just leave your bag outside if you don't want to be disturbed." She pulled her tricorder from her belt and slid it across the table at him. "Directions are all on there. I'll even log you in. That'll guarantee your privacy."

He threw her towel back at her then picked up the tricorder. "Thanks, but I'll get my own towel. God knows what you two were up to on this one…" He ducked as she swiped at him.

Kathryn reported to the Doctor as ordered for her final check-up, having put it off all day. She sat quietly and let him prod and probe her as he ran his scans.

"Everything is fine, Captain. You've healed very well."

Kathryn managed a small smile for him. "Thank you to your expert care, Doctor. Thank you for everything."

The Medic smiled at that. "As long as my patients follow my instructions, it all works out perfectly." He studied her a moment. "You don't seem overjoyed with my news."

Kathryn shrugged. "Sorry. I'll be fine when I can get back to full duty and we're back in space. I go crazy in my quarters when I'm supposed to be resting." She folded her hands in her lap. "At least crew morale has improved now that the work is almost complete. That or it's having their captain out of their hair."

The Doctor smiled at that. "I think it's more to do with their off-duty activities."

Kathryn frowned. "I didn't think the holodecks were back yet."

It was the Doctor's turn to frown. "They aren't. They're still too much of a drain on power until all repairs are completed." He folded him arms and gave her a stern look. "And it most certainly has nothing to do with having you 'out of their hair'. Your absence has been the only thing missing for them, in fact."

Kathryn nodded knowingly. "So it's getting out of here. I should have known that."

The Doctor studied her. "Captain, they're actually quite happy here, believe it or not."

Kathryn shook her head, her frown deepening. "I don't understand. How can they be?"

The EMH smiled and leaned back against one of the biobeds. "It's the springs, of course. They spend all their spare time there. It's beneficial to their physical health as well as their mental health." He picked up his padd. "In fact, a few trips there for the captain would be good. I wouldn't have permitted it before had you asked because I didn't want you off the ship. The heat out there would have had a detrimental effect on your recovery. At this stage now though, I think they'd do you the world of good. They're really quite beautiful and…" He stopped at the completely confused look on her face. "Captain?"

She shook her head. "Doctor, what are you talking about? What springs?"

He nodded and placed his padd back down. "Sorry. I know I instructed nothing outside of vital ship's business, but I thought someone would have spoken to you about the springs. Certainly the commander…"

Kathryn looked away. "The commander isn't exactly speaking to me…" She realized her words and stopped. "Why didn't you tell me about them?"

He almost frowned at that. "Captain, I'm a Doctor, not a tour guide. Besides, it's not my place." He softened his expression. "Why isn't the commander talking to you?"

She didn't meet his eyes. "Let's just say we had a 'falling out' over my reckless behaviour."

He smiled sadly. "I did wonder about that. I saw how affected he was by your accident. Don't get me wrong. For the most part he was as worried as he always is. This time was different though."

Kathryn sighed. "He wasn't there holding my hand when I woke up."

The Doctor shook his head. "I think this one scared him more than most. It was a kind of straw on the camel's back."

She sighed again and looked up towards the ceiling. "Yeah…I got all that." She looked towards the man beside her and smiled softly. He really was a man in her eyes now. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself confiding in him, telling him everything. He stayed silent and let her talk, nodding occasionally or laying a comforting hand on her arm. When she'd finished, he handed her a tissue.

"Dry your tears, my dear lady."

Kathryn sniffled and wiped at her face. "I'm so sorry, Doctor. That was very unprofessional of me."

He reached over and lifted her chin to face him. "When you were there for me, was that unprofessional?"

She shook her head. "No, it wasn't. Sorry. You're right."

He smiled. "Good. Now what are we going to do about this?"

Kathryn shrugged and played with the tissue in her lap. "I think it's a bit late for that. Didn't you hear me? He no longer loves me."

He studied her. "Do you love him?"

She nodded seriously. "Yes, I do. I know that now. It makes no difference though…"

He rubbed up and down her back. "I know one thing for certain with people, Captain. No one can turn their emotions on and off like that. If he loved you last week, he loves you still. I've seen how he feels about you. Love like that can't ever die." He saw the hope in her eyes at his words and smiled. "Come into my office, my dear. Let me tell you about the springs and how they work. I can check the schedule for you…tell you the best time to visit… I can even supply you with a map…" His words said one thing. His expression said so much more.

Chakotay relaxed into the water and tried to sooth his mind as well as his body.

He felt her presence before he heard her.

She looked down at him sadly. "You didn't tell me about this place…but then you're not talking to me outside of ship's business, are you?" When he didn't answer, she nodded and sighed heavily. "It's all right. I understand. You left your bag outside. The Doctor told me what that means. I shouldn't have come in. I won't disturb you anymore." She turned and walked away until his voice stopped her.

"Kathryn…wait…" He hauled himself out of the water. "Goddamn it, Kathryn. No one can twist the knife the way you can."

She turned and he saw the hurt his words had caused. She swallowed and looked down at her hands. "I didn't mean to hurt you." She looked up and away, blinking back tears. "I always do though, don't I? I hurt everyone I come into contact with…".

She turned and went to run but just before she got to the cave entrance she felt two strong arms come around her.

"I'm sorry. Please. Don't go."

She closed her eyes, dislodging her tears. The feel of his arms around her pained her. "I hurt you. I keep hurting you."

He pulled her back against him, his wet body soaking the dress she wore. He dropped his head against her. "Why did you come?"

She dropped her head forward. "I shouldn't have come. You've every right to be angry at me."

He breathed in her scent and repeated his words. "Why did you come?"

The truth poured from her. "Because I miss you…so much… Because I hurt you so much and I don't know how to make it better." She was crying openly now and her body shuddered against his. "Oh God…I made such a mess. How could I ever expect you to forgive me? Just let me go. I'm no use to you. I just hurt you…"

He felt her legs give out and lowered them both to the ground. Sobs tore through her as he held her. She doubled over as if in pain, taking him with her, draped over her back. "Forgive me…oh God…please forgive me…"

Her words tore at his heart. He pulled her up and turned her so he could see her face. The pain he saw there stabbed at him. "Oh Kathryn…" Sobs still racked her body. He lifted her to him and sat against the wall of the cave, cradling her against his body. She was inconsolable so he just rocked her and stroked his hand up and down her back. "It's all right…let it all out…just lean on me…"

Eventually she began to calm until she was hiccupping with only the occasional sniffle. She risked a glance up at him. "You shouldn't have seen that. I'm sorry…"

He smiled softly at her. "I'm honoured that you trusted me enough to let me see it." He pulled her back against him so that her head rested on his shoulder. "Talk to me, Kathryn. Let me be here for you."

She didn't pull away and he felt her trying to get herself under control. He waited patiently, one hand stroking through her hair. "I'm sorry. I hurt you and I'm so sorry for that. I know the pain I caused you and yet I still…" She sniffed loudly. "I don't know why I did that, how I could do it. It hurts so much to know I caused you that pain and hurt…to know what I was putting you through." She pulled back a little and looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears. "How could I do that to someone else…?"

He frowned and shook his head. "What do you mean?"

She looked away. "You were right. I think I did know the risks I was taking. I saw Daddy and Justin die…failed them. I failed members of my crew before. I was trying to stop that. But I hurt you by doing that. I know what that pain is like…and I was risking you knowing it too. I never want that for you."

He closed his eyes and pulled her against him more tightly. "Oh Kathryn…that's life. It happens…as clichéd as that sounds. We all lose people and most times it's outside of anyone's control. The trick is not to take unnecessary risks." He felt her hand sliding up his chest and opened his eyes, kissing the top of her head.

Her fingers played over his skin. "I'm so sorry. When you said you didn't love me…" She pulled back again and met his eyes. "Something broke in me when you said that."

He tried to sit up. "Kathryn, I didn't…"

She brought her hand up to his mouth. "I have to say all this in one go. Please." He nodded. "I can't imagine what you thought." She looked away again. "What you saw…how I cried to think I was hurting them but not when you…" She looked back at him. "I know it looked as if I wasn't as affected but it wasn't like that." She drew in a deep breath. "Something just died in me. I couldn't move…couldn't do or say anything. All that existed was your words…how loving me caused you so much pain…was too painful. You were hardening your heart to me…and it broke mine."

She was crying again and he put both his arms around her, holding her against him. "I'm so sorry, Kathryn. I should never have said all that. I was just raw. You'd taken another risk…and to see you fall like that…" He tried to shake away the images. "I was wrong to say so much of what I said. Everything just became too much and all that came out in too much emotion. I was wrong to say you don't know your own crew, that you underestimated them and insulted them. I was so wrong in all that. You're well aware of their capabilities. You see them as a fine and dedicated crew. You know you can get them home only with their support. And you know you have that support. I just worry that you always seem to feel you owe them and you don't." He looked at her lovingly. "I never said I didn't love you though." He kissed the side of her face. "I tried to stop. I couldn't do it though. You fill my mind constantly…awake or asleep." He looked towards the water. "I keep seeing you fall…hearing you scream. I see you lying there…trying to tell me something…"

She leaned into him and took a leap of faith. "I love you. I'm sorry."

To finally hear the words made his heart soar but he wanted her to really mean it. "You don't have to say that just because I did. You owe me nothing…"

She shook her head and looked up at him. "You don't understand. That's what I said." She saw him frown. "When I fell…that's what I was trying to tell you. I thought they'd be my last words and I wanted you to know."

He looked deeply into her eyes and saw the truth of her love there. He raised a hand and cupped her cheek. "You have no idea what it means to me to finally hear you say that." He pulled her to him and kissed her just above her eyes. His hand slipped into her hair, holding her against him.

They stayed like that for several minutes, just holding each other. Chakotay eventually eased her away from him and looked deeply into her eyes. "I'm never letting you out of my sight again after this. You do know that?"

She managed a watery smile. "I'm stuck with you, you mean?"

He smiled a moment and then grew serious. "Kathryn, do you understand what I was trying to tell you? I was trying to get you to see that they don't need that from you."

She shrugged slightly. "I see that now. But they're still my crew, Chakotay. I'm responsible for them, no matter what."

He nodded his understanding. "We're one crew, Kathryn. We're all responsible for each other." He sighed. "You miss the point of who you are. To see you walk through the ship…smile at them…stop a minute and chat…compliment their work… The way you always remember their names and some detail of their life that's important to them…the fact that your ready room door is always open to them…" He smiled at her. "These things, Kathryn….these things are what make you the wonderful captain you are to them. They mean far more. They're the reason they love and respect you the way they do…not because you risk life and limb for them. They don't want you dying for them. They want you to LIVE for them. Can you see all that? That's why I said what I said. I'm just so sorry I hurt you the way I did. I'm really sorry."

She shook her head, her face serious. "No. I needed to hear all that." She sighed sadly. "It hurt like hell but…" She touched his face. "I guess I needed it. I think I can finally admit that I was pushing it." She shuddered and looked down at her lap. "You're not the only one who can't stop seeing that fall…" She looked back at him. "It took this…an accident like this…and the truth from someone I love to break through to me…" She stroked his cheek and stared deeply into his eyes. "I ask you to understand one thing though, Chakotay. I can't promise never to take another risk. If you're in danger…or any of them…" She didn't say anymore.

He nodded his understanding, knowing he could never ask that of her, that he'd do the same. He held her tightly. "What now, Kathryn?"

She lay happily against him. "I don't know." She lifted her head to see his face. "I came here to try and get my friend back. I didn't dare hope for more."

He watched her closely. "And do you want more?"

She smiled nervously. "Yes…if you can…"

He trailed a finger across her cheek. "Just knowing you love me too…I can wait…"

She shook her head. "I think I've kept you waiting long enough. I've waited long enough."

He kissed her cheek. "Then we'll banish those bad memories together and create wonderful new ones."

Kathryn traced his tattoo with her fingertip. "I like the sound of that…" Her eyes moved to his mouth as he moved closer.

He smiled down at her. "In that case, can I finally kiss you?

She let out a long breath. "Oh yes…please…"

They came together slowly as Chakotay softly brushed his lips over hers. Her light breath fanned his face and he felt himself harden immediately. He wove the fingers of one hand through her hair, holding her head as he pressed his lips to hers. Her hands gripped his shoulders and she moaned deeply in her throat. The sound was almost his undoing as a surge ran through his groin. His other arm went around her, pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss, her mouth opening under the pressure of his.

Lips locked and tongues duelled as they clung to each other, tasting deeply. Chakotay never wanted it to end but the need to breathe won and he slowly pulled back, his eyes drinking in the sight of her reddened and swollen lips.

Kathryn was almost panting as he smiled at her. "How was that?"

She smiled seductively. "The earth moved."

He grinned back at her. "I was hoping it wasn't just me who felt that." He ran a finger over her lips. "Can I kiss you again then?"

Kathryn pretended to think about that. "Is it going to be like that first one?"

He studied her mouth. "I'd like to think I could improve on it."

Kathryn's breath caught in her throat. "Then I think I should warn you that if you do, I may not be able to stop at just kissing you."

His eyes locked with hers. "Is that a problem?"

She stroked over his tattoo. "Not for me."

He felt himself painfully hard in his swimming shorts and wanted nothing more than to take her there and then but he needed to be sure. "We have plenty of time, Kathryn. I want you to be sure…"

She pressed her fingers against his mouth and smiled at him, loving him all the more for his words. "I'm sure. More than sure. I love you and I want you."

It was all he needed to hear. He eased back from her and studied her body. "We really should get you out of this dress then."

Kathryn looked down at herself. "Mmm…it is clinging to me a bit with the heat in here. It's like a sauna."

He ran a hand up and down her side. "Clinging in all the right places too. You've no idea how sexy you look at this moment."

She traced her fingers over his chest. "I love the view from here too." She looked down at his hand as it now played with the buttons on the front of her dress. "I don't have a change of clothes with me…"

He grinned at her. "We can always head back to your quarters or mine…"

She placed her hand over his, stilling his movement, and grinned back at him. "We can do that afterwards. It'd be a shame to waste your booking here. And the Doc did recommend I make use of the springs. He said it would be beneficial to my recovery."

Chakotay almost leered at that. "Who am I to argue with a medical expert?" His eyes drank in the sight of her body for almost a full minute, his hands moving over her. Finally he could wait no longer. "We need to balance this out. I'm just wearing shorts. That leaves you overdressed. May I?" His fingers once more moved to the buttons. When she nodded her consent, he began popping them open to reveal a white lace bra. "Oh Kathryn…very nice. Do you wear stuff like this all the time?"

Her smirk told him she'd leave him guessing at that one. He slipped the dress off her shoulders, his hands soothing her skin as he pushed her bra straps down with it. He got to his knees first and then stood, pulling her up to stand with him. He eased her dress down past her hips, letting it fall to the floor in a puddle at her feet. His eyes took in the matching white lace parties.

"God…you're beautiful…" The soft lighting in the cave cast shadows on her body in all the right places. He looked back at her face to see that she was giving his body equal attention with her eyes. Finally she tore her eyes away and looked deeply into his. Her hands reached for the closure of her bra and slowly she opened it, letting it fall from her body. His eyes followed her hands, and his breath caught in his throat as her breasts were revealed.

He couldn't stop himself. His hands had a mind of their own as they reached for the soft mounds and dusty pink nipples, already standing erect for him. As soon as they made contact, the bra fell from Kathryn's fingers and her head fell back. "Oh God…Chakotay…"

He fed and worshipped at her breasts for several minutes until neither could take it any longer. Looking around, Chakotay noticed a low, flat surface of rock and guided Kathryn towards it. He reached for his towel and spread it over the top then eased her down onto it. He gently pushed her onto her back, her legs hanging over the edge. He stood and gazed down at her, committing the image to his memory.

Needing to do more than look now, he grabbed his sweat pants and bunched them up to kneel on. He leaned forward and agonizingly slowly peeled her panties away, slipping her shoes off with them. Kathryn immediately reached for him but he shook his head. "No, honey. This is for you. Let me do this."

She protested. "I want to…"

He again shook his head. "Shhh…next time. For now I need to do this."

She understood and nodded, willing herself to hand over all control to the man worshipping her body.

Chakotay took his time as he mapped her body, tracing over every curve with fingertips, lips and tongue, her skin now slick with the moist heat in the cave. He worked every inch of her body, leaving only one area ignored, much to Kathryn's frustration. He was teasing her mercilessly and enjoying every second of it as she squirmed against him. "Patience, honey. All in good time. It'll be all the sweeter for it."

Kathryn clenched her buttocks together in a vain attempt to get some relief. "Easy for you to say…"

Suddenly she cried out as he tightly gripped her ankles and pulled her legs up. "More of this maybe?" He draped her legs over his shoulders, his fingers pressing her open, exposing her core to his eyes.

Kathryn arched her back. "Oh God…yes…please…"

His torture continued though as he stroked gently over her, barely touching her with his tongue and blowing on her. She writhed beneath him with the sweet agony. "Please…please…"

He wasn't to be rushed though. He played around her opening, barely pressing inside, spreading her abundant moisture. He trailed his fingers over every inch of her most sensitive areas, pressing shallowly in and out of her, leaving her almost crying.

He changed track then. He leaned back a moment and pulled her closer to the edge of the rock so her bottom hung free. Her legs still draped over his shoulders, he leaned in and pushed her open as far as he could. His fingers returned to their torture, playing around her opening once more. He blew on her once then laved his tongue across her from bottom to top, drawing a scream from her.

Suddenly the fingers seemed to be everywhere as Kathryn clawed at the towel underneath her. Two fingers poised at the opening to her vagina, another one at her rear entrance. Her eyes flew open a moment before the digits plunged into her and his mouth latched onto her clit, sucking her roughly.

The result was fireworks for Kathryn. She felt his fingers plunging into her again and again as her legs tightened on his shoulders. His mouth was almost painful on her as he sucked her in, his tongue flicking at her small nub. She gripped tightly at the towel as she suddenly exploded, her howl echoing off the walls of the cave, uncaring who heard her.

She was barely aware of his fingers leaving her body, his tongue lazily licking at her, bringing her down slowly. Her arms felt like dead weights as she tried to reach for him. He saw her predicament and lowered her legs as he came up over her, quickly pushing his shorts off. He spread her legs around his waist and pressed against her, his erection prodding at her entrance. He gripped her wrists and raised her arms over her head. "Look at me, Kathryn."

She locked eyes with him a moment before he surged into her, filling her completely. Her body arched as she fought to hold his eyes, a scream torn from her throat. She fought his hold but he wasn't letting go. He held himself tightly against her for a moment longer then withdrew. She felt the loss acutely for just a moment before he plunged back into her tight heat.

She lost it after that. He rode her like a wild stallion, his thrusts almost bruising as she fought to stay with him. He held her down as he took her again and again, building her back up. They both knew he had all the control and she briefly realized she didn't mind at all. She bucked against him, her legs tight around him.

And then she felt it again, surging to the surface until it erupted inside her, her own climax synchronized with his and they both strained together as their bodies merged into one single explosion of ecstasy.

Kathryn lay back against Chakotay and looked around her. "Look at this place. I didn't really notice it when I came in first…"

Chakotay grinned. "But then you had other things to look at…"

She slapped at him. "I guess I had…" She looked around her again. "Look at it though. It's amazing. Xanadu."

She smiled when he frowned. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree, where Alph, the sacred river, ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea." She smiled again. "An old poem…Samuel Taylor Coleridge, if I remember correctly. Mother insisted we studied the classics."

Chakotay looked around at their surroundings. "It certainly fits." He smiled then. "I'll certainly have the happiest memories of this place."

Kathryn sighed happily. "So will I." She looked towards the water. "Are these springs as good as the Doctor said?" She looked back at him, showing a trace of sadness now. "Would you recommend them to wash away that guilt and those imagined sins I have? Do you think I can cleanse myself of them…then go back to the ship and continue the journey the way I should have started it?"

He knew she wasn't trying to hurt him with her words, just act on the ones he'd spoken to her out of love. He nodded. "You don't need water to do that, Kathryn. You just decide to do it."

She nodded at that. "And 'therein lies peace'?"

He smiled to hear his words echoed back at him. "Yes, Kathryn. 'Therein lies peace'."

Together they slipped into the water, letting it wash away what they no longer wanted or needed. Kathryn pressed herself tightly against his body and slipped her arms around his neck. "Just one last thing, Chakotay." She moved her hips against his, tearing a groan from him."

He responded in kind. "And what's that…?"

She smiled sweetly at him. "If you ever hide a bathtub this big from me again, I'll have you scrubbing the decks for the rest of the trip home. Got it?"