Disclaimer:
Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager.  I don’t.  Only borrowing  them. Etc. Etc. Etc.                          

Rating:         
R – for occasional sexual references and the odd swear word.

Summary:    
Back in the Alpha Quadrant, debriefings and parties over, Kathryn and her crew go their separate ways. Unable to settle and with her life empty, Kathryn struggles to find a purpose for herself and a place to feel really needed, totally unaware that most of her former crew are equally lost and unhappy.  With the help of some new friends, she finds that purpose and a new life but then tragedy strikes, leaving her and her adopted ‘home’ and ‘family’ in dire need of help.  Can the former Voyager crew come to their rescue before it’s too late?  And in doing so, can they also ‘save’ themselves and build a new life they can all share?

Thanks:        
To Judy –
my ever patient beta and friend.  For your encouragement and ‘whippings’ I thank you.  You worked so hard on this and lost so much sleep.  It wouldn’t have been finished without you.

To KJ –
for it all and for keeping me sane at times. 

To Pat - 
For friendship and encouragement.



THERE’S A PLACE FOR US.

By KAT LADY.



PART ONE.


Owen Paris paused in the open doorway and studied the woman before him as she stood looking out the window, her back to him.  “I used to know you, my dear…”  He heard the words in his own mind and shook his head sadly.  He saw the droop of her shoulders and knew he was catching her in an unguarded moment, that the second his presence was known to her, those shoulders would pull back and the mask would slip into place, with body armour to match.

“Kathryn…?”  She turned slowly at the sound of his voice and he saw the predicted transformation, a smile pasted on her features for his benefit.  It didn’t quite stretch to her eyes.

“Admiral Paris…”  He held a hand up and smiled softly.

“Come on now…it’s Owen…please…”  She barely nodded and tried to widen her smile.

“Of course…Owen…”  He watched her closely and waved his hand towards the chair in front of his desk.

“Please Kathryn, sit down.”  Without quite meeting his eyes, she sat, her hands held tightly in her lap, as if one was trying to control the other.  The old Admiral moved around his desk and sat down opposite her.  He picked up the single padd which lay before him and tapped it against his hand as he studied her, waiting until she met his eyes.  He watched as she battled her emotions before looking into his face.  Once again, the false smile took up residence.  There was no match for it on Owen’s face.

“Kathryn, what is this…?”  He held the padd up to her.  Kathryn drew in a deep breath.

“I thought it was self explanatory…”  The Admiral shook his head sadly, keeping his voice soft.

“Don’t play games with an old man, my dear.  I know what it is.  I want to know why.”  Kathryn looked away from him, taking in the room around her.

“It’s really quite simple.  I wish to resign…retire if you prefer…  Whatever works best for you…”  Finally she looked back at him and shrugged.  Owen studied her for several moments, knowing his scrutiny was making her uncomfortable.

“Kathryn, if you resign or retire…”  He stopped and drew in a long, slow breath.  Kathryn watched, knowing he was debating between honesty and diplomacy.  Finally he chose a place somewhere in between, altering his words.  “If you ‘leave’…”  He seemed happier with his choice, but still shook his head.  “If you leave…  I don’t mean to sound…”  He sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “I’ll be honest with you because there’s no easy way to say this and I care about you too much not to say what I feel.”  Kathryn nodded her permission.  “Kathryn, what else would you do exactly…?”  Kathryn shrugged once more, her eyes sad.

“There is nothing else…”  Owen leaned forward quickly.

“Then why?  I don’t…”  Kathryn held a hand up.

“Please Owen…please understand…”  She licked at her lips.  “You’re right.  Working for Starfleet is all I have in my life now and I know that makes me a sad and pathetic old woman…”  She saw sadness in his eyes, pity in fact, and it hardened her resolve. 

“Where’s the wisdom in leaving then?  If you go…in your own words…you’ll have nothing else…  Wouldn’t that be even sadder…?”  Kathryn laughed at that, a mocking sound.

Maybe…in the eyes of others.”  She stood now and walked away a little.  “Oh Owen…I know my logic is twisted…”  A sad look crossed her face and she smiled softly.  “God, I sound like Tuvok.  Habits…”  She shook herself and looked directly at her old mentor.  “Owen, this may be difficult for you to understand, but I’d rather have nothing.  I already…”  She paused a moment, then decided to be honest too.  “I already feel nothing.  Having nothing evens it out.  Maybe this way…with nothing there at all…I can be free to try and find something…”  Owen frowned but let her finish.  He saw a deep sadness etched on her face as she shrugged again.

“Besides…this way no one will witness my decline…”  She stopped suddenly, a little shocked at just how honest she had been and quickly tried to retract the word.  “Sorry…bad word…”  Owen said nothing but his sad expression spoke for him.  Kathryn sat again slowly.

“I don’t want anyone seeing me as sad and pathetic.  I know they think it and I can’t do anything about that…”  Owen sat forward.

“Kathryn, no one thinks…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“Yes, they do.  I see it all the time.  In fact, I’m seeing it right now…”  The old man closed his eyes a moment and shook his head in apology.  Kathryn smiled sadly at him.

“It’s what you feel.  You’re honest.  I understand.  Everyone I see is the same.  As I said, I can’t do anything about that.”  She sighed deeply.  “What I can do is remove myself from the arena…from public display…and not have to witness their pity every time they see me or look at me.  I won’t have to overhear their promises to themselves and each other that they’ll never end up like me.”  She held her hand up.  “Don’t try and deny that, Owen.  I know the truth of it.  Leave me with that at least.  I’m Starfleet’s shining example of how not to end up.  I’m surprised they haven’t tabled a series of lectures on the subject, with me as a prime specimen.”  They stared at each other for several moments until finally Owen Paris nodded, knowing he had lost.

“Where will you go…?  What will you do…?”  Kathryn shook her head and shrugged at the same time.


“I don’t know.  Away.  Somewhere   Anywhere.  I just want to find some peace…  Maybe find some purpose….some use.  Live out the rest of my days and maybe learn to live with my regrets…”  Owen sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair.

“Kathryn…I wish…”  She smiled and shook her head.

“Owen, they exist, those regrets, and I can’t change that.  I got back too late to see my mother again.  Phoebe’s off living it up and doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.  She blames me for her lost years, having to care for Mom…”  Kathryn stood again and walked over to a large plant, stroking its shiny leaves.

“I made a decision that robbed 150 people out of seven years of their lives…not to mention the lives I lost completely…the ones I left behind out there…”  She turned and looked at him, her eyes so sad.  “Not just them…but their families too…  They also lost those years…  I took that from them all.  There are children who don’t know their parents because of me…some who’ll never know them…”  She turned her attention back to the plant, pulling away a dead leaf and dropping it into the pot.

“Then there’s me…”  She laughed bitterly and looked around.  “I’ll never be a wife or a mother and that…that breaks my heart…”  Owen saw her fight her tears.  “I feel I’ve been denied my own existence…”  She shook her head and turned away again.  The Admiral gave her a few moments to compose herself and waited until she turned back to him.  Once more, the mask was in place although it looked ill-fitting.

“What about Chakotay?  I think I’m right in believing that you care deeply about him…”  He instantly regretted asking when he saw the pain his question caused.  Kathryn covered it with more bitterness.

“Haven’t you heard?  He’s in love with Seven…”  She bit off her own words, dropping her head.  “He’s happy…  I’m happy for him…”  The lie was evident to them both but she had to try.  Her head came up, her face clinging to the mask.

“It’s my own fault anyway…  You could say…I dug my own grave…”  Owen stared sadly at her and she tried a smile as she sat down again.  “Sorry…bad choice of words.  Don’t worry, Owen.  I’m not suicidal.”  The old man leaned forward again and rested his arms on the desk.

“You say you dug your own grave?  Why do I feel then that Starfleet at least provided you with the spade…?”  Kathryn laughed again, no joy in the sound.  She raised a finger in the air.

“Ahh…but I chose to dig…”  Her attempt at humour fell flat and she dropped her hand back in her lap.  Owen let out a long breath and studied her closely.

“Oh my dear, the Delta Quadrant has a lot to answer for.  I look at you and I feel I should add your name to the list of casualties…the ones lost…”  He leaned closer and looked deeply into her eyes.  “Look at yourself.  Your body came home but your soul was lost…and now you’re asking me to accept this…”  He glanced down at the padd beside him a moment.  When he looked back at her, she was smiling sadly at him.

“Owen, just let me go.  It’s too painful here for me now and I don’t fit in anymore.  I got so used to a certain way of life over the past seven years.  I learned new rules to live by and new ways to follow.  I knew where I stood out there.  I also had no one above me to answer to.  Oh, there were politics out there.”  She smiled sadly.  “There are always politics…”  She shook her head.  “As it is here though…  I can’t settle back into all this…taking orders again and acting out ordinary life.  I just can’t play those games anymore.  I can’t make nice and nod agreement when I don’t agree with something...not that I’m even asked…”  She smiled again and shrugged.  “Maybe I’ve become a maverick in my old age…who knows…”  She sighed.  “It’s like I need to be or am expected to become a new person or to again become someone I’ve forgotten how to be.  I left that woman behind me seven years ago.  I can’t be her again.  Too much has happened since and the person I am now no longer fits her mould.  I’m not her anymore and I can’t ever be her again.  If I’m honest…I don’t want to be her.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “So…  I need to find something else and that can’t be with Starfleet.  Even the command of another ship would be too much.  None of my crew would be there.”  She bit her lower lip.  “They’re all gone…scattered here and there.”  She looked into the tired eyes of her old mentor.  “I’m glad I was able to get Tom home to you though…”  The old eyes lit up at the mention of his son.

“With a lovely daughter-in-law and granddaughter in tow also…”  He reached over the desk, his hand asking for hers and she gave it.  He squeezed her hand tightly.  “I’ll never be able to thank you for that.  To find my son again, settle everything with him…”  He was choking up and stopped.  Kathryn smiled her understanding.

“It’s good to know some of my crew found what they were looking for….”  Owen nodded and frowned.

“Have you heard from the others…?”  Kathryn sighed as she gently pulled her hand from his.

“They’re just trying to find their feet again…  I don’t know.  I don’t see them now…”  She stared ahead at nothing for a moment and then shook herself.  “Look Owen, I have to do this.  There’s nothing here for me anymore and what is here…I can’t fit in with.  It’s like I’m not allowed to think for myself anymore.  Those above me now do my thinking for me and I feel I’m denied any opinion of my own.  Even the smallest decision is out of my hands.  I don’t even have a say in ordering office supplies.”  She smiled sadly.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that it has to be that way.  There has to be a tiered and structured order to it all.”  She shook her head and laughed slightly.  “God…there would be anarchy otherwise.”  She grew serious again.  “I got used to being the machine and now I’m just a small cog in a large wheel which is just a small part of that large machine.  I could take that if I felt I was making a difference but I’m not.  I’m almost part of the furniture and just as useless.”  She smiled slightly.  “Am I making sense?”  The old man before her nodded sadly but remained quiet.  Kathryn sighed deeply.  “Oh God Owen, the times out there when I longed for someone else to take the responsibility and give the orders.  Now I’m back and I can’t take that or get used to it.”  Owen nodded and spoke softly.

“It can’t be easy…”  Kathryn seemed not to hear him.

“They want me in an office...tucked away.  Not to work through all the data we collected but working in general administration.  They don’t want any of us near the data.”  She threw a hand up.  “I guess they don’t trust us with it…”  Owen leaned forward. 

“You know it’s not that.  It’s always been Starfleet protocol that the collation and analysis of data be separate…different teams always working on…”  Kathryn looked at him and held her hand up, cutting him off.

“I know.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean…”  She dropped her hand.  “You know what I mean.  It just feels as if I’ve lost my last link to Voyager.”  Owen nodded his understanding.

“You’ll still be involved.  Anything which needs to be clarified…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“I’d still be stuck in an office, Owen.  That’s not me and we both know it.  I mean, can you really see me happy behind a desk?  They don’t want me back out there for at least two years.  You know that yourself.  Maybe they’re right and as I said, I couldn’t ever work with another crew again.  I’ve been spoiled…”  Owen leaned back.
   
“I can understand that…but you’d still be with Starfleet and in time…”  Kathryn shook her head sadly. 

“In the meantime, I’d be shut away in a broom closet somewhere…as absent as if I was still in the Delta Quadrant.  Maybe even more so.  I have no use here but I achieved something out there.”  She shrugged and looked down at her hands for a moment.  “Besides, that Starfleet dream belonged to the old Kathryn.”  She looked up and smiled sadly at her old friend.  “I’ve changed Owen.  What I once found to be a great security network, I now find restrictive.  I’ve been on my own for too long…answering to no one…”  Owen nodded again.  Kathryn suddenly laughed cynically, surprising him.  “Dear God…that doesn’t exactly show me in a great light, does it?  I must come across as some kind of megalomaniac.”  Owen held his hand up this time.

“Kathryn…you come across as exactly what you are.”  She frowned and he smiled.  “You’re someone who had to make all the decisions on your own…well…basically on your own…for seven years.  You had no one to answer to and no one’s approval to obtain.  It was a hard seven years and those habits became deeply ingrained.  That’s just the way it is.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  It’s just a fact of life.”  Kathryn stared towards the window a moment and then nodded.  She looked back at the Admiral.

“I guess you’re right but whatever way it is…my decision still stands.  My reasons remain the same.  I can’t stay on here.  I don’t belong here any more and I won’t ever fit in again.  I’m supposed to be home but I feel more lost than ever.  I have nothing here.  Hopefully out there…”  She jerked a thumb towards the window.  Owen nodded sadly and studied her for a moment.  Finally he leaned forward. 

“I so wish it was all different for you, Kathryn.  I wish that so much…”  She nodded and stood slowly, her way to indicate that there was no more to be said.

“Then just approve my request and let me go.  Maybe I’ll find my peace out there.”  He hesitated and she pushed.  “Owen, I give you my word.  I’m not about to wander off into the wilderness and end it all.  I still believe too much in the sanctity of life…even my own.  I need to get away from all this and try and find something else.  Start again, if you like.  Please…”  He studied her for a moment more and then finally nodded.  He picked up the padd and after a further moment’s hesitation, reluctantly pressed his thumbprint in place.

“Just promise me you’ll stay in touch.  I’ve missed you for too long and just when I get you back, you leave me again.  No one else could ever quite challenge my mind the way you do.”  They shared a fond smile and Kathryn nodded.  Owen stood stiffly and came out from behind his desk.  He reached for her and embraced her tenderly.

“I hope you find true happiness, my dear.  No one deserves it like you do.  Promise me you’ll take care of yourself and if you ever need anything at all, you’ll call me immediately.”  He pulled back and looked down at her, his old eyes watery.  Kathryn nodded tearfully and tried a weak smile.

“I will Owen.  I’ll miss you too.  Just believe me that this is for the best.”  He hugged her again, then watched as she left his office, his acceptance of her retirement in her hand.  Owen Paris lowered his head, gazing at the floor.  He said a quiet prayer for the woman who was like a daughter to him.

“Please God, help her find her peace.  Give her the happiness she deserves.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat and stared out over the landscape of his childhood.  He leaned back against a tree, the bark pressing softly into his skin.  One leg stretched out before him, the other one bent, as he leaned his arm on it, his fingers toying with a blade of grass.  His eyes swept the scene, the vista before him as it was now and his youthful memories of it, duelling with each other.  He sighed heavily and looked down at the grass he held, seeing that he had twisted it so much, the green sap now marked his fingers.  He lifted his hand to his nose and inhaled the fresh scent of vegetation.

Chakotay shook his head slightly as some words he had once heard came back to him.  ‘The past is a strange country – you go back and it doesn’t recognize you.’  He briefly wondered which had changed more – himself or his former home.  He looked towards the sun now, gauging the time and smiled.  It still surprised him how quickly the teachings of his father had come back to him.  His smile faded quickly though and was replaced with a sadness.  He let his mind drift back over the past six months.

^^^^^^^^^^

Voyager had literally burst through, back into the Alpha Quadrant, surprising her crew as much as Starfleet.  Chakotay remembered looking towards Kathryn quickly, expecting to see the weight of the past seven years lift from her shoulders, and for a brief moment it had happened.  She had turned to look into his face and had smiled softly, but within a moment her face clouded over and she turned away.

He had seen her pain and at first assumed that she was remembering those who had not lived to see this day.  He understood only later what had caused it.  His relationship with Seven.  Up to that time he had believed she didn’t know, couldn’t have known.  No one else knew either.  They had been careful about that.  Later on, he had cursed Kathryn's older self for getting there before he had, informing Kathryn about the affair before he’d had his chance to break it to her gently.  He had wanted to tell her quietly, try his best to explain that he was lonely, how he couldn’t wait forever for something that might never happen.  In the end, he knew he had hurt her badly, although she hid it well.  He could not have known just how much she did love him and that he had broken her heart.

He didn’t see much of her over the next two months.  Debriefings and family visits took up everyone’s time and in the end, it was Seven he went home to each evening.  He could not have known that while they awaited a decision on their fate, Kathryn was still locked in a fierce fight to save her crew.  All he knew later on was that all the Maquis were pardoned and that no charges would ever be laid at their door.  They were all free to go.

And they did go, each crewmember leaving to spend time with old friends and family, trying desperately to find their place back in a world which had gone on without them while they had been away.  Many returned to find loved ones re-married or with new families.  Most felt they had been torn away from their life and family for the second time.

^^^^^^^^^^

As the light faded from the sky, leaving a rich tapestry of colour in its wake, Chakotay stood slowly and made his way back to the village.  He smiled softly as he approached it, the gentle twinkling of lights guiding his way.  He listened to the sounds of life and family coming from each house as he passed and felt an emptiness fill him.  He gazed up at the stars, shyly peeping out now into the darkening blue of the sky and shook his head.  “Up there and down here and I’m lost in the middle somewhere.” 

Chakotay entered the small kitchen of his sister’s house and nodded to her and his brother-in-law.  He still felt out of place, watching as his sister served up dinner to her husband and children.  This was her home now, not his.  It was her family.  

“Chakotay…have you eaten?  If you have, at least have some coffee with us…  Pull up a chair…”  Chakotay smiled softly into the eyes which were so like their mother’s.

“I’ll have something in a while.  I just need to wash up first…”  He quickly left the small kitchen, trying to ignore the sad and pitying look on his sister’s face.  He took a quick shower and changed his clothes, leaving off the pants and shirt he had worn all day while sitting up in the fields.  Feeling a little better, he made his way back downstairs and helped himself to some tea then quietly let himself out into the back yard, taking a seat in the darkest part of the small porch which ran around the small house.

“Hey big brother…”  Chakotay looked towards the sound of the soft voice and realized that he had been gazing up at the stars.  He gripped his tea cup and saw that it had gone untouched and was now cold.

“Sorry Talia, I was…somewhere else…”  He smiled sadly and looked up at the stars again.  He felt his sister sit down beside him and turned his head slightly, seeing her drop her head back as she tried to share what held his interest.

“Does the answer to what you seek lie up there?”  She lifted her head back up and met his eyes.  Chakotay shook his head slowly.

“I don’t know…  I don’t know what I’m seeking or if the answer is up there…”  He felt Talia’s soft hand on his arm and turned to smile at her.  He saw her bite at her lip and knew her well enough to know that the gesture was a prelude to her speaking her mind, especially with words the recipient might not want to hear.

“Chakotay, please don’t take this the wrong way…”  Her expression was serious and he nodded his understanding.  Talia sighed and bit her lip again.  “You know that Corith and I…the kids…  You know we love having you here…”  Chakotay nodded again, knowing they had never once made him feel in the way.  He smiled his thanks.  Talia returned the smile but there was a sadness in her eyes.

“Chakotay, my brother, we love having you here and would be more than happy for you to stay forever.”  She smiled softly and squeezed his arm.  “However, you have unfinished business…”  She held a hand up to stop his words when he went to speak.  “Chakotay, you have.  You know that.  You won’t ever find your peace or settle…here or anywhere…until you close that door to the past.  It’s holding you back and you can’t or won’t be able to move forward until you sort it out and shed the load…the weight…that’s dragging you backwards.”  Chakotay just stared at her. 

“I’m not trying to get rid of you and I’ll miss you so much if you leave, but I care too much to see you hurt like this.”  Chakotay lowered his head and nodded, his way of admitting that she spoke the truth.

“It’s this Kathryn, isn’t it?  Your Captain?”  Chakotay’s head snapped up, his eyes almost frightened.

“What…?  How did…?”  Talia leaned forward and pressed her hand to her brother’s mouth and smiled gently.

“Don’t look so surprised.”  She smiled more widely.  “I’m wise…you know that…and I know you well.”  She cupped his cheek.  “Brother, we may have been parted for many years, but we both come from the same tree.  We’re the same fruit of that tree.”  She dropped her head to the side and smiled again.  “Besides…”  She hesitated as her smile grew.  “You call to her in your sleep…”  She laughed kindly now at her brother’s embarrassment.  “She not only occupies all your waking moments…she also fills your dreams at night.”  He looked away and felt her pull at his hands to get his attention.

“Chakotay, listen to me.  Don’t be embarrassed with me.  More importantly though, don’t lie to yourself.”  He met her eyes and nodded slowly.  Talia smiled.

“You know, I knew Seven wasn’t the right one for you.  I knew it the moment I saw her.”  Chakotay rolled his eyes.

“You might have said something…”  Talia grew serious again.

“Would you have listened?”  She shook her head, answering for him.  “Anyway, you know father and mother always insisted we make our own mistakes and learn from them…”  They both smiled, sharing a million memories between them, seeing their parents reflected in each other’s eyes.

“Listen to me brother.  Don’t waste your life like this.  Forget Seven.  She wasn’t meant for you.  You’re a man who will only ever find peace and happiness with your true soul mate.  Your heart will never allow you to accept a substitute or second best.”  Chakotay smiled sadly but didn’t respond.  Talia went on.

“Chakotay, go find her.  Find your answers.  Find her and the others, because I know they’re also a part of the reason you feel so lost.  You’re only half existing without them.  Mainly though, find your Kathryn…”  Chakotay shook his head.

“What if she’s not there…or doesn’t want me…?   She never said it out straight…even though I’m sure she was hurt when…”  He shook his head again, lost for words.  Talia took his face between her hands.

“Then you’ll know that and can mourn…move on…”  She leaned in and brushed her lips to his forehead.  “Brother, there is nothing sadder in this life than not knowing…living with what might have been.  Either way, you need to resolve this because it tortures you.”  Chakotay brought a hand up and covered one of his sister’s hands.

“I know you’re right.  It’s just taking that first step.  Maybe I’m hiding here because it feels safer…”  Talia smiled and shook her head, dropping her hands.

“What?  Head in the sand man?  That’s not you and we both know it.  You just need a little push in the right direction…”  Chakotay nodded and looked away.  He tipped his cup and poured the now cold tea into several small plant pots beside him.  He smiled at his sister.

“Cold tea is supposed to be good for plants…”  She shook her head and laughed.

“Avoiding the subject isn’t good for the brother…”  Chakotay sighed and nodded.

“All right, I’ll make arrangements to return to Earth…”  Talia surprised him as she stood and straightened out her skirt.

“You’re booked on the afternoon transport tomorrow…”  She smiled sweetly at the shocked expression on her brother’s face and went back inside. 

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn stood against the wooden rail and stared out over the ocean, running her hands over the old and smooth wood.

“Well Kathryn, you’ve done a wonderful job of finding yourself these past two months.  Well done girl…”  She rolled her eyes and gripped the rails then loosened her grip and stroked the wood again.  “So much for finding a use for yourself…”  She studied the movement of her hands a moment.

“You can’t go on like this and you know it…”  She sighed deeply and shook her head sadly, her eyes suddenly following the flight path of a gull, oblivious to the woman watching him.  “Life’s so much easier for you, isn’t it?”  As if in response, the gull suddenly called out and dove into the water below, emerging a moment later with its reward of fish.  Kathryn smiled softly to herself.  “Well done…  Good for you…although maybe not for the fish…  I guess there always has to be a winner and a loser…”  She shook her head again and turned away, looking up towards the small cabin which was home to her now and had been for the past few weeks.  She slowly made her way back to the porch and lowered herself down into the rocking chair which sat there, a deciding factor for her when she had taken the cabin.

“You really have to stop talking to yourself too, but who else is here to listen?”  Kathryn rocked herself gently now and watched the sun slowly sink below the horizon.  She let her mind drift back over the past months and ignored the lone tear which escaped her eye.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn Janeway had left headquarters that day and never once looked back, not needing any reminders of what had been.  She had stayed long enough to agree with her sister’s ‘request’ that they sell their family home and divide the proceeds.  It had torn at her to let the house go but in the end she reasoned with herself that the memories would always be with her, even if the house wasn’t.  The fact that a young family now lived there and the sound of children’s laughter would once again fill the rooms, helped her to let go. 

With that business finished, Kathryn spent the next weeks travelling around Earth, the appeal of space travel no longer there.  She visited places she had long wanted to see but had neglected to visit, having always told herself that she had plenty of time.  The previous weeks had been spent staring at all the monuments whose images had long lived with her but somehow the reality of seeing them with her own eyes didn’t live up to how she had imagined it would be.  Having no one to turn to and share the moment with made her travels very lonely and in the end, she had returned to California and rented a cabin, secluding herself from everyone.  Her only contact with people now came during her visits to the local town to buy supplies.

^^^^^^^^^^

As the light dimmed, Kathryn sat forward and wiped at her face, only now realizing how much she’d been crying.

“God, you’ve become very weak in your old age…”  She scolded herself and wiped her hands angrily on her jeans.  “Get a grip…”  She pulled herself out of the chair and made her way inside the cabin, deciding that she might as well go to bed early.  Some lines from a long dead Irish writer came to her mind and she smiled slightly, speaking the words aloud.

“People in the country get up early because there’s so much to do and go to bed early because there’s nothing to talk about…”  She shook her head.  “Only half applies to you girl…”  She laughed cynically when she thought about how late she rose each morning, having nothing in particular to get up for.  She pottered around the cabin and tended the small garden, read when she felt like it and took long walks along the beach, but outside of that, she found herself rocking in the chair on the porch and revisiting the past, pushing aside the pain the memories brought yet knowing feeling that was better than feeling nothing at all.

She made some tea for herself now, knowing her usual coffee would only keep her awake.  She nodded to herself and picked up a padd which lay on the counter, adding coffee to her list of shopping.  She needed to go into town the next day, her supplies running low again.  Taking a last look around the tiny kitchen area, she made her way to the small bedroom at the back of the cabin, ordering the lights off as she went.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn trailed around the small market, subconsciously tossing items into her basket.  She checked her list and saw that the only item remaining on it was her coffee.  She thought for a moment and then remembered where it was located and made her way to the last aisle.  Letting her eyes skim the shelves, she smiled slightly at the variety of brands available.  “Just shows I’m not the only one addicted to this stuff.”  She looked around quickly to see if anyone had heard her talking to herself and blushed slightly.  She moved towards the end of the shelving unit where she knew her brand was kept and stopped, her way blocked by two people embracing tenderly.  She waited a moment to see if they would move and eventually got the courage up to clear her throat. 

The couple pulled back from each other and Kathryn saw that they were both men.  She smiled softly.

“Sorry…I’m an addict and I need my fix…”  She pointed to her coffee on the lower shelf.  Both men smiled gently at her, one of them pointing to a basket on the floor nearby.  Kathryn's eyes followed where he indicated and she burst out laughing.  The basket was filled to the brim with packets of the same brand she used.  She looked back at the two men and laughed.

“Guess I don’t need to explain then…”  The taller of the two laughed also, the sound filling the air around them.  He brushed shoulder length light brown hair back from his face.

“Takes one to know one I suppose…”  He extended a hand to her.  “Jonathan…and this is Duncan…”    He nodded towards the fair haired man beside him.  Kathryn smiled warmly and shook hands with them both.  She noticed that they didn’t use their surnames and didn’t offer her own either.

“Kathryn…  Always pleased to meet a fellow coffee lover…”  They all smiled at each other for a few seconds and then Kathryn broke the moment by reaching down for her coffee, just as Jonathan leaned down to get it for her.  They banged heads and both jumped back at once, rubbing their sore spots.  Duncan roared with laughter and got the coffee for Kathryn.

“One of you is as bad as the other…”  His smile lit up his face as he placed the packet into Kathryn's basket.  “Is one packet enough?”  She nodded and smiled, still rubbing her forehead.  Jonathan just shook his head.

“Look…Kathryn…”  She looked up at him.  “By way of apology…getting in the way of an addict on the trail of their fix and as compensation for injuries sustained in the line of duty…can we buy you a coffee?  There’s a small café just around the corner and they sell our brand…”  Kathryn dropped her hand from her head and smiled almost shyly.

“Thank you but…”  She looked down at her basket a moment, then back up.  “I don’t think…”  Jonathan dropped his head to the side, a small smile on his face.

“You’re quite safe with us you know.  You’re not our type…”  He glanced at his partner a moment.  Kathryn shook her head, still hesitant.

“No…it’s not that…”  Jonathan wasn’t letting up.

“Why not then?  You live alone.  Where are you rushing off to…?”  Kathryn's smile faded.  Jonathan quickly spoke again.  “Sorry…I don’t mean to be intrusive.  My father was a security officer and he was always teaching me.  I just noticed from the shopping in your basket…”  He shook his head.  “I mean I just noticed that you were shopping for one.  I wasn’t implying anything else…”  Kathryn relaxed slightly.

“It’s OK.  I just don’t think…”  Duncan looked serious now when he spoke.

“Kathryn…it’s all right.  If our being gay or a couple bothers you…  I understand that some people still…”  Kathryn was suddenly horrified.

“Oh God…no…it’s not that…  Please don’t think…”  She blushed now.  “Please…it’s just…”  She smiled a little at the concerned looks on the two faces before her and decided they deserved a little honesty on her part.  She blushed again.  “Look…it’s just…”  She licked at her lips.  “I just haven’t…been around people…for some time…  I’ve gotten out of the habit I guess.  I wouldn’t be very good company.”  She smiled slightly, expecting to see a look of pity from the two men.  Jonathan just shrugged and took her arm gently.

“Then you need the practice Kathryn.  Allow us to re-introduce you to the human race.  You’re far too pretty to be away from people for long.”  He looked at Duncan.  “Well, she is.  For a woman that is…”  All three of them laughed and Kathryn shook her head.

“All right.  I give in.  I guess I have been spending too much time alone.  Coffee it is…  You know the right weapon to use against me…”  Her words instantly brought Chakotay to mind and a look of pain crossed her features.  Neither man missed it but made no comment.

“Come on then.  Let’s conclude our business in this establishment, stash our drugs and head off for a fix…”  Duncan’s humour chased the sadness from Kathryn's face and she smiled again.

“OK guys…you have a deal…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Three hours had passed before Kathryn realized it.  Her two new friends spent the entire time telling her about their families and friends, their travels and things they’d gotten up to over the years.  She learned that they had been together for almost five years now and were very much in love with each other.  She wiped tears from her eyes as they told yet one more story.

“You two are just unbelievable.  I haven’t laughed so much in…”  Her smile faded a little but she covered the slip quickly.  She looked up now when she felt a hand on hers and smiled at Duncan.

“I don’t mean to stick my nose in, but I’d say it’s been too long…”  He smiled softly at her and she nodded, a little uncomfortable.  He sensed this immediately and pulled back slightly.  “Tell you what.  I’d hazard a guess that you don’t bother to cook much on your own.  Jonathan here is a wonderful cook.  How about you join us for dinner this evening?  We have a holiday cabin not far from here.  He always makes too much and you could help avoid the waste that usually results from his efforts.”  Kathryn smiled, knowing the gesture for what it was.  She was about to refuse when she thought of what lay ahead for her over the evening otherwise.  She found herself agreeing, instinctively trusting the two men.

“Only if you let me bring the wine.  I honestly can’t boil water without burning it so at least that will be safe…”  Jonathan pretended to think about that.

“Guess that sounds all right.  I suppose you’re safe enough with a replicator if the need arises?”  Kathryn laughed.

“Just about…although there have been times…”  Once again they both saw a flash of sadness in her eyes.  Duncan pulled her back once more.

“Jonathan…what are we letting ourselves in for?  I know.  You do all the cooking.  I’ll keep her distracted and away from any harm.  Maybe we’ll survive the evening after all.”  Both men roared with laughter, infecting Kathryn with it until she was almost in tears again.

“You two…”  She couldn’t get any more words out for a further minute.  Still gasping, she wiped at her face.  “All right.  I’ll just bring the wine and promise to leave everything else alone.  I’ll recycle the plates afterwards.  That’s safe enough.”  The couple before her eyed each other nervously and then shrugged.  Duncan pretended to whisper to Jonathan.

“Guess we’ll have to trust her.  What can go wrong…?”  Kathryn shook her head and sighed.

“Very funny.”  Duncan looked the picture of innocence.

“I guess nothing can happen.  Well, nothing the emergency services can’t put right afterwards.”  Feeling comfortable with them now, Kathryn leaned over and slapped Duncan playfully on the arm.  He yelped and feigned hurt.  “Or the Medics.  See that?  Violent as well…”  All three laughed once more.

“All right.  You know the risks.  Just tell me when and where.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan was true to his word and kept Kathryn well entertained and away from the kitchen, while Jonathan, his hair now tied back in a ponytail, prepared their meal.  They sat on the porch and watched two squirrels playing together in the trees which surrounded the small cabin.  Kathryn sighed softly.

“It’s so beautiful and peaceful here…”  She looked at Duncan and smiled.  He returned her smile and nodded.

“It’s that and more.  We’re not looking forward to leaving all this at the end of the week but we have to get back to work.”  He took a sip of his wine and Kathryn thought she saw something in his eyes she couldn’t quite read.

“If I’m not being too nosy, can I ask what you do?”  Duncan looked up as he heard a sound from the doorway and smiled at his partner.  Kathryn saw a look exchanged between the two men.  “I’m sorry…it’s none of my business.  I shouldn’t ask…”  Jonathan moved away from the door and sat on the rail of the porch.  He looked at Duncan a moment and then smiled at Kathryn.

“You’re not nosy.  We both…”  He hesitated slightly.  “Duncan is a doctor and I’m a psychologist.”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.  “We’re…I guess you could say…involved in…social work…  We work with…kids mostly…some adults…”  He glanced at Duncan again.  Kathryn sensed more but just nodded, feeling perhaps they worked with the rehabilitation of former offenders or some similar area.

“That’s wonderful.  It must be great to make a difference to peoples lives…”  She quickly tried to change the subject, something telling her that she was asking too much.  “I was just saying to Duncan how beautiful it is here…”  She played with her glass.  Jonathan sat down on an empty chair now and smiled.

“Kathryn, there’s no big secret here.  It’s just that some of the people we work with…  Well…they’ve had a bad time and…  These people are afraid and we just can’t talk about our work too much.  It’s nothing against you personally.  We just always have to be careful talking to people we don’t really know well, on the off chance they might have some ulterior motive.”  Kathryn nodded her understanding, thinking now that they perhaps worked with victims of domestic violence, something which still existed in the 24th century and perhaps always would.

“Please…I do understand.  Most of my work has been along the same lines.”  She bit at her lip a moment.  “I don’t mean the actual work but the…confidentiality side of it…”  She smiled softly at her new friends and saw them smile their understanding.  Jonathan sat back and played with his fingers.

“I understand that.  My father…I think I told you he was a security officer…?”  Kathryn nodded.  “He worked with confidential matters all the time.  I grew up used to…secrets…if you like…”  He smiled again.  “Starfleet was like that…”  He stopped when he saw the smile slip from Kathryn's face.  “Kathryn…?”  She shook her head quickly.

“It’s nothing…”  Jonathan took on a knowing look suddenly.

“Ahh…I understand.  So that’s your story…your past…”  He stopped suddenly.  “Sorry…I have no right…  It’s none of our business…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“No…it’s fine.”  She hesitated a moment and took a sip of her wine.  “Nothing too top secret…but yes…I was with Starfleet…”  Jonathan glanced towards Duncan a moment.

“You said “I was with Starfleet”…?”  Kathryn smiled and nodded her head.

“That’s right.  I just had enough.  I’ve…retired…I guess you could say…”  Duncan sensed an unease with her and leaned forward.  He quickly changed the subject.

“I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving.  The cook is falling down on his job here.  What do you say we fire him and go raid the kitchen.”  Kathryn smiled now and then laughed, appearing relieved that the mood was broken.  She eased herself out of the comfortable porch chair.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea.”  They all went inside, the earlier easiness between them returning.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn sat back in her chair, her stomach straining.  She longed to loosen the pants she wore but knew she couldn’t.  She rubbed at her stomach instead and smiled at the satisfied looks on the two faces before her.

“Now that’s how I judge a successful dinner…”  Jonathan laughed.  “When my guest is that full and satisfied, I’m happy and know I’ve done a good job.”  Kathryn just smiled and shook her head.

“What about when your guest is so stuffed, she can’t move?”  Duncan shrugged.

“Same result.  Here.  These will help…”  He leaned forward and pushed a plate of mints towards her.  “They’re great for the digestion.”  Kathryn pushed herself forward and took two of the mints, popping them in her mouth.

“It may take a few hours before I can move again.  If I’m keeping you up, just roll me out the door and in the general direction of my cabin.  I’ll get there.”  Jonathan shook his head and stood, then began to clear the table. 

“You’re not keeping us up.  We’re ‘late to bedders’ as a rule.  Besides, there’s a spare room here and you’re more than welcome.”  Kathryn groaned.

“We’ll see if I can recover…”  She watched as he balanced the plates in his hands and leaned forward.  “Please…I promised this was my end of the bargain.  I should be clearing away…”  She reached for a plate but Jonathan pulled it from her.

“Kathryn, you’re the guest.  Now stay where you are or I might just have to force a second helping on you…”  Kathryn held her hands up in mock horror and surrender.

“Oh God no, that would really be the end of me.”  Duncan shook his head and stood then reached for Kathryn, pulling her from her chair.

“Come on lady, let me get you as far as the sofa.  You can lie back and let nature take its course.  You’ll be fine in an hour or so.”  Kathryn moaned loudly from the effort but let Duncan lead her across the room.  She sank back into the cushions and closed her eyes.

“I’m not able for this.  I’ve eaten more tonight than I have in the past six months.”  She opened her eyes as she felt Duncan sit down beside her.

“I can believe that.  You’re far too skinny.  You’re obviously terrible at taking care of yourself.”  He didn’t miss the flash of pain that crossed Kathryn's eyes and smiled softly.

“Sorry…I keep doing that…”  Kathryn frowned.  “I keep touching on things that obviously cause you pain.  I’m sorry.”  Kathryn went to protest but he laid a hand on her arm.  “Kathryn, you have no need to explain anything to me or to us.  Your life is your own business.”  Jonathan joining them caught her eye and she smiled sadly.

“It’s just that…”  Jonathan interrupted.

“Kathryn please.  Don’t feel you need to explain anything.  Every one of us has our past lives and our secrets.  We all have our loves and pains and everything else that makes up a life.  You don’t owe us anything.  We’re just two new friends and this is somewhere you can relax.  Now subject closed.”  He clapped his hands together.  “Anyone for poker?”  Kathryn laughed, relieved at the change in mood and nodded.

“You’re on but I have to warn you, I’m not bad at this.  I had a very good teacher.”  Instantly her face clouded over again.  “I’m sorry…”  Duncan laid a hand on her arm again.

“Look Kathryn, we can either ignore this or you can talk to us.  We’re both very good listeners.  I know we only met today and you’ve no reason to trust us, but I can give you my word that nothing you say will ever be repeated.  Jonathan and I spend our lives keeping secrets…”  Kathryn nodded but didn’t speak.  Duncan smiled softly at her again.  “How about we play cards then?  We’re here the rest of the week and I sure hope we’ll spend some of that time together.  You’ve plenty of time if you ever want to talk so no more of this for now.  Is that OK?”  Kathryn nodded and smiled her thanks.

“Thanks guys…”  She drew in a deep breath.  “OK…bring on those cards and prepare to be thrashed…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Over the next few days, Kathryn spent most of her time with her new friends.  Despite worrying that she was crowding them, they constantly reassured her that they loved her company.  She learned more about their families, their childhoods and how they had met at medical school, falling deeply in love before deciding they would work together as well as live together.  Kathryn shared much of her early life with them, telling them about her father and Justin and later on Mark.  She told them about joining the Academy and even some details of her time with the Cardassians.  She thought she detected some change in their eyes when she mentioned that but it was quickly replaced by their concern for her.  She told them about her dog even but didn’t mention Voyager, letting that area of her life wait until she felt ready.

On their second last night together, they sat on the porch sipping wine and relaxing after a lighter dinner, one that didn’t leave Kathryn unable to move.  She leaned back in her chair and crossed her ankles. 

“Jonathan, did you never consider following your father into Starfleet?”  She casually ran a finger around the rim of her glass.  Jonathan sighed and shook his head.

“Too restrictive for me.  I wanted to be able to go where I wanted to work and not be ordered to go where someone else thought I should be.”  Kathryn nodded her understanding to that.  “Besides, any slight thought I ever gave to it disappeared when I met this guy here.”  He smiled across at Duncan.  “We wanted to be together and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been with Starfleet and he’d been here.  Even if we’d both joined, we’d have had different postings.  This way, we decide where.”  Duncan leaned forward.

“It also leaves us free to decide who we want to work with and in what areas…  This way, we can…”  He sighed and glanced at his partner.  “We never have to adhere to any set…agendas or policies…political or otherwise…”  Kathryn saw the look that passed between the two men.  Duncan saw her looking at them and smiled.

“Look Kathryn, you were with Starfleet.  You understand that they’re just like any other organization of their type.  They all have political agendas…rules they must adhere to.  It follows that anyone working for them has to follow those same ideals and agendas.  We wanted to be free to work where we felt we could help best.  We don’t believe one patient is any different from another.  It doesn’t matter what race they are or what their beliefs are.  Where they came from isn’t important.  Their previous lives aren’t a concern if they need our help.  Working as we do, we’re free to help whoever needs that help.  Can you understand that?”  Kathryn's face was serious as she nodded.

“I do understand that.  Better than you might think…”  She paused now and saw her two friends watching her.  She knew they were giving her an opening if she chose to take it and smiled her gratitude.  She took a sip of wine and lay back further in her chair.

“OK.  I do trust you.  That’s first and foremost.”  They both nodded.  Duncan spoke for them both.

“You know you can.  And we trust you too.”  Kathryn smiled again and took another sip of her wine, taking a moment to prepare herself.

“My full name is Kathryn Janeway.  Captain Kathryn Janeway.  Formerly of the Starship Voyager.”  She watched their reaction carefully and saw them both look at each other a moment but they didn’t look shocked.  Jonathan smiled at her.

“We just weren’t sure.  It was up to you if you wanted to tell us.”  Kathryn nodded her thanks.  “You must understand that we don’t spend very much time on Earth and news doesn’t reach where we live very often so we weren’t very familiar with your face.”  Duncan continued.

“Look Kathryn, we had heard about Voyager and what happened to her.  You’d need to be brain dead not to have heard about it.  Your return reached even us but we didn’t see many of the media reports.  We saw one or two when we returned to Earth this time but not many, so your face wasn’t as familiar to us as it would be to most people.”  Kathryn laughed.

“I’m not that famous, you know.  Some people do recognize me but not as many as you might think...especially out of the uniform.”  Jonathan smiled and shook his head.

“Well, you’re safe here but you still have to do the clearing away after dinner.  We don’t treat the famous any differently than anyone else…”  They all laughed for a minute and when a silence followed, the men observed it and gave Kathryn the time she needed if she wanted to tell them more.

“It was just…a very hard seven years…  Harder than I thought really.”  They listened intently as she told them of the battles and fights for survival she and her crew had endured during their time in the Delta Quadrant.  They remained quiet as she told them of the occasional joys but the devastating losses also, which they had faced.  When she finally stopped, they gave her time to wipe at the tears which had come with her words.  Duncan just quietly reached across to her and handed her a tissue, which she gratefully took.

“Sorry…it’s…”  Duncan spoke softly.

“It was very hard on you, Kathryn.  Too hard for any one person to take.  You must have been very scared and lonely at times.”  She nodded, keeping her head down, fresh tears coming.  “You’re still very lonely I think…”  She looked up into their kindly faces and nodded.

“Didn’t you have anyone…?”  Jonathan instantly regretted his words as Kathryn broke down completely.  Before she knew what was happening, both men were on their knees in front of her, hugging her to them.  She gave way to more tears, releasing her pain as they held her tightly, acting as a buffer as best they could.  Finally she eased back a little.

“Oh God…I’m so sorry…  Breaking down on you like this…  It’s terrible behaviour.  You shouldn’t have to see me like this.  No one should.  It’s the last thing I meant to do to you…”  Duncan wiped some tears from her face.

“Kathryn honey, you’re amongst good friends here.  Don’t ever apologise to us.  It’s fine.  I’d say though, that you’ve needed that for some time.  We’re honoured that you feel safe enough and trust us enough to be yourself.”  Kathryn nodded, not trusting herself to speak for a moment.  Finally she found her voice.

“I’m sorry.  I’m supposed to be stronger than this…”  She wiped at her eyes again.  Duncan actually laughed and she looked up at him.

“Why?  Because Starfleet says so?  Kathryn, you’re a human being.  You’re a woman and a person with all the same feelings as the rest of us.  You have the same strengths and weaknesses as anyone else.  You have to accept that and so do they.”  Kathryn smiled her thanks.  They all remained quiet for a while until Jonathan spoke.

“If you don’t mind my asking and if it’s not too forward, what happened when you returned?”  Kathryn sighed.

“It was…”  She drew in a deep shuddering breath.  “My mother was gone…had died.  My sister went off to her own life…decided it was best to let the family home go and I found it easier to just go along with her…  So…there was only Starfleet left for me…”  She wiped at her face.  “I had hoped there would be…more for me…but…”  Duncan and Jonathan sat back in their chairs and gave her a little space.

“The debriefings just went on and on…and I was so tired…and I fought hard for them…”  She sniffed loudly and told them about the Maquis situation.  “They were let go after a month or so without any decision on their future.  I spent another month…answering endless questions…over and over again…fighting for my people…and in the end…we won.  They pardoned them all.”  Duncan spoke very softly.

“Who fought for you Kathryn…?”  She shrugged tearfully.

“They needed me…to fight for them…protect them…and then they went home…”  Jonathan leaned forward.

“Do you still see them?”  Kathryn shook her head.

“They went home…to their families…their friends…old and…new…”  Duncan reached over and took her hand.

“Who was there for you honey…?”  Kathryn just shrugged again.  Duncan squeezed her hand.  “He really hurt you, didn’t he…?”  Kathryn's head snapped up.

“He…?  Who…?”  Duncan just smiled knowingly.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to pry.  It’s just…well…only someone we love can cause the kind of pain I see in you…”  Kathryn dropped her head but said nothing so he changed direction.

“Why did you leave Starfleet?”  Kathryn looked up and gave a weak smile.

“My job was done.  They were home.  They all went back to their lives and I felt I hadn’t got one…a life I mean.  After they all left, I had a further month of endless questions while they decided whether or not to lay charges against me.  In the end, they let it go and I was taken back in as if nothing had happened…expected to pick up where I’d left off seven years previously.  Everything had changed though… especially me.  I found it hard to take orders again…after so long not having to…”  She sniffed and wiped at her nose. 

“You see I understand what you meant earlier…about being free to help who you wanted.  I’d spent so long bound by the Prime Directive…”  She looked at them both.  “You know about that…?”  They both nodded.  “It was always Starfleet’s judgement I had to follow…never mine.  Oh, I had…bent it from time to time…broken it a few times too…if I’m honest…didn’t always follow it to the letter of the law.  It’s very hard to stand back and watch suffering and know you’re not to help…  So I didn’t always obey that…”  She laughed sadly.  “Anyway…maybe because of all that…they didn’t want me back in space and to be honest…I didn’t want to go back either.  Too many memories.  A new crew.”  She sighed. 

“I couldn’t settle back here either.  Everywhere I went…I just saw people giving me these pitying looks.  I was the classic example of the sad, lonely, old woman at the top.  The perfect lesson of how not to end up.  All I’d known was gone.  What I’d left behind was gone and what I’d gained in those seven years was gone too.  So I felt I had no purpose there…no use…”  She was crying again and they gave her some time.  Jonathan spoke softly.

“So you left…?”  Kathryn wiped at her face with the now crumpled tissue and nodded.  “What have you been doing since?”  Kathryn laughed cynically.

“I gave it a month and then stopped trying.  I really thought if I left I’d find something for myself.  Would have no excuse not to.  I thought I’d find that purpose…that use…that everyone needs.  I’m a damned good scientist…or I used to be anyway.”  She sighed deeply.  “Instead…I’ve just wandered.  I told myself I was travelling to see all those places I’ve always wanted to see but instead…”  She sniffed.  “Instead…it was just lonely…and they didn’t mean to me what I had thought they would…”  She shrugged helplessly.  Duncan reached over and patted her arm.

“So you ended up here…?”  Kathryn nodded and bit her lip. 

“So much for all my grand plans.  I really hoped I’d have had something to offer…could be useful somewhere…”  She shook her head sadly and stood shakily.  “I need to wash my face…”  Jonathan smiled his understanding.

“You know where everything is…  I’ll get you something to drink…  Another wine or coffee?”  Kathryn smiled.

“Coffee…please…”

^^^^^^^^^^

When Kathryn returned five minutes later, she smiled at her friends, noticing that they had been talking intently between each other. 

“Sorry…if I’m interrupting something…”  Duncan smiled and stood, helping her into her chair.

“Nothing…we were just running something by each other…”  He exchanged a smile with Jonathan and sat down again.  Kathryn frowned as she tried to understand what she was missing.  Finally Jonathan leaned towards her then changed his mind and stood.  He paced a little and then sat again.  Kathryn watched him amused.  Finally he found his voice.

“Kathryn…  You said…you hoped you had something to offer…”  She nodded, serious now.  “Well…maybe you have more than you think…”  He was very serious and Kathryn looked to Duncan and saw that his expression matched.

“I don’t understand…”  Duncan took over.

“Look…you trusted us here and so now…we’re going to trust you.  Actually, we’re putting our full trust in you…”  Kathryn sat forward.

“I give you my word of honour…”  Duncan raised a hand to stop her.

“You don’t have to.  We know we can trust you.  We wouldn’t be talking to you like this if we didn’t.”  He looked to Jonathan who nodded.

“Let me tell you about us…about our work that is…”  He leaned forward, lacing his fingers together and rubbed his thumbs against each other.  For a moment, he studied his hands and then smiled up at Kathryn. 

“I’ve told you that Duncan is a doctor and that I’m a psychologist…?”  Kathryn nodded but remained quiet.  Jonathan cleared his throat.  “It’s Jonathan Metcalf and Duncan Staynes by the way…for the record…although where we work, we only ever use first names.”  He smiled softly as Kathryn nodded again and then continued.  “I think I also told you that we work with kids and some adults…?”  She nodded once more.  Jonathan copied her gesture and nodded also, his eyes returning to his hands.

“Most of the kids are orphaned.”  He shook his head.  “Actually, it would be more accurate to say that…these kids are more…more abandoned than orphaned…although it can add up to the same thing for them…hurts more in some cases…”  He looked up and saw a look of deep compassion and sadness on Kathryn's face and he smiled softly at her.  He looked to Duncan who took over.

“Kathryn, a few of these kids have a parent with them…always a mother…but most have no one.”  Kathryn turned to him quietly as he spoke.  She sensed sadness in his voice but also strength.  He glanced at Jonathan before continuing.

“These kids are…are from the war…”  He saw her frown.  “The war with Cardassia…”  He saw sadness in her eyes but nothing else and so he continued.  “They are the forgotten casualties of that war…the innocent victims of it…”  A bitterness entered his voice now.  “Of course…there are no medals or honours for them…no statues or shrines…no glory…”  He caught himself and looked at his partner a moment.  Kathryn spoke softly.

“I don’t understand.  Doesn’t the Government…doesn’t Starfleet look after these children?  If they’re orphans…children of their soldiers…”  Duncan smiled sadly and nodded to Jonathan to take over.

“It’s not that simple…”  Kathryn looked towards him and he hesitated slightly despite the look of deep sadness and compassion he saw on her face.  “These kids…”  He sighed.  “Some are Cardassian…some are human but…”  He took the plunge.  “Mostly they are mixed race…”  He swallowed loudly as he held her eyes, attempting to gauge her reaction, trying to see if she understood.  “They are the children of soldiers all right but…”  A look of anger crossed his face.  “Most of them are the…products…if you like…of rape…from both sides…”  Kathryn's face paled as she tried to take in what she was being told but she remained quiet.  “As I say…most are…they’re orphans…many abandoned…”  He licked at his lips.

“They’re the kids no one wants…the ones no one wants to admit exist.”  He shook his head angrily.  “I guess they’re a reminder to a lot of people who’d rather deny or forget and bury the entire thing.”  He rubbed a hand across his face.  “No one wants to be reminded of their sins…see the proof…of their own doing or that of their fellow man…”  Bitterness dripped off his words now and he pulled himself back.  Both men were quiet for a moment as they saw Kathryn digest all their words.  Finally she spoke, her words soft from disbelief.

“Both sides…?  Are you sure?  Federation soldiers too…?”  She shook her head sadly.  Jonathan nodded slowly.

“Oh yes.  I know it’s hard to believe and accept but there’s a lot of proof there if you know where to look.”  Kathryn nodded slowly, her eyes showing a hurt acceptance.  Jonathan spoke on softly.  “It’s very hard to believe at first…but there were atrocities on both sides…despite what each side likes to believe.  Any man is capable of these crimes.  It’s not marked on him for all to see…what he’s capable of.  You can’t tell in advance.  Also…towards the end of the war…well…the need for men was great…and neither side was too fussy where those men came from…what their backgrounds were.  They took almost anyone.  Many mercenaries joined up.  Some were released from prison early if they agreed to fight.  Others were probably just opportunists.”  He rubbed wearily at his face.  “War also changes a man.  Often…depending on what he sees or what happens to him…some end up doing the same.  That’s not meant as an excuse…just an explanation.  Many of the soldiers who did this could have done it because their ‘friends’ or a superior told them to…the idea perhaps that if they were guilty too they wouldn’t talk…  Others may have been afraid not to ‘join in’ or were egged on…  They may have been drunk or were taking drugs…  I don’t know.  There are probably a thousand reasons…but not one single excuse.”  Duncan took over, giving his partner a rest.

“People tend to think that a war ends when the last phaser shot is fired or when peace has been declared…  They hear the word ‘armistice’…but for many, that’s all it is…just a word.  For them, the battle continues or a different one starts.  Stopping the fighting doesn’t stop the memories or the pain.  It doesn’t undo the evil which was committed or bring back the dead.”  Kathryn was deeply shocked.

“I never knew…never…  I can’t believe…”  She shook her head, tears in her eyes as she struggled to accept what the two men were telling her, to try and understand in any way.  Jonathan shrugged slightly.

“It isn’t exactly publicized.  What Government would want to admit to it?  It’s not something that will ever be spoken about…not the sort of topic you brandy about with your workmates or the kind of thing you bring into polite conversation over dinner.  It’s always happened though and unfortunately probably always will.  It’s one of the unknown or, if you like, the unthought-of sides of war.  People either don’t know it happens or they don’t want to know.  Perhaps they just deny it.  They don’t want to think about it and in fairness, after a war, most people have enough of their own problems to get over.”  Kathryn shook her head as questions flooded her mind. 

“Where…how do you…?”  Duncan interrupted her gently and she looked at him sadly.

“There’s a small M Class planet on the edges of Federation Space…as far from Cardassian Space as possible…Earth too…”  He laughed bitterly.  “No one bothers us there because basically, very few people know where it is or even have any idea of its existence.  I don’t think it’s even on that many star charts.  It’s not prime real estate either.”  Kathryn nodded slowly, her face filled with confusion.  “As to how we manage…?”  She nodded, silently confirming one of her unasked question.  Duncan smiled sadly.  “The funds to start this…they basically came from one person.  From there on…  Well, we’re pretty self-sufficient for the most part.  What other supplies we need…  That’s taken care of with private donations…mostly what we’ve survived on up to now.”  He sighed.  “This time here on Earth for us…isn’t just our holiday…although it’s that too.  We badly needed a break.  It’s also a supply mission if you like.  There are still some damned good people around…caring people…  We meet with these ‘friends’ who help and get what we need…especially medical supplies.”  He bit at his lip.  “They keep it quiet and so do we.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“Don’t you get any help or support from the authorities…Starfleet…the Cardassian Government?  Do they know about you even?”  She looked from one man to the other.  Jonathan answered her.

“Let’s just say that above certain levels, they know about us…are well aware of where we are and so on…they’re also well aware of what we’re about but it’s easier to ignore us.  As long as we don’t bother them, they’re happy enough to leave us alone.  We keep quiet and that’s fine for them.  They’re happy to distance themselves from us all and that suits us just fine also.”  Kathryn seemed shocked.

“But these are children…  Haven’t they even offered aid…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“No they haven’t…”  Kathryn cut in, her emotions rising.

“Have you even asked…?”  Jonathan leaned over and patted her hand a moment.

“Honey, take it easy.  There are elements to all this you don’t understand.”  She drew in a deep breath and let him tell her more.  He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“Look Kathryn, they distance themselves from us and we do the same with them.  It’s mutually better that way.”  He smiled sadly.  “It suits us better in fact.”  He saw Kathryn frown.  “Look…we don’t ask for help from anyone…except the few who give quietly and who we trust…because…”  He shook his head, trying to find the right words to explain.  “Kathryn, the kids and most of the adults there…  They’re too afraid.  Can you understand that?  This place is a refuge for them.  They’re not just afraid of Starfleet and the Cardassians…the uniforms…  They’re also afraid of husbands…and family members…terrified that they will find them…”  Kathryn looked shocked as Duncan took over again.

“It’s like this…”  She turned shocked eyes to him, her mouth slightly open.  “Imagine a case where a man finds out his wife has been raped by an enemy soldier…and now she’s pregnant.  That’s very hard for a man to take.”  Kathryn nodded, tears filling her eyes.  “Now imagine if that woman refuses to terminate and kill her unborn child…no matter what led to that child’s conception…and then imagine the hate that can come from a husband and family…the shame…embarrassment… whatever…some justified…some completely impossible to understand…  So that woman runs…seeks somewhere safe to have and raise her child…perhaps taking her older child or children with her…ones old enough to remember what happened to their mother…who perhaps witnessed it…all that war…pain and terror…  You have a woman…terrified that her husband and family will find her…harm or take her new child…  Or you have a husband returning to find his wife had been raped and had already had the child which resulted from that.  When he refuses to accept that child…she also needs somewhere safe for her and her child.”  Duncan sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  “So you see, it’s better for them that their location is kept secret.  They need somewhere safe and we try our best to provide that for them, although our security isn’t great…mainly perimeter sensors and alarms…a few imagers.  Our secret location is our best security asset.”  Duncan paused and stared at the woman before him with the tears flowing down her face.

“That’s how all this started, you know.  That one person we told you about who funded the beginnings…?”  Kathryn nodded numbly.  “She was a rich Cardassian woman…who was raped and found herself pregnant.  She couldn’t leave her other children or her life…but she couldn’t terminate the pregnancy either.  She set this up for that child…a little girl…knowing it was the best she could do for her.  Her family accepted her back once the child was out of the way.  Other mothers who couldn’t keep their child still covertly ‘donate’ funds…whatever they can…  It’s all they can do and it gives them a small link to the child they’ll never know.”  Kathryn was still stunned.

“What about the other children…the ones you said had no one…?”  Duncan smiled sadly.

“Sometimes…the best the mothers could do was find somewhere for their child…much like our founder.  Their families eventually took them back once the child was out of the way.  Some couldn’t leave for other reasons…leave their families or other children…and this was the only thing they could do for that child.  In some cases, the husbands never came back from the war at all…killed…  These women were now totally dependent on their families…often just the husband’s family.  They couldn’t have kept the child.  Other kids were just left…  In many cases, the child was no longer a baby when the husband returned home after being away fighting.  He finds this new child and refuses to accept it so that child is taken away or abandoned, the mothers often in no position to stop it.”  He sighed deeply. 

“So many of these kids were abandoned… then brought to us by those who knew about us.  Friends on Earth and on Cardassia let us know of abandoned kids and those in need of help and sanctuary.  Sometimes they would bring the kids to us but other times they could only alert us to the child’s existence and we’d rescue them ourselves...pick them off the streets literally.  They weren’t too hard to find although they did hide themselves away.  Mixed race kids tend to stand out…feel different and isolated.”  He shook his head.  Kathryn closed her eyes a moment.

“These children were just left on the streets to fend for themselves?  How could anyone…?”  Duncan shrugged. 

“I can’t answer that but nothing shocks me any more.  People must have passed them on the streets every day and yet they did nothing…never reported it.  If they knew how they got there…nothing was ever said.  Most didn’t help them either.  I guess during and after the war, there was a lot of hatred against the ‘other side’ and a mixed race child didn’t get any sympathy.”  He scratched at his chin.  “We can’t change all that but what we can do and need to do is look past that and concentrate on what can be done…help where we can.  What’s the saying?  Change what you can…accept what you can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference…”  Kathryn just shook her head in disbelief.

“I suppose…although…”  She looked around her for a moment, deep in thought, her emotions clear on her face.  Finally she turned back to the men before her.  “Those poor kids.  They must have been terrified.  And it must have been so hard on those women…like a second crime…”  Duncan sighed heavily and nodded.

“It was.  Each case is different but the pain is the same.  These women came from all walks of life.  They were rich and poor…mostly civilians in places which were invaded…passengers on ships which were taken over…or soldiers themselves…  Of those women…not all of them had husbands, but in many cases their families would have treated them the same when they found out they wanted to keep a baby conceived in such a way.  Often the women were unmarried… and they felt they couldn’t go home with a half human or half Cardassian child they wanted to keep…despite the details of that child’s conception…so they needed somewhere to ‘disappear’ to or leave the child before they returned home.  Some couldn’t terminate the pregnancy but they couldn’t face keeping the child either.  It would have been a daily reminder of what happened to them.”  He shook his head sadly.  Kathryn stared at him and licked at her lips.

“You said this happened to female soldiers too…?  These men did this to their own…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“No.  Those who were captured and taken prisoner by the ‘other side’...  Let’s just say that neither side treated their prisoners of war very well.”  He hesitated when he saw Kathryn look away.  “Kathryn…I’m sorry…I didn’t think…”  He reached over and took her hand.  “You weren’t…?”  Kathryn looked back quickly.

“Oh no.  Thank God…nothing like that.  They roughed me up a fair bit…terrified me…but I was lucky.  I feared it would happen…waited for it all the time but it didn’t.  I was rescued before that.  I spent my time there preparing myself for it though…trying to remember my training…”  Jonathan frowned at her.

“You were trained for that…?”  Kathryn nodded.

“It was part of my training.  They try and prepare you for the possibility…tell you that it’s just your body...that you can separate your mind from what’s happening…all that kind of thing…”  Jonathan snorted.

“Fine in theory…useless in reality…”  Kathryn shrugged and nodded sadly.

“I guess…  Thankfully I never had to find out…”  Duncan cut in.

“Do the men get the same training?”  Kathryn frowned and shook her head.

“I don’t know.  It was always only women in my classes.”  Duncan snorted. 

“Typical.  Well…I can tell you that quite a few male prisoners were also raped.  That was also on both sides.”  Kathryn looked shocked.

“I never knew…never thought or considered…  Never allowed myself to think I suppose…  It’s hard enough to think our own could…much less that and…”  She stared down at her hands, still shaking her head.  Duncan sighed deeply.

“Well…it happened to both…although very few know that.  So many victims…men and women…never reported it or spoke of it.  The men especially.  To state the obvious with a basic biology lesson…the men couldn’t get pregnant and of course, not all the women did either.  I’d say there were many cases of sexually transmitted disease though…most treated privately and quietly.    Most people still don’t believe a man can be raped…which is rubbish…total ignorance.”  He shook his head.  “There’s no way we’ll ever know how many men this happened to because it wasn’t reported and isn’t ever spoken about.”  Jonathan nodded in agreement.

“One of the women it happened to and who left her child at the refuge told us about it.”  He shook his head sadly.  “She had been a soldier too and saw the men she served with commit this crime many times.”  Kathryn just stared at him.  “She was captured herself and then it happened to her.  She became pregnant.  She left her child because she was consumed with guilt and felt she couldn’t care for a child in that state.  I think she felt she had deserved it…that it was some kind of retribution because she had stood by and watched it happen to others…”  He shrugged.  “Nothing we said helped her.  Her guilt was deeply ingrained.  I just hope she’s gotten help since.”  Kathryn shook her head.

“You never heard from her again?”  Jonathan shook his head.

“That’s usually the way…  We can’t make them stay or keep in contact.  All we can do is take care of the child…”  Kathryn nodded but her eyes filled with tears.   Duncan broke the short silence that followed.

“We do what we can.  Of the women who did get pregnant…many probably didn’t go through with the pregnancy…”  Kathryn looked at him, her tears spilling over again.  Duncan looked back at her sadly.  “It makes you wonder just how many were actually terminated…and I’m not sure I want to know.”  He sighed and then shook his head again, shaking away the thought.  “Each case is different but the end result is the same.  We try to be there for them as best we can…”  He shook his head sadly.  “We raise and care for them…the staff and the mothers who are living there…”  He smiled softly.  “Basically, we try and give them the best life we can…help them with the medical and emotional problems they have…and give them as normal a childhood as possible…an education…”  He smiled and shook his head.  “There’s plenty of love to go around…and that’s often the best thing for them.  A cuddle can work so much better than all the medicine in the Quadrant…”  Kathryn nodded and wiped at the tears on her face, her mind slowly accepting all she had learned.

“I still can’t believe…  I mean I do…it’s just so hard to accept…”  The two men were silent as they watched her digest it all.  “All I heard when we got back was that the war was over…peace terms agreed by both sides.”  She was quiet a moment.  “I can’t believe…  It’s like you said…and I don’t know whether that’s my race or my Starfleet training but…  I guess it’s just hard to believe your own can be responsible for something like this.  It’s always the others…never your own…”  Duncan sadly nodded his understanding.

“It can shatter your images and illusions all right.  Remember too that history is written by the victors…or written in such a way that your own come off looking all right…  It’s never the full truth…”  They were all silent for several minutes.  Kathryn studied the woodland around her, finding it impossible to believe that there could be suffering anywhere when such beauty existed in the world.  She drew her attention back to the two men with her and shook her head. 

“I’m lost in admiration for you both…”  She looked from one to the other.  “The fulfilment and satisfaction you must get from having such a worthwhile purpose and use in life…  Seeing the results of that…”  She sighed deeply.  “I envy you both for that so much…”  She dropped her head and stared into her lap.  When she looked up again, she caught her new friends silently communicating with each other.  Duncan nodded to Jonathan who nodded in return and then turned to her.

“Kathryn…”  He cleared his throat before continuing.  “Look…we didn’t just trust you enough to just tell you all this…”  He sighed.  “I guess we also had another motive…a hidden agenda…”  He glanced at his partner and smiled gently before looking back at Kathryn.  She frowned at him.

“Go on Jonathan…please just say whatever…  If I can help in any way…”  He nodded his thanks.

“I was hoping…we were hoping…that you’d say that.  I guess the question is just…”  He hesitated a moment.  “I guess I’m asking just how far you’d go…with that help…”  Kathryn frowned.

“Whatever I can do.”  She looked at them both then turned her attention back to Jonathan.  “I don’t have anything else in my life…  Nowhere to be and no one to be there for…”  Her voice caught at her last words and she cleared her throat.  “I have some funds…back pay and from the house.  I’d love to do whatever I can…”  Jonathan smiled softly.

“As I say, we were hoping you’d say that…about helping I mean.  It’s not your financial support we’re thinking of however…although that’s always very helpful… so you might think twice when you hear what I’m going to ask you…”  Before she could say anything to that, he continued.  “OK Kathryn, here comes the hard sell…”  He smiled and shook his head.  “What I’m asking you…what we’re asking…is whether you’d consider coming back with us…joining us…”  His eyes didn’t leave her face, carefully trying to gauge her reaction.  Kathryn showed little response, simply taking in his words.  Duncan took over, drawing her attention.

“Look Kathryn, first off…  Just hear us out.  I know I don’t have to ask you never to repeat any of this to anyone…no matter what your decision.  We trust you where your connection with Starfleet is concerned.  As we told you, they already know enough about us anyway and we really don’t have as much to worry about with them.  It’s the families of these people and the like we mostly worry about.  We’re just asking you to hear us out and then take some time to think about it.”  Kathryn remained quiet and nodded.  Duncan smiled his thanks and continued.

“It’s like this.  We need people like you…with your scientific knowledge and experience.  You’re right about how satisfying the work is but there’s another side to it and you need to understand that too…”  Once again she just nodded.  “You spoke of the Prime Directive and all that…not being able to help where you wanted to.  Out there…working with the kids and the adults…there are no real orders to follow… although none of us work without consulting the others.”  He drew in a deep breath.  “What I’m saying is that this is about team work…all working together for the common good…and the rewards are great…even when the work can break your heart at times.  So many of these kids and the adults…they’re deeply hurt and traumatised.  You can have a long time of pain and frustration working with someone…especially a child who’s been on the streets… thinking you’ll never see any result for all you try…and then suddenly…one day…you get a trace of a smile…or a small hand reaches for yours…and then…oh God…you know you’d take a hundred times the bad just for that one moment…”  His voice trailed off as his eyes reflected memories Kathryn knew nothing of but she understood.  Jonathan took over.

“Kathryn, it is damned hard and painful work but as Duncan said…the rewards more than make up for it…even if the balance seems unfair most of the time.”  He smiled a little, looking slightly embarrassed.  “Oh and…I’m afraid there isn’t any pay involved because we can’t afford it.  It’s bed and board only in return for your volunteering but we usually meet people’s needs…clothing and so on.”  Kathryn just nodded her acceptance of that.  Jonathan smiled and reached over and placed a gentle hand on her arm.  “There’s more.  There’s yet another side and we need you to understand this also.”  Kathryn slowly nodded her head.  “I’ll be totally honest with you on this…leave you with no illusions.  Life out there can be and will be rough.  It can be very tough at times.  Emotionally and physically.  It’s no bed of roses and the day to day life won’t be what you’re used to…comfort wise or any other way…although we’re always working to improve conditions.  It’s damned hard work and can be almost primitive at times in some areas…”  He smiled at her softly.  “I can tell you though, that we do have coffee most of the time…because we stock up…”  Kathryn smiled at that.  Duncan pulled a chair over to them and sat.

“As we said Kathryn, the Prime Directive doesn’t apply here.  We do what needs to be done and work together to get that achieved.  It’s challenging and rewarding.”  He leaned back a little.  “I once heard some words… that ‘no man is as tall as when he stoops to help a child’.  One of the women told me that.  Jonathan and I have lived by those words and have never regretted our decision to do what we’re doing.”  Kathryn smiled her understanding as Duncan leaned forward now.  

“There is something else.  Yet one other side to all this.”  His face was deadly serious.  “You have to understand this and understand it well.  You’d be cut off from everything and everyone you’ve known for long periods.  You also can’t tell anyone where you’d be going and I know we’re asking you to trust us a lot with that.  You only have our word on all this because it isn’t easy to prove any of what we’re saying to you.  For all you know, we’d be luring you off into white slavery…”  Kathryn smiled but Duncan remained serious.  “Kathryn, I’m deadly serious here.  We want you to think very seriously and carefully about this.  You’d be coming off with us into the unknown and putting a lot of trust in us.  I can’t tell you exactly where this refuge is located just yet although we know you could easily check that out for yourself before you came with us, as the top brass and some others at Starfleet know.”  He sighed quietly.

“I know we’re asking a lot of you, especially the part about not letting anyone know where you’d be going or what you’d be doing.  None of our friends know…most of our family don’t know even but there’s a good reason for that.”  He smiled softly at Kathryn.  “I don’t mean to scare you off but you have to understand this and be aware of all the facts.  We have to protect these people…but it’s also safer for you too that no one would know what you’d be doing or where you’d be going.”  He shook his head. 

“There will always be those who see us as a threat…proof of their crimes, if you like.  For others, we’re a target for their hate…an innocent child they blame for all their problems and pain.  For others again…a way to find a runaway wife or family member…their other children…”  Jonathan took over.

“It sounds…  I don’t know.  We’re just asking that you trust us on this.  Basically, we need you to understand that it’s for your own protection as much as ours and the people there.  No matter who you trust…people will always talk somewhere…and others hear…and so on.  In the end, it’s safer this way.  What’s the saying?  Better safe than sorry…?”  He smiled gently.  

“Look, we can let you check out who we are…although that still leaves gaps for you.  Just because we’re who we say we are…that still doesn’t give you proof that you can trust us…”  Kathryn leaned back in her chair.

“I know I’ve known you both only a short time…and I understand what you’re both saying to me…and maybe because you’ve brought this up on your own, without me asking…  I don’t know…  I do know I trust you both and I can’t exactly say why.  I also understand your reasons for being so careful.  I don’t need to think…”  Jonathan cut her off.

“Yes you do, Kathryn.  It’s very important that you do.  It’s important to you and it’s important to us.  We want you to think hard about this and check out what you can.  We’ll give you all the information you need to do that.  We can’t as we said, tell you too much about the refuge but you can check us out…check out the existence of the place through anyone you trust in Starfleet.  We only ask that you do it quietly and discreetly.”  Kathryn nodded slowly.  “Do that and think about this overnight.  We have to leave the day after tomorrow so we’d really need your answer soon.  We have a battered, old shuttle that gets us back and forth.  It’s not great but it’s adequate for our purposes…family visits and supply runs.  We’re not exactly on any passenger route.”  He smiled slightly.  “No one is due back here on Earth for another two months so we’d need your answer before we leave.  However, please don’t feel any obligation to us.  You have to do this for yourself and because you want to.  No other reason.  Tomorrow you can give us your answer.  Just think long and hard about it first”.  Duncan cleared his throat and spoke now.

“There’s something else…that was on my mind.”  Kathryn frowned slightly, noting how hesitant he seemed.

“Go on…you can say whatever…”  He nodded slightly and tried a small smile.

“I just…it was just something that came into my mind…something that might be very hard for you…about…”  He drew in a deep breath and pushed on.  “Kathryn, you said about having been a…a prisoner…with…”  Kathryn smiled sadly and held up a hand.

“It’s OK Duncan.  I know where you’re going with this…what you’re thinking and trying to say.”  She asked his question for him.  “Would I have a problem working with anyone of Cardassian blood after what happened to me…?”   He nodded gratefully, glad not to have had to ask the question himself.  Kathryn smiled softly.

“I can tell you this.  At that time, I hated those soldiers.  I hated what they did and what I knew they were capable of.  I know I was lucky…that it could have been a lot worse.  It was for the Admiral who was with me.  However, I now know that all are capable of that…and perhaps I always did somewhere in the back of my mind…just didn’t let myself think it.  I suppose like most people, I want to believe that our own would never do that.  I guess the average Cardassian also felt as I did.  You are raised and trained to believe that your own are right and everyone else is wrong.  That’s the nature of war.”  Duncan interrupted her.

“Kathryn, I hate to ask this too but…  You shared your crew for seven years with Maquis members…and…if their sympathies influenced you…”  He saw the stab of pain in her eyes and stopped.  Kathryn looked away a moment and then back at him.

“Yes I did and I was very close to them…some more than others…”  She looked down at her lap a moment and swallowed.  She drew in a deep breath before speaking on.  “I knew their story and I understood what they felt and went through.  I also know though that they would never have turned their backs on innocent children.  I’ll be totally honest and tell you that I don’t know how I’d feel about any Cardassian soldiers I met with now.  I believe some bad feelings would be there but I’d do my best to hide that.  The war is over and I was raised and trained well enough to move past that.  I know you can’t group everyone together…can’t believe that what some do means all are guilty by association.  That said, where children are concerned…”  She shook her head.  “These are kids…innocent victims…the victims of the inhumanity and in…”  She smiled sadly.  “Is there a Cardassian version of that word or a word that describes the cruelty which can be committed by any living creature against another?”  Both men smiled.  “Whatever…  These kids are victims of that cruelty…victims of a war which was never anything to do with them.  I’m surprised they trust any adult.”  Jonathan shook his head.

“Some still don’t really.  It took time for them to trust us…and each other.”  Kathryn nodded her understanding.

“It must be very hard for the women when they arrive first…”  Jonathan nodded and smiled sadly at that.

“It’s that and more.”  He shook his head.  “They’re terrified of what they’ve run from.  They’ve been through the most traumatic experience a woman can go through.  And then they arrive with us and have to face another terrifying time.  They know they’ve no choice though.”  He sighed.  “They arrive to face…”  He licked at his lips.  “For the women from Earth for example…  They have to get used to being with Cardassians…people from the same race as the one who violated them…the one who hurt them so much…and vice versa…  The Cardassian women have to get used to the women from Earth…the same race as those who hurt them.”  He scratched at his cheek.

“Having a child who is half that other race helps but it still takes getting used to.  At the start, there are always incidents of racism.  They lash out in their pain and those closest to them get it.  They need to let all that pain out and the one who caused it isn’t there so the other women at the refuge are the next best thing.  It’s a natural reaction.”  Duncan took over.

“As a new woman arrives and faces this…experiences those feelings…the others step in and help…each lot standing back to let that woman’s own race move in first to help her adjust.  They’ve been through it themselves so they know how to handle it.  Of course, being with mainly women helps too but they have to get used to the male staff.  We usually stand back at the beginning and let the female staff work with them first because these women usually have a lot to deal with emotionally and sometimes physically.  The female staff deal with them until they learn to trust the men and feel comfortable with them.”  Duncan looked at Jonathan and smiled.  The other man looked at Kathryn now.

“Their love for their child helps the most though.  It’s hard at first because they have to look at a part human or part Cardassian little face and that can bring it all back.  They have the knowledge that their attacker is this child’s father and probably see him in the child’s features.  Time helps to heal though and the other women help all they can.  Their child also fits in there because so many others are the same.  I guess for some of the mothers though…they couldn’t get past that and perhaps that explains some of the abandoned kids…  They didn’t see their child…only the human or Cardassian features.  Others probably believed they’d never see or get past it and terminated…”  He sighed again and smiled softly at Kathryn.  She just sat shaking her head slowly, still trying to take it all in.  She looked from one man to the other.

“If it’s so hard on them…  Is mixing these women…human and Cardassian such a good idea?”  Duncan brushed his hair back.

“It wouldn’t seem so at first…but in the beginning we had no choice.  We were lucky to find a place to work at all.  Strangely though…it’s worked.  It’s certainly the best thing for the kids.  They’re mostly mixed race…except the kids some of the women already had…and it’s easier for them to be amongst ‘their own’.  The kids actually never have any problems with each other, except the normal childish squabbles.  They just accept each other.”  He sighed.  “It’s harder for the adults.  As I said…there is racism with many of the women at first…but it mostly stems from what happened to them…born out of fear and horrible memories.  Sometimes they try and hide it or cover it up but we all see it and it can come out if they feel threatened in any way.”  He sighed then smiled softly.  “I can tell you this though.  I’ve never once seen that directed towards a child.”  Kathryn shook her head in amazement.  Duncan smiled at her and leaned forward a little.

“So Kathryn, I guess we’re asking how you’d feel…with what you’ve been through…”  Kathryn was close to tears again.  

“God Duncan…I’ve been through nothing when you look at these women and children…”  Jonathan interrupted.

“You still went through your own terrible time, Kathryn.  The fact that someone else had it worse doesn’t change that.  Pain and fear are the same regardless of the degree…  It doesn’t lessen what you experienced just because there were others who suffered more or less…  It doesn’t diminish your trauma.”  Kathryn nodded slowly and then sighed deeply and shook her head.

“Perhaps…but still…”  She sighed again and looked out at the trees a moment before looking back at the two men.

“All I can tell you is this and ask you to believe me.  I don’t hate the ordinary people and never did.  I suppose deep down I don’t hate the ordinary soldiers either because I believe they were doing the job they were sent to do…willingly or unwillingly.  However, those who took delight or enjoyment in inflicting pain and death…the ones who committed the evil you’ve told me about…who enjoyed the killing and torture…the ones who relished the hate…all of that…  Yes…those ones I can hate…and that scares me because maybe that’s how they started…  Children though…the ordinary people…the real victims…  No…I don’t hate them.  I find it difficult now to think and believe that our own could also have been guilty of the same…and maybe Starfleet could have been as capable of treating Cardassian prisoners the same way.  I don’t want to think that but I can’t deny it either.”  She rubbed her hands over her face.  “I don’t know what I can say to you to convince you but…”  Jonathan reached over and laid a hand on her arm.

“I think you just have…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn spent most of that night awake, lying on her back watching the odd light reflected on her ceiling.  She looked around the darkened room and listened to the silence, broken only occasionally by the odd stray sound of night.  She sighed deeply and rolled her head to the side, letting her eyes rest on the empty side of the bed, missing someone who had never lain beside her.  She turned her head away, feeling tears escape her eyes and slip quietly down onto the pillow.

Without thinking any further, she threw back the covers and sat out on the side of the bed.  With only a moment’s thought, she got up and wandered out into the other room, her eyes drawn to the small computer she kept in the corner. 

Kathryn spent the next hours checking and re-checking over the details Jonathan and Duncan had given her.  With her security clearance, she was able to access more information than either man could ever have guessed.  She covered her tracks well, so no one would ever know she had been accessing the information.  By the time the first thin streaks of light entered the sky, Kathryn Janeway knew enough to put her mind at rest.  She sat back and examined her own thoughts and motives, wondering if it was just her loneliness which was pushing her towards this path but knowing full well it was only part of the reason.  She shut off the computer, having decided against contacting Owen Paris for now or leaving him a message.  She made her way back to her bed, feeling a purpose growing within her for the first time in her recent memory.  She lay down and pulled the quilt snugly around herself.

“Face it, Kathryn.  You can either wallow in self-pity here for the rest of your life…pining for someone who can never be yours…or…you can get off your backside and do something worthwhile with the years you have left.”  Her voice sounded strange to her ears in the quiet cabin.  She smiled sadly into the darkness.  “Guess that’s the answer then…  You’ve wasted enough of your life…  Now do something useful.”  She rolled over, hugging the quilt.  With her decision made, she eventually slipped off to sleep.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn sat facing her two friends over coffee the next morning and watched their faces closely.

“I think you know my answer already…”  Duncan smiled softly.

“Let’s say…we’re hoping more…”  Kathryn returned the smile and nodded.  She then became serious.

“I look back on the last months of my life…months spent trying to escape a destiny I dreaded.  That life held emptiness and loneliness…no purpose to it.  I realize now that what I was trying to get away from…well…I was already there.”  She saw the sadness on the two faces before her and smiled gently.  “Here…as I am now…there’s no purpose…no use for me…no future…certainly not a future I’d wish on anyone.”  She sighed deeply.  “Without trying to sound pitiful…I know that if I disappeared off the face of the earth in the morning…no one would notice or miss me…or even care…and that’s hard to admit to…hard to take.”  Jonathan reached across the table and squeezed her hand and she smiled at him, acknowledging the gesture.

“So guys…if you’ll have me…the answer is yes.”  She held up her other hand a moment.  “And before you say it…yes…I have checked…deeper than you probably thought I could…and I was very careful.”  They both smiled their thanks.  “I also thought very hard about it…about my reasons and motives for wanting this…weighed it up…for and against…and the answer is still yes.”  She received two large smiles and added one of her own.  Then she grew serious again.

“I do have one concern…”  Duncan and Jonathan both nodded, placing their smiles aside.

“Ask anything, Kathryn…”  She nodded.

“It’s not about me.  I was worried about…  Look, after what you’ve told me…  I’m just worried about the people there…whether…”  She shook her head.  “Would they accept me…?  I mean…”  Jonathan sighed and smiled softly.

“You’ve just proved to us that we were right about you.”  He smiled at her puzzled expression.  “You’re thinking of them over yourself…”  Kathryn just shrugged as Jonathan squeezed her hand again.

“You’re right.  These people have been betrayed in the worst way possible.  Apart from what was done to them…they’ve been shunned and hurt by their own families and communities.  A lot were treated like they had some terrible contagious disease instead of the victims they were.  The kids are the same…even those too young to remember.  They’re very wary…often even terrified of strangers.  They feed off the fear of the others because it’s all they know.  None of them trust easily.”  Kathryn leaned forward.

“What about me then?  I’ll be a stranger…was Starfleet.  I wouldn’t be wearing a uniform but they would have a right to know who I was…”  Duncan reached over now and rested his hand on Kathryn's wrist above Jonathan’s hand.

“It will take a little time but they’ll get to know you and trust you.  They feel safe with each other and it’s safety in numbers.  In the meantime, they trust us already and when they see our trust in you, they’ll take our word on you and trust our judgement.  I know that will only get you so far but by then they’ll know you for themselves and see what we see in you.”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“I’ll trust your word on that.”  She bit at her lip.  “I just hope I’ll be good enough…”  Duncan cut her off.

“You’ll be fine and that’s experience talking.”  He smiled.  “Look, Jonathan and I were in on this from almost the word go but most of the other staff joined us over time, in much the same way as you’re joining us now.  Each of them had the same worries and concerns that you have now.  They earned the trust of the women and kids over time.”  Kathryn nodded.

“How many staff are there…or even…?”  Jonathan smiled and shook his head.

“Sorry…  I just realized we’ve told you very little about the set-up there.”  He laughed.  “It’s amazing.  You’ve agreed to join us with so little knowledge of just what you’re really getting into…”  Kathryn shook her head.

“You told me a lot…what’s important…”  Jonathan shook his head.

“I mean the specifics, Kathryn.  We told you nothing about the numbers there or the real conditions you’ll be living under.”  Kathryn just shrugged.

“I trust you both and it’s the work that’s important…”  Duncan smiled and squeezed her wrist.

“Kathryn, I admire you greatly for that but we’ve been very remiss.  You need to know all this.  I just hope it doesn’t make you change your mind.”  Kathryn shook her head.  Duncan smiled his thanks softly and then leaned back in his chair.  “Sit back then and let me give you a brief history and tour of Haven.”  Kathryn frowned and smiled at the same time.  Both men laughed as Duncan explained.  “The people there…all of us in fact…agreed on the name.  Some of the kids came up with it.  Cardala V is the official name but it didn’t have the right ring to it.  Haven suited it for obvious reasons and it’s easy for the kids to pronounce.”  Kathryn smiled and nodded her understanding.

“It sounds perfect…”  The men smiled and nodded.  Duncan licked at his lips.

“It sure is…at least we try anyway…”  He leaned forward now and placed his elbows on the table, folding his hands.  “OK, the low down on Haven…”  He laughed at his own words.  “First off, we have sixteen staff members there…”  Kathryn raised an eyebrow.  “More than you thought?”  She nodded as Duncan smiled.  “I better add that we have twenty-eight women with forty-two of their own children and sixty-seven kids who have no one.”  Kathryn looked stunned.  Duncan smiled slightly.  “I told you that you might change your mind.  You can, you know.  If this swamps you…  Or you could take the two months until our next visit to think about it…”  Kathryn shook her head quickly.

“No way, guys.  I’m just surprised, that’s all.”  She blew out a breath.  “I realize now I hadn’t actually thought about numbers and I don’t know why.  I’m not sure what I thought or how many I thought…”  She smiled, slightly embarrassed.  “I guess I wasn’t thinking at all…”  Jonathan leaned forward.

“Kathryn, as I said, you can change your mind or take longer to decide about it all.  This is why we were so adamant that you really think this out.  We should have told you all this before and we’re very at fault here…”  Kathryn held up a hand.

“Look, I’m the one at fault because I should have asked but at the end of the day, it’s not what’s important here and before you say it, I know what I’m doing and saying here.  I’m doing this because I want to, I guess for two reasons.  One is selfish as you know because I really have nothing else.  The main reason though, is because I want to make some use of my life.  I’ve heard what you’ve said and I want to do this for me but also for them.  I want to do something good with what I have left of my life…”  Duncan laughed.

“God Kathryn, you’ve decades ahead of you…”  Kathryn laughed with him.

“You know what I mean…”  Both men smiled and nodded.  “I have these years left, stretching ahead of me.  Whether I have one year or twenty or more ahead of me, I want to make a difference with those years.  If I can contribute something and make a difference then….”  She shrugged.  “You know what I mean…”  She shook her head and laughed.  “OK…I’m still in so tell me more…”  Duncan nodded.

“OK…you asked for it.”  He leaned back.  “Twenty-eight adults…a hundred and nine kids total and sixteen staff…”  He smiled.  “Seventeen staff now…”  Kathryn smiled and nodded.  “That ratio can seem unbalanced but the women put in as much work as we do and even some of the kids.  Our staff is great and as mixed as the kids are…”  He looked at Jonathan who took over.

“I’ll give you a verbal introduction to the staff.  Some are from Earth and some from Cardassia.”  He leaned forward.  “We have two doctors and two psychologists…”  He smiled.  “One is always there while the other is away.  We take turns for a break and supply runs…”  Kathryn nodded, taking it all in.  “The other doctor is a Cardassian woman named Cassa…Cassa Ghal.”  He scratched his head.  “You’ll see that no one uses family names there.  She’s Cassa to everyone…staff, women and kids.  Actually she’s Mommy Cassa to the kids.”  He smiled and shook his head.  “You’re going to be Mommy Kathryn…get used to it…  Everyone is called Mommy or Daddy whoever by the kids…”  Kathryn nodded and swallowed the lump she felt forming in her throat.  Neither man missed the flash of pain in her eyes which they’d grown used to seeing.  “The other psychologist is also a Cardassian woman called Lorcha Eval.  She’s wonderful with the kids.”  Kathryn nodded slowly, trying to form images of these people in her mind but knowing it was impossible.  “We have two nurses…both women.  One is from Earth and her name is Miriam Close.  The other…Dressa Hallack…is Cardassian.  They have two nursing aides with them…Galan Morett and Greta Ericson…Galan is from Cardassia and Greta from Earth.”  Jonathan took over.

“We’ve a male dentist…Roberto Fabio and a male vet…Eugene Paletti…who are actually cousins in some way.  I’m not sure they know themselves.  They’re from a large Italian family so it’s not easy for them to know who is who…”  Jonathan laughed at Duncan, sharing the joke.  Jonathan then smiled at Kathryn.  “You’ll understand more when you meet these people and get to know them.”  Kathryn smiled and shook her head.

“You have a vet?”  Duncan nodded.

“Someone to care for the animals…”  He smiled.  “I told you we were pretty self-sufficient.  We have a few cattle, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs even…and a varied assortment of God knows what else.  It’s a regular zoo at times.  The kids even have some pets…cats…dogs…rabbits…birds…hamsters…mice…  It can be some fun when one gets mislaid or chased by another...”  Kathryn laughed and shook her head.  Duncan leaned towards her.  “Still keen?”  She laughed louder and nodded.

“So far.  Keep going.”  Jonathan continued.

“OK…you asked for it.  John Wilson is our resident farmer but we all help him as and when he needs it.  Apart from the milk, cheese, butter, eggs, wool and so on we get from the animals, we manage to grow a fair amount of our own food…vegetables and fruit.  The kids even have their own flower garden.”  He rubbed at his face.  “Then we have Peter Walker and Trevor Cruise.  Peter is a structural engineer and anything else he needs to be.  Trevor is a builder and miracle man who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything, from electrics to plumbing and everything in between.”  Kathryn shook her head in amazement.  “And then we have Selona Morec who’s also Cardassian.  She’s a miracle cook and general organizer.  How she manages to keep tabs of everyone being fed never ceases to amaze us all.  The women work with her all the time on a rota basis.  Lastly…there’s Hista Gorett…a Cardassian…and Olga Burroff from Earth and they’re our teachers…”  Kathryn sat back and shook her head.

“It’s amazing…it’s…”  Duncan laughed and leaned towards her.

“Oh…it isn’t always smooth running.  We’re like any group living together.  We have our ups and our downs.  People fall out with each other…the kids fight…the adults fight…  Hell…even the staff fight on occasion.  In the end though…we all work it through.  There’s an amazing bond with us all though and you’ll see that.  It’s a fierce loyalty.  We work well together too…well, most of the time.  It may seem an enormous task for one or two staff members to undertake say all the farming or all the teaching or cooking but it’s not like that.  Everyone clubs in together and works where they’re needed.  For example, if our nursing aides aren’t needed, they work in the kitchens or wherever.  I’ve even seen Trevor…our macho builder…sewing clothes with the women.  Of course, he’ll forever deny that.  All in all, the staff there are great.”  He cocked his head to the side and smiled at Kathryn.  “One point.  We never refer to ourselves as ‘staff’ in front of the women and kids.  We’re all in this together.  We call ourselves ‘helpers’ and that makes the women feel more at ease.”  Duncan looked towards Jonathan.  “Well, you can describe the place.  I’m getting coffee for us all.”  He laughed as he saw two pairs of eyes light up and shook his head.  Jonathan took up the story.

“The place is still a ‘work in progress’ and will be for some time although the basics have already been covered.  There are only so many hours in a day but we’ll get there.”  Kathryn just smiled and nodded.  “The planet isn’t Eden but it is habitable.  The soil is good enough for our purposes.  Because we’re the only ones there, we can afford to move our crops around from one field to another and allow the ones used the year before to lie fallow.  We also have some greenhouses where some stuff can be grown under glass.  It works well.”  He cleared his throat.  “A lot of the planet is forest and rock but would be habitable with a lot of work.  As we are, we’ve settled on a small land mass in the northern continent with a fairly good climate.  We get our rain when we need it but basically we have good weather for most of the year, although there are the occasional exceptions.  Fall and spring we can get cold snaps and the odd storm.  It can be a lot like the climate here on the East coast although not as severe in winter.  Any snow we get only lasts a day or so.”  Duncan came back with their coffee and smiled to himself as he watched the other two savour the aroma before drinking.  He took over the talking.

“We’ve settled a town for ourselves.  Well, a town of sorts…more a village.  We erected family unit shelters, where each mother can live with her child or children.  They’re basic but have the essentials.  There’s a small family room with a bedroom or two off that.  There’s a small kitchenette and bathroom in each shelter also.  Each one even has a power and water supply.  For the other kids, we have a large building which is basically small dorms and the staff members take turns sleeping there to keep an eye on them at night.  The older kids also help with the younger ones.  There’s also a communal building where we have a large kitchen and dining area…even a laundry.  Next to that is our clinic…where basically everything medical takes place.  Needless to say…the kids like to avoid the place.”  They all laughed.

“We have our school building, which doubles as a meeting house at times…although there’s a large main room adjoining the kitchen and dining areas where the women gather each day.  They do most everything there.  They make clothes…cut hair…repair things…make pottery…you name it.  They’re an amazing bunch.  They’ve brought skills from each of their backgrounds and combined them all.  It’s some sight to see them working together…despite the occasional disagreement.”  He smiled to himself and shook his head.  “They also run a nursery or day care there for the small ones and there’s a playground out the back and a smaller one in the compound.”  Kathryn was shaking her head at this stage, unable to believe what these people had achieved.  Jonathan and Duncan smiled softly at her.  Jonathan played with the handle of his mug.

“It gets better.  We’ve dugs wells and erected large storage tanks…which feed the water supply.  We also take from a river and stream.  We have generators housed beside the fields for our power.  Each area has its washrooms and so on.  There’s the sheds then…and barns where the animals are housed and our vet works.  Over on the other side…we have our stores…all our materials and equipment.  The food stores are beside the kitchen area and there’s even a barn for the crops we harvest and a cold stores.”  Kathryn just sat with an amazed look on her face.  “Finally then we have a small office area where we TRY and organize ourselves.”  He laughed softly.  “We have some communications equipment there and a computer.  Lastly there are living quarters for the staff.  Each of us has a room for ourselves.  As I said, we take turns staying in the dorms for a few nights each but we all have our own room and believe me, you’ll need it.  We all need that small space where we can just lock it all out and let go.”  Kathryn sighed and leaned back in her chair.

“It sounds unbelievable…amazing…  You’ve achieved so much…”  Duncan sighed with her.

“It sounds better than it is.  There’s still one hell of a lot of work to be done.  No sooner have you fixed one thing, than something else breaks.  It’s a constant battle to just maintain what we have, without even thinking about expanding and improving, which we also try and do, although our numbers are pretty constant now with only the occasional child coming to us.  There hasn’t been anyone new in some time, in fact.  We take that as a very good sign.”  He leaned over the table, tracing idle patterns with his finger.  “Be under no illusions with this.  It’s hard work although it’s fair to say that the worst is over.  Getting started was the hardest.  The women and kids have also come quite some way although they still have a long way to go.  And so…”  He smiled softly.  “If you’ve any doubts, no matter how small…”  Kathryn leaned forward into his space and laid her hand on his, stilling his movement.

“I’ve listened to everything you’ve both had to say and I understand it all.  I’m not looking at this through rose-coloured glasses or anything.  I’m also not seeing it as dire or impossible either though.  I haven’t any illusions or expectations.  I just want to do something with my life and if I can help someone else while doing that, so much the better.  So you haven’t talked me out of this.  You’ve given me what I see as a fair and balanced picture of what I’m going into and that’s fine.”  Kathryn closed her eyes a moment and smiled.  When she opened them, she saw her two friends smiling at her.  She nodded at them tearfully.

“So…OK then.  I’m all yours.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay stood quietly in the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters and gazed around him, occasionally looking up at the buildings which surrounded the gardens.  People in uniform and civilians passed him, some glancing at the man who seemed lost in his thoughts.  He eventually snapped himself out of it and glanced around him, spotting an empty bench and made for it.  He sat down slowly, feeling the heat of the sun in the wood against his legs through the thin fabric of his slacks.  He sighed deeply to himself and let his mind drift back over the past few weeks.

He had taken the transport his sister had booked him on, hating leaving his family but knowing that he needed to return to Earth to try and settle the past before facing the future.  Not having any concrete plans, he had opted for a hotel rather than take an apartment.  Over the next few weeks, he had spent his time tracking down each and every crewmember, needing to check on how their lives had turned out since their return.  He shook his head sadly now as he remembered what he had found. 

Once again, he glanced up at the surrounding buildings and then closed his eyes for a moment.

“It’s now or never.  What else is there…?”  He opened his eyes and looked around him to see if anyone had heard him talking to himself.  No one was near him and he stood slowly and made his way towards the office where he knew he was expected.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat with his hands in his lap, twisting his thumbs together and smiled as he met the eyes of the young Ensign behind the desk.

“He won’t be long now, Sir.”  Chakotay nodded his thanks.  No sooner had she spoken than a door behind her opened and a man looked out.

“Commander Chakotay…I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting…”  Chakotay stood and smiled softly.

It’s fine, Admiral Paris.”  The older man stood back and let Chakotay pass through the door, then quietly closed it.

“Can I get you something to drink?”  Chakotay held a hand up, declining the offer.

“I’m fine but thank you.”  Admiral Paris nodded.

“Please…take a seat.”  He waited until his guest had settled himself and then slipped into his own chair.  “What can I do for you?  I’m hoping you’re here to take up the offer we made to you all months ago…”  Chakotay smiled softly and leaned back in his chair.  He liked and trusted this man, the father of Tom Paris.  He still had some reservations about Starfleet in general but knew the man before him was a man of his word.

“Why am I here?  I’m not sure of that myself.”  He smiled and shook his head.  “A part of me feels as if I’m here begging and another part feels like…”  The old man leaned forward now.

“Chakotay…  I’m sorry…may I be so bold as to call you that…?”   Chakotay nodded.

“Please do…it makes me feel more at ease…”  Admiral Paris smiled.

“Chakotay it is then.  Look, this isn’t about begging.  This organization owes you all and they know it.  They don’t always like admitting that kind of thing but they do know it.  I certainly owe you on a personal level.  You brought my son back to me.  Now, if there’s anything I or we can do for you, please just ask….”  Chakotay let his surprise show for a moment and then nodded.

“Thank you.”  He drew in a deep breath.  “I left…as you know…with all the others…after we finished with debriefings and got the decision.”  The Admiral nodded but remained quiet.  “I needed to get away from everything the past seven years had held…needed to see my family again…find my roots and what I’d left behind…all of that.”  He rubbed a hand over his face.  “I left Starfleet behind too…just as all the others did…”  He locked eyes with the old man but saw no judgement there…just understanding.

“What have you been doing since…?”  Chakotay smiled and shook his head.

“I went home.  I found my sister.  She’s married now…kids even.”  The old man smiled.  “I took…Seven with me…as I’m sure you know…  Tried to find the man I used to be again.”  The Admiral nodded understandingly.

“I get the feeling it wasn’t all you thought it would be…”  Chakotay sighed.

“No.  No it wasn’t.”  He seemed surprised at how honest he was being with this man.  “It wasn’t what I thought it would be at all.  Oh, it was great to see my sister and meet her family…discover I was an uncle.  I wouldn’t change that.  Dorvan though….  It was like I didn’t recognize it and it didn’t recognize me any more either.  The man I was…he too had gone…wasn’t there anymore.”  Admiral Paris leaned back in his chair.  He sighed before speaking.

“Who we were in the past…for any of us…  I guess we can never recreate that.  We change…life changes us…and we become different people as a result of that.  When we go back and try and find that again…  I don’t know.  I do know that the man I was ten years ago…twenty years ago…whatever…  He’s gone.  Not completely vanished but a part of me.  He’s just not recognizable standing alone anymore.”  He smiled sadly.  “That can be a good thing or a bad thing.”  Chakotay smiled his understanding.

“I’ve learned that.  I spent two months there.  I tried to fit in but the man who once belonged there didn’t belong there anymore.  I tried with Seven even…”  He broke off and the old Admiral leaned forward again.

“It’s OK.  I had actually heard about that.  I understand she’s…”  He didn’t continue and Chakotay finished for him.

“It’s fine.  I’m very happy for her.  It really was for the best…for both of us.”  He sighed deeply.  “Anyway…my sister saw all this…wise woman.  She sent me packing back here.”  He laughed at the memory.  Admiral Paris nodded.

“How long have you been back on Earth?”  Chakotay shrugged.

“Almost a month now.  I guess I’m here because I need work…need to do something with my life.  I have nothing else and I need a purpose…a use…”  The old man smiled sadly to himself, remembering Kathryn Janeway sitting before him not that long ago, telling him the exact same thing.

“You can have your Command back anytime…  You know that…”  Chakotay nodded.

“I know.  That’s not what I want though…for many reasons.  I was hoping…”  He hesitated slightly.  “I was hoping for a teaching post…lecturing perhaps…  I couldn’t face going into space again.”  The Admiral nodded, understanding more than he let on.

“We’re always looking for people of your experience and with your knowledge.  I could have you lecturing in ten minutes if you wanted to…”  Chakotay laughed slightly. 

“That’s good to know but I was hoping for a little more advance warning than that…”  They both laughed at that.

“Look Chakotay…  The job is yours.  You can start whenever you feel ready.  We’d be more than happy to have you on the staff here.  I can assure you that there wouldn’t be an empty seat in the hall…”  Chakotay nodded his thanks.  The Admiral laced his fingers together.  “How about this?  You work as a lecturer for us but keep your rank.”  He held a hand up when he saw the man before him about to interrupt.  “Please…just hear me out.”  Chakotay nodded.  “You keep your rank but it’s not an active commission.  This way we meet in the middle on this.  If that situation ever needs changing…from either side…then the option is there but only with the full agreement of both sides.  Can we agree to that?”  Chakotay thought a moment and then nodded.

“That sounds fair.  Yes, I agree to that.”  The old man smiled.

“Good.  I’ll have all the necessary legal work drawn up and you can approve it tomorrow.”  Chakotay nodded his thanks.  Admiral Paris leaned back in his chair once more.

“May I ask what you’ve been doing since you’ve been back…?”  Chakotay smiled sadly.

“I’ve been checking into the crew.  I couldn’t find Ka…Captain Janeway though.  I had assumed she’d be working here at Headquarters but…”  The old man sat forward, ignoring the last part of Chakotay’s answer.

“What about the others?  You’re the first to come back to us, you know.”  Chakotay nodded.

“I know.  Actually, I found and traced all of them.”  He sighed sadly.  “They aren’t really happy.  The best I heard was ‘content’.  Most of them can’t settle and aren’t happy at all.  They can’t seem to move on and leave the past behind them.  What we shared out there is too much a part of us all.”  Admiral Paris nodded his understanding.

“It’s hard…”  Chakotay sat forward.

“It’s more than hard.  God, I don’t know why I’m telling you this…”  The old man smiled gently.

“This is off the record, Chakotay.  I give you my word on that.  I think you need to talk about this…”  Chakotay nodded and smiled gratefully.

“It’s just…”  He shook his head.  “You know Seven is now with the Doctor and thank God, they seem happy together.  Life isn’t what it could be for them but at least they have each other.  It was best that way.”  He smiled softly at the old man.  “As I said, she and I tried for a while but it wasn’t going to happen…for either of us.  Oh, we’re still friends but she’s better off with the Doctor…far happier.  We weren’t meant to be and she couldn’t settle on Dorvan.  There’s still prejudice against her everywhere…people afraid of her.  She felt it there even though it was well hidden.  She tried living on Vulcan for a while even but she couldn’t handle that either.  The person she once was would have, but not who she is now.  She’s changed too much for that.  Here on Earth she still finds prejudice and suspicion…distrust…and also she’s seen as an oddity despite not having to regenerate anymore.  She can’t settle anywhere.  I think she feels she swapped her Voyager collective for one too big on Earth and she can’t take such large numbers of people now, despite what she was originally used to as a drone.  Kathryn…”  He hesitated over her name but didn’t use her title this time. 

“Kathryn changed her and now she can’t live outside of that.  As I said, she’s treated as an oddity.  She’s feared and suspected.  The Doctor even feels useless.  His knowledge and expertise are excellent but because he looks like the old model if you like…the Mark One…there’s mistrust and discrimination everywhere he goes.  People don’t see his knowledge…only his appearance.  Thankfully they have each other for support.”  He shook his head.  Admiral Paris stood.

“Let me get you something to drink.”  Chakotay nodded now in agreement.

“Tea would be fine…”  The old man served his guest and then sat again.

“The others?”  Chakotay sipped his tea and leaned back in his chair.

“Harry Kim…  His fiancée is now married with three kids.  His parents also died during the time he’s been home.  They passed within a month of each other.  Tom and B'Elanna…”  He smiled apologetically as the old man nodded his understanding.

“I know and I understand.  They feel useless…can’t settle at all.  Oh, it’s great to have them…healing those rifts with Tom…meeting a new daughter-in-law and getting a beautiful grandchild…  I’m not blind or stupid however.  I see how ‘unsettled’ they are…how restless…”  His eyes took on a faraway look for a moment.  “Forgive me…  You were saying…”  Chakotay smiled and showed his understanding.

“Tuvok…he and P’Tel…  Their kids are grown.  He has no purpose and a man needs that.  Everyone does.  He wasn’t meant to settle down.  His mind needs to be active…especially after nearly losing it.”  Admiral Paris smiled sadly as Chakotay shook his head and sighed.

“The former Maquis…although pardoned…are still…”  He shrugged.  “Some people have long memories.  All of us are looked at everywhere we go when it’s known who we are.  We’re the ones who were out there…and they’re not sure how to accept or treat us.  Some are probably afraid.  Only those who were there can understand what we went through and those who weren’t there don’t understand and never can and that leads to suspicion.”  He sighed deeply.  “I don’t know.  We’re lost in our own home.  We’re scattered…leaderless.  Kathryn was the peg…the linchpin…who held us all together and without her…”  He looked up at the old man before him.  “Sorry.  I still haven’t quite worked out my feelings there.”  The Admiral frowned as Chakotay shook his head.  “Still, she moved on quickly enough…”  Admiral Paris sat forward.

“She what?  I’m sorry…?”  Chakotay frowned again.

“I said Kathryn moved on quickly.  She was obviously fine with everything.  I assume she’s working somewhere within Starfleet where I can’t find her or else she just doesn’t want to be found.  Either way, I couldn’t find her…”  The old man’s face took on a look of deep sadness.

“You think she moved on?”  Chakotay nodded but didn’t fully take in the old man’s meaning.

“For a long time I had high hopes that she felt something for me but I was wrong…”  He caught himself.  “Sorry…I didn’t mean to say that…”  Admiral Paris put his cup down.

“Tell me, Chakotay…  If she had felt…”  He sighed.  “What could have become of those feelings?  You were in a relationship by the time you got home…”  Chakotay nodded sadly.

“I had no idea if she felt anything for me and either way…I couldn’t wait forever…had no way to know that we would get home…”  The Admiral nodded his understanding.

“I know…I do understand that…and I’m not judging you.”  He hesitated a moment and then spoke again.  “Would it make you feel any better if I was to tell you that she was badly affected by your loss…?”  He stopped suddenly when he saw the almost stricken look on Chakotay’s face.  “Sorry…I see that it makes it worse…”  Chakotay sighed and stood up, placing his cup on the desk before him.  He rubbed at his face.

“It was all so…  I could never be sure how she felt…despite what I felt…  I don’t know…  Even after all this time…  I guess my head was more successful at letting her go than my heart was.”  He shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter now.  As I said…I couldn’t find her…”  He looked towards the old man when he spoke.

“You won’t.  You won’t find her.”  Chakotay stopped dead.

“What do you mean…?  I thought she was still here…  Where is she…?”  He sat down, afraid of what he would hear.  The Admiral played with his cup.

“She left…resigned or…retired if you prefer…”  He looked up and met Chakotay’s eyes, seeing a mixture of relief there, yet pain also.  “She tried with Starfleet for a month…”  He sighed deeply.  “The woman who left here…  She was someone I didn’t know anymore.  She said she needed to find a purpose…a use…”  He shook his head and smiled sadly.  “Does that sound familiar?”  Chakotay just sat in shock, shaking his head slightly.  “Oh, I kept in touch with her for a while…kept tabs on her if you prefer.  And then she disappeared and I lost all track of her.”  Chakotay’s head snapped up.

“So where…?”  The Admiral held up a hand.

“I finally got a message…a few weeks ago.  It was untraceable…just saying that she was fine and would contact me in time…”  Chakotay looked fearful now.

“How can you be sure she’s all right…that the message was authentic…that…?”  He kept shaking his head and the old man saw the deep worry there.

“Chakotay…it was her.  She used her own codes and…  Look, it was genuine and it was from her.  From many years ago, we always had certain words and phrases…facial expressions…that let a fellow Officer know if a message was forced or whatever.  She and I also had codes known only to us both.  I saw her transmission.  She used those same codes to assure me that she was fine.  I can give you my word  on that.”  He saw Chakotay accept his words but still saw many questions there.  He decided to answer them before they were asked.

“Chakotay…there are some facts you and the rest of the crew are unaware of.  At this stage, I’m not breaking any confidences by telling you this.”  He looked down at his hands, gaining a moment to gather his thoughts.  Feeling the other man’s eyes still on him, he finally looked up.  “You need to be aware that after you were all debriefed and let go, Kathryn was still being questioned.”  Chakotay nodded slightly, knowing this.  “There wasn’t, as you know, any decision at that time…”  Voyager’s former First Officer nodded again.  “What you don’t know, is that she fought very hard for you all…was determined to get that decision for every one of you.”  The look on Chakotay’s face was one of shock.

“I didn’t…we didn’t…didn’t know…although I suppose we should have known… guessed at least…”  The old man smiled sadly.

“She fought for you all and finally got the decision but…”  He sighed.  “She was held here for a further month after you all left…”  Chakotay’s shock increased.  “She also had to fight for herself.  She had that further month of debriefings and I guess you could say…interrogations…on all her own actions.  She fought tooth and nail for you all…but not as hard for herself.”  He leaned back in his chair and watched his hands stroke the wood of his desk.  “It’s fair to say she was hauled over the coals on every decision she ever made out there.  She faced charges…”  He looked up quickly as Chakotay jumped up from his chair.

“She what?  Why the hell didn’t someone tell us all this?  Why didn’t Kathryn herself say something?”  Admiral Paris held up his hands.

“Please Chakotay…please sit down.”  He waited patiently until the large man sat again, seeing the hurt and confusion on his face. 

“I never knew…she never said…”  Admiral Paris sighed deeply.

“No…she wouldn’t…”  He shook his own head.  “You have to understand that it was Kathryn's own choice that no one knew of all this.  Don’t get me wrong.  Starfleet was only too happy to agree to that, but most of all it was Kathryn's decision.”  Chakotay shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“That shouldn’t surprise me…”  He rubbed his hands over his face.  “What about the charges against her?”  The Admiral smiled sadly.

“All dropped of course…there was nothing they could do and they knew it.  I think it was just a way for them to flex their muscles a bit…let her know she wasn’t in charge anymore.  At the end of it, she was released under the same conditions as the rest of you.  She was asked to stay on and she agreed.”  Chakotay looked confused now.

“But you said…”  The old man picked up his cup again and played with it, not seeming to realize the action.

“She tried to hang on here for a further month…but in the end…  I think she felt lost…useless here…and although it will hurt you to hear it…I think she also felt very lonely…  She left for most of the same reasons you’ve returned.  I just pray she’s found what she was looking for.”  Chakotay dropped his head to his chest, his mind trying to take it all in.  Eventually he raised his head and looked at the man sitting across from him.

“I hope so too…pray for that also.”  He was silent a moment and then laughed bitterly.  “You know the sad thing?”  The Admiral shook his head.  “It’s probably just as well she’s not here.  It would kill her to see all this…the way the crew is now.  She fought so hard to get us all home and now this.”  He waved his hand at nothing in particular.  “We never realized that we were already home…that Voyager was home all along.”  He stood and paced.  “I told you…I’ve seen all of them…that most of them can’t settle back here.  I guess we just never realized how important we all were to each other.”  He turned and faced the Admiral.  “Here are some wise words for you.  ‘Home is the people you’re with…not the place you are’.  Isn’t that fitting?”  He looked close to tears and sat down again, shaking his head.  “It’s so…ironic…  Whatever the word…”  He locked eyes with the man before him.  “You said it yourself.  I come back to work here because I have nothing in my life and Kathryn left here because she had nothing in her life.  There’s a sick twist in there somewhere….”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn sat wearily on a fallen tree and leaned her back against one of the large limbs which jutted up from it.    She’d been at the refuge for a couple of months now and although the work was hard, many times heartbreaking, she had never once regretted her decision.

Her days began early and ended late in the evening, mostly by her own choice.  Kathryn herself knew she was working so hard to try and keep her mind occupied and stop her thoughts turning to Chakotay and her former crew.  Occasionally she would stop and think about them, wondering what they were all up to and hoping they were now settled and happy.  When her thoughts took this route, she usually quickly chided herself and forced her mind to something else – and there was always something else.  Conditions on Haven were exactly as Duncan and Jonathan had warned her they would be.

Kathryn had also found the words of her new friends to be accurate regarding her acceptance amongst the women and children.  The staff already there had welcomed her immediately but there had been a fair amount of mistrust she’d had to overcome from the women, and in turn the children.  The last women to have come to the refuge had been the hardest to gain trust from and the Cardassian women in particular had taken the longest to accept her.  She smiled slightly to herself as she remembered some of the racist names she had been called by one woman in particular when she learned that Kathryn had been Starfleet, until some of the others had stepped in and taken the situation in hand.  Another woman had even taken a run at her in a fit of rage and pain before collapsing in her arms, crying and apologizing.

It had taken over a month before she had been fully accepted as one of their own, her patience and caring finally winning over the women and in turn the kids.  During this time the staff had helped her in as many ways as they could and at this stage, Kathryn found it hard to imagine a time when she hadn’t known them all.  In her short time on the planet, she had developed deep and abiding friendships with them all. 

She shook her head now, dislodging the memories and looked down at her hands.  She sighed at the state of them, the skin rough and blistered from her hard work.  Like the rest of the staff, she worked wherever she was needed, doing kitchen duty one day and working in the fields the next.  Her scientific background was invaluable and she even taught some classes in the school, passing on her knowledge to the older children and giving fun science lessons to the younger ones.  She even gave lessons to other staff members, teaching them but learning from them also.  Everyone shared what they had and Kathryn had even donated her back pay from Starfleet and a large portion of her savings to the refuge, hoping it would help in some way.  Duncan and Jonathan hadn’t wanted to take anything from her but she had insisted.  She later learned that every other staff member had done the same when they first arrived. 

She closed her eyes a moment and then opened them again, letting her gaze drift down to the small figure who sat at her feet.  One look at the face turned up to hers and she smiled softly.

“You’re just a ray of sunshine into every moment, aren’t you honey?”  There was little change in the expression on the child’s face as the large brown eyes stared up at Kathryn.  “Tell you what…  Let me rest here for a moment and then we’ll head back to the kitchen and see if Mommy Selona has any of that lovely lemonade left…”  A very faint smile flitted across the small face and Kathryn shook her head as her own smile widened.  “I thought that might get to you…”  She looked up when she heard footsteps and saw Duncan approach, carrying two tall glasses of lemonade.  Kathryn leaned down to the little girl, who had turned to see who was coming towards them.  “Of course Julie, we could just order room service…”  She laughed at the feigned look of disgust on Duncan’s face. 

“Is that all I am around here?”  Kathryn stroked Julie’s hair.

“You have to admit your timing is pretty good…”  Duncan shrugged and admitted defeat.

“OK…so I knew my two favourite ladies would be thirsty…”  He held out the two glasses and watched as they were drained in seconds flat.  “Seems like I was right on time too.  You pair wouldn’t have lasted to get back to the kitchen.  You’d both have wilted long before you got there.  If you want seconds though…you’ll have to get them yourselves.  I only have two hands…”  Kathryn pressed the still cold glass to her face and sighed.

“That was just fine but thanks anyway.  We’d be lost without you.”  She laughed and looked down at Julie.  “Do you want more, honey?”  She got a faint nod of the head.  Duncan leaned over and tapped the small shoulder.

“Julie, why don’t you let Mommy Kathryn rest here for a moment.  You go back and get some more lemonade for yourself and maybe you can make another one for when she gets back.  Can you do that?”  The little girl looked uncertain for a moment.  “She really needs to rest for a minute and I know she’d really love more lemonade…”  Julie nodded slowly and stood up.  She began walking backwards before turning and making her way to the main area of buildings which housed the kitchen.  She kept glancing back over her shoulder all the time, watching Kathryn until she turned out of sight.  Duncan sighed deeply.

“She needs to learn to do some things herself.  You’ve made amazing progress with her though…”  He looked at Kathryn and she didn’t miss the look of concern on his face.

“She’s getting there slowly…although I wish she’d mix a little more with the other children.”  Duncan nodded.

“She’s become like a shadow to you.  I always know that wherever you are, I’ll find her too…”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“She’s really taken to me for some reason.  It’s mutual of course.  I’ve really fallen in love with that little mite.  I just wish that she’d come out of her shell a little…”  Duncan reached over and took the empty glass from Kathryn.

“Just keep on doing what you’re doing.  She sees you working with the other kids and knows you care for them as much.  Just as long as she sees everyone getting the same amount of attention from you though.  It’s hard I know, but you can’t show that you have favourites, even though all of us have.”  Kathryn nodded and sighed at the same time.

“I try very hard at that but there’s just something so special about Julie.  Even the most affected of the other kids manage a few words.  Julie has never said anything…”  Her eyes followed where the little girl had gone.  Duncan stroked her arm, drawing her eyes back to his.

“You’re doing just great Kathryn.  You’re the only one Julie has ever connected with and that in itself is a miracle.  And you succeed with the others.  No one has ever seen you show her any favouritism.  The other kids just see her follow you around and accept it.  They’re wise enough to see that it’s Julie’s own doing.  They know you’re there for them every bit as much as you are for her and she knows that too.  You’re doing just fine.”  Kathryn looked a little uncertain.

“I hope so.  I’m terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing.  I’ve no training at any of this…”  She looked at Duncan and shrugged.  He gripped her arm a little tighter.

“You care about them.  That’s the best qualification.  The women taking to you as quickly as they have proves that.”  He smiled softly at her.  “You don’t ever regret coming here, do you?  I know it’s very hard…in every way…but…”  Kathryn smiled and took his hand.

“Duncan…there hasn’t been a single moment when I’m not glad I came here.”  She shook her head.  “Don’t get me wrong.  There are times I just want to crawl into a hole and bawl my eyes out.…”  Duncan nodded his understanding.  “And I have done that on a few occasions…from either having heard their stories or through frustration at something not working for me …”  She smiled softly, showing her embarrassment.  Duncan shook his head.

“You haven’t got the monopoly on that one.  There isn’t one worker here who hasn’t shed tears over these kids…even the women…  Don’t dare be embarrassed about that.  It makes you special and caring and exactly what these people need.”  Kathryn nodded her thanks.  Duncan put the empty glass down on the ground at his feet and reached for Kathryn's hands.  “Now Mommy Kathryn…let me see those hands…the ones you’re always trying so hard to hide from us…”  Kathryn laughed and shook her head.

“Don’t fuss.  It’s just a few blisters…”  Duncan sighed deeply as he looked at the large blisters on the palms of the small hands he held.  Some had already burst.

“God Kathryn…you can’t let these go untreated.  How many times do I have to tell you that?”  He looked straight at her, his face deadly serious and then he smiled.  “Sorry…I know…  You’re not one of the kids…although at times…”  Kathryn made a face at him.

“I know Duncan.  You’ve given me the lecture a dozen times.”  He pulled her hands towards his lap and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small med kit.

“You obviously need to hear it a dozen more times then.”  He grew serious again.  “Kathryn, I’m serious.  Our medical supplies here aren’t what you were used to.  You know how basic they are.  Prevention is half the battle here and you know that.  If these get infected…”  He shook his head.  “First off, you’re the most important.  We risk having you sick.  Second though, we need to be sparing with the supplies we have.  If you let these get infected…”  Kathryn looked embarrassed.

“I know Duncan…and I’m sorry.  This is wasting valuable supplies because I’m too thoughtless to wear gloves.  I’m sorry…”  Duncan squeezed her arm.

“You’re not thoughtless Kathryn.  You’re just used to doing things a certain way but you really are the worst person I’ve ever met at taking care of yourself.”  He cursed himself immediately as the words left his lips, knowing that he’d see the usual flash of pain cross her face.  Even after knowing this woman for months now and working closely with her, that pain and hurt still showed at times.  He decided to be brave for once.

“One of these days, you’ll let me help you rid yourself of that pain too…  You know, the pain you carry around with you all the time…the pain you wear like a shroud…”  Kathryn went to speak but Duncan continued, cutting her off.  “I know I shouldn’t bring this up but…”  He sighed and took the plunge, holding Kathryn's eyes.  “Kathryn, what are you running from?  What are you trying so hard to leave behind you?”  Kathryn looked away, her answer coming too quickly.

“Nothing…there’s no one…”  Duncan gripped her hands a little tighter and made her look at him.

“Ahh…I see.  I guess I should have said ‘who’…not ‘what’…”  He smiled gently at her.  “I asked about this before and left it…but I guess I’m asking again.”  He hesitated a moment before asking.  “Did he hurt you that much…?”  Kathryn saw his sincerity and knew he wasn’t prying but just trying to be a friend.  She sighed deeply.

“And I thought Jonathan was the shrink…”  She smiled sadly.  “Guess there’s no use denying it…”  Duncan shook his head.  Kathryn closed her eyes a moment and then opened them and looked off behind the man in front of her for a long moment.  Finally she met his eyes and shrugged.  “You’re right…  There was someone but…”  She looked down at her hands a moment.  “He was just never mine to start with.  Besides, I’m the one who hurt him and as a result hurt myself…”  She met his eyes again.  “It’s past…he’s gone…with someone else…  I pushed him away one too many times…”  Her eyes filled with tears.  “It’s over…done…”  Duncan reached up and cupped her cheek.

“It’s not over and done for you though, is it?  I’m so sorry Kathryn.  You deserve so much…”  Kathryn shook her head, breaking the contact with his hand.

“It doesn’t matter now…”  She looked down at the ground.  Duncan sighed.

“Isn’t there anyone else…?  People who worry about you…?”  Kathryn shrugged and smiled sadly.

“Only one of my old Admirals.  He always worried about me.  I sent him a simple message when I was back on Earth a few weeks ago with Jonathan for those supplies.”  She smiled softly at Duncan.  “Don’t worry…  I told him nothing about where I was or what I’d been doing…”  His smile told her he wasn’t worried.  “I just let him know that I was all right.  Knowing him he tried to keep an eye on me so rather than have him thinking I just disappeared off the face of the earth…”  She laughed.  “I did in fact but…  Rather than have him worry…I sent him a message saying that I was fine.”  Duncan nodded slowly.

“But no one else…?  Not…him…?”  Kathryn's expression changed and became guarded.

“As I said…it’s the past…”  Her words told him to let it drop and he did.  She looked  at her hands again.  “We’d better get these fixed and then I’d better get back to work…”  She laughed, but it sounded forced.  “I promise I’ll wear my gloves this time…”  Duncan smiled sadly and nodded.

“OK my dear…subject dropped.  Let’s get these blisters treated.”  He smiled at her and saw the relief in her eyes.  As he treated her hands, he talked on.

“You know, I was so sure you’d have wanted to leave by now.  Most people couldn’t take the work here or the stress.  The physical is bad enough but the emotional side of it…”  He smiled up at her as he treated her hands, seeing her wince slightly.  “Sorry…but you…”  Kathryn smiled.

“I know…self-inflicted.  I asked for this…”  She grew serious.  “Duncan, as I said…there have been times I’ve felt…I guess…overwhelmed…by it all.  I wouldn’t however…change it.”  She stared deeply into his eyes.  “You see these people as the  lost ones.  They see themselves that way at times too…the lost…the misfits…”  She shrugged.  “I was the same…  I was just as lost…just as much a misfit…”  She smiled sadly.  “I feel I belong here.  It’s the closest I’ll find to belonging anywhere.  I’ve found the use…the purpose…I was looking for.  I can actually do something… achieve something here…something good.  I feel almost at home here or as close as I’ll ever feel to that again.  Does that make sense?”  Duncan nodded his understanding as he finished treating her hands.

“I do understand and you’ll always have a home here.”  He smiled at her and Kathryn nodded her gratitude.

“Thank you.”  She sat forward a little and looked around her.  Duncan squeezed her hands lightly, knowing the conversation was over.

“There you go…almost good as new.  Just don’t let me see them in that state again.”  There was a strong hint of seriousness under his joke and Kathryn nodded her acceptance.

“You won’t.  I promise.”  They shared a smile for a moment and then Duncan stood, putting the small med kit back in his pocket.

“Grab your glass and let’s head back.  Your shadow will be waiting for you.  I’m ordering you to take a break before you go back to work.  You’ve earned it.”  Kathryn laughed and stood also, trying to ignore her protesting muscles. 

“Yes sir.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay sat in the small garden at the back of the house Tom and B'Elanna were leasing.  He sipped at the cool drink he held and sighed deeply.  He watched Tom playing with Miral for a few moments and then turned to B'Elanna to see her watching him closely.

“Go on…ask…  You’ve been dying to…”  He smiled at her slightly embarrassed look.  She reached over and punched his arm gently.

“Well…I’d wait a long time for you to tell me anything…”  Chakotay shrugged and smiled.

“Nothing to tell.  We had a date…dinner and a few drinks.  Nothing happened and that’s all.  It was boring if I’m honest.  I wasn’t her type and she wasn’t mine.  It was mutually agreed by the end of the evening.  No feelings hurt.  Why I bothered, I don’t know.  Guess it was to stop all the nagging you were giving me…”  B'Elanna jabbed his arm again.

“I don’t nag…”  They both looked towards Tom when he laughed at that.  B'Elanna pretended hurt.  “I do not, Tom Paris.  If I ever do…you’ll really know about it…”  Tom tried to look afraid and ducked down behind his daughter.

“Protect me from Mommy…help…help…”  They all laughed, Miral loudest of all, enjoying the new game.  Tom swung her in the air and delighted in her squeals of laughter, Chakotay and B'Elanna laughing along for a while.  Finally B'Elanna leaned back and looked at Chakotay again.

“OK…no more blind dates…I promise.  I was just trying…”  Chakotay reached over and took her hand.

“I know…and you meant well.  It’s just not me.  I’m not ready, I guess.  Not interested either.”  B'Elanna smiled gently at him, trying to hide any pity she was afraid might show.  Chakotay just shrugged.  “Anyway, I’ve more than enough to keep me occupied these days.”  He scratched the side of his face.  “Did I tell you I’m taking some extra classes at the Academy?”  Tom laughed at that.

“In what?  Piloting skills?”  He tried to control his giggles.  “Sorry…that wasn’t funny…well it was…sorry…”  Chakotay took the joke well.

“Very funny.  Taking as in teaching.  I’ve added a few smaller classes to my normal lecturing schedule.  It fills in the gaps.”  B'Elanna nodded and smiled.

“So you’re pretty much full time there now?”  Chakotay nodded.

“I find it better to keep busy…”  He didn’t finish and didn’t need to.  He saw that they both understood what he meant.  B'Elanna nodded and smiled sadly.

“I’m glad you found something…”  She didn’t finish and shook her head, turning away slightly.  Chakotay sighed.

“I didn’t find Kathryn…”  He instantly regretted his words as B'Elanna turned back to look at him.  He shook his head.  “Sorry…”  B'Elanna reached over and squeezed his arm.

“It’s OK…I understand…we both do…”  Chakotay saw the compassion in her eyes and looked to Tom, seeing her expression mirrored there.  He smiled sadly.

“It’s like she’s the missing link and yet…”  He sighed deeply.  “Even if she was here…”  He rubbed at his face.  “What am I saying and who am I kidding?  Even if she was here…nothing.  I messed up.”  B'Elanna stared at him.

“Chakotay, you messed up nothing.  You’ve got to stop beating yourself up over this.  You’ve been doing that for years and in the end, it gets you nowhere.  It takes two to make a relationship and while we were out there, she wouldn’t or couldn’t commit to anything.  None of us knew we’d get home when we did.  We weren’t sure we’d ever get home, despite always trying to believe we would.  It wasn’t fair to expect you to wait for what could have been forever…  You had to move on with your life.”  She shook her head.  Chakotay laughed but it sounded fake.

“Look at me though.  I can’t move on, can I?”  B'Elanna sighed.

“None of us can really…”  Chakotay laughed again. 

“She moved on though…  Why can’t I?”  B'Elanna smiled sadly at that.

“Did she?  She retired or whatever you want to call it.  That doesn’t mean moving on.  Look at us all back here.  Most of us came back to find husbands, wives, partners, whatever…had moved on with their lives.  We don’t blame them.  Oh, it hurts but we understand.  Life itself moved on while we were gone and that’s just the way of it.”  Chakotay glanced up as he saw Tom sit down with them, leaving Miral playing happily with a small doll.

“Look old man…”  He smiled at his use of the term.  “We’re all the same really.  We’re…out of it…I guess is the best term I can come up with.  Look at us…”  He waved towards his wife and daughter.  “We’re leasing this place because if we’re honest, we can’t feel settled enough to buy anywhere.  You’re still living in a hotel rather than take on somewhere…rent an apartment or buy a place.  Most of the others are the same.  A lot are still staying with family members or friends.  Very few of us have managed to put down any roots since we got back.”  Chakotay nodded sadly but said nothing.  B'Elanna reached over and patted his arm.  She sighed and shook her head. 

“It’s true Chakotay.  We were all so used to life out there and it’s so hard to get used to this different way now.”  She waved a hand in the air.  “It all seems so…vast…back here…so big…  I got used to the size of Voyager…that smaller space.”  She laughed slightly.  “I’m almost agoraphobic…”  Chakotay and Tom both smiled their understanding.  B'Elanna smiled her thanks.  “It’s not just me either.  Others have said the same to me.  They feel as I do…”  She smiled and looked down at her daughter, playing happily with some olds padds she had taken for herself.  “Even the day to day things…  I mean…the politics on the ship were simple.  A set structure and you knew where you stood and the people involved.  Now there are hundreds of strange faces and rules I’m supposed to know…and I feel so lost in it all.”  She shrugged and looked into the distance.  “It’s like when I lived at home as a teenager and had the safety of it.  OK…so it wasn’t the perfect, two parent family but it was home.  And then I went out into the big, wide world.”  She pulled herself back and smiled softly at Chakotay.  “Voyager was like being back in the safety of that home.  I was cocooned from the world again.  Now I’m back and it’s scary all over again…”  Chakotay smiled and shook his head.

“The Delta Quadrant wasn’t exactly a safe, little cocoon…”  B'Elanna’s expression remained sad.

“I know…but Voyager was.  I was settled there.  I was happy and it was home…”  She smiled lovingly at her husband.  “Here it’s…it’s turmoil…  I mean, Earth is so much smaller than the endlessness of the Delta Quadrant and yet it feels a hundred times more vast.”  She licked at her lips and then bit on the lower one.  She locked eyes with Chakotay.  “Do you see what I’m trying to say?  The Captain might look as if she’s moved on and gotten a life for herself but we’ve no way of knowing that.  For all we know, she’s as aimless as the rest of us…out there searching for a reason for herself.”  She shrugged again and looked from Chakotay to her husband.  Tom nodded sadly.

“She’s right, Chakotay…”  The older man nodded and sighed.

“Maybe…and I wasn’t there to help her…even as a friend…”  Tom shook his head.

“What happened with you both was just…”  He ran a hand through his hair.  “I don’t know what it was but it was a lousy deal.  Call it bad timing or bad luck or fate playing a cruel hand…whatever.  I do know that if you keep on questioning it, it’ll just drive you crazy in the end.  It wasn’t your fault or hers or Seven’s.  It’s just the way it was…and the people you all were.  You just have to try and accept that…”  Chakotay nodded but he looked miserable.

“I know you’re right but that doesn’t make me feel any better…  Common sense tells me to just get on with it and make a life for myself and leave the past in the past.  It doesn’t stop me missing her or wishing it had all been so different though…”  He shook his head sadly and then shrugged.  “Does it…?”  There was no answer to that.

^^^^^^^^^^


ON TO PART TWO.



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RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.


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